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.


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.


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


Current trends in book publishing: Robert Mackwood presents at the Canadian Authors Association, Vancouver

On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, I had the privilege of hearing literary agent Robert Mackwood give a presentation to the Vancouver Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA).

Mackwood is a literary agent with thirty years’ experience in book publishing, including fifteen years working for both large and small publishers and fifteen years as an independent literary agent and consultant.

His fast-paced, entertaining talk provided an insider’s take on current trends in publishing. His advice could be helpful to many authors, especially those writing their first book and wondering about self-publishing. This post will highlight some of his points.


• There are no mid-size publishers left in Canada, only the huge international publishers and very small independent publishing houses.
• The number of independent bookstores has been decreasing for some years and that trend will continue.
• Books sales are down.

Beware of who you choose to be your literary agent

Mackwood estimates there are only about twenty legitimate literary agents in Canada. Anyone can claim to be an agent. A person’s track record is crucial. Ask your potential literary agent, “What have you sold?”

Challenging assumptions: the facts

• 95% of books are not represented by an agent.
• Agents don’t do editing or marketing. Agents are an arbitrator between an author and a publisher.
• A bestseller is a book that is on a bestseller list. Mackwood talked about the often-quoted (but incorrect) statement: “A Canadian book is a bestseller if it sells 5,000 copies.” He explained that this misperception originated when someone asked Jack McClelland, sometime in the 1970s, how many copies a book would likely have to sell in Canada to make it onto a bestseller list.
McClelland’s reply, “About 5,000,” doesn’t mean that any book that sells 5,000 copies is automatically a bestseller. Mackwood joked about the guy who paid to have 5,000 copies of his book printed, and then claimed to have written a “bestseller”.
• Don’t write a book if your main goal is to make money. Write a book if you have an idea or topic you feel strongly about, and you want to make a contribution.
• No one writes a bestseller in thirty days. Don’t believe it.

Advantages of traditional publishing

• There is still prestige attached to being published by a recognized publishing house.
• The publisher will provide some editing and marketing services.
• The publisher will cover printing costs.
• The publisher will provide an advance against royalties (though advances are getting smaller).

However, Mackwood is very much a promoter of self-publishing. It no longer carries the stigma of the old “vanity press”, when people printed books that no publisher would touch. These days, many bestselling and critically-acclaimed books are self-published. Many started out as self-published books and were then picked up by traditional publishers once they had become successful. The quality of self-published books can now be as high as traditionally-published books.

Advantages of self-publishing

• Author control.
• Building your own brand—a book is an excellent tool for this.
• Much better royalties—but you have to work a lot harder, at preparing your book for print, marketing, and distribution. (There are independent distributors who, for a fee, will get self-published books into stores. However, they take a large chunk of the profits. The danger is that stores retain the right to return unsold books. When books are returned, the publisher—in this case, the author—loses money.)
• Online marketing opportunities can be good—if you learn how to use them.
• Happiness. Most people experience a huge sense of satisfaction when they can hold their finished book in their hand.

E-books and other predictions about the future of books

• The number of e-books sold in the United States is getting close to the number of print books sold.
• One advantage of e-books is that they allow older books to be continually available. Before, backlisted books would be removed from a publisher’s list if they didn’t sell at least thirty copies a week. Then they would be out of print and unavailable anywhere except libraries or used bookstores.
• The average price for an e-book now is in the $6.99–7.99 range. There are plenty of e-books available for 99 cents or for free. Authors usually get a 25% royalty.
• It’s still the “Wild West days” of e-book publishing. What will people be willing to pay for e-books? Should writers specifically gear their books to the e-book market? We don’t yet know the answers to these questions.

Robert Mackwood is now doing more consulting work, helping authors who need guidance and direction with their book ideas (in contrast to trying to sell an already-completed book to a publisher). He can be reached through his Seventh Avenue Literary Agency website at .


Ryan Vetter speaks about self-publishing e-books through Wundr

Ryan Vetter, founder of the self-publishing company Wundr ( ), also spoke at the same meeting to tell us how his company can assist writers who want to self-publish an e-book. His company has produced writing software called Playwrite that allows writers to create a book from scratch and end up with an ePub file, with no need for file conversion.

The company also offers writers many other services, such as a wide selection of high-quality, affordable book covers (including animated covers), free ISBN #s, and lots of advice about how to market e-books and ramp up sales. Wundr’s basic fee is 5% of royalties, but they can provide more extensive marketing packages to writers for a higher fee.

Vetter mentioned that the two things critical to successful e-book sales are
1) The cover image.
2) A superbly-written preview of the e-book—this preview consists of about 10% of the book’s content, and is offered to readers for free to entice them to buy the book.

