I am an independent writer, which means I publish my own work instead of going through a publishing house. That's as opposed to a vanity writer, who pays a publisher to print their own work; the distinction might seem obscure but its significant: I get paid for my work, instead of paying someone else. Not much mind you, but paid.
Because I'm not a printing house, I have to rely on someone else to print my work. At first, when I came out with my first book (The Fantasy Codex) in 2006, I used LazerQuik printers in town here. It was a matter of giving them the files on a disc and they printed me a box of Codices. Eventually I managed to sell most of them, but it was a major expense up front and difficult to reach out to more distant buyers.
Then I found Lulu.com. This company is an online print-on-demand (POD) business that lets you upload the files you desire and build a book, then print as many as you wish. Even more handy is that they have a store so other people can print and buy your books as you wish; Lulu takes the lion's share of the money and give you some based on how you price your book.
Now, they take more than I wish, but the convenience and ease of sales make up for a lot of that. Personally I'd prefer making more than about 10% off each book, but that's the best I can do right now and reasonably expect sales.
I've used Lulu for a while now and they have been pretty solid in terms of quality. However, Lulu isn't the only game in town. Amazon has partnered with (or perhaps owns, I'm not sure) a company called CreateSpace. This company is set up to help people print their own books and materials as well, a POD company. However, CreateSpace is tied to Amazon, so once you get a book set up and ready to sell on there, it goes on the world's largest book seller's website automatically.
This is, I admit, a major advantage, and one I'm looking into. There are several other different POD companies out there of varying quality and validity, such as Lightning Source, but these are the top two. I'm trying out CreateSpace but as I started working on it, I noticed some interesting things.
For example, Lulu allows you now to print books in proper paperback form, rather than "trade" which is larger and less popular with readers. Book readers are strangely conservative and traditional, so they don't care for oddly sized and shaped fiction, and they want things the way they've always had it, even without realizing it consciously. Having books printed in the right size makes Lulu's POD service very attractive, since nobody else offers it that I can find on the internet.
What's the difference? Here's a photo showing both sizes: "pocket" and trade paperback size. The smaller one is the same size as your basic paperback you have nearby:
Now I'm able to offer both Snowberry's Veil and Old Habits in regular paperback book size, which is a big help in promoting my work - and get this, the smaller book size is cheaper, a lot cheaper, so I don't have to charge 15 bucks for a book to get any profit.
However, there are drawbacks. First, the paper. This isn't something I remember ever paying attention to, but take a look at a sheet of paper from your printer and a page from a paperback (go ahead and grab them both, I'll wait).
See the difference in color and texture? Printer paper is crisp white stuff and the pages of your paperback are softer and more cream colored. There's historical reason for this: Paperbacks were the red headed stepchild of printing, the cheap crappy version of a book that was knocked off on cheap paper and printed quick and dirty for wider distribution. They cost a lot less than hardbound books and are more disposable - you can cram one in your pocket and carry it around without feeling too badly about it.
But now, when people read a paperback, they expect not only that certain size, but the look and feel of a paperback. They want that cheap crappy paper because that's what they're used to and comfortable with. And Lulu does not offer cream colored paper with their paperbacks. So that's a major strike against the company. CreateSpace does, but again; wrong paperback size.
Now, both companies allow you to upload and will tell you if something is wrong with your basic text. Lulu warns you if you upload an improperly formatted page size in your document that it is a different size from your chosen book. Heed this warning.
See the problem with self publishing with a POD is that they want their money as bad as "gentleman" Jimmy Burke from Goodfellas. Lulu won't show up where you work and beat your head with the phone as they strangle you with the cord, but they won't send you the book unless you buy it. And you can't see how your book was truly laid out in Lulu unless you buy a copy. Now, you don't have to pay yourself, so all you pay for is the base Lulu price for printing (and shipping, of course) but that's still going to be 10 or more bucks, all told.
CreateSpace, on the other hand will run some sort of computer magic and gives you a visual image, with specific warnings, of how your book has problems in formatting and where. That's how I discovered my new wonderful "put more stuff on the page and looks good" formatting for the latest version of The Fantasy Codex was flawed. Now I have to reformat 350+ pages of book :(
But that's a huge advantage for CreateSpace: it saves you a lot of money. So far CreateSpace has a big plus by it in the comparison: connect to Amazon and preview book layouts vs real paperback size.
