Thursday, August 27, 2009

Morgan Mandel's Basic Guide to Self-Publishing - Day Four - Choosing a Printing House and Getting Familiar With It

It’s important for a publisher to produce a quality product. Since self-pubs are especially scrutinized by book industry members, it’s even more important for a self-published book not to look home made. Bindings, paper, all the things that contribute to the look and feel of a book, need to be just right.

I had a good idea which printing house to choose, but asked around to make sure. Book Surge didn’t seem popular. Lulu fared better, but I heard grumblings that made me pause.

Lightning Source appeared to be the leader. My small press publisher, Hard Shell Word Factory, had used the same printing house for Two Wrongs and Girl of My Dreams, and I was pleased with the result. Not only that, Lightning Source belonged to Ingram, which meant a great distribution base, including not only Ingram itself, but, Barnes &, NACSCORP, Rittenhouse and even the Espresso Book Machine. That was just in the United States. In the United Kingdom,, Bertrams, Blackwell, Book Depository, Ltd, Argosy Ireland, and more distributed Lightning Source books.

I found out that Lightning Source not only distributed books to a publisher’s customers through its Partners program, but it also shipped books at a discount straight to the publisher upon request. If I needed books for book signings on consignment, or for special events such as craft fairs or Christmas bazaars, I could have them shipped to me.

I registered, chose a username and a password. Before long I was accepted into the fold and assigned a representative. Believe me, I needed one. I had no idea what many of the basic publishing terms meant, such as bleeding or book block. I kept getting mixed up about crazy things. One time, I half-filled out the US contract, but needed to look up some answers. When I came back to find it, I didn’t know where it was. An e-mail to my representative told me where to go, in a nice way, that is.

While this was going on, I was finishing up my edits. Once the book was ready in that respect, I needed to make decisions on the printing end. A confusing drop-down list of choices threw me off at first, but I was able to make my selections by thinking of what I would like as a reader. I wanted a book that would not fall apart, so I chose perfect binding. I wanted paper without glare, so I chose an off white, called crème. I knew how many times I would pick up a book, see the small print and put it back down, so I chose one a little larger, everyday 12 point Times Roman. I liked the size of my prior books, so I chose the 5 by 8 size.

I was happy with my selections, but an even more difficult choice awaited me. Readers look at covers before anything else. What should mine look like?

Come on back for Day Five, when my topic is Setting Up Cover Art & Logo.

Before you leave, maybe you can tell us - Does the inside of a book influence your purchase?
Morgan Mandel

Bookmark and Share


  1. Good Morning Morgan,

    I'm really enjoying this series.

    The inside of a book always influences a purchase decision for me. If the print is too small, words too close together, or lines scrunched together, the book goes back on the shelf. I read for pleasure. Small, scrunchy print gives me headaches, so I rarely attempt to read anything printed like that.

    I like the way your book feels in my hands - size and weight. The print is a good size - comfortable to read with or without my glasses, the margins are a good size so print doesn't run disappear into the binding and words don't feel like they're running off the bottom of the page. In other words - it is visually appealling. I feel invited in, comfortable. And I love the picture on the front cover.


  2. Thanks, Charlotte.
    I'm glad my efforts were not in vain!

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Lightning Source does offer the best options for digital printing. (And always deal direct - don't use a subsidy like Lulu.)

    L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

  4. Yes, ease on the eyes is important for me. Cover, title and back blurb are what make my decision, though.

  5. The problem with using all-in-one print and distribution companies like Lulu, I find, is that they insist on hiding the customer names from the author/publisher. They justify this on the spurious grounds of 'customer privacy'.

    Yet the customer list is the most precious asset any publisher can have. Very little profit is made on the first book sale. 90%+ of the profits come by working the customer list: for example, by offering customers one's next book, or ideally something more expensive than a book like a workshop or consultancy service.

    I would never let a printer steal my customer list, let alone deny me access to it! 'Privacy' cuts both ways!

  6. Both of my books came from Lightening Source. Except my publisher got all the good deals and not me! I have since broke away from my publisher, but do you think I can still use Lightening Source to have more copies made of my books?
    DL Larson

  7. The story inside the pages is what draws me the most, but if I picked up a book and it was sloppy on the pages, I would put it back. I don't look to see who the publisher of the book is when I pick it up, but I want the book to be professionally done. I want it to be readable, with the lines set not so close to the spine that I have to almost break the spine to read it.

