What it takes to self-publish a book


In an earlier post, I looked into the kinds of problems one can get with “on-demand” book publishing - where you send off your book (actual the electronic version of it) to be printed somewhere else (only to then get it back with strong magenta casts on thin paper, for example). What appears to be somewhat forgotten is that before on-demand publishing existed, photographers published their own books simply (or maybe I should write “simply”) by printing photographs and then by binding the pages into a book (or getting this last bit done by someone with the necessary skill set).

Needless to say, this type of self publishing seems to require a fair amount of work - but then, the photographer is in full control of the final product (and I’ll take a book produced this way over any on-demand book at any given time - if you’ve ever seen examples of both types you know why); and who says that producing a book should take no time? But how much work exactly? How much does it cost? What does one have to do to create a book like this?

Several photographers/artists were kind enough to send me information about the process etc., which they allowed me to share here:

Frank Armstrong: “Obviously the time consuming and painful part is doing the editing of the images — hard to take that step back and be objective about yourself and the work. Next comes the other most time consuming part — designing the book. What size? How many image? What else do you include beyond images: cover design, title page, artistic statement, colophon, resume, etc., and beyond that, what other kind of design art, symbols, and maybe clip art are appropriate (page numbers…. or not)? I have always used Photoshop to make the layouts, but other programs could easily be used. Lately I have settled on 8.5x8.5 inches as a preferred size because it allows vertical and horizontal images to occupy the same amount of space on the page. And I think it allows a little more flexibility when using multiple images on a page, but that just my opinion. Once the page design is decided on, it’s easy to use the guide features in Photoshop to make sure you have same placement of images and other features identical on each page. And Photoshop’s text tool is flexible enough to do everything I need.

“Lately I have settled on Staples’ (yes, the office supply store) Photo Supreme Double-Sided Matte for the body of the book. And Staples states it’s archival. I have resigned myself to using matte papers, however, there are a few double-side glossy paper out there, but they are just too heavy weight for use in a book. The Staples paper is OK in weight, and doesn’t show what printed on the reverse side. You could use Epson’s Double-Sided Matte, or the Red River 55# Double-sided Matte, but I don’t think that either of those papers print as well with my Epson 3800, nor with my previous printer - Epson 2200. I looked at Hahnemühle, Moab, Harman, and some others I don’t remember right now, double-sided matte, but while they printed just fine (for matte papers) there were all just too heavy. One of the great things about the Staples paper is they put it on sale every so often and when they do, I stock up. Last time I bought 20, 50-sheet boxes — $12 for the first box, and each additional box was $5. That’s about as inexpensive as you will find.

“Lately for the covers, I have been using Innova Ultra Smooth Gloss Black 300gsm paper. It’s heavy enough feel like a cover, and it’s glossy enough to look like a book cover. Not only do I design and print covers in all configuration — it take me several days to design a cover and get it to look like I want — but I also print on the inside of the cover to make then look like designed end sheets. I think it makes the books feel more like a book to the viewer.

“It takes me a full day of printing to print five copies….. my usual edition. After letting the ink cure for 24-hours, I then spray each page with UV shield spray letting that cure for 24 additional hours. The current product I’m using is Hahnemule’s Protective Spray. I do this not so much to protect the print, but to seal the surface so each page will not scrub off on the opposing page. The covers, to not only protect them from scrubbing, but to toughen them up a bit, get at least four good coats of the spray. It makes them resist moisture, finger prints, scuffs, etc.

“Assembly can begin now. I can assemble all five books easily in a day or less depending on what else is going on. You have to have a book press which is easily made by anyone with access to a table saw. This device is how you hold things in place while you drill pages, do the sewing, and glue on the covers. First thing in the assembly line is to trim all the pages to 8.5 inches square. Then I check one more time to make sure the sequence is correct — maddening to have a page out of place, or rotated the wrong way. Very carefully align all the pages, lock them in the press, mark where you’ll drill the binding holes, use my Dremel with a very small drill to make the holes. and sew it all together with waxed dental floss. While you can use flax binders thread and wax it by hand with bee’s wax, dental floss is flax, and it come waxed. And the cool part is that it comes in flavors!!!! ;-) Next I mark and crease the cover, and make the folds. Using book binders glue — dries clear but remains flexible — I apply it to the bound body of the book and slip it into the cover. Then it’s placed in the press making sure the cover is firm against the body and lightly tighten the press over it. The glue pretty well set in about 45 minutes. The cover is then trimmed to fit the body with a very sharp Xacto knife. The book is then numbered and signed. Fini.

“From start to finish, my last book took me a little over three weeks working on it a little each day — trying to figure out what you want in the book and what you want it to look like took 90% of that time. Cost per book — paper, ink, spray — maybe $12-15. But remember I buy my paper for the body of the book on-sale. This just finished book had 66 pages plus the cover. The body pages cost me about $6, however the paper I use for the cover is much more expensive at almost $5 for a single sheet of 13x19. The protective spray cost $15 a can, and for five books it take about 1.5 cans. That’s about as close as I can estimate the price.

“It should be noted that I don’t make these book to sale. I use them for self-promotion ONLY. I show them about, and I send them to collectors, curators, my gallery, etc. If I sold them, I would have to charge $400-500 or so apiece for them. Who’s going to pay that? I think it would be a good deal to get 50-60 small prints made by the artist, but it is not cost effective considering the time involved.

“When I get the time, I’ll make a few digital images for you to see several of the books I’ve made, and if you’d like, I have on file a PowerPoint presentation that was made to illustrate a lecture I did on book making a few years ago. If I had you address, I’d send you a copy. It has a number of illustrations of the tools I use including the book press I made.”

Ethan Aaro Jones: “I had a completed body of work that I wanted to make into a book and I took a class when I was a student at RIT to learn how to. I learned how to print and bind hand made artist books. It took quite a bit of time learning how to make the book, and that was after spending quite a bit of time figuring out how I wanted the book to look. Due to my lack of experience in book binding at the time of my first book, the binding quality is not what I would have wanted it to be, but it still looks pretty good.

“My book was printed on an Epson 4800 printer with Innova smooth cotton duo paper. So the costs are fairly easy to work out for printing, just the costs of ink and paper, and the use of the printer. Additional costs are book board, book cloth, pvc glue, and a few other binding materials that in small quantities are inexpensive. I have a friend that is a book binder, and I borrowed a few of his tools and small consumable items like thread, needles and glue. I made my book in an edition of ten which brings down the cost per book, but greatly increases the total cost and time when you do all of it yourself.”

Mel Trittin: “Artist books are a substantial investment in time and materials. The pleasure of creating one from design to finish is also substantial. The skills required are patience and the ability to measure and cut. A small (8.5x11) saddle stitched edition would come in at around $15 to $20 for paper, ink, card stock cover and going to Kinko’s to have it stapled. A hardcover using cloth or handmade paper on the cover, lovely end sheets and roughly 20-30 pages would probably come in at closer to $50 to $80 (I made a 30 page hardcover adhesive bound edition and that was the cost since I used 13 x 19 luster paper to made a10 x 10 book). A fairly complete set of hand tools (awl, bone folder, fine quality brushes for glue, needles, linen thread) can certainly be had for under $100 although a very good straightedge, cutting mat and rototrim (I love mine) make life easier. Certainly if you want to go for a slip case or box, the possibilities are endless and the costs are commensurate. As far as time involved, once the design and dummy (Never, ever skip the dummy or you will waste time and money. Scotch brand double sided re-positionable tape is a book maker’s best friend.) are done and prints made one can certainly put a couple of books together in an evening.”