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Managing Book Printing Estimates, Part 2: Create a Request for an Estimate

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Requesting prices for manufactured products is largely a matter of knowing the conventions, materials, and processes that are used. Part 1 of this series (“Managing Book Printing Estimates: Learn the Language,” May) explained the terms included in a typical book printing estimate from an offset printer. This part shows how to create an RFQ (request for quotation) to ask printers for estimates (and you should ask more than one; check on companies your book designer has used to print books, and see Pete Masterson’s great list of book printers at aeonix.com/bookprnt.htm).

For books with complex layouts or whose content is more graphic than textual, you may want to get estimates from printers at the beginning of the book planning process. As soon as you deviate from standard book trim sizes, printers vary widely in the efficiency with which they can produce odd-sized books.

Getting these estimates entails making an educated guess about how many pages will be in the book, and maybe asking for separate price estimates on a variety of design or production variables. For instance, since paper is the largest cost in printing books, you might ask each printer to quote the price of the book on two different stocks.

After a book layout is final, you can modify the specifications to arrive at a final price for the project. It’s that final revision that will be the contractual agreement with the book printer.

Stepping Through the Specs

Again presenting the parts of the production process in chronological order, as they will naturally occur, here’s how I would specify a typical book (with comments at some points). Also, see the sample RFQ shown below.


Title and Author: The Joy of Self-Publishing, Joel Friedlander

Quantity: 1500, 2500 

[Although the lowest quantity that’s practical for offset printing is around 500 books, for this particular project we know we’ll use at least 1,500, and we want to see how the unit price is affected by the higher quantity.]

Trim size: 6″× 9″

[All printers will be able to print books in standard sizes, but a particular printer’s equipment may be optimized for some and not others. Getting prices from a variety of printers will often show this difference. If you have an odd-sized book, it’s crucial to talk to printers early so that you can produce the book as efficiently as possible.]

Pages: 200

[Make sure this number includes all the pages in the book and not just all the pages with arabic numbers, and make sure it’s divisible by eight.]

Copy: Print-ready PDF files

[It is the publisher’s responsibility—or the responsibility of the publisher’s book designer—to create files according to the printer’s specifications, which are usually on its Web site.]

Proofs: Digital proofs for interior, color matchprint proof for cover

[Since I am supplying the reproduction files, I will need to check only to see that pages are in the right place on the interior. I always recommend getting a color proof of the cover to avoid surprises when the books arrive.]

Press: Prints black throughout, no bleeds

[In other words, there are no places where images in the book run off the edge of a page.]

Stock: 55# natural or equivalent

[This is a standard book printing paper, and I’m signaling the printer that I’m more interested in the economy of using its standard paper than I am in using a particular brand. “Natural” is an off-white color that makes for easy reading. For text-only books, I find it very attractive. For books with illustrations and photographs, a good quality white paper works better.]

Cover stock: Your 12′ C1S

[Again I’m asking the printer to estimate based on its “house” stock. The specification is for 12-point paper that’s coated on one side; the other side is uncoated (“C1S”). Many books are printed with 10-point covers, but 12-point is not unusual, and it adds some stiffness to a softcover.]

Cover press: 4/0

[This indicates that the cover will be printed in full color on the outside—the coated side—and unprinted on the inside. If you were to say this in conversation, it would be “four over zero” or “four over nothing.” Don’t you love jargon?]

Binding: Perfect bound softcover

[Some printers offer a “notch binding” that’s superior to perfect binding, and some offer sewn bindings. Depending on the book, I might ask for prices on more than one binding style when we’re in the planning stages. This is also where I might ask for pricing on special finishes such as embossing the covers, foil stamping with metallic foils, or adding flaps to the cover of a softcover book.]

Packing: Shrink in convenient bundles, bulk in HD cartons

[If you expect the books you’re ordering to last a year, I suggest you have the printer shrink-wrap them in bundles. Here I’m indicating that the printer can decide how many books make a “convenient” bundle, and what best suits its equipment. My only concern is protecting the books. “HD” stands for heavy duty, and you don’t want your heavy books packed in anything else.]

Shipping: Please estimate freight for residential delivery to Zip code 94901

[The book printer gets very good prices on trucking, and some larger printers even have their own delivery trucks. The printer needs to know if you require “inside delivery,” which is exactly what it sounds like, and, if so, whether stairs or freight elevators are involved. Spell this out on your request.]

That’s all you need to get estimates from offset book printers for a particular book. Of course, when the book has photos, color inserts, special papers, or any other special elements, you should clearly specify them. If you’re in doubt, ask questions. Most good quality short-run book printers will be happy to answer them.

In the third (and final) part of this series, we’ll focus on the estimate that comes back from the printer and how to deal with it.

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, CA, that has launched many self-publishers. An award-winning book designer and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion, he blogs about book design and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com.

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