There are a growing number of Print On Demand (P.O.D.) publishers out there. I’ve worked with a couple, and by far my best experience has been with Xlibris, based in Philadelphia. You’ll find their website at www.xlibris.com There are definite benefits in working with a good P.O.D. publisher, including the fact that they take care of most of the technical details of the printing, leaving you free to focus on the creative process.
Most P.O.D. publishers offer book cover templates on their websites, so you can click through and choose colors and styles you like, then simply drop in or send off your own artwork or pictures, if you have any. Most P.O.D. publishers will also allow you to supply your own cover art, though this can be a daunting process for anyone not experienced with graphic design. This is why print on demand works well for some self-publishing “newbies”. P.O.D. publishers also format the interior text of your book, so you can create your work in a simple word program and then e-mail it away, letting the publisher worry about converting the text into a professional format, with perfect margins and fonts. You can also usually send digital images which they will incorporate into the book on the pages you have chosen - though there is usually a fee for each image you include.
The larger Print On Demand publishers usually have staff to help you with everything from editing to marketing and promoting your book, but remember, with each additional service you tack on, your fee increases substantially. The flat fee for printing your book can sound quite reasonable – some starting as low as $400., but that just gets the process started. Once your book is ready, you’ll have to order copies from the P.O.D. publisher, and this is where things can get quite costly. The cost per book is lowered if you buy a higher volume of books, but one P.O.D. publisher I know of is charging just over $8.00 per book if you’re ordering up to 500 copies, so you should be prepared to charge well over that amount when you’re selling your book just to break even on your printing and publishing costs. Delivery costs (in particular from the States if you’re north of the border in Canada like me) also have to be factored in, and can be quite high. Check on this before you decide on a P.O.D. publisher so you’ll be able to factor shipping into your budget. P.O.D. publishing is a good choice for the author who has a good chunk of cash to invest in their book, but not much experience in book design and layout.
If you decide to work directly with a printer, you will save yourself some money, but be warned, the printer’s job is not to format your text or edit your copy. They’ll expect your book cover and manuscript to be perfectly formatted when you send it to them. To accomplish this, you will have to find someone to work with who’s had experience in page layout and graphic design, (which again, you'll have to factor into your budget) or consider doing what I did – purchase the appropriate software and teach yourself how to do it! It’s a big learning curve if you’ve never done it before, but great rewards come with learning how to do what others would charge you thousands of dollars to do.
When working with a printer, you design your own cover and book interior, but remember, the printer will print what you send, so there will be little margin for error. If you make a mistake, it will be there in black and white (or color!) for the entire world to see, and there will be no one to blame but yourself. Proofs will be provided before you instruct them to go ahead and print, but if you suddenly see numerous errors you didn't catch in time, you'll have to pay for any corrections they may have to make.
The upfront costs when you’re working with a printer may seem quite high – be prepared to spend between $1500. and $2000. or more, depending on how many copies you’ll want. But on the upside, that cost will include both the printing and the publishing, and delivery to your door; and the cost per book is much lower than with P.O.D. publishers – just keep in mind there’s a reason for that. The printer is just there to print and ship the raw material you send them. A Print On Demand publisher will work with you a little more to get the finished product you’re looking for.
That having been said, I work with a great printer here in Canada – Transcontinental, and their representative here in the Maritimes is wonderful. She even came right to my house to have a look at my manuscript and cover on my computer, and provided worksheets to help me properly format my material. I also purchased appropriate book cover and page layout software, which again is a big outlay of cash up front, but in my case I plan to publish a number of books over the next while, so over time my investment will work in my favor.
You have to decide what your needs are to determine what will work best for you. If you decide to go with a Print On Demand publisher, do some internet searches and some comparison shopping. If you want to work directly with a printer, be prepared to properly format your cover and manuscript, or find someone who might be able to help you do that.