This time around I’ll continue sharing information on self-publishing. Some of you may be wondering why I would give away this “secret” information and help people cut publishers out of the book supply chain and take their books direct to the customers. Isn’t that a threat to my own business? The answer, of course, is no. There are “too many books and too little time” for publishers, just as there are for readers. As previously discussed, most new books these days are self-published. Aren’t those books in and of themselves competition to Pronghorn Press titles? Again, no. Just as Eat, Pray, Love is not in competition with Harry Potter, your book is not in competition with Pronghorn’s titles. Even books on the same subject—say a biography of George Washington—will stand (or fall!) on their own merits and the readers’ feelings about the information they contain. One scholar might favor one author over another, while a lay-reader might feel differently.
What I’m hoping to point out to authors preparing to publish their own work is the responsibilities, liabilities and costs of doing it yourself and at the same time highlighting why you may end up deciding to work with a publisher. It also pinpoints the advantages of working with a small press like Pronghorn to take you through the process.
And make no mistake. Publishing is a business and even if you have only one book, you will have to approach the business of printing and marketing and all the attendant chores as a professional if you hope to succeed.
So, for those wishing to publish traditionally—that is to use traditional printing methods (offset printing)—and who are willing to assume all the responsibilities of a publisher, here’s what you need to know:
First you need to get bids from printers. Be sure that the printers you work with are used to printing books. The corner printshop is not likely to be up to the job and working with them often ends in disaster. I know of a group who gave their book project to a small printshop that did not usually print books and within two years all their books started to disintegrate due to a glue problem! They had a lot of very unhappy customers.
When requesting bids, you need to be very specific on what you want and to give the same information to each printer. Apples and oranges comparisons do not work here. And please keep in mind that it takes time and effort on the part of the printer to prepare a bid. It’s not something they will want to refigure for you as you change your mind about what you want. Be clear on what your asking BEFORE you contact them.
So here’s what need to be able to tell them:
• The finished size of the book you want such as 5.5″ x 8.5″, 6″ x 9″ and so forth.
Depending on the printer and what they’re set up for, there are certain sizes that are more economical than others. You should get a feel for this before asking for bids, as it can make a huge difference in cost. You can, of course, have anything you want made by someone, somewhere, as long as you can pay for it.
• The final number of pages. This will have to match with the size of the printer’s signature sheets, which is the sheet a number of pages are printed on which is then folded and cut in the trim. Usually a number of pages divisible by 4 works but check to be sure. This may mean you have to allow for blank pages at the front or back of the book.
• Will the binding be “Perfect” (paperback) or “Cloth” (hardcover)?
• Type of paper for both cover and content.
You will need to visit at least one printer who does books so you can see samples and get the names and weights of the papers for your bid information.
*If you are going for a hardcover, printers will offer you color choices and types. You can go for anything from traditional cloth to simulated leather and a great deal of options in between. You will need to know what sort of text and/or design will be on the cover and spine of your book as well. Hardcover binding generally adds $10 and up per copy to the cost.
• Generally (and least expensively) your paperback book will be printed in just black on the inside and in 4 color on the outside cover. You must know if you want printing on the inside of the cover, which is an additional expense.
• Color on the inside of the book may require that either the entire book be printed in color or that color pages will have to be printed separately and inserted into the book. Either option is expensive.
• If you’re going to print a hardcover, you will also probably want a dustjacket, which is a separate part of the bid, a separate printing, and an additional expense.
• You need to ask for bids for a specific number of finished copies. In the bid you can ask for several prices. Example: 1,000, 3,000 and 5,000. This will help you better to see the per copy savings in a longer run. There are a few printers specializing in short runs of 500 copies or less but your per copy price will be far more than it will be if you do a traditional run of 3,000-5,000 copies. (and keep in mind how many boxes of books you’ll be storing and how long it will take to sell them!)
And a reminder at this point: You have to consider your retail pricing against your cost and remember that retailers will be expecting a 40% discount and if you can find distributors, they will want 55-60%discount and may well expect you to pay shipping, too! Be sure there’s something left for you, and be sure you’re not pricing yourself out of the market. Remember, no matter how good you novel is, people are not going to pay $35 for it in paperback!
So, let’s assume you’ve found a printer you trust and have accepted their bid of $16,000 for 2000 copies of your book. (don’t forget there will be shipping/delivery charges in addition—books are heavy!) They’ve told you what format they want your files in (print ready PDF, InDesign File or?) and now you have to prepare the files.
Unless you have skills in digital design, I strongly suggest you hire a book designer to handle your content and cover files. They will also manage your photo conversions if you have them. If you’re determined to do this yourself, then be sure you know exactly what your printer requires. Please do not think you can simple give your printer a Word document and expect it to go straight to print. They will charge you to make a book out of it if they provide that service, and if you’re not sure how you want it to look until you “see” it, the process can be very expensive. Just be aware.
Have you chosen a name for your publishing company, as you must in order to proceed? It’s a good idea to register it with your state as a “Tradename.” Costs for this vary from state to state but it’s a simple process. You want to be VERY SURE someone else isn’t already using that name as it can lead to legal problems. Within your state they will tell you if the name you’ve chosen is already taken, but you need to look more broadly before settling on your new identity. You can research this on Google. Be sure to check all varients of the name. While there may not be a Star Publishing, there may be a Star books, or Star Publications, or Star Press. You’ll be surprised how many people may already be using the name you’ve come up with!
You need an ISBN number for you book. You buy these from Bowker, who are the Books-in-Print people. Unfortunately you can’t buy just one. The smallest package includes 10 numbers and currently costs $275.00 (larger packages are available at lower per number prices) Other companies sell them individually but those companies will be the publishers of record and I don’t recommend using them for that reason.
Once you have your ISBN number, you may want to get a PCN from the Library of Congress. This is not necessary but is a good thing. There is no charge but you will be required to send a copy of the book to the Library of Congress when it’s published. Details of the process is available on their website.
You will need a barcode for your book and you will have to decide if you want either the price or the ISBN number imbedded in it. These are easy to obtain and your printer or designer may be able to do that for you. The cost is around $30. Retailers will generally not accept your book without barcoding.
I highly recommend that you hire a professional proofreader to do a last check on your proof version of your book. This is BEFORE the printer gives you a proof and changes are expensive to make. A professional proofreader will catch mistakes you and your friends (no matter how well-read or smart) just won’t catch. We often read the word we THINK is on the page, not what’s actually there, especially if we’ve written it or typed it ourselves. A proofreader is a good investment.
At this point you should be good to go. Send your materials to the printer, check your printer’s proof carefully, get out your checkbook and make room to store those books.
Next time we’ll look at where you go from here. Just as there are brick walls around the Great Courtyard of Publishing, the entrance to the Marketplace is similarity fortified!
As always, your comments and questions are welcome!