The Do’s and Don’ts of Special Editions

Every author wants their book to stand out and look special. Explore the shelves in any good bookshop and you will see books with embossed covers, foil blocking, words picked out in varnish  (known as ‘spot U.V) and many other print embellishments and finishes.  It is natural for authors to want to do the same.

The good news is that all of these options are perfectly possible. You have the freedom to make your book look exactly the way you want it, but before rushing to choose a non standard finish, you need to understand the practicalities involved and also the costs.

For standard ‘trade paperback’ books, with a gloss or matt full cover, these can be printed to order within the book trade supply chain at no up-front cost to the author who just receives a royalty.  This is why most authors prefer this process

Any book that is non standard, that is with a special paper or with a cover with foil blocking, embossing or spot varnish, cannot be printed this way  and would require to be printed in quantity at the authors expense in advance.

For any book to be a financial success for the author, the raw cost of printing needs to be below 20% of the cover price. This is because, when selling through the book trade, you will only receive back around 40% of the cover price as a net profit – and out of this comes the cost of printing.  A book shop will receive around a 45% profit margin from which to pay for their premises and staff, and a book distributor, like Gardners in Eastbourne takes a margin of 10 to 15%. Totalling these together comes to a total of a 60% which is the discount you need to give to sell your book through the book trade.  It doesn’t need a mathematical genius to work out that, if you add costs to your printing, the only person who is going to be squeezed is the author.

So how do the big publishers manage to produce a high specification book and still maintain their margins?  For a title that is going to be distributed by them around the world, they will probably print the book in large quantities in China or Eastern Europe to get the costs down. This way they can be creative in their choice of papers and cover finishes, and still get the book printed well within or below that 20% ceiling.

For niche books that are not going to sell by the pallet load, does that mean that having print enhancements on the cover is not economic?  Not necessarily! Here is a strategy.

Every author has two main routes to market – their personal sales, through their website, mailing list events, and joint ventures. The second route is the book trade – bookshops and Amazon. The books that an author sells themselves are worth six times more to them than a book trade sale because there are no other percentages to pay out. The author gets it all! So the 20% rule doesn’t necessarily apply.

Many authors complain that the book trade, and Amazon in particular, discounts their book, making it difficult for them to get those very profitable direct sales from their website. So here is the cunning plan!

Have two versions of your book. One version – a special edition – which you sell on your website, and a standard edition that is sold through Amazon and the book trade.

When people are searching for you or your book, the first place they should find you is on your website, because you will have more key words there about you than anywhere else. The trick is to give people a stunning reason to buy direct from you there and then, rather than to search elsewhere to find it cheaper.

The way to do this is twofold. One, make your special edition exclusive to your own routes to market. It cannot be purchased from anywhere except through you.

Your special edition could indeed have cover embellishments and it doesn’t matter if that does cost a little more, because you have six times the profit margin on that sale.  Be aware though that you will need to print a reasonable quantity for this to get economies of scale and get the unit cost down to an economic level. Not all authors have the funds to pay for a print run of 750 – 1000 upfront.

If that is the case, you can still make it a special edition without the print embellishments by adding bonus content into this edition to make it even more valuable to the potential purchaser. Not only that, but you could also offer an exclusive downloadable knowledge gift to people who choose to buy directly from you.  Set against all of that, the fact that Amazon might be offering the book at three pounds less ceases to be so attractive.

The standard edition of the book, which will be available worldwide at the same price as the special edition but it won’t have the extra content or the special cover features making it a no-brainer to buy the better edition directly from you.

Of course, your special edition is perfect for your public speaking and training events to sell at the back of the room.  Many authors do a regular ‘bank raid’ by selling books in their way which can be very profitable.

With print embellishments, there are additional set up costs you would not have with a standard book.

If you want the cover embossed, this requires a metal printing plate with the raised text which needs to go through an additional process once the cover is printed.  Not all printers will have this facility and will need to outsource this process. This can add a week to the production time.

Printing part of your cover design in varnish (Spot U.V) is another process that costs extra and can add time to printing.  Of course, if you are printing a varnish layer you can only do this on a matt finish – not a gloss finish!

Foil blocking looks great and is another option which needs to be done on a separate machine and will add further time to the printing.  All of these additional processes to add to the look and feel of the book, but are only viable if you print a large quantity, which does come at a cost.

If you want a book to look special, sometimes it is enough simply to do a short run of hardback books with a ‘printed paper case’ as it is known. This is where the cover is glued to boards.

Finally, if you have gone to all the trouble and expense of doing a special edition, don’t waste the strategic advance this gives you by putting it on Amazon. If you have attracted a visitor to your site who is ready to spend money, don’t send them elsewhere to spend it with someone else, when you could have made that sale yourself and made six times more money! Obvious, I know, but you would be surprised at the number of authors who do it.

Chris Day

©2017 Chris Day


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