By Ron Pramschufer, President , Self Publishing, Inc. – Helping Authors Become Publishers since 1995
The first thing that comes to mind when someone asks this question is a concept dating back to Ancient Babylon and shared by most of the world’s religions commonly known as the “Golden Rule” … “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This holds true whether the errors are the result of something you did or something the printer did.
Printing is one of the few true manufacturing industries left in the US. Unlike manufacturers like Ford, where the “line” is set up for the year and the exact same car is assembled until the line is set up again next year, printers reset the “line” multiple times per day. Each “model/book” is different. Like Ford Motors, it takes dozens of workers to manufacture each and every book. Each set of hands involved in the process sets up an opportunity to have something go, not quite according to plans … a Printer Error.
On the other side of the equation, publishing is not simple or easy either. There are many things involved with the publishing of a book. Unlike running a lemonade stand, where you simply need lemons, sugar, water, and a few clean paper cups to get started, becoming a publisher and publishing a book involves many different steps and variables within these steps. At each of these steps there is the possibility of mistakes being made … a Publisher Error.
Murphy’s Law dictates that most of these “mistakes” or “imperfections” will not surface until all books are printed and resting safely in the publisher’s warehouse/garage or closet. It is quite natural for slight panic to set in upon the discovery of a mistake. This book is after all, the author/publisher’s latest addition to their family … their baby. After the initial panic subsides the natural next step is to try to asses blame … whose mistake was this, anyhow? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this step doesn’t need to be taken but you will last a lot longer in this business if you save the blame step for a little later.
From the printer’s side of the equation, the overwhelming majority of customer perceived “mistakes” are not mistakes at all but imperfections in the process covered by Printing Trade Customs. I’ve written at least a dozen times about the absence of the word “perfect” in the printer’s dictionary. There is no such thing as a perfect book. Folding and trim might vary. Quantity, especially on an offset printing run, will vary. Color can vary within a print run. Covers may “lift” slightly when books are set out on a shelf exposed to humidity. The one thing that all of the above imperfections have in common is that book sales will not be adversely affected. Keep in mind that 90 is still an A. If you are not comfortable with this concept, you will most likely have a miserable publishing experience and should probably save your money and try something else.
The next level of mistakes are true mistakes. In this case, rather than blame, severity is the better place to start. By severity, I mean, will this problem affect sales? And, if the answer is yes, how severely will it affect sales? If the problem is something that takes someone from Smith College with a couple of Masters Degrees to even catch, chances are it’s a problem that won’t affect sales at all. In this case, the mistakes should be noted and addressed in the reprint, after the current print run sells out.
If on the other hand, the main title of the book is misspelled, the effect on sales could be serious. These books probably need to be reprinted. Of course there are plenty of examples in between. Very few mistakes result in absolutely unsalable books. While not perfect, and maybe not even a 90, they are salable. This holds true regardless of fault.
Now that you have assessed the severity of the problem, it’s time to figure out who caused the problem in the first place. The problem is usually either the printer’s fault or the publishers. I say usually because you would be surprised how many times there are multiple issues on a printing job with split responsibilities. The perfect example of this would be the printer printed on the wrong paper but the publisher OK’s the printer proof with the title spelled wrong.
Had the book been printed on the correct paper with the title spelled wrong, it would have been the publisher’s responsibility. True story: the original name of Merrill Lynch was “Merrill & Lynch” but someone didn’t check the printer’s proof close enough on the original stationery and they couldn’t afford to reprint so the name stayed Merrill Lynch. I had a similar experience in my early career with a job for the government. This book had gone through 7 different proofing stages and when the final books were delivered, the switchboard operator asked the question, “What does reseach mean? “ Unlike Merrill Lynch, the government had plenty of money and reprinted the 70,000 books with “reseach” changed to “research”. While this is an extreme example, it demonstrates the importance of looking closely at the printer’s proof. In either case, most printers will reprint the books at a steep discount, not wanting to make money off a customer’s mistake. I’m sure that was true with the stationery printer, too. (See “Golden Rule” above.)
In the other example, where the printer used the wrong paper, it was well within the publisher’s right to reject the job and have all the books rerun. Reality is that this would be unusual because sales would not be affected by a single copy whether the book was printed on 50# white offset or #50 natural. In a case like this, most publishers would either accept the books outright or accept at a discount. (See “Golden Rule.”)
Now let’s look at the same example with a different outcome. In this case, the publisher insists the printer reprint on the correct paper (Grrrrrr, but within publisher’s right), but asks that the printer use a different file because they found a few things they would like to change. Smells fishy doesn’t it? “Well, you have to reprint anyhow” the publisher says. This is true, but the reprint is to correct a mistake the printer made, not to let you, the publisher, correct mistakes. (See “Golden Rule.”) This one falls in that category of shared responsibility. NO printer will rerun a book at his expense and allow the publisher to make corrections at the same time. Would you? The answer is to go back and examine the severity of both problems … the incorrect paper and the corrections publisher wants to make. The choices are:
1. To use the first printing at a discount and make the corrections at the 2nd printing stage.
2. Reprint the books on the correct paper using the original files at the printer’s expense and let the printer put the original books in the chopper.
3. Everything in Number 2 plus reprinting the books at publisher expense using new file.
4. Agreeing to Number 1 on the condition that the printer shares the cost of another printing using the new file.
How would you handle this if it were you were the publisher? How would you handle this if you were the printer? If you stay in publishing long enough, you will be faced with many similar decisions. Mistakes happen. In the perfect world, none of them will be your fault. But as we all know, the world is not perfect. What does it hurt to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?