Self-Publishing, or, "Boxes of Books Blight My Basement"

by | Nov 18, 2011

Table of Contents

by Susan Ross (@SusanRossCA)

Today I’m pleased to have a guest post from children’s book author Susan Ross. Many people try to figure out whether to print their books offset or to use print on demand. Well Susan’s been there, and here’s her report.

How do you decide how many books you should print and what route to take: traditional printer or print-on-demand (POD)?

In the beginning I was cautiously optimistic and made conservative decisions. I had 500 copies of my first book traditionally printed (any less is not economical). I sold them. Then I had another 500 copies printed and sold them. Printing and selling 500 to 1,000 copies of my books at a time, I sold over 3,000 copies of The Great Bellybutton Cover-up and over 1,000 copies of The Kit Kat Caper. Things were going very well.

self-publishing children's booksIt’s important to note that, with a traditional printer, the more you print, the cheaper the cost per book. This can encourage you to buy more books than you should. That’s where I got myself into trouble. I thought, “Heh, things are going well. Why not save more money and print two or three thousand copies?”

That, my friends, was a mistake. That’s when the books started piling up in the basement. And to make matters worse I did it again, twice!

What was I thinking! I was thinking positively. That’s a good thing if it’s tempered with sanity. It wasn’t. Now I’m storing books in the printer’s warehouse (and spending more than I saved on printing).

Then I got into POD to try to get my books “out into the world.” (Hopefully it will work one day.) With POD you can order as many or as few books as you want. The price per book is the same regardless of how many copies you order. You can order one copy or 1,000 copies; it’s the same price. POD gets your book on-line on numerous sites, which makes your book more accessible to buyers around the globe. (The down side for me is that I’m not depleting my stock of books.)

The Next Book

self-publishing children's booksSo this is my plan for my next book, which is in the works by the way. I’m going to go the print-on-demand route. I will order 100 books to sell by myself. My POD company (Lightning Source) will place the title on Amazon, etc. to sell it on-line.

I won’t make as much money per book, but I won’t be adding a huge number of boxes to my already-cramped basement either. (The cats are using the boxes as a climbing apparatus. It’s Moses favourite place to sleep. I just hope he doesn’t barf on the books! If you order a book and it smells sort of “off” well. . . we’ll just trust that that never happens.) Once the book becomes popular (I hope), I will hire a traditional printer. (I do hope insanity doesn’t take over again, however; one never knows.)

In Favor of POD

There are other pluses with going the POD route.

  1. If you miss a typo when going the traditional printer route, and you will, you are stuck with numerous books with that error. It’s not the end of the world if it’s a small error, but if not…. (I met one lady whose book had been printed with the wrong title on the side! I can’t remember if she was self-published or not. She was selling her book at cost.) If you miss a typo with POD you can get it changed for minimal cost. And you’re not saddled with thousands of books with a typo.
  2. The set-up fee is under $200 with a proof. So, if the worst case scenario happens and no one likes your book, you have a memento of your work and some copies to give family and friends and you haven’t broken the bank. (Please note that this should NOT happen if you’ve taken the proper steps to produce your book. I read my manuscripts in classrooms to test them. I did, in fact, have to toss one. I thought it was hilarious. Kids didn’t. One never knows what the reaction to your book will be until you read your manuscript to your target audience.)
  3. Although shipping is cheaper if you order more, rather than less, books you can order as few books as you wish and see how your sales go. There is minimal risk. When you are reasonably certain (there is no such thing as being 100% certain about anything… except death and taxes, as “they” say) that you will need at least 500 books, then you can order them through a traditional printer.

Please note there is a big difference between POD companies and companies that offer publishing packages to produce your book, often for a hefty fee. With POD you give the company the book and they print exactly what you give them.

They do not edit. They do not help you with ISBN or CIP numbers. They do not get you a formal copyright. (Technically a book is copyrighted as soon as it’s written. I formally copyrighted mine “just in case.”) So please do not confuse these two types of services.

I hope you found this article helpful and got a chuckle out of it as well.

self-publishing children's booksSusan Ross is a children’s book author who lives in London, Ontario. She has a B.A. in psychology and a B.Ed. with a specialty in primary education, and her background in education and quirky sense of humour are the perfect tools for writing children’s books. You can find out more about Susan and her books at her author website.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Amber Polo

    I’ve have shipping up to $1 a book with an order of 20 or so books.
    For those with a garage full, you can use them as giveaways with your next book. Or free promos at events.

