Print Positive:
Request Book Printing Quotes the Right Way to Save Money

Writing a request for book printing quotes is simple, but don’t just dash it off: ambiguity and missing information will result in inaccurate quotes, wasting your time. Worse, errors created by inaccurate quote requests can carry through the production process, resulting in delays and sometimes costly alterations. In addition, sending a professional-quality quote request communicates to the printer that you’ve done your homework: while this will not necessarily result in lower pricing, rightly or wrongly an amateurish quote request signals that you are a rookie who will cost the printer more in time and headaches. My last Print Positive post covered ways to save money on book printing; this one is about writing clear printing quote requests.

First: Figure Out What You Want for Your Book Printing Quotes

Before you can actually write a printing quote request, you need to know what you want. A printer can do nothing with the question “How much does it cost to print a book?” any more than a builder can answer the vague question “How much does it cost to build a house?” Books, like houses, vary tremendously in terms of the amount of work required to make them and the cost of materials.

So get specific. Narrow down your specifications to at most three total combinations of binding, paper, and page size, with the page count determined by the manuscript length. Resist the temptation to request quotes on any more than three combinations: more will sabotage your decision-making, not help it—too many quotes will mess with your head.

The most intuitive way to constrain your choices is to simply pick a book in the same genre as yours and use it as a model in terms of page size, paper, etc. There is no shame whatever in this: there have been thousands of wonderful books published in similar boring old page sizes on similar paper: their wonderfulness is not because somebody chose a wacky and expensively inefficient page size or an exotic paper, it is because of 1) what’s in the book, and 2) the designer’s imagination in working within the constraints of a generic format. (Aside: David Byrne argues similarly and persuasively that cutting edge art is made not by bursting the constraints of genre, but on the contrary accepting them, in How Music Works.)

If you want to be more analytical about it, you can follow these guidelines for choosing binding, trim size, and paper. The guidelines should help you decide production specifications based on what kind of book you are publishing and how you are selling it. For more information, also see How Making the Right Printing Choices Adds Value to Books.

Because the number of possible variables are huge, I’m going to use this example of a simple paperback quote request, which I’ll discuss point by point below:

Title: War and Peace
Quantities: 250 / 500 / 750 / 1,000 — +/- 5% overs/unders
Trim size: 6 x 9 inches
Pages: 864
Cover original: Indesign application files with all fonts and high-resolution images placed.
Cover printing: 4c process one side plus gloss lay-flat film lamination, with bleeds, on
10 pt C1S
Text original: Print-ready PDF
Text printing: Prints black on 55-lb. natural, no bleeds
Binding: Perfect bind and trim
Proofs: Printed proofs
Packing: Bulk in doublewall cartons
Shipping:
Proofs to: L. Tolstoy
21st Century Press
123 Blue Avenue
Zanesville, Ohio 43701
Books to: Sellmore Distributors
48 Fortune Avenue
Webster, Wisconsin 54893
Need quote by: Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Everything on this quote request is essential information, and there is no information missing. (I double checked with people here at Bookmobile who both buy and sell book printing.)

Email this along with a brief note to your contact at the printer and you’re good to go. Don’t bother explaining what your book is about—this is all about printing, not publishing, not editing, not literary criticism, and not promotion. The person estimating your printing is awash in books of all kinds. Don’t take it personally, but they could care less what your book is about. They do care a lot about whether they get your printing work and, assuming they are a quality book printer—as opposed to an online print-on-demand mill—about doing a good job printing your book.

Let’s go through the items one by one:

Title

You have to provide one, because otherwise how will everybody keep straight which quote is for which book? A working title is fine. If you’re doing a couple of variations, identify that in the title: War and Peace (paperback), and War and Peace (hardcover). Or, War and Peace (60-lb natural text stock), and War and Peace (50-lb. natural text stock).

