Should you use a print broker to handle the production of your book? That depends on how extensive your knowledge of book design, printing and binding, logistics, and marketing is, and how much commitment you are prepared to make in handling all the many facets of book production.
It seems reasonably straightforward these days to write and publish your own book. Simple print-on-demand solutions, like those offered by Amazon’s Create Space®, are not quite as simple as they seem. While these types of production tools have value for certain types of books, they have their limitations. Try a cost analysis with Create Space for a full-color book on coated paper, for example. The book will cost more than you can sell it for, and there are limitations on the format, and the type of paper you can use. It just doesn’t make sense. Yet if your book is just black-and-white and mostly text—a novel, perhaps—Create Space is a good way to get your book published with minimal cost. Some things remain constant, however: you still need to get your book edited and formatted, and while Amazon® does help get your book out into the public arena, you will still have to market its presence on Amazon. And to be really effective, you will still need to promote it on your own website and through social media, local book signings, and so forth. There are many components to publishing your book, and getting it printed is just one of them.
Amazon® aside, there are many ways to get your book printed and bound without incurring enormous front-end costs. How? In recent years, we have seen a sharp reduction in the cost of books using traditional printing companies—those with enormous investments in expensive presses and binding equipment, and who had required large minimum print runs in order to justify low unit costs. For example, just 8 years ago, in producing a full-color art book, my small publishing house had to print a minimum of 5,000 copies to arrive at a unit cost that kept our retail price low enough for the book’s place in its specific market. That book cost well over $45,000 to print, so about $9 per book. The same book today would cost a total of $9,000 or one-fifth of the cost.
Why did this 8-year period see such a huge shift in printing costs? Because the paradigm drastically changed. Not only did printers with expensive capital equipment witness a worrisome surge towards electronic books (when Apple® iBooks and eReaders like the Kindle® were born); they had to face the advent of print-on-demand equipment such as the Indigo® digital printing technology, pioneered by an Israeli company that was acquired by Hewlett-Packard. These presses offer one-book-at-a-time printing and binding, at a reasonable unit cost, and using a machine that could virtually fit in your living room.
Traditional lithographic printers had to regather their wits, and find solutions to compete, and in many cases to actually survive. The revolution in prepress technology helped their cause. Digital remedies made expensive film output, and even plate making, almost redundant. That alone took virtually half the cost out of print production. Printing press manufacturers went back to the drawing board and adapted their equipment for quicker setup and easier cleanup to facilitate shorter runs. Consolidating deals with paper manufacturers also produced more flexibility, for the paper companies, too, were faced with imminent losses if something wasn’t done to support the traditional printer.
The result has been a resurgence in paper books (and other print collateral such as magazines) simply because publishers can now entertain short print runs at reasonable per-unit prices. As a small publishing house, we can now publish 500 or 1,000 books at a time, see how they do in the marketplace, and go into reprint if necessary with a telephone call or email message. And we can correct any errors or omissions in subsequent runs. This has slowed the rise of electronic books. Yet it’s important to cater to all needs. Younger generations are, to a great extent, reading on devices such as the iPhone®, the iPad® and the Kindle®. They still have good eyes! But a large portion of readers today are committed to print media; they love the feel of a good book, the smell of its paper, and the sense of ownership. I believe there’s plenty of room in the market for both electronic and print versions.
Notwithstanding what’s been said so far, self-publishing your book is far more complex than you think. Here are some of the key issues to consider, and why a good print broker can be vital for your peace of mind and your book’s success:
- You’re a writer!
The main consideration for using a good print broker is explained best with the old adage, “Do one thing, and do it well.” You’re a writer, and hopefully passionate about writing. Good writing requires the discipline to go to work every day, and read, research, and write. Consistency, commitment and hard work always pay. If you get too involved in the intricacies of publishing your book, you will not only lose time that should be earmarked for writing, but you may also lose momentum and even become despondent over the complexities of it all. Keeping up with the continually morphing technology of book publishing is so time-consuming and mind-boggling that you would have little time for anything else … time that should be allocated to writing.
Good print brokers keep up with technology as part of their passion, and will not just save you time and money but a lot of hassle and frustration as well.
- Writing your book is just the beginning.
Once you have your first draft, you will need to have it edited, and then proofread before it goes to press. I highly recommend that you have at least three qualified editors work on your manuscript or draft, and once they are done have at least two proofreaders go through everything with a fine-tooth comb. Try and avoid using friends to edit your book unless they are truly qualified. English teachers, if you know any, are not a bad bet. But it is really worth hiring professionals to make sure your book isn’t full of flaws when it is finally out in the public domain. That is just embarrassing, and belies your abilities as a writer.
Finding good editors and proofreaders is not easy, and the search will use up valuable creative time for you as a writer. A good print broker has already done the research, and has a stable of editors and proofreaders who can be called upon to professional polish your manuscript, and at properly negotiated prices. It’s one of the most important aspects of becoming a best-selling author.
- Books should be beautiful.
