Print Books: The New Vanity Publishing?

by | Feb 3, 2012

by Joanna Penn

I’m really pleased today to bring you an article from my friend and fellow blogger Joanna Penn. Her blog, The Creative Penn is an inspiration to me and thousands of other writers, and it was recently voted, for the second year in a row, one of Write to Done’s Top 10 Blogs for Writers.

Joanna’s new book is Prophecy, the second volume in a series of action-packed thrillers with a religious historical background that began with Pentecost. Today Joanna poses a question that confronts every self-publisher when it comes time to decide in which format their book should be published. Here’s her article.

You might have noticed that ebooks are going mainstream. Amazon shipped millions of Kindles over the holiday period and traditional publishers are reporting increasingly high ebook revenues.

There have also been a number of ‘famous’ self-published authors making it big with ebook sales. John Locke, Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath are the most well known. Increasingly, indie authors are moving to ebook-only releases. So is a print book just a vanity project these days?

What is vanity anyway?

The word vanity is emotive for self-publishers because for years it was associated with the stigma of the vanity press. It smacks of desperate, rejected authors paying huge sums to see their books in print.

Joanna PennSelf-publishing is totally different these days as authors can pay freelancers to do professional design work and then publish their print books with print on demand technology to reach a global audience. Or they can publish an ebook and upload it ready for sale within 24 hours.

So I’ll explain vanity from my own perspective, with the acknowledgment that ego is always some part of the need to publish and reach readers.

I self-published my first novel, Pentecost in February 2011 in print and ebook formats. Joel did an amazing job of designing my cover and the internal print book design so that I could have a world-class print book.

I have since sold over 16,000 copies of Pentecost but here’s the issue: approximately 15,200 of those are ebooks and mainly sold on Amazon.

My second novel, Prophecy is now available and I have been trying to decide whether to create a print version. Looking at the sales figures for Pentecost, I decided that I only wanted a print book because of my own vanity. I wanted to give it to my parents and to have it sit on my bookshelf.

But 95% of my readers buy in ebook format and in fact, I read mainly ebooks myself these days, and I never buy fiction in print. With these facts in mind, what should I do?

When is print still a good idea?

We all still love print books. To browse a bookshop and pick out beautiful books with eye-catching covers is the bibliophile’s addiction. We like to own these objects to keep and admire, to read but also to remind us of the knowledge that lies within. Creating a book is a special project that appeals to a deep yearning we have had for many years. So when is print still the best route?

  • When the beauty of the finished product matters

    This site has some great articles on the importance of font and typography as well as the intricacies of book design which many people care deeply about. The aesthetics of the finished product matter to them.

    For some books, the physical look and feel is part of the final product. Books with images, specific layouts and design all require a physical product for the creative project to be fully realized. Children’s books are starting to move into the digital realm but the technology is still immature and physical books still rule.

    Recently I interviewed Alastair Humphreys, nominated for National Geographic explorer of the year. He walked across India and created a whole series of versions of his finished book, There Are Other Rivers.

    As well as the Kindle and iPad versions, he also created a paperback version, a hardback coffee-table photography book and a full-size, foldable map of his journey with photos and writing. I bought the map because it’s an awesome, original physical print product that can’t be duplicated well in digital format.

    Alastair is currently rowing across the Atlantic so no doubt more print adventures are to follow.

  • When you have an established distribution method for print

    I don’t mean print on demand here. I mean that you have a speaking platform where you can sell print products at the back of the room, or you have bookshops that will sell your print books. Then it’s definitely worth having a print run as you can make money from it.

    I made the mistake years ago of doing a small print run of several thousand books without having the means to sell them. The beauty of print on demand is that you hold no stock and upfront costs are negligible, but because of the slightly higher prices, you won’t make as much money as if you do a small print run and then sell physically at a profit.

  • If it’s your dream to hold your book in your hand (or you want a copy to give to your Mom!)

    If this is vanity, there’s nothing wrong with it and by all means, I believe everyone should have a print book if they want one. It’s within your reach these days with print on demand technology. Recently I helped my niece, 9 year old Anna, publish her first book on Her pride at the finished product was fantastic and her school put it in the library. Ebooks mean nothing to her so a print book was the only option even if friends and family were the only ones who bought it. Print still stimulates the imagination.

