Monday, October 13, 2008

POD publishing, Amazon, and gay books

A few days ago I mentioned some "breaking news" about ... specifically, about Keegan going to Amazon in 2009. Several people have been asking, "What's the deal with that?" So I'll tell what I know here, today -- and leave the bottom line open, because Amazon is a whole new learning process, and we're still working on it.

For writers who are marketing their own books, is a field of opportunity: the chance to get exposure in front of a marketplace 1000 times larger than any readership you could ever hope to drive to your own website, even if you end up buying traffic (which is a proposition with limited intelligence -- but advertising makes the world turn, so what the hey).

However, until fairly recently, exposure on Amazon came at a price many writers were either unwilling or unable to pay. Set-up costs with companies like Lightning Source ( , Booklocker ( and Booksurge ( were heavy enough to be a major pain, even if you only had one book to publish...

But with 20 books on your list, you're up to something like a $30,000 outlay for the setup costs, before you've printed or sold a copy!

Established writers (like Keegan) who would like to pick up their own reprints, using Amazon as the future marketplace for books that have been already been professionally printed and distributed, might not be able to invest so much. Contrary to popular misconception, working writers do NOT get well paid, do NOT sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and frequently shore-up their budgets with part-time work. (Shall I pay the mortgage this month, or pay the set-up costs for a book that was professionally published 10 years ago? Gee, let me think...)

If you're interested, here's a direct quote from Writer's Weekly: $492
    Deduct $175 if submitting your own cover. No hidden fees. Includes everything. Books are usually on the market in less than a month. No extra charge for graphics. 35% royalties based on list price for public sales; 15% royalties based on list price on wholesale/bookstore orders. Added Bonus: Returning authors are only charged $99 setup fees on their second and subsequent books.

    iUniverse: $699.00 (includes 5 "free" copies)
    Warning: They own your files after creation and you have to pay $300-$1500 to get them back if you leave their service! They charge extra for photos/graphics (included above) and never allow more than 50 graphics/photos in a book. No expedite service. Turnaround is 3-4 months. NOTE: IUNIVERSE IS NOW OWNED BY AUTHORHOUSE. SEE THAT COMPANY LISTED BELOW.

    Lulu: $838.00 (Deduct $450 if submitting your own cover. Lulu now charges directly for many services they previously farmed out to other companies.) [KEEGAN'S NOTE: setup is actually FREE; Lulu charges for services only if, and when, a writer takes them up on the offer. If you fly solo, setup at Lulu costs nothing ... which is why they're so popular.]

    Xlibris: $1323 - (includes 5 "free" copies)
    Does NOT offer ebooks! Charges expedite fee of $349 (included above) for publication in 2 months instead of 4-6 months. Charges $10 per image; $20 per table.

    AuthorHouse: $1467
    Charges extra for photos/graphics ($10 per image after first 10 - included in cost above). Expedite fee ($500) is for publication in 30 days instead of 6 months - included above. Claims ownership of files you pay them to create.

    Trafford: $1852
    IMPORTANT - Does **not** include full distribution! Choose the $2297 package if you want that. NOTE: This company is based in Canada.

    ***Prices based on least expensive package offered by each publisher on similar offers targeting U.S. authors. Fees include setup, original cover design, print proof, ebook creation, up to 25 interior photos/graphics, an ISBN, barcode, a listing on the publisher's website and distribution by Ingram, all within 6 weeks.

    NOTE: Many companies offer perks that others don't, some try to upsell authors on extraneous services, and a few even claim ownership of files the author has paid them to create! Study each publisher and contract carefully before making your choice

[Source: ... go there for full details; it's quite a horror story, if you're an established writer with a long backlist.]

For writers in CNAs (Counties Not America), the situation is worse, because most short-run printshops, like the above, won't even deal with non-US writers. The reason is obvious: shipping costs and times. Short-run printers are already expensive on a per-copy basis; add postage, and the per-copy price goes haywire ... then, add months for economy-rate delivery times around the world! Some US-based short-run printers won't even deal with Canadian writers.

Companies like came along a few years ago, letting us kinda sneak in through the back door ... at a price. Lulu isn't really expensive, when you consider the job they do (they earn every penny), but their manufacture prices are high enough that if one were to put the Lulu product on Amazon, the list price would be shocking. For a Keegan book, you'd be looking at something like US$43 + shipping, which would put tiny amounts into my bank account ... not worth the work involved, always supposing you would sell any books at that price, which I seriously doubt.

(The reason is, Amazon is stockist, distributor and marketing agent; therefore, their cut is a whopping 55% of the list price. Copies printed elsewhere also have to be shipped to them, so you're paying USPS, as well as the's manufacture price. Ouch.)

Now, back in March 2008, Amazon dumped the cat among the pigeons, big time, with the calm announcement that ALL books sold on, or through,, would be printed by BookSurge, or their "buy" buttons would vanish off their pages. True enough, books' buttons vanished overnight. There was hell to pay:

Turns out, Amazon purchased BookSurge in 2005 and were trying to monopolize the POD marketplace through a cushy kind of payola: every indie published would use their short-run printer, BookSurge, or be kicked out of the marketplace. You could hear the screams for miles.

