Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Paperback Self-Publishing - CreateSpace vs. Lightning Source

When self-publishing a book, you personally handle everything from authoring to cover design and social media. It's a tremendous amount of work, but I purposefully self-published Spartanica for two reasons:

  1. I'd read the recurrent horror stories about authors (especially first-timers) going the traditional route only to wait six or more months for their books to make it into print. Even after that, indie authors were often unimpressed with post-published marketing and support.
  2. I wanted to learn the ins and outs of the process and the industry.

As Spartanica neared completion, I did extensive research regarding where to publish the paperback. The following features were important: 

  • Cost: I didn't mind spending what I needed to get the book published, but any anything not spent on publishing could be fed later into marketing.
  • Distribution: Online availability was key. The paperback version of Spartanica, a young adult science fiction novel, needed to at least be on Amazon.com and be easily available for libraries and independent bookstores to purchase. For broader distribution, I'd rely on the ebook version on major outlets like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony Books, iBooks, etc.
  • Publishing Tools:  Being a first-timer, I needed a well-prepared landing path to the runway. I'm pretty savvy with MS Office tools and worked with illustrators on the cover, but I needed tools (preferably free) to enable me to take Spartanica from manuscript to publishable book form.
  • Guidance: What's the best size to publish the paperback? Is any one font or font size better than the other?  Little questions like this come up, and having experienced feedback for them can be a time saver.
  • Simplicity:  I'm a big believer in keeping things clear and simple. If your application takes me through the process is a logical, straightforward manner, I'm likely to use you.

I initially checked into several "self-publishing assistance" websites that charged $3,000 - $5,000 to do the heavy lifting. Online reviews of these sites had the usual bevy of lovers and haters, but I decided to look further for a lower-cost option.  I ultimately found two inexpensive, completely DIY sites: CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

CreateSpace (CS)
CreateSpace.com is owned Amazon, and that relationship has huge benefits associated with it. For instance, once a submission is fully reviewed and accepted by CS, the novel becomes available via Amazon in the US, UK, EU, Australia, and several other countries within just a few days. That was exciting!

CS also provided an extensive list of interior and cover templates that can be used to get your manuscript into an acceptable format, which was key. Once my interior and cover files were ready, I submitted them to the Digital Proofer and could view every page of the book as it would be printed. The Proofer also provided error messages if any content elements exceeded the allowable margins, for example. I found the Proofer to be very accurate, which saved a ton of time and money when compared to ordering proofs to be delivered via USPS.

From a distribution standpoint, CS offered "Standard" and "Expanded" options. Standard essentially got your novel onto Amazon.com and the CS book sales site, which I'd never heard of before. Expanded was supposed to open channels to libraries, universities and other retailers such as independent bookstores. Sounds great, but there's a very subtle catch that I didn't know about until well after I'd published. The thousands of local bookstores nationwide almost always require an option to return any books they stock to the publisher.  While CS touted a distribution channel to indies, they offered NO returns policy, which was like having a car with no tires... you're not going anywhere.

Lightning Source (LSI)
LightningSource.com is owned by Ingram Content Group. Over the previous year, Ingram started a different service called IngramSpark, with which I'm not acquainted. Their website states that IngramSpark is meant for small independent while LSI is for medium to large publishers. As part of my discovery process for Spartanica, I'd setup an LSI account. When I later tried to setup an IngramSpartk account, a message on the site said I couldn't because I was already registered at LSI.

When I first looked into LSI and CreateSpace, I went with CS, primarily because their user interface was much more intuitive and easy to understand. I found the LSI site to be stark and challenging to navigate. It was obvious that  a lot of thought to guide authors had gone into the CS site. My impression from LSI was that they assumed I knew what I was doing, which I didn't. Maybe that's why they created IngramSpark, but I don't know.  LSI also had more fees, especially for any post-publishing changes (primarily proofreading-related).  With CS, I made the change, uploaded the document, and published it without cost. The only downside was that my paperback version became unavailable for sale on Amazon for 2-5 days each time I did this.

So, CreateSpace Then?
Having selected CS, I published and was off to the races. I didn't initially do anything via LSI, until a few weeks later when I learned about independent bookstores requiring a returns policy. Even with CS' Expanded Distribution, no indies would look at Spartanica.

Enter LSI, which had a couple options re: how to handle returns, depending on the country.  The Ingram distribution network also had a long history of serving libraries, which couldn't hurt.

I ended up creating another file formatted to LSI standards and publishing through them, as well. It took more time and cost more but at least I knew an important distribution channel was open.

There were additional considerations when comparing the CS and LSI such as the granting of ISBN numbers, etc., but my recommendation for independent authors is to definitely publish through CS.  Assuming you have the MS Word skills and ability to somehow get a cover made, CS gets your paperback immediately onto Amazon in several countries for the lowest price I could find anywhere.  If making your novel available to other retail outlets is important, you'll want to consider LSI (or maybe IngramSpark) as well, to ensure your paperback doesn't get ignored because it can't be returned.

First-time self publishing is full of questions and land mines. Hope this was helpful in getting you where you want to be.

Your friend in most excellent sci-fi,


P.S. - This was based on my experience 9 months or so ago. Please visit each site to get the latest regarding offerings.

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