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I have posted previously about my experience using CreateSpace. I thought it might be useful for people to see a guide to what other options are available for getting your book into print. If you haven’t considered doing so, it is worth remembering that thirty-six percent of book buyers read only print books. That’s according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Codex Groups and quoted in this New York Times article. It is a significant chunk of the market that you are unable to reach if you limit yourself to digital.
CreateSpace, and the other businesses I’ll be reviewing below, use a process called Print on Demand (POD). This allows printing and binding of paper covered books in very small quantities as and when an order is received. It means that neither you, the retailer nor the distributor needs to maintain a stock of your books. In stead, the placing of an order by a customer on-line triggers the printing of the book he or she has ordered.
Bricks and Mortar
In theory the same should apply to bricks and mortar stores, because CreateSpace and the others offer distribution via major book distribution networks in the USA, UK/Europe and Australia. I have, however, found little evidence that the major book retailers are interested in accessing self-published books via these channels. All the more reason to welcome the prospect of Amazon entering this section of the market.
“thirty-six percent of book buyers read only print books”
Let’s begin with Lulu, one of the longest established companies in the business. A look at their website demonstrates that the publishing process there has many points of similarity with CreateSpace. As with CreateSpace, there are no upfront costs unless you choose to avail of additional services, like cover design, for example. When it comes to distribution, however, the author compensation is significantly less than with CreateSpace. These screen grabs illustrate what I mean, using identical examples in the respective royalty calculators.
Both offer a range of cover templates you can adapt if you do not wish to pay for a cover taylored to your book’s theme. Each has a comprehensive guide to help you through the process. Both allow you to proof the finished article and make changes before going live. CreateSpace offers a range of paid-for support services such as editing, cover and interior design/formatting and marketing.
If Lulu and CreateSpace are the market leaders, what other companies might an aspiring author consider? And what might make you think twice about using them?
Feedaread is a provider that has commercial links to Random House. It claims to be part funded by the UK Arts Council. There is no charge for the basic publishing service. For distribution they require a one-off charge of £88 UK, $140 US, $A175, Australia and €125 Europe. Typical royalties quoted on their site for books sold through worldwide distribution is around 20%. Books sold on their own website receive between 30% and 60%.
They offer a limited range of cover design templates. The site also claims that it provides “free feedback every 4 months for our top ten highest selling authors opening chapters from Random House and Orion”
IngramSpark is a service provided by one of the world’s major book distributors. There is a small set-up fee which includes free e-book creation at the same time. In addition, distribution is charged at an annual cost per title. They quote 45% to 70% royalty, less printing costs. Their royalty calculator is confusing since it requires you to set a wholesale discount. I haven’t tried it but the cover creation process looks difficult in comparison with the others. You enter your book’s details into an on-line form and they e-mail you a template with which to create your cover.
One key advantage of using IngramSpark is the distribution they offer. Their claim: “More readers will have access to your books through IngramSpark than with any other platform.”
Bookbaby is a full service publishing platform that includes e-book and POD with editing, cover design, distribution and promotion for an all-in fee of $1655 which includes the supply of 100 ‘free’ copies of your book. This looks expensive, but bear in mind that purchasing editing, design and promotion services separately is not cheap. Typical royalties at Bookbaby are around 20% (see the screen grab)
To sum up, if I was to make a recommendation it would be CreateSpace, closely followed by Lulu and IngramSpark. Don’t be afraid of print. It does require time and care, but missing out on such a large section of the potential market for your work would be foolish.
No painter/decorator worth his salt would apply gloss paint to a door without first treating it with primer and undercoat. And, before any of that, a good sanding down is in order.
So why do some writers think the ‘gloss’ of proof reading is all they need before publishing?
Eamon did an excellent job on my latest novel, Transgression. This is why:
I began writing my first novel in the summer of 2010. I had been living in Ireland for a little under 4 years and had been reading about the history of migration of Irish people, whether the consequence of famine, punishment by ‘transportation’ to the antipodes, or simply the search for a better life.
One of several books that I read dealing with the subject was a slim volume telling the true story of a young man who, at the age of 19 in 1895, traveled from his family home in the Irish Midlands to North America. After a spell working as a tram driver in Brooklyn, he became a sailor, working on banana boats plying between the Caribbean and the East coast of America before deciding to try his luck, first in Dawson City then in the Klondike. Like the majority of the thousands who participated in the gold rush, he was always on the verge of a fortune but never quite made it.
