Book Manufacturing

book manufacturingIf you ever get the chance to visit a printing press, do it. I’ve had the privilege to visit two of them. The first was Standard Publishing’s printing press in Cincinnati. Their plant is quite large and they do a wide variety of printing, everything from books to curriculum to Star Wars coloring books.

The other plant was Bethany Press International in Bloomington, MN. During my years with Bethany House Publishers I visited this plant many times since their building is about 100 yards from the back door of the publishing house! I watched them move from the old “film” method of processing to a completely digital technology.

The beauty of watching the books being printed is partly the fascination of cool machines, but also an insight into all of the incredible details that go into the manufacturing process.

What most people don’t understand is that there are certain book jacket treatments that make a book “feel” or “look” special. The standard lamination is what we are used to seeing because it is the most inexpensive process. That is the “glossy” lamination on the majority of books.

Some books get a “matte” finish – which gives a tactile feel to the cover, almost a rough, yet smooth, touch. This adds a cost to every book printed. This has become more common over the years.

Next is the “spot gloss” finish. This is where they start with the “matte” finish above, but using the gloss lamination on specific spots on the cover. They might laminate just the letters in the author’s name, or the face of the character on the jacket design, or maybe just the title. Again this is an additional cost for every book printed.

Last is the “embossing” or “stamping” process where they created a metal plate that stamps an imprint on every jacket. So instead of a flat cover, each book has embossed, or raised, letters or symbols. This can be expensive because the publisher must first create the metal stamp (a few hundred dollars just for the plate). Then, after the cover is printed, each jacket must be run through the process a second time to stamp the imprint into the paper. This is very labor intensive and a lot of spoilage can happen if the imprint starts to miss its mark. We’ve all seen a few books that got past the inspectors where the stamp doesn’t fit the design by being off by as little as a sixteenth of an inch.

And then some really special books get a gold foil that is also applied to the cover, before the embossing process.

Why am I telling you all this boring stuff? Because the following YouTube video is a four minute video of the printing process of the new Dan Brown novel, The Lost Symbol. You get to go behind the scenes into the printing company and see it at work. This book will have a first printing of 5,000,000 copies and will be released on September 15, 2009. In this video you will see all of the above cover treatments applied to the manufacturing of this book. Realize they must use more than one printer to fill this five million copy order. At the stated rate of 30,000 books per hour a press must run for over 167 hours (nearly seven full days) to print that many books!

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2009 ICRS Observations

Like many going into the 2009 ICRS convention (aka CBA or the Christian Booksellers Association convention) I was wondering what would be found. It was great to see that instead of the projected doom and gloom there was light and hope. (Yes, that is Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber in the photo to the left – courtesy of Christian Retailing Magazine.) A few observations:

1) The total convention exhibit floor was about 30% smaller than in past years and the middle section, housing CBA’s events and displays was HUGE. In fact you could walk through the entire book section very rapidly for the first time in years. Everything seemed condensed.

2) The net effect of the smaller sales floor was that you felt the crowds. There was noise, energy, and excitement in the air. This was a major change over previous years where it always felt so quiet.

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ICRS / CBA Bookseller’s Convention

Today is the official opening of the convention in Denver. This year will be my 28th consecutive ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) or CBA as we veterans still call it (Christian Booksellers Association Convention). I absolutely love the experience. I’ve attended as a retailer, as an exhibitor, and now as an “industry professional.” I find it amusing that each name badge is color-coded to help exhibitors know whether the person in their booth is a bookseller (and thereby a potential customer) or a browser, like me. What makes it particularly fun is that the “agent” color is black….the color of an agent’s soul.

PRO: There is nothing like the experience of walking the floor of the world’s largest Christian bookstore. Everything is there, the good, the bad, and the outrageous (like the balloon art crucifix or the painting of a junkie shooting heroin into the arm of Jesus). The spirit is electric. It can be overwhelming, but ultimately it is a picture of God at work. As a writer you can meet key people, network with fellow writers, collect catalogs (those that aren’t digital), and simply increase knowledge of what the industry is all about.

CON: Unrealized expectations. Too many writers think the convention should be all about them. It isn’t. Disappointment is palatable with some folks at the end of the experience. Their publisher didn’t pay enough attention to them; not enough people came to their signing; no editor was available for an appointment…etc. Go to the convention with modest expectations and the chance of disappointment with be minimized.

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Christy Awards

Tonight was the tenth annual Christy Awards which honors the best in Christian fiction. We were very proud to have six clients as finalists!

To my eternal delight two clients won!

Marlo Schalesky won in the contemporary romance category for her book Beyond the Night (Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group).

Tracey Bateman won in the contemporary series category for her book You Had Me at Goodbye (Faithwords).

Since neither Marlo or Tracey could attend, I had the privilege of accepting their awards and reading their speech. A thrill and an honor.

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