If you’re a self-publisher and you’ve decided it’s worth offering a print version of your novel, you may be trying to decide between Createspace, Lulu and Lightning Source. I’ve not tried Lightning Source, but I can share my experience with Lulu and Createspace. In fact, I’ve loaded my books onto both platforms. Why? To broaden my reach. Lulu and Creatspace (hereafter CS) are print-on-demand printers, not publishers. If you’re self publishing YOU are the publisher. I don’t expect to sell many paperbacks. I’m offering print to add to my exposure, so going with both ‘publishers’ makes complete sense to me. But there are differences.
UPDATE: It’s now March 2015, therefore some time since I wrote this article. I decided to try the process on both sites with another book. I can report that nothing has changed. Through Lulu I have sold a handful of paperbacks to Ingram, which is the largest distributor of Print on Demand books to libraries etc, but certainly nowhere near enough for a return on investment. I have also discovered that Lulu is affiliated with the notorious Author Solutions. I want nothing to do with that organisation and have withdrawn all my books, and my account, from Lulu.
FURTHER UPDATE: It’s September 2018 and Amazon has decided to close Createspace for books. All my novels have been absorbed into Amazon Kindle. The transfer process was simple, using the files already held on Createspace servers but I have not created a new book since then so cannot comment on the process of uploading a new title.
You may be wondering why I chose Lulu over CS in the first place. Quite simply, Lulu pays to Paypal. It’s clean and easy. CS is still using the old Amazon model. Places like Australia and New Zealand, since they are not part of the EU or the USA, are third world countries, clearly not having a reliable banking system. Therefore, the only option is to print cheques (checks) and post them. Oh, but this incurs an expense. Therefore, they will not send a cheque until you have earned $100 in royalties, and they’ll still deduct their processing costs. This restriction applies to each channel, individually (ie UK, JP, AU, FR, DE etc etc) In practice, this means that I’ll probably be extending an interest-free loan to CS for the term of my natural life. And if I do get said cheque, I will then incur further outrageous expense from the grasping banking system to convert the US funds into $AU. In my case, $10 for having the temerity to present a cheque from foreign parts, and then a conversion fee. You know how it is. It costs a lot to run a program that picks up the going exchange rate from the bank’s own systems, and multiply it by the value of the cheque. Just as well I’m not in it for the money.
I contacted CS and asked them when they were going to catch up with the rest of their Amazon parent. After all, banking is an international conspiracy, and (gosh) the same program that pays into US and EU bank accounts can very likely be used unchanged to process direct credits to Australia. (It may be too much to ask for them to countenance eBay’s Paypal system.) A change may be on the horizon. We live in hope. In the meantime, watch out for low-flying pigs.
There. I feel much better. And now, back to the business of printing books.
This was my other reason for choosing Lulu. It has a free, global distribution network, placing the book into various catalogues and lists for bookstores and libraries. In the past, CS was slightly hamstrung by being limited to Amazon-friendly companies. I note that CS now also offers global distribution. I will be interested to see what happens.
I was frankly surprised to find how much cheaper CS’s costs are than Lulu’s. As an example, retail price for White Tiger (give or take a cent) on Lulu is $15. On CS (Amazon), it’s $9. (At the time of writing, it’s discounted to $8.) As far as I can tell the quality is more or less the same. Perhaps the paper Lulu uses is slightly better. In both cases, I’m not making much of a return, especially if the sale is through a distributor. As I said, I’m not in it for the money.
Approving the proof
Here again we have a significant difference. Lulu offers free setup, true. And if all you want is to sell through Lulu’s shop front, that’s fine. But if you want to join the global distribution network, you must first purchase, physically eyeball and approve your book. In other words, it isn’t entirely free. You buy at a wholesale, price, but then you also pay postage. Furthermore, every time you make a change to either the cover or the MS, you must buy a proof. So the lesson is, get it right the first time.
CS has an online proofing system if you don’t want to go to the expense of buying a proof. It’s a good system, showing you exactly what you’re going to to get. You can also download a pdf version and get it printed yourself should you wish to do so. There is no charge for updating your cover, or your MS. So ultimately, CS’s system is absolutely free.
I expected to be able to use my Lulu MS formats for CS pretty much unchanged. But there are differences
Formatting the MS
Both Lulu and CS have a wide range of options for book sizes. I opted for the popular 6X9 inches, the standard trade paperback. Both companies provide templates for you to use to format your MS. They’re both simple enough to use. I described my experience with Lulu in this article.
I was happy with my formatted Lulu print, so I downloaded CS’s basic template and used the page setup in that for my MS. One gotcha – in Lulu, you don’t need to mirror your margins; in CS you most definitely do. Once you’ve changed your margins, check your MS, especially for blank pages, or pages with one or two lines. You can delete blank pages, and tweak your margins to fit your words better. Also, while Lulu expects you to add blank pages at the end of the MS, and insists your page count is evenly divisible by 4, for CS you finish your MS when it finishes. I suspect Lulu’s restriction here is a left-over from traditional publishing. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me. With respect to images with the book, Lulu just goes with what you offer, whereas CS warns that images at less than 300dpi may print pixelated or blurry. In my case, the images are book covers for teasers, and my picture. If it’s not important, a less than optimal image won’t stop your book being produced.
Formatting the cover
The BIG difference here is that Lulu expects you to put the barcode on your custom-built cover. CS does not. If you use your own ISBN, better check their requirements. In both cases, I used the free ISBN offered. My guess is that if you use your own ISBN, you’ll be able to use the same one on both sites. After all, you are the publisher. They print to your requirements.
While both sites offer templates for covers, Lulu only shows the external dimensions, not placement of the spine – although you’re told where the spine starts and how wide it is. CS’s template shows you where the spine is and where the bleed areas are. When you’re finally shown your assembled book online, I much prefer CS’s full screen representation with dotted black lines showing the spine. Lulu’s cover presentation is too small and shows back, spine and front as separate components.
So there you are. Weigh up the costs, and the potential benefits. Certainly if I lived in the US or EU, I would opt for Createspace. Speaking as an old IT systems analyst, CS offers a better system, at much better cost. It remains to be seen whether the expense I incurred on Lulu will be worth my while. Let’s hope Createspace gets its corporate act together and updates its payment policies.