I thought the story would make a good novel and that I would write it. I researched the period and the places but I needed to add a ‘love interest’. The author of the original story had been unable to unearth anything suggesting a long term relationship, implying that his ancestor had led a lonely life. I decided that the young man in my version of the story would meet, and fall in love with, a young woman whilst in Brooklyn, but that something would sully that relationship triggering his decision to move as far away as possible.
Adopted at birth
I created a female character, gave her a back-story which explained her cavalier treatment of the young man. Like him, she spends the ensuing decades regretting her actions. Part of her story includes abuse by a powerful man, a teenage pregnancy, the adoption of the resulting child and a reunion, years later, between mother and grown-up daughter. I published ‘Honest Hearts‘ as an e-book at Smashwords in November of 2011 and, later, at Amazon.
Having thus discovered that I could create characters and put them in unusual situations, I went ahead and did it again, this time taking a couple of unrelated incidents from my childhood and putting them together to create a traumatic series of events in a single day in a community closely resembling the one in which I grew up. ‘Summer Day‘ was published in the same way in March 2012.
By then I had discovered the historical connection between my new home in County Laois and my birthplace in Herefordshire. I began putting together the series of articles that would become the Hereford and Ireland History section of this website and inspired me to write about the young woman who married the leader of the Norman occupation of Ireland in the twelfth century. ‘Strongbow’s Wife‘ took longer to research and write. Originally written in third person it was recast as a first person account in her own voice and published on June 1st 2014. This time I decided to create a paper back version via CreateSpace.
By then, too, I had begun thinking about the many stories emerging about the abuse of young girls and boys by celebrities and others during the 1970s and ’80s. I had already created the character of a not very successful jobbing reporter. The idea of having him retired and ghost-writing the autobiography of a soap star, with her daughter revealing herself at the book’s launch, seemed like a good starting point for a story examining the immense changes that have taken place in society and especially in regard to attitudes to sex and sexuality.
I am not sure now at what point I realised the similarities between my treatment of this theme in ‘Transgression‘, and key elements of ‘Honest Hearts’. Each has an abused teenager giving up her child for adoption. In each, the adopted child embarks on a search for her parents. Both of the abused women pursue successful careers in creative professions but suffer mentally as a result of the circumstances of their early initiation to sex.
I have no idea why two stories with very different origins, set in different historical periods, have ended up featuring such similar events. And, when I look at the background to the other two novels, I see that family dysfunction is evident there also. The central family in ‘Summer Day’ includes two women with the kinds of problems you would not expect to find in a typical twentieth century sub-urban household.
Strongbow’s wife, of course, is a woman from a very different age, and yet the true history of her background is that her elderly father sired children by women other than her mother; that her husband, for whom her hand was the price for the assistance he gave to her father, already had at least two children from a previous relationship. It was a time when the fostering of children in the families of friends was common place. On her husband’s death her own two children were placed in the care of the king of England, hundreds of miles away from the family home. A situation not so very different from that of the female protagonists of ‘Honest Hearts’ and ‘Transgression’ giving up their infants for adoption.
I wonder if the fact that my father died when I was two, that he spent those two years serving in the RAF with only infrequent visits to my mother so that I was never aware of him, and that I spent the bulk of my formative years in a boarding school that had once been an orphanage, influenced what is beginning to feel like an obsession with such themes?
If you are someone who feels daunted by what you see as the difficulty of uploading a book to Amazon’s CreateSpace for print publication, don’t be. I’ve just done it for the second time and it was a lot easier than the first. Here’s why.
The first time was back in the summer of 2014 and I am certain that some of the features that made it easier this time around were not present then. Like the step where, having uploaded your interior text you wait for 24 hours to receive an e-mail with a link to the converted text as it will appear in print. You can page through to see if it is formatted exactly the way you want it. This file is ‘read only’ but you can save it to your hard drive as an editable file and make the changes you want. Then, when you go back into the CreateSpace process you can upload this file as your new interior. You can repeat this step as many times as you need. I did it twice.
Last time around, when the process was completed I had to purchase a printed proof copy, which took about a month to arrive, before approving the file for publication. Now an on-line proofing step has been provided. You simply download a virtual copy of your book, complete with cover, that you can page through for a final check of formatting. It is a good idea, at this stage, to do a final read through, checking for typos missed during earlier editing sessions – believe me, there will be some! CreateSpace offers you the option of downloading a pdf version of your interior file to make this easier.