When should you consider ebook only?

At the moment, the highest-selling volume of ebooks is commercial fiction, which people read for the story, not the beauty of the physical book. Straight text novels are easy for the author to publish straight to ebook platforms and can be for sale within 24 hours after the completion of the editing process. This also applies to straight text non-fiction and other books that don’t require formatting and internal design for a polished finished product.

This type of book is also where the most money is to be made from ebooks, or at least that’s what we’ve seen so far.

So what am I doing?

People will say that it’s easy to create a print book on CreateSpace but Joel has shown me that world-class print books need design and care from professionals to be most effective. Also, the sales of my print books can’t justify the cost of pro-design and I’d rather spend the time and effort writing the next in the series. So Prophecy is available in ebook only format for now.

Each person has their own reasons around the publishing decisions they make. Ultimately,  it’s up to you. Whether you invest in a beautifully designed print book or publish swiftly in ebook-only format, it’s the creative process that matters, culminating in a finished product that readers enjoy.

Joanna Penn’s latest novel, Prophecy, an ARKANE thriller, is out now in ebook format on and Follow Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn

Photo by quinn.anya


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Joanna Penn

    Seth Godin just wrote an interesting piece on the “end of paper”. He is usually years ahead of the curve – but has been known to be wrong.
    He talks about the freedom in ebooks and the ability to connect.
    I also found this interesting – “there will be significantly more unread titles, abandoned in mid-sentence.”
    I have discovered this myself. I only give a book 3-5 ‘clicks’ or Kindle pages before it gets deleted or I buy it. As authors, we have to be wary of this sampling effect and be sure we don’t waste the first pages with padding or filler info. The old slow start/ intro is unnecessary in ebooks – you need to get attention faster. Interesting times…

  2. alanc230

    I have read several laments lately about the approaching demise of the paper book. I just got an e-reader and am finding it a great convenience, but I hope we never lose paper books. How would that happen anyway–mass burnings as in ‘Fahrenheit 451″?

    • Linton Robinson

      I don’t think anybody see existing books as vanishing, just the end of the era in which anybody makes any new ones. Similar to vinyl records.
      But actually, books have a self-destruct built into them. Most mass=market paperbacks are on paper with acid in the pulp, so they yellow, cross-link, get brittle, and fall apart.

  3. Janet

    Thank you for the voice of creative reasoning !

  4. Nina Amir


    Great post, as usual. I loved how clearly you delineated the choices.

    I was thinking that saving up money from ebook sales to pay for professional interior design seemed a good idea, but John Locke beat me to it! His model seems the perfect choice for those short on cash.

    Since my books are all nonfiction, a printed copy is essential for back of the room sales. I don’t consider it vanity at all; it’s a huge source of revenue for me. I usually encourage nonfiction authors to have books with them whenever they speak.

    I’m going to share this post with my clients, who often are struggling to figure out how best to move forward with publishing their books.

    Keep up the great work! You, too, Joel!

    • Joanna Penn

      Hi Nina,
      I definitely recommend people who speak regularly have books to sell – that’s not vanity at all – as you say, it’s income. It’s more relevant for non-fiction authors as well.
      I have some live speaking events but they are unlikely to buy my fiction books there :) I did used to have print non-fiction books but I found my material was getting out of date. So now I’m sticking to ebooks for that too.

      • Linton Robinson

        Not at all.
        I’ve always, in my publications and talks on publishing been careful to mention that there is a “legitimate vanity press author”. I usually conjure up a guy who is doing seminars and knows that the attendees would pay $20 for the “take home” but has no interest in fooling around producing a book, and the few thousand bucks to buy a press run. So he pays somebody to do it for him. Maybe he pays somebody to WRITE it for him.
        But if he’s that sharp businessman he’s probably not going to fall into dumb traps that many of those companies employ.
        He’s not a writer, his books are closer to business cards, to the T-shirts sold at concerts. Maybe they’re an important part of his message to the people paying for his expertise.
        Almost none of that carries over to the many would-be authors who have gotten served by “vanity” outfits.

