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Author Topic: User Submission: Printing  (Read 2284 times)

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Offline Rob

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User Submission: Printing
« on: July 05, 2010, 12:20:43 AM »
I hope all the Americans in the house had a great holiday and I hope everyone else just had a great weekend.

Todays Article was submitted by Cary Kelley, writer/creator of the webcomic Dynagirl.

Ah, printing. For lots of people it's the end all be all. The Mecca. The last hurdle. But for a lot of webcomic folks it's just another extension of what they have going on rather than the ultimate goal. Either way, printing has its own set of issues and pitfalls, and while it can be one of the most rewarding things you'll ever do, it can also be one of the most nightmarish.

A couple of things to begin with here, the first being get your head around being as realistic as you possibly can. What's that even mean? It means don't print 5000 copies of your book when you haven't a clue if you can even sell them. If you do, chances are you'll end up with 20 boxes of unsold books occupying you closets, garage, and other areas for months to even years until you finally sell them all. To be more realistic, take a look at what your plans are.

How many fans do you have, seriously? I mean if your website is getting several hundred hits a day and you're seeing some decent feedback you might well be able to move a decent number of books once you print them, but if you're brand new on the street that's not happening.

Are you planning to hit any conventions in the next six months? If so, factor that in because shows are great places to make sales provided you're not the type to stick your head in a sketchpad and ignore the potential customers walking by your table. I know a lot of people who make the lion's share of their yearly income selling at shows, so be aware of that and account for it.

What's your distribution plan? Are you going through Diamond? If you are, you need to get that in the pipeline months in advance because they have a process you have to follow. This will drastically affect the numbers you print, so keep that in mind.

Have you considered pre-orders? A number of people take pre-orders on upcoming books as a way to fine tune print numbers even more because they just don't have the cash to risk on something that isn't going to move enough units to be worth printing in the first place. Normally if I do pre-orders on something I'll use that as a base and then add in for any shows I'm doing in the near future, plus a fudge factor of 10% just to be safe. At the end of the day it's a guessing game, but the guy who uses guesses based on real numbers tends to be right more often than not.

Another thing to consider here is format. Are you printing traditional floppy issues or trades? You can certainly print floppies, no one is going to stop you, but you're going to take a scrubbing at the cash register. The average floppy depending on your specs will cost you around $3.25 to print. Again, this depends on the number you print, if it's color, and your final specs, but that's an average. Say you sell them for $3.50; you're making a stunning 25 cents per issue. Not exactly a living wage there. On the other hand if you print perfect bound trades, the average price per unit to print is between $4-$8 depending again on the size, specs, and printer in question. Since you can then assign a price point between $10-$20 per unit, that's a very hefty increase in the profit margin you're talking about. For my money, printing trades is the way to go, not only because of the money to be made, but also because they're easier to get into a wider variety of stores well beyond the Diamond distribution model. We'll talk more about that in a bit.

So, the first thing you need to do (after actually making the book!) is to get your specs set down and firmed up. You want to know what size book you want to print, how you want it bound. (Saddle stitched is what normal comics are, perfect bound refers to trades and graphic novels) You will also want to decide on paper quality, number of units you're printing, color vs. black and white, and length of the book, because all these things factor into your quote, and that's very important. Once you get all that info in place, you want to solicit quotes.

Now I'll give you two pieces of advice about quotes. First, get as many as you can, every single time you go to print something. Why? Because paper prices change and businesses randomly offer discounts and extras. This changes on a month-to-month basis, so you'll want to take advantage when they come up. The other piece of advice is: do not hesitate to play one printer off another one. If you're getting a good deal out of one printer and someone else comes in and says we'll beat anyone's quote, hold them to it. I see this a lot, especially with lower print run jobs and it's a great way to save some serious cash. Keep in mind every single penny you save at print time is money in your pocket. You like to eat? Work those print quotes like your next meal depends on it. Printer relationships are great, and I've made several good ones over the years, but at the end of the day they all know it's a business and I'm going with the guy that has the best price compared to quality every single time.

Once you settle on a printer make sure you understand what they want from you in terms of a final print ready file. This not only helps you save time it also saves you money. How? Because the printer is going to charge you for extra time they have to spend setting up your screwed up files. They will certainly do all this for you, but nothing in this world is free and you'd be surprised at how much they'll hammer you for.

