In this digital day and age, it can be hard to know whether printing physical books is a worthwhile endeavor, when ebooks have become so prominent and accessible for readers. As an ebook entrepreneur, you probably haven’t spent much time considering the possibilities of printing your book on demand. After all, why spend money on additional design work and printing costs when ebooks are so much easier to format and distribute?
However, some authors may not realize the unique advantages of printed books, especially if you’re an indie author who could benefit from a bit of above-and-beyond marketing! That’s not to say printing on demand is a wise choice for every indie author, only that you shouldn’t rule it out. To that end, here are four reasons you might consider printing on demand, at least for a limited run — along with a few final considerations for those of you on the fence.
You should consider printing your book on demand if…
1. You struggle to attract early reviews
Because reviews provide concrete social proof that other readers will enjoy your book, it’s crucial to have them as soon as possible, or else readers may hesitate to buy it. In order to display reviews on your Amazon and Goodreads pages in the first days of your book launch, you’ll need to attract early reviews from a handful of reliable people.
Yes, it’s true some ebook authors find it easy to rake in tons of reviews. But more often than not it’s a serious challenge, especially when there aren’t any current reviews urging people to pick up your ebook (you might think of it as a positive feedback loop). The good news is it only takes a couple of reviews to get the ball rolling… and this is where print-on-demand comes in.
Sending physical copies of your book to select reviewers can be incredible in terms of convincing them to write and post reviews as soon as your book comes out. Not only is a physical book more aesthetically appealing and difficult to ignore than an ebook, but reviewers who receive them will be touched by the gesture, making them more likely to reciprocate with a review. (Pro tip: check out this directory of book review blogs to find reviewers who might appreciate a physical copy!)
2. You’re attending a writing conference soon
You may also benefit from printing a small number of books if you’re attending a writing conference anytime soon. Between panels and workshops, you’ll mingle with other authors and publishing professionals, and one of the most effective ways to network is to offer them a physical product — in this case, your book.
The logic tracks from the previous reason as to why this approach works so well. A printed book is a beautiful, tangible representation of yourself as an author, and giving it to someone is much more memorable than emailing them an EPUB or MOBI (though you should still have this option available). In addition, having physical copies on hand signals to literary agents and publishers present that you’re serious about your work, and take great care to present it well.
Needless to say, if you’re in pursuit of a traditional publishing deal, the stakes are high at writing conferences — hence why you should at least consider the potentially career-changing tactic of handing out printed books.
On the other hand, if you’re committed to self-publishing (as most ebook authors are), you may already have a foundation of loyal readers to help you thrive. If this is the case, the third reason to consider printing on demand is simply to maintain that loyalty. Not that you wouldn’t be able to do so with ebooks alone! But from the perspective of a fan, being able to order a newly minted physical book from an author you love — whose work has heretofore existed only as ebooks — would be pretty cool, right?
So if you’ve established a strong fanbase, and especially if you’re writing a series of books, think about printing your next title on demand for readers to buy. You’re almost guaranteed to get at least a couple orders; plus your biggest fans won’t mind paying a little extra for a physical copy, so you can increase the price a bit from the ebook price. (Royalty percentages are another story, but hey, you’re hopefully not doing this entirely for the money.)
You might even combine this reason with reason #1 and send printed — and signed! — copies to your especially huge fans, with the aim of accumulating those invaluable early reviews. Not only are they more likely to have positive feedback, but again, the personal gesture will solidify them as a fan forever.
4. You’d just like a physical copy or two
All that said, you don’t need a specific, calculated reason to print your book on demand. As long as you can afford it, you can print your book anytime you want! You may simply want to hold a physical copy of your book in your own hands. If that’s your dream, don’t wait until you have a “good reason” — in the words of Nike, just do it.
You may find it gratifying to print your book for family and friends. Yes, they’ll all be proud of you for publishing in the first place… but won’t they be even more excited to see your book in the flesh? To that end, it’s never a bad idea to have a few printed copies available to give as gifts. (Not to mention that, if you want to get a sense of how other people will perceive it, reading a physical copy of your book will give you fresh eyes!)
Reasons not to print on demand
This post has covered a few common reasons to consider printing your book on demand. But these reasons depend on fairly specific situations, and if you’re unlikely to encounter any of these in the imminent future, I wouldn’t blame you for sticking to ebooks.
Also, even if the aforementioned reasons do apply to you, there are still potential drawbacks to printing on demand. Cost is perhaps the most prohibitive — not just the cost of the printing itself, but also for a spine and back cover design (which you obviously don’t need for an ebook) and reformatting the text of your book in a print-friendly manner. If your budget is already stretched, it may be best to refrain from printing your book for now.
Another consideration is which print-on-demand service you use, and the reality that you can never be 100% sure what your proofs will look like until you get them. If the spine bleeds, the text is off-kilter, the pages are too thin, or any of countless other issues arise, you may have to pay for another round of printing or opt for a different service altogether.
Finally, if you’re still tweaking your book — for example, if you published a slightly rough ebook and plan to revise the current version after an editor takes a look — then you’ll definitely want to hold off on printing it. Typos in an ebook are bad enough, but typos in a physical book are dire; they practically leap off the page and poke you in the eye.
Even if you’re not worried about typos, you never know if you might want to redesign your cover, or change a certain plot element that you regret. If you feel at all uncertain about the contents of your book, you’re definitely better off waiting to print it — rather than manifesting that uncertainty into an inescapable (unless you pull a Fahrenheit 451) physical form.
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a platform that connects authors with the world’s best resources to help them publish a book. She’s very passionate about self-publishing in particular and making it possible for authors everywhere to achieve their dreams! In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.