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Print on Demand – How does it work?

If you’re contemplating using a Print on Demand (POD) service to print and distribute your book – this one’s for you!

In the simplest terms, with POD, books are only printed and fulfilled when a customer places an order - as opposed to the traditional method of printing (and storing) books in bulk.

How does it work?

I sell the majority of my books through Amazon’s Print on Demand service, Amazon KDP, so I shall briefly walk you through using their service.

You begin by uploading your book files (interior and cover), formatted and ready to go, into KDP’s publishing system. KDP have a template creator which you can download and send to your cover designer to ensure the cover is created to the right size (including bleeds and spine etc).

You will also need to fill in your book’s details such as ISBN (you could opt for a free one from Amazon or input your own – I always use my own), publisher imprint, product description, the recommended price for sale and which countries you would like your book to be available in, and the categories your book should appear in. This stage is relatively self-explanatory and if you have all your book's information to hand the set-up process is fairly easy.

One piece of advice would be to do some research on categories and keywords before you start, these are the pieces of metadata that Amazon uses to determine who to show your book to. You want to make sure your book is in the best position possible to find the right audience! Don’t worry too much though – you can always ask Amazon (via Author Central) to add your book to other categories later. They don’t always get it right first time, but they are usually quite quick to make changes.

This service isn’t just for printing paperbacks; it’s also for eBooks (Kindle) or hardbacks (providing your book is over 75 pages!).

Before hitting the ‘publish’ button, I always recommend ordering a printed proof of the book – things often look very different in print, and this will give you a chance to check it and make any necessary tweaks. I go through this as many times as I need to – I want to make sure the book is the absolute best it can be.

Once you hit ‘publish’, your book is available to buy for Amazon’s global customers, your work here is done (well, apart from all the marketing you’re going to have to do now)!

When a customer orders a paperback or hardcover book, Amazon prints the book (as local to the customer as possible), then ships it directly to them. You will get to keep 60% royalties less the printing cost, which is determined by the size, type of book, ink, number of pages etc (KDP have a handy calculator to help work this out). But you retain 100% rights to the book – you own the copyright. It’s still yours, you’ve just handed over printing and distribution to Amazon KDP.

Other POD Services

Similar to KDP there is Ingram Spark, which works in a similar way. Ingram Spark have a wider distribution service compared to Amazon. They are connected to Gardeners which is the largest book distributor in the world. Although bookshops and libraries can purchase books from Amazon’s print on demand database, most prefer to purchase via Gardeners.

You will need a few extra things for this such as your own ISBN (i.e. not a free Amazon one) and separate book files (they would be the same design but adhering to Ingram Spark’s specific print requirements – most printers have slightly different print requirements). You will also need to make sure you turn off expanded distribution when uploading you book to Amazon KDP.

It is also important to note that whilst Amazon’s service is free to upload, Ingram Spark have a set-up fee and charge if you need to change your cover or interior files, so make sure the files are right the first time! You can, however, get a monthly allowance of codes for free title set-up if you’re a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors – just one of the many good reasons to join them.

From an author’s perspective, once everything is in place and uploaded the whole process becomes very hands off. You’ll get a reporting page showing you how many books you’ve sold and an estimate of your royalties, but you don’t need to do much when those sales happen – leaving you free to focus on your next book!

As a service, POD can really help you to streamline your author business, but it isn’t for everyone. Knowing which of these services is the right choice for you will be important and it’s worth doing a bit of research first.

So, you’ve got a better idea of what Print on Demand services look like, up next is how they could look for you. In my next article I’ll take a look at the pros and cons of using them.

Have you ever considered POD for your book? Are you already using POD?

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