You finished writing your story...
Now comes the hard part...
Turning it into a book!
Introduction to Print on Demand
You put in months of hard work and wrote something great (or at least something that you are proud of now that it is done).
Let me just say: well done and congratulations, because that isn't easy, and it isn't something a lot of people can do.
Now, however, you want to turn it into a paperback and show it off to the world. After all, eBooks are great, but there is nothing quite like having that dead tree in your hand. Then, you can feel and smell it to officially make your dream a reality.
Here are some top reasons for publishing your book in Paperback:
- It legitimizes you as an author.
- It offers people who won't be an e-book a format to buy.
- It looks and feels great.
- It makes a great gift for you to pass out to friends, family, and readers.
However, the indie author world can be a scary and dangerous place for newcomers hoping to make a name for themselves. There are hundreds of companies out there willing to charge you a fortune for various self-publishing services, and many of those services that are offered are actually 100% free if you know how to find them or do them yourselves.
Free, you say?
Yeah, free. For example, you can post your book on most digital platforms just by signing up for an account. Then, you can sell it on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Nook completely free.
You might say, however, that such accounts only cover digital books: "surely I will have to pay a lot more to have a paperback made?"
Amazon has a new platform available that is called KDP Print, and there is also a platform called CreateSpace. Both of them are 100% free to use and will distribute your books for you, and they are incredibly user friendly and easy to use.
There is a third option I would also like to talk about, however, and that is IngramSpark. It costs money to set up a title (unless you are a savvy author who waits until the company runs their near constant free setup promotions) but in certain ways it blows the other two platforms out of the water.
What ways, you might ask? Read on to find out!
What if I want someone else to do it for me?
That's a possibility, and for some people it might be too much to try and format, design a cover, and do other things on their own. The option they are looking for is called Vanity Publishing.
It is expensive, and in general you will almost never get the value of what you paid for. You can do almost everything a vanity publisher will do for you for a fraction of the price. That isn't to say the companies are ripping you off (and for many people, it might be worth it just sending in your completed word document and getting back a fully finished novel) but in general you could save money by doing some it
What if I want to print my own copies?
You could get the files for yourself and use a printer (like FedEx or Kinkos) or a company (like Blurb or Kraken) to print a bulk run of copies that you distribute on your own. In the case of the companies, they actually might handle warehousing and distribution for you...for a fee.There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.
For most indies, these negatives outweigh any benefit gained by printing cheap copies. Worse...what if you find a few typos and fix them, and then realize the mistake still exists in every single copy you printed?
If you plan to sell and give away a lot of copies to friends, family, and reviewers, then you're going to want to buy those copies as cheaply as possible. You can save pennies (or more) on each copy by printing a large run of books at all once, but then you run into the downside of having to store and maintain those copies and handle the shipping cost.
So, On Demand is the best option?
Print on demand, on the other hand, has a very low cost of entry. In fact, it is possible to publish your book in paperback and have it available for sale on hundreds of websites entirely without spending a dime. The downside is that, since the books aren't already printed, when people order a copy it might take them a couple of days to actually print the copy before they ship it.
On top of these differences in how you distribute your books, each individual company that offers a print on demand or large run service like these has minor differences and variations in their process that impact the overall value. In this article, we're focusing solely on Print on Demand Services.
This is an Amazon company, which could be a touchy subject for some Indie authors, as well as bookstores and distributors. It falls under the umbrella of services that the 'Zon offers, and as such many people in the industry will recognize it for what it is if your book's ISBN says it is distributed by Createspace.
- Powerful Branding - This can be a good thing because Amazon has powerful branding.
- Cheap Author Copies
- Always in Stock on Amazon
- Amazon Branding - It can be seen as a substantial negative as well: many booksellers don't like Amazon on principle (they think it is destroying or trying to dominate the industry) so there can be negative reactions to books that use it.
- CreateSpace Distributor - The other downside is that seeing 'distributed by CreateSpace' flags it as a self-published title. Just searching through the internet will show that there is still a stigma against self-publishing titles, and this can be viewed as a clumsy mistake.
However, the important question to ask is: will this lose you sales? It depends. Many authors never really sell a lot of paperback copies anyway, and even when they do they often sell them directly through Amazon (which sells more books than the other companies combined).
Ingram is a huge player in the publishing world, a major global distributor. ImgramSpark is a branch of their LightningSource distribution platform and is keyed toward Indie Authors and Print on Demand services.
Authors used to be able to sign up for LightningSource directly instead if they really wanted, which was basically an identical service with some technical difference, but now everyone is funneled here.
- Better terms than either of the other companies.
- More control.
- Cheap Author Copies.
- A little old-fashioned (especially their UI).
- Not always in stock on Amazon.
KDP Print (Createspace Replacement)
This is a new program offered by Amazon where you can sell your books directly on the Amazon platform alongside and linked to the Kindle version. You can even import from Createspace onto this system.
