Updated: Sep 27, 2021
Researching self-publishing can seem complicated at first, but it doesn't have to be.
If you want to self-publish, there are two main ways:
1. Offset printing
This is when you print your book in bulk (usually 1,000+ copies) and then use a Seller Central account to sell them on Amazon. You can also sell them on your own website. While the cost-per-book is lower this way, the upfront cost is more expensive. You'll need to factor in Seller Central fees, shipping fees and supplies, warehouse fees, and other costs. It is logistically more complicated but offset printing has benefits.
First, you have more trim size options than print-on-demand. You can also add features like dust covers, foil letters, end pages, and more. Offset printing is also the only way to print board books, touch and feel books, or other specialty books.
Want to calculate your Seller Central sales margin? Click here and scroll down to the Cost Calculator.
The second way to self-publish is by using a print-on-demand company like KDP or IngramSpark. These companies act as a printer and distributor, making your book available on sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Target.com, etc. When a customer orders your book from one of those sites, the POD company prints it, ships it to them, and sends you money.
There are a lot of upsides to this because there is little-to-no upfront cost and you don't have many logistics to handle. You are limited in your printing choices, however. KDP only does ebook and paperback printing/distribution and IngramSpark does ebook, paperback, and hardcover. (Read more about why you should use KDP and IngramSpark together)
The important thing to keep in mind is that when you self-publish, YOU are the publisher.
Don't waste time looking for a "self-publisher" because...that's you. You need to find a printer and a distributor. With offset printing, you either distribute yourself or pay for Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). With print-on-demand (POD) the printing and distribution fees are built-in.
The main takeaway is that you need to decide what's best for yourself. Some authors even choose to do a hybrid! They do POD for their paperback and offset for their hardcover. Or they do POD for online distribution and order offset print runs for school visits, bookstore orders, and vendor events. Don't let other people's numbers affect your decision--you need to do your own math!
Why do I say that? Because for one author, POD will earn them the highest royalties. For others, offset printing will do that. The printing and shipping costs for each book are different so weigh the pros and cons yourself. Only you can decide what works best for you.