Online Options for Printing Your Self-Published Book

Online Options for  Printing Your BookIn this post, publisher Susan Daffron shares her insight to printing your self-published book.

If you plan to self-publish, after you’ve written your book manuscript, the next step is to get it printed. The most affordable way to do that is to use one of the many companies online that print books on demand. In other words, the book is only printed when someone orders it.

The publishing landscape is littered with unhappy authors who made poor choices for producing their book.

Unfortunately, many options for turning your manuscript into a book are expensive and some are out and out scams. The publishing landscape is littered with unhappy authors who made poor choices for producing their book.

I’m a big believer in making money on books and not getting ripped off, so first I’d like to explain a couple of things about:

How Book Printing Works

If you do a Google search on “self-publishing” you’ll see ads for big companies like Xlibris, iUniverse, and Outskirts Press. The problem with these companies is that they separate you from your profits by acting as a “middleman” between you and the real print-on-demand printer they are using. In the book publishing world, these companies are referred to as subsidy or vanity presses. And almost every knowledgeable person in publishing recommends you avoid them (including me).

Here’s why. Subsidy presses mark up their printing costs, and then pay you only a percentage of sales (called “royalties”). If you like profits, subsidy presses are not your friends. Often they have complicated contracts and keep rights to artwork you paid them to produce. Most people regret going with a subsidy once they discover the alternatives.

To make the most profit, you need to be the publisher of record.

To make the most profit, you need to be the publisher of record. To do that, you buy your own ISBN block from Bowker. Owning your own ISBN makes it possible for you to go to the printer directly and get the same distribution the subsidies offer.

Once you have your ISBN, have a graphic artist lay out your book so you maintain your ownership rights, and take it to a printer yourself. (Hiring a freelancer to lay out your book usually costs less than the “packages” subsidy presses offer.)

Online Printer Recommendations

I only recommend two print-on-demand printers: CreateSpace, which is owned by, and Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram.

…they are just marking up printing from another company. Why spend $5.80 more per book?

Some companies like Fast Pencil and Lulu can act as printers, but they are just marking up printing from another company (usually Lightning Source). For example, a 200 page book costs $9.30 to manufacture at Fast Pencil. However, you can get the same book for $3.50 at Lightning Source. Why spend $5.80 more per book?

Although many people like Create Space, I personally print my books through Lightning Source because you get better distribution for less money on online bookselling sites. However, Lightning Source has higher setup fees than CreateSpace and doesn’t have forums you can turn to for community support like Create Space does. If you only plan to release one book and aren’t worried about distributing books anywhere other than, Create Space can be a good option.

Wrap Up

When it comes to book publishing, a little knowledge can save you a lot of money.

When it comes to book publishing, a little knowledge can save you a lot of money. Spend some time researching your options before you sign a contract you might regret. Just because a company comes up first in a Google search doesn’t make it the right choice for you and your book!

Susan Daffron aka The Book Consultant owns a book publishing and consulting company called Logical Expressions, Inc. and spends most of her time writing, laying out books in InDesign, or taking her five dogs out for romps in the forest. She also teaches people how to write and publish profitable client-attracting books at SelfPubU and puts on the Self-Publishers Online conference every May.


  1. Ingram are good for gaining access to a wider market through Amazon, however their costs reflect this. If your book is marketable and you feel confident from a sales perspective, then a straight to print provider will be cheaper.

    • The costs for Lightning Source are different than the costs to get into the Ingram catalog any other way. In the past, it was extremely difficult for micropublishers and self-publishers to get their titles listed at all. LSI gives you a “back door” into Ingram.

      LSI charges $75 to set up a book and $12/year for distribution. Then you pay the print cost of each book you print, which varies, depending on the size and length of the book.

      The unit cost is higher than printing offset, but you also don’t have to figure out how/where to store thousands of books either.

      The right choice depends on the goals for your book and where/how you plan to distribute it.

    • I just returned from a writer’s conference and the information here was confirmed there by well-known published authors as well as literary agents. CreateSpace and Lightning Source were recommended. I also remember being told that setting up your own ISBN is a good idea.

  2. This is great info. I co-wrote a book with Jim Sheard, and we recently used CreateSpace to get it printed. I was very pleased with the process and the finished product, and I will be using CreateSpace again.

