self-publisher's forum: printers and distributors
20 October 2003
Sean Michael Wilson who has recently completed his first graphic novel, Angel of the Woods, writes:
I have recently been lucky enough to get a substantial arts council grant to publish my first graphic novel 'Angel of the Woods'.
I'm now trying to work out the various details. I wonder if you would be kind enough to give me the contact details with the printer you use in Canada. And advice on who to and how to arrange distribution with.
Michael, that's two very short questions that require long answers:
Rather than simply give you contact details of the printer that I use, I suggest that you consider a number of different options as different projects are better suited to different types of printers.
Most printers will be happy to give you a quote for your book, if you approach them professionally. This means having a good idea of what you want your final package to look like. For an exact quote, you'll have to supply the printer's rep with the following specifications;
The finished (trimmed) size of your book - in the US and Canada, they still prefer their dimensions in inches.
Number of pages:
Depending on the size of sheet or roll of paper, page counts are usually available in increments of 8 or 16. Therefore, it's most cost-effective to print in multiples of 8 or 16 - e.g. 24, 32, 40 and 48 pages. The covers (in effect, another 4 pages) are in addition to this.
Interior paper stock and Cover stock:
Printers can usually offer a number of different papers in a range of different weights - you can choose from newsprint, white offset and even coated stocks. You can also request specific types of stock, although this will always work out to be a more expensive option. The paper stocks that I've used for recent issues of Strangehaven (including issue #15) are 50lb Offset #2 for the interiors ("text") and 70lb "Luna Gloss" for the covers.
Printers may supply you with samples of their papers and cover stocks upon request.
Colour or black and white printing:
Printerspeak for black and white is 1/1 (or "one over one"), which simply means one colour ink (usually black) on one side of the paper, one colour on the other. A full colour book would be 4/4, or "process" - which means four inks on both sides of the paper which enables you to print your book in full colour. Of course, full colour printing is considerably more expensive than single colour, although I would suggest that full colour covers are almost essential for a professional look in most cases.
A cover with process colour on the outside and just black on the inside would be described as 4/1. There are other options available, such as spot colours, special inks, varnishes and laminates, and your printer will probably be able to quote for these as optional extras.
Regular stapled comic books and magazines are described as being "saddle-stitched." Trade paperbacks or square bound books (i.e. books with a "spine") are usually described as being "perfect bound" - even though the technique is far from perfect. Hardcover books with smythe-sewn binding are a very expensive option and usually out of reach of the beginner.
The exact quantity you print may be based on your initial orders from your distributors. But at this stage, possibly while you're still costing your product, most printers will happy to quote you for a range of different quantities - there are usually price breaks at 1000, 3000, 5000 and 10,000.
Some printers have a minimum quantity that they will print. The high cost of setting up the presses for your book will mean that the more you print, the less the cost per copy will be.
"Digital Printing" is a new, fast developing technology will may enable some printers to offer very low quantities. These methods are more akin to photocopying rather than traditional litho techniques and do not require messy stuff like films or plates. The downside is that the quality is still a little short of litho printing, and larger quantities are not really cost-effective. Yet another reason to shop around and obtain quotes from different printers.
So your request for a printer's quote should look something like this:
6 5/8 x 10 3/16 inches.
Text 1/1 50lb Offset.
Cover 4/1 70lb Gloss.
1000 - 3000 copies.
You should enquire exactly what the printer's price actually includes. There may (or may not) be additional charges for things like outputting film or plates from disk; most printers are set up for accepting digital files these days - indeed, some now only accept digital files, and you will need to pay extra if you want them to scan your artwork.
You will also want a "blueline" proof to check for mistakes before going to press. Most printers will include this as part of the deal, but either way, it's highly recommended that you request one. Once the book is printed, it's too late to correct any mistakes.
You may also be liable for a print overrun or underrun (sometimes called the "tolerance"); printers can't produce the exact quantity you require, and you may be supplied with more, or less than you have ordered - usually up to a tolerance of +/- 5%. In my experience, I've almost always had to pay for the additional 5% overrun.
