Cheap but pretty self-publishing?

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Sun Jul 22, 2007 9:10 pm Post


Nah, I don't want to self-publish exactly, but I do want a little advice on the best but cheapest way of publishing a few books in the UK.

As you may or may not know, I'm a primary school teacher by day. (Yes, it's the start of my six-week holiday right now - woohoo!) As in many schools, achievement in writing in my school isn't exactly brilliant - boys, especially, hate writing.

One thing I want to do next year is to get my kids to write a bunch of short stories and then pay to get these stories put into a paperback. This is exactly the sort of thing that will motivate them (they are 10 year-olds, so the paperback will be slim).

I'm thinking Lulu or some such, but I don't know. Because it's a school, this has to be very, very cheap; I was hoping that this sort of thing would be a lot cheaper to do nowadays, though. I just know that if my class can get their hands on a paperback containing their writing - and for which they have designed the cover - achievement in writing go up because it will boost their enthusiasm.

It has to be something that can be done easily in the UK.




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Sun Jul 22, 2007 10:04 pm Post

Not really an answer to your question, and certainly not the feeling of "I made a professional book like the ones you can buy in a book store". But I remember us as children designing book covers with relation to what we wrote, learning binding a book and then binding our texts ourselves. That was fun. Recently I found an old one of my husband's elementary school time,...

It needs cooperation with the arts teacher of course. ..


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Sun Jul 22, 2007 10:40 pm Post

KB wrote:As in many schools, achievement in writing in my school isn't exactly brilliant - boys, especially, hate writing. [...] One thing I want to do next year is to get my kids to write a bunch of short stories and then pay to get these stories put into a paperback. This is exactly the sort of thing that will motivate them (they are 10 year-olds, so the paperback will be slim). [...] Thoughts?

Firstly - sorry, but I have no experience of self-publishing so can't offer any constructive opinion on your actual question.

However, on the subject of children's (and especially boys') writing... I was a foundation governor of a primary school for a few years, and this was a constant preoccupation. I think your idea of publishing a real book is a brilliant one. You mention short stories - but I believe that the majority of boys are much happier to write non-fiction or even "faction" (as indeed are some girls), and that it is the genre of fiction (and institutional/formal expectations of that genre) that puts them off all forms of writing.

I have boy-girl twins, and both are avid, voracious, greedy and largely indiscriminate (but discerning) readers. While my daughter is also an ardent writer, my son has never much enjoyed writing fiction, so would only reluctantly participate in any short story publishing exercise. This is not because he doesn't like writing per se - it's because he doesn't much like writing fiction with a beginning, middle and end, with an expectation of some form of emotional demonstration/development. And it is is not due to lack of ability, either: he writes well and gets excellent marks. He loves writing non-fiction. He loves structuring arguments. He loves presenting facts or opinions in an accessible way. Astonishingly, he likes writing poetry when asked to follow a pattern or to achieve a particular effect, and has come up with some surprisingly deep and effective results. He knows good fiction when he sees it, and is painfully aware that his efforts in that area do not achieve what was in his mind when he set pen to paper. This disillusions him. I have never known him voluntarily re-read any of his fiction, whereas he quite often re-reads his essays and other writing. My daughter, on the other hand, revels in writing fiction as well as other writing forms. Until I had twins, I believed that nurture and education would largely dictate the development of preferences and abilities such as these; now I am forced to admit that character and gender get in the way!

I'm just wondering whether, instead of focusing on short stories, it might be an idea to ask each pupil to submit what they think is their best or favourite piece of writing, regardless of genre or writing style (obviously, having given all areas a stab before deciding)? Then those who feel that their writing strengths lie in areas other than short story writing can publish work they are proud of, rather than work they perhaps believe to be inferior. From various posts here on this forum, it appears that there are lots of us around who have made our living from writing non-fiction in various guises, but who somehow feel that we are not "real" writers because we haven't yet published a novel. (I'm one of these; you can probably hear my heartstrings twanging.) Where did we get this idea, and is it fair to give children the impression that fiction is more worthy than other writing?

