Choices in Publishing: Paperbacks

publish buttonFor the past two weeks, I’ve been writing about choices for indies who want to publish their work as an eBook. But nothing beats the rush of holding in your hot little hand an actual, physical, dead-tree book with your name on the cover. Particularly if you’re planning to do book signings or any other type of personal appearance, a paperback edition of your book is essential.

Authors who want to create a paperback edition have several publishing options. But first and foremost: DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH A VANITY PUBLISHER. Here at Indies Unlimited, we have had our fill of stories about these vultures, which sometimes also call themselves hybrid publishers. They prey on newbie authors with their slick websites. They say they will take you under their wing and do everything you don’t know how to do, from editing your book to promoting it. It sounds terrific. But their editing work is often substandard, their promotional efforts are slim to nonexistent, and their contracts are extremely difficult to get out of. And they will charge you hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of doing this to you. The saddest part is that in today’s publishing climate, you can do everything yourself, for free or cheap. I don’t know about you, but free and cheap are my two favorite prices. This article will show you how to spot a scam.

The following three print-on-demand services are the ONLY ones we can recommend. And even then, there’s a caveat.

CreateSpace is Amazon’s self-publishing platform for music, videos, and paperback books. They will provide you with a free ISBN (although you can bring your own, if you like), and will publish your book for you for free. You can format your manuscript yourself in Word, if you enjoy tearing your hair out as much as I do, or you can download their free layout template and load your book into it. You will also need to provide cover images, both front and back (for some reason, I always forget to design a back cover until I’m uploading the book), but they have free templates for making this task easier, too. They also offer fee-based assistance with some of these tasks.

CreateSpace automatically makes your book available for purchase at Amazon. It used to be that you had to pay extra for “expanded distribution” to other retailers, but they waived that a couple of years ago, so go ahead and tick those boxes and have them send your book everywhere. Note that this doesn’t mean your local bookstore will stock your book for sure – it simply makes it easier for brick-and-mortar retailers and libraries to order it.

Lulu has been around longer than CreateSpace. The publishing process there is very similar to the one at CreateSpace, but I thought their instructions were a little more technical and perhaps not as newbie-friendly. They too will give you a free ISBN. And they too will provide assistance with some publishing tasks for a fee – but here’s the caveat: Lulu has a deal with vanity publisher Author Solutions to provide these services. Remember what I said above about not doing business with a vanity publisher? Just be careful here.

Lulu will distribute your book to Amazon, but it takes longer for Amazon to list Lulu-published books. Lulu also distributes its books to other retailers.

In addition to paperbacks, Lulu also publishes hardbacks on demand. I have never tried this service, so I can’t speak to how well it works.

IngramSpark is the newest entrant in our print-on-demand provider list, but it has a lengthy pedigree. It’s owned by the same company that owns LightningSource, one of the first print-on-demand outfits. (We used LightningSource in 2003 to print the nonfiction book I co-authored.) In fact, Ingram set up IngramSpark in order to cater to indies, as LightningSource is really geared toward publishers. IngramSpark does not provide free ISBNs.

IngramSpark has the most robust distribution chain of any of the three POD services, as its parent company is the largest book wholesaler in the world.

All three of these companies would be happy to convert your print book file to an eBook, but I don’t recommend it. I’ve heard from indies who ended up with wonky formatting in their eBooks when they had CreateSpace send it to KDP for them. Paperback formatting is just too different from eBook formatting. You’re better off setting up your own KDP account and creating your eBook edition separately.

Authors today are spoiled for choice when it comes to publishing options. Choose wisely – and good luck!

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

26 thoughts on “Choices in Publishing: Paperbacks”

    1. Bookbaby is a division of CDBaby. From what I heard, it is considered a vanity publisher, and you must pay upfront for a good portion of distribution services. What I did see on their website about printed books was this: “Through the end of December you can save $60 on printing a single copy of your book. Just use coupon code 1BOOKBABY when ordering and your cost for printing 1 copy is just $19.” which leads me to believe the normal price for one copy of a book – your print proof – would be $79. That’s pretty outrageous.

  1. Good summary, Lynne. I’ve been using Lulu for my paperbacks for four years, and they’ve always been good quality. They’ve also always had paid-for editing/promo packages, which they advertise to you as you go through the process, but to be fair to them, they make it quite clear that you don’t have to use them.
    I once got six hard back copies from Lulu. Again, the quality was fine, but the cost was horrendous, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Not quite vanity publishing, but with printing prices like that, you need very deep pockets to do hard back with Lulu.

    1. That’s been my sense as well, Chris — when it comes to hardbacks, you end up having to charge a trad-pub-like list price to make any money at all.

      Thanks for the Lulu testimonial, by the way. (I should have added that we used Lulu for the anthologies in 2006 and ’07, and they turned out just fine.)

