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Publishing Your Book: The Role Of Short Print Runs

Publishing Your Book: The Role of Short Print Runs

metal letters in printers tray

Gone are the days of arduous printing processes (Image by PazMadrid on Morguefile)

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!






This Post Has 12 Comments
  1. I tried a short print run with Ritesh’s Company- Read Out Loud. The advantages are many. In India, people take you more seriously when you have a print edition handy. With POD being prohibitively expensive, a short print run is still a viable alternative that helps you sell online, from home as well as from some friendly stores. My highest point of opting for a short run was serving a bulk order of 150 copies of my first novel to a book club.

  2. Our writing group produced a book of short stories, all set in the town. We had 200 copies printed via Clays Ltd, as well as printing via createspace and publishing an ebook version.
    We were very happy with our boxes of books, and have managed to sell them at the launch party, get them into local bookshops, and we’re planning a stall at a local event to sell the rest.
    The pricing was very good, enabling us to make a good profit for a local charity, and I would definitely recommend it.

  3. I don’t like functioning as a bookseller, but I keep copies of my books on hand for readers who want a book with an autograph or custom inscription, and to send to reviewers.

  4. I used a local printer (who print a lot of books so I could check the quality) and found them to be excellent. Apparently a lot of publishers get books printed in Spain and it can be cheaper but I preferred to stick with who I knew. Mine are non fiction and I’ve found that people prefer to buy the paperbacks, even my Create Space purchases tend to be double that of my ebooks.
    The more you get printed, the smaller the unit cost per book, I got 2000 of my second book last Sept and have about 600 left which I’m pretty confident will go before this Christmas. Having them there certainly makes you get out and market your books. I always carry a box of them in the car boot too – just in case.

  5. I applaud Debbie Young for pointing out the positives of self-publishing via small digital print runs. Originally, I intended to only publish on Kindle, but having had a stong reaction from readers and an interest from retailers in the heritage sector, I decided to investigate the digital potential for an indie publishing enterprise for my historical novel, ‘Exposed to All Villainies’. Based in West Cornwall, UK, I was given a signpost to TJI Ltd in Padstow by a traditional publisher who couldn’t take a fiction title but who could see potential. I have never been more grateful.
    This isn’t a small-scale operation. TJI Ltd print for major publishing houses, academia and everything in between. Their service for indie authors TJInk is absolutely excellent – I feel I am getting top-class attention and the finished product is … well … superb.
    I wholly agree; why pay import tax or costly carriage fees? It only cuts your margins. I also like having a person I can talk to – visit if necessary. Now on my third novel, I approach my publishing as a business; I wouldn’t take my business anywhere else

  6. You wrote: “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).”

    How exactly does one publish a given book on BOTH Ingram Spark and CreateSpace? I assume it could only be done if you have your own ISBN, as CS’s ISBN is usable only with CS and Amazon. But assuming you have your own ISBN, and did publish it with either company, is it simply a matter of simultaneously publishing it with the other company? Please clarify. with as much detail as feasible. Thanks.

    1. There are several articles here on this site about using CS and Ingram together to do printing. Search on “Createspace” or “Ingram”.

      In brief:

      1) Use your own ISBN
      2) Use CreateSpace for channels 1-3 (not 4-6) to publish locally to its webstore and Amazon.
      3) Use Ingram (LSI or Spark) to publish worldwide.

      You can use the same interior file, but you will need to adjust your cover file to accommodate the change in spine width that results from different paper stocks.

      1. Hi! I’m writing a book of positive birth stories and have just started my journey into self-publishing. I’m finding it a challenge. Thank you for supplying great information that’s clear and easy to understand.

        Thanks also for the great comments everyone!

  7. Here in India, we work with printers like Repro for short runs as small as 100 books and the difference in costing as compared to printing one copy (POD) at a time can be quite staggering.

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