Tuesday, January 13, 2009

POD Publishing: Talking about CreateSpace

Not so much a "Q and A" session today, because although a couple of readers have asked more or less the same questions, it's less a question than a plea: "Will you please talk about your experiences with CreateSpace" ...?

Apparently, there's a bit of a brewhaha out here, and some folks have definitely picked up the impression that CreateSpace (and/or Amazon itself) is (or are) a scam. Since we've been messing about with both of these since last September, and we have multiple titles "up there," and we're actually selling copies, we count as the experts or veterans -- meaning, we know a fair bit more than someone who's coming in for the first time, or someone who has one book which has yet to sell any copies.

The disclaimer first: I wouldn't call us experts or veterans! We've gone through the process a number of times, but we've only been with CreateSpace for a short time. I'm sure there are problems we haven't seen yet ... only time will tell. Also, we've only worked with them in the field of books ... we can't comment on their service regarding CDs, DVDs and so forth. We have 14 books with CreateSpace; the 7th is in the process of making its long, slow, laborious way to Amazon. So...

I was sent a forward of this, and asked to comment:

This is a post (or report) on a site called Ripoff Report. It's interesting, but the person posting is making little sense. Here's his (or her) case, in a nutshell (load the page for the full version, obviously). In so many words, "I put my books on Amazon via CreateSpace, but few copies are selling, and I'm not getting paid. I only just noticed that one must earn $20 minimum before being paid -- I'm so angry, I'm deleting my books from CS/Amazon. I want the money earned from selling 3 copies, total; they're not paying; this whole thing is a scam."


Okay, let's take that apart. First, you publish at your own risk, and you market your books yourself. If you can't sell copies, that's the risk you took. (This same poster quotes Lulu.com as a "another money-wasting proposition," probably for the same reason ... s/he has yet to fathom that just putting your books on Lulu -- or Amazon -- doesn't make them sell. You have to make them sell.)

Second, if you read the deal, you'll see, up-front, that you get paid when you've earned $20+, and not before. If you've set the list price low and earn $2 from every copy sold, you'll have to sell 10 before you get paid ... you must grasp this at the outset. Apparently, our angry poster was also looking to get paid immediately for copies sold -- s/he had also missed the part of the deal where the "delay 30" is explained. This means you get paid for January's sales at the end of February. The time-lag is necessary to allow for stop-payments, bouncing checks, credit card fraud, problems in shipping, and a hundred more woes that could easily come up.

In other words, "the devil is in the details" as they say. You must read the fine print, figure out what the deal is, what the rules are -- and then play by them. The information is all there, up front and obvious, but no one is going to stand over you and make you read it.

In this context, the only possible "ripoff" that one could perceive would be in the area of CreateSpace's "free setup." I would have to say, "free" is a relative term. There are two fees to pay. One is the US$39 upgrade to the "pro" status for each book. If you pay this when launching the book, you get to keep a lot more of the list price. There is also the absolute insistence that you order and review a physical proof copy before the book will be released to Amazon. If you live in the US or Canada, this will be cheap, about $10 or $12 at most. If you're in Australia, it's US$30 -- so you're up to US$69 now, which is over A$100 set-up costs per book. If you need several proofs to get it right (this is your fault, not Create Space's! Make sure the darned thing is right before you upload it!) then you can add US$30 for each additional proof.

(Fact: you could easily get up to A$200 per book; 10 books on Amazon will have set you back a couple of grand, Aussie -- but most of this was the result of your own errors, not CS's shortcomings.)

In other words, the set-up is not actually "free" as such ... but they don't charge money for registration of a title, setting up your account, "cover deposit," chromalin (color) proofs, file conversions, upload fees, download fees, editorial services, marketing packages, press releases, and myriads of other fees that other POD printshops charge, if you're not careful. CS will hit you up for a hardcopy of the project ... and they hit you for an upgrade to "pro" status -- what's this for??

Well they GIVE you the ISBN. In fact, a single ISBN costs A$35, and a 10x block of ISBNs costs A$70. Writers who are serious about publishing will have more than one project, and will be out there marketing the heck out of them. So -- in my estimation, the upgrade fee is actually a hedge against all the free ISBNs they're going to be shouting you. You can also earn back the upgrade fee in the first ten sales or so of the title -- so long as you set a decent list price. If you "undercut yourself," you might have to sell 40 copies to earn back the upgrade fee. So...

The next question has to be, what are your chances of selling copies?

As with all things ... it depends on the book, and on your own efforts. You're not just the writer, you're the editor, the publisher, the marketing consultant, the publicist, the lot. Nobody is going to do any part of the job for you. If you don't publicize and push your work, no one out there will know it exists; and if readers don't know you're there, how can they buy?

