how to self-publish a book with $0 setup

Print-on-demand technology has made it possible to have a real published book for much lower cost than traditional publishing houses or vanity presses. By “real”, I mean it’s bound like a book. Note that print-on-demand (POD) is high-quality laser printing, whereas traditional printing is offset printing. The difference is negligible for the average Joe reader. For the book connoisseur, only offset printing will do; and hard cover, not paperback.

There are 3 leading web-based print-on-demand publishers with $0 setup cost:,, and CafePress. (others probably exist, but I’ve found more buzz about these 3)

I haven’t used all 3 to compare them in detail. Here’s what I found that does some helpful comparisons and gives good tips: And, it’s not so much about the setup cost. It’s about sharing your ideas and stories. I think the greatest value with print-on-demand is to get your content published as a book without concerns over the size of the audience. You can make your book available to the masses, the public; publishers and audience sizes won’t get in the way.

Before you dive in and self-publish, be sure you read the fine print about the terms and policies. If your book has any potential in being published by a traditional press, make sure self-publishing does not jeopardize your opportunity with a traditional publisher. Invite honest feedback from a handful of people and have them read your manuscript before you go print-on-demand. For example, THE SHACK has 4 million copies in print and was first self-published via their own company, Windblown Media. (cf. USA Today, Christianity Today)

Think you got a book in you? Maybe someone you know? If you’ve self-published, share your experience in the comments.

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12 Responses

  1. This is a great article for new aspiring authors about POD and Traditional Publishing.

    Kishore Joshi
    One Step At A Time (Manzilein)

  2. human3rror says:

    you working ona title right now? 🙂

  3. Angela Yee says:

    Good article, DJ… I'm curious as to your viewpoint as to how self-publishing would jeopardize an opportunity with a traditional publisher… right after that you talked about The Shack, which was self-published first. I'm a self-publisher but thinking about doing at least one book traditionally published. What are your thoughts?

  4. Angela Yee says:

    Forgot to say my self-publishing site is

  5. Rhett Smith says:

    DJ: Great article.

    I've been thinking about this route…not really sure though. I have some possible opportunities with some publishers, but more and more I like this route for various reasons. I don't know…weighing it all out.

    Thanks for posting this.


    ps now I'm off to review some of your Tweets…you mentioned Lessig yesterday in relation to the slide presentation by Shawn Wood….sparked my curiousity.

  6. djchuang says:

    @Angela, I'm not sure– I've just heard that when I talked with my friends in the publishing industry. Some publishers, I'm guessing, don't want to publish content that is not exclusively theirs.

    @Rhett, here's a sample of the Lessig method… ; maybe we can both ask @shawnwood to post his slides so we can all see them.

  7. Dave Ingland says:

    DJ, did Lulu provide you with ISBN and Library of Congress number or did you need to register for those individually? I looked into self-publishing a book a couple of years ago, but never got anyone to reply to this question on the Lulu forum. Thanks!

    Just as an aside since I am president of a book printing company, on-demand printing is really only cost effective for quantities under 1,000 copies. Anything more and conventional offset printing is gonna have a lower per unit cost.

  8. djchuang says:

    Dave, thanks for your comments! I did get an ISBN number assigned via, there's some info at ; I don't think it's registered at the Library of Congress — that'd be an additional process, which I did not go through.

    Thanks for sharing when the cost per copy changes between print-on-demand and offset printing.

    What would it take to get a book printed/ published by your company?

  9. Dave Ingland says:

    DJ, thanks for the follow-up! I don't publish, I just handle the printing. Most of my efficiencies are in full color books with hardcover binding, such as children's books, cookbooks, etc. However, I have done some non-fiction and biographical work in 1 color. If you or anyone needs any help with printing, let me know via email. There are some good companies here in the US that are economical & provide good quality on one color book projects that I can recommend.