A Fast Guide to Print Publishing

Mar 10, 2021

A Fast Guide to Print Publishing

You can’t ignore the power of a printed book. It has a physical substance that can’t be matched by digital forms of communication, like ebooks, courses and talks. It's one of the reasons why a printed book feels more valuable to a buyer, even though it’s the words and ideas that deliver the real value.

But what are your print publishing options and will print work for your book?

The hidden factor

When it comes to printed books, there’s a frequently overlooked aspect that nobody really discusses, and that’s distribution.

With a digital book, you are confined to online selling. With printed books, you have access to both online and offline markets. The offline arena includes bookshops, supermarkets and gift shops, amongst others, while online it’s mainly Amazon and publishers’ own websites.

But it’s being stocked in bookshops that many authors want so badly. And that's not surprising, as seeing your book in a bookshop is a thrill and gives you the feeling that you’re truly on a public stage.

But self-published authors (i.e. those without a book contract with a traditional publisher) have barriers in their way when it comes to getting their book into bookshops.

The reason for this is the way in which books are sold into and supplied to bookshops. So, let’s look at that now.

An even faster guide to selling and distribution

Basically, publishers employ sales people to get their new titles in front of booksellers. If the bookseller decides to go ahead and stock the book, they order the number of copies they want, but on a sale or return basis. If the bookseller doesn't want the book, the publisher can't insist. Which is why authors don't see their book in every bookshop they visit.

Once the book is published and has been delivered to the bookshop, that bookseller has a period of time in which to either sell the book or return it. If they sell it, they pay the publisher an agreed percentage of the cover price, usually anything from 40-60%.

The big booksellers, like Waterstones, WH Smith, Borders and the supermarkets negotiate directly with the head of sales. They buy in bulk for their whole chain of shops, which means they can negotiate larger discounts.

Chains usually pass on these larger discounts to book buyers in the form of a lower price. Having the big titles on special offer is a great way for them to attract customers into their shop.  

Publishers often don’t know how successful a book has been until several months after publication. They may get orders for a large quantity of books, but if those books don’t sell, they get returned to the warehouse.

Warehousing, logistics, delivery and stock management, along with the cost of employing sales people is one of the reasons why authors get such small royalties from publishers. The other key factors are the costs of producing the book itself (paper and print) and paying both in-house and freelance staff.

Most publishers need to sell out of their first print run of a book in the first year (or preferably sooner) as that initial printing does little more than cover their costs. It’s subsequent printings that produce the bulk of their profits. So, it’s the books that achieve repeat sales for long periods that often keep publishers afloat.

How do you get your book published in print?

You probably already know there are two main ways to publish in print: self-publishing using Print On Demand  (where you write, produce and sell your book on Amazon yourself) and traditional publishing (where a publisher produces, sells and distributes your book for you). But there's a third way too: hybrid publishing.

1.     Self-publishing and Print On Demand

Self-publishing is a relatively new phenomenon, mainly driven by Print On Demand technology. Print On Demand  means a book is only printed when someone orders it. That means there’s minimal or no warehousing costs and no need to invest in printing a large quantity of books that may or may not sell.

You might be surprised to learn that POD presses (which look a lot like giant photocopiers) have been used for some time by academic, technical and specialist publishers. 

But it was when Amazon came along with CreateSpace (now KDP Print) that everything changed. Amazon finally made it possible for authors to not only publish their book but get it in front of buyers too. There are many good reasons why so many authors now take this route to publication:

  • You get almost all the profits (after Amazon or other online booksellers take their cut).
  • You can get your book out when you want it out, not the publisher.
  • You have control over all aspects of your book (cover, title, editing, design etc).
  • You can use your book in any way you choose (including promoting your products and services).
  • With POD, you can pay for the cost of paper, printing and selling on a book-by-book basis, rather than having to buy, store and distribute hundreds or even thousands of books in one go.

When it comes to printing, you have more choice and you aren’t limited to Amazon’s KDP Print services. A popular alternative is IngramSpark, which also offers a greater selection of book formats and materials, including a wider range of papers and bindings (i.e. hardback, paperback, wire-bound etc).

Done-for-you services

Done-for-you (DFY) literally means someone else does all the work while you get on with marketing your book and planning your launch. This type of service can also include ghost-writing (where someone else writes your book for you based on your ideas), if you want that.

The benefit of the DFY option is that it saves you a huge amount of time, though it will cost you more money. But if you don’t have that time available to you - or you know you don't want to deal with the technical and project management demands of doing it yourself - DFY is a great option. Some DFY companies include: BookBaby and Matador.

