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What Happened to My Book?

Günter Hansen, Guest Author
General Manager & CEO
Central Plains Book Manufacturing

You should never have to ask this question if all the proper steps are followed before the job is run. During my 30+ years of experience in the printing industry in both Europe and here in the US, I have seen many unusual practices and situations.

I have a fairly broad perspective having worked in all areas of the industry including commercial, newspaper, magazine and books. I worked in production, purchasing and general management for both small and large companies. I will offer some tips I learned so that you never ponder the question, "What happened to my book?"

Tip #1: Agreements - All printers agreements are different. I suggest reading each agreement carefully to determine if something is missing. Always ask the printer questions BEFORE signing the agreement.

Tip #2: Files - If you are submitting the book electronically, work with the printer to make certain that it is in a format that they can handle. Also, always submit a hard copy so that the printer can cross-check it to the file. If the printer has both an electronic file and a hard copy, there should be no excuses for misunderstandings.

Tip #3: Proofs - Proofs are necessary because it is your last chance to assure that everything is ready to print. Even the printer could have made a mistake, so that is one extra reason why you should proofread it. Errors do occur, so take the time to review and sign off on all proofs.

Tip #4: Paper - Not all papers are equal! Watch out when comparing quotes because a large price difference may be due to the difference in paper quality. You should ask for samples of the paper to make sure you are happy with the quality.

Some printers substitute the paper with a house brand versus a brand name in order to cut the expense. Many printers, in fact, will do this substituting, but it should be done only upon your request!

Here is a true example of this paper issue. A publisher received two printing quotes on a rather large order. The publisher awarded the job based on price. The specs called for a 60# brand name, opaque paper which was supposedly used in the quotes, but the publisher did not ask to see samples of the paper during the quote process.

The book was printed and the publisher then noted that the actual paper used by the printer was a house brand that was not opaque! The different papers used by the two printers accounted for the difference in the price of the job.

Had the same paper been quoted and used by both printers, the publisher would have selected the printer based on other qualities such as location, shipping cost, timing and customer service.

You also need to know that not all paper is the same even if it has the same name! What I mean is that rolls or sheets of paper are produced during different production runs at the paper mills; therefore, they will always vary slightly.

Sometimes you cannot notice the difference in the shade, but sometimes it is obvious! We do not like this unavoidable situation any more than you do! To show you what I mean, go to your local bookstore and randomly look at copies of books to discover the shade differences, and I mean differences in the same book.

Tip #5: Turn Around Time - Most printers have standard turn times. If these times are not on your contract, ask the printer for them. Please note that the process is on hold while you have the proofs. Once we are ready to go, we do everything in our power to manufacture your product according to the turn times published.

Depending upon the time of year, we can have holidays that were not in your time estimate. Also, occasionally we experience unexpected delays due to equipment problems. We will communicate any delay and do our best to get your books to you on time, but sometimes your patience is required!

Tip #6: Overs/Unders - Printers produce more sheets than are ordered to assure that you receive your ordered number of quality books. We typically print 5 to 10% more sheets than the customer orders. Once the order is complete, we produce as many additional clean copies of the book as we can from the printed sheets.

We will always offer these overs (often called "overruns") to you at a reduced price but in case you do not want any overs, we will dispose of the extra signatures by recycling them. Your quote always includes some extra signatures in order to produce the correct number of books. Sometimes we are lucky and can keep the waste down, and at other times, we need all the overs to make the numbers.

Tip #7: Freight - Please be clear on exactly where you want your books delivered. If you want the delivery to be to your residence, the freight company will charge more than for a delivery to a warehouse, and you may have to pay even more for a lift truck.

Without specifying a warehouse or storage facility, the estimate will be made assuming a warehouse address in the zip code area that you supplied. When working with us, you always have the option of 6 months free storage at quick pick distribution.

Tip #8: Signatures - A signature is the folded single unit of paper in a book. Web press printers prefer printing in full signatures (versus fractional pages.) A full signature can be 16 pages, 32 pages or even 48 pages, depending on the equipment.

Printers will typically offer a price break if you stay within their signature possibilities. If you require a small run or fractional pages (4s, 8s etc.,) then you may need to use a printer that has a sheet-fed press. You should ask your printer what equipment they have and will use for your job. This brings me to my next tip. . .

