Printing a book?

Subject: Printing a book?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Carol Anne Wall'" <mmpc0014 -at- pclink -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2000 13:07:23 -0400

Carol Anne Wall has <<...volunteered to write a 25 year history of the
adoption agency we used recently to adopt our daughter. I've met with the
agency director and we have set a scope, format (softcover), rough timeline,
and have an outline. Now I need to find out what it will cost to get the
book printed... Any tips, tricks, pitfalls to avoid?>>

Once you have a good initial estimate of the length, arrange a meeting with
the reps of a few printers in your area and explain your project to each
rep. (Emphasize that you're looking for a good preliminary estimate, and
will come back to them later once you have a final page count and approval
from your director.) If you don't have expertise in print production, but
you do know how to do layout, it's often best to simply bring along a sample
book that resembles the desired result. Pick up a copy of the Chicago Manual
of Style at your local library and read through the sections on book
production so that you don't sound completely naive when you visit the
printer. If the printer seems to be trying to lie to you (i.e., tells you
something that contradicts what you've read in Chicago), ask for an
explanation; you may simply have misunderstood the person, but sometimes, if
they sense you're new at this, they may actually be trying to take
advantage. Stick around for a cost estimate anyways, but take your work

Show the printer the binding, cover stock, and paper used for the interiors
of your sample, and ask what papers the printer keeps in stock that come
close to that level of quality. (You can special-order papers, but often get
a better price using the printer's house stock, since they buy that in
enormous quantities to get volume pricing discounts. Better printers have
several brands of paper available.) Ask for alternatives to the binding.
Then present your wish list:

- number of printed pages: clearly distinguish between the number of printed
surfaces (i.e., the way we think of a book: everything with a page number
plus unnumbered pages at the end) and the number of sheets of paper required
to hold this number of printed surfaces (the way printers think of books).
Specify the page size too; the printer may have certain standard sizes they
handle well, and moving away from these sizes can cost you extra (e.g.,
wasted paper, more difficult assembly and binding)

- preferred binding: up to about 80 printed pages, "saddle stitch"
(staples!) works well, and is cheap; larger books often look and perform
better "perfect bound" (glued), particularly if the book is large enough to
take print on the spine. Plastic comb bindings can also be used, but look
cheap. More expensive options include wire binding or "lay flat" binding.

- number of copies: this determines the amount of paper the printer must
buy, and (in part) how they're going to print the book. For short print
runs, paper or plastic printing plates are used; the quality is reasonable,
and the cost is relatively low. For longer print runs (typically 500 copies
and up), metal plates provide much better quality, and can be reused later
if you reprint the book. (I'm assuming you're not going to produce enough
books to go to web printing, and want something that looks a bit better than
photocopying.) When you get a final quote, insist that the printer specify
in writing the maximum permitted print overrun; it's difficult to print
exactly the number of copies you want, so printers usually run over a few
extra copies, but don't let them print tons of extras just so they can bill
you more. I've accepted up to 5% overruns (e.g., 50 copies on a run of 1000)
in the past, and more than this is probably excessive.

- number of colors: black counts as one color, but each additional color
(e.g., colored headings) costs extra. Full-color photos count as four colors
(but include the black, so you're only paying for three additional colors);
if you specify a specific color for your headings, and that color can't be
precisely matched using four-color (process) printing, you'll pay for one
more color. Varnish (matte or shiny) also costs extra. Two colors is an
excellent compromise between looks and cost; four-color printing is very
expensive and requires a fair bit of expertise. The cover should be
varnished to prevent the ink from smearing; you can varnish on both sides
(more expensive) to prevent the cover from curling in response to changes in

- proofs: Never let the printer get away without sending you proofs, since
all kinds of bizarre problems can happen en route to printing. Bluelines are
the most common, and the cheapest, but if you're using color for headings,
ask for color-separated blues (to ensure that the headings you asked to be
colored are actually colored). If you're actually printing in full color, go
for color-key proofs (probably the cheapest way to see what the color will
look like); matchprints of various sorts are better if color fidelity is
crucial, but you're going to pay through the nose for those.

- how many photos: each photo costs extra, unless you're sending an entirely
electronic file (see next point). You'll also need to specify a "line
screen" for the photos; 85 or so is standard for newspapers, 133 is a good-
to high-quality standard for books; 150 is relatively high-end (magazine
quality), and 200 to 300 is "coffee table book" territory (which requires
much better paper).

- how you'll provide the pages and graphics: "camera-ready copy" (i.e.,
printed pages) is the easiest, though you'll probably want to provide the
photos separately (as prints or slides). If you've got expertise in desktop
publishing, you may be able to provide PageMaker (or other) files, a
cheaper, faster, higher-quality, and (if you talk to your printer to find
out details of how they prefer to see you prepare the files) more foolproof
approach. Whichever method you choose, you'll need to send along a
"printer's dummy" (aka a "mockup"), usually photocopied double-sided, to
show page order; mark any particular instructions (e.g., "this heading
should be in color") on the mockup.

Compare printers based on the price estimates and your feeling for how
honest and approachable the printer is; sometimes, it's worth paying more
money for the reassurance that working with a good, helpful printer can
provide, particularly if problems arise. Ask for referrals. And find out how
long the printer can guarantee the price for; paper prices fluctuate wildly
at times, and you don't want any unpleasant surprises later on.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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