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  • Writer's pictureHandsel Publications

Print-on-demand options for unpublished personal projects

We're all aware of Amazon as an outlet for self-published books - but what if you want to print without publishing?

A year ago, I began a project to give my mother a hardcover copy of her autobiography - printed a decade ago in paperback - as a surprise for her 100th birthday. It was springtime of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting the US.

Print-on-demand for personal use is a burgeoning service

Self-publishing with Amazon KDP is possibly the most-forgiving of the publishing services available. It now automatically handles tasks the author had to do themselves back in 2014, and its print requirements are less rigorous than those of other print-on-demand services. But, they don't offer private unpublished print-on-demand.
Since replacing CreateSpace with KDP Print services, a proof copy has a "Not for Resale" banner around the center of the cover - front, spine, and back. It's not until after publishing your book that you can order an author copy. If your book is for personal use or private distribution only, Amazon is not an option.

What didn't work

The notion of a hardcover book for my mother began years ago, when I met with a book binder in Colorado Springs. We discussed options for a leather cover, but they didn't do book printing. It seemed I didn't have a way to get a book printed to their specifications to pursue the leather cover option. It also would have been expensive - a few hundred dollars. The positive was that the leather options and samples were many, beautiful, and felt wonderful.

In 2020, the idea revived when I received an email message from Book Baby offering a print copy of any book, any binding they provided, for about $40. I downloaded Book Baby's templates, converted a pdf of the book to Microsoft Word, and spent several full days reformatting.

The sticking point with this book is that it is chock full of old photographs. Some are black and white; more recent ones are in color. Some are grouped together as a single image, and I had no idea how my brother had handled inserting them into the book. They appeared fairly willy-nilly in their alignment, though they did associate with the text next to which they were placed. I did not have access to the originals from which they had been scanned. They likely were not CMYK, nor were they 300 dpi. Several were blurry, faded, or slightly red-tinged with age.

Amazon KDP, with which I was most familiar, did not offer either hardcopy printing or private, unpublished projects in early 2020. I didn't know exactly what my print options would be with Ingram Spark, but didn't pursue it because (a) their upload requirements are rigorous, (b) there's a charge for uploads, and (c) I anticipated upload failures and questionable likelihood of ultimate success. I met similar challenges with Book Baby. When it appeared that add-on fees for Book Baby's handling of issues with the manuscript would add up to more than I considered affordable, I abandoned that route.

Next, I tried Lulu. I got started, had a question, attempted to contact their customer service, and received a message that they were overwhelmed with customer contacts since they had recently performed an upgrade, had known issues, and customers could leave a message for return contact. None came.

One of the issues was that I was unfamiliar with formatting a file for a hardcover book. Cover templates generally are provided for Adobe PhotoShop, InDesign, and something else that I neither own nor know how to use. I measured and "eyeballed" mine in a cover-design application I had purchased several years prior. I didn't know if Lulu or Book Baby would accept a cover not submitted in one of their template files.

At that point, my attention was drawn toward how to get groceries, paper towels, and toilet paper without being around people. I already had spray disinfectant and wipes to deal with a cat coronavirus that had proved to be sometimes fatal. That experience, by the way, left me unsurprised by the vast array of symptoms and internal organs affected by COVID-19 - the cat coronavirus had behaved similarly. I abandoned the print project for the year.

What has worked - so far

In response to a post in a writing group, I received a suggestion to use Barnes and Noble or Lulu. Heather explained that both offer "private projects" for which it's possible to print without meeting more rigorous publishable manuscript requirements. This was news to me!

I had spent days reformatting the original 8.5" x 11" manuscript to 8.25" x 11" (for a beta version of a then-confidential service) and trying different fonts and their sizes, attempting to create a large-print version that maintained its size when converted to a pdf. Now, I needed to switch back to 8.5" x 11" or drop down to 6" x 9" in order to print a hardcover with Barnes and Noble. They offer a wide variety of trim sizes, but only some have the case laminate hardcover option, and fewer still can be printed hardcover with a dust jacket.

Opting to begin with a case laminate in 8.5" x 11" as needing the least reformatting, I spent a day on the manuscript and its cover. I had two very different cover options, and hoped to find a way to print two of each - one each for my mother and one each for me; and possibly one for my brother, though I doubted that he'd be thrilled with it. He, his wife, and I were less than enchanted with our mother's book. Though she has impeccable grammar and English usage in general, she had been somewhat secretive in some of her writing, overusing pronouns and leaving the reader in doubt as to just who had done what.

It's worth noting that each printer-publisher that I tried had different size specifications for the case laminate hardcover file. They're broken down to overall width and height, front cover width and height (and matching back cover measurement), spine width, bleed, margin, and hinge.
While a perfect-bound paperback cover matches the trim size of the manuscript, a hardcover must be larger to accommodate both the larger width and height of the boards and the margin where the cover wraps around the boards to the interior, where adhesive secures it. (The inside of both front and rear boards, including the adhered cover margin, are covered with a heavy grade of plain paper, at least in the proof copy I had received for a published book.)

Barnes and Noble

In a full day, I was able to reformat both manuscript and cover to Barnes and Noble specifications, and upload the files. Barnes and Noble provides templates, but I did not use them. I use an application I purchased several years ago for creating book covers and exporting the images to pdf files. Similar to Amazon KDP, you upload the manuscript, you upload the cover, and you preview the manuscript in its cover. At any of those stages, you may receive messages indicating an issue that you need to correct.

