Tag Archives: self-publishing

Createspace? Lulu? Which should you choose for your print books?

Picture of full book shelfIf 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 I want nothing to do with that organisation and have withdrawn all my books, and my account, from Lulu.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 deleted 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.



Using Lulu for print books

MC print 2015UPDATE: Since I discovered Lulu is affiliated with Author Solutions I have withdrawn my books. Here’s why. All my print books are available through Createspace, though.

I’ve decided to offer printed, dead tree copies of my longer titles via Lulu. Why bother with producing a print book at all? It’s a good question. After all, hardly anybody buys them any more. But some people do, so I’m offering choices. I’m also hoping that having a print copy will help as subtle advertising. People can lend paper books to others, or exchange them, libraries can stock them. Also, I know when I look at the prices being asked for ebooks sold by big publishers, I can’t help but notice how much they’re asking for the paperback. In recent times, some of them charge MORE for the ebook than the paperback. Really?? Anyhow, I figured if I did that, other people did, too, so it was worthwhile offering print books in POD (print on demand). Besides, I rather enjoy doing the formatting and cover design.

In the past, I had used Createspace for print books – but this time, I didn’t. I used Lulu for several reasons, chief among them being it is not affiliated with Amazon, and also it pays funds into Paypal. Lulu offers a good, step-by-step service to do-it-yourself publishers, or you can hire services from them to edit, format and do cover designs. I found the templates they provided more than adequate to set up professional formats myself. You can check each step of the process after you upload files, to ensure what you sent is the same as Lulu received.

Manuscript Formats

Lulu prefers documents in .pdf, although they’ll accept .docx, .doc, rtf and some others. I uploaded my first two books, the Iron Admiral duo, as .doc files and that worked fine. But the Morgan Selwood novels didn’t. The first chapter heading appeared as expected, but none of the others was visible. After several hours of tearing my hair out, I decided I needed to convert the files to pdf to ensure that what they got matched what I sent. First, I tried the Mac’s built in export function. It worked, sort of. But the number of pages changed, and the Open Office writer doesn’t readily support presenting chapter numbers as text.

So I shifted to the Windows machine, which I use to write my books. (I’m very comfortable with MS Word 2003). Adobe’s pdf writer is horribly expensive, but Lulu itself recommended doPDF, a free virtual printer which allows you to embed fonts (IMPORTANT) and produces an Adobe compatible file. As usual, using styles in a program like Word produces the best, most consistent results. Some other things to consider for your book to be eligible for distribution:

  • Page numbers start at your chapter one, so you’ll need a section break
  • The last two pages of your document must be entirely blank – no page numbers or anything else, again easily achieved with section breaks.
  • The number of pages in your book must be divisible by 4. That’s the whole book, including blank pages etc.
  • One trick for young players is that odd numbered pages will appear on the right. So if Chapter One is on the fifth page, it will be on the right hand side of the open book, with the page number as 1.
  • Lulu offers a free ISBN so you can distribute to bookstores etc (they do that for you). But you must ensure that the isbn is in the right place in your MS. It’s best to enter your book’s record, then download the barcode and enter it into your book, which you then save as a .pdf to upload to Lulu.
  • I found that if I wanted to upload a new version of the file, I needed to delete the one in Lulu first. The system uses all the files you’ve uploaded to produce the print ready file. My 200-page document suddenly jumped to 400 pages if I didn’t delete the previous version first. Um. Wrong.


Once you have uploaded your MS to Lulu, the system has enough information to calculate the exact size of your cover. Lulu allows you to upload your own cover, or use their cover creation wizard or their service. As with all these systems, adherence to the rules is vital, even though sometimes the rules seem to be a little hard to find.

  • You must ensure that the isbn is also on your cover. If you do as I did, and upload a full cover, you must add the barcode to the back, formatted as 1″ by 1.75″.
  • Lulu produces a barcode for you to download for your custom cover, but for some reason known only to them, the size is not 1 x 1.75, and it is not on a white background. Never mind, that’s simple Photoshop skills. And while you’re there, you can check the exact size of your cover image matches Lulu’s expectation, and that your spine wording is correctly placed.

Final checks

With the cover uploaded, you move on to fill in the metadata, and fix your price. It’s not cheap to produce a quality print book and the profits (especially from retailers) can be slim. When that’s done, you get one last chance to check your files. In particular, you’ll be shown the back, spine and front of your cover to check. I found several times I had to tweak the position of the wording for the spine so it sat in the centre.

Once you’re happy, press the finish button. Your book will appear in Lulu’s files. At this stage, you can still revise your book without too much pain. Lulu will create a new revision for you, going through the same process you used to get that far.

In order to be eligible for wider distribution to Barnes and Noble, Amazon et al, you press an icon “Manage” on your list of projects. This leads to a page where you can “Get Global Reach FREE.” Here’s a list of which books are eligible. However, you must purchase a copy of your book and confirm that it meets the requirements. That’s not cheap from Australia, because of postage, and I’d have to sell a few to get a return on investment – but as I said up front, I have other reasons for making the investment. Also, if you decide to make changes, you’ll need to buy another copy of the updated book before it is eligible for further distribution.

Last words of wisdom

  • The link to Lulu
  • Use the templates and read them carefully.
  • UPDATE – apparently you can copy and paste your MS into Lulu’s template, which will avoid many issues.
  • Check your work each step along the way. Don’t assume it will be right.
  • DON’T press that global reach button too soon. You can cancel an order, but you’d have to do it very quickly.