Ch. 9: Costing a book – estimating quantities

Though there is an attraction in doing things from scratch – like making your own paper from recycled trimmings – you also need to be practical, especially if your aim is not a single one-off, on which you can lavish time and attention, but volume production, where you wish to maintain a standard of quality but within a budget and against a deadline.

My visit to the printer’s to ask for an estimate had been in the third week of July; the e-mail with the estimate is dated 19 July. By 24 July I had ordered the printer and had begun calculating what else I would need in earnest. My aim was to have one hundred books made by the time the Wigtown Book Festival started on 22 September. I had no idea if I could do it, but deadlines ‘concentrate the mind wonderfully’, as Dr Johnson observed (though, to be sure, he was talking of ‘the prospect of being hanged within a fortnight’).

The most obvious saving of time seemed the choice of format. A4 paper is readily available and folds down to A5. That is (a little surprisingly) not a standard book format, but it certainly struck me as the most convenient to go for. I saw no point in cutting down paper that had already been exactly cut  for me.

Book signatures are always a multiple of 4, since there are two pages on each side of each sheet, though you may well end up with some blank pages at either end. My initial proofs used 11 signatures of 6 sheets/24 pages each, giving a total of 264 pages. However, a combination of re-editing and re-formatting, plus the incorporation of some additional introductory pages, saw the final edition change to 9 signatures of 8 sheets/32 pages, giving a total of 288. As it turned out, reducing the number of signatures proved a boon in the production process – with 2 fewer per book, you are sewing 200 signatures fewer overall, a considerable saving in time and thread.

Paper comes in reams – 500 sheets – typically in 5 ream boxes, or 2500 sheets per box. 100 books of 288 A5 pages, in terms of sheets and reams, is 100 x 9 (number of signatures) x 8 (sheets per signature) = 7200 sheets, not far short of 3 five-ream boxes (7500 sheets), so that is what I priced and ordered, from Purelypaper, a supplier I found entirely satisfactory. (Though in the event, I would have been better to order 4 boxes to give myself a better margin for wastage, since the supplier had a minimum order of 5 reams, and I found myself having to finish the last few volumes with locally bought paper which did not match)

The general advice is that books should be printed on off-white or natural paper, as opposed to the shiny white stuff that is the standard copier fare, since it is easier on the eye. I was struck by the number of people who remarked on the readability of the typeface I had chosen for The McAvinchey Codex (Hoefler Text) and I wonder how much of that was actually due to the choice of paper.

It was the availability of natural white paper at a reasonable price that led me to Purelypaper, but I was also pleased to discover that they supplied pre-cut board. My original intention had been to order large sheets of greyboard from Hewit’s and cut it myself, but I quickly realised that having pre-cut boards would be a huge saving in time and effort, to say nothing of the fiddle and anxiety of ensuring a standard across 200 A5 boards marked out and cut from 760×1020 mm sheets. Board is sold by weight, and A5 is cut to order, so I ended up ordering a pack that contained the ominous number of 666 sheets, which was far more than I needed but I was sure I could use for future projects (you could see that I had begun to believe in what I was doing…)

My actual estimate for what I needed was 200 boards to supply front and back covers, plus another 20, reckoning five spines from an A5 sheet. The thickness I chose was 1900 microns, which was perfectly adequate (a sample of thinner board had struck me as too flimsy). Board was not something I was willing to take a chance on, since it has to have certain qualities – chiefly flatness and stability: it should not warp with time. ‘Greyboard’ is the standard item and the one I ordered was ‘Eskaboard’.

The two remaining elements in costing the cover are the bookcloth and the endpapers. They are also the most attractive, as befits the finishing surfaces inside and out. For bookcloth, I settled on Hewit’s, since I could collect it in person. As you will see from the link, there is a considerable range of prices for this seductive material, but the best choice seemed to be their Edinburgh Bookcloth at £7.07 per metre in a variety of gorgeous colours. I bought samples of mid-green and red, though I think I had decided on the red, a splendid pillar-box shade, as soon as I saw it.

In terms of quantity, I arrived at an estimate of ten metres.

The first thing I calculated was how many covers I could get from a width. A roll is 1100mm wide and the cover would consist of two A5 boards and a spine with some space between them and a margin all round to allow the cloth to be folded over. A rough calculation suggested 150+150+30 for the boards plus spine – 330mm, which would allow for three covers of 366mm, leaving 36mm to play around with for the two gaps between the spine and the covers and the overlaps at the edge – 9mm per gap, which seemed on the tight side, at least for the end margins*. On the other hand, 30mm for the spine seemed generous, and if I squeezed six out of a sheet at a shade under 25mm apiece that would give an extra 5mm to play with, and since 150 was a slight overcalculation, there was another 4 mm to be gained per cover. I certainly could not get more than three per width, but dropping to two would be absurdly wasteful, so three it was.

The next calculation was height: each board is 210mm, and the cloth would need to be folded over top and bottom. 250mm seemed a good figure for initial calculation, with a generous top and bottom margin. That would give 12 covers per metre (four rows of three) so 10m would be enough for 120, leaving room generous room for error.

That settled the cloth and boards, but the endpapers were a different matter, as we shall see…

* I have just measured the spine-cover gap on a spare cover near by – 9mm on each side.

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