Bookbinders are turning fanfiction into hardcover masterpieces

Fanfiction lives and flourishes online. But that doesn’t mean fan-written works don’t deserve to see the light of day as physical books. Now, thanks to the dedicated work of bookbinders, volumes of fanfiction are getting stunning, handcrafted editions that breathe new life into fan works.

Amanda Johnston runs Red Panda Bindery, a set of TikTok and Instagram accounts where she documents the process of turning fanfics into physical books. The accounts flaunt her beautiful creations, but also serve as a resource for others looking to learn more about bookbinding. While her books tend to stand out with flourishes like golden embossed titles with custom designs and hand-painted edges, the content itself comes across as relaxed. She makes these books in the comfort of her own home, and lines them up in between cans of chicken soup.

“There are special tools that can be purchased, but when I started out I used things from the dollar store and stuff I already had laying around. I used snack boxes in place of fancy book boards and I made book cloth from old sheets. I used a thumbtack instead of an awl. It is a very accessible hobby,” Johnston said via email.

The methods for binding a book vary, but Johnston uses a square-back Bradel bind. Generally speaking, she starts with formatting and printing fanfiction, which she then folds into signatures, the term for the stacked and folded paper that gathers at the spine of the book. From there she sews the pages together and glues them to form a text block. Afterward, she glues the text block to a handmade case for the cover. Johnston said it typically takes her a week to make a book.

Out of all these steps, Johnston said she enjoys designing the covers the most. Each features a unique design. One she made of the Harry Potter fanfic Isolation has a silver embossed frame and custom design that incorporates the title of the fic, all wrapped up in a black cover. The bottom corner features an delicate evergreen forest design.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Johnston

Johnston always asks an author for permission before making a hard copy of their story; sometimes she will bind a book for the author themself. So far, she has generally bound fics based on Harry Potter but also enjoys fanfic using the worlds of Hannibal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Court of Thorns and Roses series. She generally makes the books for her own personal enjoyment, but also to maintain physical copies of her favorite reads.

“I have seen multiple fanfictions that I loved removed from websites by the author for various reasons. Physical copies are comforting. Fanfiction is still a legal gray area and I worry that one day the archives that house my favorite fanfictions may cease to exist,” she said.

Overall, Johnston has said that the bookbinding community, more broadly, is a warm one.

“This is one of the most welcoming communities I have ever had the privilege to be a part of! If you are interested in learning how to bind fanfiction, don’t be afraid to find binders on social media and reach out!”

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