Book production is the process required to turn a raw manuscript into a final printed product or ebook. Book production at its most basic includes editing, design, formatting, printing and ebook conversion. Book production is an essential part of professional publishing.

You’ve done your research and you’ve decided that self-publishing is the route for you. It can be very daunting trying to figure out exactly where to start and who to approach. Furthermore, making the wrong decision can result in a needless waste of money – something that, as a self-publishing author, you may not have very much of to begin with.
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is: What is my vision for the book? The answer to this question will determine a lot of things, one of which is whether you should approach a company for professional book production, or just your local printer to print and bind your books from a Word file supplied by you.

If you would like to publish your book professionally with an emphasis on bookstore distribution, then using an author services or professional book production company is essential. Bookstores and book marketers are reluctant to take on books that look self-published – and while you may not easily tell the difference, they certainly can. Choosing to go the bookstore route will also mean that large-run litho printing may be necessary since the unit costs of short-run digital printing are just too high and you’ll likely make too little money to cover your costs. Each member of the distribution chain requires a percentage of the retail price and once these percentages have been deducted, the balance must cover your all your production costs.

Great visions and bookstore distribution usually require a larger capital outlay – anything from around R65K to R100K for a single colour text-based book to a couple of hundred thousand for a full colour hardcover coffee table book. These figures are fairly low when compared to the production budgets of large publishing houses that easily extend into hundreds of thousands of rands. You might understand now why it’s hard to pick up a publishing deal by the larger publishers. They’re investing a ton and need to know they’ll get it back.

On the other hand, a more modest vision for your book may not require the high level of production expertise required for bookstore distribution – you would certainly not want to be spending R65K for production on a book about your family history, intended only for family members and close friends! In this instance, it would probably suffice to have your book proofread by a few of your friends and to let the printer’s graphic designer create an attractive cover for you. Furthermore, with digital printing, you will be able to cost-effectively print just a few copies of your book at a time. Choosing this route, your cover design and printing may cost no more than a few thousand rands.

And what about books requiring professional production but with smaller scale distribution to a niche market? Again, an author services or book production company is recommended, but instead of using litho printing, you can use short-run digital printing or create a downloadable ebook. For this type of book, you could expect to pay anything between R35K and R50K for production and editing. Digital printing costs are relatively low and the advantage is that you can print just one book or 500!

It’s very much a case of courses for horses, so it’s important to figure out which horse it is that you’re going to be riding.
Since this website is geared towards professional book production and distribution, we’re going to focus on the steps involved in book production from this perspective.

Editing and manuscript preparation

This includes manuscript evaluation; editing; translating; obtaining and verifying permissions; proof-reading. Depending on the book, it can also include commissioning artwork, briefing artists and photographers, and conducting picture research.

Production

This includes book design; scanning; typesetting; creating DTP artwork; cover design & makeup; ISBN application; barcode generation; copyright insertion; supplying page proofs; and creating a print-ready PDF file.

Printing or ebook creation

This covers large-run litho printing (usually 1000 copies or more); low-run digital printing (up to 500 copies); print-on-demand (printing each book as it is purchased); and ebook creation.

Finding an author services or book production company

Your first job when choosing to self-publish is to find a suitable author services or book production company who will carefully shephard your book through the production process. An author services business and book production company are basically the same thing – they usually both provide a full-spectrum production service from manuscript evaluation and editing right through delivery of a final printed product or ebook.

If you are serious about your publishing endeavour and intend distributing on a larger scale through bookstores, then you need to be especially selective about the book production company you choose to use. It is advisable to find a company or person who has had actual experience in a publishing house or who has been a service provider to one or more large and reputable publishing houses. This type of company or person is used to working to professional standards and understands what goes into creating a trade-quality book. The company or person you choose should also have a broad understanding of all the different production functions.

One way to tell whether you’re dealing with a professional company offering true publishing quality is to look at their production charges. Good cover design does not come cheap, and neither does good editing. At the same time, don’t automatically assume that a high price tag guarantees a good job! A barometer of whether an author services company will do your book justice or not lies in their previous production experience and the quality of the work that they have completed in the past. Ask to look at previous samples of their work if necessary to see if their quality matches the price.

Whether you choose to source the various service providers yourself, or go through one author services company who will handle everything for you, it is helpful to have an understanding of the different aspects of production.

Additional services

Many author services companies offer additional services, such as putting you in touch with book marketers and distributors, listing your book in their own online store for easy distribution, listing your book in various local and international catalogues, and so on. While these are certainly great add-ons, they should never detract from the true function of an author services company – to help you create a book that meets professional publishing standards.

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