Printing Paperbacks with Clays
Printing Paperbacks with Clays

Printing Paperbacks with Clays

For my forthcoming novel, The Other Times of Caroline Tangent, I decided I would produce paperback copies through a book printer rather than Amazon/POD. This is my experience of doing so.

Why did I do this?

Three reasons:

  • I didn’t want to be exclusive to Amazon
  • I can get a lower cost-per-book by using a printer (as long as I sell them!!)
  • I can control the quality
  • And an added bonus from using the printer I selected is that they have an agreement with Gardners so that Gardners will distribute my book

How was my experience?

In terms of producing the book – excellent! It’s still a few weeks away from publication date so we’ll see later if it works financially…

First, pre-sales before I placed an order: I decided to use Clays (based in Suffolk here in the UK, a company who prints 150 million books every year, so they are well established!) Belle from Clays could not have been more helpful. I asked her a ton of innocent, silly, first-time self-pub questions, across a whole series of emails, and from the word go, she answered all of them helpfully, patiently and incredibly quickly. In fact, forget publishing for a moment, it was one of the best Customer Service experiences I’ve had for anything I’ve bought in years! They even sent me sample books they had printed for other authors. And all this several months before I was ready to print the books, so there was no guarantee for her that I would purchase.

If you want to see more about their services, they have a dedicated section on their website for indie authors which is extremely helpful:

Next, I had to learn some lingo and how to format books. I bought Vellum to do my own typesetting (I’ve written a separate blog post about that), which was useful and helped immensely for the core formatting of the paperback. But one thing I still needed to learn about was Printer Marks – Crop Marks. This is because a printer doesn’t print to the “edge” of a sheet of paper, so you need to provide guidelines for where they should cut. The good news is that there are standards for this, and you can use Adobe Acrobat DC to do it (and other software too). The best website I found to help guide me through the specifics of this was PrintSouth. (Tip: if you wait until you are ready to send the manuscript to your printer, and then download a 7-day trial of Acrobat DC, you can use it quickly enough so you don’t have to buy the software. That said, if you need to do another book, you can’t use that trick twice.)

You also need to learn how to calculate spine widths for your book, but that’s comparatively simple and Clays provide a useful spreadsheet to help you calculate it.

When it came to the book cover, I had already decided to use a professional cover designer and I’m very glad I did. Not just because the cover is a hundred times better than I could ever do, but because she knew exactly what format to provide to Clays for the printing. That was a real weight off my shoulders. (If you’re interested, my cover designer was Sophie Burdess, who also designed the cover of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. I can’t recommend her highly enough).

How was the quality of the final book?

Excellent. It’s printed digitally, but it looks good, feels good, very professional. All round fabulous.

Clays also sent me a number of copies to my house, which I’ve used to send on to book bloggers, media, friends and family!

Working with Gardners

This is a wonderful bonus for me. Clays also offer a service with the book distributor, Gardners, which means that Clays provide books direct to them, and when an online retailer or a bookshop wants to order a copy(s), Gardners send it straight out to that store. I love this. Yes, it costs me a few pounds but Clays provide clear pricing and it means any bookseller anywhere can get hold of a copy quickly and I don’t have to do anything!

To Summarise

If you think printing paperbacks is for you, then I can certainly recommend the process. Now I just have to sell them all!!

If you do have any questions, I’d be happy to try to help. Leave a comment below, or you can contact me through my website:


  1. Thank you very much for this and for your site in general, Ivan – exactly the kind of details I needed as a relative amateur (although I had published and edited books before via my university). I am now on my own, so to speak, since the university fell apart, as seems to happen more frequently up and down the country. I shall follow you and your progress with interest.

    I have a printer (ImprintDigital) who are very helpful and relatively cheap. I will find out more about Clays. (Suffolk! I was born in Bury St Edmunds!) I need to know their prices.

    Thanks again and congratulations.

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