Print Book Formats and Printing Options

The following is part three in my I Want to Self-Publish: Now What? series

print book formats and printing options

I love my kindle, but there’s nothing like the smell and feel of printed words on the page. That said, it takes a lot more work to transform a manuscript into something that people will be proud to display on their shelves than it takes to get your book into an ereader’s device manager. In addition, once you hit publish, your book is out there for all the world to see—typos and all. So if your publishing plan includes this format, be sure you are giving yourself ample time to get it done right.

Print Book Formats – Paperback vs Hardback or Hardcover

I will admit I take more pride in my collection of hardbacks than I do my paperbacks (shh – don’t tell them). However, the cost to produce a hardback is significantly more than the cost of a paperback, which means if you want to publish a hardback, you will have to charge your readers more to return a profit.

There are also significantly more service companies willing to help you produce paperback versions of your self-published book than there are print houses for hardbacks. As a result, as much as I love my hardbacks, I don’t typically recommend going through all the trouble of this book format unless you have an existing, proven fan base, plan to produce your book in bulk, which will help drive down the printing cost, or are publishing an illustrated board book for children.

Book Printers for Self-Published Authors

Once you have determined what kind of print book you plan to publish, the next step in the process is to find someone who will actually do the printing for you as most of us don’t have a professional-grade printer in our home offices with appropriate binding equipment. The available options will depend greatly on your physical location.

That said, a few of the options in the US include:

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): Amazon’s print book division used to be CreateSpace, but this separate organization has been dissolved and now print books are produced by the same organization that manages ebook production. While the service does not charge any fees for book setup or revision, it does not currently offer hardback printing and limits its global distribution feature to only a handful of book sizes.

IngramSpark (IS): great for selling hardbacks on Amazon or paperbacks online everywhere else. This service allows you to print both paperbacks and hardbacks, supports a large variety of book sizes, and will automatically distribute your book to several online retail sites. However, it does charge a setup fee and a revision fee unless you have a promo code.

Blurb: I don’t have personal experience with this service. That said, they do offer paperback, hardback, and photo book print options and have a partnership with Reedsy (affiliate link), which is a company that offers a free print book formatting program, plus hosts a network of editors and cover designers. While there are cheaper options in terms of printing costs, this could make it a great option for authors who want to keep everything related to their book project in one place.

Lulu: This service is very similar to what you can get with Ingram Spark, but does not require a setup fee. It also, in my opinion, has a better print quality than what is offered by Kindle Direct Publishing, but it costs more to actually print your book with this service versus the cost of printing with either KPD or IS. This means that while you might save some upfront investment using Lulu instead of IS, it will actually cost you margin in the long run. Still, it is another option.

BookBaby: I’ve not used this service to date, but BookBaby offers both on demand book printing service as well as wholesale book printing. It, like IS and Lulu, supports both paperback and hardback book formats, and can help you with book editing, design, and distribution in addition to printing your book. It also offers high-quality white paper that is specifically beneficial for photobooks and yearbooks with three binding options.

Local Print Houses: If you plan to stock your own inventory for resale, it is also a good idea to call around to see if there are any local printers in your area offering book printing service. While these smaller, local printers may charge more by the page than IngramSpark, they typically offer more design and formatting assistant services than what you can get from the national printers without paying significantly extra, and offer the benefit of face-to-face consultation.

Print on Demand (POD) vs Wholesale Book Printing

If you prefer not to hold inventory and plan to sell your physical books online then you want to set up an account with a print on demand (POD) organization. All of the printers I mentioned above support POD, with the exception of the local print option.

If you plan on selling books at speaking events or tradeshows then you need to use a print service that supports wholesale book printing. This means that the printer will produce your book in bulk, which benefits you by driving the individual book’s print cost down and allowing you to gain a higher margin on the sale. However, this model does require you to take possession of a carton of books at a time, so you want to make sure you are either comfortable housing that inventory in your home or are extra confident in your ability to sell it at an event.

Wholesale book printing can also benefit you if you intend to sell to brick and mortar bookstores, but unless you are a well-known name in your community, these stores typically will only stock your book on their shelves under a consignment model. This means that you only get paid for your book when it sells, minus their portion of the profit. They also might limit how much of their shelf space they are willing to let you have. As a result, you might be better off printing 3-5 books at a time under a POD model instead of ordering a full carton.

Bookstores aren’t the only option when it comes to brick and mortar sells. If you want to see your book on retail shelves, but wouldn’t mind a little less literary competition, I would encourage you to check out a book called An Author’s Guide to $elling Books to Non-Bookstores by Kristina Stanley.

Which is the Better Strategy?

You may start noting a theme here, but it’s worth noting that nothing I’ve discussed at this point is an either / or situation. You can set up your books with Amazon for online orders and still set the same book up with another printer to take advantage of bulk printing options. This is an especially helpful strategy if you want to sell both online and in brick and mortar stores as many independent book shops will not stock books printed by Amazon, who they see as a competitor.


However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

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