Self-publishing: Who to choose?

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With the increasing development of print-on-demand technology, there are quite a collection of online companies offering independent publishing, including small independent publishing houses and more major players, like CreateSpace, Ingram-Spark, Lulu, Blurb.

(Note: this post is about physical format books, publishing ebooks will be dealt with at a later date).

So who to choose, and where to go?

If you are short on time and not-so technologically savvy, then there is the temptation to go to one of the small publishing houses. These are numerous and offer you various things for, sometimes quite substantial, amounts of money. Personally, I’m a bit wary of these, considering them a little too close to the vanity publishers of the past, and have not dealt with any directly myself. If I were to, I would do substantial research and I recommend that you do the same. Some offer you little more advantage than going it alone would, and at considerable cost. What they may offer, however, is a strong network of support and potential reviewers. Look into them, google the name to see if others have dealt with them and whether they have fared positively or not; choose some titles at random, read the blurbs and author bios, and see how they’re faring on sites such as GoodReads. It would also pay to look up the titles on Amazon and Book Depository, to see if they are offered for sale there. As an indie-published author, much of your sales will come through the internet marketplaces, so make sure they will be listed on the major sites! Ultimately, indie-publishing is fairly easy and the more DIY sites as CreateSpace are remarkably straightforward, so I would be most interested in the marketing opportunities that the various indie-houses offer. If they expect you do do the majority of it themselves, do they really deserve your money?

It would also be useful to see if they offer their titles on Netgalley. Netgalley is a site where booksellers, book bloggers, and librarians, can request advance ebook reading copies (eARC). Having your book listed there as an indie author is extremely expensive, but if you are part of a publishing house, they may list it there for you. Being listed on Netgalley will get you reviews (not necessarily favourable ones) and get you greater exposure. This may have an impact on future sales… or it may not.

For the more technologically savvy, you might like to take on a more-DIY approach. Now, these ones tend to be cheaper money-wise (although most offer added bells and whistles for a fee) but are considerably more time-expensive.

createspace
“Fellowship of the Ringtails” by Angela Oliver, published via CreateSpace.

CreateSpace

CreateSpace operate through Amazon’s marketplace. As Amazon is one of the biggest online book retailer at this present point in time, I highly recommend them. My three novels have been printed through them, and I have found the process to be straightforward and the outcome relatively professional.

What CreateSpace offer:

  • A straightforward set-up dashboard (including templates)
  • No upfront cost – you only pay for what you order (which could be 1 book or 100).
  • Your book will be available through Amazon’s various marketplaces.
  • You can use their ISBNs, or supply your own.
  • Large variety of book sizes (all given in inches, so have a ruler and converter handy!)
  • Professional looking books: bright white paper, good clarity of text and good colour reproduction on covers (but see note below re: cover curl).
  • Free expanded distribution (which includes The Book Depository and Fishpond).
  • Book services (for additional fees) for those not quite comfortable “going it alone”.

The drawbacks:

  • Unless you pay the additional fees, you’re basically DIYing it. Requires some computer skills and time.
  • Despite the expanded distribution offer, your book is unlikely to be stocked in physical bookstores.
  • Marketing and promotions are entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
  • Books experience a fair amount of “cover curl”, which means they show wear and tear fairly quickly. This was particularly noticeable in earlier copies, but may be remedied now. (Visible in photo above).
  • CreateSpace books printed from two locations: New York and South Carolina. I have generally found the South Carolina ones to have better colour clarity.
  • Only pay by cheque, and only when you reach $100.
  • Do not offer hardbacks, nor colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).
  • Shipping is slow, but never as slow as they estimate! Generally allow 3-4 weeks.

A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via CreateSpace has a cost price of around US$3.25 (~NZ$4.80).

lulu
“Dreamscape” by Paul Kidd, published via Lulu.

Lulu

Lulu were one of the earliest players in the print-on-demand game, but have fallen somewhat peripheral to CreateSpace. They offer their own marketplace, and also claim to distribute via ibooks, Nook and Amazon, and their titles appear to be on The Book Depository and Fishpond as well (mine isn’t, however, which indicates that there is an option I failed to select). I have published a hardback version of one of my novels via them, and found it to be a bit disappointing: newsprint style pages, the text perhaps a little too dark and random weird marks at the end of some chapters (which I’m pretty sure are not due to poor formatting on my part, but I could be wrong).