  2. I use Createspace and can’t complain, they have always been ready to help with a problem. I am waiting to use the expanded distribution when I format my omnibus. Unless I calculated wrong, I really wouldn’t make much of a royalty with the price point on my individuals.You are great at this stuff Lynne, and I know there was a post somewhere way back about the rates. Thanks for staying on top of things.

    1. You’re welcome, Aron. 🙂

      I think of paperback editions as more of a public service than anything else. I don’t do a ton of book signings, so basically I have the paperbacks for the vanishing breed of folks who prefer them to ebooks. Well, and to be able to hold my books in my hot little hand. 😀 So the profit margin isn’t a huge concern for me.

  3. Thank you,Lynne, I have been wanting information about Ingram Spark and it sounds perfect for us downunder as if it is part of Lightningsource they have an Australian base so postage costs will be less than CreateSpace postage costs.

    1. Thanks for that info.! As a fellow Aussie, I always shudder at the postage costs. Will check our Ingram Sparks. And thanks for the great article, Lynne.

  4. I’ve published over 15 books with CreateSpace and love them. Never had a problem that they haven’t been able to rectify immediately with very little fuss. Beside my own novels, I’ve published a biography of my aunt, my dad’s autobiography, a children’s book my mom wrote and my dad illustrated, and several art books of my father’s art. They’re all quality products, regardless of the size or format. Can’t recommend them enough.

  5. Thanks for the informative article–as always, Lynne. I like CreateSpace too, but I know other authors who swear by Lulu. Having a print copy of my book is a pat on the back for myself (Look, Linda! You really DID write a novel!), because I rarely sell any print copies. What about everyone else?

    1. Yup — as I said upthread, I don’t sell a ton of dead-tree books. So I basically have paperbacks for people who don’t have ereaders, and to put on my bookshelf. 😀

  6. Great article Lynne – as usual! I think the medium you use, and who you choose as the POD, depends on what country you live in. For example, it would appear that e-books aren’t as popular in Australia. I probably sell 200 print book for every e-book – mainly via direct sales and commission.

    I now have copies on commission in 5 independent book stores (they take 30 – 35% of RRP). I order 50 – 100 books at a time via CreateSpace (they can take up to 3 months to get here by snail-mail!) and then deliver them personally. Even with those overheads, I still make more money per book than e-books or trad pub – despite the massive postage costs.

    I also have my book on Lulu, because they have an Australian printing press and thus lower prices for domestic customers that choose to order on-line. Unfortunately, the quality of the Australian Lulu version is not as good as the USA one (glossy cover, thicker paper – not ‘trade’). I’ve been meaning to check out IngramSpark – thanks for the reminder!

    Being so focused on print paid off for me last week, as my novel was secretly nominated for an literary award. Its been short-listed for the People’s Choice Award in the South Australian Writers & Readers Festival 2015. (My little POD indie book is competing with 2 award-winning traditionally published books – Go Indies!)

    I’ve already filled a rushed order to supply books to the judges (300+ from book clubs, librarians and book stores across the state). Now I’m hoping I can manage the potential rise in direct sales and commissions after the Festival’s promotions starts to kick in. Time to think about going hybrid?

    Anyway, I don’t mean to take up space or to sound boastful . My point is: don’t underestimate the power of print. And POD books look as good (if not better) than trads 😉

    PS I’ve heard that it was the cover that got it over the line. I outsourced the design – and am so glad I made that choice.

    1. How awesome is that? Congrats on your nomination, Karen! 😀

      And thanks for letting us know about Lulu’s presence in Australia. It’s always good to see indies’ options expanding around the world.

  7. Thank you for the comparison, Lynne. Even though I’ve had a few technical glitches with CreateSpace, mainly because they don’t yet have a workaround for people who use Mac for Word, which does not embed fonts, I’ve stuck with them. It’s a good product for the price, and their customer service is very responsive.

  8. Thanks for the round up on our options. I hope somebody will chime in about their experience with Ingram Spark. My only complaint with CreateSpace is that they won’t sell to libraries if you use your own isbn. Also, I find it odd how long it takes them to ship copies to authors compared to shipping via Amazon. I have sometimes had to purchase my own books via Amazon just to get them in time. In fact, that’s the only reason I belong to Amazon Prime at the moment (so I guess that’s working well for them…).

    1. I never thought about ordering my CS books from Amazon. That’s a great idea, Sandra, particularly if you’re a Prime member (which, as it happens, I am). CreateSpace’s shipping costs are murder.

      1. But you pay a lot more for the books themselves. (On the other hand, I believe they get counted as sales, which can be handy. And I guess if Amazon collects the sales tax from me, that might save me some issues at resale if I’m beyond my two days of allowed book sales in NY state. I’m honestly not sure about that, though.)

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