Also note that some printers may charge you for the packaging of the books, and all will charge an assortment of shipping charges. Even if Diamond collects from your printer's warehouse, you will have to pay a small fee for the orders to be split into the separate drop ship quantities. Diamond will also charge 2% of your cover price for collecting your books - which sounds like a lot, but is probably cheaper than you can get it shipped by any other carrier.
Shipping is an expensive business. I usually allow around 12% on top of my printing calculations to allow for the total cost of shipping my books, but obviously it depends on how many you overprint and to where they're being shipped.
You may also want to enquire about payment methods, which can be tricky when dealing with overseas printers. All will want some kind of deposit - usually about half - before going into production, and the balance when the book is ready to ship. Not many will offer credit facilities to a new customer. They may also make an additional charge if you intend to pay via credit card.
You will receive a detailed quotation from your printer, which should indicate exactly what is included in the price.
Remember, printers are not mind readers. They're printers. Be careful to specify exactly how you want your book to look. Otherwise it will look like something else. If you leave any ambiguity in your instructions, the printer will probably not do what you expect. And that's your problem, not theirs. Spell it out!
Specialist comic book printers:
There are several printers in North America that specialise in printing comic books and trade paperbacks, although many self-publishers prefer working with a local printer to give them more control over the process.
There are of course many many other printers across the world - for example printers in Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore and even Iceland have good reputations - and all will offer different advantages regarding price, quality, shipping options, delivery times, customer service and so on.
Dealing with a printer who has experience dealing with comics and the idiosyncratic direct market already reduces many of the misunderstandings you may have with other printers
I originally started using Brenner Printing in Texas, who were reasonably priced and printed good quality comic books. However, I later switched to Quebecor in Canada when trade paperbacks came into the equation. I use North American printers as the majority of my sales are there and therefore it saves me shipping costs.
I've found Quebecor to be friendly and reliable, providing a good service at a good price, but there are other comic-specialist printers that you may wish to investigate. The main ones in North America are:
Probably the biggest printer of comic books in North America (also known as "Ronalds"). Shipping and distribution is facilitated by the fact that Diamond Distributors collect directly from the Quebecor warehouse.
Quebecor World Montreal, 8000 Blaise-Pascal Ave., Montreal, Qc H1E 2S7
e-mail: Patrick Jodoin firstname.lastname@example.org
High quality printers of books for Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly.
Westcan Printing Group. 84 Durand Road. Winnipeg, MB Canada. R2J 3T2
Toll Free: 1 + 866.669.9914
Local: 1 + 204.669.9914
Fax: 1 + 204.669.9920
E - mail: email@example.com
These can print a newsprint comic book at very reasonable rates. Worth checking out if finances are tight
Preney Print & Litho, 2714 Dougall Ave., Windsor, Ontario N9E 1R9, Canada
Phone: (519) 966-3412
The main US alternative to Quebecor, Diamond also collects books from Brenner, to save on shipping costs. The Brenner site has a good FAQ page.
Brenner Printing, 1234 Triplett, San Antonio, Texas 78216, USA
Customer Service Representative Cindy Roberds: firstname.lastname@example.org
Indy-friendly printer, has been printing comics for over 25 years, including Fantagraphics and Exhibit A Press. Sample packs available on request.
Morgan Printing, 402 Hill Avenue, Grafton, ND 58237, USA
phone (701) 352-0640,
fax (701) 352-1502
Gary Grinde: email@example.com
There are other specialised comic printers listed on the Diamond Vendor site, like Transcontinental, Harold Buchholz, Port Publishing, Sullivan Graphics and American Color Graphic, although I personally have no direct experience of them.
Distribution is another enormous subject, and one that requires a great deal of investigation. But, briefly, there are two main areas that you should be concerned with; comic store distribution and bookstore distribution.
A third option, newsstand (or newsagent) distribution is generally done on a sale-or-return (consignment) basis, requiring a huge amount of investment and is beyond the resources of most independent publishers. Indeed, to succeed in this market for any new publisher is rare.