Someone in the audience asked Vetter if Wundr provided editing services. He replied that they did, but it was an automated process. As an editor, I didn’t like the sound of that. I know there are excellent editing software programs available, but reputable editors don’t work with software alone. Many editors use software to be efficient at mundane tasks of copy editing and style consistency, but good editing is much more than that.

Alan Twigg on B.C. BookWorld, writing and e-books

The winter 2012-2013 issue of B.C. BookWorld

The winter 2012-2013 issue of B.C. BookWorld

“I’ve spent the past two years writing a book for myself and one reader.”

Last Wednesday night I was privileged to attend a Canadian Authors Association meeting featuring guest speaker Alan Twigg.

Twigg is famous in the B.C. publishing world, and rightly so. He has turned his passion for B.C. and its writers into his life’s work. In 1987, he founded the quarterly literary newspaper B.C. BookWorld, which is chock-full of stories and book reviews about B.C. authors and their work. He continues to be the principal writer for this publication, with partner David Lester in charge of editing and production. Twigg has also created the online resource . This site now lists over 10,000 B.C. authors. It is searchable by author or by title and provides a veritable treasure trove of information on these authors and their contributions to B.C.’s historical and cultural landscape.

Twigg mentions that he is a fifth-generation B.C. native, but he acknowledges that most people are immigrants here, and claims that even if you aren’t from here, “B.C. will rub off on you.” He claims that we have “a psychological zone” here that is very different from most other places on the planet. Twigg relates a few anecdotes to illustrate how little of B.C.’s history is taught in schools. It is the authors Twigg promotes unflaggingly through B.C. BookWorld who have shared Twigg’s sense of wonder about B.C. through their research and the books they’ve created.

In a sense Twigg’s pride in B.C.’s writers is ironic because he admits that in the hierarchy of international publishing B.C.’s publishing industry doesn’t even make it to “the bottom rung of the ladder”. Internationally, the top places are New York, London, Frankfurt, and a few other cities, with Toronto positioned somewhere near the bottom of that ladder.

Twigg calls this situation the “outsiderism” of B.C. Yet, he goes on to ask, why should we complain or care if a B.C. writer never makes it onto the cover of Quill & Quire? [a Toronto-based literary magazine]. We don’t care because we have our own B.C. BookWorld.

Twigg is proud of what he calls “the huge appetite for B.C. BookWorld”. He describes B.C. BookWorld as an educational newspaper containing “deeper news”. In his conception, books are a form of “cultural news”. The online site is now getting about a thousand views a day.

In everything he says, Twigg conveys the idea that successful writing is not reflected by the number of readers but by the quality of readers. The whole question of how many readers a writer needs is related to Twigg’s conviction that B.C. writers don’t have to be ashamed that they don’t publish in the “power centres” of publishing. He does concede, however, that if you’re a writer who wants to be rich and famous, you’d better go to New York, London, Frankfurt, and other top publishing cities.

In one of his more outrageous statements of the evening, Twigg expressed his opinion of readings and literary festivals: “Readings are a ridiculous bastardization of literature.”

Why? Because both reading and writing are private activities, according to Twigg, who believes that “writing is underfunded because it’s not a spectacle,” like other arts such as dance and theatre.

(I should add that Twigg muttered some disclaimers, such as “I have nothing against the Vancouver Writers Fest” along with his statements about readings.)

Although I agree with him that the serious business of writing and reading books happens in private, I enjoy attending readings. Most people are curious to meet the authors of books they like. They want to compare the writer’s “voice” with the real person, and perhaps to gain some insights into the creative process and technical aspects of writing. Also, oral storytelling is an ancient art, and a writer who reads his book well can enhance his audience’s appreciation of it. Getting a “taste” of a book through a public reading often leads me to buy it (or at least read it!).

When I suggested that writers could gain international readers for their books through e-publishing, Twigg responded with scorn. He thinks e-books are putting independent bookstores out of business because they are so cheap. I agree with him on this, but I don’t agree with his opinion that people don’t really want e-books and have just been seduced by low prices and the persuasive marketing of e-readers. E-readers are here to stay because many people appreciate their portability and convenience.

However, I agree with Twigg that virtually every writer would prefer to be able to hold his own book in his hand. A physical object isn’t the same thing as words on a computer screen. Twigg is quite supportive of self-publishing, acknowledging that many high-quality books are now produced this way. One advantage of self-publishing is that writers have more control over the design and production of their books. Twigg sees self-published and print-on-demand books making up an ever-larger percentage of books.

