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Say What? Terms Every Self-Publisher Needs To Know

By Cathi Stevenson
Posted Monday, January 17, 2005

A list of self-publishing terms that will make an author's life easier.
If you’re new to publishing it can all seem a little overwhelming at first. With designers, formatters and printers throwing terms like bleed, CMYK, dpi, PDF, trim size, paper weight, POD, and offset at you, it’s understandable that you’d spend a of time scratching your head in silence. In fact, it’s a wonder anyone ever sticks it out long enough to see their book in print.

Most of the people you hire to help publish your book will gladly explain the terminology for you, but it’s always a good idea to have some knowledge before you begin. Here are a few of the basic publishing terms you’ll need to know:

Trim size: This is the size your book will be when it’s in your hand. If you take any paperback and measure its width and height, those two numbers are the book’s trim size. Quite often you’ll find a book is smaller than the trim size you ordered. This is because the printer grinds down the spine of the book to ensure the glue adheres properly.

Bleed: You’ll hear this term frequently when formatting your book cover. Bleed is the amount of width and height added to your trim size, to ensure the color covers the entire cover. For instance, if your book’s trim size is going to be 6 x 9 inches, and you want a bleed of .25 inches, the front cover file would actually measure 6.25 x 9.5. Bleed ensures there’s no white stripe running along the edge of your cover, where the color stopped.

Paper Weight: This is the thickness of the paper you have chosen. Like meat, paper is sold by the pound. The heavier the paper, the more it costs. In the US this figure is determined by weighing 500 sheets of paper cut to 25 x 38 inches.

CMYK: This is the color format most printers use. The CMYK stands for the four colors of ink or toner: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and K stands for black (because B could easily be confused for Blue or Brown). Your computer system and most programs, cannot read the CMYK colors, which are darker, and less vivid than the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colors you can see online. This is why many self-publishing authors are surprised that the printed book cover does not look exactly like it did online, with the digital proof.

DPI: This stands for dots per inch. It is often interchanged with ppi, which stands for pixels per inch and almost always confused with lpi, which stand for lines per inch. Unless you’re a formatter, or cover designer, all you really need to know is that your book should be formatted at no less than 300 dpi for most POD printers. For the interior of the book – the actual pages, most recommend 600 or 800 dpi. All graphics should be 300 dpi. If you send a lower resolution author photo to your cover designer, and he or she uses it, chances are it will end up looking like a photocopy of a newspaper – not the high-quality image you want for your book. If you’re printing from a POD printer, 300 dpi is fine for the cover graphics.

PDF: This stands for Portable Document Format. A type of file format most POD printers require. PDF can be tricky and in order to export your document in PDF format you need to ensure all the fonts have embedded, or subset embedded. This ensures they will appear on the receiver’s end exactly how you want them to look. Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best to leave this to a professional. Mistakes can cost time, money and sales, if the book quality is poor.

PS Fonts: The PS stands for Post Script. These fonts require several files each and are much more reliable for print than their TT (True Type) counterparts.

POD: Although POD is often used to refer to an entire method of publishing in general, it is actually a digital press. The quality has improved quite a bit since first introduced, but digital printing is still not as pleasing to look at as products produced on traditional presses, in most cases. The benefit of POD is that it enables publishers to print small quantities of books quite cheaply.

Offset press: Traditional method used for printing. It is quite a bit more involved than POD presses and usually requires pre-press prep work that includes color separation and plate burning. The amount of work simply to get a book to press means it’s expensive to use if you only want to print a few books. If you are going to print several hundred copies though, offset becomes less expensive than POD, since POD costs the same to produce the 1000th book as it did to print the first. The more copies you print from an offset press, the less expensive they become.

About the Author
Cathi Stevenson is a former editor and journalist who has sold more than 2000 articles world-wide. Her eBook "How To Publish & Market Your eBook For Just $5" made the publisher's best sellers' list within months of its release. Learn how she did it with tips from the Author's Cafe Newsletter. Sign up at: ( Cathi also owns the highly successful book cover design company: Book Cover Express. (


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