Hooray! You wrote a book and had it edited, hired an illustrator and a designer and you have a PDF of your beautiful, completed, new picture book. Now what? How do you print it? WHERE do you print it? What do you do with the books once they are printed?
The first thing you need to decide is what kind of printer you want to use. I would recommend you decide this before you even start designing or illustrating your book.
This seems like an odd pick for your first decision. And while you don’t have to decide exactly which printer you are using, you do have to decide if you are printing on demand (POD) or offset. It makes a difference because POD printers have set sizes and don’t deviate from them, while offset printers can do any size you like. So you know your favorite 10×10 inch book? Unless you use offset printing, that size is not an option for you. For POD printers, the most common picture book sizes are 8.5 x 8.5 inches and 8.5 x 11 inches. There are plenty of other sizes available, but mostly smaller than these two sizes. Deciding on what kind of printer you will use before you start will save you the time later when you realize IngramSpark doesn’t print your size and so you need to redo the whole thing (I speak from experience).
There are several factors that need to be considered when deciding on whether to print with an offset or a POD printer. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each one.
Print On Demand (POD)
A Print-On-Demand Printer is basically exactly what it sounds like – a printer that only prints each book as the orders come in. The obvious advantage of this method is that you don’t have to deal with laying out a huge bundle of cash to print 1,000 books, and you don’t have to worry about storage or distribution either. The most common POD printers are Amazon KDP and IngramSpark, although there are other popular ones as well, like BookBaby, Lulu, Blurb, and others.
The way POD works is that you upload your book to their website and order a printed sample. If you are happy with how it looks, you hit the Publish button and watch it appear on all the different websites (which vary depending on which printer you go with). If you want copies for yourself, most of the sites allow you to print copies at a discounted rate. When someone goes online and orders your book, the printer will print a copy of the book and mail it directly to the customer’s address. You (the author) get paid a percentage of the sale of each book, after subtracting the costs of shipping, printing, and service fees. So yeah, this is not a get-rich-quick scheme. But it can be incredibly fulfilling to publish your own book, and POD makes it accessible to a lot of people who might not have dreamed of publishing a book under other circumstances.
There are two major downsides to POD. The first is size, as we mentioned above. POD printers can only do specific sizes, which may or may not be what you had in mind. The reason for this restriction is that the entire uploading process is completely automated. This is how they keep costs down and turnaround times fast. The second major downside to POD is print quality. The books are decent looking, but I’ve encountered issues like blank pages at the end of the book, faded colors, colors that don’t match the original illustrations, and bad quality paper. There are ways to get around these issues, to an extent, but the quality of POD is never going to compare with the quality of an offset printer.
One other thing to consider when choosing POD to print your book is distribution. POD printers sell your book for you. They don’t MARKET the book for you, but they do sell it – meaning, when you use Amazon KDP to print a picture book, your book appears on Amazon. When you use IngramSpark to print your book, IngramSpark puts it into their catalog and gives it to all the major online retailers, most of whom will probably put your book up on their website. You don’t have to worry about printing the books, storing them, and then shipping them to each person who buys one, and you don’t have to worry about distributing them to major bookstores, either. You’ll still have to go to local bookstores if you want your book on their shelves, but POD printers do most of the work for you.
Offset (Bulk) Printing
Offset (or bulk) printing refers to a type of printing technique that is used by most commercial printers. In a nutshell, it is a printing process that uses different machines and special inks to print your books, and generally cannot be done in small quantities (which is why it is also referred to as bulk printing). It differs from POD not only in the technique used to print the books, but in the fact that because of the machines they use, these printers can rarely print under 1,000 copies of a single printing. They also can print any size book, and have a wide array of customization options that POD does not, like emboss, spot UV, foil printing… the list goes on.
The pros to offset are obvious. Big, beautiful books with cool cover effects and printed endpapers, gorgeous paper and quality that will rival any publishing house. Plus, since you print the books yourself, once you start selling the books, you make a lot more profit off of each book then you do with POD.
But the cons are pretty significant. Offset printers can only print large quantities of your book. So once you print the books, you will have ten boxes of books sitting in your living room that you need to figure out what to do with. Since you aren’t using IngramSpark for distribution, you’ll need to figure out how to get your book into stores and online. Amazon is a little easier, because you can sell your own stuff on their site, but you will still need to box up every order and take it to the post office to mail. Amazon rents out warehouse space, where they will allow you to store your books and they will ship them for you with each order, but you’ll need to pay monthly for the storage space. And if you run out of books, you’ll have to go and pay another few thousand dollars to print another few thousand copies and start the whole process all over again. So while it is amazing to have a gorgeous book, you have to really be prepared for all the legwork that is involved when you do it yourself.
Another way to do offset printing is to use a company that will help you through the process. Companies like Print Ninja or the IAPC (Independent Authors Publishing Collective) have printers in China that they work with and they can make the printing process considerably easier, both by facilitating the printing process, providing you with storage space, and helping you with distribution. You will still need to lay out considerably more cash, but on the flip side, you’ll make a lot more profit in the long run per book (assuming you actually sell the books and don’t leave them to rot in your basement). Offset printing costs more in the short term, because you are laying out a lot of money for a whole bunch of books at a time, but you end up paying WAY less per book.
Whatever you decide, choosing the right printer for your needs is an important decision that you should think carefully about before proceeding with your book.
Do you have anything to add about choosing a printer? Tell me about it in the comments, below!
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