This is the seventh in a nine entry series of blog posts about my experiences self-publishing my first graphic novel, Tonoharu: Part One. I’m writing this informal “how-to” guide in the hopes that my limited experience might be of some value to aspiring comic book self-publishers.
This guide is offered with no guarantees. I’ve done my best to provide accurate information, but I assume no responsibility for any negative consequences that result from following my advice. For other important disclaimers, please see the first entry in the series. Links to other installments in the series can be found on the bottom of this entry.
Part Seven: Working with Book Printers
Before I get into this entry, I’d like to reiterate and expand on disclaimer #1 from the first entry of this series. I wrote that those planning a project that differs greatly from Tonoharu in terms of presentation might want to take my advice with a grain of salt.
Tonoharu: Part One is a 128 page hardcover book with two-color interior pages and a four-color dust jacket with metallic ink accents. Because of that fancy nonsense, the only economical way to publish it was to print up a couple thousand copies at once, via offset lithography.
I had a Xeric Grant (hopefully you will too by the time you start taking serious steps to self-publishing), so printing up all those copies in one shot wasn’t a financial risk for me. In fact, if I didn’t use the Xeric money within one year I would have lost it, so there would really be no reason not to print up a bunch at once.
But if you’ve decided (against my advice) to publish a graphic novel without a Xeric Grant, then the prospect of paying all that money up front could be daunting. So you should know there is other option other than offset litho: that being print on demand, or POD. With POD, your per unit cost is more, and there are more restrictions on what you can do (hardcovers aren’t economically viable, for example), but you can print copies one at a time, so you don’t have to worry about footing the bill for printing up / storing 2000-3000 copies.
I have no experience whatsoever with POD, so I’m not going to deign to say anything else about it. If you think that POD the best route for you, consult the previously recommended Self Publisher’s Manual for more information. This entry assumes you, like me, will be printing up your book via offset litho.
Preparing a “Request for Quote”
Once you’ve done all your research (as discussed in the third and sixth entry in this series), it’s time to start contacting book printers and getting prices from them for your book. This inquiry takes the form of a semi-standard format called a “request for quote” or RFQ.
I had never written a RFQ before, so I relied heavily on the books and resources previously recommended, frankensteining their example RFQs into one that I would eventually send out via e-mail. I found the previously mentioned Buying Book Printing PDF document and Getting it Printed by Eric Kenly to be most useful for help in drafting my RFQ.
In addition to those two resources, I also drew some information on writing RFQs from this book:
Book Design and Production by Pete Masterson
Of all the books I recommend, this is the only book I don’t really think you’d need to own; I found it (slightly) useful for drafting an RFQ, and that’s about it. If you’ve got money to burn, go ahead and buy it; otherwise, get it from your library, or do without it.
For informational purposes, I’m including a link to my original RFQ that I submitted to book printers. There a major thing I should have done differently with it though (which I’ll get to in a second), so please don’t use it as a model for the “right” way to draft an RFQ.
[Sorry readers; I still need to track down the file with my RFQ. When I find it, I’ll insert the link here (yeah, I’m unorganized)]
My biggest mistake with my RFQ was that I sought too much customization. I was too nitpicky about specifics, and tried to include too many bells and whistles, like fancy stamping and thick paper.
There are strict standards in the world of book printing; standard page sizes, standard paper types, standard inks, standard binding, etc., etc., etc. Anytime you stray away from these standards, your production costs go up. And if you have a small print run (which you probably will), they usually don’t just go up a little bit, they skyrocket.
When I was talking to my book printer, I wanted to use a paper that was just a little more opaque; a 70# paper instead of their 60# house stock. It turns out that that tiny, barely noticeable little change would have increased my entire printing bill by 20%!
Unless you have some customization that is absolutely necessary or that you think will really help to sell your book to potential customers, I would recommend keeping your first book as standard as possible. A standard sized softcover with a CMYK color cover, a page count that is a multiple of 32, and interior pages printed in b&w. This will save you a lot of headaches, and keep your per-book cost down to a more reasonable level. Once you’ve learned the ropes with your first book, you can experiment with more fancy stuff with your next one.
The previously recommended book Bookmaking talks a lot about various standards in the book printing industry. Check that out for more information.
Contacting / Working with Book Printers
Once you have your RFQ drafted, it’s time to start sending it out via e-mail. I just followed the advice from the Buying Book Printing PDF Report, and submitted my RFQ per its recommendations.
Quotes from printers will start to trickle back. The difference in price can be huge; the highest quote I received was about $7000 more than the lowest!
Based on the prices, you should be able to narrow your list of potential printers down, and should request paper and printing samples from them to get a better sense of what they can offer you. With that info in hand, make your choice.
Unfortunately, the printer that offers you the best price will probably be far from where you live, so you will conduct business via phone, e-mail and mail. It’s not ideal, thems the breaks.
In working with my printer, I basically used the “fake it until you make it” approach. Pretend that you have any business at all dealing with book printers. If you’ve done all of your research, you should be able to talk somewhat intelligently about book printing; there will be hiccups, but that’s okay. They want your money, and as long as you’re not a total lost cause, they’ll be happy to work with you.
When I say “fake it until you make it”, I should point out that if the book printer uses a term or whatever that you don’t understand, you should fess up and ask them to clarify. They’ll probably figure out pretty quick that it’s your first book anyway, and if you admit your ignorance you can learn a lot from them, which will make your next book go more smoothly.
That’ll wrap up this entry. Next week’s will be about Marketing.
How I Self-Published a Graphic Novel
1/10 – Introductions / Disclaimers
2/10 – Honing Your Craft / Creating Your Comic
3/10 – Research, Research, Research
4/10 – Savings & Money Management
5/10 – The Xeric Grant
6/10 – Preparing for Press
7/10 – Working with Book Printers
8/10 – Distribution
9/10 – Marketing
10/10 – The Long Haul / Conclusion