This is the third article in a series by Stories To Tell editor/designer Sarah Hoggatt recounting her experiences in publishing her poetry and nonfiction.
As great an experience as publishing is, I learn a lot every time I go to print, lessons I put into practice with subsequent books. I thought these lessons would be for myself alone until a high school student approached me asking if I would mentor her for her senior project. She reminded me a bit of myself at that age except even brighter and more put together. So I took what I learned and shared those lessons with her. It was a gift to pass them on to such a gifted artist in her own right and her book came out beautifully. Here is some of what I told her in relation to the physical printing of books:
- Find a good printer specializing in books. For my first and second printings of my first book, I used a local print shop that specialized in making copies. I did this because it’s what a fellow author did and I was so green behind the ears, I didn’t think to look at my options. This shop, not being very familiar with books, put the first page as the last page and though they gave me a discount for the mistake, I was quite disappointed. Not quite learning this lesson, I used a different print shop for the second title but wasn’t really satisfied with that resulting book either. Though it was an improvement with a color cover, I realized later they hadn’t told me about some of the other printing options – options I would have gone with had I known. By the time I was working on redesigning the first two books, I knew I needed something far better than what I’d found thus far. That is how I came across Gorham Printing and I’ve loved their company every since. They are small, family run, relatively local, and they have gone out of their way to help me out time and time again. I really appreciate the quality of their work, they know the business, and so I recommended them to the young woman I mentored. They have handled all my printing since. They key here is to shop around and find a company you like – not just the product but the people as well.
- Design a full color cover. My first cover was a cardstock cover with black ink. Though self-publishing was still very much on the sidelines at the time, I could have done a lot better than that. Again, I just didn’t question what else could be done. I made that change with the second book and couldn’t wait to go back and redesign a new cover for the first. I would now recommend having a cover professionally designed because I’ve seen so many unprofessional covers that just look awful. Though I now have some of the needed skills to design a cover myself, I hire a graphic designer as she comes up with ideas I would have never thought of that look fantastic.
- Always check the final proofs. I know first-hand how tired you are of looking at your book by the time it’s ready to go to the printer. You have to look at it again anyway with a detached eye. In my first book’s first printing, there were some lines of a poem missing because I only saw what I expected to see or I didn’t look closely enough. You have to check it again. You will regret it if you don’t. Doing this before the book was reprinted the second time, I caught the same printer’s mistake. Thinking I had made a mistake, they put that first page in the back of the book again. To this day, I do not know why they thought a title page should be in the back but I am sure glad I checked. Gorham has done this right every time.
- Leave room in your deadlines. I know it’s tempting to work down to the very last possible moment but I urge you not to do it. Gorham has been great when I’ve designed a book for someone who needs it back fast but, in general, leave lots of time. When I printed In His Eyes, the local print shop’s copier for the covers had broken down and they had already put off the job to the last moment. I was supposed to have a book release party either that night or the next day and I had no books. Being stubborn and determined, I drove the paper to another location of theirs forty-five minutes away, had them print the covers there, and drove them back to have everything bound. I still shake my head at this experience and will never repeat it. Now, when I’m getting a book ready to go to print, I call Gorham and ask them about their current lead time so I can add some extra time just in case.
- Always get printed proofs from the printer. Whether or not you have artwork in the book, this is a vital step. You will notice things you did not see before and if you have pictures in grayscale or color, this is especially important. The original proofs for my third poetry book were too dark and I was glad I saw those proofs before they were all printed. You also want to take a look at color to make sure you like how the ink turns out on the printed page.
- Always be gracious and polite with whomever you’re working. Yes, that first printer made a mistake but I still needed to be kind – yet firm. More people will want to help you when you’re nice to them. Once you find a printer you like, value the relationship. It will pay dividends down the road.
I haven’t yet made the printing decisions for this book. Those choices will be made later on after I figure out what this book needs. As the first three poetry books were a trilogy, I stayed with the same style and printing choices. This next one, though, stands on it’s own and so it can look different from the others. I’m excited to see what that look will be.
Check out the first two posts in this series: