Selfpublishing: colour is expensive, especially if it’s black

Now that my C# book has finally reached its finale form, it’s time for a mini post-mortem because:

a) it allows me to promote the book without it being too obvious .

b) I actually learned an important lesson that might be useful for other people who are crazy enough to self-publish their book(s).

c) all the cool kids do it.

I already explained the process how I selfpublish in this post, so I won’t go over that again here. Just remember that I use the cloudservice Leanpub to convert my plaintext-written text (actually markdown) to a more sexy looking pdf that gets printed by the print-on-demand publisher (Bravenewbooks.nl).

Black isn’t always black

My first two books (Zie Scherp & Zie Scherper) were too expensive. My main goal was always to have an as cheap as possible solution for my students (which is also why the online webversion will always be free). However, the first editions were not cheap…at all. Something I thought was due to using a self-publisher. That was, until I actually started paying attention to this screen when uploading a new test-manuscript for my latest instalment:

At first glance, this number seemed okay. However, when I decided to go for some more black and white pages in order to decrease the price, something unexpected happened. At least 40 more pages were now all without colours, yet the price didn’t change.

Silly me, it’s not because an image is in grayscale, that the PDF will also identify it as a page where no colour is needed. No problem, let’s use my trusted image editing tool and make sure the image actually identifies as black & white (this sentence has a very “2022 woke”-vibe). Problem solved…Nope! At least, partially: the total number of colour pages dropped, but only marginally. What did I do wrong?

You see those cute little icons I used to empathise a point (“blurbs”)? I use them throughout the book on every two pages on average. Well, they’re not as black as hoped.

Apparently these are also in colour. But: those icons are added by Leanpub and, according to their site, they are simple Font Awesome thingies. When I read “font” I expect them to be black, and not contain colours. I was wrong (which I discovered using Acrobat’s “object property” window).

Colourspace (kleurruimte) is clearly marked as having a “colour profile”, even though on screen it’s a stupid, silly black lightbulb.

Using Adobe Acrobat and it’s “print production” options, I managed to convert all of the images and icons to real black & white (actually grayscale) items, and that basically reduced the cost almost by 10 euros, which is significant. However…

Acrobat is expensive

Identifying colour in a pdf is apparently something voodoo-like and depended of the printer that will actually print the pdf. There is, however, one little tool I discovered that will help you count and report which pages are in colour, called Rapid PDF Count. You need to explicitly tell it to count the colour pages (through the Setup menu-item, see the second image in this section) and you’ll then discover that this process really is something voodoo-like: even on my high-performance PC it almost took 5 minutes.

As you can see, I greatly reduced the amount of colour pages (and also managed to get rid of 4 pages).
Make sure to set these two options!

Moral of the story?

So what did I actually learn from all of this? Well

a) if you’re dependent of an external service (Leanpub) to compile you manuscript PDF, you’re basically trusting a third-party to do “the right thing”. 90% of what Leanpub does is good… however they do create a pdf which could be potentially 20 to 30% more expensive to print, which is significant.

b) I’ve learned a bit how PDF and Acrobat work, but many things are still mostly “trial and error”. I’m quite tech-savvy, but the amount of energy I needed to “get out unwanted colour” was much higher than should be. I’m convinced that many selfpublishing authors create manuscripts (not only with Leanpub) that could be a lot cheaper if only they knew how to check what pages are actually the more expensive one.

c) If you want to learn C# in a fun manner, buy Zie Scherp Scherper 😉

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