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.
you also need to pay a small fee per sale.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?! 😀
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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! 😉
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?!