How to Self-Publish a Full-Color Book

Self-publishing a novel or how-to book that’s primarily text with black/white interior is relatively easy in this print-on-demand world. But what if you have a book with a full-color interior—a cookbook, a children’s book, a book with color photography?

Aperol Spritz photo

If you go the print-on-demand route with either KDP or Ingram Spark, you’ll soon find that you’ll be forced to set a list price for your book that’s so high most readers won’t buy. That’s because color interiors are very expensive for print-on-demand vendors to produce.

So, what can you do?

I just published Mastering Classic Cocktails: Recipes and Techniques for the Home Bartender, a hardcover book with full-color interior, on Amazon. What a trip! After weeks of wandering around Amazon’s massive site, I finally found an insider at Amazon who helped me figure it out. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most difficult, I’d say that any individual author trying to do the same without an insider’s help would find the task to be a 9+.

So let me break down what I learned. It’s not the only process, I’m sure, but it’s the most efficient.

  • Have your book printed by a short-run printer. You’ll have to take a financial risk here because you can’t know in advance how many copies you’ll sell. You want to print as high a number as possible because the more you print, the lower the per-book cost will be. We printed 400 hardcover copies of Mastering Classic Cocktails to start, and had about 100 sent to us directly for various launch efforts (launch party, awards entries, book signings, requests for testimonials, etc.)
  • Consign the bulk of your print-run to Amazon through Amazon Seller Central. This is not KDP. Rather, it’s the place where every other seller on Amazon consigns products—T-shirts, lawn furniture, coffee mugs, you name it. Ugh! You won’t believe how much info you must wade through to figure out how to list a book.

NOTE: You’ll find that Seller Central pushes you to join its Brand Registry. It took me a week and a several emails to Amazon and copyright lawyers to discover that books should not be–are not even allowed to be–registered in the Brand Registry, and registering has nothing to do with protecting your copyright, so don’t spend time here.

  • Choose Fulfill by Amazon (FBA). Don’t try to fulfill orders yourself. (You are not a shipping clerk. Your garage is not a warehouse.) And don’t try to save money by using an outside fulfillment house. I made the mistake of contracting with an outside fulfillment house, and I found out—after the fact (surprise!)—that Amazon will not allow you to offer Prime shipping unless you use FBA. As a result, Mastering Classic Cocktails’ delivery window on the Amazon page is listed as “4 to 14 days,” even though my shipper fulfills orders either same-day or day-after-order-placed. Who waits that long for a book delivery?! I’m sure this little detail has cut down on sales. Plus, it turns out that FBA is actually cheaper than my fulfillment house.

NOTE: I found several of the screens on Seller Central glitchy, loading slowly or not at all. I learned that these problems occur when using Firefox. You can get around this problem by using Chrome.

  • Ship the bulk of your print-run directly from your printer to Amazon. Once you set up Fulfill by Amazon (FBA), you’ll be able to print labels from Amazon that you can send to your printer. Your entire print-run, less whatever you need for your launch, then goes directly to one Amazon fulfillment center. They’ll warehouse, pick & pack, and ship for you. And they’ll handle customer returns.

Having just spent weeks figuring all this out, I’m surprised at how straightforward it sounds in this post. But trust me: I had to weed through a thicket of screens and links to pare down this info so it focuses on books. Good luck. And email me if you need a suggestion for a short-run printer.

2 thoughts on “How to Self-Publish a Full-Color Book”

  1. Thanks so much for this! It’s so good to know what to look out for in the Seller Central interface.
    I always use my own ISBN when I publish a book through Kdp and Lightning Source.
    Of course I’m wondering which short-run printer(s) you recommend. :) I imagine I can use that same ISBN through Seller Central?

    • Hi Linnea, I use Integrated Books International out of Dulles, Virginia. If you’re interested, I recommend you contact Tony Crouch, who is my liaison to that company. He’s a wonderful resource for all book production questions, and he shepherds my projects through. Email me directly at hollybrady.publishing@gmail.com and I’ll give you his email address.

      And if your book is the same format (hardcover, softcover, etc) and the same text and cover, you can use the same ISBN number.


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