  3. Anonymous says

    Yes I made the fatal mistake of publishing with Outskirts in 2009. The only books they claim to have sold were the ones to me (the author). It was a money thing for them and being a first time writer I didn’t have a clue. In any case I work for a printing company and would like to find out if I can legally reprint my book? I copyrighted it with Washington prior to publishing with Outskirts. The artwork is also copyrighted. Does anyone have any information pertaining to this comment? Please post feedback. Outskirts has not done their share of promoting for the past two years, in fact my book has been in a dead zone until I started posting adverts online this past few weeks. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

    • Many people have changed their minds about going with a subsidy press. The key is to look at your contract. There should be information about “termination.” You should be able end your deal with them and get your rights back to the work. Then you can turn around and publish the book yourself. As I explain in the article, to do that, you’ll want to buy your own block of ISBNs and be the publisher of record.

      I looked up Outskirts in Mark Levine’s book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, which has information (and warnings) about various subsidy presses. According to the book, in their contract, you can cancel with 30 days written notice. You’ll have to pay “outstanding fees” and an “administrative fee” of $49. He also says you can get your press-ready PDFs back, but it costs $998.

      That’s an outrageous cost for files that you can’t edit. If you have the original text, you can simply pay a freelance designer to redo the book layout for you. (And make sure the designer’s contract says you get the print ready PDFs, but also the source application files as well.)

      I hope that helps…

      – Susan

  4. I’m assisting my wife with 2 books. She originally went with Trafford, which turned into a big mess and money pit with no real income from sales. We were able to cancel and get our .pdf files back. Managed to get everything ready for print once again.

    Amazon baffles us. The 2 original sites for the books on Amazon cannot be deleted due to the used-book market, so Amazon says. We can only add a sales link, but are unable to edit or update anything, as Trafford is still listed as the publisher. There are several “leeches” linked on the site offering the books upwards of $150 each! They’ll never get a sale as we are selling one of the book new for $6.95. But they manage to clutter up the site and cause confusion. Amazon says that there’s nothing we can do about it.

    However, we now have our own ISBNs and want to set up 2 new pages for the books. I learned that unless you go for the Pro package at $39 per month, you can’t do this. You can only link to the old pages. Bummer.

    We were told to go ahead with the Pro package, get the new pages up and then cancel the Pro package and the pages for the 2 books will remain as is, you just don’t have the “advantages” of the Pro upgrade anymore. Does this sound correct? I heard it from more than one source.

    We want to have the books printed and then delivered to us for distribution. Any recommendations as to using CreateSpace or Lightning Source, considering our circumstances? Thanks.

    Ken and Demi

    • Hi Ken,

      This type of thing can be a bit of a mess, and I agree that Amazon/CreateSpace can be hugely confusing! Here’s what I suggest…start with Lightning Source with your own ISBN. That gets you into and beyond. Plus, it will be treated as a different book than the Trafford one.

      Frankly, it’s not worth worrying about the old pages. Those aftermarket sellers will eventually disappear once the book isn’t really available through Trafford anymore. (It’s kind of weird, but there’s actually a large number of businesses who essentially scrape the book databases and put lists of books online for exorbitant prices in the hopes that some poor sucker will be so desperate for a book they’ll pay $150…no one will pay that, so that’s why it’s not worth worrying about.)

      Once your book is in Amazon, be very careful to pay attention to whether or not it’s in stock. Right now, some LS books are going out of stock. (I wrote an article about this problem on my Web site if you’re curious.)

      IF and only if the book goes out of stock, put it into CreateSpace and in that case, you DO want the ProPlan because it lowers your print costs. However, do NOT opt for any type of extended distribution. You would be getting that through LS at a much cost (because you can set a lower discount with LS).

      I realize this is kind of long-winded and still a bit confusing. If you want to contact me offline, please feel free to do that. You can reach me through or The email forms bypass all my email filters and go straight to me 😉

      ~ Susan

      • Oops, I just noticed I forgot a word. This:

        “You would be getting that through LS at a much cost”

        should read:

        “You would be getting that through LS at a much LOWER cost”


  1. says:

    Online Options for Printing Your Self-Published Book…

    Publisher and consultant Susan Daffron shares her recommendations for the best online options for printing your self-published book….

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