The Print Route to Self-Publishing a Children's Book

As you consider self-publishing, don’t pass over the print route too quickly — there is still a large (and growing) market for this kind of book. Consider two of the most common approaches to getting your self-published book into print: working with an offset printer and taking the leap into print-on-demand.

Working with an offset printer to self-publish

When a traditional publisher actually prints copies of a book, they use a process known as offset printing. Offset printing uses indirect image transfer, most often by way of a metal or paper plate that applies ink to a smooth rubber cylinder. The cylinder then transfers the ink to the paper that when assembled becomes your book.

For years, offset printing has been the first choice in self-publishing methods. It is fast and relatively affordable, and the quality of the finished product can be quite good; however, because a printing company is just that, a printing company, you are personally responsible for ensuring that many of the tasks undertaken by a typical traditional publisher are completed. Such tasks include:

  • Editing and formatting your manuscript

  • Designing a cover (plus or minus an image) and interior page layout

  • Proofreading the final copy to make sure there are zero errors of any kind (copyediting as well if your work is nonfiction)

  • Deciding on a trim size and binding type

  • Choosing paper and other materials

  • Obtaining an ISBN (the International Standard Book Number, required to sell your book commercially) and a Cataloguing in Publication Number (CIP) from the Library of Congress (LOC)

  • Warehousing your book if you are handling distribution and sales by yourself or hooking up with a fulfillment and distribution house so they can handle these functions for you

  • Marketing and promoting your book

Before settling on a particular offset printing company, first do your due diligence. Be sure to get answers to the following questions so you can make an informed decision:

  • Does the company have experience printing books like yours?

  • Do samples of their work look well done and professional? Do they guarantee your book will end up the same?

  • Does the company do its printing in house or is the work outsourced to other companies — or even other countries?

  • Can the company accommodate your schedule?

  • Are prices reasonable and payment terms fair?

  • Can they warehouse and ship out the books per your instructions, if you need them to do so?

Taking the print-on-demand (POD) path to self-publishing

Print-on-demand publishing (POD) can save you time and money when compared to working with an offset printer. The POD process works like this:

  1. Send an electronic file of a children’s book manuscript (including illustrations, if any) to a print-on-demand publisher.

  2. Pay a fee; then the publisher’s staff designs and lays out your book and submits it to you for review. (Most bare-bones plans give you this responsibility.)

  3. After you give the green light, your book is put into production, copies are shipped to distributors, and the book is made available for the world to order through the Internet (including Amazon.com or their own proprietary sites, your own site and Facebook page, to name a few) in any quantity the distributor believes will sell over a reasonable amount of time.

    Sometimes, POD books are made available one at a time, printed only when a copy has sold; so far, these POD versions don’t always look like “real” printed books, but more like copy-shop versions.

The primary purpose of a print-on-demand publisher is to sell publishing services to you, the aspiring children’s book author. Some services include designing the interior and covers, getting your book listed with the big distributors and online stores, printing on demand as orders come in, and paying royalties on each sale.

Each POD publisher offers a wide variety of publishing packages and services, depending on what you need. In some cases, these packages are clearly set forth on the POD publishers’ website; in others you need to call or e-mail for a personal consultation. That said, here’s what you can expect from most POD publishers:

  • Basic, bare-bones service: This level of service puts most of the work in your hands. You can choose from some basic cover and interior templates; you need to edit, format, and proofread your own manuscript; and the finished product is made with the least expensive paper and materials.

    Your book will be available in a trade paperback edition, though at this price level you probably won’t be able to include illustrations. This service costs you around $400 to $500 (although Amazon’s CreateSpace will set you up with this basic level of service for free — you pay only for the books you order).

  • Mid-level service: You have even more templates to choose from than with basic service, and you get to customize your book’s “look” as well as its cover. You can also add illustrations, tables, and an index, and have the option of hardback and trade paperback editions.

    At this level of service, your manuscript may receive a basic edit, you can expect the paper and materials to be of a higher quality than the basic level of service, and you’ll probably receive a nominal number of “free” copies of your book. This level costs you from $750 to $1,250 and up.

  • Deluxe, top-of-the-line service: This service offers the highest possible control over your book’s design along with the best materials and finishes.

    Deluxe includes all features of mid-level service as well as a higher level of editing. It allows you to talk to a designer, combining your creative input and their expertise to achieve the personalized page design and cover look, and includes even more “free” copies — which will likely be hardcover. This service costs from about $1,500 on up to many thousands of dollars.

In addition to these upfront fees, you pay every time you order a copy of your book (beyond the author copies included in your plan, if any). Print-on-demand books can be rather expensive — from $15 to $50 or more per copy for a trade paperback.

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