June 10, 2015

At Your Service: A Primer on Printing with Mike Daniels

By Rachel L’Heureux

mike daniels“At Your Service” is an ongoing blog series in which we interview representatives from the many companies and resources that exist to assist self-publishers.

Today we speak with Mike Daniels about the printing services various companies provide.

Daniels has spent the last two decades in book publishing, focused primarily on book manufacturing. He has represented major domestic printers such as Sheridan Books and Courier (recently acquired by RR Donnelley) as well as Chinese and Korean printers through Codra and Four Colour Print Group. He’s also a book publishing coach who strategically and creatively guides his clients through all facets of the publishing process to ensure they reach their targeted goals.

In addition, Daniels is the author of Living, Loving, and Loathing: Modern Rhymes and Limericks for the Romantically Inclined and Humorously Correct and is Editor-in-Chief of Peaks & Planes Magazine. He is a past president of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association, where he received the CIPA Leadership Award and the Ric Simmons Memorial Life Vest Award for excellence in publishing, integrity in business and service to authors. He currently serves on the CIPA Board of Directors and is the President of the CIPA Education and Literacy Foundation.

Q: What are the steps authors will go through when working with a printer?

A: There are a lot of variables that come into play when manufacturing a book: trim size, length, paper weight, coating, binding, etc. So first discussing a project with someone like myself or an experienced book designer will give the author some insight into what paper to use or what trim size might be appropriate, etc.

Once the book has been designed, they would know what specifications to share with a book manufacturer. Those specifications would then be used to prepare a quote that outlines how much each of those specifications will cost. It should also include the shipping cost.

Once authors have that quote, they will compare it to other quotes they’ve received from other manufacturers to decide which manufacturer it makes sense to move forward with.

Then, the pre-press department at the book manufacturer would review the files and let the publisher or author know if there are any problems. If there are no problems, they would proceed to the proofing stage.

Many times now, “soft proofs” are sent, which is nothing more than a PDF that has been prepped for print production. The publisher or author will be prompted to go to the FTP — or file transfer protocol — site to review the proofs that have been placed there for their approval. If the proofs are color critical, the publisher/author may want to request printed proofs, as a computer screen is RGB —red, green and blue; whereas, the material would print in four-color CMYK —cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

Once the proofs are approved, the book goes into production. Depending upon whether the book is soft cover or hardcover and whether it is being manufactured domestically or overseas, this will determine the schedule as to when the books will be completed and shipped.

Q: What condition should a manuscript be in when sent to a printer?

A: Almost every book manufacturer will need a PDF file of the cover and text. Some authors send separate PDFs of the front cover, back cover, and spine, but printers often prefer just one PDF file for all cover material and one PDF file for the text.

Q: How does an author submit the manuscript to a printer/manufacturer?

A: Most printers prefer that publishers upload their files to an FTP site. Generally, it’s no more complicated than uploading a photo to Facebook.

Q: What is the difference between offset production, short-run digital book manufacturing and print on demand?

A: Offset production is the traditional way to print a book. Offset lithography is now known as CTP (computer-to-plate): PDF files are transferred to aluminum or mylar plates that are affixed to a sheet-fed or web press, and pages are printed in signatures (sections that are usually 16, 32 or 48 pages, depending on the trim size of the book). The signatures are then bound before the cover is added; then the book is trimmed and the covers attached.

Offset printing offers a lower unit cost for high-quantity print runs (usually 1,000 +) and/or with books with high page counts.

With short-run digital production, a printer can produce 100, 500, even 1,000 copies or so, within a two-week time frame. This type of printing is generally more costly per unit than offset printing, depending on where you print and what equipment is used. Short-run printers use different presses and technologies and some are more cost effective than others.

Short-run digital printing is useful and cost effective for publishers/authors who don’t yet know how well the book will do. They don’t want to purchase a bunch of copies just to bring their unit cost lower if they aren’t sure whether or not all those copies will actually sell. It’s safer to produce a shorter print run.

The other great value in producing a shorter print run, although the unit cost may be higher, is that it allows the author/publisher to makes changes if, after the first print run, they find an error or decide they want to do something differently. They have just a short print run to move through before they can print the book with the desired changes.

Another advantage is that you can do special orders for certain clients. One of my clients writes automobile books, which he sells to the public but also to dealerships. By using short print runs, he’s able to put the name and logo of a specific dealership on the cover of the books sold to that particular dealership but just have a generic cover for the ones sold to bookstores. If he were to do offset printing, he wouldn’t be able to incorporate this strategy.

Finally, a print-on-demand or POD book is one where, if a bookstore doesn’t have the book a customer is looking for, the bookseller can look up the title and determine if it can be printed on demand. The order is then placed, and as few as one or as many as a couple dozen can be printed through digital “plateless” technology. Within two or three days, the books would be shipped directly to the person ordering the book.

This is the most expensive option per unit because of the prepress/equipment preparation time required relative to the number of books produced. It takes the same amount of make-ready time to print one book as it does to print 1,000+. Therefore, POD profit margins are going to be significantly less than with longer print run production.

POD production should be used strategically to accomplish specific goals, meet an immediate demand for an out-of-print title or for marketing purposes, such as for a trade show or limited number of “ARCs” (Advance Readers Copies), before completion of the longer print run.

It’s important to know that offset production, digital short-run production and print-on-demand (POD) all print physical books. The term “digital” means that digital technology is used to take files and print them on paper without creating plates (as with offset production). A digital production press is basically a big, high tech copy machine and can use either toner based or ink-jet printing. Electronic books or ebooks are sometimes incorrectly referred to as digital books.

