Best way to self-publish a book that you do not want to sell?
September 13, 2019 8:28 AM   Subscribe

I want to be able to print a small number of bound, "real book" copies of my novel-length fanfic for myself and a few friends, at a reasonable price, WITHOUT the book getting put on any kind of public sales portal that would expose me to copyright lawyers for making money off my fanfic. Can anyone recommend a service for this? (More details behind the cut.)

I have written a novel-length fan fiction. I'm proud of it, and proud of myself for having reached a lifelong goal of finishing a book. I want to have a bound, printed copy of my work that looks like a real book, and a small number of my friends and readers would also like this.

I have tried looking around at various POD or self-publishing resources, but they all seem to assume that you want to SELL your book. I have no interest in getting C&D-ed by the corporate overlords who own the copyright to the characters who appear in my fanfic, nor do I want to make money from it. I just want to have a nice copy for myself and some personal friends to enjoy.

I do graphic design work professionally, so I can produce the required files myself. What I am looking for is an affordable way to get my own book printed, either on demand or in quite small (10 copies or so) batches, without large deposits, service fees, or overhead costs, and in a way that won't result in my book being listed for sale anywhere. It would also be great if I could order additional copies in the future if I wanted to.

Essentially, I want to make a zine, but get it printed like a book instead of taking it to Kinko's and doing a comb or spiral binding like we used to do back in the day.

The first book I want to do is about 85,000 words, but I have another one I'd be interested in printing that's around 150,000 and one that may be close to 200,000 when complete, so I would like the service to have enough flexibility to print books of different lengths. I do have some art that illustrates the stories, so it would be ideal if the book could include some color pages and definitely high quality color printing for the covers.

Can anyone point me in the direction of a company who would be good for this purpose? The self-publishing field is super crowded and a lot of the things I've found seem pretty scammy, so I would really appreciate someone who has used the service in question.

I'm also open to advice like "You can do this on XYZ's print on demand service if you uncheck the 'add to the e-shop' option."

posted by oblique red to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
While no good for having colour pictures on the cover, if you want nice hardbacks search for "thesis binding". Most PhD theses are bound like hardback books, and printers are used to having small runs including colour pages for things like scientific diagrams.
posted by Vortisaur at 8:34 AM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

I worked at a Kinko's that offered perfect binding. It used a somewhat-terrifying machine that only a few people knew how to operate, so not everyone working there even realized it was an available option, but it totally was and didn't even take all that long if the files had been set up correctly. The books came out pretty slick, kind of like National Geographics but with heavier covers and less floppy due to better paper grain orientation. Hypothetically, you could actually submit the order at any store, and they're supposed to do the work of getting it to one that can do it, then shipping it back to the original store. I don't know if they're still eating the cost of the shipment, but we used to get orders like that and just bill the other store, not the customer.
posted by teremala at 8:48 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I haven't used them in a while, but and both have just book-printing services, without needing to go through distribution to buy one.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:24 AM on September 13, 2019

I helped a family member do this with Blurb! You can definitely print on demand and order additional copies in the future without making it available to the public for sale. We did hard cover trade books with a dust jacket and a second set of hard cover image image wrap books - both turned out really well.
posted by cimton at 9:27 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

It looks as though Lulu xPress might meet your needs:
Lulu xPress does not feature a store or retail distribution at this time. Lulu xPress is designed to quickly print books for projects like employee manuals, yearbooks, workbooks, or classroom materials. You can also use Lulu xPress to print a stock for selling by hand or fulfilling through your own retail website. does offer all the tools for selling your book online through the Lulu Bookstore and retail distribution.
posted by Lexica at 9:38 AM on September 13, 2019

As mentioned, perfect binding is something that many Kinko's and smaller printers can do.
posted by quadrilaterals at 9:46 AM on September 13, 2019

I have also used Blurb to privately print book versions of not-for-sale fanfic.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:16 AM on September 13, 2019

Chiming in to recommend Bookmobile. I think their printing quality is a little better than Lulu. That being said, I haven't used Lulu in years and it's possible they have improved.
posted by degoao at 10:40 AM on September 13, 2019

I had a bad experience with Lulu about 2 years ago. Quality was terrible and prices were high.
posted by night_train at 11:53 AM on September 13, 2019

I also came to suggest blurb. They have a bookstore where you can list your book or facilitate selling on amaazon, but those are options and not at all required. I did a book with them that used trademarked characters and just printed two copies for myself, no problem.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:11 PM on September 13, 2019

You can do this with Kindle. Or Lulu. Set up a paperback, upload your cover and interior PDFs, and order a proof copy. Make sure everything looks good-- if not, fix and upload again. Order as many proof copies as you want. Then simply do not approve the proof for sale.

You get proof copies at a discount, and pay shipping.
posted by zompist at 3:18 AM on September 14, 2019

Hello! I am your friendly MeFite bookbinder. I do stuff like this quite often - MeMail me!
posted by ikahime at 11:18 AM on October 3, 2019

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