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A print on demand primer

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You’ve probably heard how most Indie authors now use something called “print on demand” that can make the printing process fast and inexpensive.

But how exactly does that work?   Let’s walk through it step by step.

Print on Demand Services

Many businesses—even some older, traditional printers—now offer digital (electronic) book printing, called  “print on demand” which allows as little as a single book to be printed to order.  Two companies dominate the field, partly because of their corporate connections.  CreateSpace is a subsidiary of Amazon.com, and working with Amazon through CreateSpace is not only seamless but has financial advantages.  IngramSpark is part of the Ingram Content Group, which among other things is the leading wholesaler for bookstores in the United States (more about IngramSpark here).  Both are customer-friendly and have good support services.  The distinctive advantages of CS and IS complement each other enough that I have sometimes used both to print a particular book title.

What follows is how an indie author can print a normal paperback book with a black and white interior.  As with most things, the details can become more complicated if you want extra features.  Here, I’ll mostly follow the basic CreateSpace process, but IngramSpark’s is similar.

The first thing you do at CreateSpace (or IngramSpark) is set up an account—you’ll see a tab suggesting this on the main page.  This setup is much like signing up with other web sites, from Facebook to PayPal, but you’ll need your credit card and shipping address information ready when you go there.  Later you’ll be ordering books and CS will need those instructions.

Before you do anything else at CreateSpace, get an ISBN number, probably from Bowker (though there are other options), and place it in your book on the verso page (after the title page) and on the back cover.

Then, when you think your book is ready to print—after it’s been edited and designed and other preliminary work is done—export your Word or other files into PDF files.  You’ll need one file for the book cover and a separate one for the interior.  These are what you’ll send to CreateSpace.

Data and Decisions

When you set up a CreateSpace account, you were given a “member dashboard,” which includes a list of “my projects”, which will be empty at first.  Next to it you’ll see a button saying “add new title,” and you begin the print-on-demand process by clicking it.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for BookWorks.com

From this point, working through several pages of forms, you’ll mainly be asked to supply information or make decisions.  Allow an hour, maybe a little more, to do this.

You’ll type in the name of the project—the title of the book—and whether this “project” is a paperback book, an audio CD, a DVD or a video download.  (CreateSpace produces all of these.)  You can take the book setup speedily through either an “expert” or “guided” process.  The guided approach takes a little longer, but you’ll be less likely to make mistakes.

You provide the book title and subtitle (if there is one), a book description, the names of the author(s) or editor(s) (whether just one or more than one), and the publication language and date.  You’ll be asked the “trim size” of the book—that is, it’s height and width, such as 6 x 9, or 8.5 by 11 inches.  If your book is part of a series, even a planned series, you can note that too.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for BookWorks.com

You’ll be asked for an ISBN number, which you should already have.  (Its validity will be checked.)  You’ll also have to set your book’s list price.

You will choose whether your interior book pages can “bleed”—that is, whether pictures or other items on a page can run all the way off the page, or whether everything must be contained within a margin.  (Most of the time, unless you have some expertise or special reasons, you’ll probably want a margin.)  You also can choose between a glossy or matte cover finish.

Then you’ll be asked to upload your cover and interior PDF files.  A button you click lets you find those files on your computer, and select them.  When they’re fully received by CreateSpace, they’ll get an immediate automated review for any basic errors that either would interfere with publication, or could cause printing issues.  Some of these errors must be corrected before the book can be printed.  Others are relatively minor and need not hold up the book.  I have from time to time, for example, run pictures of quality low enough that CS flagged them for warning, but they still printed well enough.

After the automated review of the cover and interior, actual humans also review the interior file of the book for any problem areas.  This can take a day or even longer, though usually I have gotten responses back more quickly.

If you’re told corrections are needed, you’ll need to go back to your cover or interior file and make the needed changes, then send a new (corrected) file to replace the old one, and go through the review process again.

a print on demand primer for indie authors by Randy Stapilus for BookWorks.com

Once CreateSpace has printable files from you, you’ll hit a page called “channels,” where you decide how your book will be distributed.  CreateSpace offers options including the Amazon store (automatically set up there through a one- button click), direct sales through CreateSpace (where you buy your own copies of the book at lower cost) and bookstore and library distribution.  IngramSpark has its own set of distribution options.

After that your book is live—available, at least within a few hours, to the world.

Does some of that walk-through the process raise brand new questions for you?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  Let me know what they are, and they might become the subject of another post here soon.

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