My experience: Self-publishing with CreateSpace, Blurb, Kindle, LULU, Smashwords and Peecho

I am an indie author/publisher who writes on her free time and benefits of using FREE self-publishing services. If it wasn’t for these platforms, I probably would not be publishing books right now, since I wouldn’t be able to afford paid services and my work  would most likely not interest bigger presses.

In my two years self-publishing journey I have tested both print and e-book publishing platforms and now I’d like to share some of my insights with you.

For print books:

these POD (print on demand) companies deduct the manufacturing cost of your title + the distribution fees and you can set your profit or royalty after that margin.

For e-books:

you also need to pay a small fee per sale.

CreateSpace

CS is an Amazon company, however by publishing with them, you can distribute your titles to worldwide retailers. They have a neat-step-by-step setup/upload process and an online “previewer”, where you can see immediately how your book would look in print (in theory*). It means that if some important graphic or text is out of the security margin/bleed and would be cut off during the printing process, you will see it at once and fix it before ordering a proof copy! It saves you both time and money.

* I say in theory, because, unfortunately, CS doesn’t seem to have much control quality and your books can be trimmed “off”, more often than not – when you order copies directly from them.

If you need assistance with any part of the setup process, they have a nice, fast support you can count on.  And they also offer paid services to help you with the formatting or creating a cover for your book, if you need, among other things. If you do all this by yourself or hire someone else to do it, then the publishing service will be free with them.

They do offer FREE ISBN as well and multiple trim sizes as well as cream or white paper and matte or glossy paperback cover. At CS you have the best profit/royalties for printed books!

Getting paid: They pay monthly via direct deposit on your bank account. If you prefer to get paid by check, then you need to meet the threshold of 100€.

Great for books with most text and some line art.

Drawbacks:

Does not offer hardcover options, therefore if you would to sell beautiful hardcover books for your readers, you need to do it elsewhere.

The color print is very expensive, both to manufacture and distribute, not to mention that the print and paper quality for color books is of lacking quality. The stock is too thin and you can see the dots in the print job as well as expect huge color difference from the original layout/graphics.

You cannot upload a file larger than 400 mb.  If your book is mostly text and formatted on Word, you will never need to worry. However, if your book is illustrated and has a fancier layout, that can be a problem. You need to reduce the file size to fit the threshold.

Lacks quality control on their printing. Often your spine and edges will come “off”, even though your file is “perfect” – again, when you order copies directly from them. That may or may not happen when ordering your copies elsewhere, even though you published through CS, since other retailers may use their own printers.

Blurb

This company is a little darling of mine! Yes, I am a fan! (Even though I have my complains.)

As an illustrator and designer, Blurb is the ONE self-publishing company who understands my needs.

They have great plugins and tools for you who are a natural creative and want a visually appealing book but don’t master graphic programs, AND they have a PDF uploader for the pros, which is the one I use. Their uploader is very fast and you see on the go if there is a problem with your file. They can fix somethings automatically, while others you will see in their online previewer, pretty much like the one used by CS. These tools save you great amounts of time and money, since you can fix any problems you see by re-uploading the file, if needed.

If you need help with the setup and pretty much any technical question, their support team is fast and friendly.

Yes, you can upload HUGE files, up to 2 GB! I love that, so I don’t need to compress my files to the bone. Apart from softcovers, they have great hardcover options for photobooks and trade books. You can do a wraparound or dust jacket.

Getting paid: Takes up to 4 months from the date of the sale on a retailer, as long as you have made the threshold of 20€ in royalties. If not, it will accumulate for the next month or until make that amount.

Photobooks:

As the name suggests they are heavy in photography and graphics. They have several paper weights and stock options and all of them in amazing quality.

Drawbacks:

The distribution for photobooks is limited to Amazon only. The manufacturing is very expensive (even if you only print for yourself) and together with the distribution fees, it makes the final price very impractical to compete with traditionally published photo/art books.

Tradebooks:

These are similar to CS products, though here you can choose different paper weights and print modes (economy or standard)  and of course, have hardcover, wraparound or dust jacket.  You can distribute them globally and have quite good royalties.

