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 Createspace 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?
Authors are often emotional about print, as many of us grew up reading books and finding a haven in libraries. We gravitate to bookstores and check out covers and new titles. The physical book still holds a powerful sway and some people still read only print books!
And all of that is completely fine, because I think you should absolutely have a print book.
You should be able to hold your book in your hand and say, “I made this!”
It’s a powerful feeling and your inner creative child demands it. But you should also consider print publishing from a business perspective, because if you get emotional about it, you’ll find it will cost you a lot of money.
There are a number of good reasons to have a print book.
- 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. My book Crypt of Bone is $11.99 in print and $4.99 on Kindle, so the reader can save $7, or 63%. A bargain! If you don’t have a print book, you don’t get that comparison pricing showing on your sales page.
- Print books can sell pretty well, especially for non-fiction. Many readers still want a print book and don’t read ebooks. The Bookseller reported in March 2015 that online print sales have now overtaken print sales in store, so as long as you have a print book available online, it doesn’t need to be in a bookstore in order to sell. If you have a goal of seeing your book in a bookstore, that can be done as an indie, although it takes a lot more effort. I’ll come to that under print-on-demand in the next section.
Print-on-demand will change your life!
Back in 2008, I self-published my first book when I was living in Australia. 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 some money and changing people’s lives. I ended up selling about 100 books and putting the rest in the landfill, because later that year, I discovered ebooks, print-on-demand and internet marketing. So I’m passionate about helping others avoid this expensive mistake!
So what is print-on-demand (POD)?
Basically, 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 other online bookstores, ONE copy is printed and sent directly to the customer.
- No upfront printing costs
- No warehousing and inventory management
- No piles of books in your front room
- No shipping costs, packaging or running down to the post office every day
- No pulping of leftover books
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. After my 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 doing 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.
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 mass market paperbacks. You can also get special paper, full-color, hardback books and all kinds of options now with Ingram Spark. These extras will impact the printing price, of course, but you get to choose.
When is a print run a good idea?
Of course, there are times when doing a print run can be a good option.
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 very 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 have an idea that 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.
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 have made 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 the distribution, so you know that you can print 2000 books and will do 20 speaking events in the next 6 months and you’ll sell them all in that time frame.
If these reasons don’t apply, then print-on-demand is definitely the way to go.
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.
Createspace has a ‘wizard' ‘setup which makes it very easy to use and there's lots of help along the way. It's best to just log on and walk through on-screen, as reading it makes it sound more complicated than it actually is!
[The fields required for KDP Print are very similar so this is still useful, even if the screens look a little different.]
• Project name: This is your name for the project, so it can be the title or something else. I use the book title.
• Type of project: paperback, audio CD, DVD or video download. Choose paperback.
• Setup process: Choose the Guided Option so you get more help information.
• Book Title and Sub-title, if you have one, plus Series information and Edition number.
• Primary author: Your author name. This can be a pseudonym if you choose.
• Contributors: Co-writers, translators, editors or other people you want to include.
• ISBN: Either enter your own or choose to use Createspace's free ISBN.
• Interior type: 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.
• Trim size: Choose your book size. I use 5×8 for most of my books. 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.
• Cover: You can choose a matte or glossy finish on your book. I prefer the matte, but you can always try both as a test and decide which you prefer.
• Submit cover: You can upload the print-ready cover file, or use the Cover Creator tool to build one yourself within Createspace.
• Channels: Now you have to decide which channels you want to use for distribution. 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 Createspace and Ingram Spark, then only complete the top section of this page and then use Ingram Spark for the Expanded Distribution.
• Pricing: Based on all the options you have chosen and your files, the calculated COST of printing will be displayed on this screen. 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. You can never lose money on Createspace, as they have no returns and all the costs are included here. I usually make $2 on a print book. If you want to make more money, then put the price up. It's your choice.
• Description: This is the sales description or back blurb that you have previously used on your ebooks. You also need to choose the BISAC category.
• Author Biography: A couple of lines about you.
• Book Language and Country of Publication: Should be self-explanatory.
• Search Keywords: These are the same keywords that you will need for any type of publishing, as covered in Before you self-publish.
• Contains adult content: Select if applicable.
• Large print: Select if applicable.
• Publish on Kindle: You can generate your Kindle book from your print book, but most self-publishers keep the two processes separate.
Once this is all done, you will need to submit your files for review. Createspace 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. Then you can fix the file and re-upload. No problem at all.
If you make subsequent changes to your books once they are live, you can always upload new files. Just one of the advantages to being an indie!
You can then order a proof copy of your book or you can proof it online if you're confident enough before making 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 online.
What if you want help to publish? Check out the next article 🙂
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.
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