Bookstore distribution is also generally also a returnable system, requiring some risk of your investment. In addition, most bookstore distributors won't be interested in a small self-publisher with only one or two trade paperbacks in print, although some may order copies on the basis of orders received, rather than trying to promote your book in any way.
Comic store distribution is the least risky due to its traditional advance ordering and non-returnable system, which works brilliantly for the fledgling publisher.
The one major development in the last couple of years is the expansion into the book market by Diamond Distributors - already the biggest distributor in the world for English language comic books, granting access to bookstores for smaller publishers
Each of the main comic distributors' own websites offer invaluable advice on how to go about submitting material for their consideration.
The main comic book store distributors are:
The biggest player in the comics market since and the collapse of Heroes World and their acquisition of Capital City a number of years ago, by a long distance. I would say that it's virtually essential for the survival of a profit-making comic book for it to be distributed to comic stores by Diamond.
Their non-returnable, advance order policy (that is, you can wait until you receive your orders prior to having to print the book) has made comics publishing on a shoestring budget a genuine possibility.
You will need to submit a dummy copy of (at least) your first issue to the buyers at Diamond, along with planned publication schedule, price, format and suchlike. You'll also need to complete one of their "new supplier information" forms, which are available to download at their vendor website (which incidentally has a number of other useful resources) at:
As stated above, Diamond also now supply directly to the bookstore trade. If your main output will be trade paperbacks, it may be worth enquiring with Diamond about their bookstore distribution terms. Signing with Diamond as a direct market (i.e. comic stores) supplier is different to signing up for bookstore (returnable) distribution.
For most new self-publishers, I'd certainly advise the simpler, safer option of signing up for as a non-returnable direct market supplier, at least initially.
Diamond Comic Distributors,
1966 Greenspring Dr., Suite 300, Timonium, MD 21093, United States of America
Toll Free Phone: (800) 783-2981
Phone: (410) 560-7100 Fax: (410) 560-7145
FM is the only real alternative advance order comic book distributor in the US. They currently can't offer Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image or the other companies that have exclusive distribution deals with Diamond, but they do carry everything else. Their orders are likely to be much smaller than Diamond's, but can still be very worthwhile.
913 Stewart Street, Madison, WI 53713, United States of America
Phone: (608) 271-7922 Fax: (608) 271-8143
Cold Cut Distributors
Cold Cut is mainly a reorder warehouse - they tend to hold more stock and aim to be more efficient than Diamond at supplying reorders and trade paperbacks. They also produce a catalogue Channel X that contains a small selection of comics that Diamond does not distribute.
Cold Cut Distribution
475-D Stockton Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126, United States of America
Toll Free Phone: 866-4-COLDCUT
Phone: (408) 293-3844 Fax: (408) 293-6645
Red Route again, is basically a reorder warehouse, this time operating in the UK. Red Route also supply to the UK book trade.
Red Route Distribution
Unit 24, 10 Acklam Rd, London, W10 5QZ, England
Tel: (020) 8960 5855 Fax: (020) 8968 7614
There are other smaller, more specialised distributors that you may wish to consider, depending on the type of product you are publishing. Last Gasp for example, may be interested in the more underground or alternative type of material.
You can of course attempt direct distribution yourself, although this would take a separate article to even begin to discuss properly.
You could directly mailshot individual stores with order forms and sample copies, although in my experience it's difficult to obtain orders and even harder to get paid for them. You may earn a more per copy, but the effort and cost involved is rarely worthwhile.
For trade paperbacks with an ISBN, you can supply individual bookstores directly with special orders (in the UK, via the Whitaker TeleOrdering service). You can even sell direct to book wholesalers, particularly those for libraries, although you will need to send sample copies of your book to the appropriate buyer at each company.
There are certainly more options available to you if you are publishing trade paperbacks - but for many new to self-publishing - and new to business - the direct market's advance ordering, non-returnable system provides a good starting point for the novice.
© 2003 Gary Spencer Millidge. All rights reserved.
All text and images (c) copyright Gary Spencer Millidge/Abiogenesis Press All rights reserved.