  5. Le French Book

    This discussion is fascinating, and it really relates to what I’ve been experiencing starting up Le French Book. Our goal is to translate and publish French books in English with a digital-first approach. We are negotiating with major French publishers for the English-language rights and, to my surprise, we’ve had no trouble getting the English-language electronic rights, but many want to keep the print rights “to wait and see”. I initially thought we would follow quickly with print, but it looks more like we will be doing e-book exclusives. Joanna’s experience is very encouraging, and since we are doing commercial fiction and text-only non-fiction, this is a perfect model for us. However, it is strange to me that these publishers want to split up the rights like that. It will slow down getting a print version out if there is demand. Furthermore, another print publisher may not want to take on the book if they don’t have the e-rights. And the translation belongs to Le French Book, so unless a print publisher wants to do another translation (a huge expense), they’ll deal with us anyway. I get the feeling that these French publishers are still reasoning inside an outdated framework. Some even suggest splitting up the various English-language rights (UK, US, etc.), which in the world of electronic delivery just doesn’t make sense anymore.

  6. Jessica Meats

    I’ve sold a lot more print books than ebooks, mostly because I do the legwork. Like you suggest, I do talks. I speak at schools and libraries, sign in the local bookshops and managed to sell almost 100 books in one weekend at a convention. That’s a lot trickier to do with an ebook.

    But I think vanity probably plays a part too. The feeling of opening up a box and seeing my book with my name on it for the first time was incredible. Being able to hold my novel in my hands is something you can’t get with an ebook.

    So, for both reasons, I’ll be looking to get my next book into print. But I’d probably skip the hardback this time and go straight to a paperback release.

  7. Joanna Penn

    I saw this in the UK Guardian and thought everyone would like it as it relates to this piece -it’s a short fiction piece in defense of the printed book
    “… But when the official arsonists arrived to carry out their work, they discovered that all the libraries had been secretly emptied of their contents. One by one, often at night, books had been removed to safety. At first they were simply hidden, in attics, hayricks and henhouses.”

  8. Steven Lewis

    I made a print version of “How to Format Perfect Kindle Books” because less than 40 per cent of any class I taught on e-publishing had ever seen a Kindle so I figured they weren’t going to buy the ebook version of how to prepare their manuscript. While the CreateSpace copy sells well to people at my seminars, it’s a negligible percentage of total sales of the book.

    I do think, however, that having a print version for sale on Amazon might have an anchoring effect: because the Kindle version sells for less than the paperback it makes the Kindle price look especially reasonable (which it is of course!)

    If the first thing wasn’t true (selling in person) and I didn’t have some faith in the second (price anchoring) I would probably give up the print versions of my books. That said, I do love having them to hold and give out to family and prospective clients so maybe I would hang onto them for vanity.

    • Joanna Penn

      I certainly don’t think that vanity is a bad thing in this context Steven. And for speakers, having a print book is great – although one of the things I do now is sell digital products in envelopes. I put a sheet of paper with the URL and password and sell those for $30 at the event. LOTS more profit than print books and I have often sold more of those than print while I was doing it.

  9. Thomas Burchfield

    Thanks Joanna and Joel: Many of my target readers call themselves “book-book” people. They’re into the physical book and often will not even go near an e-reader. In fact, most of what I’ve sold of my novel “Dragon’s Ark” (cover design by Joel) has been as a POD. E-sales have been negligible, so far.

    As an independent publisher and writer, I have to be practical and realistic and take a two-pronged approach by dividing my work into two types: Major work (like “Dragon’s Ark”), for which I distribute in both POD and e-book formats (through Bookbaby). But then there are my minor works–old screenplays, collections of online postings, which for economic reasons, I will distribute exclusively as e-books until sales indicate otherwise.

    I recently read an article–I forget where–suggesting that independent authors consider creating their hard copy books as special editions (as many of the more important genre writers do; 500 copies, leather-bound, slip-cased and signed), as this draws many readers . . . a swell idea I think, but that, again, depends on what you can afford . . which, in my case, isn’t much right now.

