(Note: I wrote this article for Webcomics.com, and it is mostly aimed at people who have webcomics and want to self-publish a collection of their strips. However, it also applies to all artists, as the figures in the article are based on my experiences creating the Dog a Day Project book. I hope you find it useful.)

While ordering books in quantity from a printer will get you the lowest per-unit cost, you need to order your books in the hundreds or thousands. This might not be ideal for those of us just getting our feet wet, or without storage space for all those boxes. I’ll readily admit with my readership numbers that I can’t expect to sell hundreds of books, but I still want to have a nice collection of my strips to sell at cons, through my site, and even to give as gifts to supportive friends and family.

For the beginner not ready or unable to shell out a couple of thousand dollars for books from a traditional printer, print-on-demand can be an appealing option. Let me present some examples of pricing, pros and cons, and personal experience with the bigger POD companies. There are so many variables you can consider when preparing to print your book, but I’ll talk about the most important issues: quality and price.

To compare, let’s look at a book format that many of you would be using. I’ll use an order of 25 books for this example. Both companies will sell your books through their own stores and Amazon, and they allow you to set your own royalty. I’ll leave the cost/benefit analysis to you if you decide to go this route. To keep things simple, I’ll look at the cost of books you order to sell on your own (for convention sales or sales of personalized books through your own site).

Our Sample Book:

120-pages
Softcover, full color
Black-and-white interior (grayscale if you are using shading)
Landscape format (wider than high, a good layout for the traditional webcomic strip format).
Perfect binding (the square backs you see on books in bookstores)
Standard paper (avoid publisher grade, it is thinner and not opaque enough to prevent your art showing through from the other side of the page)

Lulu.com

Lulu has been around for a while and many web cartoonists have used the service to publish their first books. Lulu provides multiple book sizes, full-color covers, black-and-white or color interiors, and their own store as well as a free ISBN number and sales through Amazon for most book-format options. Prices vary by book size and page count. You can do a minimum order of one book.

Lulu’s landscape book size is 9″ x 7″. Printing costs a base of $4.50 plus 2 cents a page, but there are discounts for bulk orders. Using the cost calculator provided at http://www.lulu.com/publish/books/ (it’s in the left column, about half-way down the page) our book has a unit cost of $5.40, or $135 plus shipping for 25 books. Purchasing a single book will cost you $6.90.

Lulu Pros

Cover quality is great
Interior quality is great with little or no “show-through”
Pre-made templates available

Lulu Cons

More expensive for our example order

Createspace.com

This service is owned by Amazon, and provides pretty much the same options as Lulu.com: perfect-bound full color covers, color or black-and-white interiors, free ISBN numbers and sales through their own site or through Amazon. Prices vary by page count, but book size does not affect price. You can do a minimum order of one book.

Createspace’s landscape book size is the somewhat smaller 8.25″ x 6″. The cost of the book is a base $1.50 plus 2 cents a page. Createspace does not offer bulk discounts. For our example, the unit cost for the book is $3.90, or $97.50 plus shipping for 25 books. Createspace offers $39 pro plan, which reduces the per unit price of the book to $2.29, or $57.25 for 25 books. (Of course, you need to add the $39 to this initial order, bringing the cost to $96.25. This will save you more money if you end up ordering more books after this initial order. There is an annual $5 renewal fee for this plan, though you can downgrade to standard later on.)

Createspace Pros

Cover quality is great
Interior quality is great with little or no “show-through”
Less expensive
Cover creator for those who want the easiest possible setup

Createspace Cons

No pre-made template for our chosen book size (available for some other book sizes)
A blank spine is recommended, but not required, for books under 130 pages. Text on the spine may shift towards the front or back cover. Blank spines are required for books under 100 pages. This is for type: color or art that wraps around the spine will still show.

A Note on Book Setup

Any program capable of creating a PDF file can be used to create your book, and both companies provide clear information about setting up margins and bleed areas (if you want to print to the edge of a page). I used Adobe Indesign, but if you don’t have that rather pricy piece of software I know of people who have used word-processing programs such as Microsoft Word to create their books. Cover creation using your own program is not difficult, though it can require a little math to work out the spine width. If you plan on creating your own books in the future, I highly recommend taking the time to lay out your own book for the best artistic control over the final product. Both sites have active communities who are happy to help you when you have questions. You will never want to make your book available for sale before doing at least one proof copy; you may require more proofs if you find you’ve made mistakes with your first try.

A Note on Interior Color

POD color is much pricier, but not completely out of reach. For interior color, Createspace definitely wins on price. Using the specifications above but changing to a color interior puts the Createspace cost per book at $16.15, or $400.75 for 25 units. With the pro plan, the per unit cost drops to $9.25, or $231.25 (add the $39 pro plan fee and the price is $270.25). With the bulk discount, Lulu’s unit cost is $25.06, or $626.50. Without the bulk pricing, a single unit is $28.50. I have not printed a color book with Lulu (with that price difference, I decided to try Createspace first). The Createspace color turned out beautifully. I’ve had reports that Lulu’s color is about the same.

I ended up going with Createspace for my own book, and have been very pleased with the service and the product. No matter who you go with, consider a book launch part. I held one at my home and made back my initial order costs and even pocketed some money to put towards future projects. And I got to be the star writer signing books and taking compliments for the evening. You can’t beat that.

Square Bear Design

We will happily talk with you about doing the layout and technical work to produce your book. We can help with both print and ePub (Kindle, iBooks and other e-readers) books. Contact us for more information.