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Production steps and costs

Getting started

Book production consists of many steps, each of which should be properly completed before moving on to the next one. This helps to keep production costs down, a major priority in publishing, especially self-publishing where budgets are generally quite meagre and economies of scale cannot be taken advantage of through large print runs. To help you guage the kind of investment you'll be in for when self-publishing, we have included an estimation of costs with each step.

Book production when publishing independently is broken up into three main categories:

Editing and manuscript preparation

This covers manuscript evaluation; editing; translating; permissions; proof-reading

Book design, typesetting & make-up

This includes book design; scanning; typesetting; creating DTP artwork; cover design & makeup; ISBN application; barcode generation; copyright insertion; supplying page proofs; creating a print-ready PDF file

Printing or ebook creation

This covers large-run litho printing; low-run digital printing; printing only as books are purchased, also known as print-on-demand (POD); ebook creation.



© 2009


Step 1: Completing your manuscript and getting a quote


It will be impossible to get an accurate production and printing price on an incomplete manuscript, so the first step, before you approach an author services or book production company for pricing, is to get your manuscript as near to completion as possible. This is because production prices are usually based on a combination of a page rate (typesetting) and a price per 1000 words (editing), so a fairly accurate word count is required. Text-based books that are A5 in size usually contain 300-350 words per page.

The book production company will quote on the following:

• manuscript evaluation (optional but recommended if publishing seriously)
• editing (complex or standard edit, depending on the quality of the writing)
• artwork commissioning (if applicable)
• book design and typesetting
• cover design and makeup
• ISBN application and barcode generation
• insertion of copyright
• proof-reading
• litho or digital printing and/or ebook creation

    Although one's budget may be tight, there is definitely such a thing as being penny-wise pound-foolish when it comes to production. This is because standards of production can differ quite markedly from one service provider to the next. If this is a serious publishing project, or if your professional reputation is going to be linked to your book in any way, it is very important to find someone with proper book production experience, someone who is familiar with professional trade publishing requirements and standards.

    Total production costs on an average self-published text-based self-help book or novel could range from R18 000 to R30 000 depending on how much editing is required, and whether the interior of the book requires any special features such as tip boxes, pull quotes, photos, and so on. The more complex the book, the more expensive. Depending on the service provider, you may be required to pay a 50% deposit upront on the full production bill, and the balance on completion of the project.


    Step 2: Handing your manuscript over for editing


    Once you have agreed on a price, the next step is to hand your manuscript over for editing. It is very important to have everything ready at this stage, including the end-matter (glossary, references, bibliography, etc). The only thing that you won't supply is the index if your book requires one. This is because the page flow after the book has been typeset will be different to the original manuscript. The index is usually the very last thing to be completed. If you have any images or artwork in the book, these should be supplied as well - as separate images and as close to 300 dpi as possible. If you are in any doubt as to the suitability of your material, double-check this with your service provider.

    Any material sent to the editor after the editing has begun may incur extra costs.


    Step 3: Editing


    Your manuscript may require a complex edit or a standard one. The type of editing required depends on the condition of the manuscript, and will usually be specified in the quotation after the editor has had a chance to assess the manuscript.

    A complex edit is where sentence structure, story flow, logic, consistency of writing style, grammar and fact checking is corrected. A standard edit usually includes the correcting of grammar, spelling, punctuation, consistency, and the checking of basic facts, etc. Many editing quotes will be subject to sight of the final copy, so if you would like an accurate quote upfront, you will be required to send your entire manuscript through for a price assessment. Different editors have different strengths and areas of expertise, so many book production companies will outsource the editing to the editor best suited to the job. It would be good to bear this in mind when choosing your own editor.

    Editing can take anything from one week to four weeks, depending on how busy the editor is, how much work is required, and on how quickly you respond to the editor's queries if he or she has any. If it is a complex edit with many queries, this will obviously delay the process. It is therefore better and more cost-effective to take the time to get the manuscript as correct as possible before handing it over for editing.

    Once the editing is done, the editor will usually send the edited manuscript back to you for checking. The editor may be in touch with you during the editing process, asking for clarification on something, or to request further elaboration. When you have approved the edit, the manuscript will enter production.

    Professional editing prices can vary from R120 per 1000 words to R250 per 1000 words, depending on the condition of the manuscript and what needs to be done.


    Step 4: Book design and typesetting


    Book design is where the interior look of the book is decided on and a style sheet set up to ensure that this look remains consistent throughout. It includes choosing a font style for text and headings, determining margin widths, setting word and letter spacing, choosing a chapter heading and number style, and so on.