  2. Dana Smith

    That’s a good point, Amber. Any printer (whether POD or traditional offset) will charge shipping to deliver books to you or directly to a customer and those costs need to be figured into your budget. But if you are printing POD through Lightning Source or CreateSpace for the purpose of supplying books to Amazon, there’s no shipping charge to the publisher/author.

  3. Amber Poloa

    When ordering POD books the cost of shipping needs to be figured it. Sadly, I’ve found it may often add $.50 to the cost of one copy even when ordering in bulk.

  4. Dana Lynn Smith, The Savvy Book Marketer

    I find that many authors are confused about the difference between between POD “publishers” (aka self-publishing companies) and POD printers. I wrote an article about that, which also discusses Lightning Source and CreateSpace:

    The last time I checked (although things may have changed) you can earn a little higher profit per book on your Amazon sales by using Lightning Source and setting a 20% wholesale discount, than by printing through CreateSpace.

  5. Harry Stoddart

    Joel: Your articles suggest you favour Lightning Source. I’m comparing them with CreateSpace and it looks to me that CS has better pricing especially when looking at using them as a distributor as well as printer.

    Am I missing something?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Harry. No, I don’t really prefer one over the other, I send clients to both depending more on them and what their plans are.

      We have recently run into a stocking problem with some books that print at Lightning Source and there’s been a thorough discussion of it here but no resolution to date, and anyone considering one of these companies or the other ought to be aware of how these internal practices can impinge on your goals.

    • Susan Ross

      I’ve just been getting the ISBN numbers as I need them. There’s no charge that way either.

  6. Karen A. Wyle

    Just a couple of minor points:
    –CreateSpace, the POD publisher affiliated with Amazon, will provide an ISBN. There are free and paid options.
    –Copyright exists the moment you create the book. The only formal act an author might consider is copyright registration, which makes it easier to prove copyright violations and significantly increases the damages one can collect. I do not know of a POD publisher that assists with this process, but it can be done online without great difficulty.

    • C.J. Pascol

      Ms. Wyle let me ask you, What do you think of the cover design and layout quality of POD. Do you think your work still maintains a competitive edge in your markets? In your opinion, does it look like it belongs when compared to your experience with traditional publishing?

      • Karen A. Wyle

        Dear C.J. — with POD, the cover design and layout are up to you. You can hire experts or do it yourself. As with many aspects of self-publishing, it’s a money vs. time tradeoff.

        • C.J.

          I guess it depends whether or not the printer can handle the design specs

          • Susan Ross

            The covers on my books are just as good as any book published by a publisher. I had a great artist and someone else who sent it in for me according to LS specs. My covers look fantastic (if I do say so myself). Take a look at them and judge for yourself.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for that, Karen. CreateSpace actually has four options for ISBNs at the moment, although these programs tend to change pretty often. They range from free ISBNs that show CreateSpace as the publisher to $99 for an ISBN that you can truly own, but at that point I think most self-publishers would be better off going straight to Bowker and buying 10 ISBNs because, with different formats to consider, you can use them pretty quickly.

      • C.J.

        You are absolutely right Joel. Bowker is much more economical and once you get to their sites you’ll find that they offer a host of relevant services and content slated to help us be competitive.

  7. Michael N. Marcus

    “[with POD] The price per book is the same regardless of how many copies you order. You can order one copy or 1,000 copies; it’s the same price.”

    Actually, Lightning Source’s price sheet shows discounts ranging from 5% to 25% starting at 50 POD copies. There are also discounts of 30 or 50% off the regular UPS shipping charge for large orders. LS sometimes offers monthly special discounts on printing for as few as (if I recall correctly) 25 copies. CreateSpace sometimes provides printing discount codes. Other printers including DiggyPOD and Colorwise offer quantity discounts on POD.

    Michael N. Marcus

    — Just out: “STINKERS!: America’s Worst Self-Published Books,” (information, help and book reviews for authors)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for the clarification, Michael. I’ve arranged larger orders of books from LSI for clients and the discounts really help. On the other hand, the discounts don’t really compare to the volume pricing advantage you can get through offset printing.

    • Susan Ross

      Thank you for mentioning that. That’s important to note. I’d forgotten about that since I’ve never ordered more than 15 copies from LS. Since I have so many traditionally printed books in my basement, I only use LS’s books for reviews.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.