A look at Createspace, Lulu, and Lightning Source

Steel Rose is an unholy matrimony of zombie fiction and horror fiction by Barbara Custer.

Recently my writer buddies and I had a lengthy discussion about the best way to publish a book. Some went for Lightning Source, others Lulu, and many went for Createspace. I then posed this question to my Mylar balloons and got the answer: “Whatever earns you the most money so you can buy more of us.”

My balloons had a point.

All three companies will offer a professional-looking book. Lulu and Lightning Source use the same files, and what’s more, Lulu works with Lightning Source. I used to publish my books through Lulu. I still do Night to Dawn magazine through them because I can get nice-looking print for the spine. Createspace will not put print on the spine unless the book is 100 pages. Sometimes you can get really great sales through Lulu; otherwise, Lulu’s shipping fees are steep, along with the cost for author/publisher copies. This cost then gets passed down to the readers who pony up the money to buy the book.

I’ve never worked with LSI – I was too frightened by the $35.00 yearly fee they charge small publishers per book to remain in print. To set up your book, expect to pay $37.50 for the cover file and $37.50 for the interior file. The big boy companies prefer LSI, which has the means to distribute books to the brick-and-mortar stores. Because they have an excellent sales team, set up costs are not an issue.

However, the small publishers have to consider that yearly fee, and if they’ve published ten books, that means $350 a year, not to mention the cost for proofs ($20 plus nine cents per page and $40 for revisions per cover and / or text file. If the bookstores decide to return books, and for some reason, the publisher says okay to return book on the contract, they must pay LSI the wholesale price of each book plus postage. They can also have the books destroyed. Given the price to set up the book, the publisher or author will have to sell an awful lot of books to make a profit. The Jonathan Maberry brand of writers would have no trouble selling books, but unknown authors might.

Because Lulu works with LSI, they, too, pay for those revisions and distribution, then pass the cost to the publisher. Make sure your book is error free before approving for distribution; otherwise expect to pay hefty fees to revise.

Enter Createspace. At first I shied away from Createspace because I had trouble adjusting my margins to meet their specs, but using their templates took care of the margin problem. Soon after I got comfortable using Createspace, I felt as if I’d been given keys to a kingdom. For one thing, there aren’t any set up fees. You go on their website, set up your account, select “create a book,” and follow the prompts. Createspace and Lulu will give you free ISBN numbers, but you can use your own. Your book gets to go on expanded distribution for free. Author/publisher copies are reasonable, which means you can charge a reasonable price for the book and still get a decent royalty. Once you approve your book, if later you decide to revise, you can do so without charge. Michael De Stefano, JoAnna Senger, Tom Johnson, and I decided to get new covers for some of our NTD books years after they were approved. Createspace allowed me to change the covers without charge. There is a charge for a proof copy, unless you get an online proof. I wanted a physical proof so that I have a better look at the product.

As the old saw goes, there are no free Mylar balloons. Createspace is part of Amazon, but they, too, work with LSI to get extended distribution. But they don’t accept returns, and most brick-and-mortar stores want the option to return. What’s more, once the book goes to Ingram, and Ingram takes its cut, the discount offered to outside stores is only 25% – not enough to justify stocking the book. They’ll take orders for the book from paying customers, but not actually stock the book.

If you’re lucky enough to have really great sales, consider using LSI and Createspace. That way, you can get a generous royalty and a shot at the brick-and-mortar stores. But use different ISBN numbers. Anytime you publish through two different distributors, you must use separate ISBN numbers.

Like my Mylar balloons advised, I went with the option that offered the best royalties and lowest expenses, given my situation. Your thoughts?

Lulu versus CreateSpace III

After much kvetching and discussion about CreateSpace, I’ve started to publish the NTD paperbacks through them. The latest release, Tales of Masks & Mayhem V4, saw publication through CS. Why? The short answer: money. The Global Distribution package on Lulu costs $75.00 plus whatever you pay for ISBN’s. The Pro plan of CS costs $39.00 (plus what you spend for the ISBN). You can get an ISBN for free from CS, but if you want to establish your own imprint (as a publisher), best to purchase the ISBN from Bowker.

Recently, CS did away with their Pro plan. They now offer you the option of extended distribution for $25.00. The royalties for Amazon based books are far better – about $5.00 per book and that’s without charging exorbitant fees for your books. CS charges a reasonable price for contributor copies too. Contributor copies cost more through Lulu. With retail sales, I’d get a dollar something per book, and when you’re splitting royalties between two or three people, it comes out to pennies per book. Caveat: you do not get discounts by ordering extra contributor copies through CS. Lulu will discount the contributor copy if you order five or more books, plus they offer frequent specials.

Also, with CS, your book will go up on Amazon straight away, whereas you have to wait six to eight weeks (longer if there is a backup) for Lulu distribution. Promotion and book releases won’t do any good if your book isn’t showing on Amazon and other retailers. Another caveat: CS will format any eBook version for you but there is a hefty charge. I format NTD eBooks myself and get the ISBN from Bowker.

Does this mean I will publish all future NTD material through CS and kick Lulu to the curb? Absolutely not. Lulu does a superior job on the magazine. NTD magazine comes in 88 pages, which results in a narrow spine. Lulu allows you to resize the print so you can read the label off the spine. CS does not allow any print on the NTD spine because in their opinion, the spine is too narrow. Another issue: when I print reviews, I must list three retailers that carry the respective book. I did that with NTD 20, and the magazine is available on Amazon. I don’t mind listing retailers but putting NTD out there with a bare spine gives me the creeps. Especially with the upcoming issue, as I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on NTD 21’s cover. Kudos goes to Marge Simon and Teresa Tunaley for their brilliant artwork.

