Diary of a Novice Literary Publicist
In my previous post, Are Self-Published Authors Who Publish E-Only Titles at a Disadvantage?, I discussed the benefits of making hard copies available. As with most worthwhile endeavors, though, coming up with a professional looking print book means extra work and added expense. But there are cost-effective ways to go about it.

For those of you who would like to make hard copies of your book available, but are on a limited budget, or don’t know how to create a print-friendly version (or both), here are some suggestions.

Hire a Student to Design Your Layout

Before you can print it, your book must be ready to print. Preparing a print-friendly version is different from preparing e-books; this can present a problem for self-published authors lacking knowledge and experience with print design. There are important things you need to do to get your book print-ready, including—but not limited to—creating a back cover, designing the print-friendly layout, and getting the spine measurements just right.

There are some DIY software programs you could try, but if you have no experience with them, your book probably won’t come out looking very professional. Despite the old aphorism, people can and do judge a book by its cover. You want a cover that is both eye-catching and technically perfect. Obviously, your best bet is to hire a pro, but that can cost several thousands of dollars.

One alternative option is to give it “the old college try.” Colleges and universities with graphic design programs may have just the type of low-priced talent you are looking for in their student bodies. There are many talented upperclassmen and grad students looking for opportunities and experiences for their résumés and portfolios. Not only will they have the necessary training, but they are likely have access to professional print design software. Because they are students who are looking to bolster their portfolios and are not paying overhead to run a graphic design business, they may be willing to work within your budget.

You could simply post a “wanted” flyer on a campus bulletin board, or visit schools’ websites and see if there are any links leading to students seeking design jobs. Some schools even have features on their websites that allow you to browse students’ work and contact them directly using the information they provide.

Art Institute design school is one example. On the school’s graphic and web design webite page, there is a gallery that allows students and alumni to post samples of projects they’ve completed. You can even narrow down your search according to your own specific criteria. If you find a candidate you’d like to contact about designing your print book, simply click on the candidate’s name, and you will be redirected to his or her Bēhance page, where you should find contact information—or links to the candidate’s website containing contact information—as well as more work samples.

As an aside, graphic design is a varied field, so be sure to specify that you need a layout for a print book to avoid any misunderstandings about what you’re looking for.

Use a Print-On-Demand Service

Once you have your layout, covers, etc., ready to go, choose a good printing service. Most authors already have a general understanding of what print-on-demand (“POD”) is. The name pretty much says it all. Unlike traditional printing methods that require an author to purchase a pile of copies up front (and store them and hope that they sell before they get moldy), POD companies print individual copies per purchase order. POD benefits self-published authors in several ways, many of which pertain to cost.

The main surprise to a lot of people about POD is the quality of the product. I challenge anyone to distinguish a high-quality POD book from a book published a major publisher.

There are several companies that offer POD, such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, Lulu, and Lightning Source, just to name a few. Keep in mind, though, that not all POD companies are created equal. There are pros and cons with each, and factors such as size and format options, distribution options and capabilities, and print quality, should be considered in determining which POD source is the best option. So, do your research (and read reviews) before you commit to one. Let’s face it. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with CreateSpace.

Benefits of Print-On-Demand

The most obvious benefit is that the physical printing itself is cost-effective. Since payment for each print is contingent on the sale order, the author pays no up-front, out-of-pocket costs for printing (unless he orders author copies to give away). Moreover, there are typically no start-up fees associated with most basic POD programs (although, some POD companies do offer additional optional features that may require the author to pay an up-front fee).

Another POD benefit is that authors can easily make changes, additions, and corrections to the book at will, which, of course, cannot be done with preprinted books.

For example, what if you’ve already published your hard copy, and as you’re reading over it, you find a typo (it happens, even to the best of us)? No worries. Just go back and make the necessary revisions, then upload the corrected version. The next copy printed will reflect the changes you made.

In this sense, POD can also be beneficial when it comes to legal issues. Let’s say you’ve unintentionally libeled someone, or just received a cease and desist order from an entity because you’ve allegedly infringed a trademark (see Dorian Box’s post, Legal Issues Facing Self-Published Fiction Writers for more information). With old-fashioned printing, you’d have to destroy your entire inventory of books you’ve already paid for (or risk a lawsuit if you decided to continue selling them). But with POD, you can simply fix the issue, and resume printing the books.

Even if your book is perfect from the get-go, you might like to add some review excerpts to the back cover after a few people have read and reviewed it. With POD, you can do that at any time.

At the end of the day, you are going to have to spend a little money to create a quality print book, but hopefully this post has offered some insight that will help self-published authors get print versions of their books out there without breaking the bank.

“An engaging thriller with plenty of humor, good characterization, and a memorable villain …”
— Kirkus Reviews

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