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. If you’re still unsure, read our article on self-publishing vs traditional publishing, or pick up a copy of Publish Like A Pro.

Where to start?

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.

Getting to grips with bookstore distribution

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 – usually 25% of the selling price – must cover your all your production and printing costs.

Great visions and bookstore distribution usually require a larger capital outlay – anything from around R85K to R120K 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 – even millions – 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 make it all back.

A humbler vision

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 R85K or more for production on a book about your family history intended only for family members and close friends! In this instance, it may suffice to have your book proofread by a few of your friends and, if you’re really set on having it look more professional, use an author services company to create an attractive cover, format your interior pages, and provide you with a print-ready PDF that you can take to your printer. You may even decide to format the book yourself in Word. Furthermore, with digital printing, you will be able to cost-effectively print just a few copies of your book at a time.

Did you know that Quickfox Publishing can design your cover for you and prepare print-ready PDF files from your Word doc? Choose from a custom-designed cover, cover layout using an image supplied by you, or a premade cover. We also offer printing at very competitive prices. 

Catering to niche markets

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 publishing, you could expect to pay anything between R55K and R65K for production, editing, and 100–200 digitally printed books, depending on the length of your book and the quality of your writing. 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 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.

And remember, there will be cheaper services out there offering editing and production for R30K or less – but beware! Quality services cost money and you will get what you pay for! If your reputation rests on your book, you cannot afford to cut corners. Bite the bullet and get the job done properly. Your readers will thank you for it.

Before investing heavily in publishing, it is always recommended that you first invest in a manuscript evaluation. It’s pointless paying for a professional job if your manuscript is weak, poorly written, not suited to your target market, or endlessly boring for the reader (even though the content may be riveting to you). There’s only so much an editor can do short of rewriting the book, which in itself is a frightfully expensive exercise!

Editing and manuscript preparation

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


This includes book interior design, scanning, typesetting, creating DTP artwork, cover design & makeup, ISBN application, barcode generation, inserting a copyright page, supplying page proofs, and creating a print-ready PDF and ebook in the required formats.


This covers large-run litho printing (usually 750 copies or more), low-run digital printing (up to 750 copies) and print-on-demand (printing each book only when it’s purchased online).

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 to 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 will guarantee 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 reads well and meets professional publishing standards.


And improve your chances of success


Download the first three chapters of
Publish Like A Pro

Chapters one to three talk about traditional versus independent publishing, who owns your work, potential earnings, planning your book, planning your writing schedule, how to structure your book, choosing a title, using keywords for better SEO, what you need to include for publishing, how to find a publisher and submit your manuscript, and protecting your copyright. 


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