After you have completed the manuscript for your book, if you are self-publishing, you’ve probably been pondering the production of the book itself. Obviously, unless you happen to have your own printing press, someone else is going to be doing the printing.
Before you get deep into layout and design, whether you plan to lay out the book yourself or hire out the task, take the time to get to know your printer and their specifications. If you plan ahead and learn about your printer’s capabilities, you can avoid many problems down the road. Here are a few things you should think about as you plan your book project. I’ll use some of the specifications from our book printer (Lightning Source, Inc. or LSI) in my examples.
Cover: Do you want to have a paperback (perfect bound) book or a hardcover book? You may not be able to get certain book sizes in hard cover. Also Lightning Source offers two types of hard bound books: cloth or case laminate (where the cover art is laminated onto a hardback cover). If you decide to do a cloth-bound book with a book jacket, your artwork will be considerably different than it would be for a perfect bound book.
Book Size: Not every printer can print every size book. Lightning Source, for example, prints many standard sizes such as 5.5″ x 8.5″ and 6″ x 9″ yet again, not every size book is available with every type of paper or binding. At this time, LSI offers 11 sizes for perfect bound books, but only 4 for case laminate and three for cloth and jacketed books.
Paper: Most book printers use some type of “house” paper stock that is either white or cream colored. Paper weight is expressed in pounds, based on 500 sheets (a ream). Different grades of paper have different available weights so you can’t really compare the weights of book papers with other stock you might be more familiar with like bond papers. For example, Lightning Source says it uses a “high quality, acid-free, book-grade of opaque paper stock.” However again, they have limits on the sizes: “books with trim sizes of 6″x9″ or smaller are printed on a 55# natural shade opaque. Larger books are printed on a 50# white. Paperback covers are printed on a bright white 80# cover stock.”
When you are evaluating paper, it helps to get paper samples. Because paper choices are largely tactile, there’s no substitute for having a sample you can touch. Most printers will give you samples if you ask nicely.
Before you even get close to submitting artwork to your printer, you need to be extremely familiar with their file requirements as well. Generally, if the file you give the printer causes problems, you will be charged for it. Time is money and if they have to fix your files, it can get expensive.
Lightning Source offers an enormous amount of help and documentation on their Web site, so be prepared to do some reading. If you study their “Publisher Operating Manual” and the documents they have on the topic of “digital file submission” you can get most, if not all, of your questions answered yourself. And if you run into problems, a customer service representative is assigned to you.
Even if you aren’t working with a large production printer like LSI, you should take the time to talk to the folks who will be printing your book, even if it’s the corner print shop. Printers want to do a good job and it’s in their best interest to give you the information you need to produce artwork that will be trouble-free. When your files work perfectly, and the book comes out the way you want, everybody is happy.