It is pretty much identical to Createspace except it is somewhat limited in features. It is new, still in Beta, so they are working on the kinks and bugs. I won't really talk any more about it because if you are considering using this option, you are still better off going through CreateSpace. That might change in the future when they finally smooth out the process, but for now CreateSpace wins.
Eventually, Amazon might turn it into a powerhouse. For now, though, it only has downsides.
- Only distributes to Amazon.
- No Author Copies.
- Great UI, but incomplete feature set.
Vanity Printing Options
Spoiler! There are Tons of Them!
There are tons of other ways to get books published, including a lot of companies that will take your money up front and offer you 'free' distribution, and many of them offer some little perks or benefits or make outlandish claims.
Many of them aren't even bad companies, but they are considered vanity presses because their goal is to help you get your book printed, not help you make money.
That's fine if that is all you are looking for, but just keep in mind that their business model is to make money off of authors, not books. If any of them ask for a lot of money upfront then they usually aren't worth it, because with a little bit of extra work you can do almost anything they will do for you 100% free, or at least way cheaper than they want to charge.
Remember: these companies are there to make money off of YOU, not readers.
Comparison 1: Setup/Adjust
With all of these platforms, you need to have your own well-formatted cover and interior file, though if you make the same book in both places the files can be nearly identical.
- CreateSpace - Free setup and adjust,
- KDP Print - Free setup and adjust.
- IngramSpark - $49 setup fee, $25 adjustment fee.
Ingram is expensive, but there are discounts and coupons you can find that will make setup fees free, but they aren't always available. And, even then, if you make eventual changes you will still need to pay for them. A way around this is to be a member of IBPA, which gets free setup and free uploads (I'm a member, and it's been a lifesaver for me) but it's a costly workaround.
KDP Print is actually the easiest platform to set-up, because since you most likely already have your ebook on the platform, you can import most of the information over to use as a paperback. The problem is, they continually mark documents as wrong because their software sucks.
- KDP Print can be a nightmare of formatting unless you use their cover creator.
- IngramSpark does not have a cover creator, which can make it more expensive.
- CreateSpace has two upload tracks: general, and advanced. Their advanced upload system sucks, so even after using the system hundreds of times, I still use general.
Comparison 2: Quality
All companies print books on demand, which means they will source books when necessary and then ship them directly to customers. Ingram has suppliers all over the world, and CreateSpace has suppliers in the US and UK. You can't control the supplier in either case, which means they will choose who prints/ships based on proximity and cost.
However, anecdotally (and consistently) it seems that there is a much greater variance between CreateSpace's distributors than IngramSpark's. Many people have reported bad prints, missed pages, entirely wrong interior files, and other problems from CreateSpace. Some of their suppliers are worse than other, and some are downright terrible, which means there is a randomness to it that can be detrimental. KDP Print uses the same services as CreateSpace as well as some of their own.
That being said, they are also quick to fix reported mistakes and will work to make it right, usually by reprinting a title. If you have a problem with a batch of books, just re-do it until they get you copies you are happy with.
Side by side comparison of them at their best, IngramSpark takes this category with a slight edge, but they win hands down when you factor in that it could take several tries for CreateSpace to get you a good copy.
As for other companies: I used Lulu once to print a large batch of books since they were cheaper than IngramSpark, and I found out they were just that: cheaper. They looked and felt crummy and the pages were almost see through if you held them up to light.
I'll never make that mistake again.
Comparison 3 - Distribution and Cost
All printing companies let you set your own price, and you could charge hundreds of dollars per book if you want. You shouldn't, but you can. With IngramSpark, you can even set regional pricing on your own, as well as the percentage discounts for bookstores and wholesalers, which gives you even more control over the price.
CreateSpace has an option called expanded distribution which enables your book for sale beyond the Amazon world. What they don't tell you is that they actually use LightningSource (an Ingram company) as their distributor, so if you use that option, you'll be using Ingram anyway.
The other part to that is that there are huge negatives to how they distribute: to explain what I mean, let me give you a rundown of how bookstores purchase books.
Let's say your book costs 10 dollars. When a bookstore buys it, there are two major features they look at: their discount, and whether or not it is returnable. With Ingram, you set your discount between 30% and 55%, and it is completely up to you. With CreateSpace, you have no control over it.
Bookstore owners usually like books to be in the 45%-55% range discount (i.e. they pay $4.50 for your book and make $5.50 in revenue which could be good profit). They also want it to be returnable (for 90 days they can send it back if they feel like it won't sell).
Ingram gives you three options for returns: none, mail, destroy. With both options for actual returns, you will have to cover the cost of printing the book and returning the book, but if you choose destroy they will simply throw your book away and you won't have to pay shipping to get it back. If a book isn't returnable, bookstores are less likely to take a chance on it.
CreateSpace sets these options as non-returnable and 35% discount for stores (so they pay $6.50 per copy and make less profit). These aren't great terms, so bookstores are less likely to want to carry your book if you use Expanded Distribution.
