Things to Know When Working With a Printer

Self-publishing has been such a fulfilling journey for Angela and me. I know it’s not for everyone, but it was definitely the right choice for us—though daunting, knowing that we were responsible for every decision and not having a clue in the beginning what those decisions even were. 

This is why I’m happy to have James A. Rose here today to talk about printing options. Through his experience in the self-publishing industry and his work with, James knows a ton about the process of choosing a printer and turning a manuscript into a book. Below, he talks about many of the printing decisions authors will have to make if they decide to go the self-publishing route.


Courtesy: Pixabay

If you’re considering self-publishing your own book, one of your biggest decisions will revolve around printing options. There are many factors to be considered before your well-loved manuscript will be turned into a physical book. The purpose of this post is to shed some light on those decisions and make you aware of your options.

First, the two main printing technologies are offset and digital. Digital printing uses a digital image file as a source (as opposed to the rubber plates used in offset printing), making this option optimal for very short print runs and print-on-demand jobs. It has a higher cost per page but is more cost efficient for these smaller jobs due to the reduction in preparation time. This is mainly because the printing plates used in offset printing aren’t needed—plates that have to be changed out before every new print job. Most printing companies retain the necessary equipment for both printing methods and will use digital on lower volume print runs.

From a client’s perspective, there are some important distinctions between the two technologies. When it comes to choosing printing options, the volume-to-cost ratio will be the primary determining factor. If you will be purchasing a longer print run of over 100 copies, then an offset printer will likely be your most cost effective option. Offset printing offers additional benefits, including greater color accuracy and a wider array of sizes and paper type choices. Digital printing will be the more suitable choice if you do not need a lot of copies, the book will be a standard size, and it won’t contain any fancy graphics.

Once you decide which printing option to go with, there will be other decisions you’ll need to make. My guess is that most of the people reading this post will likely go with the offset option, so I’d like to spend the rest of my time focusing on that route and the decisions you’ll need to make along the way.

Manuscript Preparation

In regard to the size of your book, most printers offer several standard paper sizes. With offset printing, these options will be increased and will likely include very large books and landscape layouts. The typical book sizes are 4.25” x 7”, 5.5”x 8.5”, 6”x 9”, and 8.5” x 11”.

While you’ll be responsible for choosing the size of your book, the printer will have templates to which your completed manuscript must adhere. These templates will vary in dimensions based on the book’s size but will universally require the incorporation of margins and bleed areas. The most common margin sizes will be 0.75 inches on the sides and 0.7 inches on the top and bottom. The header and footer will both need to be set for 0.5 inches. You can help to streamline the publishing process by setting the correct perimeter dimensions in your chosen word processor.

The best way to determine what size your book should be is to go to a bookstore and browse similar books. Get a feel for the sizes and covers that are common in your genre. And don’t forget that if your book will be sold commercially, it will need a copyright page and an ISBN number before the printing process can begin.


Most authors lament that the cover design is the most difficult part of self-publishing a book. Fortunately, there are multiple options to aid in the process. First, determine if the cover will be black and white or in color. Then decide if you will be using stock images or a completely custom design. Most printers will have a wide array of stock images for you to choose from, but should you decide to go the custom route, you’ll need to keep some factors in mind.

It is common for printing companies to offer their own in-house custom design services. However, these services are usually quite expensive and you’ll be at the mercy of the staff designer. A better option is to outsource the design to a third party. The price will be lower and you’ll be able to screen artists before hiring one. Just provide the designer with the printer’s cover template specifications based on your chosen book size. The completed file for submittal to the printer should be “camera ready.” That simply means that the file is of print level quality at 300 DPI and will usually be a PDF or EPS file.

An additional cover option you may want to consider is coating. The cover can be coated in UV or plastic lamination; both are similar, but the lamination will offer more protection. Linen embossing and foil stamping may also be available.


The next consideration for your book will be the binding style. There are a number of different choices, and your printer can advise you on which style will be best for your project. But as the publisher, you’ll want to be educated about those options.

The standard binding is called perfect binding. This is the typical binding method for paperback books— a relatively cheap and simple process that is common with digital printing. Perfect binding uses durable glue but will eventually wear out from heavy use.

For larger paperback books, sewn perfect binding may be required for the added durability. This process utilizes glue and sewn thread. Hardback binding is the strongest form of binding and includes glue, a binder board, sewn thread, and plastic lamination. Saddle stitching will be used for very small books and pamphlets. This binding method uses staples to secure the spine.

Remember that there will be a minimum number of pages required before binding can be performed correctly. For a spine to be wide enough to be printed on, the book will usually require a minimum of 40 pages. Small books that utilize saddle stitching will generally need around 8 pages minimum. Oh, and don’t get pages and sheets of paper confused; each piece of paper equals two pages.


Additional services and policies offered by printing companies:

  • Depending on the size and extra options used for your book, turnaround time could be anywhere from 7-20 business days. You may be able to request rush service—for an extra fee, of course.
  • The more copies you order, the lower the price per copy will be. Most companies have a minimum order size, generally around 25 copies.
  • A preview can usually be requested for an additional fee. An unbound proof copy of your book will be mailed to you. This is mainly so you can check the color quality.
  • Other optional services include layout, typesetting, image scanning and placement, file conversion, and eBook formatting. Your printer may also be able to help you secure an ISBN number.

