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14. Publishing and Printing Options

Your quick and easy-to-read guide to life-story writing, by Anna Foster

Let's Recap

At this point your manuscript is written and edited, and your pictures chosen and captioned. You must now put these different elements together and finish your book. Decide how many copies you want and set a budget.


Publishing and printing technologies have advanced in recent years and the advent of desktop publishing(dtp) and digital printing have brought self-publishing within the reach of many people.

Dtp allows you to produce your book on your pc or Mac. You can write, edit, typeset, design and lay out pages, and scan in the pictures. This guide doesn't attempt to give you technical instructions as individual publishing programmes vary.

You may still decide to get your book printed and bound commercially.

Typesetting and Layouts

This is the process by which your text is ‘set’ and the pages of your book are ‘laid-out’.

If you want to do-it-yourself then look at Adobe InDesign, Quark Express or Microsoft Publisher. Seek professional advice before purchasing this expensive software. You may need to take a training course first.

Professional services also exist. Costs vary, so seek recommendations.

Printing and Binding

These two processes often go together. Many towns have High Street print-shops that will print, spiral-bind or staple your book. This is suitable for straight-forward printing projects. Take in your typed pages, ready for printing.

Commercial printers undertake more complicated books, where there are a lot of photographs within the text, graphics or unusual layouts.

If you wish to have a paperback or hardback book you will need to go to a commercial printer. As with typesetting, seek a personal recommendation. Alternatively, look on the internet.

If you don’t want to take on the typesetting, design, printing or binding, then seek the advice of a self-publisher.


As the name implies, you, the author, become the publisher. This means you are ultimately responsible for the book, its contents, and marketing and distributing it.

The difference between self-publishers and vanity publishers is described in Chapter 2. Some more information follows here.

A commercial publisher will publish and distribute a book, giving the author a royalty determined by volume of sales.

Vanity publishers expect authors to pay for printing and to undertake marketing and distribution themselves (often the author has been unable to place the book with a commercial publisher). Authors can pay thousands of pounds for little or no return. Volumes of poetry and novels are typical vanity publishing projects.

A new breed of publisher has emerged in recent years – the self-publisher.

There is a fine line between vanity and self-publishers. In both cases, the author pays for the book.

In both cases, the author may also try to sell the book. However, respectable self-publishers will not advise you to sell your book for profit – only to recoup some costs or to raise funds for a good cause.

Self-publishers have allowed individuals to produce books which might not attract a commercial publisher but which are still worthy of publication, albeit for a small audience. Life stories fit into this category.

Print runs are likely to be short, anything from one or two copies to a few hundred. You pay for the publishing and printing service, but will have to distribute the book yourself.

Self-publishers advertise on the internet. Find out the costs, ask to see samples and read customer recommendations.

Such companies will offer writing, editing, typesetting, page layout, printing and binding services - and, in some cases, a high degree of personal involvement.

Make sure you get a quote at the start of the project. If the charges are likely to be higher than first anticipated, the company should keep you informed.

What Will It Cost?

The costs of producing a life story vary hugely. Because you may be printing a small number of copies (compared to a commercial printing run of several thousand), the costs per copy can seem quite high. It may be that giving the books as birthday or Christmas presents helps justify the expenditure.

As I have suggested you can put your hand-written or typed pages into a ring binder for as little as £5 a copy.

At the other end of the scale, you can spend up to £5,000 or more with a self-publisher who will help you write, edit, produce and print your book, over several months or even years.

Bear in mind that the costs may seem high now, but your book will last for generations.

Number of Copies

List all family members and friends to whom you would like to give a copy. Add a few extra as distant relatives and old friends may appear as if by magic, requesting a copy. Also, don't forget the grandchildren.

Do you know anyone who might be prepared to pay for the book so that you could cover at least some of your costs — fellow enthusiasts from a special interest society, local reading groups or your wider circle of acquaintances? Don’t be over-ambitious or you risk straying into vanity publishing.

If you opt for digital self-publishing you will be able to re-order copies at a similar or lower price to your first print run (allowing for rising costs and inflation).


The hard work is over and the book paid for. The time has arrived to hold a launch party and distribute the book to family and friends.

Do you have any questions from this section? Please email me and I will try to help you.