Printing prices vary not only by the nature of the project but also by the amount of work in a printer’s shop. If the shop is fully scheduled, the price is likely to be relatively high. If it isn’t, the price is likely to be lower (printers are in danger of losing skilled workers if they don’t keep them adequately busy—that is, paid). To get the best deal, therefore, you should create and submit a Request for Quotation (RFQ) to a reasonable selection of printers specializing in books.
The elements of an RFQ for trade books are listed below with information and advice from me in italics. Some projects, including full-color books, may require more elaborate specifications. You can find more detailed information and advice about RFQs and related subjects on my Web site (www.aeonix.com) and in my new book, Book Design and Production.
I usually submit RFQs by email. Formatting is simple—flush left with extra lines to separate sections. Send your email RFQ to various printers individually or use the BCC: line for addresses. Printers are likely to ignore an RFQ that shows 10 or 20 addressees.
If you want to submit an RFQ by letter or fax, use your letterhead and format it the way you would format most letters.
An RFQ Outline
[Voice and fax numbers]
[Email address for responses]
[Date of RFQ]
Request for Quotation
Please quote your best price and delivery time for printing and binding the following book:
Quantity: Please quote: 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000.
Or whatever quantities you wish.
Number of pages:
Include all blank pages and the page count of any front matter identified with roman numerals, but do not count end papers for hardbound books. Digital printers can usually print any page count, as long as it is an even number, although sometimes the page count must divide evenly by 4. For other printers, the page count should be evenly divisible by 32, 16, or 8 (in descending order of desirability). Most printers print books in “signatures” of 32 pages, and adding a few pages to fill out a signature may make a project more economical. You might place these pages at the back of the book and use them to promote other works or services that you offer; and/or you might put them in the front and use them for quotes.
Trade books are most commonly 8 1/2 × 5 1/2 or 6 × 9 inches. Indicate which edge, long or short, is to be bound. Your entry here might read, “6 × 9, bind on long edge.” The trim size may have significant impact on the printing cost. Some presses, particularly digital presses, are more efficient with 8 3/8 × 5 3/8 inch trim. If you leave sufficient space in the margins, you can adjust an 8 1/2 × 5 1/2 book to this slightly smaller size, if necessary.
This might read: “Provided as electronic files in InDesign CS (ver. 3.0) and Adobe Acrobat PDF. Files will be on Macintosh [or Windows] CD-ROM.” You need to tell the printer what software was used to produce the book and what media will be used to send it. The use of Acrobat PDF files has become almost universal—and has some cost-saving advantages. I always provide the underlying program file just in case there’s a problem; however, I haven’t encountered any in the past few years.
Describe any photographs or illustrations and how they will be provided to the printer (e.g., “Contains 12 photographs, included as part of the electronic file”). Generally, it is best to include all images as part of the electronic file.
Because photos, illustrations, or other artwork that “bleed” off the edge of the page can add significantly to the cost of printing, “none” is the normal entry here.
Paper: Your house stock in natural, 55 or 60 lb. book, vellum finish. Please provide spine measurement with selected paper stock. Paper to be acid-free and neutral pH if available.
Paper accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the cost of manufacturing a book. “House stock” is the paper that the printer normally uses; other papers are too expensive for small publishers printing in typical quantities. Vellum means an uncoated paper that is usually thicker and slightly rougher than “smooth” uncoated stock (the slight roughness reduces glare). Acid-free and neutral pH are specified so that the book will last for a significant time. Most papers used for book printing are now made using the acid-free process. If you wish, you may specify “recycled” paper. [See “President’s Report,” December 2004 and January and June 2005.]
“Black throughout” is one example of an ink specification. Due to environmental regulations, printers are using products with much lower impact on air quality than those used a few years ago. If your work includes full-color material, the specification would be for “process color.” If you have spot color elements, you would specify “black plus PMS XXX” (where “XXX” would be the color number from the Pantone Matching System color chart). A color project with two spot colors might read (as an example), “black plus PMS 187 and PMS 485.”
Specify complete bluelines—that is, proofs made from traditional negatives on blueprint paper (which shows blue-colored type)—or electronic alternative. In the now more common all-electronic work flow, the proof is provided as a laser print, and reviewing it is relatively simple. The main frustration with electronic proofs is that you can’t determine the actual quality of halftone photos, as electronic cover proofs are printed on inkjet printers, and electronic proofs of interior pages are created on laser printers.
Cover: Print one side only.
Publishers almost never want to print on the inside of the cover. If a dust jacket is used, add instructions for it, such as “Print one side only, 4-color process, full bleed.”
Extra covers: Please specify cost per hundred of extra covers at each quantity.
It is often helpful to have extra covers for your press kit and other promotional purposes, and it’s considerably cheaper to print a couple of hundred extras with the main production run. If your book has a dust jacket, print 10 to 20 percent extra copies of it so returned books can be refreshed.
Follow the guidelines for “Interior Copy,” above.