Many unpublished writers underestimate what goes into the design, graphics, and layout of a book, and formatting it for print. There’s a lot to this. I’ve seen books put out by writers “winging it” to save time and costs, laying out their books in Microsoft® Word®, with little knowledge of graphic design, fonts, or the complexities of prepress layout. The results aren’t pretty. And again this speaks not just to your passion for good writing but also to your respect for your reader—the person who will be paying for your book, and who will likely also write a reveiw of it. You wouldn’t want to read this 2-star review on Amazon:
“Great story, I was truly captivated! Pity, however, about the numerous punctuation errors, shoddy graphics, hard-to-read typeface, and poor quality layout!”
Here is a real review on Amazon about one of our books, and it’s by someone we have never met or known in any capacity whatsoever:
“Dr. Havlicek offers an intimate perspective on the life of Van Gogh through an examination of Vincent’s personal letters to his family. I enjoyed learning about Vincent’s faith, his struggles in relationships with others and with God, and how he translated life’s issues into his artwork. The book itself is gorgeous, full of large color plates that accompany the text. Holding this book in your hands feels like holding something of top quality. Open the book to any passage, and the sense of quality is reinforced through the content. Dr. Havlicek writes with passion, intelligence, and clarity, creating a book with provocative insights, interesting connections, and lessons about the preciousness of life. It will inspire you!”.
That, along with the 5 stars that came with it, is gold for both author and publisher. Bottom line: why would you go to the enormous effort of writing a great book only to have it flounder in mediocrity when it comes to editing, layout, and print production?
A good print broker is familiar with all the standards and requirements of professional book layout and design and, like editors and proofreaders, they have at their disposal tried and true book designers who will ensure that a reviewer—like the one above—says of your book, “Holding this book in your hands feels like holding something of top quality … and the sense of quality is reinforced through the content.”
I can’t tell you how proud that will make you feel!
- You’ll need an ISBN … and what about the Library of Congress?
In order for your book to be easily found on a global level, you will need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and its related barcode. The ISBN is also typically printed on the general information page of your book, and on the back cover alongside the barcode.
To get an ISBN number, you will have to register as a publisher, and pay for the registration and barcode.
However, many print brokers can handle this on your behalf as part of their fee. I would recommend having your broker take care of registering for ISBNs because it can be a bit complex.
Another thing your print broker can handle for you is registering your publication with the Library of Congress Data System, a very useful thing to do in advance of your book’s publication because it alerts national libraries to the impending release of your book, and they will start to order it as soon as it’s available.
Bear in mind that the ISBN is an identifier and does not convey any form of legal or copyright protection.
- Getting your book to market
Let’s just say that you ignored our advice and handled your book’s production all by yourself. And you still haven’t pulled out all your hair! The book is now at the bindery, and you have to make arrangements for its delivery. That may not be too problematic if the printer is in your own country. But what if they’re in South Korea, or in the Czech Republic, two of many countries that have highly competitive printers in terms of quality, cost and performance. The logistics in getting your book delivered can be a bit daunting because there are quite a few things to consider: packing pallets, freight forwarding costs, timing, local sales taxes or VAT, customs codes and import duties, prohibited items (yes, some book content can be prohibited). And then there is the problem of WHERE. If you plan to store your book in your garage and mail it out as orders come in through Amazon® or your own website, or a third-party eCommerce site like Shopify®, that’s all well and good. But what happens when you need to go on holiday somewhere? Who will mail the books out then? Or perhaps you just don’t have the space.
The solution is to use a fulfillment house—one of many companies that have emerged to service the direct mailing of products sold through eCommerce sites online. These services take delivery of your book, place it into their inventory system, and then satisfy the orders, one by one, as they come in. They pick-and-pack your book, and send it out at rates lower than you would be able to obtain from your own postal service, or UPS, FedEx, DHL and similar carriers. For example, take a look at the amazingly low international media rates offered by PEGASUS PARCEL EXPRESS.
Good print brokers take care of all the logistics in getting your book from its printer to your fulfillment house, and they typically have vetted fulfillment houses to make sure they are reliable and prompt in getting your books to your readers.
I first started using my print broker, Joel, back in 2010. Joel runs bigger dot, a print production studio, in Signal Hill, California, and is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to all things in print, and especially the various facets of book publishing discussed above.
Joel is constantly thinking of ways to improve and extend his relationships with both vendors and with clients, and to keep abreast of new technology and resources. He loves doing this. And our mutual passion for publishing makes for great brainstorming sessions. Both he and I have questioning minds, and relish seeing a good idea go from concept to completion.
But Joel is far more than just a mine of information; he is also a person of great integrity whose concern for the welfare of my publishing business is of paramount importance to him. His tried-and-true business model isn’t seen much nowadays, but it works beautifully. It’s based on loyalty being a two-way street, where both customer and supplier care about each other’s prosperity. Those relationships last for generations.
I’m sure you might somehow find the time to work all this out by yourself. But shouldn’t you be writing your next book? You’re a writer, remember? Do that, and do it well. Let a good print broker do their job, and do it well for you. You won’t regret the savings in time, money, and above all frustration.