Do I Need to Get A Proof Book?
Is it worth the wait and the expense?
Hey Guys! Nicole Gabriel here! I’m the host of the Let’s Get Your Book Published podcast. I’m also the author multiple books, a Book Designer, a Publishing Coach, and an intuitive Business Coach.
I’ve been in the book business for awhile now and I’ve helped many clients get their book published over the years. On this podcast I share personal stories, client stories, and the truths about the publishing industry….
Today’s Topic: Do I Need to Get a Proof Book? Is it worth the wait and the expense?
Lately I’ve been plagued with issues with printers and discrepancies in the best approach for what comes next after your book is laid out and the best steps to take prior to the final printing. I, often times, work with clients that get instructions on the publishing and printing process from a business-minded coach that lacks practical hands-on experience in all the steps that come after the manuscript is completed and the layout is done. In many cases, the business-minded coach will tell the author it’s a good idea to get a printed proof and, in theory, that isn’t a bad idea. But, it can be expensive too. It used to be we could get a printed and bound proof book from a printer for around $125, but now we’ve seen prices from $250 up to $450 for each bound proof book. From my perspective, as a Designer, I can tell you the expense isn’t always worth it.
What we are seeing happening these days is that the printed proof is being run off without much quality control and authors end up getting imperfect books. The printers seem to be using this as a time to make corrections rather than a time for perfection. There is a huge difference in that thinking and it’s careless on the printers part not to have quality control. At the same time, not watching what they are printing (assuming the author will catch it) is causing authors to feel a bit skeptical about the process.
I will tell you in advance… perhaps this will be a podcast of minutia and unless you're at this stage or have some familiarity with this process it might be quite a boring podcast for you. But, if you're about to print your book there might be something worthwhile to learn here. Let’s see if I can make heads or tails of this conversation for you and help you understand some of the issues I’m currently working through with business-minded coaches, inexperienced or new authors, and careless printers…
In general, the author finishes the manuscript, the editor gives it a couple final pass-throughs to make sure there are no errors, and the designer lays the book out and gets things off to the printer for a proof or final book. Today, many printers are charging exorbitant fees for the author to get a proof book as a test model for the final print. And, every printer has a different version of what a proof book looks like. Some printers will print a bound proof which means that it looks just like your final book. Other printers will print just a jacket and the unbound interior pages. And other printers will give you a digital proof… which basically means it looks almost exactly like what your designer created but, although you might see a few crop marks showing you where it would be cut and folded.
Depending upon the type of proof that you want as an author your cost will vary. Of course, getting a book that looks just like your final book (this is called a bound proof) will obviously be the most expensive. With many of the clients I currently work with that come from another coaching system, they are encouraged to get this kind of proof book. Most are business-minded and want to see something and hold it in their hands to validate the final book will be high-quality. Most are investing top dollar in a hard cover book that will be used in high-profile speaking, coaching, and business activities.
The problem that I face as a designer is that I do not actually get a printed proof myself. Therefore, the author often has to send pictures to me and interpret what has gone right or wrong in the printing process. Strangely, I have been doing this job for more than a decade and for some reason there seems to be a lot of shifting in how authors are working with printers. At the same time, we are seeing many printers that are going out of business or selling or reorganizing locations and this is changing the way I work as a designer. Most of the time this goes on behind the scenes and the author really has no idea what is going on. But, sometimes the author gets drug through the process and becomes more aware of the pitfalls and challenges to get a book printed. Your level of engagement as an author really depends on your level of trust with your book publishing team or your desire to be hands on to control all facets of the process.
Recently one of the printers that I have worked with for the last 10 years sold one of its locations and everything got folded under the parent company and they began funneling work into another location. In this reorganization we have had a lot of confusion for new authors. On the surface there would appear to be no functional difference for the business-minded coach. However, there is a lot of confusion. Often times a business personality will coach a client through the process up to the point of handing them off to each vendor to do their job and it is up to each vendor to coordinate efforts to bring things over the finish line. What I mean by this is that the author will work with an editor, a designer, a publisher, and a printer. When your book is self published often times the author needs to play the role of project manager to coordinate all of these functions. If you are lucky you will find someone in the process that will play this role for you but ultimately, as a self published author, it is your job to coordinate everything between vendors. However, I have been doing this for a while now and I personally like to take on this role as project manager because I do find that most of my authors have never been through this process and really have no idea what comes next or how to manage it. Generally it takes a lot of handholding to get the book from the final manuscript into a final print.
