Vol 45, Issue 1

September/October 2005

Printer-friendly version

Back to issue home page

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - September/October 2005


Meeting the Demands for Publishing on Demand

by Gary Michael Smith, Senior Member, STC Houston

Whether you're producing books for your company's documentation department or just trying to get your own Great American Novel between two covers, many nuances come into play. Perhaps the biggest challenges are working with printers to produce your text blocks and covers—especially if you're a one-person team responsible for coordinating book printing.

Text Blocks

Your text block includes everything between the book covers. This includes your front matter (short title page, long title page, copyright page, table of contents, list of figures and tables, foreword, preface, introduction, etc.), actual text of the book, and any back matter (references, suggested reading, contacts, resources, index, and colophon, which Chicago now recommends to place in the back of a book).

Your first concern is to get your labor of love into a format that will remain intact during electronic transmission. Face it, the days of hand-delivering a hard copy or a disk to a printer are over—unless you happen to live in the same neighborhood. But even then you'll still want to upload or e-mail an electronic version of the manuscript to your text block printer so you end up with a first generation printout and not a photocopy of the original.

Whether you're working in a word processing program such as Microsoft Word or a desktop publishing tool such as QuarkXPress or PageMaker, you want to save the file in the most stable format possible. Which format is this? Well, the jury's still out on this one. To date, you can save text to formats such as PDF, HTML, or ASCII, depending on your personal preference. But new formats are being developed; a consortium of vendors of equipment and software for on-demand printing, called the Print on Demand Initiative (PODI), has developed Personalized Print Markup Language (PPML) for moving variable-data jobs from the software that creates them to the printing system that will output them.

Your best bet, however, is to keep it simple. Adobe Acrobat lets you save your source file to a PDF format that remains basically the same during electronic transmission across a variety of platforms. Notice I said "basically" the same? This is because your printer probably will still want you to look at a proof to ensure that nothing has changed from the electronic version to the printed proof.


PDF seems to be the most stable file type and the type most preferred by specialty digital printers. And how do you get these files to the printer? This is another beauty of Acrobat—it compresses files. One of my books is 25 MB in the source format (MS Word), but when saved as a PDF file it shrinks to just over 1 MB. While this size can be e-mailed, my printer prefers that clients upload files to their web site by using online file transfer protocol (OLFTP). Built directly into the web site, OLFTP allows customers to fill in a few fields on an online form, browse their hard drive to find their file, and then upload the file to the printer's web site.

We're not talking about a quick print shop for such production. While the equipment is similar (and in some cases identical), you need to use a specialty print shop that specializes in book production. Such companies have staff trained in the proper layout for book printing, and they also know how to clean and maintain equipment for a quality product.


Once you have approved the proof, you need to approve the book cover. Here, you have two choices of printers: a traditional offset printer who will require a minimum of several hundred to a thousand covers, or digital offset printers who are more than happy to print anywhere from one to more covers, but at a cost of around $2 to $3 each. At this point you may discover that your text block printer cannot or does not print cover stock. This is not uncommon, as these mediums of printing are different. Just ask what's available and get prices.

And while you no longer need to deal with (or pay for) such services as layout and design and stripping of negatives, there are other tasks and expenses:

  • Bleed, stock, and lamination. When you are designing your cover (or having it designed), be sure that enough extra space is provided on the edges to be trimmed later. Known as "bleed," if this space is absent be prepared for covers with some of your artwork chopped off.
  • Spine thickness. You don't have to actually design the spine, other than telling the printer that you want the short title, author's last name, and press name. However, you need to know exactly how thick it needs to be. This is easily calculated by determining the exact number of sheets of paper that will be needed (page number divided by two) and the exact brand and weight of paper. The printer will take the right number of sheets and simply measure for correct spine width.
  • Back cover barcode. Today, booksellers require books to have at least an ISBN bar code, and a price bar code (extended bar code) if possible. In the old days you had to buy a strip of film with this information on it, but nowadays digital printers can apply your bar code directly to the cover for a $25 to $30 one-time charge.
  • Author photo. Always a question of vanity versus publicity, whether or not you include an author photo is a matter of choice. But if you do go with a photo, be sure the printer gets the highest resolution image from you in a format such as a JPEG. Ask them what they prefer and at what resolution to be sure you get the best picture printed.
  • Registration/alignment. Once your printer has finished with the cover, you will be provided with a proof copy. This is your last chance to look at such quality issues as resolution of images, registration and alignment in relation to the paper stock edges, and crop marks over the bleed areas. Make any necessary adjustments now before you give the go-ahead to begin the pressrun.

Regarding cover printing, Kolleen Herndon of Garrison Digital Color, Inc. of Harahan, Louisiana tells us that, "It's of utmost importance that we get the best resolution images for front and back covers. We prefer files in TIFF or EPS formats at a minimum of 300 dpi to ensure optimal quality in digital offset printing."


When you're happy with the covers and the text block, it's time to bind the two together. While personal binding machines are available from such companies as UniBind, it's easier to let a printer do it for a nominal fee—often around a dollar a book or less. Your text block printer or your cover printer should be able to perform the binding, but if not there are binderies around that specialize in such work. Ask your printer if they can perform the service or recommend a bindery.