    • Joanna Penn

      Budget is definitely a consideration Thomas – I mentioned Cory Doctorow’s special hand-bound editions above. But he charges $300 for each of those – they look awesome
      “The hardcover limited edition of the book …
      These are hand-bound at the Wyvern Bindery in Clerkenwell, London, and printed by Oldacres of Hatton Garden. Each book has original paper ephemera (see Flickr set) donated by various writer friends to the project, and comes with a SD card bearing the full text of the book as well as the full audiobook.”
      When we have as many readers as Cory, we can do something like this – hopefully Joel will be the designer :)

      In terms of your POD vs ebook sales, I just went onto Amazon to see your ebook and it’s not available for Kindle that I can see. So you may want to check that.

  10. Denise Dahn

    Thanks for a great article. btw, “There Are Other Rivers”, paperback version (excerpted on Amazon) has one of the funniest typos I have ever seen, page 11.
    “I wrote this book myself. I edited it and proof red it two.”
    Could this be a tragic mistake, or a tongue-in-cheek bit of sly humor?
    I sure hope it’s the latter!
    Great article, though. I’m particularly interested in the way A. Humphreys produced his books in so many formats. I’m researching the possibilities of doing that myself – I’m a writer/illustrator and am excited about the possibilities of producing illustrated fiction. It seems like ebooks gives more freedom to add illustrations without the traditional limitations of added printing costs.

    • Joanna Penn

      I know Alastair and that is one of his little jokes! He’s a funny man and currently rowing across the Atlantic – nutter!

      • Denise Dahn

        Yes! I figured as much! Another benefit of self-publishing, perhaps? Being freed up to have some fun with it.
        I was very inspired by the video interview you guys did. I’m pondering new ways of storytelling with digital technologies and it was great to see someone who has jumped in with both feet. (Hmmm…maybe not such a good image – considering he is in the middle of an ocean right now)

  11. Leah McCarthy

    Hey ya’ll! I plan events, especially weddings, in the Lowcountry of SC and GA. I want to get a book out to brides and grooms that is pictures of my work with recipies for entertaining. My problem is that I don’t know where to begin and who to hire first! Any recommendations?

    • Joanna Penn

      Hi Leah, immediately subscribe to Joel’s list – top right – and get his free ebook and information. Then visit his “Start Here” list, top left.
      You could also get my free Author 2.0 Blueprint which will give you more ideas.
      Spend some time reading and researching and then make some decisions. We both have a lot of free material for you to get your teeth into before you jump into the project.

  12. John Locke

    Hi Joel, wonderful job! I enjoyed your post yesterday as well. Joanna, you know I have loved your work for years! I enjoyed this article in particular, since I believe in having a print version of my books, also. Here’s what works for me: if you check the dates, you’ll see that my physical books lag months behind my ebooks. I publish an ebook immediately, and wait until the sales from it have generated enough profit to not only repay the full cost of the ebook, but also hit my profit goal for the ebook. When that has been achieved, I order the print version and pay for it from the additional profits that continue to be generated by the ebook. At this point, there is no indulgence to it. My ebook profits have allowed me to give readers another way to enjoy my books. As for the topic of distribution to retail outlets, I’ve spent some serious time researching this idea over the past six months and have thought of a number of ways publsihers, authors, and retail outlets can partner. We’re in the earliest stages of exploring what I think will be an exciting business model. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to have my own imprint. Joel and Joanna, keep up the good work. I love reading you both!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks John,

      Your approach makes a lot of sense and is a way to channel profits back into your business, typical of growing enterprises.

      The problem of distribution has hampered self-publishers for many years, so any progress on a way to make the system more open to indie authors would be very welcome.

    • Joanna Penn

      Hi John, Thanks so much for sharing your process and we’re all excited about your business model.
      I like the idea of paying for the print book from the ebook profits. I think I would do that if the profits were big enough – which for me, right now, they aren’t. I want to do print books properly, something I can be proud of.

  13. James

    I forgot to add–Joanna, big congratulations on your sales of Pentecost, on completing a *second* novel, and your decision to jump to writing full-time.

