Printing Your Book

Printing costs are the most expensive part of self-publishing books (and hiring an editor can be very expensive too). Your credit-card better have a high limit because it's going to cost you over $5,000 to print the book. A very rough estimate is to think that every page costs $.10. There are a dozen factors that change this number, but this is a quick way to estimate it. For example, my book has over 500 pages in it and the printer charged me a little more than $5,000. Some things that effect cost are the number of colors in the cover, how many copies to print (the first 1,000 is the most expensive due to setup costs, after that additional copies are dirt cheap), paper thickness and paper size (my books are small because the standard size is more expensive).


The printer you choose is VERY important. I shopped around for printers for a while and finally chose a printer that had a great reputation and focused on quality. At first I was very happy with the quality of the book but this only lasted a couple months. I started getting complaints that my book was bound too tightly and people were complaining that the pages were falling out. Pages falling out?!?!? This isn't acceptable!!! I asked some readers to send me their books and sure enough the pages were fallling out. Then I got a call from my Mom who said that as she was making corrections to the book her pages started falling out too. Man, I couldn't sleep I was so stressed out. What was I going to do with 1,500 books that had pages falling out??? I had nightmares of every reader sending me back their book because the pages fell out. I contacted my printer and sent them the damaged books. They said that books aren't designed to be "bent backwards" and the spine was breaking. They said that I needed a binding called "layflat binding" which lets the reader prop the book open while they read it. Upon more investigation I found out that while Layflat Binding is a good thing, it isn't necessary. I found a new printer that used a stronger glue but still let the book fall open more easily. They are United Graphics Incorporated and they have competitive pricing. However, when I compare my book to books published by O'Reilly I can tell that their binding process is a superior quality and lets books "layflat". O'Reilly's printer is Malloy . I'm going to contact them and have them send me review books before I print my next book.


Here are a couple terms to remember about printers:
Offset Printers print professional quality books. They use large presses and require a minimum print run of 500 to 1,000 copies.
POD (Print On Demand) printers use laser printers to print your book and then bind it. The can do small print runs like 10 or more. POD doesn't get much respect in the book industry.
Perfect Binding is the type of binding you need to use for technical books. There are other types of binding but the industry standard for technical books is Perfect Binding.


Cover quality: more to come next week on specifying the type of cover that will survive shipping and warehousing...


Printing On Demand

Let's talk about Print On Demand printers some more. POD printing is extremely expensive but the benefit is that you could print as few as 5 copies if you wanted. It's so expensive that you will probably lose money for each book you sell. There are a few negative aspects of POD. First is that they charge extra for art work and this includes screen shots. As you know, a technical book has dozens of screen shots. They rejected my book because of all the screen shots. They actually refused to print my book! I think that since they print everything on laser printer, the screen shots use too much toner and costs them extra money. However, I did use their online quote estimator and determined that if I would have printed the book using POD and paid for shipping then each book would get me a little more than $1 profit. If I account for artwork charges then I would have lost money for each book. In my opinion, POD publishing is best for fiction books consisting mostly of text and with a low page count. Technical books typically have a lots of artwork and lots of pages (300-500) and consequently don't work with the POD publishing model. Another problem with POD is that people in the book industry immediately know when a book was printed with POD because it has lower quality (not that I can really tell). Bookstores won't carry it because of the lower print quality and consquently you won't be able to find a distributor either. All around, POD is bad news. The one good thing about POD is that you can get your first 100 copies and see how fast they sell. If you still have them in six months then its a good thing you didn't spend $5,000 to print 1,000 copies. If you sell your 100 POD books very quickly, then you can feel confident that you can pay a professional printer to print 1,000 copies and that they will probably sell. In other words, its a cheap way to test the marketability of your self-published book without going broke. But remember, if you want to go pro and get in bookstores then you need to use an offset printer. Again, I highly recommend United Graphics Incorporated because you don't want to take the chance of having a bad printer (like my experience when books fell apart).


After you hire an offset printer, they want 50% of their fees up front. So expect to pay at least $2,500 up front and another $2,500 when the books are ready to be delivered. Then you send them a CD with your PDF file on it and a hardcopy of your book (I print two page faces per printed page to save space). I can tell you one thing, when you have that huge stack of papers in your hand and you are about to mail them off to the printer, you feel euphoric and scared to death at the same time. All those months of hard work and sleepless nights have finally paid off. But this is also the point of no return. Any mistakes made to this point can't be corrected. Wow, what a rush!


After sending this huge package to the printer, they make up the lead plates and send you something called "bluelines". This is exactly what your book will look like when it's printed, except that its blue. Don't ask me why everything is blue, this is just another one of those mysteries of the printing world. You spend a few days reading through the "bluelines" version of your book looking for errors the printer or you made. If the printer made the error they will fix it for free. If you made the error (like a grammatical error you didn't notice before) then they will charge you to fix it. It's your call whether you do this or not. After you send the bluelines back to the printer it takes about three weeks for them to print up the books and ship them out. If you are selling the books out of your house you better have room for a lot of books! I had two pallets of books and I kept them in my garage. Once you get the books (and catch your breath from seeing all those boxes) then you have to start shipping them out to If you have a distributor then you should have the printer ship the books directly to the distributor's warehouse. Have the distributor ship you a box of books so you can give copies to family and friends as well as send to magazines for review.