Quantities

Often you’re going to want to see pricing at different quantities: list them clearly here. The “+/- 5% overs/unders” indicates that you’re willing to accept up to 5% fewer books (“underruns”) or 5% more books (“overruns”) than the order quantity. The printer will then charge you a reduced rate for overruns to the specified amount or credit you for underruns. Offset printers almost always require allowing overs/unders: the reason is that there is always waste in printing and binding, and hitting an exact quantity is almost impossible. The overs/unders clause allows the printer some leeway in production while at the same time ensuring a reasonable deal for you.

Trim Size

Trim size means page size: it is called trim size because it is the final size the book block is trimmed down to. Picking a standard page size will likely result in saving money. Note that changing page size alters the cost equation: a difference of 1/8-inch can result in printing cost changing by 50%. If you are looking for a unique page size, ask the printer for the most cost-effective size close to the size you are thinking of.

Width is always listed before height: 6 x 9 means six inches wide and nine inches high. 9 x 6, on the other hand, means nine inches wide and six inches high – a landscape-format page, which will be significantly more expensive to print and bind. If you really want a landscape format book, be redundantly clear:

Trim size: 9 x 6, landscape

Pages

Pages in a quote request means the total number of all pages: printed pages, blank pages, roman-numeraled frontmatter pages, and arabic-numeraled body pages. They all count. Also, the page count must be an even number because every sheet of paper has two sides–at least in this universe!

Because offset presses print multiple pages on large sheets which are then folded into signatures the page count often must be rounded up to a number divisible by 8 or 16, with the extras being blanks at the end of the book. Digital presses, on the other hand, normally print so that the page count can be any number divisible by two.

Often printing quotes are required before the book has actually been typeset, and therefore before the page count is known. Calculating the page count for this purpose is called making a cast-off. Note that even the most carefully calculated cast-off is an estimate: in the huge majority of cases the final page count is different than that of the cast-off. What this means is that the printing estimate calculated from a cast-off will change when the actual page count is known: the initial estimate is only a starting point in the budgeting process. Please note that the printer cannot calculate your cast-off for you–that should come from your designer.

Cover Original

Cover original is the format in which you are supplying the cover to the printer. This is more standardized than it used to be, consisting normally of an application (Quark or Indesign) file along with all required fonts and hi-res image files, a PDF file, or both. If you are supplying something else—a piece of flat art to scan, or, God forbid, a Word file—tell the printer. These formats require much more work on the printer’s part: you’d better find out up front if the printer is going to charge more as a consequence.

Cover Printing

This key piece of information tells the printer how you want the paperback cover printed, on what kind of paper stock, and what kind of coating (lamination, UV, none) you want applied to the printed cover. A typical paperback cover is printed in 4-color process on the outside only, on 10-pt. C1s stock, and laminated. Other options may be available as well: we offer foil stamping, French flaps, and other cool options.

Text Original

As with the cover, you need to tell the printer how you are going to furnish the text pages to them. A print-ready PDF is usual, but you can also supply pages to scan, either as loose pages or as a bound book. In either case, scanning is more labor-intensive and therefore costly, and if the bound book cannot be cut up for scanning, it will cost even more, as each page has to be scanned by hand.

Text Printing

Text printing indicates the parameters of printing the pages: ink colors, paper stock, and whether the printing bleeds—that is, runs off the edge of the page.

Ink colors: Except in super-rare instances, ink colors are either black (black and white, in other words), or 4-color process (meaning images can be printed in full color). You can also specify the text pages to be printed in black, with designated groups of pages—inserts—printed in color, either on the same stock as the main part of the text or a different page stock. If the majority of your pages print in black but some print in color, using inserts can save a considerable amount over printing the entire book on a 4-color press. Note that inserts must have an even number of pages, and at an offset printer, they may also need to have a minimum number of pages. Here’s an example of how the text printing for a book with two inserts would be specified:

160 pages black on 60-lb. natural, no bleeds;
plus 8 pages 4c process on 80-lb. white matte-coated, bleeds;
plus 12 pages 4c process on 80-lb. white matte-coated, bleeds.

In offset book printing, inserts must fall between signatures of the main text pages; with digital book printing inserts can fall between any two pages.