Typically, the most effective strategy for book printing—especially for authors on a budget—will involve a combination of techniques. You might want to start with just an eBook to allow it to gain some momentum so you can gauge the strength of your potential market. Submit your book to marketplaces that have print-on-demand capabilities so a physical copy of the book will be available if a customer wants one.

Order a short run print job from an offset printer of 100 – 200 copies, which won’t be price prohibitive or take up a lot of storage space. These books will be important to have on hand for promotional purposes, and because the books were printed offset, they will be of the highest quality. Should your book begin to take off, you can always order more copies.

There are two final pieces of advice to keep in mind when shopping for a printer. First, find a company that provides à la carte pricing. This way, you’ll have the flexibility of choosing only the options you need rather than being forced to select a package with unnecessary extras.

My last bit of advice is for you to pick up the phone and test any potential printer’s customer service. This book is your baby and should not be left in uncaring or incapable hands. Confirm whether the printer will be using digital or offset printing based on the size of your order. Ask questions to get the information you need. If the people handling your queries aren’t courteous, knowledgeable, and helpful, hang up and try someone else. There are plenty of printers out there; do your research, learn as much as you can about the process, and you’ll be able to move forward into the future armed with a great book and the best printer to bring it into the world.

James_Rose_OptimizedJames A. Rose is a writer for, a self-publishing company that has been helping authors bring their visions to life for the past 15 years. James has worked in the publishing industry since 2010 and during that time he has seen pretty much every problem that authors encounter during the self-publishing process. It is James’ goal to utilize his experience at Instant Publisher to help budding authors avoid common mistakes and self-publish the best book possible. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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James Rose
5 years ago

You’re welcome Becca. Thank you for inviting me.

5 years ago

Let me ditto this. I know when we started down this publishing road ourselves, the options and opinions made my head spin, but there was very little regarding using a printer versus going POD. It is nice to have options that fit each of us as an individual, not be forced into one route.

Traci Kenworth
5 years ago

This is fabulous!! Thanks!!

James Rose
5 years ago
Reply to  Traci Kenworth

Thanks Traci

Virginia Anderson
5 years ago

Should I assume that venues like CreateSpace and LightningSource are strictly POD and therefore use digital printing only? If so, I’m not sure how much of this post applies to options like that. My republished novels are already online as ebooks; I want to go the hard-copy route soon and need all the advice I can get.
I guess if I thought I would sell 100 copies in a single sitting, such as a book fair, it would be worth having that many on hand. But I imagine it will be more likely that I’ll sell one or two now and again here and there. Does that make POD the better choice?

James Rose
5 years ago

Hi Virginia

The best choice is all three options. Sell your book in ebook form, a POD marketplace, and keep 100-200 copies of your print book on hand for giving away at events, pitching to local book stores, sending to reviewers that would appreciate a quality copy, etc. I’ve heard many stories of new authors that printed 1000 copies that are now moth food. When your ebooks and POD books are selling like hotcakes, it will be time to look at spending serious money on printing. Until then, just order a short print run. And remember, the time consuming part is all the setup. Once you’ve placed an order with an offset printer they should keep it on file; Instant Publisher does. Then when you run out of hard copies, just call them back and order more which will take about a week usually. I think Createspace and Lightning Source are digital only.

5 years ago

Excellent post! Offset printing has tempted me for the quality, but I have a few questions.

First off, does offset printing limit our ability to get into a catalog such as Ingram, and book distribution channels?
How does one go about applying for copyright/ISBN — from the national registrar?

Thanks for an informative and helpful post.

James Rose
5 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Hi Andrew, glad you found the post useful. No, offset printing will not restrict an author’s ability to be listed in any database. In fact, having a small supply of physical books on hand can aid with getting your book into local bookstores.

All artistic works are intrinsically copyrighted in the U.S. but it is a good idea to put it on file with the government. I think it’s about a $30 application fee.

An ISBN number can be obtained through Bowker for $125 or through some author service companies. They buy them in bulk and usually make a profit on them when they sell the numbers to the authors. Some companies give them away for free as an incentive for signing up. The actual purchaser of the number is registered as the publishing company associated with the ISBN. If you are only planning on publishing one book then buying one through the author service company (including printers) will be fine. If you plan on publishing a few books then purchasing your own numbers straight from the source would likely be the bets choice.

5 years ago
Reply to  James Rose

My question, though, is that POD services often offer catalog listing as part of the package (such as Ingram Spark, for instance). Where could we pull the equivalent strings if offset printing is our choice?

Sounds like copyright purchase and an ISBN block is in my future. Thanks!

James Rose
5 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

You shouldn’t limit yourself to just one sales channel. Sell ebooks, POD books and keep a small supply of physical books on hand. Getting your physical book into a brick and mortar store is not easy. I would suggest starting at the local level with little mom and pop stores. That database you mention I think is just so if a customer walks into a store and requests your book, the store can find and order it (probably a POD version). I would not suggest ordering a lot of print books for shipment to a distributor. It’s too risky until you’ve built a strong fan base.