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Self Publishing Print-on-Demand Books for Less

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Get some advice for making POD books more affordable.

Get some advice for making POD books more affordable.

I am getting some great questions from my blog readers these days! One that just came in asked about getting the price of print books down and how photos and color printing could impact that.

The cost for this author’s particular self-published book through print-on-demand (POD) was more than I have ever heard! However, because the author didn’t provide many of the physical details for the book (number of pages, size, etc.), it’s difficult to determine if that cost was reasonable or outrageous.

This was a good question because choices on photos and color can dramatically affect what an author can earn in royalties on self-publishing platforms, such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing/KDP (which has merged with the former Createspace), or in profits if selling direct to readers.

How Photos and Graphics Can Impact the Cost of Printing Books

Typically, print costs, even for print on demand, are based on the paper type and level of ink coverage required to print the pages, as well as to assemble them into a book format.

Also, any estimated cost calculators on websites and services like Amazon's KDP provide just estimates. Therefore, when your book manuscript file is reviewed by your self-publishing and/or print-on-demand service, more photos and graphics could impact your print-on-demand book's cost by:

  • More Photos, More Ink. Photos and graphic elements, especially large ones, take a lot more ink than straight text. So printing costs for heavy ink coverage could be higher, regardless of whether your book is printed in color or black-and-white.
  • The Costly Bleeding Edge. One print feature that could make your self-published book even more expensive to print is bleed. Bleed means that the printing goes all the way to the physical edge of the page, making it appear to bleed off the edge. Bleeds are common in children’s books with lots of illustrations that cover the full page.
  • More Photos, More Design Fees. Also, if your self-publishing platform is preparing the layout for your book, they may have a limit on how many images they will include in the layout service, with added fees for additional images over that limit. This is because placing images in book layouts can be a labor-intensive effort. And if changes are made after the initial layout round, there may be fees to reposition them. This all adds up quickly as the number of photos or graphics increases.

Do You Really Need Photos and Graphics?

Whether it’s to reduce ink coverage or to reduce book layout fees, seriously consider whether you really need photos to either tell your story or get your message across.

I’ve found that in most cases, they are extraneous and are only nice-to-have elements that have little impact. In fact, the only images I’ve ever used in all my books to date were ones that illustrated one important graphic design principle, and for tables which had to be placed as images for the best reader viewing experience. Otherwise, they would have been a waste.

Color or Black-and-White? Your Print Book's Biggest Cost Factor

By far, the element that can have the biggest impact on book printing costs is the choice of color versus black-and-white printing.

Color printing can be as much as three times or more the cost of black-and-white. This can escalate even more if the color printing bleeds off the page. You have to remember that full color (also known as 4/color) printing is the combination of four colors of ink on a page. It's easy to see why the cost ramps up quickly!

You have to ask yourself if color is truly necessary to the success of your book. Don’t automatically say it is! True, color can be very attractive and may be crucial for some markets, such as children’s picture books. But if your material or your market doesn’t demand it, ditch it and go with black-and-white.

Also, if you are using Createspace or other popular self-publishing platforms, many of them include a full-color, full-bleed book cover in the price of printing your book. So your book will have a snazzy full-color cover, even if you just choose black-and-white printing for the interior. With that in mind, do you really need color pages?

Cutting Costs With Book Trim Size Choices

The other issue that can have a huge impact on the cost of printing books is trim size, sometimes referred to as cut size. Trim size is the height and width of the book’s printed pages.

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When you use popular self-publishing platforms such as Amazon KDP, they will give you a list of standard trim sizes to choose from. Go with one of them! Here are two reasons why:

  1. Avoids Custom Fees. If you choose a book size that is not on the list, your print job automatically becomes a custom project for the printer, whether that’s for a commercial printer or print-on-demand (POD). This means that your job requires special handling and “special” additional fees, too.
  2. It Makes Your Book Distribution-Compatible. Odd-size books are not friendly to book distribution systems and warehousing. As with printing, they require special handling. Therefore, they may not be considered for retail distribution. Why reduce your book’s availability because you’re enamored with an artsy, non-standard book size?

No, eBooks Won’t Solve Your Cost Problem

If you’re discouraged at the exorbitant costs that print books would entail if you have lots of photos or color images, you might feel that you want to avoid these issues altogether and go the eBook route. Not so fast!

Adding lots of photos to your eBooks can be a problem on multiple fronts:

It Adds to Your eBook’s Delivery Costs

On Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), eBooks in the 70 percent royalty level are assessed a delivery cost, which is deducted from the royalty amount. As of this writing, that fee is $0.15 per megabyte (MB). Images and photos can quickly bloat your eBook’s file size and reduce your royalty.

I found this out when I recently changed the cover for one of my Kindle eBooks (which is part of your eBook’s total file). The image file was larger than usual and doubled my delivery costs. So I had to rework the image to reduce the file size and preserve my royalties.

They Don’t Show Correctly on All eBook or Mobile Devices

Aside from the impact on your royalties, photo and image files can show differently based on the device on which they are viewed. Bigger image files could hog up a whole page and annoy your readers.

You also have to remember that reading an eBook is a totally different experience from a print book and that eBook readers may be a different audience than those who prefer print books. Use the format that best suits your market.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 15, 2018:

Hi Larry! Thanks for stopping by. Have a wonderful weekend!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 14, 2018:

I always appreciate your tips.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 08, 2018:

Linda, we'll look forward to the day when you do publish a book! Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 08, 2018:

Great tip, Terence! I think authors often try to cram their books into smaller sizes AND smaller type... both of which can reduce the user experience, too. Thanks for chiming in and have a terrific day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 07, 2018:

There's lots of useful information in this article, as always. If I ever do create the book that's in the back of my mind, I'll read all of your articles related to the topic again. You're an excellent guide.

Terence Vickers on July 07, 2018:

Interesting post. If you really want to reduce the printing cost of your book, keep in mind the biggest factor in print cost is the page count. The same book in a larger format eg: 8 1\2X11 instead of 4x6, will have less pages. In this example the smaller book would cost more than double the cost of the larger one.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 07, 2018:

Billybuc, guess a lot of authors are having the same question! Can't wait to see what's in the Mailbag about it. I'll wander by on Monday, as usual.

Thanks for taking time from the farm to stop by! Have a terrific weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 07, 2018:

Flourish, you cannot imagine how champagne self published authors can get. :)

In another instance (other than the one highlighted in this post), the project this author was considering probably would have cost her maybe up to $25 to $50 per book to do what she wanted. Insane! After I gave her the dose of reality, she didn't want to connect with me further. Guess she decided to learn her lesson the hard way.

Thanks for highlighting that point! Have a lovely weekend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2018:

Right on as always! Great suggestions. I have a similar question for the Mailbag next week. Thanks for answering it for me. lol Have a great weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 06, 2018:

Not only did you answer the question but you also explained the why’s and anticipated the “yeah buts” in classic Heidi style. Splendid advice. I think a lot of times the color photo issue and all the bells and whistles people think they need are a matter of vanity. Or call it wishful thinking. Many people have champagne taste but water will often do just fine.

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