2. Hybrid Publishing

As the name suggests, hybrid publishing brings together the best of both self-publishing and traditional publishing. A hybrid publisher selects the titles it produces like a traditional publisher but, because the author pays for the work, it has more resources and can therefore produce more books.

With the hybrid system, the author gets a smaller royalty and has to invest their own money. But in return, they avoid the hassle and challenges of publishing (like the tech, hiring freelancers, scheduling and budgeting the work etc) as these are all managed by the hybrid company. At their best, hybrid publisher behave like traditional publishers but with lower barriers to entry.

The best hybrids offer distribution and rights selling too, so there's more on offer than just professional-level book production. Some traditional publishers offer a hybrid service, though the level of investment for this is usually much higher for the author (good examples of hybrid publishers include Morgan James and Austin Macauley.)   

Each hybrid company offers different services and requires different levels of investment. So, if you decide to go down this route, think about what you want and can afford. Also, do your research because, as with all industries, the quality of the service you receive can vary enormously. 

3.     Traditional publishing

Many authors see getting a publishing contract as proof that they’ve made it. But that’s not true. Authors only get re-commissioned if their previous books sell well, if what they write remains relevant to the market and if their books fit with the publisher’s goals and vision. Successful authors can go out of fashion very fast and there’s always new blood ready to step into their shoes. It’s a precarious game and nobody can guarantee longevity or success.

So, if a commissioning editor (the individual responsible for acquiring new books) says ‘no’ to a book, he or she isn’t necessarily saying the book is ‘no good’ they’re often saying this book is ‘no good for me’.

Of course, some books simply aren’t good enough or presented in the right way, but it’s important to understand that the editor has a vision and a set of goals and many books won’t fit with that vision, which is why they get rejected.

The benefits of having a publishing contract include:

  • The power of having a publishing brand behind your book.
  • Having your book professionally produced without having to invest your own money.
  • Getting your book distributed to bookshops as well as being sold online.
  • The endorsement of your work that comes with getting your book accepted by a publisher.
  • The kudos of being published by a publishing house rather than publishing it yourself.

Of course, there are disadvantages to traditional publishing too. The price of having that big-name publisher behind you is the amount of time it takes to even get your book in front of a publisher. The risk is that you’ll simply get repeatedly rejected, which just means you’ve wasted a lot of time.

To print or not to print?

Almost all authors decide to publish in both print and digital formats (for more about digital publishing see A Fast Guide to Digital Publishing) and there are good reasons for doing so, including:

  • Everyone understands and knows how to use a printed book.
  • A printed book is always impressive, especially if it’s produced to a high standard.
  • Many readers still prefer to read from paper rather than a digital device, so print ensures you reach all of your market.
  • Physical books have more promotional and marketing uses than a digital book because they can be used as giveaways at talks and networking events or as gifts or bonuses for new clients.
  • They can be used for promotion and marketing as they can be sent directly to a journalist, podcast owner, event managers and other key influencers.
  • You can read them anywhere without the need for any kind of technology.

The disadvantages of publishing in print

The main disadvantages of publishing a printed book are:

  1. Cost – printed books demand a higher initial investment than digital book because of the cost of page design, proofing, correcting and project management.
  2. Time – printed books take longer to produce because you need more content to fill the pages (meaning they take longer to write) and you there are more publication processes to get through (page design, page layout, proofs and corrections, etc).
  3. Less profit - printed books return less profit than digital books as you have to cover the cost of printing each time you sell a book.

That said, there are considerable benefits to print, as long as your business is set up to capitalise on the marketing opportunities offered by printed book. With a relatively high investment, it’s important that you know exactly how your book is going to deliver a return, otherwise, the endeavour becomes a vanity project.

Should you produce a printed book?

Whether you choose digital or print publishing (or both) depends on your business goals and strategy. Ultimately, one format isn’t better than another because it’s your strategy that determines the format you choose. So rather than deliberating over whether to go for one format or another, focus on your goals and strategy. If you do that, you’ll choose the best publishing method for both your book and your business.

Before you go...

Want to learn more about publishing? Click here to get my free ebook, The Ultimate Publishing Starter Guide. Discover my unique 5-pillar publishing system for results-driven business owners. I'll also show you how to choose the right type of book for your business by outlining my four simple publishing strategies. It'll change the way you think about your book and give you lots of ideas about how to use your book to grow your business.


Disclaimer: None of the referenced publishers or suppliers is endorsed by Book-Launch Your Business. The links to other organisations is provided purely for information purposes and does not constitute a recommendation of the work provided. It is your responsibility to research any supplier you use to produce or publish your book. 

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