So You Want to Publish a Bible?

A reader named Adam posed this question recently:

"I am looking at publishing an edition of the Bible that will likely be 3,000+ pages. Do you know of any self-publishing options for that? I can’t afford normal publishers with a minimum order of 1,000 copies."

We live in the age of digital short-run printing, after all, so a one-off custom edition doesn't seem like such a stretch. Even so, the answer to the question as far as I can tell is: there is nowhere you can turn for a custom one-off Bible. That's because, even though it's easy to self-publish a book these days, the technology that makes it so easy doesn't handle the super-thin specialty papers used in Bible printing. 

But suppose you're looking to publish a small edition for sale? Like Adam, you don't want to pay a publisher to run 1,000 copies. Isn't there an easier way to get the ball rolling? A lot of people who never dreamed of becoming publishers ten years ago are getting into the racket now. It's just so easy! Upload your PDF and wait by the mailbox until, lo and behold, physical books arrive. Authors are publishing their own books, people are starting small magazines left and right. Can't we do the same thing with the Bible?

The problem for would-be boutique publishers is the same as for those of us dreaming of one-off customs: none of the digital print houses output on thin Bible paper. (At least, they didn't last time I checked. If I'm overlooking somebody, please let me know.) Your 3,000 page book is going to be an absolute brick, assuming the printer can handle it at all. The best solution for those of you with the publishing itch is to publish an edition in portions. (See Chad Whitacre's The Gospels as an example.) This cuts down your page count and makes your project manageable for digital printing.

There is a second option. You want professional results but you can't afford to pay for them? Here's the answer: do some fundraising. Get a quote from a good designer, have some sample page spreads made. Take them to a printer who specialized in Bibles, choose your specs, and see how much it will cost. Then pitch your project and raise some money. Technology has revolutionized fundraising as much as it has publishing (see Kickstarter). You never know what will happen.

As any working designer will tell you, it's much easier to raise the money to do the job right than to figure out a way of getting the job done right without a budget.