Will POD Work For Me? Technical Considerations

Desktop publishing has made producing a publication much easier than it ever was. It is a mistake, however, to think that ‘easier’ means ‘easy’. There are still many technical considerations when dealing with digital printing and with specific print on-demand companies. This article does not aim to answer every technical question about POD, but it does aim to help you ask some of the right questions of yourself and of the POD companies you are considering using. As always, if you have any questions, please email me at jd@jdwrite.com  .

The most important questions concern your book itself.

General issues

Print on-Demand books are usually produced in one of two sizes: 5.5” x 8.5” or 6” x 9”. By producing books of the same size, the POD companies can print many titles at the same time, with the minimum set-up time.

Although these formats are increasingly common they are not the perfect format for all types of content. In these sizes, the text width is only 4.5”-5” on each page. If your book is a technical or non-fiction book it may contain columns, sidebars or forms. This kind of book may require a wider page, if it is to have the layout you want. If you still want to proceed with Print On-Demand and this book format, you could rework your book to present the sidebar information as in-line text – perhaps at the end of a chapter, or separated from the main text by a line separator or different font.

If your book is too short or too long it may not be possible to bind using the POD company’s standard methods. POD books are usually cut pages, glue-bound. This method does not work well with fewer than 100 pages and more than around 600 pages.

You should also consider the kind of binding you want for your book. Most POD companies offer ‘perfect binding’ only. Even hardback POD books are glued, rather than sewn or stapled. If you want a staple-bound chapbook or children’s book, or if you want a spiral or comb-bound cookbook, you will probably not be able to use a POD company – yet. In future companies may offer more binding options.

Digital printing makes printing more flexible and affordable in some ways, but less so, in others. For example, today, color digital printing is still prohibitively expensive. Although a color cover can be produced, printing in color inside the book would make it impossible to sell the book at bookstore prices. Therefore, most POD companies do not offer color inside the books…yet.

In addition, interior graphics may be produced at lower quality than if you were producing them as traditionally printed ‘plates’. Most digital printers will reproduce your graphics more like art in a magazine than art in a glossy art book. For most illustrations and most people photographs, this is sufficient – and it is certainly more economical. The high-quality prints in coffee table books are what make these books so pricey.

One final point about the manufacture of Print On-Demand books: they generally do not allow for glossy separations to be printed and bound into the book. Your art will be printed on the same paper as the rest of your book. This means that you can sprinkle the art throughout the book, with no need to send it to a ghetto in the middle of the book.


If your book was previously printed it may seem that you should have fewer problems. After all, you already have a book, can’t they just reproduce it? Unfortunately there are many questions to ask about a previously published book.

The first thing you must do when planning to bring your book back into print is establish that you have the right to reproduce your text. Consult the publisher’s contract to find out when the rights revert to you. Even if you think the rights have reverted to you, you should contact the original publisher and request written confirmation of that fact. Also check that you have the right to produce any other formats that your POD company produces (electronic editions, audio editions, etc.). Sometimes publishing contracts cover different editions in different ways.

Artwork and graphics that were included in the original edition may need special attention when you are clarifying copyright issues. Look closely at any book with artwork, particularly photos, and you will see artist/photographer credits. On the copyright page, you will see copyright information for any quoted poems, essays or reports. This permission to reprint probably existed only for the original edition. In order to reproduce the book, you must obtain these reprint permissions again, from the copyright holder, or omit the copyrighted material. You may find you can use the original cover art or some interior graphics, free of charge, but you should consult an Intellectual Property or Copyright lawyer to be sure of where you stand.

Re-publication also raises the questions about the format. Do you want it in the same format? Will the originally formatting work in the 5.5” x 8.5” or 6” x 9” formats used by Print On-Demand companies?
Getting Your Previously-Published Book Into Digital Form

There are three main ways to convert your printed book into a file that can be sent to a digital printer. Simple scanning, Scanning to Optical Character Recognition software (OCR), or retyping.

Simple scanning a book essentially photographs each page and creates an image of it.  This means that you cannot easily make changes to the text or layout. It also means that the text quality will be a little fuzzier than it was in the original when reprinted (compare a photocopied document to its original and you will see this effect). If your original book was a different size from the new edition, it is possible to resize the scanned pages or to increase or decrease the margin around the edges of the text. Neither of these is a perfect solution, though. Resizing the text can render it unreadable: the original designer chose the font, font size and spacing to work together. Scaling a layout up or down can interfere with these relationships.

It is possible to scan a book and process it with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. This method creates a word-processor file from your printed document. This word-processor file can then be changed, updated, and prepared for a new layout. Unfortunately OCR is not perfect – and even a error rate as low as 2% yieldsup to 2000 errors in a 100,000 word book. This error rate increases as the quality of the original declines (in other words, if the original copies are in small, close-set type on frayed or yellowing pages, the software will not be able to ‘read’ it as accurately).