Tip #9: Press Type - In Tip #8, I mentioned both the web press and sheet-fed press. There is actually a third printing possibility, which is using a Xerox Digital Printer. You should work with your printer to determine which printer is the most cost-effective for your job (assuming they offer a choice of equipment!) Until 10 years ago, the web press and sheet-fed press were your only equipment options.

Sheet-fed presses print on sheets which must then be folded by folding equipment. As mentioned, this press is best for short runs (300 to 1000 copies.) Larger runs are usually more cost effective if done using a web press which prints from a roll of paper and has in-line folding capabilities. If, however, you need 300 copies or less, you may consider Digital Printing.

On the Digital Printer, the picture quality is not quite as good as from the other presses, but this option is the most cost-effective of the three for these smaller runs. Ask your printer which equipment they have available and the price differences. We at Central Plains have all three options available and work with our customers to choose the most efficient, cost effective alternative.

Tip #10: Terms - The terms you get from a printer are generally a reflection of your relationship with them. The more you use a printer, assuming you have a good credit history, the better the terms should be. Typical terms for first-time customers are 50% down at the time the contract is signed and the other 50% due at Blueline return.

Once the relationship is established, these terms can change to 33% at contract signing, 33% at Blueline return and the remainder paid upon shipment. Of course, freight, alterations and over costs are included in the final invoice. When your have a strong credit history and an established vendor/customer relationship, your terms should be 30 days net or better.

Tip #11: Distribution Center - Discuss distribution costs with your printer. Freight and storage costs can be substantial! Since the inception of Central Plains, we have partnered with QP Distribution. The new QP Distribution facility is across the street from our building eliminating all freight costs to the point of distribution. And, since we are located in the middle of the country, our freight costs are very reasonable to most locations.

Tip #12: Quality - Quality should be expected from your printer. However, there are established industry tolerance levels which determine an acceptable product versus one that is unacceptable. Publishers should understand that bookstores do know and accept these variations.

It is important to recognize that since books are manufactured and not handmade, there are always slight variations during the production process. An example of an acceptable tolerance level is a page or cover having a variation in positioning of up to 1/16 of an inch.

The employees at Central Plains Book Manufacturing strive for perfection and understand these defined tolerance levels. You understand, striving does not mean that we are always perfect; we just try to be the best! Quality issues beyond these acceptable variations should be discussed with your printer.

Tip #13: Margins - Margins often tend to be overlooked, and this can happen especially if a non-experienced designer did the layout. You need at least 3/8 inch margin in the book to assure the reader can use the book without breaking the spine.

Tip #14: Spine - I urge you to let your printer help with the spine! The spine width depends on the paper being used and the number of pages. If you or your designer developed the spine, make sure that you supply your printer with the file so that they can fine-tune the art (spine thickness), if necessary.

Tip #15: Production Schedule - Split runs and certain bindery finishes typically add time to your production schedule. Also, some printers do not have the capabilities to handle all aspects of book production in-house so they farm out certain production steps causing somewhat longer production time.

Finally, case binding (hard cover) requires approximately two additional weeks in production. At Central Plains Book Manufacturing, we have all book production capabilities in-house allowing us to minimize production time and cost as much as possible.

In closing, I want to offer two final bits of advice. First, if you are tempted to print overseas or use a Print Service Provider, know that you are most likely working with a broker who makes money by farming out the manufacturing of your book. nd second, make sure you always compare competitive bids on apples to apples basis. Cheaper prices may be attributed to lower quality materials or other noticeable differences.

Hopefully these tips continue to help you to better work with your printer. From our standpoint, it is always easier to work with knowledgeable customers who ask questions up front! None of us like surprises.


Copyright © - Günter Hansen. - Reprinted with permission. Günter Hansen is General Manager & CEO of Central Plains Book Manufacturing in Winfield, Kansas - This article originally appeared in CPBM's newletter, "Book Connection."

I can highly recommend Central Plains Book Manufacturing and have used their services. I have personally worked with Melody Morris ( She provides excellent quality, superb customer service and a high degree of professionalism. - Larry James


  If you would like to talk one-on-one with Larry James about issues related to this article, you are invited to arrange for a private coaching session by telephone. Go to Author & Speaker Coaching for specific details and fees.

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