For trade color books, you have better stock quality and weight as well as print option for color books than you would have at CS. They are however, expensive in the same level, but ultimately, you get a bit more quality for the price.

Drawbacks:

The high manufacturing costs of color books together with the distribution fees makes it impractical if not impossible for you to compete with the quality and price level of traditionally published books.

Their shipping cost is really VERY expensive, whether you buy a trade or photobook!

Their wraparound hardcover for trade books is matte and horrible – if you have a dark cover image. In general, I would not recommend it. Do a dustjacket instead, because the print quality on the cover and color fidelity are MUCH BETTER, in fact that one is beautiful. (They only have glossy option, though). Trade Wraparounds is one of the two things I would recommend you to stay away from Blurb, the other is their e-books

They also publish e-books:

Fixed layout e-books to Kindle or iTunes/Apple. The thing is… if you sell fiction, very few if not none of your readers would like to read a fixed-layout e-book. If you publish art… I have tried publishing fixed-layout art books and have failed. Still people prefer reflowable (as odd as it may sound). And if you try to convert your PDF file to their fixed-layout e-book… most likely it will fail. They are still in beta in that regard. AND you can’t distribute it globally. So… that’s a no go for me.

I hope Blurb will work more to cover the needs of authors and publishers the way they did cover the needs of designers. If they do, they will be my one and only platform… while it doesn’t happen, I use others on my publishing process.

LULU

I started out publishing with them. Their trade books are on the same level as CS and their shipping and coupon discounts are really great! They help you saving a lot of money on proofing your titles.

They distribute worldwide through Ingram, both print and e-books. (There are some limitations regarding print books, since they only distribute certain trim sizes or cover setup option, you may want to check out their chart for detailed information in this regard.) In general, they distribute globally all 5×8, 6×9 and 8×10 paperback options.

Getting paid: They pay monthly, via Paypal, any amounts you generate in royalties. Isn’t that brilliant?! 😀

E-book service:

The best option for worldwide distribution in Epub format.

You will reach many retailers in many countries. Only Smashwords has better profit margin – however, they pay quarterly, while LULU pays monthly!

Their e-books are very easy to setup and manage. And yes, you can have large files for your e-books without having to pay more fees or receive less royalty – unlikely KDP that charges you by your file size or Smashwords that has a 20 mb file size limit! This is specially great for illustrated or art books!

Drawbacks:

I have never tried their color books for two reasons: it costs the eyes of the face and the distribution fees are outrageous.

If your file is larger than 300 mb, you can still upload it, however, via their snail FTP server. It is the slowest thing ever and it can take several attempts for you to get your file there.

They don’t have an online previewer, it means if there is something critically wrong with your file, you won’t see before you print a proof copy and wait for the mail to come.  Sometimes, their tech people will detect an error and contact you – but that is only when it is too late, by the time you sent your book to global distribution and have made sales… Then you have to go through the same painful process to upload the file all over again.

If your book has a small file, it should be easy and quick to setup – however, again, there is no online previewer and you may wait for the proof copy to perceive any errors.

Last, but not least, their website is buggy and the support can be slow at times.

Because LULU took so much of my time, money and gave me so much headache in the process, I switched to Blurb and it was the best thing ever – in my case, since I have large files to deal with. However, I still use them for my e-books.

Kindle

Great, formidable tool. It is easy to work with and counts with the selling power of Amazon.

It is a MUST have platform. It has biggest impact in the US and has some presence in a few other countries. (It is debatable how big it is outside of the US, topic for another post, perhaps?) However, if you want your e-book out there in the world, you may want to publish it as Epub via LULU or Smashwords or other company. By doing that you also give your readers more options for them to choose where they would like to purchase your book. (You may not sell as much on the other retailers, but that’s subject for another post!)

Getting paid: They will pay you monthly via check or direct bank transfer/deposit, any amounts you generate in royalties.

Drawbacks:

Don’t have global distribution. Has presence in a few countries – and apart from the US where it is massive, its presence is weak on the other territories.

If you’re not on the Select Program, you will have less benefits and royalties, also less visibility on Amazon.

If you are on the select program, you give exclusivity over your book to Amazon, and shut down options for possible readers who would like to purchase your work in other format, elsewhere.

