So, you’ve written a board book. People are already telling you not to call it a “board book”, call it a “picture book” and let the publishers decide what format is best for it. Not very many board books get published, so if you sell yourself that way you’re selling yourself short. But, this book was designed for the format. You selected text and images for a young age group that also likes to chew. What can you do?
In my case, I not only wanted the board book format, but I want the result to be released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. Going with a traditional publisher would be very complicated. Both my brother and others I know have some experience in the self-publishing world. Companies like Lulu exist to help authors get their books out themselves. The print-on-demand and eBook revolutions have changed the face of publishing for many creators.
So, take my designs, upload them to a print-on-demand system and start selling books, right? Except for one thing. Board books. They don’t print board books. Printing and binding a board book just doesn’t share enough with the process for a paperback. I could do an eBook, but you can’t chew an eBook. Back where I started, I go looking for print-on-demand board books. There are hand-assembled pieces of beauty on Etsy, but the prices match.
Eventually I find Pint Size Productions, a printer in the USA that would do single board books using a digital process. The price is high, but not hand-assembled-Etsy high. They’re set up for one-offs, though, not for shipping and fulfillment of print-on-demand orders. So, I’ll need to order a larger number and handle fulfilment some other way. I write them to ask for bulk pricing. Turns out, they have presses, and will do large runs that way, for much less per book. Minimum order: 1000 units.
If you’ve never had something made, you’ve never had to deal with a minimum order. Basically, most printers and manufacturers figure it’s not worth their time to set up the equipment to make a small number of things. So, instead of (or as well as!) charging you large set-up fees, they set a Minimum Order Quantity. If I have to order at least 1000 books, I’m going to need some up-front demand, which leads me to crowdfunding.
The natural way to do crowdfunding might have been to just head to Kickstarter and be done with it, but I also had to solve shipping and fulfilment, so I found CrowdSupply. They provide optional shipping and fulfilment services to all their campaigns, feedback on your overall strategy from staff who have seen many campaigns, and possible options for continued orders and fulfilment after the campaign. So, I wrote them and got started.
1000 backers is a tall order for a typical 30-day crowdfunding campaign. But no problem, the price for the printing is low enough (and shipping is a large enough part of the cost) that I can set a bit of a margin and instead of using it to pay me, use it to pay for books I didn’t sell. If I’m aggressive, I might even be able to get as low as 500 backers needed. That’s still a lot, but much less. The price of the books will end up higher than I wanted, but what can I do?
I’m not planning on using the “print-on-demand” digital process from Pint Size any more, so maybe I should go looking again. They have been helpful, and even sent me some free samples of other books they’ve printed so that I could get a sense for their print quality, but I’ll just look around. I need a small-run printer who can do board books. Cheaper per unit would be nice, but a lower minimum-order would be excellent. Some Googling lead me to another printing company, PrintNinja, with an interesting model. Their main offices are in the USA, the support staff are in the USA, and the printing is done in China. They handle all import for you. They do a lot of things, including board books, and for very good prices. Best of all: the minimum order is only 500! That’s half!
This company also offered to send me a free sample of a board book they have printed, and the quality looks great. With this kind of improvement in the minimum order I can get the price down to something reasonable and also reduce the number of orders I need in order to succeed. The printing company will also do warehousing and fulfilment! The price is pretty comparable, though, and so I decided to stick with CrowdSupply since they’ll already have facilities for collecting the backer’s addresses and everything.
Last thing I need is an ISBN. Can’t have a real book without an ISBN! I looked around for awhile at different places that sell them before discovering that in Canada, where I live, ISBNs are free to citizens who register. So, that problem solved, I now have a low-volume printing company; warehousing, shipping, and fulfilment services; and ISBNs all lined up. Everything I need to be a little publishing house for my own book at a reasonable price.
The campaign is now under way and at 34%. You can back now to receive a copy of the result of this journey. A freely-licensed board book (with sources to be made available!) based on the iconic Big Buck Bunny short film. If we succeed I hope to go on to make a colouring book, though I feel I’ll have to reprise part of this journey again, as it seems that’s one of the few things my current choice of printing company does not offer!