Good luck with the enterprise - it's a great idea, however you choose to implement it.

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Mon Jul 23, 2007 12:08 am Post

My sister published her own book and did a very good job of it. She formed her own small publishing company just to publish her book. It was actually quite easy. She did her own typesetting (using Quark), I was her editor, hired a design artist to do some designe work for the cover, found a printer, worked with the printer, did the proofing (with my help), got a bunch of books printed out, and voila, she published a book. It made it into Powell's and other local bookstores and even on Amazon. She's not getting rich off of it, but it sounds like that's not at all what the goal is with your project.

I can get more details if you are interested, but it really wasn't all that difficult and it came out quite well.

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Mon Jul 23, 2007 12:15 am Post

I have several friends who have self-published through a company by the name of Trafford.
They print on demand, which cuts down on costs substantially, they fulfill, and do a fine
job overall. My friends who have worked with them were very happy with their experience.

The website is


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Mon Jul 23, 2007 4:31 am Post

For twenty years I've taught nonfiction writing courses at the university level. Each year, I gather the students' final essays and make an anthology of them. In the early days, I created the final product with desktop publishing software. Then I began to give them PDF files and said, if you want hard copy, go find a printer.

I think that latter course would be a way for you to go, Keith. Make the collection up via Scrivener, export to Word, do final formatting (and insert pictures), and render it as a PDF. Then it's off to a printer, and either present the hard copies as gifts or ask the childrens' families to defray costs with cash (or bottles of gin) to the teacher-publisher.

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Mon Jul 23, 2007 7:40 am Post

I suggest seeing if you can get a printer to donate some/all printing costs as part of being of service to the school/community. Don’t know if this works in England (are you in England?). Here in the U.S., I would contact traditional printers as well as copy shops like FedEx Kinkos. You might be able to convince a manager of a local FedEx Kinkos to discount heavily the price of printing out booklets. Photocopy documents look very professional these days. You even can choose the kind of binding you want.

As for preparing the document (i.e., typesetting), you can use Word or InDesign to create the booklet of, say 100 pages. The question is, what size pages are you going to use (8.5 x 11 or 5.5 x 8.5)? Also, what kind of booklet are you creating? If you print out a 100 page book to single sheets of 8.5 x 11, printing front and back, going from page 1 to 100, the task is simple. Just print out the number of 100-page sets (each set is actually 50 sheets printed front and back) and bind each set.

However, let’s say you want to create a booklet that is 5.5 x 8.5. In either Word or InDesign you can define the page as 5.5 x 8.5 and create a file that runs sequentially from page 1 to 100. However, printing to individual 5.5 x 8.5 sheets is either wasteful and expensive (at printers) or impossible (at copy shops). The suggested approach is to use sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper in landscape orientation, and to print two 5.5 x 8.5 pages side by side on each side of the sheet. The printed sheets are then folded into booklets. But for this to work the file used for printing or copying must be imposed, which means that the individual 5.5 x 8.5 pages must be rearranged for printing so that the pages will appear in correct sequence after the booklet is assembled.

InDesignCS3 has a feature that allows you print (to PDF) an imposed version of the booklet. I don’t think Word allows you to impose pages during printing to PDF file (not 100% sure).

If you create a PDF file of the booklet that is not imposed, then you will need a rather expensive plug in ($400– $600) for Acrobat, like PitStop Professional or Quite Imposing, to do the imposing. Whatever method you use to impose the booklet, you then take the imposed PDF file to the printer for printing. I suppose it is possible to give a traditional printer a non-imposed PDF file and let him do the imposing (I’m not sure a copy shop like FedEx Kinko’s is set up to do it). Or, if you know a professional typesetter or graphic artist, perhaps he/she will impose the file for you. It takes less than a minute to impose a document if the document is set up properly.