    • Joanna Penn

      Thanks James. I am determined to be a pro-writer – it may take a while but hey, life is a journey :)

  14. Turndog Millionaire

    I think this is a smart move Joanna. I see Print Books like Vinyl records. It’s more of a collectable item. The sort of thing you buy when you’re wondering around town and just having a nice relaxing saturday.

    I still buy vinyl records because i love the physical feel of them. But 95% of the music i listen to is via my computer/phone. I see books going a similar way. Print will always have a place, but yes, more for vanity reasons.

    I think starting with e-book only is smart. In 6 months time you could create a special edition print book to sell. If the demand is there and you can justify the cost and time

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Joanna Penn

      Indeed. I would like to do special print editions at some point when I become a big enough name to do it. Cory Doctorow has done this with his books releasing each with one off material and pricing them at $300 each – all of which sold because he has that kind of audience. I think the book design side is brilliant for that kind of project, but not so much for my mass market paperback fiction.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Matt, interesting analogy. Of course, part of the beauty, utility and attraction of printed books is that they need no device (turntable, ereader) for full enjoyment!

  15. Linton Robinson

    Funny, two weeks ago I posted on a forum, the point that “vanity publishing” has reversed itself.
    If you can make money and get readers on Kindle or CreateSpace right now, I asked, what would you call wanting to spend years chasing a contract so that you will be “real” in the eyes of others, have your name supported by groups and companies, become famous? Sounds like vanity to me.

    This is not all that different a premise.

    I have told writer’s conference audiences and my blog readers that I tend to see eBooks as the money engine, with print books serving for ARC’s, giveaways, and a sort of “legacy legitimacy bling”… hood ornaments for your title. I will probably keep doing CreateSpace paperbacks for most of my titles, for those reasons.

    I respect Joel’s ongoing information on book design, but the thing is “designed” books are irrelevant to the vast majority of the market. You stop by the airport kiosk or bins at WalMart (the world’s largest physical seller of books) and grab up something to read, you don’t care if it’s gorgeously designed anymore than you would pay more for it if it had illuminated capitals and Corinthian leather covers.
    eBooks pretty well put paid to that whole concept. Information age rules.

    I’m not saying books are obsolete or not worth doing. But I definitely think it’s a good iidea that you figure out up-front what the effort and expense is worth to your particular project.

    • Joanna Penn

      Agreed, and I know what you mean about that kind of vanity too. There’s nothing wrong with that though and I intentionally wanted to use the word.
      The main thing is to look at what the individual wants to do with their writing career and also their book. I know that Joel asks people this upfront as well. The intention for the book often dictates the best path. Many self-publishers in print already have a distribution network worked out e.g. speakers/ business people.

  16. Liz Alexander

    Great, thought-provoking article, Jo…I, too, like the way you’ve taken the concept of “vanity publishing” and given it a new twist :-)

    Here’s my concern with e-books, which may speak largely to the audience I both write for and help my clients to access — business books. Perhaps it’s different with novels and other genres?

    I tend to forget about the e-books I’ve downloaded and captured in a desktop file, helpfully named E-books, lol. It’s only when I need to access information quickly and there’s an e-book version available, do I remember I’ve got the Kindle app on my Mac, hosting any number of e-books I’ve just never gotten round to reading. That may well be because I’ve not wholly adopted reading on a computer screen as my preferred way of experiencing books.

    However, as the recent survey presented by Jack McKeown at this year’s Digital Book World conference and expo highlighted (, a great many “avid readers” (folks who buy more than ten books a year, on average) are still heavily influenced to purchase books named as staff picks in bricks and mortar stores. I’d add to that (not just from personal experience, but from reading others’ comments and speaking with clients) that there is considerably more serendipity involved in buying books when visiting a store like Half Price Books or B&N than surfing an online retailer like Amazon.

    McKeown’s advice? Publishers should not underestimate the value of traditional marketing efforts and ignore the importance of the bricks and mortar experience as it continues to influence purchasing behavior.