I can't stress enough right here how important it is for you to not only understand the terminology involved in your file specs, but actually know why they want the files the way they do, and how to check to ensure your files are correct. Many printers only accept files that are CMYK, some take both CMYK and RGB, and others will only accept RGB. You need to know which to send because it will affect everything you do from this point forward, and ultimately how your book looks. You need to understand terms like "bleed", "trim" and "live" and adhere to those measurements during your production process or you'll find yourself with areas of your lettering or even your art that get cut off at print time. You don't have to become a print guru to do this, but you do have to have a working knowledge of what they're asking you for. It saves time, money, and it gives you nice warm fuzzies as well.

Now, you send your files in to the printer. Next up they're going to send you a proof. Most printers will send a PDF proof for you to review, but you can normally pay a bit extra to have them send you a hard copy proof as well. I've had nothing but good luck with the PDF version myself, but I do know people who always request the hard copy, so that's more of a personal choice type thing. What you want to make sure of is that you check the proof they send you very carefully. You want to look for pages out of order, weird colors, etc. Anything that doesn't look right in the proof is most likely going to look that same way in final print form, so speak now or forever hold your peace. One bit of extra info here, if you do discover a problem, keep in mind that if the mistake was yours, i.e. you sent the wrong page 5, or you completely omitted some lettering you want to now go back and include, that'll cost you extra. Some printers charge BY THE PAGE for changes so in the event you need to change every single page, that's going to get pricey in a hurry. This is another reason to check your files very carefully BEFORE you send them to the printer. Now if the error was on their behalf, don't expect any price breaks but they'll fix it, so at least that's done.

Once you approve the proof, you're committed. The books will be printed and they will be shipped and you cross your fingers and hope they show up in good shape and looking good. I've never had books injured in shipping, but I know folks who have and from what I've heard the printers in question made it right so don't sweat the shipping too much. That applies to domestic printers only though, as I've not yet printed overseas and can't comment there.

Other things to keep in mind with the madness that is printing include ISBN numbers and barcodes. If you're going to distribute via Diamond, you gotta have them. In fact if you want the book in any store that you don't hand deliver them to, you gotta have them. ISBNs and barcodes are used world wide to track sales and deal with re-orders and they're your friend. ISBNs are available in blocks and you purchase them from a place called Bowker. This place is really the one stop shop and you can get both ISBNs and barcodes, plus do all your registry and such. It sucks, it's an extra expense, but if you're doing anything other than exclusive convention sales or your own Internet based sales, they have to be there.

Another thing people frequently forget is "time to destination." Basically this is the time it takes to get the books from the printer to your door so you can then take them to shows, send them out to all the folks who pre-ordered, and tell the world you have the books in hand and they look awesome. If you're ordering from China (and a lot of people do) you can wait 6-8 weeks at minimum to get them because they literally have to be put on a boat and shipped over here. If you're ordering from Canada, the wait isn't nearly as bad, but there's still some lag time, and this is drastically affected by the waxing and waning convention season. If you know you're going to be needing a 500 book run of your latest 300 page magnum opus to take to the SDCC this year, order that baby in February and have it in your hand and ready to rock rather than waiting till June because chances are you're not the only one who waited till the last minute and there's now no time to spare. The horror stories of people who paid for tables at the biggest show on the planet only to have nothing to show when they got there are readily available and sad to hear, but they all have one thing in common: piss poor planning. I'd rather have the books two months in advance than not know till the week before the show if they will even be there. I learned my lesson the hard way by waiting until the last minute and then paying extra to have my books direct shipped to the hotel I was staying at the DAY of the con. That's not fun, trust me.

A last bit of info here for those of you looking to start getting your stuff printed. Market early and market heavily. If no one knows about your book, no one is likely to buy it, huh?

Printing is stressful and there's no way to get around that beyond simply not printing, but you can mitigate your stress and maximize your enjoyment if you're prepared for what's involved. Knowing what you're getting into will also prepare you for the little snags along the way, and prevent them from driving you crazy. Sad to say there's not some magical panacea that you can take to get you through all this, but hopefully at least some of what I've put forth here will be useful.