How to Print and Distribute a Self-Published Book

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1106 Design

March 10, 2020

You’ve done all the hard work, and now it’s time to print and distribute your self-published book. What are your options?

In this article, we look specifically at paperbacks and hardcover books. We’ve covered ebook distribution in other blog posts, notably Your Questions about eBooks Answered and How to Sell eBooks at Walmart.

Two options for printing paperbacks and hardcover books are:

  1. Print-on-demand
  2. A company that specializes in printing books using offset or digital printing.

Print-on-Demand

As the name suggests, this service prints books on an as-needed basis, for example, when an order is placed or to replenish stock. Book stock is kept in warehouses; I’m sure you’ve seen photos of Amazon’s massive warehouses! But rather than keeping a large inventory of each book, they adjust their printing requirements and print stock based on sales estimates.

Amazon KDP and IngramSpark are the key print-on-demand companies that can both print and distribute your self-published book. These two companies are the gateway to selling your print book on Amazon and other popular online retailer websites. They also provide a way for bookstores and libraries to order your print book. Neither company provides publishing services to prepare a book for publication, although Amazon KDP provides DIY tools.

Note that most self-publishing companies that promise print-on-demand are actually printing books through one or both of these companies. If you’re not sure, ask your self-publishing company representative where they print books. More on distribution below.

Offset Printing

I won’t get into the technical details of how offset printing works. Basically, it’s a commercial printing process that involves the creation of a plate for each page of the book. If the book is a colour book, plates are created for each colour: cyan, magenta, yellow and black, or CMYK, or for a spot color.

Offset printing can be used for books that are one color (i.e., black text) or multiple colors. When using a spot color where precise color matters (e.g., your company logo uses a specific color that has a Pantone number), offset printing is best; digital printing only approximates a color but does a pretty good job of it.

Due to the costs of plate set-up, the cost of offset printing for a print run of, say, fifty books would be prohibitive. However, the set-up costs remain the same no matter how many books are printed; they are cost-averaged over the entire print run, making the per-book cost for a large print run quite reasonable and possibly cheaper than digital printing. Traditional publishers use offset printing for this very reason.

If you require a large number of books for a conference or you have a lot of pre-sales, get a quote from both an offset printing company and a digital printing company. Offset might be the cheaper option.

Print-on-demand companies use digital printing, which operates somewhat like a laser printer. Digital printing is great for small print runs where affordability is important. Not to confuse matters, but authors can order books themselves from Amazon KDP or IngramSpark and have them delivered rather than order them from a local digital printing company. For small quantities, this may be the more affordable option.

Offset printing tends to be better quality than digital printing. When you want your colors to pop—for example, in an illustrated children’s book or an art book where the photos are the focus of the book—offset printing is your best choice. In addition, offset printing typically provides more options for book design. If you’ve got the budget and a creative designer, the sky’s the limit. Triangular books anyone?

You can learn more about the mechanics of offset and digital printing in this article: Offset Printing Versus Print-on-Demand. Note that the article mentions CreateSpace, which has been replaced by Amazon KDP.

Book Distribution via Print-on-Demand

Book distribution via print-on-demand companies IngramSpark and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is easy. It’s this ease of getting a book to market that has been largely responsible for the immense growth of self-publishing.

As author and publisher, it’s vitally important that you maintain control of your book’s sales and distribution by setting up and managing accounts with IngramSpark and Amazon KDP. By doing so, you will earn the maximum royalties (also called publisher’s compensation).

Speaking of royalties, it’s worth mentioning that 1106 Design provides publishing services ONLY. Unlike most self-publishing companies, our fees for publishing services are a one-time cost to the author. Once the book is published, we’re out of the picture. Except for unavoidable retail discounts and printing costs incurred when each book is printed, every penny of profit goes directly to you when a book is sold, as it should.

When dealing with a “self-publishing company,” typically the author is charged for book production AND the self-publishing company keeps a share of the revenue, paying the author a small royalty for each copy sold.

We also help you set up accounts (known as title set-up) with both Amazon KDP and IngramSpark so that you will deal with them directly, and we’ll help you upload your book files to both platforms and make sure everything is running smoothly.

Deciding which company to use to print and distribute your self-published book isn’t really that difficult. Use both! We recommend Amazon KDP as the platform for distribution to Amazon, and IngramSpark for distribution to all other online platforms, bookstores and libraries. You can use IngramSpark to distribute your book to Amazon but your book will take a bit longer to go live on Amazon, and you will receive slightly less publisher’s compensation than if you went directly through Amazon KDP. Note that IngramSpark prints hardcover books and distributes them to Amazon and elsewhere, while Amazon KDP does not.

Read our blog to learn more about the difference between IngramSpark and Amazon KDP.

Expanded Distribution

IngramSpark is the best choice for expanded distribution to bookstores and libraries. Setting up your title at IngramSpark means your title is listed in the Ingram database for a 55% discount. You may also choose the “return/destroy” option so that bookstores are more inclined to special-order your book. IngramSpark also offers robust and expanding international distribution options.

Amazon KDP Extended Distribution also runs your title through IngramSpark, but at a 60% discount, meaning your publisher’s compensation is less than if you went directly to IngramSpark in the first place. In addition, bookstores won’t special-order books from Amazon KDP because they do not accept returns.

Book Distribution via Offset Printing or Digital Printing

This section should actually read: how to distribute books that I get delivered to me directly. As I mentioned previously, authors can order a number of books from either IngramSpark or Amazon KDP and have them delivered anywhere. But the distribution of those books is on you.

Unless your book is a specialty book or you have a guaranteed local following that is sure to snap up your books, we recommend against ordering a quantity to sell yourself. Reasons you may want to order a quantity include to sell them at a conference or book fair, distribute them to indie bookstores yourself, or use them as a giveaway at an event. Everything else being equal, obtain a quote from both an offset printing company and a digital printing company, and compare that cost to ordering from Amazon KDP and IngramSpark.

We encourage you to sell books from your author website and offer bulk sales as well. Again, unless your book is a specialty book that would be best produced via offset printing, you can order a number of books from Amazon KDP or IngramSpark to fill each bulk order and have them delivered directly to your customer. You can even order one book at a time and have it delivered to the customer, which is a better option than investing in a number of books yourself and figuring out the shipping cost, and boxing each order and taking it to the post office.

If you’d like to discuss publishing services with 1106 Design and our recommendations for printing and distribution, please contact us.

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