In this article, I’ll go through why you should self-publish in print, the use of print-on-demand vs doing a print run, which print-on-demand companies are recommended, the files and information that you'll need to print, how to use KDP Print and Ingram Spark and where to get more help if you want a company to do the work for you.
Why self-publish in print?
This is easy: we love books!
I’m a biblioholic and if you’re like me, you spend lots of money on books and they feature in your everyday life as escape, entertainment, learning, and pleasure. I grew up devouring books in the library and asked for books most birthdays. I go to my local bookstore several times a week and buy books almost daily online.
The physical book likely holds a powerful sway over you, so you should publish a print book for the joy of holding it in your hand and saying, “I made this!”
But you should also consider print from a business perspective because if you get emotional about it, you might find it will cost you a lot of money.
There are a number of good reasons to have a print book.
- Many readers still prefer print books, so if you don’t have one, then you’re missing out on that market, especially in print-heavy genres like non-fiction, poetry, children’s books and more.
- They are useful for marketing and giveaways to readers. It's hard to send a signed copy of an ebook, although it can be done through Authorgraph.
- They are great for comparison pricing on the online bookstores because it makes the ebook look like a great deal due to the perceived reduced price. For example, my book Crypt of Bone is $11.99 in paperback and $4.99 on Kindle, so the reader can save $7, or 63%. A bargain! I also have Large Print and hardback editions as well as an audiobook, so the reader has a lot of choice.
Print-on-demand will change your life!
I self-published my first book back in 2008. I was living in Australia and this was before the international Kindle, before ebooks and print-on-demand became mainstream. A print book was really the only option and so I did a short run with a local printer.
I paid a considerable amount of money to have 2000 books printed. I thought they would fly off the shelves, making me money and changing people's lives.
Despite being on national TV and radio, I only ended up selling around 100 books and I took the rest to the landfill, because later that year, I discovered ebooks, print-on-demand and internet marketing. I never looked back. So, now I’m passionate about helping others avoid my own expensive mistake!
What is print-on-demand (POD)?
You load a cover file and an interior book file to a POD service and when a customer orders one of your books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or another online bookstore, ONE copy is printed and sent directly to the customer.
This has incredible benefits:
• No upfront printing costs
• No warehousing or inventory management or accounting for stock
• No piles of books in your garage
• No shipping costs, packaging or running down to the post office every day to manage delivery
• No pulping of leftover books and no remainders going to the landfill
It's free to self-publish on many of the POD platforms, and they just take a cut of the sale.
You set the profit margin on the books, so you get paid later without having an outlay upfront.
You can also order multiple author copies or do bulk sales from POD sites like Ingram Spark, as well as include discounting and return options so bookstores, universities, schools and libraries can also order your books.
After my own terrible experience with doing a print run, I think print-on-demand is pretty amazing. When I teach this in live classes, people's eyes light up with the realization that publishing print books is achievable without spending thousands of dollars.
With Amazon Prime, you can even get your own books faster with POD than you can get traditional books, which have to come from a warehouse.
Create multiple formats
It’s not just about doing a standard paperback anymore. I have paperbacks, Large Print Editions, Workbooks, and even Hardback editions for my books. All print-on-demand.
You can also get special paper, full-color and all kinds of other options now. These extras will impact the printing price, of course, but you get to choose what you want to create.
What about quality?
The criticism of POD books used to be their quality but if you order any of my print books, you'll find the quality is pretty much indistinguishable from those on bookstore shelves. Many publishers now use the same POD services that indie authors use.
When would you do a print run?
Of course, there are times when doing a print run can be a good option.
When the beauty of the finished product is important.
My friend and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross, did a hardback, gold-embossed, limited edition run of Secret Rose, a combination of WB Yeats A Secret Rose and Orna's own book, Her Secret Rose.
Orna did a crowd-funding campaign to raise the printing costs and then sold the book at a premium. It was also a special project for Yeats' 150th anniversary, and there was a lot of work involved. So, this is something to do rarely, on special occasions.
I'd like to do a limited edition book one day where I make the paper and do the bookbinding myself. We can do these creative projects as indies, but they can't form the backbone of our author business, because the overheads in time and money are so high. But you can combine these special edition projects with POD to offer experiences at different levels to your fans.
If you have an established distribution method for your books.
Professional speakers have been self-publishing and selling books at the back of the room for years, and many make very good money that way.
If you have a physical business, e.g. you're a chiropractor or consultant or someone who has a place to sell and store books, then it may also work. But you have to be sure of your distribution channels, e.g. if you print 2000 books, you can sell them at 20 speaking events in the next six months.
