How to Publish a Book
Copyright 2009 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
Self Publishing and Printing Your Own Book
It's tough to beat self-publishing as a business model, but it carries the same stigma in some people's eyes as Print On Demand. If you're worried about how people will perceive your books, don't use your family name as the publisher name or write under a pen name. That's literally the only difference between self-publishing and any other kind of publishing, at least as far as the public can tell. The advantages of self-publishing your own books in terms of author relations and minimizing out of pocket expenses (as opposed to paying authors) are so obvious that there's no point dwelling on them. However, you have to be honest with yourself about how hard you're willing to work to start a publishing business and you have to be realistic about the probable outcome. This article covers how to publish a book with an offset printer. A much better and lower cost option to offset printing a book for most authors and small publishers is to go with book-on-demand, for which I've posted a print on demand case study with Ingram's Lightning Source.
There are dozens of titles about how to publish a book which are replete with stories of rejected authors who strike it rich, but that type of success is incredibly rare and doesn't serve as a model you can follow. The average book published in the U.S. sells less than 2,000 copies in it's lifetime, and since bestsellers and heavily promoted trade published books pull up that average, you had better believe that the average self published book sells closer to 200 copies. Success in any type of publishing is dependent upon salesmanship, so if you aren't willing to invest at least as much time in selling your book as you invested in writing it, there's little reason to go into the publishing business.
If you despair of waiting or if you have the desire to go it alone, self-publishing can be both satisfying and profitable. Also, a successfully self-published book is often an easy sell to a "real" publisher, providing you're willing to gamble on earning much less per book and making it up in volume. In this article we demystify the process and cost to self publish your own book, but first a word of warning: Books don't sell themselves.
Quick and Dirty
Before going in depth into the self-publishing process, we will present some quick cost numbers to whet your appetite (or send you home screaming). A standard 288 page 5.5"x 8.5" paperback book (around 100,000 words) with a single color laminated cover printed by your local offset shop will cost around the following:
At low quantities, page count has relatively little impact on the cost, whereas at high quantities, where you are basically buying "value added" paper, page count makes a big difference. Also, printers reserve the right to force you to buy overruns, (between 5% to 10% of the quantity ordered), adding hundereds or thousands of dollars to your cost.
I've rounded up and down some pennies to keep the numbers simple, but it's clear that you pay a premium for setup, and that prices fall quickly with quantity, really heading down if a couple thousand copies are printed. A first time self publisher will almost certainly want to print a small quantity of books the first time out, which actually makes the job simpler. A little known fact is that print runs of 500 books or less, known as "short runs" are almost never printed on large presses with metal plates prepared from film, and it would be a waste of money for most people to do so. The reason is that short runs are generally printed by what amounts to a large photocopy machine, like a Docutech. Even if the printer will print the book on a small offset press, a clean laser printed manuscript will probably be used to create the masters on paper plates. The point is you can create your page proofs in any old word processor and print them on your own laser or at a copy shop. This is the least expensive way into print for a small number of books to sell directly. If you want to list your books in online bookstore like Amazon and place them in local bookstore, you'll need to get an ISBN number from Bowker at a cost of $225 for ten numbers. Official copyright registration, an optional choice once the book is in hand, costs $30 (http://www.loc.gov/copyright)
Going First Class
If you want to publish really first class book, unless you already happen to have a job producing books for other people, you'll need to hire some help. You can save yourself a lot of money if you have a pretty clear idea of what you want up front, so do your homework. For example, a one color cover really gives you two colors to work with, the color of the paper and the color of the ink. If you want to use a color photograph on your cover, you're stuck with four color pricing. Hiring an experienced cover designer is probably the best investment you can make, and this service will probably be available at a reasonable cost through your local printer a $200 investment or less if no original artwork is required. Less crucial and far more expensive is a professional page compositor, not just somebody who has better software than you. A good page compositor will pick a suitable font, balance the pages, and make sure that the headers and footers are attractive and not crowded. When you go first class, you really need to increase the number of books printed to 500 or more if you are to have any chance of recouping your investment, and at that point it's a comfort to have somebody who has experience working with printers preparing the camera ready pages. By the way, various flavors of digital presses have entirely eliminated the optical camera step using "output to disk" as the only input to the printing press. A reasonable hourly rate for a page compositor/book designer is in the $40 $50/hr range (my own guy charged $35), so costs add up. Don't go with somebody who charges $5 $10 per page, particularly if the book is all text or has limited illustrations. After the initial book design is created, the text is poured in and an experienced operator will only need a minute or two a page.
There are four or five physical characteristics to books you need to be familiar with to make cost comparisons. The most fundamental is the trim size, the width x height dimensions of the book in inches. Books are printed in standard sizes, only a couple of which are economical in print runs under several thousand copies.
The mass market format is the standard size for fiction novels, and is cost effective for anything over 1000 books. The smaller trade paperback format, 5 1/2" x 8 1/2", is the only size that can be printed in quantities under 1000 books without costing a huge premium. In both cases, the printed book will actually be a little smaller, up to 1/8", due to the limitations of the short run binding process. The other sizes really aren't cost effective unless larger presses are used, which require larger print runs to be cost effective. The basic reason is that small presses are sheet fed, like copying machines or laser printers, with relatively small sheets of paper. You can print four 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" pages at a time (4 up) on each side of a single 11" x 17" sheet of paper. Printing a book any other size page on this standard sheet size requires an extra cutting step, plus a good deal of wastage. Larger offset presses handle larger sheet sizes, which allows for more economical printing in a larger variety of page size, but the plate preparation for these presses is much more expensive. The largest and fastest presses are the web offset presses used by newspapers and large printers,. Web presses run large continual rolls of paper, rather than sheets, and perform some of the cutting and folding operations as well. However, web presses represent a large investment for the printer, so their market is usually limited to large runs from commercial publishers.
Paper weight, type and color are another important physical characteristic. The higher the paper weight, the better the quality. There are two standard systems for determining paper weight. One is used for the standard bond papers you buy for your copy machine or laser printer, the other used by printers. To translate the familiar 20# or 24# weight you are familiar with to printer weights, multiply by 2.5. The 20# weight is equivalent to a 50# printer weight, the 24# weight is equivalent to the 60# weight. Either weight is fine for trade paperbacks. Mass market paperbacks often use much lighter weight recycled paper, earning the name "pulp fiction." A real book artist can confuse the hell out of you with different paper finishes and color variations but I would stick with the standard 50# white offset paper, saving a bucket of money and worry. Once you pick the paper type, another number will fall out of this, the number of pages per inch (ppi). This is an important figure for cover designers, since the thickness of the binding obviously contributes to the size of the cover. Divide the number of pages in your book by the ppi, and you'll get the thickness of your book, minus the cover.
Cover thickness mainly depends on whether you get a hardcover or a paperback. The thickness of paperback covers is measured in points. Unfortunately, these aren't the same points used in font sizes, but thousandths of an inch. The standard paperback cover is 10 points (1/100 of an inch) coated on one side with a film lamination. The cost of a paperback cover with one color of ink is included in standard book pricing. Hard cover books may be highly desirable, but they are far to expensive for most self publishers at small print runs. To self publish a hardcover for a 100 or 200 book run will cost somewhere from $5 to $10 extra per book, depending on the process. At 1000 copies, the hardcover price comes down to $2 per book, including a four color the dust cover.