Six strategies to help your clients publish their own books

Are you a commercial printer with clients looking to print and publish their own books through your company? If you are, or you’re considering offering these services in the near future, you might want to read this first! It used to be that book runs of less than several thousand were simply too costly per unit to print and sell. There was a time when a self-published author personally had to invest in writing, editing and design. Even today, with the advent digital printing (which eliminates film and other expenses), costs still remain high for the individual. And besides, the experts have been telling us for years that printed books would die out, giving way to digital books and magazines available from Internet sites. So why should your customers invest in self-publishing their “masterpiece” in a printed version through your company at all?

Experts have told us that the basic human desire to hold a printed book will endure. Look at it this way: On your birthday, would you rather receive an e-mail of congratulations, or a printed card with an admirer’s personal written message and signature? In December of 2014, Bowker (a leading U.S. monitor of the book industry) reported that printed book sales and e-book sales still remain around 50/50. Furthermore, the industry watchdog revealed that the printed book market is actually growing, adding that over 1.5 million new printed titles are published every year in North America! However, because profit margins for companies who print these books have been declining (due primarily to huge self-publishing entities grabbing most of the business), many small-to-medium printers and publishers have thrown in the towel. But not all!

The good news is that other book printing and publishing companies saw this as a huge opportunity. So they retooled (i.e. bought new printing equipment), added book design and marketing services to their repertoire, and took dead aim at smaller, less-known authors looking to break into the self-publishing market without emptying their bank accounts. The result? Today, there are companies out there who specialize in printing books in quantities as low as a few dozen to as high 1,000 and beyond! These “short-run” book printing and publishing companies have actually embraced this niché market and are actively seeking out more business. So, as a commercial printer, are you in the market to offer these services, either through yourself or via outsourcing? If you are, then here are a few self-publishing strategies that you should pass along to your current or potential clients, or promising authors.

  1. Decide if they want to use a commercial printer who specializes in short-run digital books, a company who handles all aspects (design, printing, marketing and sales, etc.) of a new book, from writing to final printed product, or a traditional publishing house.
  2. Never give up ownership of their book – and that includes control over publishing, marketing, sales, reproduction, even how it’s packaged and sold!
  3. Negotiate with sellers. Self-published authors can earn up to 35% of the cover price for books sold through retailers. The low end usually comes in at 15%-20%.
  4. Get to market quickly. This should take a few months – not years. Most retail buyers require a lead time of about four months. Ideally, the actual printing of your book should take only a few weeks.
  5. Make sure your customers can afford it. Self-publishing authors require a larger up-front investment than those using traditional publishing houses. The financial risk usually includes everything having to do with the production and marketing of their self-published book – writing, editing, design, printing, shipping, selling and even warehousing.
  6. Check a distributor’s quality standards. Before deciding on a retailer, be sure their self-published books are up to standards.

Bottom line: Whether your clients want to publish their printed book for friends, for academia or for consumers in the hope of gaining prominence and creating more masterpieces, there are viable and cost-effective options out there. If they don’t believe you, show them quality samples of small-run books or booklets that have been produced in the past.


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.