UPDATE 5 hours later:

I forgot to mention… (Thanks to author Emma Jaye @ GoodReads, for the reminder!)  Just recently KDP/Amazon have added a new feature, you can publish a paperback directly from your KDP dashboard, without going through the process on CeateSpace. I have not tested their service yet, if and when I do, I will try to post my experience about it as well.

Smashwords

This is my Ugly Duckling…
The  great things about this platform is that it is quite easy to set up, upload and distribute your e-book worldwide.

They have also the best E-Book royalties!

Smashwords has the powerful Coupon Codes, a FREE tool where you can generate huge discounts for your readers or give your book away for free if they use the codes you generate. It is easy to manage the amount of copies you’d like to give away or give a discount.  You can have multiple coupons for each title.

They also offer Pre-orders, in other words, you’re able to sell your work before it is officially released. This is a neat tool for authors who already have established a readership. However, if you’re still new in the scene, this tool will do nothing much for you.

Drawbacks:

Getting paid: They only pay quarterly – one month AFTER each quarter, in other words, it can take up from 4 to 6 months for you to receive your earnings. You need to make the minimum of 75$ to be paid via check (US) and 10 $ to be paid via Paypal (worldwide). This is a deal breaker for me.

Another drawback is that their file limit is only 20 mb! Out of the question for my books art/photo books! If your book has mostly text this should not be a problem, at all!

Update 03.Feb. 17:

Smashwords just announced monthly payments and PayPal threshold of 1 penny.

Peecho

Great for Photo and Art Books.

Has potential, but…

I was looking for an alternative to Blurb photobooks high prices and came across this great platform. I was amazed at their color/photobook quality – though they have only one stock and cover finish for paperbacks and hardcovers.  However those are quite good, in general.

I LOVE specially their hardcover option, where you have heavy, glossy art stock and a BEAUTIFUL matte finish and feel on the cover. Nothing that Blurb could match in terms of cost – and they don’t have such heavy art stock as well.

Also their shipping is amazingly cheap, and their books are very well packed/protected for transport.

They are the best quality vs. price when it comes to printing art/photobooks. It beats Blurb!

Getting paid: It pays you anytime you have made over 100€ in royalties, via bank account or Paypal.

Drawbacks:

Their biggest mistake – ever – is that they don’t distribute your titles to other retailers, not even Amazon. It means in practice that you need to be famous or extremely popular to sell directly from your website via their “print button” or “print link”.

The other obvious problem is that people will buy from retailers they trust, and they would rather buy your book on their favourite webshop/bookshop than on your website. Because there they can use their fidelity program, get discounts and buy other titles they want on the same order.

You need to make some serious voodoo to be able to sell anything at Peecho, nonetheless, sell well.

Getting paid: Another thing I disliked completely was that it took me sometime to see the fine print about the payment threshold. I need to make 100 € in royalties before they pay me anything. It may sound like nothing of a big problem… Unless you’re an unknown author/artist trying to sell an art book, like me.

UPDATE 5 hours later:

Draft2Digital

Great for e-books! Can be a good alternative to Smashwords or LULU.

I had 3 titles there until a year ago. It’s quite interesting platform. I had few sales in their distribution. I left it mainly because I had formatting/conversion issues when uploading a new title there, even though they say “say goodbye to complicated formatting”.  I suppose it was just a coincidence. If your books are just text and you follow their instructions, it may be a good platform for you. It is fast to upload and convert your book. You can preview it online and/or download a file for review.

My experience with them was limited, but here’s a bit more:  The dashboard was easy to use. They give you free ISBN. They keep 10% of the retail price nowadays – really a good deal. 🙂  And now they offer Pre-orders.

Getting paid: The say the minimum threshold is 10$ for digital payments and 25$ for checks and pay monthly. (I personally never received any payment from them, my sales were so few that they didn’t make the threshold.)

Drawbacks… or not?:

When it comes to print, they hire CreateSpace for you, in other words, they act as middle-man. How advantageous is that? I have no idea, since I haven’t used it… I would always recommend you to print directly from the platform you choose, rather than having to go through a third-party. But then, it’s all up to you!