The trouble was, BookSurge was one of those with a hefty set-up fee. I recall looking at my backlist and thinking, "Hmm, to get this lot onto Amazon, I'll be out of pocket $26,000 before I sell a copy. Well, we just won't go there."

There was a lot of yelling and screaming in Groovetown, and the practical upshot of all this was, Amazon quickly added another business to its Group of Companies. They bought a Lulu clone. Seriously. They added CreateSpace to their group:

Smart stuff. CreateSpace offers FREE setup, DIY upload, and (get this) better prices than Lulu by a yard and a half. In fact, their prices are so much better than Lulu, the price difference covers most of the stiff Amazon share ... and because CreateSpace is a POD workshop, they don't have to ship copies to the Amazon warehouse ... they track orders and ship direct. So you're not paying USPS either.

The only downsides to CreateSpace is that they charge a one-off US$39 as a kind of "pro registration fee" per book, to make that book eligible for the low manufacture cost. So, a writer with a large backlist will be out some small amount for the whole collection; and (to this point) they don't seem to have digital partners around the world, so that if an Aussie or Kiwi were to buy a book direct from the CreateSpace e-store, the price would be shocking. Fortunately, we can leave the Lulu store in place and direct Downunder customers there, so it shouldn't be a problem ... just some extra work on webpages.

Net result? Mel Keegan is going to Amazon in 2009, and the books will be the same price they have always been via And you gotta like that.

In fact, the transfer is already being made. We've put the CreateSpace process to the test, and it's virtually the same as Lulu. The only thing you have to do to the old Lulu files (all PDFs) is give the cover layouts a nip, tuck, push and shove.

The good thing is, DreamCraft habitually saves every little thing, so the original covers for the first book which went to Lulu, 10 months ago (THE SWORDSMAN) were simply opened and adjusted.

Incidentally, if you're wondering how the hell to do this, and lusting after the software to make it work, and thinking it costs a fortune -- get into Serif. The whole thing is done with Serif Page Plus 10, a $40 download ... which comes highly recommended by DreamCraft -- I might as well run the commercial, while I'm here (yes, it's an affiliate link. You could do worse than order your Serif via this link since you got the red-hot tip here!) ...

Serif plays a major part in all the artwork appearing on this site, and wrapped around the Mel Keegan books. DreamCraft and Jade have sworn by Serif for over a decade. This software is used to set type for the books and ebooks, as well as designing covers, webpages, and a lot more:

Heavy on my mind while we were going through the process was, "is CreateSpace gay-friendly, or not?" Now, we knew Amazon is gay-friendly, because their marketplace carries loads of gay books. But where were they printed, by whom, and how?

At this stage, it looks like the process is going to be smooth. We're waiting for delivery of the pilot (proof) copy of THE SWORDSMAN, but it should be good quality; for godsakes, it was made by Amazon's POD partner. And not a syllable has been said about the book being gay; indeed, "gay" is one of Amazon's categories (a selection you have to fill out when getting the book into their system -- the Amazon Advantage system. Find the link on the foot of their pages).

So, cross your fingers here: THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE could easily by making its debut on

In fact, to these ends, we've actually kicked back the release date of the book to Thanksgiving, to allow for the transition.

If you're a POD publisher or a writer with a decent backlist, a door might just have creaked open for you, as it has for Keegan. Check back on this blog occasionally, because I'll be writing about the process as we go. (You can also do an RSS feed thingamajiggy).

And now -- back to work!



Dusk Peterson said...

A small correction: Amazon bought CreateSpace in 2007, well before the "buy button" controversy. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if it bought the company with the thought of future monopolization.

"Set-up costs with companies like Lightning Source ( . . . were heavy enough to be a major pain"

A pain, yes, but I wouldn't call it a major pain: roughly $100 versus CreateSpace Pro's $40. The major pain is that Lightning Source isn't as user-friendly, since it's set up to work with publishers. And I agree that CreateSpace's free option is very tasty. The disadvantage of CreateSpace is that it will only get you onto Amazon, whereas Lightning Source is owned by the wholesaler Ingram and will get you onto other online bookstores.

Mel Keegan said...

I'm hugely surprised that Amazon bought CreateSpace so long ago -- because when the brewhaha blew up back in mid-08, an alternative to BookSurge, as a doorway to Amazon, was never mentioned in any of the reams of articles I (and others) read. I assume, if most people had known about the partnership, it would have been common knowledge in minutes!

The only guess I can make is, the partnership was so quiet, no one had realized it was there ... I certainly didn't, or I'd have been "on Amazon" a year ago! I have no idea why it should have been so quiet ... maybe because a great deal more cash will change hands if writers and publishers go the BookSurge road, since they don't know about the alternative?? I know, that's a mercenary thing to say, but ...!

Thanks for this correction ... as I said, I'm astonished!

From my own perspective, there's a big drawback to LightningSource; it's the ultimate closed door. They won't deal with customers in CNAs (Countries Not America). Being in Australia meant we couldn't even talk to them -- the door is slammed in your face instantly, if you're from overseas.

When I included Lightning Source in the "major pain" department, I was, I admit, speaking purely from my own perspective. With 27 books to market, I'd be out US$2700 -- which is about A$5000 right now. And there's the major pain I was talking about at the time!

So I have no experience with LightningSource ... not so user friendly? That explains a few things I've read recently!

Many thanks for commenting -- much appreciated!


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