Q: How long should printing be expected to take?

A: Turnaround time for soft cover books is usually 3 to 4 weeks from a U.S. plant. In Asia, although production still takes 3 to 4 weeks, the shipping time is considerably longer. To produce a book in Asia, the turnaround time would be about 7 to 8 weeks if produced in Korea and 11 to 12 weeks if produced in China. For a hardcover book in the U.S., production takes about 4 to 5 weeks. When produced overseas, the turnaround time is about the same as for softcover books — so 8 weeks from Korea and 12 weeks from China.

Q: Can you tell us more about pricing?

Pricing is derived from these elements: the book’s trim size and page count, the quantity of books produced, and whether the text is printed in black and white or color…For a digital short-run production of a 5 ½ x 8 ½, 200-page book, black-and-white text, the cost for 250 copies would be about $3 a book. For 500 copies, the cost would be about $2.50 a book. If higher quantities are produced, such as 2,000 or more, the unit cost could be reduced to less than $2 if printed via digital or offset production. A softcover book, no matter where it’s made, is going to be less expensive than a hardcover, as there are fewer components.

Pricing differences can be considerable in terms of printing in the U.S. or in Asia. I would highly recommend that any author research this difference, especially if it’s for a children’s book, board book or large coffee table book, because the cost differences for those types of projects can be sizeable.

It’s important to remember that some printers have a minimum dollar value for any given project. That means the same book could cost $4 per book for 100 copies or $20 a book for three copies.

Q: What if a book has illustrations?

A: Color costs more, but photographs in black and white would not change the price. However, if the author decided they wanted to use a coated paper for the book because of the photos, that would be more expensive.

Q: How many copies should an initial print run consist of? Is it better to overestimate or underestimate?

It’s always better to underestimate, as you can quickly go to reprint if need be. But it also depends on the specifications of the book, timing and the audience for that book.

For example, if it’s a hardcover children’s book and the market and demand is unknown, I would still use offset production and wouldn’t print less than 1,000 copies. At that number, an offset-produced 8.5 x 11 printed laminated case (PLC) hardcover children’s book with 32 color pages on 100lb paper produced in China or Korea might be $4 to $5/copy delivered.

By contrast, a short-run, 250-copy print run digitally produced in the U.S. might be $17/copy. If you do the math ($17 x 250 = $4,250 and $4.50 x 1,000 = $4,500), that means you’d spend $250 more to get 1,750 more copies — but think of what that would mean to you in additional profit!

However, if it’s a softcover, maybe 5 ½ x 8 ½ or 6 x 9 with black text only and perfect bound, I think the author/publisher would be surprised to find that if they strategically select the right printer, they would be much better off printing via U.S. digital short run production with 250 or 500 copies to start, or even 1,000 copies, rather than printing them via offset production. Also, the order would be completed in about half the time compared to offset and would be equal to or superior in quality. Depending on the specs of a particular book you can print 250 copies at a time and still be profitable. When demand picks up, it’s easy to then go with a higher quantity via offset production to lower the unit cost and be even more profitable.

Q: Do you ever make recommendations for book specifications?

A: Absolutely! Not only is the appearance of the book impacted by the decisions authors make as far as trim size and paper weight but the cost is impacted as well. In addition, where they can produce the book might be affected by those decisions. Almost any book manufacturer or digital production company can produce a 5 ½ x 8 ½ book with black text only. But if a trim size is larger than the norm or it has specific requirements as far as color accuracy or the weight of the paper, not every book manufacturer can produce those books.

When designers or authors begin to envision their book, it would be prudent for them to be in contact with someone at the printer who knows what the options are, where those options can be implemented most cost effectively, and what alternatives may exist for an equally attractive and yet less expensive book… While an author may have grandiose ideas about their book(s) and want to print thousands of copies, he or she needs to stick to their budget and be realistic. That’s where someone with experience producing books can be helpful.

Q: What are some common mistakes you see self-publishers making?

A: A lot of self-publishers follow the advice of people they are led to believe are the “experts” and end up paying for a lot of things they didn’t necessarily need. One thing I know is unnecessary that a lot of designers think is “cool” and helps a book stand out are flaps or French folds [on the book cover of paperbacks]. That type of cover is best known by printers as a “gatefold cover.” Designers see that as real estate to offer additional information about the book. But, adding flaps to a softcover book is very expensive and even limiting in transportability of files down the road if maybe an author decides to change printers because not every printer can manufacture gatefold covers in-house.

Another example is embossing a cover. This means stamping out letters or graphics using metal dies to give the cover a semi-three-dimensional effect. It does make a book look more attractive and appealing but is also a considerable cost addition. There are other less expensive options that can be just as attractive, or even more so, like spot glossing a title or image.

Q: Any last thoughts?

A: Having been a professional in publishing for two decades, I know who to talk to and where to go to get printing quotes based on the needs of the publisher and requirements of a particular book. New authors or independent publishers don’t usually have that advantage. It is so important to utilize someone in the industry who knows what they’re doing and who has the author’s/publisher’s best interests at heart.

It’s easy to get taken advantage of by large printing companies with telemarketing sales people or by subsidy publishers or “packagers” who basically farm out all the work and then mark everything up for substantial profit when they send you quotes. You don’t need to be “that guy!”

You can reach Mike Daniels, “The Publisher’s Coach,”at publishercoach@gmail.com or 303- 674-7070. www.facebook.com/mikedanielspubcoach

Rachel L’Heureux is a graduate of the University of Denver, as well as the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. She was BlueInk’s 2014 winter intern.

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at www.blueinkreview.com.

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