In the scope of a single post, the best I can do is give you some groundrules. I've been asked to talk at much greater length about this, and I'll probably do the usual ebook project, which is what people seem to do these days when they have a heck of lot to say. For now, here are a few of the Great Cosmic Truths I've learned in my travels:

  • Nonfiction generally sells better than fiction.
  • Niche fiction is a safer bet that literary fiction.
  • If you have an established name, you'll sell better.
  • If you're totally unknown, you're climbing Mt. Everest.
  • It is never easy to market any kind of books.
  • Marketing fiction, especially, is a bear.
  • Amazon is a great place to sell ... not to publicize.
  • Putting up a website does not automatically generate traffic!
  • Writing a blog does not automatically attract readers!
  • Great websites go unnoticed unless they're publicized.
  • Great blogs can go unnoticed, just the same.
  • You can annoy Google and vanish out of the search results!
  • It's far easier and cheaper to blog than do major websites.
  • People need to be dazzled by websites: DIY simple ones fall flat.
  • A great site or blog gives you something to market...
  • The sites and blogs do not market themselves...
  • YOU sell the site and the blog --
  • The site and the blog help to sell your book(s).
  • The bigger your investment, the bigger your risk.
  • POD decreases your investment and your risk.
  • There are good POD printshops everywhere...
  • Lulu.com is the easiest to work with, but...
  • CreateSpace is the easiest doorway to Amazon.
  • Amazon is your marketplace, not your salesman!!
  • CreateSpace can get expensive over multiple books.
  • The process of getting to Amazon is s-l-o-w.
  • It will take at least a month to get listed there.
  • CreateSpace's product quality is high --
  • But they have their problems: be alert.
  • Their website is s-l-o-w: be patient.
  • Their website is still a little buggy: be persistent.
  • They're working to improve things: be appreciative.
  • Their Customer Service team sucks: be fatalistic.
  • Understand that CS is a printer, not a salesteam!
  • CreateSpace does make mistakes: cope with them.
  • The system WILL jack you around: deal with it.
  • Market your books with all the energy you have.
  • Publicize yourself with all your ingenuity.
  • Offer good customer service to your readers --
  • Be available via your blog and/or website.
  • LEARN about marketing and pro blogging...
  • Train yourself to be your own salesman.
  • CreateSpace works on the "delay-30": grasp this!
  • They have a $20 minimum payout: grasp this too!
  • This is a very difficult mountain to climb; but...
  • Don't let it beat you: keep trying.
This is pretty much what I've learned, defined in the broadest possible terms. After this, you get into the million-odd details, and a single blog post is not the place to tackle them!

In my experience, CreateSpace is slow, but they get there in the end. Their customer service team is too small and too overworked ... they send out form-style responses to save time, which is frequently the wrong thing to do; they often (but not invariably) misread your description of the problem (which will get you mad ... but calm down; start again).

Their website is slowly improving, but it is still buggy and can behave unpredictably. They're working on it, and by the end of 2009 it should be much better. Their physical product is extremely good -- better than the product churned out by Lulu's Australian digital affiliate, though the quality of the product from Lulu's American printshop is 100%.

CreateSpace does make booboos: I've heard of the wrong book being inserted into the wrong jacket! This has probably only happened once in the history of humankind, and of course it was reported on the web. Can you imagine if a very adult, steamy novel were to be jacketed inside the cover of children's book, and shipped to the customer who ordered Fluffy Bunny's Birthday Tea Party? Mom or Dad opens up the book and there's all these people doing things to one another which may or may not even be anatomically possible!

For a discussion on the pros and cons of CreateSpace which by now spans years, try this:

On that page, over two years' worth of comments have accumulated. You can track CS's progress from being buggy as an antfarm to being "almost there."

We were lucky: we're recent members at CS. I guess 85% of the problems were fixed before we signed up -- and we still hit our fair share. For example, a "jammed" java shopping cart that wouldn't check out, wouldn't let you empty it, wouldn't do nuthin', in fact ... and due to the deficiencies in customer service, it took 14 days to fix this situation. This delay shoved THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE into 2009 -- and we are still waiting for the proof copy as we roll into mid-January.

The process is slow as a tired snail, but you do get to Amazon eventually, for the cost of a proof and a $39 upgrade fee. They give you the ISBN, which puts you $35 ahead right there, and a proof is indispensable anyway. If you've done your job right, one proof is all you'll need. Botch it up and go to 2, 3, 4 proofs ... that's not CreateSpace's fault.

Selling copies is another question -- the ball is in your court. Grab it, run with it. Market the hell out of yourself, and be optimistic. Understand how the system works -- the $20 minimum payout, the "delay-30," and so on. Teach yourself marketing and pro blogging, as well as editing, proofreading and desktop publishing.

Above all, try to enjoy the process. Remember the wise old saying: "If it stops being fun, stop doing it."

I'll write more about this, but we'll make an ebook of it, in due course. Right now, this post is running longer than Ben Hur, and you wouldn't believe how hot it is in this room. There's no a/c, and it's going to be 107 F in the shade, in the backyard, in about an hour. So --

Ciao for now!

See also:


Lilian said...

Love you article.
Thanks for all the info.


Anonymous said...

"In fact, a single ISBN costs A$35, and a 10x block of ISBNs costs A$70."

*Whimper*. May I move to Australia?

Here in the U.S., a block of ten ISBNs costs $400. One ISBN costs half that.

TheMysticRyder.com said...

Thanks this is awesum info.. I wanted to read up on create space before clicking agree...xo
Denise Lee xo


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