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From Karen Saunders

Your Branding, Marketing & Self-Publishing Coach

Self-Published Book Printing Options

So you’ve finished writing your manuscript. You’ve hired an editor to edit your book and a designer to create the cover and lay out your interior. Great. Now you’re ready to print your book, so you want to compare self-published book printing options.

There are two ways to have your book printed. Your choices are to have it printed conventionally or print on demand (POD).

I’ll explain the differences and provide a price chart for two hypothetical books. But, before you can make your printing choice, you need to decide if you want someone to handle the printing process for you, or to deal directly with the printer.

General Contractor vs Self-Publishing Company or Vanity Press

You can act as a general contractor and deal directly with a book printer to get the best prices, or you can work with a self-publishing company or vanity press to handle the printing for you. If you’re already working with a designer who will prepare print-ready files for you, I suggest you ask your designer for a list of recommended printers. Once you select a printer your designer can help you set up your account and upload your files.

If you deal directly with the printer you’ll save money on your printing costs. Many self-publishing companies and vanity presses mark up the cost of printing by at least 15% or 20% or as much as 200%. This is how they make much of their profit.

If you work with a self-publishing company or vanity press, they usually have various service packages that may include designing the cover and interior, doing the editing and proofreading, getting your ISBN number, LCCN number, copyright registration and bar code, creating a website, providing marketing services and distribution. They can do all this for a portion of your book royalties and/or a printing price markup.

If you act as a general contractor you’ll need to do these things yourself or hire people or companies to do most of these services, but you’ll have more control over the quality and price. To help self-publishers with these tasks, I’ve put together an award-winning team of experts in all these areas. We don’t take a portion of your royalties. Once you’ve paid for our labor, you’re done paying. You’ll work directly with one of my team members, not some overseas service agent.

If you act as a general contractor and deal directly with your printer you won’t pay a markup on the printing cost. However, you still need to pay a trade discount (the percent you pay to the wholesaler and retailer) for retail sales of your book. You may also pay a fee or a percent to a distributor.

Conventional vs POD Printers

Let’s compare what conventional and POD printers have in common. Both will have customer service reps who can help you set up your account and answer questions about their products and services: (ie: paper stock, bindings, finishes, turnaround, printing and shipping costs, etc.). You can find excellent and poor printing quality and customer service with either type of printer.

How are they different? Conventional printers print a minimum of 500 or 1000 books per one order. POD printers can print as few as one book per order. Conventional printers will have more options for paper stocks, inks, and offer features that POD printers don’t  (i.e.: special bindings, embossing, foiling, die cuts, specialty finishes).

The price for printing books conventionally will usually be lower because of the large quantity printed. However there is a sweet spot for soft cover books with lower page counts and B&W interiors. (See Print Comparison Chart below).

Conventional printing usually takes around 5 weeks to turn around a soft cover book, whereas POD printers can turn it around in 1-2 weeks or less. If you need to reorder books, POD printers can turn around a small quantity in 48 hours for a rush charge.

Distributors and Discount Rates

If you choose a conventional printer, you will need to hire a distributor sell your books in bookstores. If you choose POD, the self-publishing company or vanity press will provide distribution to for online sales and with Ingram or Baker and Taylor for brick-and-mortar bookstore sales

There are only a few POD printers you can work with directly with that are tied into distribution channels: CreateSpace, Lightning Source and  Ingram Spark. CreateSpace is a self-publishing company owned by and has their own in-house book printing. They will take a 20% trade discount for book sales on CreateSpace, 40% for sales on and 60% for brick-and-mortar bookstores. (A trade discount is what you pay them for each book sold).

Lightning Source and Ingram Spark are two divisions of the same company. Lightning Source is for larger publishers who publish a number of titles and Ingram Spark is for the new self-publisher or an author who only has a few titles. Lightning Source will allow you to select a trade discount rate as low as 20% for sales, whereas Ingram Spark’s lowest discount is 40%. They recommend setting the discount between 20% to 55% for online sales, and 55% for brick-and-mortar bookstore sales.

If you hire a distributor or use a self-publishing company or vanity press, the trade discount rate may be as much as 50-60% for Amazon sales.

Please note, many brick-and-mortar bookstores won’t list your book if you don’t have a 55% trade discount, however don’t assume they will carry copies of your book in their stores even if you do set it that high. Most self published authors don’t even bother with brick-and-mortar bookstore sales and just concentrate on building good online sales.

Self-published Book Printing Options Cost Comparison Chart

The self-published book printing options price chart shown below is for two hypothetical books with soft and hard cover and two different page counts. The books have a 6 x 9 trim size with full color cover and B&W interior. The hard cover has a dust jacket. This list does NOT include printing prices from self-publishing companies or vanity presses that mark up their printing costs.

You will notice that I highlighted all 128-page book prices between a low of $1.77 and $2.58. This seems to be the sweet spot where POD print costs are very competitive with conventional prices.

self-published book printing options Price Chart