    Finally, as I’m about to launch a new kind of book review on called Thought Readership (starts Feb 6th) I’m interviewing a number of business book authors. One told me, “It was pretty amazing to realize that printed books still matter. Now that I am living the experience of a published hard-copy book author, I am glad we did it. I suppose human nature is hard to change and a lot of people still care about a printed book. Despite having a Kindle I find myself returning to a printed book every so often because, no matter what they say, the printed book experience is not (yet) substitutable by any modern technological gizmo!”

    As I said earlier, for books I need to constantly reference or for experiences where I see a book lying on my desk or on a shelf and receive a new insight or idea, there is no substitute for the printed version.

    And if it’s book sales that ultimately underpins an author’s “vanity” then it’s wise to remember that — as McKeown points out — book buyers are exhibiting split purchasing behaviors (moving between local independents, chains, and online) so the broader range of formats in which we make our books available, the better.

    • Joanna Penn

      I totally agree with the serendipity of physical bookstores but most indie authors will not be in those bookstores, so we have to rely on the serendipity of the online space. As an ebook reader, I download samples all the time based on tweets, blog posts and more. I have 12 pages of samples on my Kindle BUT/ I only buy about one tenth of those if I like the sample. Then I read that book.
      Also, you might have lots of ebooks you haven’t read, but that also happens in print. I had thousands of print books in my house in Australia, many of which I had never read even though they had sat there for years as ‘want to read’. We are book-addicts – we’ll keep buying whatever the format :)
      I do buy hard copies if I read a book regularly – so I have Steve Pressfield War of Art – and also Twyla Tharp The Creative Habit on my desk because that wasn’t available in Kindle version. So I do like and still buy print but the article is more about the perspective of an indie author making most income through ebooks. Thanks for your long considered comment!

    • Joel Friedlander

      I think Liz’s comment points out that there’s a major split opening up between indie authors who mostly do their own books and publish to ebook formats and the more traditional self-publisher who hires a team of professionals, creates a national marketing plan and aims to get distribution to get into physical book stores. This split is very evident and growing wider, from what I can see.

      I don’t think basing your publishing plans on your own preferences for buying and reading is a reliable way to manage a business of any kind, unless you have authoritative information that the vast majority of your potential readership shares your views.

      Of course, the one thing ebooks make possible is cheap experimentation and, particularly for new fiction authors, represents a fantastic opportunity to get a book out in front of the public with a minimum of fuss to see how it will be accepted, and we’ve never had that before.

      • Joanna Penn

        That’s a good point on the split Joel – and of course I have a different perspective about bookstores because I’m not in the US & have come from Australia where they were few & far between.
        Maybe we need some different language for those 2 types of self-publishers – any ideas?

        • Joel Friedlander

          I’ve actually addressed this a few time, like when I divided self-publishers into three types for my Cost of Self-Publishing posts where I called them DIY, Online and Competitive to also allow for the pure “hobby” self-publishers. But the ebook/print book split may be something new.

  17. Angela Bertone

    I am a very new self-published author. “Good Mourning Sunshine” was published on Amazon on Dec 12th and the paperback version was published on Dec 22nd through createspace. In my marketing campaign, I have found about 1/2 of my readers want the printed version. They tell me they love to feel and smell the book. Most of my audience is women between the ages of 49-69. This may be part of the reason for my hands on reader. I find that even though the ebook audience is the wave of the future, some people will remain old school. Know your audience and give them what they want and we will do well. Best to all of you what ever your avenue. God Bless, Angela Q. Bertone

    • Joanna Penn

      Congrats on your book Angela. It will be interesting to see what your actual sales are when you have enough data. I thought that print would sell better than it did, but it’s always good to give people the option.

  18. James

    “I have since sold over 16,000 copies of Pentecost but here’s the issue: approximately 15,200 of those are ebooks and mainly sold on Amazon.”

    I’ll keep saying this to every author I know–if you’re a fiction writer depending on self-publishing e-book technology, go with Amazon–because Apple (you know, that company that makes the majority of e-reading tablets out there?) isn’t interested in angling for the 99-cent (or really, even the $2.99) crowd. I wish they were, but they really are aiming to set the bar a bit higher.