When I wrote my first book I didn't know what I was doing and I counted on someone that did. I walked through the entire process with that guidance and it was helpful. However, after authoring multiple books and helping hundreds of authors over the years to publish theirs I have learned a few tricks of the trade.
I don’t generally work with authors that do online print on demand printing. I generally work with executives printing a high quality book through a professional printer. Generally these folks rely on guidance and don’t care too much to be hands on. They are pretty ok with someone taking the finished manuscript to print for them… a “get er done” kind of mentality is pretty common. No one has much space for mistakes or the details that have caused them.
Let me tell you about some of the pitfalls I’ve had to walk through lately with clients and the printing process.
We were having some trouble with one of our printers sometime back when during Covid they had multiple outages for a variety of different reasons. There came a point when I needed to find a new printer. I did a podcast on this a while back but, basically, you don't really know how good you can have it until you see a better process. I really had no idea what I was missing and I was programmed to believe getting a printed proof was an optimal and worthwhile expense.
I have recently been working with a new printer that does not do a printed proof but a digital proof. I’ve educated new authors that a proof book isn’t necessary and I have had the printer send them a printed jacket so that they can validate that the folds, bleeds, margins, lamination, paper, etc. look good on the jacket. There is generally no expense for the printer to send the printed jacket. I’m finding far fewer errors in the book with clients getting the digital proof from this particular printer. Their process has many checks and balances and I know that each client will gain access to what they call a pre-flight server to check every individual page in the interior and the jacket and board wrap. They have a system that will flag pages green if there is no problem and yellow if something is off. Red is a complete no go and the printer will generally email the author and I to let us know there is a problem. The book can’t go into production unless the author has approved each page of the book and the covers.
There are a few reasons why this process is more efficient but authors tend to want to immediately hold a book in hand and generally jump at the idea of a bound proof. They want to immediately hold something. I totally get that. But, it’s expensive and not necessary. Your see, there is a certain level of faith that you must have working with a printer and generally that means that you expect them to do their job and produce a high-quality product. If they’ve been in business awhile they will. But, gosh the idea of holding something is so sexy for a new author. A bit more patience however and you will be able to get all of them shipped far quicker (and less expensive) if you opt for a digital proof.
Recently, one of my new authors went through the new re-organized printer system and the printer printed a bound proof book for her. But, they didn't have any quality control before they packaged it and shipped it to her. There was no digital proof approved prior to this process. Therefore, when the author received her proof there were glaring errors that could have been corrected if a digital proof was run through the designer… Me. I would have been able to catch the obvious glaring errors that would have been printed prior to her receiving the proof. The errors I would have caught in a digital proof would have been the white edge showing… where the front cover didn’t wrap the front edge. This is always a huge error with a poor quality control printer. This should be caught. And there are little things like image quality. All images need to be in a certain pixel range and color profile to be approved as well. In this case, her son created the cover but linked to images that were digital quality, not print quality. They were also in digital color modes not print modes. The whole job got rejected and I was caught in the middle trying to correct what her son sent to the printer. I made as many corrections as I could find prior to printing the proof, but it still was a bit off when it arrived in her hands. It’s always hard for me to work with someone else’s design. No matter how good they are at designing it still takes some time for me to make it printer compliant. Generally it easier to correct it than try to explain the pitfalls with a client, but it’s always extremely time-consuming and I’ve reached a point after this client where my agreement will actually be adjusted to reflect my time for such efforts. Now the client is upset because she believed her son made no errors and that someone some place else in the process was inept. Of course this generally places blame on me simply because I am the conduit to the printer. Now that the client received her proof with errors we have to wait for the corrections to get passed through to production again (after I corrected them) and a printer proof to arrive for her final approval before it gets to it’s final print. The printer also made some errors because they are going through a re-org. Who gets blamed and why should be irrelevant but when this kind of thing goes wrong oftentimes someone wants to point fingers. I’m generally in the middle and don’t care who did what wrong so long as we can fix it and immediately get back to printing another proof.
