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Self Publishing Not For The Faint Of Heart

Reviewing: Sheridan Printers Ann Arbor And Chelsea, Mi  |  Rating:
Joan Young By Joan Young on
Badge: Editor | Level: 34 | Workplace & Operations Expertise:
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My self-published book was printed by Sheridan Books of Ann Arbor and Chelsea, Michigan. Some parts of the experience were good, and others were a total nightmare.

Being a person who sallies with intrepid self-confidence into impossible projects I self-published a 400-page book in 2005. I spent months looking for just the right printer and finally decided on Sheridan Books. I did have some specific requirements that eliminated many choices right out of the starting gate. I wanted color pictures to appear throughout the book, not in just a center signature. I wanted to be able to design my own cover (not an option with many printing houses), and I did not want to have to purchase high-powered (read expensive) publishing software.

Sheridan appeared to be perfect. They would accept pdf files, self-cover designs, and could put color pictures throughout the book (extra cost of course, but that was no surprise). Not only that, an organization I belong to had been using Sheridan for years for an annual publication, so I thought that I knew enough about the company’s reliability to count on them. It was an added bonus that it was located in my home state.

They had a nice library in their office of books the had printed, which ranged from fine art volumes, to paperbacks and specialty trade items. They looked great, very professional and nice quality. Of course, there were varying levels of quality you could select from, determined by the price you were willing to pay.

I met twice with a customer rep and was very pleased with everything that she told me. I tried to ask every question I could think of in a lot of detail, since this was a first-time effort for me on this scale. She was very patient and gave me specific answers that didn’t leave me wondering what the answer really was.

Skipping months in here when hubby was ready to shoot me, and what is now referred to cautiously, when neither of us is holding sharp, pointed objects, as “the year of the book.”

When it was time to start to actually transfer files to them I was assigned a different service rep. To this day I am not sure if my continual difficulties with Sheridan from that point on were because I seemed completely unable to communicate with this person, or if she represented the kind of service everyone received once they were signed on.

She never seemed to understand what question I was asking. This was frustrating, and became a serious problem as the deadline neared. I had to meet a publication date for a conference where the book was to be premiered. Well, this review needs to focus on the printing service and not one person, so I will skip to the end of the story.

We did get all the files transferred, they sent me the proofs, which generally looked great. We changed the tonal warmth of the color pictures a tiny bit, but that was all. The cover proof looked magnificent. I was getting excited.

I did make the publication date, but there was one totally horrible, eternally embarrassing problem. Apparently at the last minute, Sheridan got into trouble with having too many jobs to do them all in house. They contracted out the covers to a third party, and the color on the covers is just sickening. There I was, forced to accept all these cases of books with the very first thing that people see when they pick it up looking terrible. Now, I have to be honest and tell you that my friends all think I am over-reacting. Most of them do not see the flaws until I point them out, and those same good friends have beaten me over the head to make me stop apologizing to everyone for the way the cover looks. OK, they are probably right, but I still hate it. The proofs were stunning, and I know what it was supposed to look like.

Additionally, there was an issue with the size of the spine. We spent many emails back and forth determining the width of the spine (so that you know where to end any pictures that may be on the covers and the spine that are not wrapped). It had to be calculated to the 1000th of an inch. This was done and double checked, and triple checked. When the books came, the cover pictures wrapped around just a little too much on the spine, looking very unprofessional. I found this totally annoying, after all that monkey business about the three-decimal precision.

Well, bottom line, I told them that I was forced to accept the books but that I was not happy. Later we negotiated a settlement and I received a significant amount of money back on the printing price. They did offer to take all the books back, grind off the covers, reprint them, and then rebind them. This would have reduced the size of the book 1/4 inch in the gutter edge, making it more difficult to read. I wasn’t really willing to do that, so I accepted the money.

Would I use them again? Well, I will need to make that decision, since the book is supposed to have “part two” written in a couple of years. I tend to think that my problems were somewhat of a fluke, even as bad as they were. I definitely will not work with the same service rep again, if she is even still there.

The rest of the book, apart from the covers, looks very nice indeed. Of all the cases that I have opened so far (about 35 cases of 26 books each) there have only been two copies with flaws, which I use for people to thumb through. I gave them 4 points overall for quality, but the inside of the book was a 5, and the cover was a 2... but they didn’t print the cover. The poor rating really should be placed on whatever decision process they went through to sub-contract the cover.

If you are considering self-publishing, save up plenty of stamina and fortitude, but GO FOR IT!

Update On Jul 02, 2008: They tell me it's OK to be a tiny bit self promotional. The book is stories about my experiences hiking the North Country National Scenic Trail. You can read more, including a sample chapter at Books Leaving Footprints