Not As Dire As It Sounds
This is probably the topic you’ve been most worried about. Who is going to be the most affordable? Who is going to have the best quality? Who is going to pay out the most royalties? Who is going to have the quickest turnaround times?
Choosing the right printing service that works for you is important, but don’t lose sleep over it. The technology and resources have exponentially improved from even a decade ago so there are plenty of great options. Besides, the differences between them all are so minute, that it really comes down to convenience and a few pennies here and there.
Learn The Lingo
Before we go farther, there are some terms you will have to familiarize yourself with. If you know these already, feel free to skip ahead!
POD – Print On Demand (Printers print after a book has been purchased. They do not keep an inventory.)
KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon’s POD service.)
Distributor / Distribution Retailer – The service that will print your books and list them for sale on various marketplaces
Expanded Distribution – If enabled, this means your book is available in a catalog that all bookstores/libraries/retailers have the option to purchase from.
Retailer Discount – When enabling Expanded Distribution, it is standard to offer retailers a heft discount. The average (they say) is 55%. This cuts into your profits but will also give your book more exposure.
Ingram / Ingram Spark / Ingram Content Group – The most popular expanded distribution retailer
Lulu / Blurb / BookBaby – Other POD services
.ePUB / .Mobi – eBook file formats (.ePUB is the most popular, .Mobi is Amazon exclusive)
Casebound / Hardback / Hardcover – Terms for hardcover books and their page binding type
Paperback / Perfect Bound – Terms for paperback books and their page binding type
The Big Four
Ingram Spark is what I use. As many other self-publishers have blogged about, it has the highest learning curve but probably the best end results. Their print quality is top notch, they are adding new formats all the time, and most of the rest of this list use Ingram’s printers and anyways, so why not start at the source? And as of July 2023 they have waived all upload fees (Previously $50 per edition) so they are even more enticing for beginners.
As far as downsides, I’ve had three issues in the past with them but I am overall satisfied.
- Their support has historically been unhelpful and/or very late to reply. In a modern world this is somewhat unacceptable, especially when trying to do business. However, I haven’t needed to use their support since 2020 (COVID times) so I am giving them a pass.
- Wait times for bulk orders can be multiple months. This is probably a reality of the industry, but is still frustrating when you want to see your end product!
- I had a very specific dust jacket design for Man, Kind and only about half that I received were aligned correctly. Even when following Ingram’s sizing guides I was still unhappy. BUT, in reality dust jackets are a waste of paper and you can get your art printed perfectly on the hardcover without issue.
There isn’t much to say except that it may be self-publisher suicide to NOT put your titles on the KDP marketplace. Amazon currently steamrolls somewhere around 80% of the book market, owns Goodreads, and Abe Books. They have by far the largest customer base and by far the biggest outreach.
Luckily, KDP is free and pretty simple to use! So simple, in fact, that there has been a lot of muddled garbage published to them with little to no accountability. They have their own automatic formatting tools and cover builders, but please do yourself a favor and stick to the steps in this Guide. You’ll have a better end product that you can be proud of.
- You will be putting money in Jeff Bezos’s pocket
- My short story collection Destination Earth came back with the pencil-sketch-style illustrations printed very dark. However, this only happened in bulk print and not individual print. My guess is they use a different style of printing for bulk orders than they do their POD service.
I have no experience with BookBaby, but I did heavily research all options before settling on Ingram. To me, it seems that BookBaby is more of a “full service” self publishing outlet. On top of POD services, you can hire editors, cover designers, audiobook recorders, and much more probably at extremely high prices. If you have lots of money and little time, this would be a solid option. If you’re a hardcore DIYer like me, their offerings are kind of a turn off.
Lulu is another popular option that offers full services like BookBaby, but claims they are less expensive and let the author keep more of their royalties. They say for a 100 page 6×9″ paperback, the author keeps 80% of the royalties with a fixed unit price of $2.45. This all sounds great, but you, as a self publisher, should always be skeptical. 6×9 is a standard size for paperbacks, yes, but how many have you read and/or written that are only 100 pages? Also, use their pricing tool to calculate what you actually need to price YOUR book at to earn those types of royalties.
Note: I also have no experience using the Lulu Press service.
A short list of others that also provide POD and other services:
- B&N Press (Barnes & Noble)
- Apple Books (eBooks)
- Blurb (I would only use Blurb for photo books)
- Rakuten/Kobo (Wal Mart’s eReaders)
Note: Many of these POD services use Ingram’s printers for distribution such as B&N, KDP, and a few more.
Pricing & Royalties
How Much Do I Sell My Book For?
Low volume printing is expensive. Inflation is real. All other forms of media are becoming pricier by the week so don’t sell yourself short. I always had in my head that a paperback book is $10 and a hardcover is $20. Don’t lock yourself into this mentality of cheaper books = more sales. If you hook the potential reader with your amazing cover and synopsis, they will pay normal retail prices for your work.
I encourage you to head to your favorite book store and see what traditionally published titles are selling for. I’ve seen paperbacks go for $16 – $20 and hardcovers go for as much as $35. While you are competing with them, you are not necessarily competing with their price. Think of your own behavior. If there are two books on a shelf and one is cheaper, you are not going to buy the cheaper one even though you are far more interested in the more expensive one. You can even test out pricing by starting high at launch, lower it a year later, then steadily increase your price as more ratings start to roll in and you’ve solidified yourself as an author worth reading.
How Much Will I Keep?
This is the part that makes self publishing worth it: Royalties. Traditionally published authors may get a hefty advance, but can also get locked into contracts where they have to pay that advance back in royalties and/or forgo rights to their published work. They will also make a lower royalty per book because, in the end, they need to pay their agent and their publishers. Traditional publishing is still the dream for many, but a fat check of $20k – $50k doesn’t add up to much if you also consider the amount of time put in to your work, the amount of time querying agents, the amount of time securing a publisher, the amount of time editing, and the amount of time it takes your book to eventually reach shelves. This could be a 3 year process or more just for ONE book and ONE check!
Now, if you have a good product and a little gumption, you can easily break even and start earning money within your first few months! On top of this, you own everything and can continue writing new works as you collect passive income.
As far as expectations, nearly all POD services have a royalty calculator (I’ll link below). Also, they nearly all work the same way: You set the format and price you want to sell your book at > they charge a flat fee for printing that format PLUS their margin > you keep what’s left. There usually is a base price for the size of the book, then a nominal per-page fee for any pages beyond “X” amount. Be smart about your formatting here as there are clever ways to save space and money.
Big Note: Many will boast a 70%/30% or 80%/20% split in their royalty payouts, but take it with a grain of salt. You only keep 70% – 80% of what’s left AFTER they deduct printing costs. This usually boils down to a few cents per book, so don’t sweat over it too much.
Royalty Calculator Links
I wouldn’t be doing this guide justice if I didn’t relay what I do and what my strategy is. I have my book listed on as many platforms as possible. IngramSpark is nice because you can enable your titles for global distribution. This means that you can essentially purchase your book from any major retailers and Ingram will print/ship it. So, my books are on Ingram, Amazon KDP, B&N Press in all formats (Hardcover, Paperback, & eBook). Variety is the spice of life!
Enabling for global distribution also activates a fixed distribution discount. This means that if book stores or libraries want to buy a bunch of your books, they get a discount (usually 55%) to do so. While it may not happen often, it does make your work more enticing for larger outlets!
Make Hay While The Sun Shines!
So you’ve now picked out one (or many) services for distributing your book, you’ve set your price, and you’ve calculated how much you should make off each sale. Now it’s time to format that bad boy in Part 9: Print Books w/ InDesign!