They also take their cut directly out of the 65% for the rest of the book. If you set those terms on IngramSpark, you would get around $3.00 royalty per copy sold, but with CreateSpace you get about $0.95 cents.
At this point Ingram clearly seems like the winner in this category, but there are a few nuances to keep in mind: first off, having control over your global pricing sounds cool, but in practice you need to sell a LOT of books globally for it to pay off. If you're only selling a few here and there then it isn't nearly as valuable.
Second, CreateSpace is definitely Amazon's Preferred Vendor, which means Amazon will always source from CreateSpace. What's more, they will actively stock your CreateSpace book in warehouses so that when people order they can get it quicker and see the 'In Stock' tag on your product page.
However, I've had luck using Ingram setting higher discounts and getting Amazon to discount books further. If you sell your book for $10 and set a 50% discount, Amazon might actually sell it for $8 giving readers the impression that it has been marked down in price, which can help with sales. Since you make more money through Ingram anyway, this can be a viable strategy to modifying your product page to be more enticing.
Comparison 4: ISBN Distribution
All companies offer the ability to buy an ISBN directly on their website during product creation if you want to use your own Imprint name, and their pricing is fairly comparable. CreateSpace and KDP Print will allow you to generate a free ISBN from their pool if you want, but they will be listed as your 'publishing company' if you go this route.
Many authors don't go this route because it screams 'self-published' but it is a completely viable way of publishing your book without spending any money on it at all. CreateSpace used to have a cheaper way of buying an ISBN but still keeping your own Imprint (though it wasn't distributable) but they discontinued it.
Either way, CreateSpace and KDP still have more options than IngramSpark does. Though, if you are actually planning to publish more than one book, I would highly recommend buying directly from Bowker and owning your ISBNs rather than using either company to get tehm. You can get ten ISBNs for the price of two there, and you can buy larger packages to save a lot of money down the line.
Note, this only applies to US users, because in Canada and elsewhere there are free or cheaper options for getting ISBNs. Consult with your local system to determine how to obtain ISBNs.
Comparison 5: Additional Options and Ease of Use
Most of these companies are easy to use, though the CreateSpace UI is more intuitive and KDP Print is easier still, so they have the upper hand here. It walks you through the process step-by-step and at many points will do its best to help fill in fields for you (especially KDP Print if you already have an E-Book).
However, Ingram has more overall options for printing, including the ability to make hard copies available. This is a huge plus in their favor, because even though paperbacks legitimize a book, there is nothing like holding a hard copy of your work in hand with a dust jacket you can take off and admire.
When it comes to how easy the platforms are to use, they all stack up pretty evenly and only come with a modest learning curve.
*UPDATE 10/20/17 - Since writing this article, Createspace has closed down it's eStore, which was a huge selling point for many authors. They used to operate their own store where people could order books and authors received a much higher royalty, and it also gave authors the ability to promote discount codes so readers and distributors could order discounted copies. They now direct users of the story to the Amazon page to sell books, which means this feature is completely gone.
This was one of the few exclusive features that Createspace had to offer, and for many people it seems like a signal of the end of the company. However, a longer term benefit is this will now incentivize Amazon to possibly offer a similar option through KDP Print to maybe offer discount codes directly on Amazon. No way to know for sure, but we can dream.
What should you do?
All of these companies are great for publishing a paperback copy of your book. CreateSpace wins out as being easier to setup and get started and the preferred Amazon vendor, as well as having better options for ISBN, and Ingram wins out as the better distributor and giving you more control over pricing.
There is, however, an alternative to picking either of these individually, and that is to use two as distributors. If you buy your own ISBN through Bowker, you can load the exact same book onto multiple platforms. Make sure not to turn on the expanded distribution option in CreateSpace (since they use Ingram anyway).
With this method, IngramSpark will distribute your book globally, and Amazon will source from CreateSpace or KDP Print. You'll no longer get the huge cut out of your profits when selling books outside of Amazon, but you will also get the benefits of having an Amazon preferred setup where Amazon will always keep your book in stock, even if they've never printed a single copy.
I used to do this with paperback copies of my fiction novels, and I wait until a 'free' promotion before loading onto Ingram to keep costs down. After a while, though, it simply became extra hassel and now I distribute exclusively through IngramSpark.
If you only plan to sell your book on Amazon, then just use the KDP Print option or CreateSpace. If you want to sell globally and distribute your ebook on multiple platforms, then use IngramSpark. If you are a power user and you want to really sell your book, then use KDP Print to source for Amazon and IngramSpark for global distribution, and simply use your own ISBN so that wherever people buy a copy they get the equivalent book.
There are a lot of different options out there for printing your books on demand, and not all of them are equal. Hopefully, the information I've given you here will help you make an informed decision.
If you have something to add or think I'm wrong about my analysis somewhere, then sound off in the comments below! Also, let us know what you do to distribute your paperbacks and hardcopies!