    Once the style sheets have been set up, typesetting begins. The typesetting stage (also called book makeup) involves flowing the edited text into the template and applying all the preset styles. The combination of book design and typesetting is what gives a book it's professional look and feel on the inside. A publishing professional can usually tell the difference between a properly typeset book and one that has been put together using MS Word.

    Book design and typesetting may take anything from one week to four weeks, depending on how busy your service provider is.

    Book design prices will range from R750 to R1500 for novels and self-help books and from R1800 to R2400 for educational books. Some book production companies include book design as part of their typesetting service. Typesetting charges for novels and self-help books are usually between R25 and R40 per page which includes one to two sets of author proofs, in either PDF format or as printed laser copies. For educational books it can range from R45 to R90 per page depending on the book and the complexity of the setting.


    Step 5: ISBN application and barcode generation


    Every book needs an ISBN number which is a unique identification number (unless it's a personal book for private distribution). If the book is to be sold through retailers or a distributor, then a barcode will also be needed. Most book production or author services companies will apply for an ISBN number on your behalf and generate a barcode. The barcode will be included on the book cover.

    An ISBN and barcode purchased through an author services company can range from R200 to R250 and takes 1–2 days to obtain.


    Step 6: Cover design and makeup


    Cover design is an art and a book cover is considered prime real estate by publishing houses. People do judge a book by its cover, so it is very important that the cover is carefully considered and put together. The title, byline, blurb and cover images should all work together to create a cover that has impact and conveys the essence of the book. The cover is also a dead giveaway of a book that has been professionally produced versus one that has not. As mentioned before, book marketers and bookstores tend to steer clear of books that look self-published, so it is important to have a professional-looking cover.

    Expect to pay anything around R2400 to R3000 for professional cover design.


    Step 7: First and second page proofs


    First page proofs is one of the most exciting stages of production for you, as an author, as it is where you finally get to see your book in a professional format – where all your work for the past few months, or years, materializes into something that looks like a real book.

    This is your opportunity to make final changes before the book goes off for printing. It is advisable to let a few trusted friends or family members help you with the task of reading the proofs and highlighting anything that may have slipped through. Any corrections that need to be made should be done so in writing - a copy of which should be kept by you. Your service provider will provide you with a second set of proofs so that you can check that all corrections have been made. Once you're happy, you will be required to sign a proof sheet or send written approval giving the go-ahead for printing or ebook creation. Your service provider will advise you in this regard.

    First and second page proofs usually take one to two weeks, depending again on how quickly you get them back to your service provider.

    The cost of first and second page proofs is usually included in the typesetting fee. However, should the book get to third pages due to changes you make that have nothing to do with any typesetting errors, then you may be charged an hourly rate for those corrections. This is why we said, earlier on, that it's important to properly complete each step and to hand your manuscript over only when everything is ready.


    Step 8: Printing and/or ebook creation


    Your book is now ready to enter the last phase of the production process. Litho printing (usually recommended for 1000 books or more) can take 2–4 weeks if done locally and about 3–6 weeks if done overseas, whereas digital printing (recommended for up to 999 books) usually takes 5–7 working days. Ebook creation may take 5–10 working days depending on how busy your service provider is.

    If you are using a print-on-demand service, your book is printed only as it is ordered. However, print-on-demand prices are usually higher than volume-based digital printing, so if you're going the digital route, you may prefer to print between 50 and 200 copies to start with.

    Average printing costs (excl. VAT) in South Africa for a 148 page book printed one colour throughout with a full colour cover and perfect bound will be more or less as follows:

    • litho printing 1000 copies: ± R20–R30 each (total minimum investment: R20 000)

    • litho printing 2000 copies: ± R15–R25 each (total minimum investment: R30 000)

    • litho printing 3000 copies: ± R12–R17 each (total minimum investment: R36 000)

    • print-on-demand 1 copy: ± R45–R60

    • print-on-demand 10 copies: ± R40 each (total minimum investment: R400)

    • print-on-demand 20-100 copies: ± R35 each (total minimum investment at 20 copies: R700)

    • ebook creation: ± R1500 to R2500

    • ebook creation & online distribution package: ± R5000 to R6000

    NOTE: The prices included on this page will vary depending on the service provider and the particulars of the book in question, and have been included here ONLY as a guide. By having a rough idea of the costs, you can better decide whether self-publishing is the route for you, and whether you have the available financial resources needed for such a venture.


    To find out more about our quick and easy online digital printing service (print-ready PDF file of book inner and cover required), click here. Our printing prices include VAT and delivery.


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