Indie Authors and the Future of Book Production

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By Joel Friedlander

Self-published authors have ridden to fame and fortune on the wings of two technologies: e-books, and the hybrid print book production-distribution method known as print on demand.

Each of these reduces the financial risk inherent in book publishing. This is especially important for print books, where print on demand has eliminated the need for inventory, warehousing, shipping, and fulfillment.

The ease of use of print on demand sites has also made print book production less intimidating for authors who are almost, without exception, neophytes when it comes to getting their books printed.

However, there are real business reasons for successful indie authors to reach beyond easy-to-produce print on demand paperbacks. For one, there’s a lot of kinds of books we can profitably publish ourselves.

Most of these books are produced using offset printing, just like most of the print books sold in the United States today.

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Offset printing seems so twentieth-century to the digerati, driven by huge, noisy, industrial equipment producing thousands of books at a time. But successful indie authors who want to keep growing will eventually add offset printing to their capabilities.

In a way, you could see the coming shift to offset printing as the maturation of the indie author phenomenon. Fixated on ebooks and POD paperbacks, many authors haven never considered how more engaging physical products can be, and how they might change the way authors visualize, plan, and produce their books.

Varieties of the Book Experience

When you think of a book as a consumer product, one that competes with podcasts, streaming video, and all the other ways we entertain ourselves, you understand that the packaging of your book may be as important to your sales as the content itself.

Unfortunately, most indie authors believe that the only things available to them are basic trade paperbacks from print on demand vendors. There’s nothing wrong with them, and I use them myself, but they fall far short of the totality of books and packaging we can call on.

What’s available to you for packaging the great work you’ve poured your heart and soul into?

  • Trade paperbacks at much lower cost, since offset books will save 25-50% over print on demand
  • Landscape formats in many shapes and sizes
  • Hardcover books at reasonable prices, and with stamped cases
  • Lay-flat books with a variety of binding styles
  • Archival papers and sewn bindings for longevity
  • Casewrap hardcovers for text books and manuals
  • Coffee table books in large formats with luscious color printing
  • Specialty printing papers in a multitude of colors, weights, and finishes
  • Jackets and covers that can be foil stamped, embossed, and die cut

Obviously, with the creative freedom these options make possible, indie authors could produce print books that would grab the attention of their readers in a variety of ways, and they can find or create the exactly right vehicle for their work.

offset-printed edition of Body Types, using offset printing (from Book Construction Blueprint)

Distribution Rules

Probably the biggest reason successful indie authors will start looking to offset printing is distribution.

For the last few years I’ve been predicting that authors who were strongly drawn to book publishing, who learned how to systematically create profitable books, would eventually move on to forming small presses and specialty publishing houses. And that’s exactly what has started happening.

This division of labor makes sense. Very few authors, in my experience, can transform themselves into book production and marketing experts, although that’s what successful self-publishing calls for.

Not only that, but if you have a book you believe warrants national distribution, placement in hundreds or thousands of bookstores, or interviews on major media, you have no choice but to produce your book using offset printing.

You’ll need both the bigger profit margins from offset to accommodate the deep discounting it will take to sign with a master distributor—which is how all those books will get into all those bookstores—and you’ll be printing 1,000 books at a minimum, a quantity for which print on demand is spectacularly unsuited.

But venturing into the big world of offset-printed books can be intimidating. Instead of user-friendly websites that bend over backwards to make the publishing process simple and transparent, you’ll be dealing with printing sales reps, estimators, and customer service people unused to talking to individual authors.

This is why, more than ever, successful authors with aspirations to go bigger, wider, or deeper into publishing need education.

How Publishers Think

In talking to authors about how to transition their successful businesses to the next level, I’ve identified two principal educational needs that, if filled, would help them tremendously:

  1. Personal comprehension of exactly how books are put together
  2. Understanding how to deal with the offset printing process and its customs

Print books of all kinds require more technical expertise to produce than ebooks because the files you prepare will eventually come to life on real machinery using real paper, ink, toner, glue and all the other materials that go into books.

Meeting this educational imperative is the main reason I’ve gathered together the articles I’ve written over the years on how books are put together, and this month published Book Construction Blueprint: Expert Advice for Creating Industry-Standard Print Books in conjunction with BookBaby, the distributor and publishing services provider.

The Blueprint provides expert tips and guidance for authors who want to navigate the world of offset printing, and will help any author who wants to create an industry-standard print book, no matter what kind of printing they use.

It’s also why I was honored to speak at the first BookBaby Indie Author Conference. Conferences like this are harbingers of the shift I see coming as indie authors transform into serious publishing entrepreneurs.

I met quite a few entrepreneurial authors at the Conference. Through what they learned there, many of them began to realize the advantages of offset printed books in achieving wider distribution, creating books that are more compelling as objects, and which provide a better reading experience. I expect many of them will shift from being “down-and-dirty” do-it-yourself publishers, to more professionally-minded author-entrepreneurs, because that’s how they will continue to grow as publishers. And offset printing will be part of that transition.


 

Joel Friedlander was born in the Bronx, New York. Raised in Westchester he attended school in Buffalo and Danbury, Connecticut. He is the author of Body Types: The Enneagram of Essence Types. He has won the AIGA “50 Books of the Year Award” for his work at Aperture Publishing, and the Printing Industries of America Gold Award for his book design and production. He is the owner of Marin Bookworks of San Rafael, California. Joel is also the author of the Self-Publisher’s Quick & Easy Guides, a series of subject-specific e-books that help to solve questions for self-publishers. These are available as PDF downloads and Kindle e-books. In 2011 Joel published A Self-Publisher’s Companion, Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish. Drawn from his blog posts on www.TheBookDesigner.com, this book has been widely praised as an introduction to the new world of indie publishing. Joel’s articles are also published on Publetariat.com, SelfPublishingReview.com, The RIT Open Publishing Lab, and as an author of exclusive content for CreateSpace.com.


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