What Lulu offer:

  • Hardbacks, paperbacks, photo books and calendars in a range of sizes and binding types.
  • No set-up fees, you only pay for what you order.
  • Downloadable templates that you can cut and paste your story into.
  • Free ISBNs (or you can use your own).
  • Fairly straightforward set-up.
  • Additional services available for additional fees (including marketing).
  • Regular discounts on your purchases.
  • Your book is available on various online marketplaces, including The Book Depository, Fishpond and Amazon (this depends on your book size/format).
  • Will pay revenue into Paypal.

The Drawbacks:

  • The books do not appear to look quite as professional as CreateSpace’s, ink is slightly too thick/dark. Cream paper is cheapest – and looks it.
  • Unless you pay the additional fees, you’re basically DIYing it. Requires some computer skills and time.
  • Marketing and promotions are (almost) entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
  • Lulu is a less-frequented marketplace than Amazon.
  • Slightly more expensive.
  • Do not offer colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).

A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via Lulu has a cost price of around Au$5.25 for cream, Au$7.40 for white (~NZ$5.82/$8.20).

blurb
“Devolve: The Wolf” by Mike Hooper, published via Blurb.

Blurb

Blurb have been around a long time — I published my first art books through them (they’re still available, if anyone is interested) and now they offer regular print-on-demand as well. Colour reproduction in their photo books was very good.

What Blurb offer:

  • Hardbacks, paperbacks, photo books, magazines, ebooks, in a range of sizes.
  • Built in program, Bookwright, to create your pictorial book (or magazine). (Note: is BAD for mostly text stories!)
  • The books look really nice.
  • Offer “Economy colour printing” for reasonable rates (have yet to check quality).
  • Free distribution via IngramSpark (“the world’s largest distributor of books”), depending on format and creation method.
  • Colour and black and white formats available.
  • Free  ISBNs.
  • No set-up fees, you pay for what you order.
  • Will pay revenue into Paypal.
  • Ship from Australia, so faster and (potentially) cheaper.
  • Regularly send promo codes that allow for discounts.

The Drawbacks:

  • Only three sizes of trade paperback to choose from.
  • Once your book is on the Global Distribution, you cannot make changes without jumping through hoops.
  • BookWright works best for pictorial books, takes a lot of fiddling with text books (better to use a PDF).
  • Somewhat more expensive.
  • Marketing and promotions is (almost) entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
  • Do not offer colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).

A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via Blurb has a cost price of around US$4.25  for cream, US$10.39 for white (~NZ$6.27/$15.33).

IngramSpark

I have neither published nor purchased an IngramSpark title, so my knowledge of them is limited to what I can read on their website. They appear to be a bit more upmarket and discerning than, say, CreateSpace. Due to the upfront, per title cost, I am unlikely to try IngramSpark (especially since Blurb allegedly distribute via them anyway, and they don’t charge a fee). If you want more information, I suggest you google “IngramSpark VS CreateSpace”.

What IngramSpark offer:

  • A wide range of options, including books, graphic novels, picture books, in a range of trim sizes.
  • They promise distribution through a range of sources, including actual bookstores.
  • Will convert PDF files into ebooks.
  • Offer promotional services (inclusion in newsletter etc)— not sure if at additional cost or not.
  • Offer free editorial review via Pressque (worth US$75), this is apparently done with a 48 hour turnaround. I am a little dubious.
  • Templates for cover and interior. At additional cost.

The Drawbacks:

  • You are required to provide your own ISBNs. You can buy them via the site, but DON’T, because in New Zealand you can acquire your unique ISBNs for free.
  • Require you to upload your own PDFs and cover designs (DIY approach).
  • $49 set-up fee per title. I believe there is also an annual fee, but that doesn’t appear to be on their FAQ.
  • You pay for things, like templates, that other sites offer for free.

A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via IngramSpark has a cost price of around US$3.86  for cream.  (~NZ$5.70).

Note: I have made no mention of royalties, these obviously vary between the sites, but are mainly determined by the price you set as your sale price. In regards to sales, I’ve made 56% of my minimum payment threshold via CreateSpace, and nothing via Lulu or Blurb (my books on Blurb are sold at cost price, and my Lulu hardback is really expensive and not listed outside their website).

In summary, CreateSpace seems the most popular and cheapest option, whilst also providing the most straightforward distribution and access to a large online marketplace. Blurb produces very fine looking books, and is probably the easiest for the non-technologically savvy (plus the BookWright program is fun to play with). It also offers to distribute via IngramSpark, which might be handy for getting into physical bookstores. I fully intend to try them again in the future, possibly with a colour book of some description. So, stay tuned!

More tutorials to come on publishing via CreateSpace.

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