DIY Book Publishing

One of the “print on demand” books I’ve made through the years.

If you are writing a woodworking book, you have a lot of company. During the last six months, we have seen an alarming spike in the number of people who have sent us book proposals or even finished manuscripts.

To be clear, we don’t even accept unsolicited manuscripts at Lost Art Press. And still, I’ve rejected at least 20 book proposals so far for 2020, which is a record. John and I have no interest in becoming a bigger publishing company. We don’t want employees, overhead, debt or potentially watered-down content. So we can’t take on these projects.

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Luckily, if you are writing a book you have options. So whether you are writing “Alf” fan fiction or the next “Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking” here are some paths to consider.

  1. Traditional offset printing. If you think you can sell 500 copies of your book, then you should investigate traditional offset printing. This is the same process we use at Lost Art Press. It is the cheapest way to print a book – by far. And you have the most options for binding, paper and other manufacturing details. The downside is you have to come up with the money for the press run at the get-go. And you have to produce “press-ready” pdf files. And you have to find an audience. And sell them. And pack all the books. Deal with customer service and returns. But if you can sell 500, you’ll probably do OK. We use several printers and press brokers, including Signature Book Printing.
  2. Print on demand (POD). This is a fancy photocopier or digital laser printer that prints and binds your book. It prints them one at a time, which is great because you will never have 1,000 copies of your novel mouldering in the attic. But it is at least twice as expensive as offset printing (in my experience). And you have fewer choices as to paper, cover and binding. The printing quality gets crisper every year, but the bindings have yet to equal traditional sewn signatures in my experience. I’ve seen some sewn POD books, and I wouldn’t let an enraged baby or dog alone with them. A good place to start investigating this option is Ingram’s Lightning Source service. Companies such as this can handle everything, from sales to distribution. But it costs. 
  3. POD marries DIY. You don’t have to go through a big company like Ingram to use POD. Many libraries and “makerspaces” have POD machines. One brand is the Espresso machine, which is what we have at the Cincinnati library. I’ve made many small-run books on these machines and sold them to students and given them away to customers and friends. If you can find a non-profit entity, such as a library, the books are pretty reasonable per copy. But you are very limited on the size, shape, paper and cover. For example, our library only does black-and-white interiors and a color softcover. But the price is right and you have to start somewhere.
  4. Give it to Amazon. Amazon has self-publishing services that allow you to upload your book to them and sell it all over the world – both electronically and in print. The quality I’ve seen so far has been in the middle range of POD. It’s not the best but it’s not the worst. But you do get to tell your relatives at Thanksgiving that your book is on Amazon. That’s something, right? (No.)

A final option is to work with a traditional publisher. There are fewer of these every year, and I can almost guarantee you will have a frustrating experience. Almost all first-time authors do.

Publishing is a tough business, kind of like woodworking. I tell my family that I combined two terrible professions into something that almost works. But if you really want it, it can happen. John and I are proof of that.

— Christopher Schwarz

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