The wrong printer, a mistake in your print specification, an error on your disk: all are easy ways to lose $3,000 to $5,000 and end up with a garage full of useless books. This is no time to be a Pollyanna or faint of heart. You must know what youre doing; otherwise, youll get the book the printer thinks you wanted.
Finding a Printer
Forget the Yellow Pages. You have plenty of other available resources to make a short-list of printers from which to get estimates, such as other small publishers, Internet newsgroups, or Dan Poynters The Self-Publishing Manual, available at any bookstore or public library.
Should you choose a printer close by? Generally not if you live on either coast, where costs are often higher. Youll find the most cost-effective printers in the Midwest, from Kansas to Michigan. With overnight couriers, such as FedEx and UPS, distance is no barrier.
Beginning a Dialogue
Begin to get a feel for printers by checking out their Internet sites. Some printers provide very helpful sites that offer valuable education for the novice publisher, while others focus on the technical details of submitting a trouble-free job to them.
Next, call their marketing departments and ask for samples of their work and of the paper stock they typically carry in-house. You will be rewarded with fascinating packets of information that are a joy to behold. (If a printer cant put out classy promo material, what does that mean for your book?)
Some printers specialize in certain types of books only. For example, Royal Books produces only 6 x 9 trade paperbacks and can achieve fast turnaround because theyre not constantly adjusting their presses.
Narrow your list down to three to five printers and mail or fax your book spec to them. Then sit back and wait for their bids. You will be surprised at the cost differences. Three, say, will be within a few hundred dollars, but one may be $1,000 over or under. Dont assume that cheaper is better; the printer may have misunderstood the spec it happens. I would go for the lowest of the middle group, assuming Im happy with the printers schedule and reputation.
So what goes into a book spec?
The Book Spec
According to Marty Gilliland of Gilliland Printing, "The best way to get your relationship with a printer off to a good start is to do your homework. Check out how other books look and feel. Then prepare a written spec and give the same spec to each printer. Dont simply respond to printers questions, otherwise youll end up with estimates based on different specs, and that wont help either of you."
The elements of a book specification are:
1) Hardcover vs. softcover. Few printers have a bindery that can handle hardcover, so they print everything in house and send it out for binding.
2) Print run. To keep unit cost down, print at least two thousand books. Below this, youre spreading the setup costs over too few books, which pushes up the unit cost and reduces your profit. For example, I was quoted $4,220 for three thousand books (unit cost of $1.40) and $5,380 for five thousand (unit cost of $1.07). Does this matter for a $12 book? Yes! If your distributor takes a sixty- percent discount, you get $4.80 for each book they sell to bookstores. Suddenly, that $0.33 becomes a more significant piece of your income.
3) Page count and trim size. This means that you must already have typeset your book. Because of the way printing presses work, page count must be divisible by 16, 8, or 4. For economy, stick with a standard trim size such as six by nine inches unless there are very good reasons otherwise.
4) Paper stock. For economy, stick with a paper your printer already has in house. You can choose natural or off-white for a warmer feel, or glossy white for a fresh, crisp look. If youre including photographs, opt for the latter.
5) Photographs and diagrams. Its best to have these already scanned in and dropped into the page where they belong. You can get the printer to scan your originals and "strip them in" later, but this is more expensive and they can end up in the wrong place. I once used a printer who stripped in a photo upside down emphasis on once!
6) Cover. How many colors? Obviously, limiting the cover to one or two reduces cost, but may not have the pull of a full four-color cover. Cardstock for the cover is measured in points, with most paperbacks using ten or 12 point. You will also want to protect the cover, usually with a lamination of some kind. Avoid the cheaper option of varnish; it peels off easily and cannot withstand the rough knocks of being handled by bookstore browsers.
Also, do you want metallic foil and embossing? My own book, An Ascension Handbook (soon to be republished by New Leaf Press), has a deceptively simple cover until you factor in the gold foil and embossing expensive, but worth it! Finally, I always specify a few hundred extra covers; theyre cheap to print, and great for marketing and promotion.
7) Camera-ready or disk. If you have a good laser printer, you can print the actual pages that the printer will photograph to make the press plates. Otherwise, or if youre including photographs, let the printer make the plates from a disk you provide. Of course, your disk must be trouble-free.
Trouble-Free Job Submission
One of the most critical tasks is preparing a trouble-free job for the printer. Mistakes will inevitably cost you time and money. According to Marty Gilliland, it is important to create your book using a page layout program such as PageMaker™ or QuarkXPress™. Word processors, such as MSWord or WordPerfect, can give a printer nightmares since text can wander across page boundaries (i.e., it re-flows), giving unexpected results.
Printers prefer getting jobs on ZIP disks, but remember to include the computer files for all photographs, logos, and other graphics. Also, you must include all the typefaces used in the text and cover. If the printer used their own versions of these files, the results could again be unpredictable. (Since the printers imagesetter may hiccup on TrueType™ fonts, use only Adobe™ Type 1.)
Proofing the Job
After a couple of weeks, youll receive proof copies prior to the actual printing. Although really intended to catch the printers errors (such as upside-down pages), this is absolutely your last chance to spot your mistakes, too. However, correcting your booboos at this stage will cost you 15 to twenty dollars a page!
Youll get a color match proof of the cover, which you must examine closely for blemishes and the colors being off. Remember: youll get two thousand-plus of whatever you sign off on! Also, verify that the barcode for your ISBN is correct and properly placed on the page. (You may have given the printer actual negative film or had them prepare it for you.) The wrong code or unreadable bars will cause unimaginable problems later.
You will also receive "blue-lines." This is a mockup of the finished pages exactly as they will appear. Theyre printed using a strange-smelling blue ink (in lieu of actual printers ink), hence the name. Check these very carefully for blemishes, photo and graphic placement, and page positioning and sequence. Again, what you sign off on is what youll get.
Two to three weeks after youve returned the proofs (and paid the bill), you will be the proud recipient of a pallet of books. Unless your garage has a loading dock, hopefully you specified a lift gate on the truck; otherwise, youll be humping boxes all night! Make sure to count the cases and to note any external damage on the bill of lading; the carriers insurance will need that.
Now comes the moment youve been waiting for: opening a case. Holding that first book in your hands must come close to holding your first baby in your arms. (Well, Ive never been a father, but I love books, so please forgive the analogy. Anyway, your book probably took longer than nine months to produce!)
So, you have a few thousand books. Now what? All you need do is sell them. Right! The next and final article will look at storage, distribution, and marketing.
Tony Stubbs is a freelance writer, editor, publishing consultant, and desktop publisher living in Southern California. He is also the author of An Ascension Handbook. He can be reached at (909) 672-6115 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Marty Gilliland can be reached at (800) 631-8046. Royal Books are at (800) 6X9-BOOK.
This is the fifth in a six-part series on getting your book published, written by Tony Stubbs exclusively for The New Times. Please send SASE for any reprints desired.