The final option is to have your text re-typed. This creates a new, word-processor document that can be changed, updated and prepared for a new layout. If you decide to have the book retyped professionally, try to find a service that uses ‘double-keying’. This means that the book is actually entered twice. Computer software eliminates errors by comparing the two versions. This is a little more expensive than having your granddaughter type it as a summer project, but may end up saving you money in the long-run.

Artwork and republication

The final issue to consider when copying a previously published book is the quality of the artwork. If you do not have the original artwork, the art in your book must be scanned. As with the text, scanning reduces the quality of the final product. If you are using photographs or other ‘half-tones’ you will find that the quality of a scan from a previously-printed version decreases dramatically. Line art will reproduce better. If possible, supply the original art to your printer.

Preparing a manuscript for layout

[this section assumes that you are not simply scanning a previously-published book]

The world of word-processors and desktop publishing have made it relatively easy to produce a professional publication economically. This does not mean, however, that anyone who can use a word-processing program can necessarily handle the complexities of manuscript preparation and book design. This is why some Print On-Demand companies handle the layout of the book in-house. Others rely on the author to produce a good-looking layout by providing detailed specifications that the author must follow.

Preparing for a professional layout

If you are preparing your text for a professional layout, you may need to follow very explicit instructions (unless you are paying for highly customized work – unlikely with print on-demand companies — you may find they are not willing to spend time coaching you through the preparation process). If you do not follow the instructions exactly, you may creating difficulties with the layout. Difficulties and corrections usually translate into additional cost.

If you find lists of word-processing instructions hard to understand, if you do not know how to combine all your files into one master file and transfer it to a floppy disk, or if you do not know how to re-format your existing file to different specifications efficiently, consider hiring someone who does.

If you have an index, you will probably have to learn how to use the tagging feature in your word-processor, so that the index can be imported into the new layout and retain its integrity.

If you have graphics you will have to ensure you can provide them in the correct size and resolution for best results on the digital press (a resolution that looks good on your computer screen, at 72 dots per inch, will not necessarily look so good output from a high resolution printer).

Doing it yourself

Artistic considerations

Word processors are wonderful inventions, but they do not replace a good artistic eye and experience. Knowing where and when to use features like underline, bold, italics, shadow boxes and columns, comes with study and practice – things a designer has, things that the average writer does not have. Even a good artistic eye cannot replace the help of someone trained to know what font size goes with which spacing; just how much white space is enough; and where to put the chapter titles for best effect. Unless you have design experience – and book design experience at that – be very wary of designing your book without expert help.

Technical considerations

You must be sure how the Print On-Demand company wants to receive the file. Will they accept a word-processor file or do they need something more ‘high end’? If you are concerned about your book looking ‘real’ you may want to use high end graphics tools. A book expert can usually tell the difference between something designed by a designer and something created in Microsoft Word. If you are not experienced in using Quark Xpress or Adobe PageMaker, it will take time to learn them. Then, once you have mastered the program, you must master the the temptation to use all the new bells and whistles you’ve discovered. Less is more.

In this article I have attempted to cover a lot of ground, quickly, and have not tried to give all the answers thoroughly. If I have raised questions and you want a more thorough answer, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to clarify, expand on any point in this article, or address new questions.


3 responses to “Will POD Work For Me? Technical Considerations

  1. margaret Wagenhofer

    good explanations but too general How do I get hold of the measurements to produce a galley for my 8x 5 1/2 inch size page Novel I am shown a printout of a page with black fill both sides of text.One had 1page only the 2nd example went from 1 page to next. Do I blackfill each page If so the download would take ages.
    I have spent days searching for proper galley specs to help me and still no luck. marg

  2. margaret Wagenhofer

    good explanations but too general How do I get hold of the measurements to produce a galley for my 8x 5 1/2 inch size page Novel I am shown a printout of a page with black fill both sides of text.One had 1page only the 2nd example went from 1 page to next. Do I blackfill each page? If so the download would take ages.
    I have spent days searching for proper galley specs to help me and still no luck. marg

  3. Ok, a few questions
    1, are you already working with POD company? If so, who?
    2, when you say “how do I get a galley?” are you trying to get a galley proof from someone who has created a layout for you or are you trying to create
    a layout?
    3, what do you mean by “blackfill”? If someone had sent you a PDF that has black pages, there is a problem on their end and the file hasn’t converted properly. If, however, you are looking at page templates such as Lulu has online then I’m not sure what “blackfill” refers

    If you can clarify, I’ll happily try to help you troubleshoot.

    If you supply a bit more info I’ll happily try to help you trouble-shoot.