7 Self-Publish Websites to Jumpstart Your Travel Publishing Career
Gone are the days, it seems, where self-publishing your own book was astronomically expensive and totally frowned upon. These days you can get your own book printed and in the hands of a customer on the other side of the world for a surprisingly low cost, and some writers are jumpstarting their travel writing or photography careers on the back of self-published works. Other aspiring writers are simply publishing memoirs about their travels as gifts for friends and family.
Vagabondish is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read our disclosure.
I still dream of getting my first travel book published by a huge, well-known publisher, but I’ve daydreamed about both publishing a small book as a gift for others and as an alternative to mainstream publishing. If you’re thinking along similar lines, then take a look at this bunch of different companies who can help you do the deed.
Lulu is one of the self-publishing sites I’ve heard of most often, and perhaps the cute name helps me remember it. Like most sites, they make it sound an easy matter to get your book published: “Just upload your files and you’ll be on your way” — and your file could be as simple as your own PDF document. Of course, writing or compiling your book is definitely harder than the self-publishing end, so in a sense they’re not wrong.
At Lulu, you can choose from various kinds of book forms including paperbacks, hardbacks and photobooks. For a traveler wanting to show off some of their best travel photography, the photobooks look great, and you use their own Lulu Studio software online to arrange the photos how you want them. The paperback and hardback options are also easy to use and you can either just order copies for yourself and sell them or give them away as you see fit, or you can use Lulu to sell them either through the Lulu Marketplace (they take a small commission) or through other online bookstores including Amazon.
The surprising thing these days — and it’s not just at Lulu — is that it really doesn’t cost that much to get a book printed. For example, a 100-page paperback which is perfect bound (meaning it looks like a normal paperback) has a manufacturing cost of just $6.53 — less if you order over 25 copies. Photobooks are obviously more but still surprisingly reasonable — 20 pages in a hardbound form with pages 9″ x 7″ will set you back $24.95.
A lot of writers report good experiences with Lulu — and of course a few rant about problems, too — but on the whole, they strike me as one of the most reliable print on demand publishers out there. That’s assuming you’re planning to either market your book yourself or are just using it for a gift, of course — I wouldn’t recommend it as a route to publishing stardom.
iUniverse is another self-publishing outlet whose name I’ve heard around the traps a lot. But it’s actually very different to the Lulu publishing model because iUniverse focuses on people who are hoping to sell a lot of books. The process of publishing at iUniverse starts with choosing a supported self-publishing package — the cheapest is $599 — where you get some one-to-one support like editorial evaluation, book and cover design support and distribution assistance.
So iUniverse is perhaps suitable for writers (and not really for photographers) who have written what they consider to be a saleable travel narrative, or perhaps a guidebook, and don’t want to go down the traditional publishing route. If you’re a travel writer with a great website and a reasonable amount of readers already, this could work out for you, and since iUniverse allows booksellers to return unsold books, many mainstream bookshops will be opening to stocking your book — if it’s good enough.
With Blurb we come back to something along the lines of Lulu — designed for anyone to publish anything, at a reasonable price. There are just a few differences: at Blurb, you have to use their software Booksmart to layout your book, they don’t have as many choices for size and format and as far as I can tell, they don’t seem to have the connections to online booksellers like Amazon in the way that Lulu does.
Like Lulu, however, you can either order copies of your book for yourself or you can put it up for sale in the Blurb Bookstore and Blurb takes a small commission on anything you sell there. They have some nice touches at their website, like an easy way to create a book out of your blog, and some sections in their bookshop which are worth a second look — the travel section has some really interesting stuff and some gorgeous photo books — in fact, it’s probably worth the effort just to make your own one-off book as a photo album after a trip because they can come out looking so professional. Prices are similar to Lulu, except that the cheaper paperback version of text-based books doesn’t seem to exist.
For a long time XLibris was not the place to go to print photobooks, but now they’ve emerged from their purely black-and-white days to become a more typical print on demand publisher. There’s an interesting fact attached to XLibris that I didn’t know — they’re 49% owned by publisher Random House. So there’s already some crossover happening between traditional publishers and internet-based print on demand publishers — interesting to hear.
Like iUniverse, XLibris charges you an upfront fee to publish with them, with the cheapest package starting at $299 for a book that doesn’t need any fancy design, although for prolific writers they sometimes have two-for-one specials that make more comprehensive packages the better deal.
XLibris started out publishing academic-style books, and although they’re heading down a more everyday road these days, I still get that academic feel from their website. It’d probably pay to compare the details more closely with iUniverse if you’re considering this kind of self-publishing path.
CafePress is cool: you can create much more than your own books here, because they also offer self-designed T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, and even bowls for your cat or dog. But before I get carried away, I’ll focus on their self-published books section.
The most common self-publisher at CafePress seems to be one who wants to sell their books in a CafePress online shop. Like Lulu or Blurb, there are no upfront costs to writers — CafePress doesn’t get paid until your book is actually printed, so in effect it takes a small commission out of each book you sell. The base prices for books are a little higher than at Lulu — a 100 page, perfect bound paperback comes out at exactly $10.
My sneaking feeling is that CafePress is probably better at creating other stuff like caps and mugs than great looking books, and I’d be inclined to go elsewhere — but I’ve definitely now got inspired to create my own bumper stickers!
Ah, the controversy that is BookSurge. It started life like any other online print-on-demand company but in 2005 it was acquired by Amazon. In early 2008 BookSurge started writing to other print on demand publishers to say that Amazon was only going to sell BookSurge-published books online and would reject print on demand books from any other publisher. Yep, that made it pretty unpopular to say the least. And it’s still an unresolved saga.
This issue alone makes me wary of BookSurge, even though they might end up being the best place to go if you want your book widely distributed. The other good side of BookSurge is they cover the gamut of self-publishing options, from providing your own completely ready PDF through to getting your manuscript designed into a professional-looking book. But they’re a lot more expensive with most publishing packages running into the thousands of dollars.
Qoop is cute and is worth keeping an eye on. It’s not as advanced as other online self-publishers, but it’s got something funky about it that I like. It has similarities to CafePress in that it offers you the chance to use your photos to create mugs and calendars along with self-published photobooks, and you can sell your products through the site too.
One thing I’m not keen on is their scanned-in versions of books that are out of copyright — perhaps I’m just a traditionalist and I don’t like the idea of making money out of that. But who knows where Qoop will head in the future — it’s got a few “coming soon” tags across parts of its site and is obviously still fitting into its niche.
To Self-Publish Or Not?
Of course, whether you actually want to, or even should, self-publish your own travel writing or travel photography is a whole different question, with plenty of arguments on both sides. And they are probably arguments for another post. Instead, I’d love to hear if any of you have had experience publishing with any of these sites – or can recommend another. Let us know in the comments below.