After uploading each component (multiple times) and finally approving the copy, it was noted that the book was in review. That was nearly two days ago; last I checked, it still showed as being in review.

Barnes and Noble print pricing is competitive. For a 280-page standard-quality color print of an 8.5" x 11" laminate (with image) hardcover, the print cost estimate is just over $20. That's approximately half of the print cost for the beta service I had considered. (I can elaborate in the future on the beta option when it's no longer classified as confidential.)


Lulu offers either a case or a dust jacket option for their hardcover books. The "case" is not a slip-case -- it appears to be what I've known as case laminate. The image is part of the cover itself. Since I had just gone through that process with Barnes and Noble for one cover design, I opted to go the 8.5" x 11" case laminate route with Lulu for the other cover design. For a dust jacket version, I could keep the same trim size with Lulu, or reduce to 6" x 9" with Barnes and Noble.

Both Lulu and Barnes and Noble offer an option to create a "new version" of your book project. I still don't have a response from Barnes and Noble whether a new version wipes out the preceding version, or whether you can have multiple versions of the same book available within the same project.

The day after submitting the book to Barnes and Noble, and while waiting for it to proceed from the "in review" status, I began a private not-for-publication Lulu project. I could upload the same manuscript that I had used with Barnes and Noble. After accomplishing that, I spent the rest of the day and evening trying to get a version of the alternate cover design finished. One of Lulu's template options for the cover is a .png file. I downloaded that and used it in my cover design application to help format the cover while minimizing the measuring, eyeballing, and trial-and-error technique. When complete, I removed the template image. At midnight, the upload of the 64 Mb pdf cover file failed twice with no indication whatsoever of the cause of the failures. I didn't know if it was too large, and was unable to find a documented maximum upload file size.

Lulu provides three cover options: (1) upload your completed pdf cover, (2) pick a pre-formatted cover and update it, which seems to allow very little room for deviation from the original, (3) use a Cover Creator which links to Canva, sending along some of the cover specs in the process; when complete in Canva, it goes back to Lulu. After the second midnight failure, I decided to try the Canva option in the morning.

One issue: The three cover options are selected by radio buttons. I had selected the upload option. In the morning when I came back to the project, there was another type of button elsewhere to go to Canva. When I clicked that Canva button, the radio button stayed on the "upload completed file" option. When returning from Canva, the preview showed an empty cover, but the manuscript was loaded. I selected the "Cover Creator" via Canva radio button, repeated the Canva process, and that time the cover appeared in the manuscript preview.

Lulu's color print option uses an 80# coated white paper, whereas other printer-publishers use 60# or 70# paper. The technical message it displayed indicated that the large number of images in the book should use the premium color option rather than the standard color option. I had originally selected standard color because the images aren't the best quality to begin with.

I approved the manuscript with cover, and received a message that the processing was taking longer than usual, and I should check my "Projects" tab later. It was there within two minutes, and I was able to order my copies right away.

The print cost for the 280-page 8.5" x 11" with standard color print was $22 and some odd cents. When upgraded to premium color printing, it leaped to $56 and some cents per copy. $64-even, with tax and shipping. (A local printer had told me a hardcover would start at $250 just to set up and make the cover, and that didn't yet consider the cost of printing the book. Price to print a dust jacket that size was a minimum $50. I'm still waiting for the full quote, but at this point that option is probably overcome by recent events.) Even $56 per copy seemed like peanuts when compared to the bits of a quote I had been given by the local printer.

The Book Patch

Another response to my query about POD (print on demand) options recommended The Book Patch.

They offer perfect binding for paperback books and spiral binding, but not hardcover. I have no personal experience with The Book Patch beyond visiting their website. Their pricing seemed reasonable.


  • Both Lulu and Barnes and Noble offer private projects for print-on-demand books that you don't want to publish.

  • Both have options to skip over the normal requirements for images internal to the manuscript. (Normal requirements: CMYK color; grayscale for black and white images; 300 - 600 dpi image resolution.)

  • Both provide templates for manuscript and cover. Templates may require products such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign.

  • Both have similar upload and review processes. Using the Chrome web browser on Microsoft Windows 10, I had to refresh pages multiple times throughout the process on the Barnes and Noble site to clear error or hang situations.

  • Barnes and Noble provides meaningful error messages for your troubleshooting pleasure. Lulu did not, for the cases I encountered (failure of the cover pdf to upload, with no indication why).

  • Barnes and Noble has a review process between your manuscript approval and your ability to purchase a copy of your book. Into the second day, I don't know how long that takes. Lulu provides the ability to purchase your book almost immediately upon your manuscript approval.

  • Neither Barnes and Noble nor Lulu provides the extensive and easy-to-find documentation of their processes, options, specifications, and other requirements that Amazon KDP offers. Barnes and Noble specifications and print options/limitations were eventually found, but not until I had resorted to trial-and-error and written them down. I still don't know the maximum upload file size for either of them. Nor do I know what allowed the Canva cover to succeed where my pdf had failed.

This post will be updated with print quality information after the print copies are received!

#printondemand #bookprinting

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