I've built covers with both companies, and they have handy online guides and systems to get it done. Both work pretty well and while Lulu's cover designer takes a bit to get used to, it seems to have an edge; its a bit better and gives you more power over your cover. Getting your cover exactly how you want takes a bit of graphical skill and some work on your end before you put it on the site, but that's to be expected. When printed, Lulu's covers have that slick glossy feel (although you can get matte as well) that apparently CreateSpace does not - they don't feel quite as professional according to Dane Cavalier at Yahoo.
Lulu has an edge for global markets, however. For now, CreateSpace is not as friendly with European formatting, and it takes a bit of effort to get them to go to other markets other than Amazon US. Lulu also prints in other countries (they have European printers, for instance) so they can get your books to people's hands faster and cheaper and easier.
On the other hand, CreateSpace charges less to print your books so that means for the same price, you get a bigger slice of the pie.
CreateSpace only puts out paperbacks. Now, since paperback is cheaper, you will not very likely sell many hardbound copies of your book, but that's a nice advantage for Lulu; they will let you put out a hardbound book, complete with a dust jacket over it like a regular printing. And having bought a couple of my works through them, its very nice work, indistinguishable from other printers.
In fact, Lulu overall has many more options in terms of size and format than CreateSpace. For example, my Fantasy Codex has always been spiral bound in paperback form, so it lays flat and can be folded under for reference. Lulu does that, CreateSpace does not.
Both companies will produce ebook versions of your book for free and give you a lot of help putting that together as well. Ultimately they are very similar in production, and neither one charges you a dime for simply putting a book together. You can pay to have your book distributed a bit more quickly on Lulu, but it will show up on Amazon eventually through them no matter what. Both companies will give you an ISBN with the printing unless you pick a format where you provide your own. I bought a list of 10 a few years back and have a few left but I'm sparing in how I assign those.
Both companies will do more for you if you pay them. This can run up to several thousand dollars for editing, analysis, promotion, cover design, etc. If you have a lot of cash lying around, you can have them do all your work other than the bare writing, but I wouldn't recommend it. Better you subcontract all that out before you get to the publishing level; it will be cheaper and more under your control.
Lulu offers an estimated price calculator up front so you can see what your book will cost before you start really building it. CreateSpace makes you wait until you're done (but is almost always cheaper anyway). Both
Both will do wider distribution (libraries and bookstores, for instance) for a small fee, which I recommend if you can afford it. Let me explain for a moment.
In the old days, book publishers would give signfiicant discounts on the cover price of a book to bookstores to entice them to pick up the book and sell it. This helped with distribution and would get their product on the shelf. POD companies didn't have this benefit: you had to pay full price to get that book on the shelf, and as a result, bookstores declined.
That's changed. POD companies a year or two ago started offering discounts as well, comparable to what the big publishers were offering. This probably started happening because a lot of big publishing houses are moving to POD as well. So if you pay the fee to Lulu or CreateSpace (cheaper fee), they will make this available to bookstores. That means your local bookstores and even what's left of big chain stores will find your book on their lists for discounts to make available on their shelves.
So if they get demand, they will make it available in small batches, and as they sell, buy more. That's something to seriously consider.
Between the two it seems to come down to this: CreateSpace will give you lower cost and quicker distribution, with cream colored paper, with a nicer interface and no need to buy your own galley proofs. Lulu gives you easier world distribution and hardbound books, plus a proper paperback size. If Lulu ever offered cream colored paper for their paperbacks, they'd be the winner for me because of that size. Because of the cost and the paper color, CreateSpace might be the way you want to go.
For hardbound, you have to go through Lulu, because CreateSpace won't offer you it at all.
So that's the rundown for me, at least. I won't be using CreateSpace for the moment because of the size. While I get less per copy by going through Lulu, I get the book I need to reach peoples' hands, and since I can offer Snowberry's Veil for 10 bucks plus shipping to people, that's a good enough deal for me.
Remember: going through an old publishing model with an editor and agent and all that translated into $1 per book profit. If I can get at least that much per book, I'm still on the plus side. And if people are turned off by the size of my book when they shop for it, I get no money at all.
Once CreateSpace offers the proper sized paperback, I won't look back: right size, right paper, cheaper costs, and instant Amazon distribution? Yeah.