My family have never been the type to make a big deal of birthdays or holidays like Christmas. Sure, when I was growing up we did the whole decorated tree thing and gave gifts, but once I was old enough to realise that Santa was just a fictional Capitalist manifestation, probably around the age of 25, we pretty much toned the festivities down. Okay it wasn’t 25… it was 24. Jokes aside, some people might find that a little weird but that’s just the way we are, and quite frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way. We love each other and all that associated hokey crap, but how many pairs of jocks and socks do you really need to give each other in order to show that you care?
With that bit of family backstory out of the way, I did want to do something special for Christmas. Things have been going reasonably well for me the last few years, especially financially, so I had this crazy notion that I wanted to get my parents a present – something unique for Christmas 2011. Most people just trundle off to the local supermarket or shopping centre and pick-up some generic crap like a bottle of Old Spice for their father and a box of chocolates for their mother, but I wanted to do something a little more personal than that. I wracked my brain for a few days and finally came up with the perfect gift. My folks know that I ‘write’. They’ve never been entirely sure what I write, or whether I’m actually any good (my other family members have read some of my film reviews online and have raved to my folks about them), so I decided to take the plunge a couple of weeks before Christmas and get the ball rolling on having my novelette ‘An As Yet Untitled Tale From A Titty Bar’ professionally printed as a gift for my parents.
Yes, you read right, I decided to take on this mammoth task two weeks before Christmas!
I typically write short flash fiction in the speculative fiction/sci-fi/horror genre, so my ‘titty bar’ story, as most people call it, is not exactly the most accurate representation of my work. It is however a very personal story and gives a rather in-depth look at my thought processes and feelings – something which I have always tried to keep from my family. I trade on the fact my family are too technically inept to be able to read my work online or via electronic reader, so it was a bit nerve wracking to pick this story as the one I ‘came out’ to my parents with. Came out as a writer that is. No homo.
Two weeks to get this wacky Christmas present not only formatted and printed, but DELIVERED!!! Where the hell was I going to start?
I obviously needed to find a local (as in Australian) printer who specialised in, or at least offered, affordable short print runs. I was realistically only looking at maybe two or three copies to start with, one for my parents and maybe one or two for friends. Normally I would have tried consulting something like the Handbook for Queensland Writers which is put out by the helpful Queensland Writers’ Centre, which I’m pretty sure it has a list of printers who can do such requests, however given the short amount of time I had, I decided to turn to the internet. I started out by searching for local printers that did short runs. Price wasn’t a big concern for me, as long as it was reasonable. This was a Christmas gift after all, not a 1000 copy run of my own self-published work. I ended up finding a small printer in New South Wales called FC Productions that claimed to specialise in low volume printing with a quick turn around. According to their site they stated that they could have my books printed and in the mail in three days. It sounded like what I needed, so I shot them a quick email asking for a basic quote on what it would cost to print five copies. The quote came in at under $10 a copy. The novelette was only going to be about 40 pages and $10 a copy seemed perfectly acceptable under the circumstances, especially given the quick turn around.
Over the next few days I conversed with Francis via email and phone (he was very patient and helpful) and we nutted-out the required format for the text and covers. Between work deadlines and holiday deadlines I was burning the candle at both ends to get everything done and still have enough time up our sleeves to make sure the book was printed and in the mail before Christmas. I’m glad to say we got there in the end. The text formatting was the hardest part to get right as I had to strike a balance between readability and something that looked pleasant to the eye. I went with a fairly standard size 11 Times New Roman font with no funky paragraphing or spacing. A clean, classic look. As an aside: I thought I knew a reasonable amount about formatting and printing, but that quickly went out the window when you start talking to a professional – styles of binding, glazed covers etc. These guys certainly know their stuff. I felt a bit lost at first but fortunately Francis helped point me in the right direction. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get Microsoft Word to cooperate with sections and page numbering… urg.
The books were in the mail on the Friday before Christmas and they arrived a few days later on the Tuesday!
The team at FC Productions did a great job!
My only regret is that I wished I had used a higher resolution image for the front cover, but that was my fault for trying to do all of this at the last minute – but overall it was definitely worth it.
A look at the finished product:
So I guess you are wondering how my parents reacted to the gift? They seemed genuinely excited about it, which is rare. My mother even read about half of it after Christmas lunch, which in itself was a bit daunting. I think I only heard her laugh out loud once – at a fart joke of all things. Okay, thanks mum. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I assume they have read the whole thing by now. I don’t think I’ll ask them what they thought of the story unless they actively bring it up in conversation. Quite frankly I’m not sure they know what to make of the version of their son within those pages… but hopefully they can now at least see that I can string a few words together if necessary.
Hopefully the next thing they read might be that novel of mine gathering dust in my desk drawer. Who knows?
Things you might want to take into consideration when doing something like this:
- Know what you want and set a budget.
- Ensure you deal with a reputable printing company – ask around and research.
- Ensure you have open channels of communication with the printer, you will need to ask questions!
- Get any quotes or correspondence in writing.
- Ensure there have ample time to have your work formatted and printed.
- Spend a lot of time on a quality cover – front and back!
- Be clear on the recommended formatting suggested by the printer.
- Printers are there to print, they won’t fix your typos, create your cover, or correct major formatting mistakes for you.
- More pages equals higher printing costs – eliminate unnecessary blank pages and bloated formatting.
- When a printer makes a suggestion, listen to them, they know what they are doing.
- Ask if you can see a sample of the finished product before ordering.
- You might have to compromise a little to get your book printed and in your hands.
- The finished product won’t always look exactly like something you would expect to find in a book store.
Anyway, I hope my little stream-of-consciousness post can help others who are thinking about a unique gift for their loved ones, or are simply looking to get their own small volume work printed.