If these reasons don't apply, then print-on-demand is definitely the way to go. And even if you do a print run, it’s worth having a POD version as well, so you can distribute globally through online sites.
Which print-on-demand company should you use?
There are two main companies, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP Print) and IngramSpark.com, and how you use them will depend on your goals for your print books. I use them both to maximize sales on Amazon, and to reach a wider distribution audience with Ingram Spark.
Kindle Direct Publishing is Amazon’s own print-on-demand service and is accessible through your Amazon KDP Dashboard at kdp.amazon.com. (Authors used to print through Createspace, also owned by Amazon, but that service shut down in 2018 and the functionality rolled into KDP Print.)
You can print in multiple sizes for paperback books and you can choose extended distribution if you want to have your book available to bookstores and libraries, although there is no discounting so it’s less likely they will order through Amazon.
If you're interested in getting your books into physical bookstores, then consider Ingram Spark.
Ingram Spark has the widest printing and distribution options with partnerships with over 30,000 bookstores, universities, and retailers as well as the online stores. They allow returns, which are necessary for physical bookstores, but this can mean that you can lose money. And if you want to sell in bookstores, remember that they take 40-50% discount, so factor that into your pricing. Returns and discounting are the reasons that print publishing is so difficult unless you're doing large volumes. So be careful with your print choices and consider why you're really doing it.
They are also able to do hardbacks, embossing, flyleafs, and other special types of printing that other services don’t offer.
Ingram Spark does have some minor setup costs but you can often find promo codes e.g. for NaNoWriMo, or if you’re a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, that will help you minimise your initial outlay.
My print sales have more than doubled since I started publishing with IngramSpark.
Some authors use both services. The Alliance of Independent Authors recommends using KDP Print for Amazon only and then Ingram Spark for extended distribution. Here's an article on this with more detail.
I also like Blurb.com as they have options for photo books and also have a direct to iPad publishing option. They also have a whole section for children, and when I helped my 9-year-old niece self-publish, we used Blurb.
Barnes and Noble Press
An amalgamated self-publishing service with both NOOK ebooks and POD for B&N. Distribution is US only.
Recommendation: Use KDP Print + Ingram Spark for the widest reach
KDP Print is a great service for selling print books on Amazon so you should definitely use that service.
However, KDP Print is an Amazon company and many bookstores won't stock books by Amazon. Barnes and Noble Press is only available in the USA and Blurb is more for personal projects. None of these services allow discounting, which is essential for bookstores.
So if you want the widest distribution for your books, then the Alliance of Independent Authors recommends using KDP Print for Amazon only (i.e. do not select Extended Distribution) and then publish on Ingram Spark as well for access to bookstores, libraries, and global stores.
This is the setup I now use for my own books as it gives me the widest distribution for print, plus the ability to do hardbacks which I love!
What do you need in order to use print-on-demand?
You need a few specific things for print-on-demand in addition to everything covered in before you self-publish.
This is basically your book in a print-ready format and there are options to do this yourself, or you can hire a professional to do it for you.
You'll need to decide on the size. I use 5×8 sizing for all my books. I use cream paper for fiction and white for non-fiction, and the interiors are only black & white. Try measuring some of the books on your bookshelf and seeing what feels ‘right' in your hand. I like 5×8, as I can even use it for novellas, around 28,000 words, which look thin but are still worth doing.
For formatting the interior print file, you can get free templates on Createspace and Ingram Spark and then just flow your text into them.
You can find more options for formatting here.
As well as hiring pro book designers for some of my books, I have also used Vellum to format print as well as ebooks. Click here for my tutorial on how to use Vellum to format.
There are various things that can go wrong with an interior file, as I discovered when I formatted my first book myself. It needs to be consistent, with chapter headings and sub-headings and your page numbering needs to be correct, with odd numbers on the right and certain pages blank with no page numbers. You might also want to add visual elements like a motif at the beginning of each chapter that make the print book more attractive, as I do with my books.
Many authors enjoy this type of formatting, but personally, I prefer to hire a professional for print. Of course, if you do pay someone, you don't have the immediate control to fix any issues. But I do my ebooks first and make sure the book is ready before doing print.
A cover for a print book includes the front, back and spine. The spine size is calculated based on the number of pages, which in turn is based on what size the book is, what font and font size you use and other interior design decisions.
The back of the book usually has the sales description, your author bio and your author picture if you want to use one, and remember to include your website. There should also be space for the barcode, which is generated by the POD company.
