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How to get the book printed

 

Now your book is made - on computer anyway. You'll need to work out how to get it printed. The basic question with printing is - how many copies do you need. The first time, this is impossible to answer, so you have to guess.

The more you get, the cheaper they cost each. The danger though is that you will end up with several thousand copies under your bed to remind you for the rest of your life about your printing mistake! On the other hand, if you don't get enough printed then the cost per unit increases, your profits therefore decline and you end up going back to the printer for more when you run out.

So how to work it out!

How many bookshops do you have a relationship with? If you have yet to approach a bookshop or wholesaler or distributor then the decision is even harder. You may find that not one will stock your book. Then however many you get printed will be too many. So it may be worth doing the ground work on selling your title first. Of course the catch 22 is that many will want to see a copy first before they decide if they will take it - and how many copies, of course.

So my basic advice would be to err on the side of caution the first time and not get too many printed. If you go for more than 500 or 1000 then be sure you know where they are likely to go. If you have no idea then be prepared for 500-1000 books hanging around for a long time!

So you've decided on the quantity, now you need them printed.

What kind of paper, what sort of binding, hardback or paperback, how much will it cost, how long will it take, what if there is a mistake? All these questions are likely to be in your mind.

Well as with all things you need to shop around. Most printers will entertain the idea of printing a small paperback, and may even be able to bind and cover it for you all in house. Some will send it away to be bound, some will refuse the job. The first thing to do is to visit your local printers and make an appointment to sit down with someone that knows what's what and go through the options. They will show you paper types and advise on what would work and what it would cost. Usually the paper you like is the most expensive and at this stage of the game you ought to be thinking about keeping costs down - but not creating a 'cheap' product. You ought to be able to come out of your first printers meeting knowing exactly what you want made and costs for 2 or 3 different quantities.

Now you are armed to visit more printers and to sound like you know what you are talking about in terms of papers, run ons, costs and quantities. Now all you need to do is work out which one you trust and believe can do the job best for you. For the first effort I have found that having a local printer has been excellent as it is possible to pop in should there be any questions, which, on the first attempt is likely to happen.

One of he factors affecting the cost of the finished product is the amount of colour you use in the book. Black and white is cheap and including black and white images, drawings and pictures keeps the cost down. Colour clearly makes a big difference to the appearance of the book but can add significantly to the cost. My approach to date has been to make a full colour cover to the book and keeping everything else black and white. Colour is important on the cover as it makes people notice and hopefully pick the book up.

There are of course, specialist printers - many of whom are based in obscure countries. The quotes I have had from them is more or less the same as my local printer, so for convenience, if nothing else I have stuck with them for the last three years.

The printer will want the content of your book in Quark Express or some other similar programme. You need to make sure that the format you create the book in is one the printers can take. Clearly this is one of the things you need to clarify in your initial meeting or discussion.

Most PCs these days come with a CD writer so it is a simple matter to pop the files onto a CD to deliver them to the printer. Many printers will offer to typeset the whole book for you - which may be an option if you do not have the capability to do it yourself but it will increase the costs substantially and as a self publisher you need to operate at minimal costs. And anyway, it's cheating!

One thing you need to be very careful about is making sure the finished object is what you wanted or expected. The printer will normally provide you with some form of proof. Initially they will provide you with sheets of paper with multiple pages printed on each, with crop marks that show where the cuts will be made. The point of this kind of proof is to make sure the content and layout are what you expected. Look out for things like missing pages, have they inserted blank pages (they sometimes need to - but make sure they are where you want them), is the positioning correct (for example is the margin on the side of the spine wide enough - or does your text disappear from view?). Of course, you should already have proof read the actual words but this is the last chance you will get to change the content - though since this is your error - expect to be charged for it - and haggle!.

You may need several iterations of the proof if you are not happy. You should insist on having a new proof each time the printer agrees to make changes. You need to convince yourself that the finished article will be right. This may add a day or two but it is worth it. If an error that you previously knew about makes it into the final book, you will never forgive yourself (or your printer).

Some printers will give you a final proof which is a mock up of the finished book. I have generally insisted on this, though once the previous stage is good, the book tends to be fine. It does give you the chance to see that the inside margin is wide enough - though if it isn't there will be costs involved in changing it this late in the day.

Finally you will need to provide the little ISBN barcode to your printers (having agreed where it will go exactly) so that they can add this to the cover.

Once you have agreed the content, the layout, the paper, the binding and the quantity, you are ready to make the biggest self publishing commitment of your life. Take several deep breaths, sign the piece of paper and put the money aside in the bank and say goodbye to it!