Twigg encourages writers not to be overly concerned about how many copies of books they sell. Writers (and the readers they most want to have) are motivated primarily by their desire to create and appreciate art. This must be the reason Twigg, a self-confessed “private person” is willing to work so hard to promote the writers he believes in. After all, as he concludes, “Life is empty without art.”

WordNerds bank

Today, I copied my WordNerds page from my running blog into this blog—because I know most editors are WordNerds! To view the page (with accompanying comments) in my running blog, or to read my running stories, please visit Nancy Runs & Writes here.

To view an explanation of what WordNerds entries are about, please visit my WordNerds (Intro) page.

From now on, WordNerds posts will appear chronologically on this blog page.

Word for October 4

word capricious with photo of acrobat
I’m fascinated by the connotations of words.


I was walking to my gym a couple of mornings ago, and the sudden cool weather and blowing leaves tossed the word capricious into my mind.

Right away I decided, “That word is going on my WordNerds page just because I like it.” Then I analyzed why capricious tugs my strings.

Moods can be capricious and so can weather. There are hints of darkness and unpredictability in capricious. The word suits my personality because I like complexity, hidden streaks, and spontaneity. A capricious person or a sunny day can change quickly, and the inevitability of change reminds us to treasure what we have in the moment.

The word capricious made me think of dancing, with its connotations of playfulness, joy, and improvisation.

These were my thoughts about capricious before I looked it (and its relatives) up in my trusty Canadian Oxford dictionary. It’s amazing how our brains construct connotations for words from all the contexts (real-life or literary) in which we experience a word. The following definitions support my intuitive understanding of the word and my emotional reaction to it.

capricious: 1 guided by or given to caprice. 2 irregular, unpredictable.

caprice: 1a an unaccountable or whimsical change of mind or conduct. 1b a tendency to this. 2 a work of lively fancy in painting, drawing or music: a capriccio. [French from Italian capriccio]

capriccio: 1 a lively and usu. short musical composition. 2 a painting etc. representing a fantasy or a mixture of real and imaginary features.

capriccioso: (adv. and adj.) Music In a free and impulsive style.

Words for August 16

word "sarcaustic"Isn’t this a perfect word? I would define it as the opposite of “sarcasm-lite”. According to my brother Alan Rooks, it was coined by Terry Fallis in his political satire The Best Laid Plans. I am optimistic that it will be entered into The Oxford English Dictionary in the not-too-distant future. How can it not be, when Canadian Oxford‘s second definition for the word “caustic” is “sarcastic, biting”?

The Best Laid Plans Terry FallisI haven’t yet read The Best Laid Plans, though Alan assures me it’s a very funny book. It is a self-publishing success story: Fallis promoted it so successfully through social media that it won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. Only after that was it picked up by a regular publisher. You can read the story of the book itself as well as a critical review here.

pBook, pbook, or p-book?

I was a little taken aback a few days ago when I read a post on a blog called An American Editor entitled “On Books: Value in an eBook World.” (Read article here.) Of course we’re all familiar with the word e-book, but I hadn’t seen “pbook” used in this way before. I was also more than a little surprised that an article in an editor’s blog would randomly use the two spellings “pbook” and “pBook.” Ironic, I would say. I might even be tempted to be sarcaustic about it if I was in a bad mood.

Do my readers have any preference for spelling? pBook, pbook or p-book? Or should we reject the word altogether?

Words for July 18

and Percipience

Recently I was thinking about dramatic changes in my personal and social life. People whose lives were once intertwined with mine are now…extwined. Except that there is no such word. I like the word that sprang into my head. I think it deserves to exist. It seems unfair that English has two words, intertwined and entwined, that according to both the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and Word’s English (United States) thesaurus are synonyms, yet the only antonym given for them is free. And though I’m happy that I’m free, that word is not, in my opinion, quite right as an antonym for intertwined.

After all, we have a related word, tangled, that has an obvious antonym, untangled, as well as another antonym, detangled, that refers specifically to hair from which tangles have been removed. Incidentally, entangled is another synonym for intertwined that Word’s thesaurus supplies. (The word unentangled could not be found, but that’s just as well.)

If English displays a strange absence of words (like extwined, which I’m trying to remedy; if enough people share this post it will go viral and perhaps extwined will be added to the next edition of Oxford), it also contains words that seem to be superfluous.

For example, in the July 15, 2012 Globe and Mail, book critic Aritha van Herk commented that Mark Haddon’s writing in The Red House showed “eerie percipience.” I had to stop reading. Percipience. Could I define this word? To be honest, no. I looked it up in my trusty Oxford. The noun form as written above was not defined, though it was listed. The definition for the adjective form, percipient, is as follows: “1. able to perceive; conscious. 2. discerning; observant.”