Update 14.Nov. 17:

Draft2Digital is now distributing to Amazon Kindle. It means it can now be an alternative where you can have both Amazon and Global e-book distribution from the same service/dashboard.

Other services I have studied, but avoided, since they are deal-breakers:

IngramSpark

You need to pay an yearly fee to have your title available in their service + you need to pay for your own ISBN. If you have 10 titles, you need to pay that fee x10, every year! Get it? Let’s say next year you’re able to pay it, then your books will be removed from their service.  It’s a no-deal for me for two reasons: I would never be able to afford it, and I would feel unsafe about making my work available all times for my readers.

BookBaby

Sounds very promising, but then you need to purchase your own ISBN and a minimum of 25 copies to enable your title for Global Distribution – which ends up quite expensive. This is in itself suspicious. With CS, Blurb and LULU you can print 1 copy and enable Global Distrbution for free.

They also have a chart: BookBaby vs CreateSpace and another BookBaby vs LULU – both which look VERY SHADY, with MISLEADING INFORMATION. What kind of company does that? To me their whole propaganda is very, very dubious…

End of story: So how do I publish my books?

Illustrated Fiction titles:

CreateSpace: for the paperbacks + ISBN + global distribution. All free, I only pay for the proof copy.
Blurb: for the hardcovers, I use Hardcover with dustjacket + ISBN + Global distribution. All free, I only pay for the proof copy.
LULU: Use it to publish my Epub e-books. Global distribution + ISBN = free.
Kindle: for kindle e-books.  ASIN (Amazon identification number) + Amazon distribution = free. I never opt for the Select program since I want my readers to have access to my work from their preferred retailer.
Smashwords: I only use it for the Coupon codes. (Promos & Giveaways). It means I publish my books there but opt out of distribution. However, my readers can retrieve my books and use the coupons directly at Smashwords website.

Art/Photo Book titles:

It is extremely difficult for an indie publisher/author/artist  to publish an art/photo book that has great quality for an affordable price. I insist on publishing those kinds of books mostly out of love.

The truth is that POD/self-publishing platforms are not ready to offer art books as a reality – yet.

So I do a gamble, a huge compromise:

I offer Kindle/E-pub (via KDP and LULU) as e-book alternatives.
I offer amazing quality hardcovers via Peecho’s Print Button/Link.
Depending on the title, I may use Peecho’s photobook paperback Print Button/Link OR a Blub “magazine” Print Button/Link, rather than their paperback photobooks. That’s because with the “magazine, I have the same great quality, for a much reduced cost, which makes a much better final price for the buyer 🙂

I have zero profit with my art/photobook titles so far. In fact I have never even covered the production costs. But since I do it out of love, those were the least problematic options to offer readers and art lovers good books for good prices.

Wow, it’s a lot to take care of! You may say:

Yes, I wish that there were the one-and-only platform for indie authors, but I haven’t found it yet. I do what I do because ultimately, I care about giving options for my readers, like having my book available in their favourite reading format or at their favourite shop. It’s all about them! 😉

Le finale

I wish you good luck with your publishing journey. Nothing substitutes the real experience of having gone through the things yourself, but you can avoid some headache by taking other people’s advice. Maybe there is something in this article that was helpful to you. Who knows?!

35 thoughts on “My experience: Self-publishing with CreateSpace, Blurb, Kindle, LULU, Smashwords and Peecho

  • Great article, Isis! I’m already looking at CreateSpace and Kindle, but now I know that when I do the book illustrations (color) I’ll check Blurb out!
    Thanks for the info!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Hi Monique! Hope you enjoy the process 🙂 The thing about illustrated/color books is that they are still so expensive compared to B&W/text. But I hope you find an option that suits your project. If you want to trade ideas about it, just send me a note 🙂 Cheers!

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  • What an amazing and thorough post. I think Createspace will offer hard cover, but you need to pay $100 for the setup or something and request directly. Personally, I find using multiple platforms a burden and not worth it, but I’ll come back to this post if I start selling a lot of books. Thanks!

