Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Print on Demand

Thanks to ebooks you can publish a book today for next to nothing. But what if you want a print book – a physical book you can hold and hand to people?

SigningTraditional Print

When I published my first local history book it was clear that most sales would be impulse buys. Tourists and locals would be intrigued and say, “It’s less than a fiver, I’ll have one.” A printer will print however many copies you ask for, but because of the setup costs and economies of scale, it makes sense to print a lot at once. That means you need several hundred pounds usually.

I funded my first print book out of my pension money. I used the profit from the first book to fund the second. I used the profit from the second to pay for professional editing of my first science fiction novel. So when the third history book was ready, I didn’t have the funds. The solution? Print on demand (POD).

Print On Demand

There are several companies online that will print one book at a time at a fixed price. They also sell, so someone will buy your book from them, they print one and post it and send you your profit. You don’t have to do a thing once it’s set up. If you want books to sell or give away, you pay the cost price plus shipping. You don’t make much money per copy, but you don’t have to pay out a lot up front or find storage for boxes of books.


Create SpaceThere are three main companies that I am aware of, Create Space, Lightning Source, and Lulu. Some offer printing in bulk for publishers as well as POD, but I think they’re all fairly similar. I’m going with Create Space, because they were recommended in a book by some prolific authors, who had looked into it.


Ebooks or POD don’t actually cost you nothing, because you do need to make sure your book is as good as it can be, which usually means paying a professional editor, and you need a good cover, which usually means paying for one. I think you have to pay shipping on your proof copy as well, but it’s minimal.

Never, never, never make do with a cover you design yourself, or a friend does for you, unless you or they are a skilled graphic designer. People really do judge a book by its cover. Create Space have a free online cover designer which allows you to tailor one of their professionally designed covers, but it’s a poor second. Ideally you want a cover that fits your book perfectly, doesn’t look like dozens/hundreds of others, and looks good as a thumbnail.

Alina e cover both sidesFor example, this was my first book. For the cover I was lucky that a graphic designer took the illustration right across the full width of the cover. For some of my books I only had a front cover for the ebook, but now I needed the spine and the back as well, and it has to have trim areas – but Create Space give detailed instructions for that. They also tell you how to calculate the width of your spine. Sometimes you just have to match the main colour of the front and make the spine and back plain – with the blurb on, of course.


Formatting your manuscript for print is totally different to formatting for ebook.

An ebook has no pages but is one long stream of text which the ereader will split up according to the font size and screen size, over which you have no control. You also don’t want too much in the front, because it will fill up the sample and potential readers won’t get to see much of your writing.

A print book – go and find one and check for yourself – has all sorts of front matter, plus page numbers and headers on every page except the front matter, and you have total control over how every page will look. This means a lot of work and may be a problem if you aren’t good with a word processor. You can get someone to format your book (for ebook or for print) but that’s more costs.


I was lucky with my first two books to find a friendly printer who explained it all to me and told me what I needed to send him. Create Space are like my friendly printer and lead you through the steps. With print on demand you won’t make as much profit but you won’t have to pay up front for hundreds of copies, which you don’t know if you will sell. I can recommend it.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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