    Straight From Hel

  8. I agree that the book cover and back cover blurb are what draw me first to a book.

    If I open it up and it's hard on my eyes to read, I usually put it back on the shelf.

    Morgan Mandel

  9. About the customer list - since my book is ordered through distributors, I don't get a customer list either. I can check how many books are sold, but not until the end of quarter will I get a list of places they were sold to. I do know when Amazon sells a book by checking the numbers there. Also, when Barnes & Noble said they were buying books to stock in their stores, I could figure out that the jump in sales for around that time was from them. is now also stocking Killer Career, but I can't tell from their website how many copies they bought. I just know there was an increase in sales.

    For the ones I hand sell at craft fairs, book signings, etc., I always have the buyers sign in and leve an email address if they want to know more about upcoming books.
    It's true that we don't want to lose our readers and need to find ways to hold onto them.

    Morgan Mandel

  10. I'm using LS for the next to come, also.

    To DL, if they're already working with your publisher on your books, you can't bypass them with the same book to go directly to LS. It's a non-competition clause.

  11. A simple way to capture customer names, if books are sold through bookstores, Amazon, etc, is to include a promotional page at the back. Customers can apply for a free newsletter or get a discount on the next book, etc, if they quote a promotional code and apply direct to ourselves, the publisher.

    That's also a nice way to pick up multiple reader names and addresses from books distributed through libraries.

    In the days when I ran a self-publishing business, fewer than 10% of my readers took up this option but they proved to be very loyal.

  12. Enjoyed the post, Morgan. Yes, I look at both the inside and the outside of a book. Even though I wear reading glasses now, I like for the font to be something that doesn't make me squint too bad.

    That's one problem with being a geezer.

  13. Now, I have to admit that I am attracted to a cover with good hand-drawn artwork much sooner than a photograph, especially on a piece of fiction. In fact, often the theatrically posed photos will put me off in a big way. Romance is the worst! ;) That said, a lousy piece of art is a turn-off, too. That's the artist in me talking. An example of covers I love are Sarah Addison Allen's novels. Take a look at The Sugar Queen.

    Thanks, Morgan. Another good post!


  14. I'd not looked at Lightning Source. But then, I've not tried anything as professional as you. I'm really enjoying your series.

  15. Yes, Deb, you'd have to know if you have the rights to your books. Also, you'd have to own the rights to your cover art or get new cover art.

    That's a interesting idea that Dr. John suggested about the promo tie-in. The money off would only work if you were self-publishing the next one. Even then, there's so little leeway between profit and printing costs, a self-publisher could stand to lose money offering a discount unless it were hand sold by the publisher. Killer Career is competitively priced for the 300 page count at $13.95. I could have charged more, but people don't have much money these days. The discount to booksellers is 50% on mine, while other publishers even go up to 55%. The cost for printing is almost $5.
    It's a tight budget. I'm hoping for volume sales.


  16. LSI is great. I have one book with them. I will say that using Times New Roman will mark you as a self-publisher. It is meant for newspaper and computer reading, not books. The interior of a book makes a big difference to me, also. The font needs to be a comfortable style and size for my eyes or I will not read it. Interior design should be pleasant to the eye also. Indie publishers, be sure to model your interior (and everything else) after a trad published book of your genre.

  17. I have tons of other fonts on my computer that I could have used, but Times New Roman 12 seemed the easiest on the eye. That's what I was shooting for when I picked out a font. Nothing fancy. Many publishers use Times New Roman 11 to fit more on the page, but I'm going for comfort. Let's face it, there's a lot of readers out there who appreciate not getting eye strain. I'm one of them.

    Morgan Mandel

  18. I tend not to notice font size or the internal layout of books, but I suspect a) I'm not a very visual person and b) my eyesight is (thankfully) good. Covers, though--those really influence which book I pick up to look at.

  19. Thanks for this series, very helpful....I love a well-designed book--cover and guts alike. Text in an easy-on-the-eye font, leading (space between lines) not too great or too little, off-white paper (but not that greyish cheap stuff so common today), appropriate margins. Nice, professional cover.
    As an editor, I know how many things can go wrong BESIDES in the words of the text itself: lost formatting, incorrect headers, misspelled author name or title of book, flipped pictures, or wrong ISBN number and price. Ouch!

    Barbara DaCosta


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook