Producing a PDF for a Printer

Okay, so using a preformatted Word template, I did the page layout for Slave Labor, which just now exists solely in e-book form. By way of learning how to do it, I want to present the thing to a print-on-demand outfit, of which there happens to be one here in lovely uptown Phoenix.

Normally, when you prepare page layouts for a printer, your PDFs have to include what is called crop marks, which show the printer where the edge of the printed document will be, based on your book or brochure’s trim size. They look like this:

cropmarks-02Word has no function that will allow you to make these. So, a PDF created with Word’s “Save as PDF” command does not now and never will have crop marks.

To make them, you need to create the PDF with Adobe Acrobat Pro.

I happen to have a copy of Acrobat Pro on my handy-dandy MacBook, but the dear Apple folks rendered it nonfunctional with one of their endless effing updates. So it’s useless.

In response to Apple’s decision to invalidate an entire suite of software used by millions of graphic artists, most of whom own Macintosh hardware because said software works a lot better on a Mac than in Windows, Adobe moved its programs into the cloud.

You can still buy a copy of Acrobat Pro: $445. Or you can subscribe to it, to the tune of $15 a month.

This presents a problem or two or three…

1. Honestly. I don’t want to buy an expensive piece of software or commit to a year-long subscription unless I know I’m going to use it regularly and a lot. We’re still in the sandbox stage with this self-publishing adventure. I don’t know if or when the enterprise will show any sign of life. If it doesn’t return $445 (so far Slave Labor has netted a grandiose $9), buying it will cost my shirt.

2. Some printers do not require crop marks. I don’t know which do and which don’t, and I don’t want to approach the outfit I hope to work with until I have something to approach them with. Finished camera-ready PDFs.

3. At $15/month, the free-standing version would pay for itself in 30 months. Clearly, if my scheme to build a publishing empire quickly comes to naught (as most entrepreneurial schemes do), then I’d be better off to subscribe to the Acrobat’s cloud version. But… What if the self-publishing scheme works? Then a monthly subscription will soon add up to a huge waste of money. If the plan flies, I’ll need to software in-house, not off on someone else’s servers.

What it boils down to is, at this point,

a) one would be crazy to subscribe to Acrobat Pro; and
b) one would be crazy to buy Acrobat Pro.

We might call that the horns of a dilemma.

Since I’ll need to emit about eight or ten books, all of which are sitting in a queue waiting to be published, before I can know whether the plan is going to work, and because only three of them need to appear in hard copy very soon, we need a way around this dilemma.

Someone, somewhere must have Acrobat Pro and be willing to hire out for the tiny job of opening a Word file, clicking on two boxes in Acrobat’s “settings,” converting the file to PDF, and saving the result to disk.

So when I was over in the East Camelback district a day ago, I dropped by a FedEx office where my little editorial company does fairly regular business.

Sure, they said. They’d be happy to that conversion. Ten bucks a pop.

Well. That would be better than Adobe’s $15/month subscription if I crank out no more than one bookoid a month.

But right now we have not only the proposed PoD version of Slave Labor, we have How I lost 30 Pounds in Four Months, which is ready to go in e-book format and also should be produced in hard copy, and we have 18 serialized “books” generated from the FireRider novel, all of which in theory could be offered either as e-books or in hard copy. Plus once all the serials go online, I could in theory offer a “collector’s edition” of FireRider, publishing everything in one expensive volume.

I could easily put these things out at the rate of one a week, which is precisely what I intend to do.

At ten bucks a hit, I’d be better off to subscribe to Acrobat. And if the other novel in hand comes into being very soon, then I might as well buy the damn program.

So I called my honored graphic designer and whined about this state of affairs. He said he could make the conversions — no problem. And we discussed converting his cover design for the originally planned full-length FireRider into covers for each of 18 serials. He doesn’t seem to think it’ll be very hard, but…when I reached him yesterday he was knee-deep in another client’s project. So how soon we’ll get that under way remains to be seen.

He also said, though, that most printers demand crop lines only if the pages contain bleeds. If it’s all copy, the way most novels are, crop lines may not be necessary at all.

Amateur publishers across the Web report variously that some PoD publishers won’t look at your project unless you’ve generated PDFs with crop lines, and some will take PDFs without them.

 At any rate… It appears that if you can find someone to use Acrobat Pro to create your PDFs for a minimal amount — $5 per document or less — it would be cost-effective to hire the job out. At $10 per document: maybe not so much.