By Ron Pramschufer, President , Self Publishing, Inc. – Helping Authors Become Publishers since 1995
This was a real case that came up this past week and is very typical of some of the problems an author faces when he puts on the Publisher hat. The simple answer is, if you signed the printer proof as “ok to print” and the books match the signed proof, you’ve bought the books.
The largest printing mistake that I was ever involved with happened over 30 years ago. I worked for a printer in Baltimore who did quite a lot of printing for the US Government Printing Office. This particular book happened to be 70,000 copies of a hardcover book. Back in those days, prior to computers, the proofing process was quite extensive. First there were galley proofs, then page proofs, then repro proofs and finally book blues. For a little history of that whole process, you can read it in the Publishing Basics book which is offered for free at www.selfpublishing.com. For this article, let’s just present the picture that, prior to any book being printed, many different types of proofs were supplied to GPO. After many months of production, the finished samples found their way to the 2nd floor where I sat. Like it was yesterday, I remember the secretary looking at the book and calmly asking the question, “What does reseach mean?” Huh? The main title on the front cover of the book was stamped “Reseach” instead of Research. A lightning quick trip to the job jacket revealed that the word was misspelled on 7 different proofs, all of which had a signature with an OK. Talk about a tough phone call to the customer? By the end of that day we had a new purchase order from the government to reprint the 70,000 books with the title spelled correctly. While we misspelled the word originally (back in the days of typesetting), the customer/Government Printing Office was 100% responsible for the reprint of the book.
Thirty years later similar things are happening in the printing world daily and the result is the same. If the publisher/customer signs the proof as “OK to Print,” it is printed. If there is a mistake found later on, as long as the book was printed to match the OK Proof, it is 100% the publisher/customers responsibility to pay for reprinting, if reprinting is necessary. This is a hard pill for some to swallow but it is what it is.
As an Independent Publisher, if you cannot picture yourself being 100% responsible for mistakes that you don’t catch, DON’T PUBLISH. Publishing is not for everyone. The way I start each seminar is with the simple line, “Writing is a love… Publishing is a business.” Being responsible for the final accuracy of your book is part of the business end of publishing.
Luckily there are dozens of eyes that come in contact with your book during the printing process. While not required as part of their job, you would be absolutely amazed at how many mistakes are caught by various workers in the plant. I can’t tell you how many times I have answered the phone at 3AM and talked to some pressman (who got a thrill at waking me up) about something on a printing job that matched a proof but didn’t quite look right. This happens hundreds of times, all over the country with traditional book printers. It’s pride … printer’s pride. Does the printer charge extra for this value-added service? Of course not, other than actual costs for plate remakes or whatever. Most customers appreciate it when a mistake is caught that they missed. A few though have come to expect it, which is wrong. If you find yourself in this group, you might want to reconsider your role as publisher. You’re just going to drive yourself crazy.
This example in the main question came up a few days ago with a long time customer of mine. We had worked together quite a few times over the past 10 years. All previous titles were produced without a hitch. That is generally good, right? It’s good but not realistic. In this case, my customer has been lulled into a false sense of security of thinking that everything I did was “perfect.” As much as I might write to the contrary, all this publisher knew was that everything in the past was completely trouble-free and he has no reason to believe that a new experience would be any different.
I’m not a designer so I won’t comment on whether or not centering elements on a cover makes good design or not but this is what this person had in their mind. Evidently there were some hiccups with the type and type placement but that is why the designer and printer show proofs. Proofs went back and forth a few times until they were finally OK’d. The files went off to the printer and the printer supplied a ruled out proof, which was also OK’d.
The books were printed and delivered at which time all hell breaks loose. I won’t go into a lot of detail but the general gist of the story was the image and type wasn’t centered on the front cover. The first thing I did was to pull the proofs. As you can imagine … the designer’s proof was OK’d and the image and type was not centered and the ruled off printer’s proof was OK’d and the image and type was off-center. It was about as clear as the first example that I used with the misspelled title. “Sorry, Joe … if you wanted everything centered, you shouldn’t have OK’d the proof.” “But everything I have received from you in the past has been perfect! YOU should have caught this and changed this. I don’t know what I’m looking at with those proofs. I was concentrating on the type.”
Well, you as a publisher have to worry about everything. If you don’t understand something, don’t sign until you do. Whether you are Joe Smith Enterprises, publishing your first book or Random House, publishing your 50,000th … the rules are ALL the same … you OK it … you’ve bought it.
Of course, if a printer firmly enforces every rule or trade custom of printing in every instance he’s eventually out of business. As much as I absolutely guarantee you that there is no greener grass, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d had a customer or two leave in a huff when they didn’t get their way. Most of these returned sooner or later, once they figured the green grass thing out for themselves. Right or wrong, I do not believe in making money off other people’s mistakes and have a pretty good concept of “fair.” Over time, all this tends to work itself out. Is this customer headed to the greener grass next time? I don’t think so. We worked something out where everyone was happy and … life goes on.
Hope I didn’t scare you … see you next issue.