I sent a book to print yesterday. I had to prepare six different files with three different sets of printers' specifications and three separate ISBNs and bar codes. Confusing? To say the least. Why?
Because the times, they are a-changing in the publishing world. Writers and publishers now have an array of options from which they can choose. The upside to this is that publishing a book is no longer dependent on having a book that can be expected to sell enough copies to justify several thousand dollars in printing and distribution fees. Print on demand services like Lulu and CreateSpace offer writers a cost-effective way of producing books for audiences right down to one person. Kindle, Nook, iPad, and similar technologies offer readers the option of downloading books at steeply discounted prices, and saving trees in the process.
If there's a downside to all this, it's that preparing books for print has become far more complex. The book I sent Friday is being produced as a Kindle book, a traditional paperback, and a print on demand paperback. The traditional book needed to be set up the way it's always been done--printers' marks, CMYK cover, spine measurement exact to four decimal places, bleeds on the cover, and page bleeds but NOT image bleeds inside. The print-on-demand book needed to be set up like the traditional print file, but without any printers' marks, and with enough dead area on all cover sections to allow for up to a 1/8" paper slippage. The Kindle book needed to be sent with the front cover only, no spine, no back, and the pdf set up to allow for text extraction and manipulation.
So what does this mean for self-publishers? If you don't plan carefully, it can mean substantial additional pre-press and design fees. It can also mean a great deal of stress if you choose a designer who isn't familiar with the production method you choose. Here's a quick little list that might help.
1. If you're planning on producing your book in multiple formats (and I really suggest you do) consider a press or print-on-demand service that can handle both your print on demand books and your Kindle book conversions. It'll save you in designer fees, it'll simplify your ISBN needs, and you'll end up with a more reliable Kindle book.
2. Unless you know what you're doing, don't try to do your Kindle conversions yourself. It looks simple. It's not. Believe me, I know. I did it, and I regret it so much, that I'm paying to get the book professionally converted. If you think it doesn't matter if it's not exactly right, check out what the most recent reviewer had to say about Good On Paper, my latest novel. She liked the story. She didn't like the facts that editing quality seemed to fall off on the last part of the book (and I paid for editing, too, darn it!) and that my Kindle conversion wasn't done right. So--two things to fix: the quality of my editing, and my Kindle conversions. And, since this is my business, you'd better believe I'm educating myself and exploring resources on both things.
3. Make your printing and marketing plan ahead of time. Then stick with it. Changes halfway through the process complicate things for everyone--and they can cost you big bucks. If, for instance, you start out planning to release your book as an audio book, and then halfway through decide you'd really like a "real" book, don't be surprised if your designer charges you more than double. She'll be starting over, purchasing more expensive artwork, and building new design and layout files. And then you'll need to proof everything again...
Plans are good. We like plans.
If you're not sure how you'd like to produce your book, tell your designer that you're planning for conventional print. The reason for this is simple: The image requirements for conventional print are the most stringent of any of the production methods. If you later decide that you're just going to go with a Kindle book, or an MP3 audio book, your designer can easily reduce the files. Remember: large to small, no trouble at all. Small to large, the bank's in charge.
4. Don't pay for what you don't need. Unless you're planning on selling "real" printed books, don't waste your money on book design. Kindle can't accept most of it, anyway. You're better off spending more money on editing, and producing a really clean text file. Likewise, if you're creating a workbook that requires users be able to write in it, don't pay for an e-book or Kindle conversion, because users won't be able to use your book to its maximum potential.
The key to all this is really just a renewed emphasis on good book production business: Make your plan before you start, choose the vendors who are best suited to handle your needs--and don't start switching things up halfway through the process.
Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.