|An overview of book production|
You've done your research and you've decided that self-publishing is the route for you. It can be very daunting trying to figure out exactly where to start and who to approach. Furthermore, making the wrong decisions can result in a needless waste of money – something that, as a self-publishing author, you may not have very much of to begin with.
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is: What is my vision for the book?
The answer to this question will determine a lot of things, one of which is whether you should approach a company for professional book production, or just your local printer to print and bind your books from a Word file supplied by you.
If you would like to publish your book professionally with a view to bookstore distribution, then using an author services or book production company is a must! Bookstores and book marketers are reluctant to take on books that look self-published - and while you may not easily tell the difference, they certainly can. Choosing to go the bookstore route will also mean that large-run litho printing will be necessary since the unit costs of short-run digital printing are just too high for bookstore distribution, especially if you intend using a book marketer. Each member of the distribution chain requires a percentage of the retail price and once these percentages have been deducted, the balance must cover your printing and production costs. Read our article Understanding distribution to find out more about the distribution chain and the percentages they take.
Great visions and bookstore distribution usually requires a larger capital outlay - anything from, say, R45 000 to R100 000 or more for production and printing, depending on whether you are producing a single colour text-based book or a full colour coffee table book, as well as the quantity you are producing. These figures are fairly low when compared to the production budgets of large publishing houses that can easily extend into hundreds of thousands of rands!
On the other hand, a more modest vision for your book may not require the high level of production expertise required for bookstore distribution – you would certainly not want to be spending R45 000 for the production and printing of a book about your family history, intended only for family members and close friends! In this instance, it would probably suffice to have your book proof-read by a few of your friends and to let the printer's graphic designer create an attractive cover for you. Furthermore, with digital printing, you will be able to cost-effectively print just a few copies of your book at a time. Choosing this route, your cover design and printing may cost no more than a couple of thousands of rands.
And what about books requiring professional production but with smaller scale distribution to a niche market? Again an author services or book production company is recommended, but instead of using litho printing, you can use short-run digital printing or create a downloadable ebook. For this type of book application, you could expect to pay anything between R10 000 and R20 000 for production and editing. Digital printing costs are relatively low and the advantage is that you can print just 1 book or 500!
It's very much a case of courses for horses, so it's important to figure out which horse it is that you're going to be riding.
Since this website is geared towards professional book production and distribution, we're going to focus on the steps involved in book production, from this perspective.
What exactly is book production?
Book production is the process required to turn a manuscript into a final printed product, or ebook. It usually covers three main areas:
Editing and manuscript preparation
This includes manuscript evaluation; editing; translating; obtaining and verifying permissions; proof-reading. Depending on the book, it can also include commissioning artwork, briefing artists and photographers, and conducting picture research.
This includes book design; scanning; typesetting; creating DTP artwork; cover design & makeup; ISBN application; barcode generation; copyright insertion; supplying page proofs; and creating a print-ready PDF file.
Printing or ebook creation
This covers large-run litho printing (usually 1000 copies or more); low-run digital printing (up to 500 copies); print-on-demand (printing each book as it is purchased); and ebook creation.
Finding an author services or book production company
Your first job when choosing to self-publish is to find a suitable author services or book production company who will carefully shephard your book through the production process. An author services business and book production company are basically the same thing – they usually both provide a full-spectrum production service from manuscript evaluation and editing right through delivery of a final printed product, or ebook.
If you are serious about your publishing endeavour and intend distributing on a larger scale through bookstores, then you need to be especially selective about the book production company you choose to use. It is advisable to find a company or person who has had actual experience in a publishing house or who has been a service provider to one or more large and reputable publishing houses. This company or person should have a good, broad understanding of all the different production functions. Refer to our Publishing Services section for names of good author services and book production companies.
One way to tell whether you're dealing with a professional company offering true publishing quality is to look at their production charges. Good cover design does not come cheap, and neither does good editing. Refer to our article Steps in the production process for a rough idea of what you can expect to pay for production. At the same time, don't be fooled and automatically assume that a high price tag guarantees a good job.
The most important barometer of whether an author services company will do your book justice or not is their previous production experience. As mentioned before, it is best to use an author services company that has had experience working in a traditional publishing environment as these companies are used to working to professional standards and they understand what goes into creating a trade-quality book.
Whether you choose to source the various service providers yourself, or to go through one author services company who will handle all the different functions for you, it is helpful to have an understanding of the different aspects of production. To find out more about book production, read Steps in the production process.
Many author services companies offer additional services, such as putting you in touch with book marketers and distributors, listing your book in their own online store for easy distribution, listing your book in various local and international catalogues, and so on. While these are certainly great add-ons, they should never detract from the true function of an author services company – to help you create a book that meets professional publishing standards.
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