Two carts of cardboard boxes

How To Put Books Through The Mail

Here at Ooligan, the operations publisher’s assistant takes care of the outgoing mail from the office. Usually we send out books in ones or twos, but sometimes we send out thirty or more—it changes day to day. The ops PA has to make sure that the books arrive at their destination safely and I, as the current ops PA, am sharing the little tips and tricks I’ve developed since I’ve taken the position!

The most noticeable thing I do for mailing is make sure we have enough packing supplies. Because we’re a not-for-profit press, it’s in our best interest to make our materials stretch as long as possible. I do this by recycling packing materials as often as I can. When we get packages in the mail, I save all the packing materials that are in good condition. This ranges from packing paper to bubble wrap to air pillows, which I sort into two boxes. One box is for paper packing materials (which I try to use more often) and the other is for plastic. I also flatten boxes in good condition to use later and keep them in a stack. If it’s clear that something is on its last legs (or I have too many materials in our small storage room), I sort through what I have and recycle when possible. Sometimes the English department here at Portland State University will also have extras that they’ve collected, and I’ll take them if I have room. When I worked as a bookseller, I saw how much waste comes with shipping books, so I try to minimize the impact Ooligan has as much as I can.

When we need to mail only one or two copies of a book out, we turn to the all-important bubble mailer. This keeps the package light, which limits the shipping costs the press is responsible for. However, it’s important that books don’t arrive damaged, so if there are more than three books or if the books have to travel a long way, I’m more likely to put them in a box.

To pack books in a box, it’s important that the books will move as little as possible. I always test to make sure that the books fit comfortably inside without bending or overlapping each other since this will bend or warp the book over time. I start the first stack by laying them flat at the bottom with two books spine to spine. Then I alternate the books vertically; the binding is a bit thicker than the pages alone so you save space if you flip them every layer (kind of like stacking three-ring binders). Then, I fill the remaining space with paper or air pillows until the books won’t move inside the box. I do indeed shake the box before I seal them to make sure they won’t move. Finally, I double-tape every seam on the box to make sure it won’t pop open if it hits a bump on the road. If I’m reusing a box that has barcodes on it, I use a thick permanent marker to draw a line straight up and down to fill in the space between the lines in the barcode; this makes sure they’re not scannable anymore, just to be safe. If I can’t find a box that will work, I’ll swap out a box that’s holding something in storage or put two boxes together. I’d rather take the effort than have the books not sit comfortably.

I do the best I can, but if you’re really wanting to go above and beyond when you send books in the mail, check out the tips in Joe Biel’s book A People’s Guide to Publishing! The tips he and Microcosm have developed are the most in depth I’ve ever seen.

Happy packing!

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