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.

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.


Writing on the Streets of Philadelphia © mezone

Lulu

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

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.

Blurb

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.

XLibris

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.


Mi Moleskine Folio © paul posadas

CafePress

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!

BookSurge

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

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.

18 Responses

  1. Louise Brown

    Hmmmm, how come you didn’t mention Shared Book and Drop the World? You can import your online blogs into their software and publish your writing that way. They are pretty cool sites too.

    Reply
  2. Mike Richard
    Mike Richard

    @Louise: Because that would make 9 sites and the title is *7* Self-Publish Websites to Jumpstart Your Travel Publishing Career.

    Silly girl.

    Reply
  3. Amanda Kendle

    Not at all! That’s why I asked for you readers to recommend some others. Thanks, Louise. Have you used them? Would be curious about your experience.

    Reply
  4. Patricia

    Hello,
    I read your list with interest because I self-published my travel book, “California Healthy,” which has received two national book awards, is endorsed by David L. Katz, M.D., garnered a national distributor, and is the first in-room green guide at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel. That said, I published it through my own company, Park Place Publications, which has been helping other authors self-publish for 20 years. I’m not as cheap as the on-line places you mentioned, but I’m reasonable, reliable and more creative. Books I make with my clients are used as family gifts, business adjuncts, how-to, spiritual, poetry, etc. And it can all be done on-line! Patricia

    Reply
  5. Barbara Hudgins

    As the author of Crafting the Travel Guidebook let me comment that all of the above-mentioned “self-publishing” companies are actually subsidy publishers. You can self-publish your travel guidebook, memoir or how-to-do-it book using Lightning Source or other Print-on-Demand printers. This entails setting up a publishing name (no big deal) getting an ISBN number ($245 in the U.S. but free in many other countries) and finding a book designer to do the cover and interior work unless you are very good at InDesign yourself. Of course you should get an copy editor to go over your work no matter who you use because authors rarely see their own mistakes. BTW, Booklocker.com, a subsidy press that uses some editorial standards published Tim Leffel’s book on the cheapest places to live.
    In Crafting the Travel Guidebook I spend a whole chapter on the differences between traditional publishing, self-publishing and subsidy publishing. Arthur Frommer,Rick Steves and the Wheelers (founders of Lonely Planet) all started with one self-published book, done the old-fashioned way. Subsidy presses have their uses but authors should research very carefully before using them. Most bookstores will not stock subsidy books. It’s a real tug-of-war to get them to even special order a subsidy press book.

    Reply
  6. Amanda Kendle

    Thanks for the info Barbara. Aren’t places like Lulu also pure print-on-demand publishers? Maybe I’m not sure what you mean by subsidy publishers?

    Reply
  7. Andy Ciordia

    Growing as a publisher, next steps? So I’ve made a few books from travel, portfolios, to wedding albums but I’m ready to tackle my first large product. Building a photo essay book chronicling the world food stage that surrounds Terra Madre in Italy. Now I have a good idea of the subject matter, and how I will be capturing it, but how to bring it to market has me a bit perplexed. I can do all my own work, layout, and designs.

    Should I shift into LuLu and be a step up from Blurb’s market-ability, or do I need to go higher and find a publisher? Does anyone have tips on what rings I should be climbing for largest exposure/gain?

    Reply
  8. Pamela Ann Cruthis

    I have a question for you, does anyone know information about PublishAmerica Publisher’s? Any experiences you like to share?
    I have one book, I published with them. The royalities aren’t that great. The checks I’ve received from sells, are only from the UK.
    My book is World-Wide, and I only get paid from sells from one Country! This doesn’t make sense to me at all.
    I’ve had book signing events with ” Waldenbooks Stores ” In which they sponsered me. They bought the copies to sell, not only for the signings.
    But they have my book on thier shelves to sell. What wrong with this picture? Does anyone know how I can find out more about the other sells in the USA?
    I welcome your comments if you like to e-mail me. I would love to know what you have to say. Right now, I’m working on my second book of poetry.
    But I don’t think, I’ll be choosing them to publish this time. Anyone know of a great Publisher I can contact?
    Thank-you all for your time and interests with my questions and comments.

    Pamela

    Reply
  9. Louise Brown

    Yeah I have. I know that they publish any kind of crap that you throw at them. I had to review a couple of their crap books for my old job, it was awful. I refuse to read anything published by this company.

    Reply
  10. Chloe

    Does anyone know of any self publishing sites that let you print on recycled paper? Looking for places more like LULU with minimal up front costs.

    Reply
  11. Léazz

    Hi, guess this post was 2008 and here i am one year later commenting. Anyhow, i have just self published my children’s book thru Lulu and am waiting anxiously for my hard copy. :) Léa from Singapore

    Reply
  12. Andy

    Hello,
    I realize this was posted some time ago and some of your facts may have been true, but I wanted to give you an update. Blurb and Lulu are not without upfront costs. Lulu charges $99 just to get the book up there, and in order to sell your book in there distribution network, you have to buy an isbn, which I think is another $20. Blurb just requires you to purchase at least one copy.

    In the grand scheme of things, $120 is really not that much. Blurb does seem to be the cheaper model, but you don’t get the distribution. I wish I could find a publisher that worked more along the lines of an apps publisher, like Apple or Android. They charge you a developer fee, but after that you can submit as many apps as you want and set your own prices.

    Reply
  13. Cristina Marin

    Pretty interesting post. I am new to self-publishing just because I recently discovered my ability to write novels. I guess I got encouraged on the way, when I realised I could publish my own book. Now I do some reasearch on how to do it the best way possible being aware that I have to invest a lot of time in marketing my novel. That’s why I’ve also purchased a domain for the book. And by the way Amanda you have a pretty unusual name …sounds like Kindle but I bet you hear that a lot.

    thank for the post

    Reply

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