The Book Printing Process

In the world of print-on-demand your book is simply two PDF files (one file for the cover and one for the book’s interior pages) stored on your printer’s computer hard drive. When someone purchases your book, the book’s cover and interior pages PDF files are printed, the cover is wrapped around and glued to the interior pages, and then the edges of the book are cut to its final size. Lastly, your finished book is packed into a mailer or box for shipping. Given the scope of automation, there are a lot of setup parameters that need to be entered in order for your book to be printed correctly. This is where the book publisher comes in. Their job is to define the parameters and enter them to print your book correctly.

Manuscripts are normally sent to publishers in a Microsoft Word file, though publishers will often accept other file types as well. Do not send your publisher PDF files. The most common application publishers use to produce your book’s PDF files is Adobe InDesign, but some publishers use Microsoft Publisher instead.

TIP: When negotiating a contract with your publisher to produce the PDF files for your book, ask to obtain your book’s Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Publisher files. This way, if you ever change publishers, the new publisher will not have to recreate these files.

Selecting a Printer

There are two primary printers in the book print-on-demand industry – Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark (IS). Each printer has their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Before deciding which printer to work with, ask yourself these questions:

  • In what formats do you want to sell your book – paperback (perfect bound), hardback (case laminate), audiobook and/or eBook?
  • Do you want to sell your book only online or also to booksellers?
  • Do you want to sell your book internationally?
  • What level of support will the printer need to provide to prepare your book for publishing?

The best way to decide which printer to use is to watch comparison videos on YouTube. This should ensure that you receive the latest information. To do this, go to YouTube and search for videos about “KDP versus IngramSpark.”

TIP: Before enabling a book for distribution, order a printed book so you can visually see that text on the spine is centered correctly and that the paper size is fine for your content, including illustrations.

Calculating Book Printing Costs

The printer’s rate sheet may seem overwhelming at first, but it is relatively easy to use once you understand what it contains. There are a couple things to watch out for, though, when calculating book printing costs: 1) international versus domestic printing costs, and 2) the cost of returned books. We’ll talk about these in another blog post. The cost to publish your book can be broken down into the components listed below:

Title Setup Charge

This is the charge to input your book’s parameters into the printer’s machines. Normally there is a separate charge to set up each type of book you want to produce, but printers will often offer a combined rate when setting up printed and digital editions of the same book at the same time.

TIP: Printers offer free setups at different times of the year. See if your publishing schedule can be aligned with one of these free offer periods.

Binding Type

You can select either a perfect bound (paperback) or a case laminate (hardback) binding for your book. Printing a hardback is more complex than printing a paperback book because there are more binding options. When you create a hardback book, you can print the cover directly onto the book, or have it printed onto a dust jacket that wraps around a fabric-covered exterior. You can also choose to print the book’s title onto the fabric cover before the dust jacket is wrapped around it.

Cover Finish

When you choose to print a paperback, or a hardback book’s dust jacket, you will need to choose whether to print the cover / dust jacket onto gloss (shiny) or matte (not shiny) paper stock. It is purely a matter of personal taste–there is no preferred cover finish.

TIP: With a paperback book, it is possible to print on the inside of a book’s cover for an additional charge. You may want to consider this option if you have something you want readers to see before they start to read the book. 

Book Dimensions (trim size)

The physical size of the book is chosen when it is laid out, not when it is printed, so it is important to discuss this with your publisher up-front. It can save you money in the long run. The key is to find the best balance of the cost of the trim size versus the cost of the number of pages in that trim size required to print what you have written. A couple other things to consider: 

  • The more you have written, the larger the trim size you can consider.
  • The smaller the trim size, the more pages your book will have, which will make it look thicker.

Books can be considered to be either small or large in size. Small book sizes generally range from four inches by six inches (4” x 6”) to six inches by nine inches (6” x 9”). Large book sizes normally run from six and a half inches square (6.5” x 6.5”) to eight and a half by eleven inches (8.5” x 11”). The printer will tell you which book trim sizes they consider to be small versus large in their rate sheet. Generally, a 5.5” x 8.5” or 6” x 9” trim size is acceptable for either fiction and non-fiction books.

TIP: Pick a trim size that is the same size as other books in your genre. When people look for new books to read, if your book looks like others they have read, they are more likely to pick yours up. 