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Mon Jul 23, 2007 8:31 am Post

Thank you very much for your replies and suggestions so far.

Siren - I completely agree that many boys much prefer writing non-fiction, and that one of the reasons they get turned off writing is that a large portion of them just don't like writing stories, especially the stuff they are asked to write - traditional stories, myths and legends and so forth. Add to this the fact that they are actively discouraged by many to write stories with violence in them and they soon lose interest. Unfortunately, the National Curriculum and Literacy Framework dictate that all children have to learn about and write certain genres. Story writing is a big part of this, so there's no way around it as a teacher. Frankly, it baffles me why we are expected to teach 5-11 year-olds what "genre" means, how to write for different audiences, how to write openings, build-ups and climaxes, what non-chronological writing is and so forth. It's so all over the place and full of jargon that won't impinge on many of the children's real lives that it's no wonder they get put off. At the primary age, I really believe we should just be focussing on getting the children to see the point of writing and to enjoy it and want to do it well, but hey, what do I know? I don't work for the government. :roll: The strategies are changing, though, and one job I have this summer is to get to grips with the new Primary Frameworks, which I hope will allow more freedom. On top of that, my school is as of next year taking a more topic-oriented approach rather than the discrete "And now we are doing literacy hour which has no relation to anything else" approach of the past which, to my mind, has done so much damage (though I do understand why the introduced it, as prior to that teachers were doing whatever they wanted).


I'll have a look at If I can help it, I don't want to have to ask for parental contributions for the books because my school mostly takes children from the local estate, so they don't have much money.

Any other suggestions much appreciated - I've got six weeks to look into it. :)

Thanks again and all the best,
Last edited by KB on Mon Jul 23, 2007 9:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Mon Jul 23, 2007 9:30 am Post

In the UK, Lulu is pretty much the only viable POD solution. On the bright side, I've heard a lot of people praise their quality. [EDIT TO ADD: I wasn't aware now has a UK operation. I'm not familiar with their prices or quality.]

The previous suggestion of using a local printer may not be a bad one - smaller printers take pride in being a part of their community, and you might find them more amenable than you expect - especially if you allow them to place their own ad on the last page ;)

FYI, the closest thing Lulu has to mass market paperback size is 4.25" x 6.875" (about 3/4" smaller in both dimensions than my copies of the Alex Rider books, for example).

Assuming the book runs to 100 pages and you need 30 copies, the Lulu price is £3.77 per book. 60 copies brings it down slightly to £3.68 per book.

The cost calculator is at in the left navbar.
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Mon Jul 23, 2007 10:23 am Post


maybe you want to check out NaNoWriMo? They have a Young Writers Program too. ... .php?id=34

Last year(s?) offered a free copy to Nano 'winners'. ... angCode=EN

You can find postings about experiences with in the NaNo forums. For instance: ... SC&start=0


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Mon Jul 23, 2007 4:06 pm Post

I've used Lulu myself in the past. I would never use it to actually try to sell a book, but I like to get hard copies of some of my work now and then that looks professional...just vanity, I'm sure, but it's fun.

Anyway, I had a good experience with them. The book looked great, great quality, and the price was just the cost of production. No complaints.
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Sat Jul 28, 2007 6:02 pm Post

Unfortunately, the National Curriculum and Literacy Framework dictate that all children have to learn about and write certain genres. Story writing is a big part of this, so there's no way around it as a teacher.

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Tue Aug 28, 2007 12:59 pm Post

And article about a junior high writing competition:

Power of the Pen

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Beth Richards as a writer and an organizer during the past two years. She is the regional coordinator for Power of the Pen, and also writes for Findlay Living. A member of Sisters in Crime, she is also an aspiring novelist. Welcome to the blog, Beth! Judy

Let’s test your writing skills. Ready? I’m going to give you a prompt, something like, “Second chances-write about one you regretâ€

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Thu Aug 30, 2007 6:37 pm Post

Somethings I can suggest. I have worked in the printing industry all my life and two things that can eat your budget quickly is layout and fixing mistakes (editing).

