Just as you would not ask a group of automobile dealers to give you a price on a car with an engine, four tires and brakes and expect to be able to compare pricing in any meaningful way, you can’t ask a group of printers for a “quote” on printing a book, with only vague specifications. Printers print books based on a customer supplied purchase order. As the print buyer, it is your responsibility to understand what you are specifying. If you order an apple, you are going to get an apple, even if you thought you were ordering an orange. The best way to insure that you receive what you want is to understand what you are ordering.
An entire book could be written on print purchasing and dealing with a printer. For this article, I am going to try to hit the basics. For the first-time print buyer, I would highly recommend either using a local printer or a service like www.SelfPublishing.com. I rarely recommend the local printer because they will almost always be more expensive than a “book printer” for various reasons but the value added is that you can walk in the door and talk to someone and the odds of receiving what you think you are ordering are high.
The reason for recommending www.SelfPublishing.com is much the same as recommending the local printer with the added bonus that you will almost always save money. SelfPublishing.com is located in the heart of New York City, directly across from Grand Central Station and the airport bus services. It is a quick walk or a quicker subway ride from Penn Station, where all the Amtrak trains arrive. If you want to come in, please call 800-621-2556 to make an appointment.
The basic book printing specifications are not overly complicated but need to be understood by you, the print buyer. As a small publisher it is best to stick with standards. Some printers will tell you to go to a local bookstore and pick something you like and they will match it. I’ve told that to people myself for general design and “feel” but with 35 years experience I know how to use the store bought book as a starting point. I know what elements cost and can guide you so that you are not spending money you don’t need to. The publisher who published that book you picked up in the bookstore probably printed 25,000 or more copies, so a $1000 item can be easily absorbed into the unit cost. If something costs you $1000 and you are only printing 1000 books, it’s hard to absorb or pass on that extra $1/book. Unfortunately, few printers or printing salespeople have the experience I have so they will quote what you send them and the higher the price, the better for them. My advice: stick to the basics.
What information to give when requesting a quotation from a printer:
- Name, Address, Phone Number and Book Title: These are musts. You are requesting a printer to spend money to prepare a quote for you. If the only thing you give is your free Yahoo email address, don’t expect much in return. If you are worried about getting too many phone calls, don’t. Most printers do not even want to deal with “one book” publishers. You should feel “special” if you get a phone call from a printer. There are a few websites, like www.SelfPublishing.com where you can receive an instant online quote without providing all of this information, but you will be required to fill in personal data when you convert the quote into a firm quotation or purchase order.
- Trim Size: The trim size is the page dimension with the non-bind edge listed first and bind-side (side where the pages are bound together) listed second. Stick with the standard sizes. SelfPublishing.com makes it easy and only offers standard sizes for instant online pricing. Standard sizes are standard for a reason… they fit standard equipment which ultimately leads to lower pricing.
- Number of Pages: This is so easy but so misunderstood. A page is a page… not a sheet. If you take a sheet of paper and lay it on the table, you are looking at page one. Turn it over and you are looking at page two. Notice I didn’t mention if the page was printed or blank. It doesn’t matter. If it goes through the press, it’s a page.
- Number of Copies: Generally, the larger the quantity, the lower the unit cost. The great thing with the SelfPublishing.com’s instant pricing is that you can see exactly how much the increased quantity affects the price. Keep in mind that there is a plus or minus 5% as part of the printing trade customs. This means that if you order a quantity of 1000 books, you may actually receive 1050 books or 950 books and the order will be considered full count. Your final invoice will reflect the actual quantity delivered.
- Binding Style: Most of you should be thinking paperback (perfect bound) books. For the quantities a small publisher is generally considering you can buy significantly more perfect bound books than hardcover for the same amount of money. Hardcover binding involves many more components. Over the years the printers have bundled these components, much like the car dealers bundle options. SelfPublishing.com has bundled hardcover specs to maximize the look and minimize the price.
- Text Paper: I could write a whole book on this or I can keep it simple. I’ll go with simple. Text paper is basically “white.” The question is, do you personally like bright blue white or natural off-white? Most fiction is printed on natural and non-fiction on bright white. Fifty pound is the normal text paperweight. If you haven’t read the Publishing Basics book, you should. There is an excellent explanation of how paper weight is determined. Sixty pound is sometimes used if there are a lot of pictures/halftones or graphics or if you feel the need to “bulk” the book up, say due to a low page count. Books in color are printed on a heavier paper, usually eighty pound. Stay away from specific brand names… 99% of the time, it will only add to your price.
- Text Ink: Trade books print with black ink and children’s picture books print in what is called “four-color process.” Two-color text printing has pretty much gone the way of the 8 track tape player. It is still used but does not work in the quantities small publishers usually print.
- Cover Paper: 10 PT. is the standard for paperback books. Again, please read the paper section of the Publishing Basics book for a more detailed explanation.
- Cover Ink: Virtually all covers today are printed in four-color process. This is mainly driven by the digital printing end of the spectrum. Even a cover that looks like one or two-color is actually made up of screens of four-color. An important component of the cover is the lamination used on virtually all books to help protect the book. The standard is lay-flat film lamination. If a printer is trying to push something other than this, you might want to reconsider. Lay-flat is a special type of film laminate that is made to resist cover curl due to varying humidity. It doesn’t mean you won’t get some curl from time to time, it’s just not the problem it was fifteen years ago. Lamination comes in two finishes… Clear (Gloss) and Matte. If the quote says “Layflat Film Lamination” you will get clear/gloss. If the printer offers a choice, it is probably because he doesn’t deal with many small publishers. I don’t recommend Matte because of problems with scuffing. I will do it but it has to be specified in writing, quoted separately and a publisher needs to sign a waiver.
- Shipping information: Most printers will quote “FOB Factory.” This means the job has been delivered as soon as it is on the printer’s loading dock. Actual shipping costs will vary, especially with a small publisher who is probably not located in a commercial building with a loading dock. No matter what way you ship, you are paying by the mile. Some printers, including SelfPublishing.com, offer storage and fulfillment which helps defer freight until the books are actually resold. Do your homework on this one.
Well, that was the 1500-word course on printing specifications. In writing this article I realized exactly why I developed the online “Instant” printing pricing over 10 years ago. It is the absolute best way to help self-publishers through this part of the “Self Publishing Minefield.” If I was a small publisher, I wouldn’t even consider a printer who did not offer “Instant” pricing. The reason they don’t has nothing to do with technology. It has 100% to do with wanting to size you up and develop a “whatever the market will bear” pricing policy. Your best bet is to start with www.SelfPublishing.com or any other printer with online instant pricing. Delete the actual price but use the specifications to send to your other printers who might want to quote. This way you will have the best chance of receiving apples-to-apples quotes.
Happy Print Purchasing!