Creating Books on CreateSpace

Print? Why bother? The eBook revolution is taking over, any self-respecting indie-author knows that - eBook revenues doubled in 2011 to over $2 billion in the US market. If they do so again in 2012, then by this time next year eBooks will have over a third of the publishing take.

And it's the eBook that has enabled the self-publishing revolution - and Amazon's KDP program have led the way in allowing individual authors to compete on a more or less level-playing field with the big publishing houses. Author's are dreaming of electric books, it's why we're all here - so, why bother with print for your self-published book?

I had a pretty good answer to that question until about six months ago - don't.

Distribution is much tougher for print compared to an eBook. Although you can easily get the print book listed on Amazon and B&N's website, the big chains are very unlikely to stock a self-published volume in their stores. And it's a long hard road, hand-selling to individual, independent book shops. Price is also a problem, as it's only volume that gets the cost down, and that means financial risk and raises the question of storage, but...

While there's no doubt that seismic shifts are taking place in publishing and that within a few years the eBook will dominate, just flip that opening statistic around and you'll see that over two thirds of books are still sold as print editions. It's an awful big chunk of the market to turn your back on.

So, a few months ago I started looking at the Print-on-Demand or POD suppliers - these are the people who take a file (usually a PDF or two) of your book and print a single edition whenever someone buys one.

The advantages are massive - there's no stock to be held anywhere and there's no financial risk, no (or little) upfront payment. The POD supplier just takes a cut of each sale to cover their costs and hands you the rest as a royalty. Once I'd done the research and thought about it a little, it wasn't so much 'Print? Why bother?' as 'Print? Why not?'

I decided to go with Amazon's CreateSpace programme, not least because I'd been so happy with the Kindle Direct Publishing experience for my eBooks. But there was lots of advice to that end, notably, Dean Wesley Smith (who also makes the case for print publishing in more detail), David Gaughran, and Jen Talty. I also researched formatting it myself, but in the end I followed David Gaughran's advice and got Heather Adkins at Cyberwitch Press to do it.

I had to go back to my original cover designers to get a higher resolution image, but I was able to put the rest together inside CreateSpace's cover-building program. There is the cost of the proof, and I coughed up the $25 for the expanded distribution program, but in total all of this came to about US$100 and a couple of days work.

And the result is fantastic. I was so pleased with the proof of The Fulcrum Files that I went straight-ahead and put The Defector and The Wrecking Crew back into print with CreateSpace. The only difference to a trade-published edition is that you can't get those lovely matt, waxy covers that are all the rage these days - they only come in gloss. Otherwise, if you put the care and effort into the preparation then the proof copy that drops through the door will be a delight.

The downsides still exist though, the price to the customer is high. I can't sell the books for less than the £7.99, £8.99 and £9.99 that I've priced them at - but at least they are available for those people who haven't, and perhaps won't shift to eReading. And having the price comparison does make the eBooks look cheap, which is not a bad thing.

The first monthly royalty cheque got me well over half of my investment back. I should clear the rest this month - and that's without the sales from a recent book launch for the print edition (at the pub that featured in the novel) netting a three-figure profit.

So while I'm still very much dreaming of electric books, I no longer have nightmares about printed ones.

Find Mark Chisnell online at:






Lee said…
I've used Lulu for years now, so I'm really interested in your experiences. Lulu has the same problem regarding matt covers, but otherwise I'm fairly satisfied with the result: did the formatting myself, after poring over a manual of typesetting and learning a lot from my early mistakes (I do have a bit of experience with professional desktop publishing from my time working for a university), but in terms of actually selling a few copies, I've been wondering if I ought to switch to the Amazon program.

I sell very few print copies, but I like them for my personal and family archive. After all, who knows what will happen if all our satellites go down from an alien invasion? And I find a print copy very useful for revision, old guard that I am. Somehow i pick up more typos etc. (though not all!) when I'm forced to work from a different format.

BTW, another plus: I like to make my own notebooks using POD: design a cover, leave the pages blank. Maybe a bit pricey, but lots of fun. And you know how we writers are with notebooks...
Dennis Hamley said…
Mark, what an interesting post. I agree with what you say about not turning our backs on print. A physical book you can hold, feel, sniff with pleasure (and flick through to see the ending which, irritatingly, you can't do on an ebook - or perhaps you can and I don't know how to) is still a marvellous thing. An example to suggest that Proudhon was wrong and property isn't theft after all. It's always been my plan eventually to put all my ebooks back into print. I put a lot of old o/p books into PoD with Back-to-Front (Solidus Press, now unhappily no more) some years ago and was always very pleased with the results. They haven't earned much on the open market but I bought a lot in myself and have sold them quite steadily in book fairs and on school visits. I might go the PoD way again. perhaps direct with Lightning Source, whose products I trust and whose costings I know, or I might try the very short-run option, say 50 copies, each numbered and signed, on the artist's limited print model. We shall see. Might try both.

