Print a Book for a Gift: The Challenges

Updated on September 7, 2017
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.


Writing for an Audience of One

Received a question about writing and printing a book that the author wanted to give as a personal gift to someone special. Because the subject was very private and the author only wanted it to be seen by the recipient, there was a concern about getting it printed on the self publishing platforms such as Amazon's Createspace. That concern is justified.

Then I had another inquiry about writing a children's book that was intended for one particular child: The author's grandchild. The author wanted it to be a regular printed book, hardcover preferred. And only one copy would be printed as a gift.

Both of these scenarios present the extreme challenges of writing and publishing for an audience of one. Yet, many people want to create these types of gift books for special people in their lives.

So is a project like this even possible? Thanks to technology these days, it can be. But these projects are not without issues.

To Publish Means to Make Public

When you use self publishing platforms such as Amazon's Createspace, they will typically assign an ISBN number to the book, or authors can provide their own ISBN numbers. Either way, it's required, and it puts the book in R.R. Bowker's Books in Print ISBN database. This moves this book from personal to public, which may be undesirable for a private gift.

Remember, the Latin root of the word "publish" means "to make public." So if the content is extremely personal and private, these self publishing platforms should NOT be used!

Printing One Book for a Gift

The reason that these authors initially look to self publishing platforms is that they want to print a book for a gift. Since just one copy of a book can be ordered from the likes of Createspace, that initially seems like a good idea. But the publishing and privacy concerns just discussed make that a bad choice.

So what's the alternative?

Luckily, there are online services such as Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Mixbook that can be used to create and print just one copy of a gift book for a special someone. As a side note, the grandparent author mentioned in the opening example did use Shutterfly for the book and it was a nicely produced product.

Usually, these services are used to put photos, along with some text, into a book format. These can work great for shorter gift books, but there is usually a maximum number of pages that can be printed. And the longer it is, the more expensive it gets. Depending on the service, as of this writing, even one finished copy can start at more than $20, sometimes way more... and that minimum was for just a 20-page (10 sheet) paperback book. Adding a hardcover case binding can quickly escalate the price, even up to double or more. Plus, there will be shipping and handling.

If you are considering using any of these services, be sure read and understand the site's terms of service, pricing, and requirements before buying.

Copyright Issues with Gift Books

Surprised that legal issues could creep into this personal gifting project? Here's how that might happen.

Let's say that the gifted book is good. Maybe the author ends up thinking it's so good that he decides to publish it and make it available on the open market. Well, he owns the copyright, right? But will the recipient feel betrayed or exposed? This presents a unique legal issue involving copyrights, invasions of privacy, and other legal issues that should be discussed with an attorney, ideally one specializing in intellectual property.

Another issue that could arise is if the gifted book recipient feels that she has also received the rights to publish the book or parts of it. Of course, those rights have not been granted! However, not everyone is familiar with copyright and intellectual property law. And with today's reckless sharing of content on social media and the Internet, it could happen. In this case, the author would, justifiably, feel betrayed and may have a claim for any copyright infringement that occurs. Again, discussing this unique intellectual property issue with an attorney is recommended before printing a book as a gift.

Suggest putting a copyright notice on it... even if it is a gift!

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


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  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Glenis, glad to see that you had a great experience with doing this. Thanks for sharing with us!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 6 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Larry! Indeed, it can be a terrific gift idea. I've seen some very nice personal publishing examples from the like of Shutterfly. Especially nice for family gifts. Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Have a great rest of the weekend!

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 6 months ago from Oklahoma

    Great gift idea!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 6 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi AliciaC! I can also see the appeal of a project like this. But I think I'd rather spend my time writing for the masses. :) Thanks for chiming in! Have a great day!

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 6 months ago from UK

    Thanks for the information Heidi.

    About ten years ago, I researched my family history and used a publishing facility available through Ancestry to publish one full colour version, using pre-formatted online designs, provided by the printimg company, for each page. It was a gift for my parents. It doesn't have an IBSN number so nobody else could have a copy printed, even if they wanted to. The book was published in the US and despatched to England. Total cost £60. The book has now been passed down to one of my sons and hopefully will become a family heirloom for future generations. It's a high quality publication - expensive but worth it for something special that will stand the test of time.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is an interesting article. I've never thought of printing just one book, but I can see why it might be an attractive idea for some people. You've given some good information for them to think about.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 6 months ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, in my opinion, too, it's just not worth the hassle. But written works to lovers, family, and friends have been done through the ages. So it's a thing. :) Since I've run across this scenario now multiple times, thought it should be addressed. Thanks for weighing in on it! Have a great day!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 6 months ago from USA

    This is a lot of trouble for one copy, so it better be a really good book and extraordinary circumstance! You highlight so many issues that people would otherwise overlook. Still, I can see it being done.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 6 months ago from Chicago Area

    Billybuc, I know! But I can't tell you the number of times I've run across this scenario. Thanks for chiming in, as always. You have a great weekend, too!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 6 months ago from Olympia, WA

    This is not something I plan on doing, but it's good information just in case.Thanks for copy? Sheez, why bother? LOL Just kidding, I get it.

    Have a great weekend, my friend!