    “But 95% of my readers buy in ebook format and in fact, I read mainly ebooks myself these days, and I never buy fiction in print. With these facts in mind, what should I do?”

    Don’t you market yourself chiefly to an e-book audience, not a mainstream “trade paperback” or “bookstore” audience? So–shouldn’t it be a given that most of your sales are there? Also, I’m not clear what my own reading preferences have to do with who I’m writing for. The print analogy would be something like “well, I only read landscape format books, so given that fact, should I print only landscape format books?” In other words–authors may be depending far too much on themselves as a sole prototype of their audience.

    “So is a print book just a vanity project these days?”
    Given that several million copies of print books were sold (in the US alone) last year, I’d say no. If you’re talking about self-published authors, I’d still say no. With a bit of planning, an on-demand print book is an easy add-on, and costs the author nothing but some time.

    “We all still love print books.”
    Honestly, much of what I’ve read in this article and on your blog seems counter to that statement. Can we “all” simultaneously love print books but refuse to buy them and instead go for e-books? I don’t get it.

    “Children’s books are starting to move into the digital realm but the technology is still immature and physical books still rule.”

    And as most people involved with studying and working with children will tell you, physical book popularity is as much about tactile reasons as visual ones. Many argue that this is equally true of adults, too. I agree with them.

    “As well as the Kindle and iPad versions, he also created a paperback version, a hardback coffee-table photography book and a full-size, foldable map of his journey with photos and writing.”

    I think this is a brilliant publishing scheme. In fact, I’d recommend it to a wider variety of authors, especially fantasy authors.

    • James

      One example of that last bit–after reading Joanne’s debut novel, I could see something like:
      (a) A photo book of places and settings in the novel
      (b) A fold-out map (illustrated?) of the routes of major characters and important locales (a simplified map of London?)
      (c)in-novel illustrations and maps

      • Joanna Penn

        and coming back on the map thing, I am excited about that too – but I am looking more at doing something for non-fiction travel book in 2013 – plans afoot! I believe in print for special projects like this – the maps are VERY cool!

    • Joanna Penn

      Thanks for your considered comment James.
      Marketing to the print audience really means being in bookstores or targeting different places online – I suppose. I don’t intentionally target an e-audience, that just seems to be more successful for indies.

      I’d love to know if you know anyone who has sold significant numbers of indie books in the last year in print – and has both available. When I see figures like CJ Lyons Blind Faith selling 240,000 ebooks in 2 months, which got her a traditional print and e-deal off the back of it, I think there’s no way that could have happened to an indie with a print book.

      I do love print, I love going into bookstores and looking at print but I buy them rarely. I have a 1 bed flat in central London so I couldn’t possibly have as many print books as I can e-books which is one reason I switched. It’s different for everyone. I can’t see that mas-market paperback fiction has anything to do with tactile enjoyment, it’s more about immersive story.

      Thanks for joining in the discussion!

  19. Tom Evans

    I so agree with all the above. The e-version has come first for me since 2006 as a great way to test the market.

    I do love for the simplicity of its interface for creation of low cost, low run print versions for selling (non-fiction) at workshops and talks. Noting thus year as I am doing more and more webinars, this need may vapourise too ;-)

    My long awaiting novel though will be hitting the Kindle store this year and I’ll print 10 or so copies of mainly because I find it’s still easier to proof read and balance narrative flow in print for some reason.

    • Joanna Penn

      I’m looking forward to the novel Tom!

  20. CarrieVS

    I will publish print versions of my books because I don’t want to exclude readers who don’t have an e-reader and don’t much like e-books. (We do exist, and it’s not just that we refuse to try digital reading: tried and didn’t like.) I just don’t want to publish entirely in a format that I wouldn’t buy a book in.

    • Joanna Penn

      Now that is a good reason Carrie. I read in e-format so I feel it’s unnecessary to have a print book. I’m not saying I won’t ever do one again, it’s just not my focus.