An ISBN, International Standard Book Number, is the number that the book industry has used for many years to identify books in their computer systems. ISBNs are issued in each country by different companies, for example, Bowker in the US or Nielsen in the UK. The cost will vary as well, with some countries, like Canada, issuing them for free.
You do not have to use your own ISBNs in order to publish, although the Alliance of Independent Authors does recommend that authors own their own ISBNs. If you want to be distributed to physical bookstores, then having your own ISBNs assigned to your own publishing imprint is a good idea. I use my own ISBNs for my imprint, Curl Up Press.
Since I use Createspace.com, I'll step through the publishing process as it works on their site. It's free to self-publish on Createspace, so your expenses will be around editing, formatting and cover design. Ingram Spark does have some costs associated with setup.
Since most authors now use KDP Print for POD and the dashboard is similar for ebook publishing, most of the fields covered in chapter 1.5 are still relevant, so I will just cover the extra information you need here.
Ingram Spark and the other services are similar in terms of the fields you need to populate.
Choose black & white or full color; then choose Paper Color white or cream. I use black & white for my interior, cream paper for fiction and white for non-fiction.
Choose your book size. Personally, I use 5 x 8 for my paperback and hardback books and I use 6.14 x 9.21 for Large Print.
For hardbacks on Ingram Spark, you can choose case laminate where the cover itself is hard (my usual choice), but you can also use dust jackets if you prefer.
This is also the place where you can download a template for the interior once you've chosen a size.
Submit your book interior
Upload your print-ready file here in PDF, .doc, .docx or .rtf format. Again, you might get errors here that need fixing. It’s not a problem. Just re-upload the file.
You can choose a matte or glossy finish on your book.
I prefer matte, but you can always try both as a test and decide which you prefer. Some colors can be different depending on the cover you choose.
Upload the print-ready cover file or use the Cover Creator tool to build one yourself within KDP Print.
On KDP Print, this is separated into two sections: Amazon and Expanded Distribution, which includes Libraries and Academic Institutions, Bookstores and Online Retailers.
If you choose to use both KDP Print and Ingram Spark, then only complete the top section of this page and use Ingram Spark for Expanded Distribution.
Based on all the options you’ve chosen and the layout of your files, the calculated cost of printing will be displayed here.
Obviously, a 400 page, 6×9 full-color book will be more expensive than a 200 page, 5×8 black & white book.
You can then add the price you want to sell the book for, which gives you a calculated profit. I usually make $2 on a print book. If you want to make more money, then put the price up. It's your choice.
You can never lose money on KDP Print as they have no returns and all the costs are included here. If you use returns on Ingram Spark, you have the potential to owe money for printing at some point, so I don’t allow returns. However, some authors use returns and higher discounting to sell more effectively into bookstores.
This is the sales description or back blurb that you have previously used on your ebooks.
You also need to choose the BISAC category which helps categorize your books. Ingram Spark also has Thema codes and Regional codes which can help categorize your books even more, so complete all the fields that are appropriate.
Contains adult content
Select if applicable.
Select if applicable.
Many indie authors do Large Print versions of their books now as this is an underserved market and it’s easy to do a print-on-demand Large Print book. Vellum even has formatting options for it now.
Check out my recommendations for large print here: www.TheCreativePenn.com/large-print
Submit for publication
Once this is all done, submit your files for review.
The POD services will email you within 24 hours with any issues. You may get a notification of some errors in the process. If there are problems, you'll be told what they are e.g. image is outside the margin. Fix the file and re-upload as necessary.
If you need to make subsequent changes to your books once they’re live, remember that you can always upload new files.
Order a proof copy of your book or you can proof it online if you're confident enough to make it live in the stores.
If you're just starting out, then definitely order a proof copy. I'm established in my process now and trust my designer, so I just proof online and then order a copy once it's available for sale to put on my bookshelf at home so I can say, “I made this!”
OK, we’re done. Now you can go and self-publish a print book!
Click here for more articles on publishing including traditional publishing vs self-publishing and how to self-publish a print book, audiobook and more.
You can also get the ebook, Successful Self-Publishing for free on all ebook stores and also in print and audiobook.
Need more help?
If you'd like some more help on your author journey, check out:
- My Books for Authors, including Successful Self-Publishing
- My Courses for Authors, including How to Write a Novel and How to Write Non-Fiction
- The Creative Penn Podcast, interviews, inspiration and information on writing, publishing, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship every Monday
- My videos at YouTube.com/thecreativepenn