It's here at last—just before I left for my August Internet-free holiday, I managed to produce the first prototype of the limited hardcover edition of With a Little Help. This is really the last major step before production begins. It's a busy time, as usual—I'm writing this column on an airplane between London and Melbourne, where I'm appearing at the Melbourne Writers Festival and the World Science Fiction Convention. But everything looks great, and with any luck, I'll start shipping books in early October.
Putting the limited edition together was a fascinating experience. I tried two different paper stocks from Oldacres, a local family-run printer in Hatton Gardens, near my office in Clerkenwell, London. The cotton stock was enormously expensive—£1,107.44 for 20 copies (about $80 per book). But the real problem was that the rag paper made the book feel like a giant, elaborate wedding invitation, and the book was as heavy as a brick.
The other stock—a 115gsm (grams-per-square meter) high white paper with a fine grain came in at £679.59, about $45 per book, and it looked and felt great. Oldacres charges £50 per run for folding (we're folding in threes, which worked great in the prototype), and they have promised to turn around 20 copies in about two or three days. Picking out the paper for this book was fun—more fun than trying to find stationery for a birth announcement. But the real fun came when I took a sample print up the street to the Wyvern Bindery.
Wyvern is an old-fashioned bindery. Mark, the proprietor, sat down with me for a good hour or two to discuss our options, patiently walking me through the different endpaper, binding, typefaces, gilting, and other options. Meanwhile, his shop bustled with half a dozen young binders, playing good music and working efficiently over hand-made, artisanal crafts.
In the end, I decided against leather binding. It turns out that high-quality leather is expensive and slow to bind. Instead, I opted for a half-bound gray vinyl with a neon orange nubuck spine. The edition number will be stamped horizontally on the bottom of the spine in gunmetal foil. And the typeface is called Machine, a 19th-century face for which Mark has had to personally cut a few new letters.
For the cover, Randall Munroe, the cartoonist behind XKCD (who likes to draw me as a superhero in cape and goggles) supplied a high-resolution version of my cartoon alter ego, and Wyvern made a "zinco" (an etched zinc stamp for embossing covers) in about 24 hours. They'll then do a two-part stamp on each copy, filling in the cape in red. Another stamp is used to emboss an SD card–sized divot in the center of the cover, where I will rubber-cement a card with the audio and digital text of the book. Collectors will then have to decide whether to keep the book in mint condition, or peel off the card and slurp up its data.
Wyvern turned the prototype around in an astonishing two days, charging £240.75 for the work, including the zinco. In quantity, this will come down to £30 per book ($46), and Wyvern promises to take no more than a week for each order of 20. All told, with the paper, printing, and binding, that makes the unit cost £54.48—about $85 per book. Add to that custom packaging and insured shipping (I'm estimating roughly $25 per order for this) and I'm expecting to pocket about $165 each, or about $41,000 total if I sell out the entire run of 250 copies at $275 per copy. Printing the books in lots of 20 will mean that my exposure will be minimal, although I may have to pay an assistant to help with the logistics at the start.
Next, I've just put together the text for the Web site, and my Web guy, Mike Little, has started work on it. I also have a list of a million minutiae to catch up on when I get back from vacation and a book fair halfway around the world, and I'll start work on getting it all in shape while I'm on my German book tour until the end of September. I officially kicked off this project in the October 19, 2009, issue of PW—it's almost a full year later, but it is all finally happening.