Once your book is typeset, proof-read, corrected and signed off, it is time to get it printed. In practical terms, it’s a good idea to shop around for some print quotes from the moment you see the first typeset draft of your book – that’s the first time you’ll know how many pages your finished book will be.
There are several options open to you, depending on how many copies you think you can sell, and how many you’re brave enough to print in the first place.
Ten years ago, printing anything fewer than 1,000 copies of a book made the unit cost so high that it would usually be unviable. In fact, many publishers would work on the basis that they might just claw back their investment on the first print run of a book, and would only turn a profit if the book was reprinted, because reprints were always cheaper to print. Back then, deciding how many copies of a book to print was a challenging and risky business. Print too few, and the unit cost was higher, with the result that you had to charge a higher price for it. Print too many, and you paid storage costs for piles of books that might take you months, or even years to sell. Perhaps you might not sell them at all.
Nowadays, digital printing presses make the calculation, and the decision, a whole lot easier. There are printers with websites where you can upload a digital file of your book, ‘publish’ it and sell it, one copy at a time, as your orders arrive.
If you commit to one hundred copies, potentially you have a profitable proposition. It really is possible now to commit to tiny print runs, only printing books that you know you can sell. It is much quicker these days as well. As I write this, I have just committed to printing 1,000 copies of Being Brilliant, by Andy Cope. Today is Thursday. They will be delivered to my warehouse on Monday. Using a traditional press, I would have waited between two and three weeks as an absolute minimum.
Having extolled the virtues of the digital printing press, the traditional book printing process still has a role to play. If you are sure you can sell at least 1,000 copies of your book, you have somewhere safe and dry to store them, and can plan for the additional lead time, then conventional book printing will almost always give you a lower unit print cost. To put it into perspective, 1,000 copies of Andy Cope’s book Being Brilliant cost us £1.60 each on the digital press, but just £0.87 each on a conventional press. So a traditional book printer still has much to offer, and is the better option as your print run increases in size. A thousand copies is often the magic number – print fewer than 1,000 copies and it’s almost always cheaper to go digital.
When you publish your first book, I often advise a self-published author to print no more than 500 copies initially. In fact, you might be safer printing just 100 to start with. It is inevitable that you will spot a typing error or spelling mistake once the book returns from the printer. Printing 100 gives you an early opportunity to put anything right. If you sell or give the 100 copies away quickly, then is the time to commit to 500 or even 1,000 copies. Unless you are selling more than 100 copies a week, I would not recommend that you ever print more than 1,000 copies. However tempting the price might be if you print more copies, the saving will count for nothing if you do not sell them. Better to sell your stock and have to reprint, even if you do not make quite as much margin on each copy sold.
People often ask me if the quality of digitally printed and print-on-demand books is the same as books printed by a conventional press. The short answer is that a digitally printed book may look slightly different to a conventionally printed book, but it is usually of equal quality. For example, digital presses often use a different type of paper to a conventional, or litho printing press, but the paper is nevertheless just as good.
So if you choose a popular page size, and stick with a paper that the print on demand supplier recommends, then you will be very pleased with the quality of the finished product. The average consumer or book buyer probably wouldn’t notice any difference. Actually, that is not true. They might recognise that your book looks slightly different from other books that they have read, but they would not conclude that they were looking at something less well made.
When looking at your print options, there are some generally recognised terms that you should look out for:
- Print on demand (for between 1 and 500 copies) – almost always using a digital printing press
- Short run printer (for between 500 and 1,000 copies) – usually using a digital printing press
- Stock printer (for printing 1,000+ copies) – Sometimes referred to as ‘litho printing’
I mentioned earlier that starting out with a small print run enables you to correct any mistakes that you spot before committing to a larger quantity. The good news is that readers love to spot mistakes, and you will find that your customers will feed back any that they find to you. You could even encourage this by offering a prize or token for each error that someone sends in.
There are a couple of printers that we have used on more than one occasion ourselves, and who I am happy to recommend:
www.printondemand-worldwide.com PrintOnDemand specialise in short print runs using a digital printing press. They offer attractive prices for digital printing, and you can order small batches of your book as and when you need them.
http://uk.cpibooks.com CPI books are a huge company that claims to print between 1 and 1,000,000 books. They can do this because they own several printing companies throughout Europe, some of which are digital and some are traditional, litho presses. For example, if you need 100 copies of a paperback book, then these would probably be handled by their digital press at Antony Rowe, in Eastbourne. Need 1,000? Then they would be printed by Bookmarque in Croydon. They are flexible, and prices are keen. I would recommend them to anyone. Get in touch if you’d like the name of my personal contact there.