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By Penny Callmeyer, Tiger Lilly Ent./Color House Graphics.


You’ve finally written your first book, now what? Please make sure that you find an editor, book and cover designer that “specialize” in working with books. Be certain to interview them, get samples of their work and talk to their references before making your choice. Ensure that they are willing to “communicate” with your printer of choice, to make sure that the files (see #3 below) are prepared to the printer’s guidelines. (File preparation instructions should be found on your printer’s website). Experienced book & cover designers should understand that some design features can be very expensive (make sure they are aware of your budget) or a manufacturing nightmare. An enticing book cover will typically generate 85% of the sales of the book, so the front, back and spine should be equally interesting.


If your have been told to send an RFQ to 20 printers, you are wasting your time and will be more confused than you ever dreamed. It is recommended that you narrow the number of printers down to 3-5. Understand that printers have many different types of presses and each of those presses is designed for certain trim sizes and run lengths. Choose the right printer/equipment/specifications for your project; below is a quick guide to the types of decisions you will need to make.

Printing type:

    • Digital printing is designed for runs of 1-1000 copies depending on the page count. Digital equipment is either roll stock or sheets, when a roll is used, the speed of printing is faster (this is okay for longer runs, text only, not so hot for quality). Also, if you have halftones, roll printing is not recommended if you expect high quality reproduction. Ink jet printing is being used more as they improve the process and it also allows for variable data. As the years are going by, digital printing is getting better and better, in some cases (such as book covers) is becoming better than some types of offset printing. Again, although covers are being printed digitally more often, the text is still only cost efficient on runs under 1000 copies. Or if there is a large page count, that might max out at 600 books.
    • Offset: The three types of printing are Non-heat set (roll), heat set (roll), highest quality Sheetfed; see below for a discussion of each type.
      1. Non-heat set, web: Ink is applied to paper, perfs and folds down into signatures.
      2. PROS: Efficient pricing for runs over 1000
      3. CONS: Ink is wet when sigs are folded, some offsetting may occur (ink on the facing page) and ink may appear slightly grey, however the quality is acceptable.
        Heat set, web: Ink is applied to paper, paper goes through a dryer, then it perfs and folds down into signatures.
      1. PROS: Efficient pricing for runs over 1000. Ink density of black is good, providing a sharper/crisper image (photo) and type.
      2. CONS: When ink is introduced to paper, moisture goes into the paper causing it to expand. When the paper proceeds through the dryer, the moisture is removed which causes to paper to contract. This process can sometimes create what is called “web growth”. That means that if, after the book has been trimmed, it is exposed to moisture, the paper can once again expand leaving the text exposed slightly beyond the cover. We don’t live in a high humidity area; however, you have to consider where the book is being printed. Does the climate there tend to be humid, did the delivery truck pass thru any areas where it was raining, etc. This is not a huge concern, however I believe it is important for you to understand the possibility of web growth.
        Sheetfed: Highest quality of printing. (Most covers are printed by this method).
      1. PROS: Control of ink density, color matches, high quality photo reproduction.
      2. CONS: Cost efficient for runs over quantities of 500 (depending on page count). Prices tend to be higher for this method of printing, however, if you shop carefully, some printers are able to print at prices comparable to web. This is the first choice for coffee table books.

PAPER: Printers have different “house” stocks, so ask for a recommendation, which can save you money. You should check paper weights, opacity and bulk (PPI), etc. Note that if you choose a special order stock, there may be a lead time of 2 or more weeks. If you choose a special order stock, please make sure to sign your quote and get it to the printer prior to submitting your files in order to keep your schedule on track. Quotes are normally good for 30 days only to allow for changes in paper pricing.

BINDING: Standard bindings are saddle stitch, perfect bound and case bound. (case bound: round back, flat back, adhesive or smythe sewn, this method of binding as well as optional bindings will require additional manufacturing time)

Optional: Wire-O, Spiral Wire, Plasti-coil, Otabind, Semi-concealed Wire-O, etc. (optional bindings can be quite expensive)(Prices for embossing and foil stamping are based on the image area).

COATINGS: Varnish, Aqueous, UV and lay flat film lamination.

  • Ask your printer for recommendation on choices that fit your budget. Every time you consider a binding choice, ask yourself: “is this binding going to realistically affect the sale of my book or am I cutting in to my profit margin?” Sometimes it is better to start out basic and improve the features of your design when the book has proven saleable and you have the additional dollars in your budget. Remember, you should be working with design professionals while preparing your book; it is not the printer’s job to make design recommendations after the files have been submitted.

This is a brief overview of the printing process, so please:

  • Ask for more details from your printing professional.
  • Ask about their best trim sizes and run lengths.
  • Ask if you can request reprint pricing on your original RFQ.
  • Ask if they are printing in 16 or 32 page signatures (some presses do run 24 and 48 page sigs). Best rule of thumb, design your book to be equally divisible by 16, again, please talk to the printer before sending an RFQ to make sure they are a good fit for your project. Choosing a printer should never be based on pricing alone; consider the level of customer service you will receive, are they known for good quality, meeting deadlines, good customer interaction, willingness to make suggestions to save you money and are they giving you the same treatment that their large Publishers are receiving.


Whether you have prepared your files or have hired someone else to do that for you, make sure that the file preparation guidelines and check lists have been followed.

  • Ask your printer if you can submit test files for pre-flight to determine if the files will be trouble-free. If this is your first project or if you are working with a new designer, I strongly suggest that you have excellent “communication” with your printer prior to pre-flight or uploading files.


Depending on the printing method you have chosen, typically proofs will be sent to you in 2-7 days from file submission. PDF or “soft” proofs are being used more often unless you request a hard copy proof. The days of the “blue line” and “color key” proofs are long gone. If you receive either a digital or hard copy proof, know that they are being generated digitally. So if your book is being printed offset, a digital proof will not be a match for what you will get off of an offset press. Toner, Ink jet and Ink are all different processes. If you are printing digitally, your hard proof will be an exact match.

  • Ask your printer when to expect them. Printers normally base their schedules on a 24 hour turnaround of proofs.
  • Ask how much time has been allotted for proofing.
  • Ask what the printer will charge for changes made at the proofing stage. You should have done your final proofreading “prior” to proofing so as not to incur any additional charges.
  • Check to make sure that the pages are in the right order, the margins are positioned properly, graphics have not dropped out, photographs or line drawings are clear, etc.
  • Keep this schedule tight if you have concerns about your delivery date.


Assuming you have done your homework and have chosen the best printer and printing method for your project, expectations should not be a problem. Please remember that book manufacturing is just that, manufacturing. Manufacturing = machines and people. There is no such thing as perfection with that combination. Choose to work with people that specialize in the manufacturing of books. Legitimate Book Manufacturers are capable of turning out a fine book. Yes, sometimes problems occur and both sides need to be willing to compromise to work out a fair and reasonable solution.


You have by now noticed that the words “COMMUNICATE & ASK” are shown in BOLD TYPE. That is because those two instructions are the most important ingredient in a successful publication. Do not operate on blind faith. The more you educate yourself, the more questions you ask, the more professionals you talk to, the better choices you will make. Creating your first book might seem overwhelming. Talk to every expert you can find, ask all of the questions you can think of and then some, and join your local Publishers Association. Let the experience of the members of the Assn. help you to make this an exciting and profitable adventure!!!

© Copyright 2009 Penny Callmeyer, All rights reserved.

Published in FCM Blog Articles

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