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How to Select and Work with a Book Printer

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How do you find someone to print your book?

Thousands of printers across the country can put ink on paper and hire a bindery to put your book together. Many of these will tell you that they can do your book. However, only about 40 printers in the US specialize in manufacturing books. Most experienced small and medium-sized publishers have found that they get the best results by giving the job to a printer who does books all the time. It’s their specialty. They know the problems and pitfalls and normally you will get better pricing and service.Here are some ways to locate key printers you might want to work with on your project:

  • The Literary Marketplace (the official directory of American book publishing) lists them all by category and geography, along with their specialty and optimum print runs.
  • Most self-publishing manuals also include a list.
  • Ask other small publishers in your region who they have worked with successfully.

How do you narrow the list down?

It is usually best to ask for quotes from three printers that fit the needs of your project. If you’ve done your homework, more is unnecessary and less is not wise-at least when you’re starting out-because quotes can vary widely. To narrow the list down, ask about the following:

  • What is their average print run?
  • Do they most often do one color, two color, or four color?
  • Will they give you references?
  • How does the customer service rep or project coordinator work with their clients?

Pay attention not only to the information you get, but also to the responsiveness and style of the sales rep. After all, you are going to have to be able to communicate and be comfortable with your printer once you’ve given them the job.


What do you ask for in a quote?

First, get a standard Request for Quotation Form (RFQ) from one of the printers, or another publisher. It will help you specify the details of your project-trim size, number of pages, paper stock, binding style, quantity, etc. Try to ask for the same specifications from each printer, so that you’ll be able to compare the bids accurately.Second, write a cover letter outlining all of your needs, when you will send finished material, when you need finished books, your proofing requirements, how books should be packaged, where they will be shipped, etc. Also ask for samples of any paper the printer may have in stock (floor stock). While printers can purchase almost any paper, most printers carry a quantity of their preferred paper stock, and using this might save you substantial time and money.Third, ask for their pricing and time commitments for reprints of your book. There’s nothing worse than selling out of your first print run and not being able to get the reprint you need in a timely manner.Once you receive all the requested quotations, sit down and compare them. Read the fine print on the back of the quotation and make sure you agree with what it says. Ask questions about anything you do not understand. Then make a decision. Cost will be an important element, but don’t rely only on that one factor entirely. You will also want to consider timing, experience, helpfulness, and the quality of the communication in determining which printer you will hire. After all, you will be working with them on many details over several months-and since this is your book, you want it to be perfect!

How do you maximize the chances that your book production will go smoothly?

First, communicate clearly and regularly. Printers cannot read your mind. Take out all the guesswork by being clear. Be optimistic and polite. No one likes to work with someone who is crabby and demanding all the time. The printer’s rep is your ally, not your enemy. If you are not getting the proper attention for your project, however, ask for what you want and need clearly-and politely.

Second, it’s likely that you will be submitting your book to the printer electronically. While all book printers now work with electronic disks, if the translation of electronic data does not go well, it can be a frustrating experience. Minimize the risk of problems by following these guidelines:

  • Ask your printer what electronic applications, programs, and formats they are prepared to handle.
  • Ask them what media drives they support. (CD ROM, Floppy disk, Optical, Syquest, Zip Drive, and Jaz Drive are currently the main possibilities.)
  • Send in a small test file well in advance of your book’s production date so that you and your printer can get the bugs worked out early. (There’s nothing worse than hearing at the last minute, “Well, it should be working.”)
  • Do not imbed the graphics in the text.
  • Always set up the text files the same size as the finished book.
  • Always construct the cover as one page and one single file, indicating front, spine, back, and flaps.
  • Use the trim marks (crop marks) feature of your page layout software, not those in the postscript files.
  • Include a sample cover, with hand-drawn gold guides for the spine and the flaps and set the color registration in your page layout file.
  • If your cover or text includes a bleed (the print runs off the edge of the page), be sure to electronically create the design at least 1/2 inch beyond the page edge, so that the printer has some margin for trim.
  • If you link graphic elements created and stored outside of your page program, do not rename files or move them to another location after they have been placed, or you will break the link. If this change is necessary, be sure to relink the files before you send them.
  • Organize your electronic files and name them clearly, so they will be easily understood by those not as familiar with your project.
  • Use Type I Adobe fonts, and be sure that the screen and the printer fonts are both in the same electronic file folder that you send. (Be sure to include these for all linked art and graphics as well.)
  • Write out any special instructions (so the instructions can go along with your job) and include a final hard copy for the printer to use as a reference. Verbal instructions leave way too much room for miscommunication.
  • Convert your colors from RGB to CMYK.
  • Ask your printer rep about details on other key issues relevant to your book, such as resolution levels, the electronic transfer of your data, and whatever else you may wonder about. Ask your questions up front and pay attention to the answers. Your printer has a vested interest in helping you get it right the first time.

Finally, communicate clearly and regularly. This is the key to a well-planned and successful book manufacturing project. Then when the truck arrives with your books, you won’t be disappointed, and you can open the boxes with confidence.

Ron Mazzola is Executive Director of Sales and Marketing for McNaughton & Gunn, Inc. He is also a PMA board member. For information about McNaughton & Gunn’s printing services, phone 734/429-5411 or visit their Website at www.bookprinters.com.



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