Createspace does look a good option but I thought it wasn't available in the UK yet. I've no experience with Lulu but I've heard mixed opinions about them. Still, it's all to play for, which is great!
Dan Holloway said…
Dennis, like Lee I use Lulu and have been delighted with the quality and the service (also like Lee, I like to use a physical book for proofing).

rint books are particularly useful if you do a lot of live events (or to put it another way - get doing readings and take print books with you). And even if it's only local stores that can still be another useful string to your bow - I've sold well over 100 copies of one of my books through Blackwell's in Oxford. Most of all, like Mark says, it costs nothing to make your book available.
CallyPhillips said…
I haven't managed to get my head round CreateSpace yet, does it REALLY cost nothing? Is there not an ongoing payment to keep the book 'in print'? I found the t&c (like all these things) less than transparent.
I know a lot of people like Lulu but I found that going with a printer on short run prints was actually cheaper. Not sure what Lulu offer beyond the basic print service really. I've happily used a company called PrintOnDemandWorldwide they do POD as well obviously - still too confusing for me to work out costs - but you can do short print runs as well. I also engaged in POD with YouWriteOn who basically charge you an annual fee for keeping your work 'in print' and then POD 'royalties.'
(Both PODW and YWO use lightening source and I've strongly considered just dealing with them direct)
But at the moment ebooks ARE free and until I can work out the relative costs of print I'm not doing it (I've decided to use my ebook sales to pay for my paperback publishing!) I'm interested to know the REAL costs of all the options: Create Space, Lulu, POD as simply as possible - I hate 'hidden' costs. so if anyone can come up with straightforward simple REAL money costs of each option and post them on a blog somewhere I'd be really interested.
Dan Holloway said…
Cally, it depends in all cases what "extras" you want in terms of marketing packages. I've certainly never paid anything with Lulu other than the cost of the books I take to gigs (I always try to buy those during their regular sales, which makes their fairly high print costs much better)
Anonymous said…
Mark - I wish I'd recouped as quickly with my first POD book!
I must recommend Lightning Source: they have printed my POD book really well, complete with lovely wax matt jacket and at high speed. The second book, proof copy, will arrive tomorrow - and I only uploaded the file to Lightning Source on Wednesday. Simon Cheshire formatted both files for POD and Kindle and I can highly recommend him. I am now working through all six books and will stick with this set-up.
Good post, Mark. I've had good experiences with CreateSpace - although like you and some others I wish I could get a matt cover.

Cally, to answer your question, CreateSpace is free up front and I think they have even made the extended distribution free now too (not sure about that, so do check).
The disadvantage, cost wise, is that the proof copies are expensive. Not the copies themselves, but the shipping options. If you want the book in a relatively short time you pay a lot for shipping. The cheapest shipping option appears to take six weeks. However, I've found from experience that the slowest shipping option doesn't take nearly as long as they quote. Recently I ordered some copies for local bookshops (yay!) and they were supposed to take six weeks. They arrived in less than three.

Lightning Source gives you more print options - such as hardback with a dust jacket or even the delicious matt. But you need to be a real whiz with PDFs because the set-up isn't easy - whereas CreateSpace and Lulu have designed their set-up so that it's dead simple. Also, Lightning Source charges a set-up fee and proof copies are very expensive.

With Lightning Source you can set your own discounts for selling to bookshops, whereas CreateSpace has a standard discount of 60%. In fact, that's industry standard so there's no benefit in the extra flexibility.

You need an ISBN. With Lightning Source you have to buy ISBNs separately, which can be expensive. With CreateSpace you can either use your own if you have them or CreateSpace will give you one free. Having a CreateSpace ISBN does not affect your copyright or anything else, but it means your book is listed on Amazon as published by CreateSpace. It also doesn't affect whether bookshops will stock it - the distributors don't care if it's from CreateSpace or not.

If you want to change something in a Lightning Source book, it's a real hassle and you pay through the nose. If you want to change something in a CreateSpace book, you just upload a new PDF, wait a day or two and check the proof either on line or order a copy.

I used Lulu originally, but they didn't offer as many sizes as CreateSpace, so I switched. Also, they had a falling out with Amazon at one point and deleted my book listing. Then they squabbled amongst themselves about whose fault it was. Amazon also seem to have 'difficulty' keeping books from Lightning Source in stock, or so it seems.

Hope that helps!
CallyPhillips said…
Thanks for the feedback folks. I think I'll stick with PODW (and recommend them to others) They use Lightening Source, I am familiar with their set up (not easy but like all skills, once learned.. and PODW will help you along the way) There's no set up fee. Proof copy is I think reasonable (can't remember cost) I have ISBN's a gogo. I can do short print runs and when/if I feel strong enough to investigate real POD maybe they'll be as easy as anyone else. Oh, and I get matt covers and choice of sizes AND bookwove paper which is much nicer than the WHITE stuff I've seen on POD books before. Horses for courses I guess. But thanks for all that because there's nothing converting me yet! Next week, month, year... by then everything will have spun round more than once eh?
Chris Longmuir said…
I believe CreateSpace are now operating in the UK. A friend of mine is publishing his new book that way and I'm keeping a watching brief to see how it works out.
julia jones said…
Yet another really interesting post. I still consider myself a print-first person but can see that this may not last for ever as my publishing caravan fills up with stock. Was delighted to be able to buy a PRINT copy of the Fulcrum Files when I wanted to give one of my kids a present. E-books as gifts simply don't work as well for me. I'll think he'll get The Defector next time around.

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