Producing Beta Copies

Weighing the Options

At first it seemed extravagant to me to print beta copies of my novel in mass market paperback format. In fact, though, it was one of the most economical and practical options.

Most of my beta readers stated a preference for a hard copy version of the ms. The cheapest way to do that would have been to print it on my home printer, but the manuscript is over 100 double-sided pages and I need a minimum of 12 copies. 1200 pages is the capacity of a standard printer cartridge at 60 dollars. And when the wear and tear on the printer is added in – it’s quite a job for a home printer. There are plenty of additional costs. I don’t own a spiral binding machine and they start at $170. The plastic binders themselves would add another $20. And the cost of shipping would be considerably more than shipping a 6 by 9 inch book. The DIY method might have been cheaper if I invested 10 or 12 hours shopping around. But if I calculate the labour at our provincial minimum wage of $15 hour. That would add at least $150 and wouldn’t leave me the machine for future projects. So that $250 + shipping is about the cheapest option. It would cost even more with a colour cover.

Truth is, I don’t need a colour cover or anything fancy like that. But I do want my beta readers to have the closest thing possible to a “retail experience” – since the thrust of the questions is going to be “if you bought this at a book store, how would you feel about the purchase?” The more conscious they are as they’re reading that it is an unpublished manuscript, the more it will distract from the whole intent of the exercise.

I did go to some local printers and had the project priced. Again – looking at spiral bound 8.5 by 11 proof copies – I was given estimates of 20 to 40 dollars PER COPY. At the lowest possible end of that it would have set me back a minimum of $240 dollars.

Making a Decision

And then finally I settled on the online POD option. I sent it to a company in the States and they probably farmed it out to a printer in Hong Kong. The prices for a 6 by 9 inch trade paperback with full colour glossy cover start at $5.55 USD plus shipping. My order of 20 copies including shipping to my door came out to about $240 CND. The printer I chose (Lulu) charges no set-up fee; just a flat price per copy plus shipping. If I was planning to sell the books, I might go with a bigger company with built-in distribution channels – like Ingram Spark –  but for beta copies, this was honestly the best deal I could find.

The books will probably be arriving next week. I’m still a long ways from actually publishing it, but I am thrilled and excited to see what it looks like, find out how it reads – and give my beta readers a true “retail experience.” When I ask, if you bought this in a store, how would you feel about it, it will seem like a real question rather than a hypothetical one for them and for me.

Crossing My Fingers

My level of terror about their feedback remains undiminished, but I am grateful to have one less thing to worry about.


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