  21. Will Entrekin

    Nice post. I like how you turned that old “vanity” term toward a new light. Like you, more than 90% of my sales are on Kindle. For me, having a paper copy available through CreateSpace (and which, actually, looks fantastic. I honestly think CreateSpace’s quality is at least equal to that of any trade paperback I’ve ever seen. The only difference I’d mark is that CreateSpace–like most POD–uses a more glossy color than the matte cover used in most trade paperbacks. But truth be told, I think that the glossy cover is more durable, and I’ve seen it gain more widespread adoption) is pretty dead-simple, and there are a handful of readers who still like it. Nothing to do with the three reasons you mentioned, just, some readers still like it. If it were expensive, I’d avoid it, but for me it costs nothing and doesn’t take much longer.

    • Joanna Penn

      I agree there’s no real reason not to do it, but when I thought about my reasons for looking at print, it really was for my own purposes, not for sales. I’m not writing it off for our type of mass market fiction, I just think it’s worth questioning.
      I love that John Locke has a print deal now with Simon & Schuster off the back of his e-success. I’d love to have that kind of deal!

  22. Laura Pauling

    It does seems like maybe 10% of sales is print. Is that worth it? A lot of writers say yes. I agree that it’s a personal decision. Congrats on your sales and on book 2!

  23. Jen

    Great article and exactly what I was looking for but I still need to make the decision. I’ve been thinking that I should just go ahead with the ebook and forget about the tangible one at the moment. I guess it just feels important to me to have a tangible one. Ultimately, it comes down to cost/benefit and how much I can afford to lose. Still debating with myself.

    • Joanna Penn

      Hi Jessica, I don’t think it is a concrete choice so much as a choice right now. As John Locke says above, use the ebook to build some income and then you can use that to do a professional book if you want one. It’s not an either/or.

  24. Tony McFadden

    First and foremost I use print as the final proofing stage. At less than $5.00 per book, plus shipping, it provides a visceral, tangible display of what I’ve been working on for the past six months.

    And, inexplicably, a “perfect” book will always reveal more things for you to fix.

    As for sales, they are minuscule compared to the e-versions, but that’s fine. Gravy.

    • Joanna Penn

      That’s interesting Tony – as I use the Kindle version and iPad to do final proofing, although I always read through a final print on paper as well.
      On fixing, I don’t think that ever stops if you keep reading :)

  25. Orna Ross

    Thanks Jo & Joel — a great deal of sound good sense here. Another option, one that I am exploring with an indie publisher at the moment, is that both writer and publisher invest together in publishing a print version of a book that’s already doing well in ebook format and share the profits. Publisher have access to bookstores in a way that writers never will have — and an infrastructure that they desperately need to work. This creates a very different model of working together than the old one where the author was a resource to be mined (and too often, sad to say) exploited. It’s called partnership, o publishing friends, and therein lies an exciting opportunity for us all.

    • Joanna Penn

      Thanks Orna, this is almost what John Locke is doing. He sold print rights to Simon & Schuster for his indie ebooks so gets into bookstores and makes revenue that way on top of the ebook success. He is the forerunner and hopefully other publishers will follow.

      • Janet

        But how…HOW to make that happen?

    • Joel Friedlander

      For people interested in Joanna’s thought-provoking article, you might want to take a look at the article I posted yesterday, partly in anticipation of this article today.

      It’s about the permanence of books, and it was inspired by a series of comments to another post about books in digital formats from just a few years ago that are now unreadable because the platform on which they were published has ceased to exist.

      Ebook-only authors need to consider this carefully, in my opinion. If you consider your work ephemeral, and are okay with the idea that your books may essentially “disappear” as technology moves forward, then you have no need for a print version of your book.

      But if you find that idea unsettling, you might want to consider doing a print version as well as your ebook.

      Here’s the link to that article:

      Two Reasons Why Print Books Matter

      • Joanna Penn

        That’s an interesting point about losing physical work Joel, but doesn’t that apply to blogs as well then?
        I back up my blog in multiple formats just as I back up my books in multiple formats. I don’t worry about losing them that way.

        I hope you know also that this article is meant to highlight that the quality work you do is for the special books, the ones people want to put into print – for whatever reason that may be.
        Perhaps your quality work is also why I don’t want to just chuck up a version on CreateSpace. Your design sets a bar that I can’t meet myself :)



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