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    • Hi! I am glad it is helpful! I am still waiting for CS to offer hardcovers 😀 I hope they d that soon, because it would be of great help for many authors with more special projects.
      Yes, using multiple platforms is not easy… but then… it depends on which products you want to offer and what is good for your readers 🙂 Cheers!

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    • Kindle sells only on Amazon. If you want your e-book to reach other markets/countries than the few Amazon covers, LULU can do that for you 🙂 Also there readers who prefer to read Epub format rather than mobi. CS distributes paperback worldwide. If you want to make a hardcover, LULU or Blurb could be useful. 🙂

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  • Blurb service and support is very bad. It took nearly 3 weeks of going back and forth and nothing was solved, I gave up! The original book Blurb sent took nearly 4 weeks to get, was ridiculously expensive, damaged and colors were awful compared to Createspace. Blurb NEVER AGAIN . Createspace om the other hand, gets back to us within hours of submitting and we always deal with the same individuals. It’s hard to believe your dealing with a huge company with the great service we get from Createspace. They are awesome.

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    • I am sorry to hear you’ve had a bad experience with Blurb customer service… 😦 I have so far only had great experience with their print quality and support (except once I printed on economy B& W). Did you use the economy color option? Their normal color option looks fine… Anyway, not fun to have such a frustrating experience. And yes, CS has is great – I only with they’d offered hard covers and art/photo stock. 🙂

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  • This is very useful, thank you!

    My book was Kindle first, also Smashwords and Draft2Digital. I’m not worried about bookshops at the moment. The paperback is proving surprisingly popular, though.

    I did the paperback through CreateSpace. Kindle Print is a bad version of CreateSpace that doesn’t work. The Kindle Print process was *absolutely infuriating* – my artist and I spent a whole day trying to get the cover right for Kindle Print, when CreateSpace had templates that would have meant we’d got it right first time. And Kindle Print DOES NOT do author proof copies! I would always use CreateSpace instead.

    I need to find a good printer in the UK – CreateSpace print in the UK, but will only send you author copies from the US. LightningSource offer a good price, but even if you have your PDFs and just want them to print them and send you copies, you have to create an account and … wait for them to approve you as their customer? Still waiting …

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    • Hi David 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience! Each author’s journey is different, so take your time with the bookshops, if they are something for you.

      As for Kindle print, I had never tried them, but I had a gut feeling that it would be somewhat problematic… I wonder how they can offer such a sloppy service, when Amazon also owns CS, which has its faults, but does a great job. Now, other readers and I know we need to avoid Kindle Print.

      Try LULU for print books in the UK. It is free to create an account there, you don’t need approval, and if your book is not heavy in graphics, it will upload fast. They have printers in the UK and ship fast and for a decent price.

      LS is a great service, but they are expensive for authors who don’t yet have a profit. And another obstacle, to have to wait for their approval.

      Cheers 🙂

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    • Hi! 🙂 Yes, you can. The only thing is that when publishing on Kindle, don’t make it exclusive. There will be a checkbox on that platform. This way, you can publish your title in as many platforms for print or ebook that you want.

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  • I’ve used CreateSpace for two color children’s books. The books were in many ways great for the price BUT their quality is inconsistent. I’d give them a 80/20 ratio – good to bad. My first orders were great. But order 3 was just unacceptable. Seriously anemic color! Loose, sloppy binding and the books had dings and nicks on the cover. My next book came back with covers so curled it was unacceptable. So – CS can be great — but be prepared to hear customer complaints over those 20% of their printing bloopers. I’m unsure how to proceed. But as their expanded distribution requires a minimum price of $9.99 for this 36 page book – I’m just not sure I won’t end up with negative reviews due to shabby printing that seems to happen about 20% of the time. And you are right – their customer service is top-notch – but they don’t seem in control of quaity.

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    • Hi Karen! Thanks for sharing your experience with us! I am sorry about the times you had these problem prints with CS. I have tried to print color with them, and I agree with all you said. In fact, I would never recommend anyone printing color with CS, only black & white. The best color experience I had is with Peecho – but they don’t distribute/sell with any other store, only through their own or your own website… Blurb has better quality than CS when it comes to color and paper choice, but they are very expensive. I am not sure how it would go with a 36 pages book. Perhaps you could try to use Peecho and sell via direct link?

