The Basic Process of Print and Ebook Production for the Self-Publisher

QUOTE_productionIt seems as if self publishing a book should be easy, but when it comes to getting your book ready to market, there is a lot to consider. It helps to understand the basic process of print and ebook production. Firstly, there are two forms of your book that you will need to consider producing:

1. Print

2. eBook

Many authors believe they can just do a quick conversion of their Word files and it will magically be ready to send to a printer or upload to Amazon, but there is a great deal more to it and you might want to consider hiring help for some of the steps. It is useful to understand the basic process that a book goes through before it becomes a final product in order to plan for the steps and the help you might need for your own project.

Traditional book print production follows a pretty standard process:

  1. An author provides electronic files to a publisher
  2. Publisher sends files to a typesetter who may use a system like Adobe InDesign to typset and format the book
  3. Typesetter outputs file formats that can be read by a big press printer
  4. A “Proof” is produced by the typesetter for proofing by the publisher and author
  5. Approved proof is sent to the printer by the typesetter as an electronic file
  6. Printer uses the electronic file to print the books and covers and binds them together to produce final bound book

When it comes to DIY printing of a book, this is more-or-less the same process. Essentially, a final, approved electronic version of the book is sent to the printer and printed. It’s just that now, the typesetter is no longer a part of the process. As authors, we have to become our own typesetters and formatters.

It may sound easy, but being your own typesetter has many pitfalls:

  • You need to think about the styles of your chapter headings, headers and footers, table of contents (with the correct page numbers), index, etc. If you’ve ever fussed even once in Word trying to set margins or format a table, you will have an idea what a headache this can be.
  • Different printers require different file types (Word, PDF, etc.)
  • Converting files (from say Word or Scrivner to PDF) can sometimes mess up your formatting. Suddenly your pagination has changed and tables are broken.
  • Sometimes a printer doesn’t have the same font you’ve been using, and so it defaults to courier, again messing up all your formatting.
  • Files are too big to send through email and need to be FTP’d to a printer, adding another level of complexity and possibility for error.
  • Placing photos or other graphics can be extremely difficult and requires extra diligence.

And trust me, print production is “easy” compared to eBook formatting.

eBook Production is similar to Print Production, but instead of formatting the book and sending the files off to be printed, they are converted into a number of different file types since each of the big eBook distributors (i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Google, Kobo) require different file formats (.mobi, .epub, .lit, etc.). Often this means having a number of versions of the book to accomodate for each eBook format. The same pitfalls occur as in print production.

Most authors will likely want to hire someone to format their books for them, but if you’re feeling intrepid, here is a very useful article on publishing from Word to Kindle.

There is a lot to consider before undertaking as big project a project as getting your book ready for print and ebook which is useful to know. Getting help will save time and ultimately cost you less in both dollars and aspirin.


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  1. Don’t forget that book designers do much more than master the technical requirements of file preparation. We’re trained in color, composition, design and the subtle aesthetics of typography, all of which work together to produce a beautiful book, inside and out. This adds an additional dimension of pleasure to reading, beyond just comprehension.

  2. The good news is, for writers of fiction or narrative style nonfiction (books without tables or many if any images), ebook conversion is quite literally a button push assuming you have followed a few simple style guidelines when you typed your manuscript.

    For more complex projects, it can get enormously more difficult. But for us fiction writers…ebooks are a dream. My seven year old was able to do ebook conversions of a short story for me – three years ago, using tools which were archaic by today’s standards. If a four year old can handle it, most of us probably can, too. :)