The greatest challenge at this stage is authors that are in a hurry. All the mistakes on a book generally happen here (or when it comes to aligning the content with a functional purpose, but that’s another story). I’ve had authors rush through the pre-production phases because they’ve already planned an event they want to circulate their book around at and they don’t take the proper time to review a proof or plan the execution of their book. Many will begin doing pre-sales and feel obligated to rush into production to fulfill orders. There are so many things wrong with pre-sales and rushing a bunch of mistakes to production without properly reviewing a proof. If you’ve listened to some of my other podcasts I go into more details about these issues there. Basically, I don’t agree with doing pre-sales. I think they make an author look desperate and it’s more important for sales stats to sell everything within the first week of launch than over time anyhow. Basically, if becoming a best-seller is important than pre-sales is a waste of time and a lot of confusion. It’s far more important to make a big statement all at once.
My new author that got her proof from the mixed re-org printer wasn’t happy and it made the whole team look bad. The coach insisted she use them well before they completed the re-org and they didn’t send the designer (me) a digital proof for review, and now they are closing their printing location 3 months early and they aren’t even sure where they will print the final book before they close. The author has begun pre-sales and has sold some 200 copies and the book still hasn’t gone to final production. And, now the printer is telling her there is an additional cost if she wants another proof book printed. The author isn’t happy. Prior to all this I told her she should go to my preferred printer and especially so with the re-org, but she put more faith in the business coach that is further removed from the intricacies of the process and she’s going to wade through all of this waiting another week to get another bound proof.
I tell you this story because “stuff happens” in this process in places most new authors wouldn’t expect it to. If you rely on a business coach you also have to know that the functional elements these days are in flux and the business-sided coach isn’t always going to know how to navigate through this. They have to rely on their vendors. What I love about being in the trenches every day with my clients is that I have a pretty good pulse on things and how they are shifting. I’ve learned now that I actually prefer to get an unbound proof book as an author and a digital proof as a designer. I like to work with my preferred printer because I trust that I won’t even get a digital proof to review if there is an error in the layout. They will flag things that are in question too. This particular client never got access to a pre-production server to review page by page. If you don’t know the process because you are a new author you will find that even us seasoned pros struggle with things from time to time, but we know the process to find other ways to navigate around issues when they arise. If you have never been through the process, some of this might be frustrating enough to scrap the idea of publishing all together. And don’t even get me started on trying to navigate printing with Amazon! It’s better than it used to be, but it’s still not optimal and really never will be. There are far too many variables to make a high quality professional book without locking arms with a designer and professional printer.
There are so many things that can go wrong in the publishing process so just be sure that when it comes time to producing a high-quality book that you understand there are so many reasons to hire a professional book coach that has their hands in more than just high-level approach to simply formatting a manuscript. If you’ve listened to any of my other episodes you also know there are proper ways to align content, define purpose, to do marketing and branding, and printing. I’m here to help you when you are ready. Together we can work to maneuver whatever obstacles are encountered along the way.
Anyhow… the pups and I made our way 1,700 miles west out to Utah and caught the tail end of autumn to help a friend with some big health challenges and we are sitting here in our super bus overlooking snowy Mt Olympus through the rain and preparing for the drive east in a few days when it clears up. It’s been a pretty exhausting trip on many levels but sitting here drinking some coveted pumpkin spice tea, with a bulldog snoring at my feet, reflecting on life… we will be headed east in a few days.
I’m sorry my podcasts have been few and far between these days but life has been very busy on so many levels. If you have something you’d like me to cover please drop me a message on social media over on the Let’s Get Your Book Published FB page. Until next time… as always… wishing you peace, love, and light.
Interestingly, I never published this podcast. I got in the super bus with the pups and drove across the country after the snowstorm in Utah cleared out. As I was getting things set back up to work on the other end I got a call from the client dealing with all these printer issues. She was recommended this printer by her business coach. It would turn out she was completely unsatisfied with the cost and the service and decided to ask for a refund. Alas! I finally got her going to my recommended printer. We are awaiting a quote, but I assured her she would be satisfied and I would assume I will be laying out templates and getting her into pre-production shortly. The very first conversation I had with this client was to let her know she would run into issues with this printer and I had a better choice. Although, she trusted her coach. I mean, really, many people want to trust the coach they’ve invested in… mostly because no one wants to think they hired a bad one. I understand that. I don’t always get the credibility I know I deserve and I’m very good at what I do and I’m deeply engaged with my clients to get a high quality output. I know I’m very good at what I do, but sometimes it takes a bit longer to build credibility. I just wish I could find a way to gain a client’s trust well before they go through the learning cycle. Now, I’m very satisfied this will be a successful output.
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.