Printing and marketing a quality self-published book: an evening with Craig Shemilt of Island Blue Print Co.

On Wednesday evening (October 9, 2013) Canadian Authors Vancouver meeting attendees had the privilege of meeting Craig Shemilt of Island Blue/Printorium Bookworks. Shemilt’s family has been in the printing business for over 60 years, and his expertise in the rapidly-changing printing and publishing industry was evident.

Island Blue Print Co. is now 101 years old. Printorium Bookworks is the book printing part of the business. (You can visit the website here.) The company produces books for about 200 Canadian publishers and 3,000 independent authors.

How can self-publishing authors end up with a professional-quality book? Using a friendly, no-nonsense style, Shemilt gave CAA writers a wealth of simple but critical tips about preparing their books for printing:

1)      Professional help: Pay for the services of at least two professionals: a designer and an editor. Your book’s success will depend to a large extent on its appearance, especially the front cover, back cover, and spine. Bookstores will not sell a book that isn’t edited.

We wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, would we?

Shemilt had our full attention when he said that a book placed in a bookstore has only fifteen seconds to capture a potential buyer. He broke it down this way:

  • Unless it gets a special display, the only part of the book that can be seen is its spine. The title has 1.5 seconds to grab the buyer’s attention.
  • Next, the buyer looks at the cover and takes three seconds to reject the book or look further.
  • Next, the buyer spends 10.5 seconds reading the back cover before deciding whether to open the book and investigate its contents.

2)      Formatting:

  • Use single pagination, not spreads.
  • Remember that page one (and all odd-numbered pages) will be on the right side of your book.
  • All images must be 300 dpi or they won’t look acceptable when printed.
  • Use 10-12 pt type; 14 or 16 pt for children’s books.
  • For full-colour pages, add an extra ¼” the entire way around the actual page size so the colour will be sure to “bleed” right to the edge. Otherwise your pages will print with a white line somewhere at the edge.
  • The “gutter” side of each page (the inside) should have a margin of at least ¾”. The outer side of the page should have a margin of at least ½” but 5/8” is the more standard size.
  • Most books look better with a larger margin at the bottom than at the top.
  • Shemilt emphasized that the size of a book can greatly increase the cost of printing. 8 ½ x 11” size is fine in portrait orientation, but a book this size printed in landscape orientation costs a lot more to print because it can’t be done on Printorium Bookworks’ equipment. Shemilt advises authors not to design a book beyond 8 ½ “ wide unless they expect to sell their book for a premium price that will cover the much higher cost of printing.

3)      Other steps before printing:

  • Include a copyright page. If you’re not sure what should be on it, just look at a traditionally-published book and copy the copyright page (laughs inserted here).
  • Get an ISBN number. It’s free. There is a lot of information to fill out in the application, but you don’t have to get every detail about your book perfect—you can edit the information later. You can apply for an ISBN number through the “Design and Layout” area of Printorium’s website.
  • Most designers have the proper software to create barcodes for a book’s cover. They will charge about $25 to add a barcode to a cover. It’s not a good idea to download free barcodes because they often don’t print clearly enough to work.
  • You should use the most recent software to convert your book to a PDF for printing. This process flattens all the transparency levels in your document and, very importantly, embeds all fonts. Island Blue’s printers don’t have every font that exists, so if you have an unusual font it needs to be embedded or it won’t print looking the way you expect.
  • Don’t steal fonts—these fonts will not print.

Digital vs. offset printing

Printorium Bookworks does only digital printing. Shemilt explained the differences between offset and digital printing:

  • Offset printing becomes more economical than digital printing when the run numbers exceed about 1,500 copies.
  • However, digital printing has several advantages over offset printing. It allows independent authors or small publishers to print very small numbers of books at a time, allowing authors to manage cash flow and reduce risk. Printorium Bookworks will print as few as twelve copies of a book. (Shemilt noted that very few self-published books sell more than a thousand copies.) Moreover, Shemilt’s company can get proofs to an author only 2-3 days after receiving a print-ready file. One hundred books can be printed in five days. By contrast, offset printing takes six weeks to three months.
  • Digital printing produces a very high-quality book. Printorium Bookworks uses paper according to publishers’ requirements, typically 60 lb or 70 lb recycled paper. They print with carbon black toner, which prints a pure black colour as opposed to the blue-black or brown-black choices of offset printing.

Should you produce an e-book version of your book?

Shemilt mentioned that many people (himself included) still love books as physical objects to look at and be comfortable reading. However, he recommends making your book available in both printed and e-book formats. The e-book market is growing rapidly. In the summer of 2013, e-books represented 26% of book sales; some experts think that number will rise to 50% by the summer of 2014.

Files need to be converted to ePub, Smashwords and PDF formats for e-book publication. Many people learn to do the formatting themselves, but Shemilt recommends hiring a designer who’s an expert in this. They will charge roughly $200 to do the conversion and will save you weeks of time.

Marketing

Island Blue book mark

Craig Shemilt says bookmarks (rather than business cards) are a writer’s best marketing tool.

Most writers who self-publish are aware that writing is only the first step of the process. Shemilt went over the subject of marketing very quickly, but made these main points:

Google to find out more about your competition and the markets they’ve found. What is your book related to? Use your research to know how to target your potential readers.

Lots of places besides bookstores sell books these days. Market your book to a wide range of stores, depending on your topic or niche.

Readings don’t have to take place only at bookstores or writing festivals. Legions and weekend markets are two other places Shemilt suggested. He emphasized that you should select the sections you read carefully to keep your audience in suspense and make them want to buy your book!

Social media is a mandatory part of marketing these days: Use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Create a website or a blog for your book.

Bookmarks are a writer’s best marketing tool! Give them out like business cards—people use them.

Resources

Visit the Printorium website at www.printoriumbookworks.com . It tells you everything you need to know about printing; you can even download a copy of the Printorium Printing Guidebook.

 

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