Registering your book probably is the single most important task. It puts your book "on the map" so librarians, bookstores, and wholesalers and distributors can find it. Three registration aspects are most important:

Acquiring an ISBN. The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique machine-readable identification number that is specific to every book. Although many companies will sell you an ISBN, R.R. Bowker develops them and also will sell them to publishers.

Previously unchanged since its inception in 1970, ISBNs will display a new 13-digit number as of January 1, 2007. Conversion of current 10-digit numbers is quick and easy and can be accomplished by going to www.Bowkerlink.com and clicking on the ISBN-13 Transition link. At the web page that opens, select the Conversion Tools and Services link, then click on For Publishers, Wholesalers and Distributors or For Retailers, whichever you are. The ISBN-13 online converter web page will open, and all you have to do is input your current 10-digit number and click SUBMIT. Your new 13-digit ISBN will display in the Complete 13-digit ISBN field.

Go ahead and start printing this number on your title page verso in the following format: ISBN-10: 1-873671-00-9 with ISBN-13: 978-1-873671-00-9 directly below it. For all newly published books, you should convert your 10-digit ISBN to a 13-digit number and include both in the book. However, don't worry about putting the longer number on top of the barcode until January 2007; the barcode already has your 13-digit number embedded in the stripes. The "eye-readable" number should reflect the new 13-digit number only for titles published after January 1, 2007; barcode numbers prior to January 2007 should still show the 10-digit number. Moreover, after January 2007 the 10-digit number should be removed from the title page verso and the 13-digit number should be added to the back cover in eye-readable numeric format.

Listing in Books In Print. Books In Print is the ultimate database for books. R.R. Bowker sends listings to major outlets such as Barnes & Noble and Borders daily or weekly. Once you have created a login profile, you are able to update or add titles yourself. This is perhaps the second most important step of registering a book after obtaining an ISBN.

Copyrighting with the Library of Congress. Copyright is a protection that covers published and unpublished works, whatever the form, provided such works are fixed in a tangible or material form. Copyright laws grant the creator the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, perform, and display the work publicly. While any work created by you is considered copyrighted, you may be hard pressed to prove it in court without a formal copyright from the Library of Congress. Some authors will mail works to themselves so that the postmark proves a creation date, but this practice is best used as a preliminary act while waiting for your copyright to be received from the Copyright Office.

Copyrighting is easy. Go to www.copyright.gov, scroll down to Publications, and select Forms. Then scroll down to find the form that's appropriate for the work you want to copyright. Form TX or Short Form TX are the primary ones to use for books. The cost is $30 plus two copies of a printed and bound book or one copy of an unbound book.

File Maintenance

Once your books are printed, bound, registered, and being sold, your job still isn't over. You must properly maintain files of your book. Such files may consist of the source files for revisions as well as PDFs, JPEGs, or other formats of your final text block and cover for additional print runs. Be sure your printers provide you with any file formats that they are using so you and they have a copy, which serves as a great backup plan.

Steps to Skip

Depending on the type of publishing you're involved in, you may be able to skip a few steps. For instance, short pressruns are not eligible for certain types of cataloging.

Cataloging in Publication. Cataloging in Publication (CIP) is a bibliographic record that is prepared by the Library of Congress for a book which has not yet been published. When the book is published, the publisher includes the CIP data on the copyright page, facilitating book processing for libraries and book dealers.

But not everyone can use CIP. For instance, only U. S. publishers who publish titles that are most likely to be widely acquired by U.S. libraries are eligible to participate in the CIP program. Book vendors, distributors, printers, production houses, and other intermediaries are not eligible. Also, self-publishers and publishers who have published the works of fewer than three different authors are ineligible.

There is no charge for CIP processing; however, upon publication participating publishers are obligated to send a complimentary copy of all books for which CIP data was provided.

Preassigned Control Number. Publishers who are ineligible for the CIP program may be eligible for the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program. The Library of Congress assigns a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) while the book is being cataloged. Under certain circumstances, however, a card number can be assigned before the book is published through the PCN program. Only U.S. book publishers are eligible to participate in the PCN program. These publishers must list a U.S. place of publication on the title page or copyright page of their books and must maintain an editorial office in the U.S. that is capable of answering substantive bibliographic questions.

Library of Congress Control Number. An LCCN is a unique identification number that the Library of Congress assigns to the catalog record created for each book in its cataloged collections. Librarians use it to locate a specific Library of Congress catalog record in the national databases and to order catalog cards from the Library of Congress or from commercial suppliers.

The Library of Congress began to print catalog cards in 1898 and to distribute them in 1901. The LCCN was used to identify and control catalog cards. LCCNs now are used primarily by librarians for authority, bibliographic, and classification records. If you print your books in short pressruns and, consequently, do not sell through major wholesalers or distributors, the Library of Congress will not grant you an LCCN.

Gary Michael Smith is a publisher who is based in New Orleans. He can be contacted at www.ChatgrisPress.com.

Copyright © 2006 Houston Chapter, Society for Technical Communication
P.O. Box 42051, Houston, TX 77242-2051 | 713-706-3434