March 13, 2015

Trade Secrets: book production with Perseus’ Stacy Schuck

By Rachel L’Heureux

 Trade Secrets is an ongoing blog in which we ask professionals in the traditional sphere of the publishing industry to explain how they approach their job in order to help self-publishers understand the intricacies of the publishing process and glean some tips.

We recently spoke with Stacy Schuck, the Manager of Production & Manufacturing for Perseus Books Group out of their Westview Press office in Boulder, Colorado. She has been in publishing for about 20 years, working in Scotland at Findhorn Press and then Seattle, Washington, for various magazine publications until she landed in Colorado and began at Perseus in 2003. She has been in her current position for about three years.

Production is a complicated and also comprehensive stage of the traditional publishing process. Below, Schuck shares her expertise with Blueink Review in order to offer information and guidance to self-publishing authors.

Q: What is Production?

A: Production is making sure that the author’s, acquisitions editor’s, and publisher’s dreams for this book come to fruition in a way that makes them a profit, which isn’t always easy. Anything that is cool and fancy, like for instance a foil cover with spot gloss, is going to cost you more money. If your particular budget doesn’t account for that, you might have to go with a regular cover and maybe just some cool matte and hope your cover still has that “buy me” zing about it.

In production, you have to be willing to talk someone into down spec’ing (changing the book’s specifications to better adhere to the budget). You might go to press your first time out and have an embossed cover and really nice text stock (paper) and everyone thinks “Wow, this book is super pretty.” But, if you are on your eighth reprint and you’re only printing a thousand, you might need to change it up so that you can still get the book out there and make a profit (as smaller print runs cost more per book).

Helping people realize how to make money, sell the book, and keep it looking cool is a lot of the challenge.

Q: What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities?

A: (They include) talking to the printers about how we can do this or achieve that. And talking to the publisher with reverse questions in mind: “You want to do this but I can do this instead and save you blank amount of money.” Then, I schedule all of those things and make sure I get the files in time. Or, if the production team needs more time, then very politely requesting that the printer shrink their schedule for us (printing the books more quickly to make up for the lost time in production).

It’s a lot of meeting, estimating, scheduling, begging, cajoling, etc.

In addition, I have a staff of five so I need to be a resource for those people. When you’ve been with a company for 11 years, people ask you questions about how one thing or another has been done in the past. You end up with sort of old-timer’s credentials. I’ve worked on every imprint we have. I’ve done frontlist and I’ve done backlist. Everything we’ve done I’ve had a finger in at some point or another. People have to ask me. It would be great to have a bank or something somewhere in which all of that information was stored, but no amount of writing it down is really going to make it any more accessible. It takes experience. In my department, we all use each other as resources and ask each other questions.

Q: Since self-published authors work independently, without the benefit of much experience or peer consultation, how do you suggest they begin to overcome that sort of disadvantage?

A: Well, because self-published authors don’t really have a voice at the printer, I would say it’s important to let go of some of those expectations like, “This is my book, this is my baby; I need it in three weeks.” You might not get it. I don’t get it and I’m paying them a lot of money and sending them hundreds of titles.

While it’s all publishing, it’s kind of a different world or at least a different neighborhood because in self-publishing it’s just the author, going out there with virtually no support. It’s really scary. Who do you talk to and how do you get your book published? What if the printer prints it wrong? Then, you have to go fight them, whoever the printer was.

I just advise self-publishing authors to be patient and be polite. You win more flies with sugar than you do with vinegar, and just keep working the system. There are so many publishing programs out there now that are helping bridge the gap to make everything easier and more lucrative for the authors. Things are better than they were five or ten years ago.

Q: Which printers can/should self-published authors use?

Basically anyplace that does short print runs, as long as you can find a person or representative at the company who is willing to work with self-published authors. There are lots of options.

Q: Do printers interact differently with you than they do with a single self-published author?

Yes, because we’re giving them a lot more money and a lot more volume. We have a dedicated customer service representative at Lightning Source Inc (LSI), and we have a dedicated sales representative. The difference between being a self-published author and being a publishing company is purely volume. In the end, we’re both handing over a PDF and we say “Print it.” We both want it to sell. But, we’re handing over to LSI thousands of titles a year, and of those titles many of them print more than once. They are sort of obligated to keep us happy.

For one self-published author who says, “Here’s my one book, make it pretty,” they will make it pretty, but it’s just a different relationship.

Q: Printers who handle self-published books, then, have relatively limited resources compared to the array of printers a professional publishing house might be able to work with?