Page Count

Your publisher can help you estimate your book’s page count, which will vary with the book’s trim size. Other factors, such as the size and the font used, the size of the margins on each page, and the spacing between each line of text will affect the final page count. 

TIP: Let the publisher choose the font, the margins and the line spacing as part of their creative work. Your book will look better, and probably sell better, if you do.

Paper Stock

The paper stock used affects the thickness of the book’s spine, making it look thicker or thinner. It can also make the book heavier, which will increase its shipping cost. Generally, if you are printing in black & white, you will want to use a lighter weight paper stock. Printers will also tell you the maximum number of pages your book can contain for each of the different paper stocks they use. One consideration when thinking about the thickness of the paper stock in your book is the number and size of your illustrations. Lighter weight paper is thinner, which may make it easier to see the illustrations on the opposite side of a page.

TIP: If your book’s interior is printed in black & white, you can go with lighter paper stock, which will help you save on printing costs.

Interior Color

The normal interior book colors are either black & white, standard color or premium (i.e., high quality) color. The color you choose will affect the interior paper stock you can use. Generally, black & white pages have the greatest paper stock options and premium color pages generally have the least.

TIP: Create illustrations so they can be printed in black & white, to help you save on printing costs.

International Printing Costs

Have you ever considered selling your book internationally? Your printer can offer to print your book worldwide, and then you can grow into new markets as your work becomes more popular. When you set the price of your printed book, just be sure to create a wide enough gap between the cost to print your book and its retail price to cover changes in the exchange rate of money and overseas printing cost increases. 

Work with your publisher to decide what would be a reasonable price to charge. The concern will not be with the cost of individual sales but with the book’s wholesale price. Booksellers are charged a discounted wholesale price, which can run as high as 55% off of the retail price. You want to make sure your book’s retail price is high enough to produce a profit even when a bookseller is given the wholesale price. You do not want to have to pay the printer every time a bookseller orders books wholesale.

The Cost of Returned Books

One would like to think that when something is sold, the transaction is complete, but this is not necessarily the case when selling printed books. I’m not talking about sales of individual books, but rather books that are sold in bulk to a bookseller. One of the parameters you will need to set for your book is what to do with books the bookseller wants to return to the printer. There are three options:

  1. Books are not returnable: If you select this option, booksellers may not carry your book in their stores. They operate on what could be considered a consignment basis. They will order and stock a number of your books for sale, and they will return what doesn’t get sold to the printer for credit. If you choose not to make your book returnable, it is a disincentive for booksellers to carry it.
  2. Books are returnable: If you choose to make your books returnable, the bookseller will return unsold books to the printer. When the printer receives them they will credit the bookseller for the entire wholesale price of the book, not just the printing cost! In addition to having to cover the wholesale cost of the book, you will also be charged for the cost to ship the unsold books to you. Depending on the type of book produced (i.e., hardcover vs paperback), whether you have a method of selling them yourself, and whether you believe the returned books can be resold, you may or may not want to have unsold books returned to you.
  3. Books are returnable but destroyed: This is where you may hear the term “stripping.” When a bookseller returns books under this category, instead of sending back the entire book, they “strip off” the front cover and send it back to the printer for a returned book credit. Again, either you or your publisher will be liable for covering the wholesale cost of each returned book, however you will not be charged for the cost of shipping the stripped covers to the printer.

If you sell and ship your book to customers yourself, then you may want to have unsold books returned to you. However, if you don’t have this capability, or you are concerned that the books may come back damaged, you may want to make the books returnable but have the bookseller destroy them. If you don’t have experience with book returns, you may want to initially make your books not returnable until you see how well they sell.

Fortunately, returns are not as big an issue with eBooks, but there is one thing you should be aware of. Amazon has a 7-day return policy for digital book purchases, which isn’t a bad thing, but some people have started promoting the idea on the Internet that you can purchase an author’s eBook, read it within seven days and return it for credit – essentially reading the author’s work for free. Nothing has been decided on this issue, at least at the time this blog post was written, so just be aware that this might happen to you.

Mark Hunter Brooks, author of the book Earth’s Hidden Reality, has had numerous spiritual experiences since 2003 that have profoundly changed his worldview. Today, he writes and speaks about the mechanics of the non-physical world, helping make what many consider to be mystical easier to understand. Professionally, Mark Brooks managed large IT and business projects for a Manhattan-based Fortune 100 financial services firm and has an MBA from New York University.

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