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Getting a book published used to require submitting your work to a publisher and hoping for the best. These days, on-demand book printing (which is a kind of self-publishing or indie publishing) is even easier.
This is called print-on-demand. Thanks to print-on-demand book services, you can now format, order, and print copies of your own book right from the comfort of your home. Not only that, you can sell printed copies of your books directly to readers on demand, meaning you don’t have to print a risky bulk order beforehand.
Nowadays, there are several print-on-demand services that’ll help you make your own book online. Here are the best on-demand book printing services we recommend.
Blurb is a San Francisco-based self-publishing company that has been around since 2005. One of Blurb’s strength is the easy ability to create highly visual works using the site’s online tools. That makes Blurb great for photo books and magazines. Plus you can still turn to Blurb if you’re producing a print-only work.
Blurb lets you produce paperback or hardcover copies of your books, with the latter costing more. You can also use the service to create ebooks. If you prefer to work offline using your preferred programs, you also have the option to upload your book as a PDF.
Blurb charges you a set price for the cost of making your book. You decide for yourself how much profit you want to add on top of that figure. The resulting number is what people will pay to buy your work if you choose to sell it.
When you create a Blurb book, you can sell the finished product on Amazon without any extra hassle. However, Amazon does tack on a fee to the cost of each book.
CreateSpace began as a South Carolina-based company called BookSurge back in 2000. Amazon acquired the business five years later. As a result, CreateSpace does NOT charge you extra fees to sell your work on Amazon.
CreateSpace provides you with the tools to create a cover and design the interior inside your browser. Alternatively, you can upload a PDF. Either way, there’s a limitation that you don’t face with Blurb. CreateSpace does not offer hardcover work as an option (unless you want to order copies to distribute yourself).
Amazon’s print-on-demand option provides the company with a cut of every sale, which is how you ultimately pay for the service. The money leftover is your royalty (i.e. the money you get to keep). Not having to pay an extra fee to distribute books via the world’s largest online book retailer is part of CreateSpace’s main appeal.
Lightning Source is one of the older options on this list. The Tennessee-based company has been around since 1996.
Today Lightning Source offers a print-on-demand service to authors and says most of its orders print and ship within 48 hours. The company claims to make your work available to over 39,000 retailers, libraries, and other points of sale.
The website offers calculators to determine: the cost of printing and shipping a book to your door, how much profit you can expect to make, how much your book will weigh, etc. Prices depend on a wide range of factors, but you can get a single copy of a 100-page paperback novel for under $10. Hardcover and color products are also options.
Lightning Source works with individual authors, small publishing companies, and larger publishers. For many prices, you may need to contact for a quote. The company is primarily a book printer, leaving you more control (but also more heavy lifting) throughout the process. You may need to look elsewhere to design your cover.
Lulu is a North Carolina-based company born in 2002. Its founder, Bob Young, also co-founded the largest open source company in the world—Red Hat. If you’re familiar with Linux, you may recognize Red Hat as the sponsor of Fedora Linux.
Lulu publishing targets everyone from indie authors to businesses in need of manuals and schools looking to print instructional materials. The site makes prices immediately transparent. You can produce paperbacks or hardcovers, as well as photobooks and calendars.
You will make more revenue when you sell a copy of your book through Lulu’s website. Lulu can make your book available in a wide number of retailers, including Amazon, but books sold here will also require a distribution fee that eats into your profits.
Words of Advice for Self-Publishers
With online book printing, make sure you research well and ensure a publisher good fit for you before committing your time and money or signing any agreements. Here are a few important things to look out for:
- For non-US citizens, remember that different companies have different tax withholding requirements and that the check fees and your ability to deposit US checks may de-value your earnings somewhat.
- Having your book formally listed with an ISBN will often require you to ensure the quality of your book. This may require you to purchase a copy of your book each and every time you make a change (this can include price or directory changes). If you sign up for an ISBN, read the fine print, be prepared to purchase if required and don’t make changes to your book after this unless it’s very important.
- No-frills DIY publishers will endeavor to make money from added extras such as cover art, editing, and ISBNs. If you want to use these services, make sure you compare the prices between publishers and the cost of doing it yourself.
Are You Ready to Print Your Books Online?
It’s not the easiest time to make it as a writer. Consolidation has reduced the number of book publishers out there, and many are only willing to bet on similar types of work from established authors.
If you’re trying to publish your first book, self-publishing still isn’t an easy path to walk. But it does work for some people.
If you’ve used a service to print your own book, let us know about your experiences with the publishers. Which print-on-demand company did you choose and why? Were you happy with the book quality? Read about our own experience with self-publishing.