Paper stock: Choose from the printer’s house stocks to keep costs down, rather than specifying the paper from a paper merchant’s catalog.

Bleeds: Running the printing off the edge of the page—“bleeds”—requires additional prep work and can require printing a book with fewer pages per sheet or on a bigger press, either of which results in higher cost. However, it may or may not cost extra for a particular trim size and paper stock at a particular book printer: be sure and indicate if your pages bleed to get the most accurate quote possible. If a book is quoted without bleeds and then furnished to the printer with bleeds, you may get a big upcharge.

Binding

For a typical paperback, the normal specification would be “perfect bind and trim” or “perfect bind,” which mean the same thing. The other typical option would be “casebind” or “casebind and wrap dust jackets,” with the case materials and any options—foil stamp on front, foil stamp on spine, blind embossing, headbands, etc.—spelled out in detail.

Proofs

When the printer receives your original materials, they will prepare proofs that show as much as possible how your book is going to print without actually putting it on press. You should see proofs both for the cover and for the text. Any real book printer will furnish proofs adequate for you to do the necessary checking. Digital printers like Bookmobile will furnish proofs produced on the actual presses that will print your book, which are therefore more accurate representations of how your final books will look. Be aware that it is not possible to evaluate color for proofing purposes on a computer screen.

Packing

Book printers can pack your books in different grades of carton, and they can shrink wrap your books prior to putting in the cartons as well. Shrink wrapping is not normally done for books destined for bookstores, except for expensive art books. In fact, it can be a detriment to selling to bookstores. If you plan on shipping full cartons via UPS, request double wall cartons to avoid future headaches and loss of sales from damaged books. More on cartons.

Shipping

Unless you use a printer that shares space with your distributor, as Bookmobile does with Itasca, shipping will be a significant cost. Any book printer, including Bookmobile, can give you pricing for shipping a given quantity of books by a given shipping method to a specific address with zipcode. If you have multiple destinations, indicate the number of books going to each. If the shipping destination has a loading dock, spell that out in your shipping instructions: with larger shipments the printer may be able to save you money by shipping via LTL, but only if the destination has a loading dock, delivery is not to a residence, and you do not request a lift-gate on the delivery truck. Also—very important—indicate where the proofs will be shipped and by what method. All of these details are critical to 1) getting an accurate shipping estimate, and 2) allowing the printer to figure out the most cost-effective way to ship your books.

Need quote by

If you don’t specify when you need the quote it will go into the queue for normal handling and delivery to you at an unspecified time—a few days, a week, whatever, depending on the estimator’s workload. If you need it by a specific time, say so here. Be aware that to a printer, a publisher whose quotes must always be rushed signals a publisher who doesn’t plan, is disorganized, and therefore will be more costly to work with.

What About When Things Change?

If specifications change —page counts, shipping requirements, etc.—between the time a book is initially quoted and the time finished books are shipped, pricing will change. It’s important, therefore, that you get up-to-date quotes when specifications change, at least if they are major changes. Refer to the last quote by number when submitting a request for a quote revision: it will speed the quote revision up and make it more accurate than if the printer has to start from scratch for each revision. It is also super-important to review and keep all the quotes in the series: sometimes publishers do not track the effects on pricing that changes to specifications produce and then have a very unhappy surprise (why are surprises usually unhappy?) when they get the final invoice.

Online Quote Requests

Many printers have portals where publishers can request quotes online, and even order printing. These can save time by presenting the printing specifications as multiple-choice options and often by producing quotes instantly. Bookmobile’s publisher portal also has an address book for you to save commonly-used shipping addresses, further speeding quoting and ordering. Check with your book printer to see if such a portal is available for your use.

Communicating With Your Printer

Finally, it is important to note that the real communication between a publisher and printer happens in quote requests, quotes, job confirmations, proofs, etc. Anything communicated by phone may as well have not happened. The book printer will more than likely insist that all decisions and instructions on your part be communicated in writing: this is for your benefit as much as for theirs!

Need a quote or more information?

I’d be happy to answer questions—you can contact me via email.
 You can request a printing quote here.