The magazine has a lot of illustrations, and I’ve had limited success with putting illustrations in the eBooks. Smashwords does not recommend illustrations at all, and most eBooks look best if you stick to B&W illustrations and one font. NTD has about three different fonts, so I offer the eBook version in PDF format. Lulu carries the magazines and the other NTD books in eBook format for no charge. I just ordered the print run for NTD 21 and got a generous discount from Lulu.

Some overseas authors prefer Lulu because Lulu will market your book to other countries besides the USA, where said authors will realize their best sales. CS does not have a global distribution plan.

This past week, I released two books. Tales of Masks & Mayhem V4, edited by Ginger Johnson and Night to Dawn 21. One through CreateSpace and the other through Lulu. Which company is better? For magazines, Lulu; for paperbacks, CreateSpace. It all depends on your market and publication.

 

 

Createspace versus Lulu Revisited

Some time ago, I laid out the advantages of using Lulu versus Createspace. And my biggest beef with Createspace was not being able to use my credit card. Well, at last I found my way through the labyrinth of ordering functions, enough to order a proof. Createspace has made peace with my credit card, and when I got the proof of Cold War Heroes, I found that the proof looked decent enough for a bookstore. So the assumption followed that I could go ahead and run all my future NTD magazines through Createspace. Not quite.

I’ve already run NTD 20 through Lulu, and got a lot of nice compliments about the issue. So with the PDF generated by Lulu’s software, I proceeded to upload on Createspace. You see, any book run through Createspace software will automatically go on Amazon. But Createspace wasn’t crazy about handling 8.5 x 11 books. You can’t do 8.5 x 11 books for premium distribution on Createspace like you can with Lulu.

No biggie there, until I got a memo from Createspace informing that the PDF wasn’t viable. NTD always has a print label on the spine, the way many perfect bound magazines do. The print had to come off of the spine, said Createspace. Also on my book reviews, I needed to add two additional places where the books reviewed are available. I don’t have the Acrobat software needed to change the spine. I could make the changes on the inside file on my Word 2007, save it to PDF and use that.

Ah, but with Lightning Source, Lulu, and Createspace, it isn’t enough to use a PDF. The fonts have to be embedded a certain way for the file to pass muster. Lulu will convert your word files to PDF so that you’ve got a file that meets that requirement.

Does that mean I’m firing Createspace? Not necessarily. But I can’t use it for NTD unless I’m willing to forego print on the spine. Maybe I’m having a hard time with change.

I am turning more to eBook distribution: namely Kindle, the Nook, Smashwords, and a new company www.xinxii.com, a European distributor of eBooks. The eBooks look promising, and more people are buying them. But there is a lot to be said for the feel of a print book.

I would like to hear from you about your experiences using Createspace’s software, and your thoughts on the future of eBooks.

 

CreateSpace versus Lulu

My mother once told me that when you leave your old street for a new street, you know what you’re leaving, but you don’t know what you’re going to find. I kind of felt that way when some of my fellow small press publishers encouraged me to do my NTD printing through CreateSpace. The royalties are better, they told me, and copies are cheaper.

If you want extended distribution, such as Published By You in Lulu, it runs about $100 ($75.00 for distribution and $25.00 for an ISBN if you buy yours in lots of ten). I saw that I could get extended distribution in CreateSpace if I got the pro plan for $39.00, and then I read the fine print. CreateSpace does not sell overseas. Lulu does. Once you plunk down the $39.00 charge, you have to pay $5.00 a year to keep the distribution going. So..let’s say the book stays in print ten years. That’s $50.00. And there is still your $25.00 for the ISBN. CreateSpace will supply an ISBN but you can’t use it anywhere else. Funny thing, I never read anything about the $5.00 a year charge when I visited blogs to see why people esteemed CreateSpace.

There is another caveat I didn’t find on these blogs. When you upload files on CreateSpace, you must have them in PDF. That goes for the cover as well as the interior. Better go out and spend several hundred on Acrobat software to make PDF files if you don’t already have it. I don’t have Acrobat, but I have Word 2007, which enables me to convert the interior file to PDF but not the covers. Lightning Source is another company that requires you to own Acrobat software and be savvy about it.

If you don’t intend to go for extended distribution, CreateSpace may well be cheaper, and with that in mind, I contemplated CreateSpace as an adjunct to the Lulu printer. Perhaps it might work for the Night to Dawn magazine. So I gave it a try, using a PDF file I had gotten off of Lulu.

With the right kind of file, the uploading process wasn’t bad. The files passed muster, and it came time to order a proof. This brings me to my final caveat, payment. Lulu will give you the option of PayPal. CreateSpace only deals with credit cards, and the company wouldn’t accept mine. I’ve used the same credit card for ten years with no problems but CreateSpace would not accept it. I only keep one credit card that I use regularly, and I’m not getting another credit card just so I can place an order. So I did not get the proof.

Well, well. Two other sayings come to mind, these gotten from my husband. When you buy cheap, you get cheap. Stick with the one who brought you to the dance. If I tell Mike about my experience with Lulu and CreateSpace, that is exactly what he would tell me. And so with that in mind I will be happy to release Tom Johnson’s new book, Cold War Heroes, using my familiar Lulu printer, smile, and kick up my heels.

Which company would you use to print your books? What were your experiences with that company, and would you recommend it for others? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Ghost Dance features zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

 

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