Self Publish Your Novel Part 7: Paperbacks



This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.


Why Hard Copy?

landingpage_paperbackMost successful self-published authors sell far more ebooks than paperbacks. At present, over 90% of the sales of my self-published books are ebooks. Given the fact that it’s much more difficult and expensive to produce a paperback version than an ebook, you may find yourself wondering whether it’s worth the trouble to produce a print version at all.

I think it’s generally worthwhile to do a print version of a novel as well as an e-book. For one thing, it’s very gratifying to be able to hold an actual book with your name on it in your hands. Beyond that, you are bound to have some friends (and hopefully fans) who don’t have e-readers or who would like to have a signed version of your book – something that you can’t offer with an e-book.

Above and beyond all these factors, a print version is a good marketing tool. The irony of electronic publishing is that it has made distributing books almost too easy. If you offer to send an e-book to a reviewer, it’s likely to languish in their inbox with a dozen other e-books. Sending an actual, physical book helps you stand out.


In the previous section, I suggested using a novel template for formatting your book. Most print on demand companies (like Createspace) have these available as free downloads. If you’ve already started your novel, don’t worry: just create a new document using the template and then copy and paste the contents of your original document. Make sure the template that you’re using uses the page size that you have selected for the book.

Use an easy-to-read serif font like Garamond, Goudy, Cambria, Baskerville, Georgia, or Bookman. Times New Roman is still used by most print newspapers, but it’s a little passé for books. Avoid sans-serif fonts (like Arial or Verdana), overly ornate fonts and non-proportional (monospace) fonts (like Courier). Depending on the font, it should be sized at 10 to 12 pt. Chapter headings should be 20 to 36pt, and may or may not be the same font as the body of the book. Chapter headings should start a new page and always appear on odd-numbered pages. The first line of each paragraph should be indented .5”, except for the first paragraph of each chapter, which should not be indented. There are many different acceptable ways of placing the book title/chapter title/author name/page number on the header or footer of the page; I recommend looking at a few recently published novels to find a style that you like.

Save as much of this work as you can until after you’re done with the manuscript. While you’re working on the book, all that matters is that you can comfortably read and navigate it.


There are several print-on-demand companies that will print high-quality paperbacks at a reasonable price, such as with Lulu, BookBaby, CreateSpace and LightningSource.

Most of these companies are fairly similar; they vary mostly in the details of the packages they offer. I’d suggest browsing their websites to find a package that works best for you. I printed my first book through Lulu, but found that their prices had gone up prohibitively by the time I was ready to publish Mercury Falls, so I switched to CreateSpace. At the time, CreateSpace didn’t offer international distribution, so I used LightningSource for that.

LightningSource is a little different from most print-on-demand companies in that they are primarily a printer for other publishers, not a print-on-demand company. To have them publish your book, you have to actually create your own publishing company. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds; it’s basically a matter of filling out a few forms. LightningSource is almost certainly the cheapest print-on-demand company; in fact, many other POD companies (as well as traditional publishing companies) use them to print their books. They are also probably the least user-friendly to work with. That’s not to say they are unprofessional; I’ve had very good experience with their customer service people. But their website isn’t as easy to use as most POD sites, and the whole process requires a bit more effort and expertise.

LightningSource was the most inexpensive, the last I checked, but unless you’re selling a high volume of books, you probably won’t save enough money to make the extra effort worthwhile. Createspace, the most popular option, is relatively easy to use and set up and inexpensive. It’s also owned by Amazon, although I’m not sure there are any real advantages to that other than not having to create a separate account to publish paperbacks. When selecting a POD company, make sure to look at: (1) cost per copy; (2) cost for domestic and international distribution; (3) cost for an ISBN; and (4) return policy.

Print quality isn’t going to vary much between the big POD companies; most of them use the same two or three companies to print their books (Lightning Source being one of the most popular). Some companies offer more robust tools (cover design wizards, document conversion tools, etc.), but these aren’t worth paying more for. You’re not going to get an eye-catching cover from any cover design wizard, and there are plenty of applications out there to convert documents.

As for “additional services” that POD companies provide, such as editing, marketing, and website design – these are usually a waste of money. When you start paying a POD company for these services, you’re getting into “vanity publisher” territory. There is a big difference between paying a company to print your book and paying a company to produce your book. When you decide to self-publish, you take on the responsibility for creating a quality book yourself. If you outsource tasks like editing and marketing to your POD company, you’re giving up a fair amount of control over your book to a company whose primary mission is to make money off you. Make no mistake: as wonderful as the advent of POD is, these companies do not make money by selling your books to consumers; they make money by selling you services.

If you think you need an editor, hire an editor. If you need marketing assistance, hire a P.R. firm. If you need a website built, hire a web designer. Unless you aren’t particularly concerned about quality (and you’re independently wealthy), don’t buy these services as part of a POD company’s package deal. Always know exactly whom you’re paying and what you’re paying them for. You will probably find that you can do a lot of it yourself.

Document Formats

Most POD companies require that your book be in PDF format. You can create a PDF directly from Word or Scrivener.


This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.

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