A: Yes, because printers that do work for publishers like HarperCollins and Penguin and Hachette have contracts. We promise so much work to them. They are big so they have a lot more stock and variation. We can even outsource to China.

At short print run printers, you are still going to get a high quality product, just not one with all the bell and whistles.

That’s what’s interesting about the advent of ebooks for self-published authors. The bells-and whistles’ gap doesn’t apply as much.

Q: If a self-published author wants to have some of the fancier features on their book that you mentioned earlier, are those options available to them?

A: If their budget allows, they can definitely do it. They just have to know what their printer is capable of. For instance, I know LSI does not do foil stock for covers. I know they do matte and maybe matte plus spot. If they were to walk into an RR Donnelly or Worzalla and say, “Here’s $50,000, let’s print 20,000 copies of my book with these specs,” they would likely get it.

 Q : For self-published authors, what are the production standards? Where can they cut corners? Where should they spend more money?

 A: Think about trim size (the size of a book page after excess material used in production has been removed). The larger your trim size, the more it’s going to cost because the more paper is going to get used. The printers often have fewer large format presses; they have many more presses that accommodate something in the 6×9 or 5×8 trim family. Before you marry yourself to a trim size, find out what the printers or programs you’re using can actually do. If you set your book up to be 10×10, only to find out that you won’t make any money or that the printer can’t even do it, then you will have to re-do your entire manuscript.

Also, make sure you are using fonts that either you own or the printer owns or that are open source. That also goes for images. Make sure you have permission and that you cite permissions for images, and if they’re your personal images, it would behoove you to state that it’s your image. Cite your sources.

As far as the cover goes, in some programs matte versus gloss coating might cost more. It depends on the printer. Gloss is standard and easy and that’s OK.

Also keep in mind that your computer monitor and your TV screen are RGB, which is red, green, blue. Printing is CMYK, which is cyan, magenta, yellow, black, which is also the order that colors are applied on press even at a self-printing place. When you are setting up your files, remember to make sure your settings are for CMYK in your design program, because if it is in RGB, it’s not going to look good when it prints CMYK.

If you’re printing just black, make sure your print settings in your application file (InDesign, Quark, Word, etc.)are black, only because it’s possible to print a four-color black, but it is just going to cost more. A four-color book takes longer and is much more expensive to make.

It’s also important to know the parameters with which to submit images. Make sure the image resolution is within the printer’s requirements so it will print well. Think about the sources of your images, like old photographs or newspapers that may not reproduce well. All of these are things to verify with your printer. Most programs will have guidelines or suggestions about what will produce well, but self-published authors should also do their homework and check up on all of that. What do you need to do to your files to get them ready for printing? Measure twice, cut once. That’s really what I say about all aspects of self-publishing and even publishing in general.

Q: Is it worthwhile to spend more money on the experiential aspects of a physical book for a self-published author?

A: I say embrace the basics. Just get your ideas out there. Take what you can get and sell the books. Get your name out there and get people excited to look for your next book. There’s nothing wrong with gloss. It’s shiny so it’s going to stand out.

In the last few years, a lot of publishing houses have decided to take the mindset: If you’re going to buy a book book, like a print book as opposed to an ebook, that means you really want the substance; you want the thing you can hold. It’s almost like a collector’s item. The packaging is important. Books are artifacts. But, in the end, it’s about profit and loss. What are you willing to spend for the kind of experience you hope to create? It depends on the author, their resources, and their vision. Making a book is art, and art is in the eye of the beholder.

Q: There seems to be two approaches to self-publishing, especially when it comes to production: Self-published authors either embrace their independence and unconventionality and want the look of their book to reflect that; or they might want their book to look the same as any other traditionally published book on the shelf. Which approach is more successful?

A: It’s funny, because regular publishers wonder the same thing: Do I want this book to blend in with all the other books out there so it doesn’t stand out too much and be considered weird? Or do I want this book to stand out and catch everyone’s attention? There was some zombie novel a few years ago that had a bright jacket with flocking so that it looked almost velvet, which was really cool, but I don’t know how many people bought it because of that. At the end of the day, it’s still a book about zombies.

I think it’s just a universal question that anyone making a book, self-published or not, thinks about.

Q: Any last thoughts, ideas, comments for self-published authors?

A: Keep up the good work.

Also, edit. And market yourself. A lot of authors are introverts so it’s important to learn how to be an extrovert. Check out authors you like online. Find resources. Research. Follow up. Seek out advice and feedback from friends, family, and readers alike. Get your book out there and sell it. Printing is the easy part.

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at If you are interested in receiving more blogs like this, sign up for our monthly newsletter!

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



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