So your book’s almost ready. It’s polished and has a lovely cover, you’ve decided where to distribute the ebooks. But if you have a longer novella or novel, you might want it in print. More and more people are buying ebooks but there are always a handful who like print, or if you might want copies available to sign if you attend events.
If so, you have to pick a print on demand printer. It’s a much more popular term now but for those not familiar: offset printing is when you have a print run. Books are cheaper as a lot are printed at once but you’d have to be printing thousands of copies. Print on demand is what it sounds like: copies are printed as they’re needed. It means no warehouse costs or huge initial investment, however books cost more to make.
And this is another area not to skimp on: formatting the interior. You don’t need a fancy program–if you know your way around Word, you can put together something fairly nice. I recommend looking at other published paperbacks to see how they’re laid out, what the opening chapters look like (eg. no indent, sometimes dropped caps or all caps), and how headings and page numbers are formatted, so you can ensure you have something professional. You’ll also want a comfortable font to read–in print, serif fonts work best (Times New Roman, Garamond, Book Antiqua), 11pt or 12pt font. If you’re having difficulty, a lot of designers offer interior formatting services as well.
Whether you do your own interior or you hire someone else to do it, you’ll want a PDF file with the fonts embedded (if they’re not embedded, and you use special fonts, it won’t turn out when printed) sized to probably 6×9 or 5×8. I recommend looking at both those sizes to see which you find more comfortable to read. If you have a particularly long book and want to keep your price down, 6×9 will probably be best as print on demand prices increase with higher page counts.
So here are are a couple of print options…
Formerly BookSurge and now owned by Amazon.
- Covers can be submitted in RGB. This means your colours are going to be pretty close to what it looks like on your screen.
- You can order a print copy to review or you can review it free online.
- There are no fees to upload, nor are there fees to keep books in print.
- Books are available on Amazon US (as well as UK and European stores), which is probably where the bulk of your sales will be. You can distribute in other catalogues, like on B&N and online libraries, however you’ll have to up the price to make any significant income.
- You can order author copies at a discount (for a 300 pg book, expect that to be around $4.50).
- Independent bookstores probably won’t be too interested in stocking CS books since it’s associated with Amazon.
- You can participate in the Kindle Matchbook program (which means people who buy the print book can get the Kindle version a bit cheaper).
- User interface is very simple to upload files, there are no fees if you need to re-upload interiors or exteriors, and royalties due are simple to see.
- CreateSpace can provide a free ISBN.
- You can get paid via direct deposit depending on the country you live in (for me in Canada, they only pay me when I reach $100 and by cheque).
- Base cost is reasonable and you’re keeping the profit so your books can be priced competitively–I sell a 5×8 330pg book for $11.49 and make $2/book on Amazon (vs a small press trade paperback that was 6×9 210pgs for $12.95 which I made like 60c on) and there’s still room for discounts and turn a profit.
- They have printers in several countries but Canada isn’t one of them, which means shipping and duties/taxes can get quite expensive.
- There are a lot of size options, as well as paper and cover type.
I debated a lot about CreateSpace because I remember when it was BookSurge and it was plagued with problems (pages falling out, cover issues), but I have been very happy with the quality I’ve seen. I ended up going with CS because of the lack of set up fees, as I don’t sell enough in print to justify Lightning Source (see below) but for those who do well in print and would like more extensive distribution, this might not be the best option for you.
Lightning Source/Ingram Spark
I am not very familiar with Ingram Spark, so I’m mostly going to talk about Lightning Source. LSI has always been geared more towards publishers and not individual authors, and I believe IS was meant to fill that void.
- Lightning Source has fees. Interior files and exterior files are (I believe) $39/ea, and it costs $12/yr per title to keep them in print. Ingram Spark also has fees, including $49 for a print book and that same $12/yr per title to keep in print. If there’s an error with your interior or exterior, that upload fee applies to redo it.
- Extensive distribution means your book can be ordered just about anywhere by anyone, including in most bookstores, as it’ll be listed in Ingram US and UK catalogue. This is a HUGE benefit if you expect bookstore sales.
- You set what percentage of the price (there is a minimum) stores get.
- You can list books are returnable. This makes bookstores more willing to order them. You can select whether you want books returned to you, or simple destroyed; if it’s the former, you get charged a small fee for it. Although bookstores have, I believe, up to six months according to LSI to return a book, most small publishers I know say books can be returned at any time, so I’ve heard of publishers getting dinged for returns ages after the books were “bought”.
