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January, 2008

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By  Jim Curtiss

Online marketing removes most of the author's up-front costs and can be effective.
Completing a book, while challenging in its own right, is only the beginning of a writer's struggle to bring it to market. Indeed, the odds of finding an agent or publisher are daunting. One workshop organizer explained it to me like this: "New writers have about a 5% chance of finding an agent. And if you do find one, the chance that the agent will sell your book is about 1%."

So what's an ambitious writer to do?

One option is to employ the services of CreateSpace, owned by, which in August entered the Print-on-Demand sector. For those unfamiliar with the term, Print-on-Demand (POD) books are essentially printed and shipped to order, which does away with most of the up-front costs for the author, as well as inventory costs for the publisher.

The CreateSpace website states that the author faces no set-up fees, no minimum orders, and the author keeps all rights to their work. These are all welcome aspects of publishing a book, but some of the more niggling issues, such as royalties, time commitment, and residual rights are tucked away further in the website.

Take the fees and royalties description as an example:

According to the CreateSpace website, "If you sold a 100 page black and white book with a list price of $25.00 through a CreateSpace E-Store, you would earn a royalty of $14.85 per sale."

That sounds fantastic, until one looks a bit closer at the figures.
The CreateSpace cut is broken down as follows:
Share for the E-Store = $5.00 (20% of the $25 book fee);
plus a Fixed Charge of $3.15;
plus a printing charge of $2.00 (100 pages at 2¢/page).
Thus, the total share for CreateSpace is $10.15.
Subtract that sum from the $25 book price, and the author is left with a tidy $14.85 profit.

Fair enough. But realistically, who is going to pay $25 for just 100 pages of work from an emerging author? That price is so far above the going rate as to be preposterous. Even J.K. Rowling's latest Harry Potter release is only bringing in $15.50 per copy on – and that's for a hardcover edition that weighs in at over 600 pages.

CreateSpace's main competitor,, has pricing that seems a bit more realistic. It not only begins with assuming a 200-page title, its projection of an author's royalties is $9.14, or about 33% lower than CreateSpace.

But Lulu isn't exactly simple, either. According to their website, "As a creator, you set the amount of creator revenue on the items you publish. The Lulu commission is 25% of the creator revenue you set (or 19¢, whichever is greater). The Lulu commission therefore equals 20% of the total profit of each item sold.

For example, if your creator revenue is $4.00;
We add a $1.00 Lulu commission.
The total profit from the item is $5.00.
One dollar is 25% of $4.00 (your creator revenue) and 20% of $5.00 (the total profit).
This leaves 80% of the total profit to you, the creator!
In traditional publishing, it's rare for an author to see even 20% of the total markup."

Get all that?

Aside from the money aspect, there are other considerations of POD publishing to take into account. Whereas Lulu has a very idiot-proof system for selecting cover art, CreateSpace has a relatively complicated system to navigate, which a less computer-savvy writer might find troublesome.

Another thing is that CreateSpace will only accept your book as a .pdf file (associated with the Adobe Reader program). And while there are relatively simple, free programs such as Deskpdf that you can download to create .pdf files, with Lulu you can submit your work as a .doc, .rtf, or any number of other file types.

All this is not to suggest that an author should choose to publish with Lulu over CreateSpace. Because the big plus – the thing that has the publishing world talking about CreateSpace – is how it streamlines the already massive marketing potential that has become. So going with CreateSpace instead of Lulu, for example, handily inserts the new author into an established, multi-million dollar apparatus that is sure to benefit the author's bottom line.

Nevertheless, Lulu offers things that CreateSpace doesn't, which makes the decision of where to self-publish all the more challenging. In the end, if you are looking to publish with a POD company, be sure to read the small print, do the calculations, and above all, don't make any hasty decisions. The world has waited this long for your book – it can wait the additional time you need to devote to such an important decision.

Useful links:
A comparison of leading POD publishers

A case study of a book published by a POD publisher

The potential pitfalls of POD publishing

Considerations regarding PublishAmerica

Jim Curtiss is a cultural sojourner who makes his living as a freelance editor, writer, actor, and teacher. He is also an Associate Editor for IN. Much of his work deals with the challenges and glories of the expatriate lifestyle. Jim and his wife Jarmila live in Seville, Spain. Contact him.

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