Print on demand

Print on demand is becoming very popular for small publishers and small quantities of books. Basically it means that books are printed one at a time - or in very small quantities. The advantage is that you can acquire a small quantity of books are reasonably high quality for samples in your marketing or to test the product in real life. The risk is low in that the outlay is less but the cost per unit is quite high. Even so - it may be cheaper to use POD for the first 50 copies or so, which will give you enough experience to know whether you should order zero or 5000 more.

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Case Study

I started and ended at the same place in my hunt for a printer. And it turned out to be the local printer about half a mile from my house. As it turned out this was perfect as it enabled me to meet the printer face to face, to pop in if they had questions and to turn around proofs very quickly. They also did a good deal on delivery since they didn't have far to go.

The initial meeting I was basically hunting for information. Not knowing what the right questions to ask meant asking a lot of open questions, asking the printer what I ought to be asking and looking at examples of work they had done. They seemed to be comfortable with printing books though used another company to do the binding.

The things we discussed were:

  • paper type - good quality, nice whiteness, good thickness but not too expensive.
  • cover type - the right thickness card, a laminate or a shiny card, colour.
  • colour vs black and white - we agreed the contents would be B&W and the cover would be full colour - having eliminated the extra cost for colour pages inside the book.
  • spine printing - they agreed to type set the spine as we did not know the thickness of the book yet (it only included the title and author name).
  • type of cover - hardback seems to be pretty expensive and requires specialist skills. We went for paperback.
  • binding - there are several ways to bind a book - we looked at examples and went for perfect binding. The staple binding is for thin books and looks terrible. Also there is nowhere to print the title so if placed normally on a shelf - nobody would notice it.
  • quantities - they gave me prices from 2000 to 5000 copies. The unit cost ranged from 80p to £1.50 each.
  • proof process - they agreed to provide enough proofs for me to see all changes made correctly and to do a mock up of the finished book.
  • delivery - they agreed to deliver to my home and pack in double walled boxes (important if you are going to distribute your own books - as you don't want to buy them twice!).
  • format - I was to deliver the files on a CD in Quark Express, with images separate and at high resolution jpg (resolution agreed with them).
  • blank pages - they needed to insert some blank pages - we agreed that they would appear at the end of the book not the front.
  • timeframe - they gave me a deadline by which they would deliver the books.
  • reprints - we also agreed that they would keep the plates so that if I needed a reprint they would not need to charge me the set-up costs again.

Using all the info I got from my local printer I then went to several other printers, called some I found on the web and got them to quote for the same. All of them were more expensive.

The printers did a good job but we did find that there was a page missing in the proof, the alignment of the cover was not central and the margin on the side of the spine was too thin - meaning the words disappeared from view. We agreed the changes they would make (I had to pay a little for the margin as it meant jigging the file around and was basically my error in the first place). The next proof was fine and then they went ahead with the printing.

It's very exciting when you see your name in print for the first time. One thing I tried not to do was to give away too many free copies. Sure my Mum and Dad got one, the guy who did my Quark work got a few for his portfolio and my proof-reader got one too. But nobody else did and three years later I can strongly recommend you do the same. It is amazing how many people suddenly qualify for a free copy when they find out you gave your mate one. You either need to give every one you know a free copy or nobody. Since you have laid out a bunch of dosh and now have the job of trying to recover it I recommend you give as few away as possible. Don't forget you will need to send copies to bookshops and the like and before you know it you'll have run out and not charged a penny!

Since printing a second reprint and having printed two runs of a seconds edition I can say that the quantity dilemma gets easier as you go. You know your market, you know how much your costs are and you have an idea of how many you can sell.

The costs drop for a second reprint and also you may be able to go to higher quantities which also help with the unit costs. One problem you will encounter when you go for more copies is that the temptation will be to make some changes to the contents. Friends will have pointed out mistakes, errors, areas for improvement and you will want to make them. On the other hand if you do that then you go back to costs, work and more expense. So where you can - go for a straight reprint.

I collected enough updates to make a big change and to totally redesign the book. This meant a lot of work - including a new ISBN number and all the hassle that goes with that, running down old stocks, and ramping up the new book without getting lots of returns (we managed to only get 8 books returned, which was very satisfying).

I have also got quotes from the printing companies that you find at the London Book Fair and so far have not found anyone who can print the book cheaper so for now I'm sticking with the devil I know.

There was one reprint where they had added page numbers on pages where there weren't supposed to be any and we did have a small argument over that. I argued that they made an error and should compensate me - they argued that I didnít notice in the proof so it was my fault. In the end I got a few hundred pounds out of them and learnt a valuable lesson that you need to read, re-read and the read again a proof. Also - get someone else to do it and don't read it in the right order necessarily - as you always then spend all your time on the front and less on the back. Start at the back second time for example.

 
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