Almanac

Community - March 27, 2013

Print your own book -- in 10 minutes Self-publishing on a book machine

by Kate Daly

It's getting easier for writers to get published now that there are so many self-publishing options. Vanity press has largely become an online business, but I found one outlet here in the Bay Area that is providing quick turnaround service with a human touch. The Espresso Book Machine can print out a paperback in 10 minutes, enabling authors to self-publish a book in about two weeks from start to finish.

There are 81 EBMs spread out in bookstores, libraries and universities around the world. Fifty of the machines are located in the U.S., four are in California. I recently used the closest one at Bookshop Santa Cruz to complete my own publishing project, "The Empty Nesters' Cookbook: Cooking for 2 to 20."

Four years in the making, the cookbook is a compilation of more than 170 recipes that I started developing when my kids headed off to college. I found the cooking part both challenging and creative, but the publishing part, not so much.

Procrastination got in the way, too, but after doing a lot of research and flirting with going with my former publisher of "The Soccer Moms' Cookbook," I turned to EBM. I explored using Lulu, Blurb, Xlibris and iUniverse, but chose EBM because it's the most user-friendly way to go. You end up dealing with a person in person, and not having to do everything online.

In my case, I wanted to print out a run of paperbacks containing only recipes, some commentary, and no illustrations. That means I could use Word software for the content, and then use Word and a digital photo for the cover. I was fine with the fact that only black and white is available for the books' pages, and color is reserved for the cover. I also knew I would need a little technological help, and received it.

I had read an article about EBMs and the company that owns them. That led me to On Demand Books' website where I skipped over details such as the company started in New York City in 2006, and went straight to the do-it-yourself submission specifications.

(Visit bookshopsantacruz.com/espresso to see specifications.)

As for pricing details, I called the print consultant in Santa Cruz, Sylvie-Marie Drescher, and found her very helpful. She explained that the range for the initial setup production fee runs anywhere from $15 to $249, depending on the need. The more help needed, the higher the cost.

I went with the $99 basic Paperback Writer package, but for another $125 could have purchased an ISBN number (the bar code used to track retail books). I also could have bought into a marketing plan to make the book available in the store on consignment, but instead opted to have the title added to the company's online database.

Each book printed out on EBM would cost an additional $6.50 to $30, depending on the length. The general rule is $5 per book and 4.5 per page, but there are bulk discounts. As for format, books must be between 40 and 800 pages long, and measure between 4.5 x 5 and 8.25 x 10.5 inches in size.

I went for the 6 x 9 inch size on cream paper (as opposed to white paper). I carefully formatted my Word file to conform to that size, adjusting the margins and page breaks. The next step was to convert my file into a PDF, a Portable Document Format, to email to Ms. Drescher, or hand in on a thumb drive or CD. I found the conversion rearranged the spacing, so ended up emailing my Word file to her to create a PDF. We still ran into spacing problems, and had to reduce the font size.

I also emailed her a PDF of the proposed cover. She realigned it a bit and emailed it back to me for approval. Within minutes, Ms. Drescher printed out a proof copy of my book on the oversized copier machine sitting right next to her. We are literally talking hot off the press.

I drove down so we could sit at her desk and go over the spacing issues. I marked up the proof copy, and we continued consulting over email. She emailed me back another PDF to approve, and then ran my order for 50 copies. That took a few extra days because I picked one of the busiest times of year and had to wait in line.

The end result is a professional looking book that is 126 pages long and cost me less than $500 to make. My book is now being electronically stored should I decide to order more copies or succeed in selling it on EspressNet, the company's online database.

The company offers access to more than eight million paperback titles with the selling point that they can be printed out on-demand in minutes on an EBM, rather than take up space in stores and warehouses, waiting to be sold. In addition to new self-published works from around the world, customers may purchase books that are in the public domain, which Ms. Drescher describes as titles from 1923 or earlier that are out of print or out of copyright.

Bookshop Santa Cruz has had its EBM since July, and since then, Ms. Drescher says, she has published more than a half million pages, or about 2,500 books. She estimates up to three-quarters of the orders are from self-publishers creating books for private events and/or resale. She believes what distinguishes her product is "no one else has a local person to help," and points out that competitors such as AuthorHouse, FastPencil and CreateSpace are all online and can be more expensive.

Self-publishing is one of the fastest growing segments in the industry she says. One source, Bowker Books in Print, claims print accounts for 63 percent of the self-publishing business, and that there was an increase of 33 percent in that category from 2010 to 2011. During that same period the report shows 129 percent growth in the number of self-published electronic titles.

That trend towards electronic titles might be perceived as a red flag for some publishing houses, but vice president of sales for On Demand Books Jason Beatty says: "We embrace e-books because they lead to our technology, to print only when you need it. We feel the physical book will always be around."

He says the price of the Espresso Book Machine has dropped to around $100,000 each. The company is partnered with Xerox to do the selling and servicing. There was a lease option, but that is currently on hold and under review. The Santa Cruz installation operates as a concession, renting space from the bookshop, but that arrangement is no longer being offered. Praveen Madan, the owner of Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, says, "We are looking into the EBM but haven't decided yet."

Kate Daly, a resident of Woodside, is a frequent contributor to the Almanac.

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