So from this information, how would we differentiate percipience from perceptiveness? Is percipience a superfluous word or is this one of the countless cases in English where there is a nuance of difference in meaning between the two words? Oxford suggests the answer, because it gives a definition of percipient as a noun: “a person who perceives, esp. something outside the range of the senses.” So perhaps percipience involves a kind of intuition in addition to ordinary perception.

Can anyone illuminate percipience further?

Word for May 5


Wow! I sure couldn’t resist passing this one on. It describes the state of the moon tonight, on May 5, 2012. It means the moon is simultaneously full (the “syzygy” part) and as close to the Earth in its orbit as it ever gets (its “perigee”). This means that the moon will be “13 percent bigger and brighter than usual” tonight, according to Kate Webb’s article in Vancouver Metro.

I’m going to try to get a look at it at 8:38 p.m. as Webb suggests. When it’s just rising, the moon looks bigger, and is supposed to have an amber glow around it.

However, there just might be some clouds in the way.

Words for March 15

Diagetic and non-diagetic

I was thrilled to learn these two words that until yesterday were completely foreign to me. They came from an essay my son wrote for one of his Japanese courses, in which he analyzed the videogame El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. To define them, I’ll quote directly from his essay:

“Diegetic actions take place within the narrative fiction of the game, whereas non-diegetic actions do not.”

Do all videogamers know these words? I never play videogames, but because of my son’s fanaticism I have enough exposure to games that I understand they include activities and text that aren’t part of the actual narrative of the game.

Administrone: LinkedIn member Lucie Hankey coined this word, defining it as ”a famous national dish of Italy, where you have to fill out forms in triplicate to buy postage stamps.”

Pusillanimous: I was reading something (?) where this adjective was used to describe a rooster. I knew I knew this word; but I had to look it up in the dictionary.

Canadian Oxford: “lacking courage; timid.” Surprise! The word is so ugly and evil-sounding to convey this meaning.

Pleonasm: The phrase “stupid black negroes” was supposed to be an example of this.

Canadian Oxford again: “the use of more words than are needed to give the sense. e.g. see with one’s eyes.”

OK, as long as the writer was referring to the word “black,” not the word “stupid.”

Words for January 17


Globe and Mail reviewer Martin Levin (January 7, 2012) used this word in his description of  Kate Beaton’s graphic work Hark! A Vagrant. “…a delicious gallimaufry that makes mock of cows sacred and profane with equal relish.” Sounds like fun!

Canadian Oxford reads: “A heterogeneous mixture; a jumble or medley.”

Words for January 14


I saw this on the front page of The Globe and Mail, December 17, 2011. The word was being used to describe people’s reaction to the movie The Adventures of Tintin that had just come out. I will define its meaning myself: It means to worship all things related to Tintin, the famous comic book character created by Belgian writer Hergé.

I liked the word because of its sound. Note how close it is to “tintinnabulation,” a word that means “a ringing or tinkling of bells.” A related word is “tinnitus,” the name given to “a ringing in the ears.”

(Oh-oh! Now I wonder if The Globe’s word also had a double “n”. I hope not because then the word wouldn’t fit on a Scrabble board.)


I picked this word from the same newspaper (December 17, 2011) because I had never seen or heard it before. The definition from Oxford is “A device that converts an analog signal into an encoded digital from, and decodes digital signals into analog form, used in telephone systems and in video systems for computers. [Blend of coder-decoder.] Clever! Well, I’ve revealed that I’m not a techie.


Oh, I just love the spooky sound of it! A phantom is a ghost; I also hear the echo of the word “fantasy.”

Here is the definition: “A shifting series of real or imaginary figures as seen in a dream or created as an effect in film, etc.”This word was part of a wonderful quote that actress Molly Parker gave in a Globe and Mail article. The quote comes from Joan Didion’s book of essays The White Album (1979) and goes like this:

“We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”


I like many French words. A lot of them have become accepted and familiar as part of the English language. This all goes back to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when William of Normandy conquered England the the French-speaking Normans mixed with the Saxons of Britain.

Here is a French expression I saw in the December 31, 2011 Globe and Mail—reviewer Claire Messud used it to describe the main character in Teju Cole’s novel Open City:Open City Teja Cole

Bonhomous flâneur

“Bonhomous” means “full of bonhomie” (“geniality; good-natured friendliness”).

A “flâneur” (italicized because it’s not yet considered part of the English language) is “an idler, a lounger.”


Another French word. I saw it recently and included it here just because I like the sound of it.

“1. Creation or construction from whatever is immediately available for use. 2. Something created or constructed in this way.”