We've frequently recommended here that the best way to self-publish print books is to use a combination of CreateSpace (to ensure easy stock availability on Amazon) and Ingram Spark or Lightning Source (to gain access to distribution channels into bookstores). But there's also a third option: to publish a small private print run to provide you with a small stock of print books at home.
Why Keep Stock at Home?
- It's worth having at least a small stock readily available at home/in your car/in your bag for whenever you have the chance to hand-sell your books. If you get chatting to someone on the train or bus who is eager to buy, you can clinch the sale on the spot, rather than hoping they'll remember to buy it online when they get home or to track it down in a bookstore.
- It's also useful to keep a supply for any events that you may take part in such as talks or festivals.
- You can also use your stock to give away to reviewers – don't forget, it's not advisable to despatch copies from Amazon to reviewers, because Amazon is likely to delete reviews of books gifted by authors to reviewers.
Why Buy Small Print Runs?
At first it might seem counter-intuitive to keep stock at home, now that everything is so readily available to buy online.
It might also seem like an unwelcome return to the old ways of vanity publishing, prior to digital printing and print-on-demand services, when the minimum print run was hundreds or even thousands. In those days, far too many self-funding authors ended up with spare bedrooms or garages full of boxes of books.
But these days, digital technology allows for tiny runs of books to be printed at unit prices that are little more than in long print runs. There are plenty of digital book printing specialists who will be happy to provide print copies for you using the same artwork that you uploaded to CreateSpace or Ingram Spark. So why favour them?
- You may get a better price.
- You can use small private print runs like this to produce premium copies of your book, e.g. pay a little extra for nicer interior paper or a different cover finish – or equally reduce the quality for a budget run e.g. for advance review copies.
- These services are usually pretty swift to deliver, which is handy if you have a book stuck in the approval process somewhere along the lines or have been given a long lead time (some territories require very long lead times) and need some urgent copies for a launch event, for example.
- If you are uncomfortable with having all your eggs in one basket, or with using big global companies, or worry about carbon footprints of packages sent long distances, local printers can be a good alternative.
Why Not Order from Your CreateSpace or Ingram Author Dashboards?
We're not saying you shouldn't. We just want you to be aware that there's a third way.
You certainly can order author copies in small quantities from Amazon or Ingram at author prices, which are obviously cheaper than retail prices. But you will need to allow for shipping costs and maybe even import taxes. Finding a local digital book specialist could be a more economical alternative – plus it gives you the opportunity to support small local service providers.
Alternatively, you could ignore your author dashboard, and simply order print copies from Amazon's storefront. Of course, you'll then have to pay full cost price (unless you are lucky enough to spot Amazon doing one of its occasional flash sales on your book, as I did recently – I made more in commission than I paid for the books, as, bizarrely, commission is unaffected). But this does give you the advantage of bumping up your sales stats a little, and the purchase price will be effectively subsidised, because you'll be paid your usual author commission on the copies you buy. (Conversely you don't receive commission on copies bought via your author dashboard, nor do they count towards your stats.)
Unless you're a member of Amazon Prime, you'll still have to pay postage. If you're not already a member of Prime and order a lot of your own books this way, it may be worth joining Prime just for this purpose (though it's not yet available worldwide).
How to Choose Your Short Run Printer
One option is to use a trusted partner member of ALLi such as Clay's, which is also used by trade publishing companies for their books, so quality is assured. However it's also worth looking out for small local firms in your area – but make sure they are specialist book printers, rather than general printers, so that you will get professional book quality. Just make sure they give you a full, detailed quote in advance, and you know exactly what you are getting for your money, to a guaranteed delivery date.
OVER TO YOU If you use short run printers, do you have a success story – or a cautionary tale to share? We'd love to hear about them!