If, at this stage, you find things you need to change you can go back to that file you saved in the earlier step, make the changes and return to the step where you upload the revised file. All this means that there are plenty of opportunities for getting your book exactly the way you want it, without having to wait for a printed proof.
It’s not just the process for uploading and correcting the interior file that has got better. Cover design, too, is a lot less bothersome than I remember from the first time I did it. Of course, you can use a professional design service, and Amazon have an extensive list of associates whose services you can purchase. However, if you choose to use a template from the CreateSpace library, the variety of designs available is much more extensive than I remember from 2014. For those templates that include space for an image, you still have the option of uploading your own, or you can choose from a large selection of images also available in the CreateSpace library.
Once you have chosen a template, the process takes you step by step through the insertion of title, sub-title, author and two sets of back cover text (this is where you insert your carefully crafted blurb to make your book irresistible to readers!). Each step can be omitted should you so choose. For example, a novel does not generally have a sub-title. Many front covers do, however, have a key phrase or two to tell readers what to expect. It might be something like “from the award winning author of (your last book)”, or a succinct expression of the challenge facing your protagonists. Don’t waste the opportunity to use the sub-title panel for that important purpose.
The value of editing
It is well worth spending time getting all of this right. But it is also vital that your text is fully edited and corrected before you commit it to print or digital publication.
Note: I provide above a link to the editing service I used for Transgression. I found it’s proprietor, Eamon O’Cleireigh, to be a valuable partner in the process of improving my book. There are, of course, many other providers of such services and you would be well advised to shop around in order to find someone who suits your particular needs.
As I continue to perfect the manuscript of Transgression, with the superb support of my editor, Eamon O’Cleirigh, I am in a quandary about how to get it published. Should I continue to use the independent route or seek a traditional publisher?
My first three novels were published at Smashwords and Amazon Kindle. For the third I also used Amazon’s CreateSpace option to offer a print-on-demand paper-back version. The problem is that very few people know my books are there. I try to promote them via Facebook and, over recent weeks, Twitter. But I have only a handful of followers so I can’t overdo it for fear of losing them.
Indie Book Promoters
It’s a problem that all indie authors face. There are dozens of websites that will, for a fee, post about your book to their claimed list of thousands of followers. Except that I suspect most of those followers are other writers trying to sell their books. The same goes for sites that offer reviews, either paid for or in exchange for you reviewing the books of other users of the service. And then there are organisations that provide a full promotion service, including targeted press releases. I can’t help wondering just how effective these are when the ‘product’ is a book by an unknown author.
Traditional agents and publishers have two massive advantages: contacts and reputation. Some of those contacts may well be people or organisations that get to see my tweets and the tweets of the indie book promotion folks. The point is that all of them are much more likely to be influenced by a tweet from Penguin or one of the Hachette imprints than they will be by one from me or an indie book promoter.
That’s true, also, for reviews. The traditional publishers can send a book to the literature editors of national and international media organisations and be certain the book will be read and a review published where it will be seen by hundreds of thousands of potential readers. Why would anyone not want that level of endorsement?
And that’s without the added impact of seeing piles of hard-back books in bookstore displays.
I can’t speak for the hundreds of thousands of authors using the independent publishing route. For me, the most significant factor is age. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that agents and traditional publishers are unfairly ageist. But I can see how their criteria for taking on a new writer must include the prospect of longevity in the relationship. They are looking, not just at the potential income from the one book they are assessing, but the promise of decades of steady earnings as the author matures and develops, producing a succession of works that, whilst they may not all become best-sellers, will be well received generating significant sales volume over time. At 73, going on 74, that’s something I can’t offer.
My age influences my decision in another way. The process involved in the traditional publishing route takes a long time. You spend months seeking an agent; if you’re lucky enough to find one he or she spends many more weeks or months finding a publisher. That publisher has a schedule, a pipeline of launches extending forwards over many more months. So the timescale from submission to publication is unlikely to be much less than two years and could be considerably more. I can’t wait that long. I want my book available to readers as soon as I am satisfied it is as good as it can be.
The answer, it seems to me, is to hedge my bets. We have all heard the stories of independently published books that have been picked up by a traditional publisher: the Grey phenomenon is not unique, although it is the most notoriously successful. So there cannot be any harm in going ahead and publishing at Smashwords, Kindle and CreateSpace whilst also pitching it to agents.
Meanwhile, I need an eye-catching cover design that captures the book’s theme. And if anyone reading this wants to share their experience of independent or traditional publishing they are welcome to do so by commenting below.