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  • I am very thankful for this article, there is none like it anywhere else! I am a crafts designer and I recently published a book that is heavy in photography, on Kindle where it has done well. However, I have so many requests for a hard copy book that I cannot fulfill because I can’t figure out how to make such a photo heavy book cost effective. Reading your article I think that this may be impossible as an indie author. Thanks for sharing this info. as I would have gone to way too much trouble making a book in CS only to realize that it is too cost prohibitive for most people. Sigh. I guess I need to go the more traditional route of finding a publisher who would be interested in my work. Thanks!

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    • Hi Lori! Sorry for my late reply! I am glad this article was helpful to you 🙂 How nice you’re a crafts designer! The truth is that in general, POD (print on demand) is yet too expensive for photography heavy/color books, compared to traditional publishing. You have two options: bad quality for high price or okay quality for high price… :-S But in case you wouldn’t like to depend on a publisher, you can still get the okay/good quality for high price. The best price vs quality I find is with Peecho, but thenyou’d have to sell it via direct link on your website. Having a publisher can help in many ways, so I hope you find yourself one for your crafts book 🙂 Cheers!

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    • Hi Micah! So glad to hear that! The self-publishing industry has been through a lot of changes even though it is a relatively new industry, so there are new services showing up, while others are closing their doors… But all those mentioned in the article are working as as per today. Cheers 🙂

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    • Hi Ashley 🙂 I am glad to hear it was helpful to you! I plan more helpful articles like this for the next months. No, I don’t have any affiliate links on my blog/website 🙂 But thanks for your support! Cheers!

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  • Great article. Thank you for taking the time to write, it is by far the most useful article I have come across with regards to self-publishing.
    Currently have a children’s book/series that is ready to be published. Now just deciding on the best approach. I know the first one will have the steepest learning curve.

    It seems like:
    – Kindle for Amazon distribution ebook
    – Lulu for global distribution ePUB ebook
    – CS for POD paperbacks

    Do you think that is a good approach to kick off?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Walter 🙂 I am very happy to hear that this article was helpful to you! I am planning a follow-up or part II for this one. Self-publishing can be overwhelming when we are new and don’t know how to start, but once we learn about the tools, it gets easier. Congratulations with your children’s book series and hope you enjoy the learning curve. There’s no substitute for trying 🙂
      I think your idea of using Kindle for Amazon distro, LULU for global ebook distro and CS for the paperback sounds great. CS is cost-effective for color books, but they don’t have a reliable quality standard for color print, which can be problematic for an art/photography book. However, it may work just fine for children’s books. I see many authors doing that. I think this is a great way to start and from there on you can see if you continue with them or try other strategies. But definitely great to kick off!

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  • Hi Isis,

    Thank you so much for this blog! I have been researching for the right POD self-publishing platform for my fully illustrated children’s book! I am now using blurb to layout my book, and hopefully, finish everything after 3-4 months of editing and illustration. I am excited to see my proof from blurb. I will also do what you suggested, use blurb for hardcover, CS for paperbacks, and maybe Lulu as well for ebooks, and also since I am from the Philippines, I’ll find local printers to print my book and display them locally, since it will lower the cost for local buyers. 🙂 This is both exciting and scary, but crossing my fingers, hopefully, I will be successful in this journey ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bemmygail! 🙂 I am glad it helped you! How nice, a fully illustrated children’s book! Blurb is a nice POD service for color books in general. Using Blurb for hardbacks, CS for paperbacks and LULU for ebook will help your work be available for your readers in their favourite format, anywhere in the globe! If you want to have your book sold on Amazon Kindle, remember to upload it directly to their service. They have a nice fixed-laout tool for children’s books and comic books. Yes, if you can make a deal with your local printer to have physical copies of the book displaying in your city/town, that is a great idea! You can also talk to local libraries and book shops to see if they would like to buy copies from you, directly.
      It is also possible to do bulk orders from CS or Blurb, and that would give you a discount per amount of books printed, but then it could be costly to ship the books to the Philipines. But that’s an alternative you can explore if you want. Good luck and we are cheering for you! 🙂

      Like

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