This might read, “All 4 sides; ⅛ inch allowance made in artwork. Artwork is not trapped. You should make necessary adjustment or use ‘in RIP’ trapping.” Ask your designer and/or the printer for help with these technical terms.
Cover paper: 10 pt C1S stock. Laminate with a lay flat gloss plastic lamination.
This is the most common specification. You might choose 12-point paper if your book will be larger than 6 × 9 inches, see heavy use, or have a spine more than 1 1/2 inches thick. Choices of finish include no finish, UV or aqueous coat, or film lamination. It is wise to specify a finish, as unprotected ink can easily be damaged, possibly making books unsellable. If the book is to have a hard cover, you would specify the weight and finish of the dust-jacket stock and the thickness of the “binder’s boards” (the heavy card stock used for the cover) and the fabric used to cover the book; 80- or 88-point binder’s board are typical. You might also specify a foil stamp on the cover and/or spine. Fabric is often described as “equivalent to Arrestox B grade” in your desired color. (Arrestox is a particular brand of book cover fabric.)
Cover ink: Standard 4-color process.
Although you could specify fewer ink colors, the marketing benefits of full color normally far outweigh any modest saving you would realize.
This might read, “Color match print and complete bluelines or electronic alternative from same RIP used for plates.” If color is critical, ask for a color-match print, and if it is especially critical, request a press proof, but bear in mind that this requires complete setup of the job and is likely to be quite expensive.
Usually this reads “Soft cover, perfect bind,” although there are several other binding choices for paperbacks, including RepKover or Otabind for workbooks or cookbooks that the user may wish to leave open at a particular page without breaking the spine. Common hardcover bindings are adhesive bind, notch bind (similar to adhesive bind), and smyth sewn. The smyth-sewn binding is the traditional one for hardcovers and results in the strongest and most durable book that will open and lie flat. It is more labor intensive and more expensive. Hardcover books may also be made with a “library” binding, which is a modified smyth-sewn binding with an additional fabric tape used to strengthen the connection between the spine and the covers. It is generally onlyworthwhile to do as a combination job with regular hardcovers.
Packaging: Shrink-wrapped in groups and packed in a 275# burst test carton. Cartons to be tightly packed and sealed and to weigh no more than 40 lbs. each.
The specified cartons are somewhat heavier than those used by many printers, but they protect the contents better. Expect to pay a small premium. The 40-pound carton weight limit is to facilitate handling and reshipping of books to wholesalers. You can specify shrink-wrapping in convenient groups (usually 5 or 6 copies) or as “singles.”
Shipping: Please advise cost of shipping to [city, state, and ZIP code of the delivery location].
Books are normally shipped on wooden or plastic pallets and secured with “stretch wrap.” If you don’t have a loading dock or a fulfillment service that has one, you may wish to ask the carrier to use a “bobtail with lift gate” for delivery. This may cause a slight delay and/or a modest extra charge, but without it the truck driver is likely to flip the pallet(s) of books off the back of the trailer and drop them about 4 feet to the ground. It’s not good for the books or your nerves. After you have narrowed the field to a couple of printers, you can discuss other delivery options, including “inside, residence delivery.”
Terms: Please specify your terms.
Please give a detailed quotation, including cost of overruns, reprints, and delivery charges. Please provide your best estimated production schedule. Please provide details of any other miscellaneous charges. Any item in this RFQ takes precedence over any industry trade customs and conventions. The CD-ROM and electronic files remain the property of the customer and are to be returned on completion of the job. Any fonts provided with the electronic files will be promptly removed from your system(s) after the job is successfully ripped and plates made in keeping with the terms of software licenses covering their use.
Please return quotation to [insert your name, address, and email address.]
Note: If you are emailing your response, please be sure your company name appears in the first line of your message. Thank you.
Most printers will ask for 1/3 to 1/2 of the printing cost up front and the balance when the books are ready to ship. If you’ve done business with the printer before, you can apply for a “30-day” account. Printers are usually quite conservative in granting credit. Think about it. If you buy a car and don’t pay, it can be repossessed. But if you don’t pay the printer, what can they repossess? Books are a custom product and have no value to the printer.
Underruns and overruns surprise many people new to publishing when they receive their books and their bills. The standard offset printing contract allows the printer to deliver and charge for up to 10 percent over your requested quantity, on the theory that losses may occur during binding, so the printer needs to print extras to ensure there will be enough to meet the order quantity. This reasoning isn’t all that convincing. However, you should expect the extra quantity and related charges unless you have worked out some accommodation beforehand.
When you receive a response to an RFQ, immediately check to see that it reflects what you submitted and notify the printer if you see an error.
Once you’ve selected a printer, ask what it would cost to run bookmarks or business card–sized cover images along with the book itself. Often such artwork can be piggybacked on the cover run for a nominal charge, if there is room on the press sheet.
This article is derived from Book Design and
Production: A Guide for Authors and Publishers by Pete Masterson. To order, visit www.aeonix.com, or order through Amazon.com