Beagle Bay Inc, Consulting, Book Packaging and Production

The Self-Publisher's FAQ

Printing a Paper Book

Should I print hard copies of my book... or should I just do an ebook?

Here's when your marketing and your down-to-earth assessment of your possible book sales meet the real test. In the past, the only economical way to produce books was to print large quantities via a method called "offset printing." It's actual ink rollers transferred to large quantities of paper. Off-set or traditional printing is most cost-effective in runs of 1000 or more. The cost to produce books was fairly low; the more books you print, the lower the cost per unit (book). The end result is pallets of books (stacks of books in cartons stacked on a wood platform) stored in warehouses. This costs a lot of money both for upfront costs and storage (part of your "carry costs." See the section on accounting). If the book didn't sell, the cost to store the book, and eventually get rid of it (called "pulping") increased the financial damage.

The old model also supported first producing a hardback book, then six months to a year later, a paperback version. Big publishers still follow this model. Self-publishers do not.

Print-on-Demand (POD) came along and changed quite a lot. This method is basically a giant laser printer that prints books, one or dozens at a time. With the advent of POD, books don't need to be produced until ordered. There's no huge upfront cost. Once you've paid the set-up fee and sent the files, the wholesaler or retailer simply prints and sends the book when it is ordered, sending you the check once production costs and discounts are removed. However, the cost per unit is higher than with offset. The trade-off is, you don't have to store the book, so the cost at lower sales volumes is a wash (equal).

Lightning Source, Inc. or LSI, is a digital printer that is owned by Ingram. Under LSI's book distribution program, you can have your book printed to fulfill direct orders Ingram receives from booksellers, libraries and on-line companies (ie: Amazon). The cost per unit (per book) will still be higher than off-set or traditional methods of printing. Many self-publishers are using LSI as their main source of printing (rather than doing an offset run). You can also decide whether to offer a traditional 55% discount (important if you are targeting bookstores and libraries) or a 20% discount (if you are only going to offer the book via Amazon).

You can also do POD directly under Amazon's CreateSpace program. They don't have much reach outside of the website, but if your audience pretty much only goes to Amazon, then this may be your best choice.

Ebooks have really lowered the entrance bar to getting your work "out there." You can toss a Word document into a format and be selling within the day. There have been notable successes for those who have chosen the only-ebooks route. It seems to work best with genre fiction (Romance, mystery, etc). For more on ebook production, see the section chapter dedicated to that.

Most publishers these days offer both print books and ebooks in several formats.

For many self-publishers, the best move is to print via the POD method and offer ebooks. In this manner, you can keep your upfront costs low and concentrate your available cash on marketing your book. This is especially a good path when you don't know your market potential or how to reach your audience effectively.

How do I decide whether to print hardcover or paperback?

Few books need to be in hardcover. This format always drives up your costs. That means your book price will go up as well, limiting your customers. To help you make your decision, go to your local bookstore and see what format books similar to yours are in.

Exceptions to this are books aimed at a professional market (business books, medical texts, etc). Understand what your audience expects. A paperback just isn't appropriate for certain buyers.

What are the types of paperbacks I can choose from?

A Trade Paperback is a larger format paperback (about the size of a hardback book). Most self-publishers choose this format, as it has a lower cost per unit and is usually sold at an easily affordable price-point.

Mass-market paperbacks are what you find in a grocery store. These books can only be economically produced in runs over 20,000.

What are the book sizes I should choose?

Most hardcovers and Trade paperbacks are 5.5" x 8.5" (bound on the 8.5 side) or 6" x 9" (bound on the 9"side). These are comfortable sizes for customers to hold. You can make your book bigger or smaller, but think carefully about how it will "shelve" in a bookstore. Go look at a bookstore to see what size is "standard" for the type of book you are putting out. Also consider that printers may charge extra for "non-standard" sizes.

How long does it take to print a book?

The length of time depends on the method.

  • POD: About two weeks to print initially. After that, count on orders being fulfilled within twenty-four hours.
  • Offset: About six to eight weeks (includes shipping).
  • Offshore: About twelve to sixteen weeks depending on the season.

How much should I expect to pay for printing my book?

Because there are a lot of variables (quantity, page count, pictures/graphics/cover treatment) it's hard to be specific for this. But here are ballpark numbers for a 150 page book:

  • Trade paperback offset (quantity 2500): $3.75 per book
  • Trade Paperback POD: $4.80 per book
  • Hardback offset (quantity 2500): $5.10
  • Hardback offset (quantity 2500; offshore): $4.80

How do I find a printer?

Ask around the publishing community and find out who your fellow publishers use. Most printers do about the same level of quality. The key is customer service and reliability. Many print jobs experience hiccups. Is your printer good at fixing what they do wrong, or helping you fix what you did wrong? This is where other people's input can be invaluable.

What is an RFQ?

To get a bid from these printers, submit an RFQ (Request For Quote) to their sales department.

What is a signature?

The printer divides the pages of a book into eights (or sixteens, thirty-twoes, or, in some rare cases, forty-eights). When doing a page count in preparation for an RFQ, be sure that the page count is divisible by eight.

In the case of digital printing, they don't use signatures, so any even (in 2s) page count is usually fine.

What are paper weights and what should I choose?

Trade Paperback and many hardback books are printed on 50#, 55# or 60# paper. This refers to the thickness, with 60# being a heavier paper. 50# is an acceptable industry standard and doesn't make the book too heavy; 60# can drive a 200 page book over one pound—making it more expensive to ship (see the chapter on shipping).

What cover stock should I use?

Cover stock is usually offered in 10 or 12 pt. Ten pt is perfectly acceptable and, with lay-flat lamination, looks very good. When spec-ing a cover with lamination, this is expressed in an RFQ as C1S (Coat 1 Side). While a 12 pt cover is thicker (and many people think thicker is better), again, this contributes to the weight of the book, making it costlier to ship (see the chapter on shipping).

Hardcover dust jackets are usually 10 pt.

Which is better, off-white or white paper?

For paperback white is preferable. Hardcover is a matter of choice. Many novels use off-white.

What are Galleys, ARCs and F&Gs?

Galleys are a pre-publication book made especially to send to pre-publication reviews (see explanation in the reviews section). Usually, very few are made (10-500 depending on purpose). These are always done via POD / Digital press.

The galley should clearly be marked "Advance Review Copy: Not for Sale" (note: not "Advanced") on both back and front. It used to be that galleys had blank covers, and the cover artwork was sent as part of the package (cover letter, onesheet and cover image). Now, with digital printing being so affordable, it's not that much more expensive to do a finished cover, and it looks nicer, too. The finished cover should be as close as possible to what it will be when offered to the public. If minor changes happen after galleys are produced, send a print-out of the new cover with the book, or offer to send it to the reviewer as soon as possible.

All of the book's info (title, author, publisher, who to contact for info) should be on the back of a color cover. On the back should be a description, (see explanation in the chapter on Covers) any blurbs, author info and a brief outline of the marketing plan (see the chapter of Marketing). Don't forget to put the title and author on the spine.

Can't I just use Kinko's to print my galley?

Many people do use Kinko's to do this. They are still going to be pricier than the professionals, but you may decide to use them anyway.

Sometimes you can have a run of galleys done at the same time as your regular print run. This is especially useful if you are printing overseas

What is an F&G?

An F&G is "folded and gathered" signatures without the binding. It is usually done for art books and children's books when color printing is used. It's often too expensive to produce a POD/ short-run bound copy. It serves the same function as a galley.