On-Demand Publishing Web Options and Resources

Falling books

I’m looking into a low-cost method for getting a book published and available on-line so I thought I would share what I found while combing through the web.

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • No huge up-front costs or minimum purchases
  • Makes it easily available to on-line merchants like Amazon
  • Is a true publication with an ISBN
  • Is easy to set-up (though I’ll work with something that handles all of the above well)

The list of links at the bottom of this page (along with Google) helped me come up with a list of potentials. The first step I took to pare down the fairly daunting list was to cut out anything that cost more than $600 (even that was a bit high, to be honest). I’m a bootstrapper and so is my client for the time being. This particular book just needs to be out there and available.

After trimming a bit and searching, I narrowed it down to the following:

A couple of these – Lulu and Blurb – were on my radar but I had yet to do any in-depth research on them. iUniverse was a company I had heard about a while ago and wanted to see what they were all about. I had never heard of Virtual Bookworm before making this list but it was rated very highly by one particular site so I figured it would be worth my time to check it out.

Here’s what I found…


I heard this name in conversation and decided to check out their site. I’m glad I did because this might just be the option that I’ll use.

Options include:

  • Getting an ISBN
  • On-line distribution
  • On-line storefront
  • On-demand (you can buy one or a million

It looks like they have what I need but there are more questions to be answered. Here is more information about what they offer and what you can expect (I found this be combing their FAQs):

  • You are limited in the fonts that you can use in your book (unless you can embed them in Acrobat when you create a PDF)
  • Lulu will add an ISBN barcode, content ID/URL (from the Lulu site), and a Lulu logo (which can be removed) to your back cover – very nice!
  • You can choose a “published by you” option for $100 that lists you as the publisher, gives you an ISBN, distributes bibliographic information, retail price conversion, listing on a wholesale catalog (meaning that you can be distributed on Amazon, etc). Reading a little further into how you make money, “published by you” income is not considered a royalty so no taxes are withheld and it is not reported to the IRS (by Lulu).
  • You can also choose a “published by Lulu” option for, again, $100. The difference is the publisher name for the book, ISBN ownership (they own it), and distribution (they feed their data to a “global marketplace,” whatever that means). If you choose the published by Lulu option, the money you make meets the definition of royalties and is subject to tax withholdings.
  • They do offer to list ebooks (downloadable copies) and they won’t charge you anything besides their 25% commission.
  • How you are paid is quite confusing. You can get it through PayPal (boo) or check and you receive your payment quarterly.
  • They let you send thank-you notes to your buyers (aww).

I like Lulu… a lot. Before I make a choice, however, I want to check out a few others.

Virtual Bookworm

I found this site from one of the links below (Other Resources). Their website is not quite as polished as Lulu but that doesn’t make a damn bit of difference if they have the goods. Their basic package for a softcover book is $360 and includes the following:

  • ISBN assignment(for the printed version)
  • Copyright application kit
  • Book page on our website
  • Barcode
  • 15 free internal graphics/images (must be submitted to specs)
  • Data Backup
  • Full Distribution
  • Drop Shipment
  • Book registration through Amazon.com, Books in Print, Borders
  • 50% royalties of net receipts (Approximately 30-35% of cover price on books sold through us!)
  • Quarterly Sales Report
  • Author may purchase first order of his/her book for 50% off list price (subsequent orders 30% off list, but discount increases with larger orders)

What I like about this site is that they offer several additional options (for extra money, of course):

  • $65 for an ebook package added to any book
  • $100 to keep additional copies in their warehouse on-hand (to avoid delays)
  • $80 to add a Library of Congress number to the book
  • And much more!

I like all the extra options they offer but I’m confused as to why their service costs so much more than Lulu’s and their royalties are less (50% for Virtual Bookworm compared to 75% for Lulu). The only major difference I see is the addition of graphics, a data backup (you should be doing this yourself)… anything else?

More information from their knowledge base:

  • They offer up to $100 back if your files are print-ready.
  • According to them, they “use the two largest distributors in the world.”
  • They seem honest and straightforward (judging by their knowledge base entries).

I like what I saw on their site and they’re been in the business since 2000 which is quite a while for a POD publisher. With the $100 rebate, their start-up cost is only $260 and I like the options that are available.


These guys have also been around for a while; in fact, this was the first name I’ve ever heard for self publishing. My mom was going to use this service for a genealogy book a little while back and liked what they had to offer at the time.

The first major difference between the other two is the price: $599 for the lowest package. This package includes (among other things):

  • Custom cover design
  • ISBN assignment
  • Five free copies
  • Volume discounts for author purchases
  • eBook formatting (50% royalty) with DRM
  • A marketing kit (with business cards, post cards, and other effluvia)
  • Author support

After reading a bit on the site, it seems like iUniverse comes with enough extra stuff to warrant the $300 premium over Virtual Bookworm (though maybe not the $500 premium over Lulu). That is, until I read the page about royalties; “iUniverse pays its authors a royalty of 20 percent on print sales and 50 percent on electronic (eBook) sales.” Yikes, that’s the lowest of the bunch and will make a big difference regardless of how many books you sell.

The start-up price and the low royalties are enough to turn me off of them right away.


This company offers a free software program to layout your book called BookSmart. I had a HECK of a time getting this thing downloaded and installed and, once I did, it was not immediately clear how to use it. Regardless, their website is great, their concept is simple, and their Flash page-flipping thingy is very slick.

The problem I have with this company is that it takes a while to actually figure out what’s going on with their service. This isn’t so much a publishing and distributing service as it is a way to make custom books. You design it, make it with their software, upload it to their server, buy at least one copy, and they display it on their site. They charge you a flat rate for printing (per book) and you keep everything on top of that. It’s all pretty straight-forward, ever if it isn’t really what I’m looking for right now.

I really like their service but they are a bit expensive. The lowest-cost option is a 20-40 page 7×7 inch square book for $12.95 (not including shipping).

…in summary…

I always find it exciting when barriers to entry come down. Getting picked up by a publishing company is difficult (statistically speaking) and no amount of perspiration will make the critical difference. If your book doesn’t fit with what they want, you don’t get to be published, end of story. That’s a scary challenge for potentially amazing authors who don’t already have a following or a previous publication.

I know my client can have great success writing for people and, at the end of the day, the publishing house that we pick is less important than the time we spend to make the book content engaging and useful. As long as the quality is there and the book is released to all the proper distribution channels then it has the chance to become successful. I believe very strongly in my client and I think he has what it takes to make an impact in his industry.

If you are out there struggling with publishers and agents and getting nowhere, consider a different route. If you truly believe in your own content and you think you have what it takes, it’s time to look at the different channels that the internet affords you. Cough up the $100 and get your book available, first and foremost. Start a blog and show people why you’re an expert. Get some free stuff out there – articles, features, etc – so people can taste what you have to offer. Make yourself as accessible and visible as possible, involve yourself socially in a community (internet, regionally, or locally), and get the conversation started.

In the end, I’m going to leave the decision up to my client. This is his first book and I want him to have some sort of control over the process. I’m definitely going to recommend Lulu and Virtual Bookworm because their price is right and I can’t see a reason to pay any more than what they ask.

Stay tuned for a review of the process when we get going!

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Self-publishing Writing