- The user interface (at least for LSI) is not user-friendly at all.
- LSI has naming conventions for the files you have to adhere to using the ISBN (and, I believe, you have to provide your own ISBNs).
- Quality is hit or miss; I have seen beautiful books that have held up for years; I have other books that, despite sitting on a shelf for two years, have pages falling out the moment you open them (multiple books at that), which surprised me as previously I was always very happy with LSI.
- Covers have to adhere to certain specifications, including being in CMYK and 270% black. Converting the cover can cause some loss. You need an experienced designer.
- You can produce books in various sizes, both paperback and hardcover, with different paper and cover options.
- They can distribute ebooks (for a fee) to various sellers for you.
- They have printers in a few countries but Canada isn’t one of them, and it can get quite expensive. (I think they have one in Australia now, though).
If you’re seriously considering LSI, I recommend speaking to some authors who use it to see if it might be right for you–there are many benefits but some areas are a bit trickier, and if you make multiple errors and need to re-upload your files, it’s going to cost you.
Lulu was one of the early print on demand platforms available for self-publishers and is what I used to use for my free eserials when I bound them into print. I’ve also used them to privately bind books like WIPs I want to give to my mum to read. I haven’t used Lulu for much in years so some info might be out of date–you’ll want to do your own research.
- You can print books without distributing them elsewhere. This is useful if you want to do an ARC or limited edition of something.
- They offer different perfectbound sizes, though I’ve found it more limited the last time I looked. They do both paperback and hardcover, however.
- You can distribute elsewhere, though you have to price the book a bit higher–I found their base cost to be a bit more expensive than other printers. I believe they also can provide an ISBN now.
- It’s free to set up and upload files.
- They have a guided cover design option, or you can upload a full wrap PDF (and I think you can use RGB instead of the print-ready CMYK).
- They also distribute to ebooks, however, they will opt you into things without your permission. I warn everyone to consider this: I used Lulu to print my eserials, which were freely available as ebooks. Out of nowhere I got a google alert that the ebooks were being sold on B&N and Apple for like $8 each and found Lulu had converted the print PDFs to epub because I was automatically opted into their program when they launched it. I had to send DMCAs to get the files taken down.
- I think they still have a printer in Canada, so I found their shipping much cheaper despite the books costing a little more money to print.
Lulu used to be popular as it was basically the one place authors could easily, cheaply use for PoD books, however that’s no longer the case and unless you want something privately bound, you might not find much here that you can’t get elsewhere.
Cafepress is a print on demand store where you can print whatever you like on mugs, T-shirts, and other stuff. It makes for more expensive promotional items but anyone can have a store, and I believe you can self-publish books. I don’t know the particulars but doubt you can distribute elsewhere easily, and the base cost per book is going to be expensive, so it’s probably not a good idea for most self-publishers. Other print-on-demand T-shirt/mug/etc shops offer print books like this but, again, it is likely not going to give you everything you need if you’re serious about self-publishing.
I haven’t looked into Blurb for a few years but I know a lot of people were happy with their quality. I know their prices, at least as far as I knew, were typically a bit higher. I believe you can distribute elsewhere but I don’t know a whole lot and have no personal experience, so if you’ve used them, please leave the details in the comments. Because some people were very happy with their service, I felt it bore mentioning here.
Although there are other places who offer print on demand for paperbacks, most of the time printer discussions center around CreateSpace vs LSI, sometimes with Lulu thrown in the mix. If you’re a serious self-publisher and expect to sell decently in print, LSI might be a good idea; if you’re not sure and are taking a big risk, CS might better suit your needs. There is also nothing that says you can’t start with CS and move to LSI later if you find print sales taking off. Like ebook distributors, though, you’ll want to weigh your options carefully.
I think we’re nearly done Mama Bitchstress’s self-publishing series! Among the last few posts, I’ll talk about basic marketing/promotional ideas and etiquette, as well as the dos and don’ts for dealing with those you’ve hired to help you.
Urban Fantasy Writer of Unlikable Female Characters™. Feminist. Snarky Bitchstress. Graphic Designer. Editor. Fifth Generation Cat Lady. Most Beloved Minion. Singer of “The Stabbity Song”. Evil.