I thought once I had found a printer for my book, that would be the end of it. The rest would be smooth sailing.
Being new to the self-publishing game, I didn't realize how wrong I was. Or how naive.
Let me tell you my story for finding a place to print and bind my book. Hopefully you can learn from my experiences.
My story is crazy enough that the good folks over at Gredunza Press asked to interview me in a podcast. You can listen to the whole interview that highlights my experience (and lets you listen to my maniacal cackling and neurotic high-pitched tone whenever I have to talk about what happened). I'd like to point out that I use the term "Printing house" to refer to printing companies throughout the entire interview. And while I make many negative statements about printing houses, my 'saviour' at the end of all this was actually called "The Printing House Ltd" (specifically, the branch at 1537 O'Connor Drive in Toronto. I can't vouch for their other locations in the city of Toronto). I wasn't expecting to mention the company by name in the interview, and realized at the end how it could be confusing.
But if you want the full story, here it is.
I started out researching my options online. Print-on-demand companies that handle everything from printing to shipping (they print the books as the orders come in) were all located in the United States. For me, that posed a few problems:
- Depending on the Canadian Dollar, the price of the books could be 5-20% higher than the posted price in American dollars
- If I wanted hard copies for myself, the shipping cost would be brutal
- And the possible brokerage fees (depending on which courier the company used) could be astronomical
Fine. I needed to find a company in Canada.
I sent out emails to random people online, asking if they had a referral. I also contacted a number of printing houses that offered pocket-sized books.
I found a company in London, Ontario who offered me a great deal (a deal I would later learn was at a fantastic price). Communications were sometimes slow, but always polite. As I approached my deadline (to have the books ready for my first convention), a couple of my questions via email went unanswered, but I didn't panic.
Lesson 1: Ask where the books are made
When I got my order, the books looked great. A few were oddly cut, but overall I was very pleased with how they looked. I flipped through the book and was surprised to find a "Made in USA" statement at the back. I hadn't included that in my file (I would have changed my copyright statement which clearly said "Printed in Canada"), and I hadn't approved it. I had no idea they were being sent to the States. And I didn't know enough to ask.
Lesson 2: When you mention a future order, and you don't get a response, don't dismiss it
I contacted the printing company to inquire. It was explained to me that they dealt with an American bindery for books my size. The bindery specialized in books like mine, and that's why they were able to give me the low price.
I asked what it would cost to have the second order of books sent to a bindery in Canada.
And that's when my printing company vanished. No communications. Nothing, despite phone calls and emails. I even left a message saying "If for some reason you can't fulfil this order, just let me know."
You see, I had sold out of my books at the convention, and had orders to fill.
3 weeks of no contact, and I went into full panic mode.
I was determined to deal with a printing place that was local (within an hour's drive). This way, I could show up on a doorstep should anything go wrong in the future.
Lesson 3: Don't accept the first deal (or "understanding the nature of the printing process")
I spent a full week - day and night - emailing, calling, and visiting local printing places. I sent out pleas for guidance to other local self-publishers. I started craving copious amounts of booze.
Here's what I found out:
- The majority of companies aren't interested in small runs. They will either flat-out say no (or not answer your inquiries at all), or they will quote you prices that will cross your eyes for a minimum order of 1,000 copies
- Most places print in-house and then send the book out to a bindery
- While the price of the printing might be reasonable, the price for the binding can be ludicrously expensive - from $5 to $10 per book! And your printing agent is at the mercy of the bindery
- The cost doesn't need to be this high as I was able to find a couple of places within my fair city with lower rates - one that did the binding in-house, and one that contracted out the binding
- There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the pricing of book making for many places. It's as if they just put it on a sliding scale with their other printing jobs
- While many places have books on their lists of items they print, it doesn't mean they specialize in it
Which leads me to the next lesson...
Lesson 4: Perfect Binding on a pocket-sized book is not common
Even if some of the printers could make my book, they could not offer perfect binding. Who knew perfect binding would be the Holy Grail of binding choices for a small book? And if they could offer perfect binding, they couldn't offer a UV coating on the front cover. At the time, I didn't know the importance of a UV coating on the cover. Was it relevant for a book like mine? Did a UV coating make it more professional? From what I gather, it isn't an expected standard for a book like mine. But I still liked it. I had it on the first batch, and now it was on my wish list for the second batch.
Lesson 5: Have more than one printer on your speed dial
The first printing place contacted me by phone almost a month to the day when I first tried to arrange the second order. Ironically, it was the same day I had made an agreement with another place.
If you learn anything from my experience, I hope it's this: put the hours into getting quotes from more than one printing place. Find two or three places. And keep them on file. You never know when one of them might vanish, and you don't want to be at the mercy of one company.
Lesson 6: Figure out what's most important to you
You need to prioritize your needs. I ended up using a company that satisfied my new checklist of must-haves:
- They are local - literally a 5 minute drive from my house
- They are readily available - they answer emails, telephone calls and contact me with updates
- They work with you to bring the price down and explain options (and the associated price changes)
- When something goes wrong (and it will), they work their tail off to fix it or try to make you happy
- They produce quality printing and binding