FIrst and formost shop around!
Ask the printer/publisher if they charge EXTRA for customer supplied artwork or layouts. A lot of vanity printers and Self Publishers tend to try to lock you in expensive packages that are custom. So check with your printer/publisher first!

If they accept customer supplied artwork/layout some money saving tips are:

(1) Have someone lay your book out in a either Quark or Indesign to the size requirements of your printer/publisher. To find this out ask for a Spec sheet on layout/printing. Most printers/publishers have these and can send them to you free of charge. Give this to your layout person.

(2) After you lay out the book check it over very carefully. Sometimes it helps to make a "dummy" or mock up of the book. This is good for visual refrence for the printer and for you. You might find after assembling your "dummy proof" that the layout needs adjusting for better flow. This also helps a printer know EXACTLY how you intend the book to look.

(3) Have your book in different formats available on Disc. (Native Quark/Indesign Files and also PRESS QUALITY PDF to actual size and layout).

That way when you submit your book to a printer/publisher it is already set to their requirements and will speed up the process and cut the cost for you. In lamen terms you are submitting "Camera Ready Artwork". Doing something in MS Publisher or Word most of the times doesn't count as "Camera Ready" and a printer will adjust the cost to how much trouble they have setting it for the press.

A couple of ways to save money doing a DIY project like this are:

(1) Artwork. Ok so your not an artist what do you do? Go down to your local college and see if they have an art department. Talk to the Head of the department and as if you can have a "competition" for a book cover design/artwork. Offer a small cash prize. A lot of art departments would jump at the chance to do this because it gives them first hand experience in working with a client. Also this gives you around 30+ upcoming artists competing to give you their best design possible. So you help the community and they help you. This saves you a lot of money on artistic design and gives a student a chance to show real work in their portfolio.

(2) Layout. You can check with artists in the field, Local Print shops, or Students that are in the Commercial Art/Printing Field and see if they would be eager to layout your book by the specs you received from your printer/publisher.

(3) Asking about price breakdowns on Quantity.
Most printers go by a set amount of quantity.

Usually it goes 500, 1000, 1500, 2500, 5,000 10,000 and so forth.

Ask the printer what the Quanity Price Breakdowns they offer.

Most people don't realize that sometimes 350 printed items would cost the same as 500 and they are paying the same price. A printer is going to give you what you request so sometimes it helps to ask up front where your price breakdowns are in Quantity.

A simple phrase to remember is this when asking for a printing quote on something.

"What are the Quantity price breakdowns for this item and what would the COST PER PIECE be at each quantity?"

You ask this because lets say you want 100 books and the cost for 100 books is $989.00 and the next quantity breakdown price is 250 so 250 books costs $1,379.00.

100 books would cost you $9.89 per book to make.
250 books would cost you $5.52 per book to make.

That could make all the difference in the world if you plan to sell them.

Also it can help you determine what the best Quantity price breakdown is for you.

100 Books @ $989.00
250 Books @ $1379.00
350 Books @ $1,999.00
500 Books @ $2,699.00

100 Books @ $989.00 - $9.89 per book
250 Books @ $1379.00 - $5.52 per book
350 Books @ $1,999.00 - $5.71 per book
500 Books @ $2,699.00 - $5.40 per book

So with that scenario a budge minded person would either go for the 250 or the 500 quote but avoid the 100 and 350.

Hope this helps.

Sorry for the Novel
If there are ever any "Printing Questions" Like how to make a Good dummy or Tips on self publishing and cheap ways to get started. I can answer them if needed.

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Thu Aug 30, 2007 9:31 pm Post

Thanks a lot, Wock; that’s all very useful and interesting!

As far as the designing of the layout is concerned, the only tools you mention are Quark and InDesign. But there’s also FrameMaker. Adobe itself recommends FrameMaker “for complex and text-intensive, long documents and technical publication and documentationâ€
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