Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CreateSpace can be good, but it's weird

Until recently, I've used LightningSource to print my self-pubbed books. I've generally been quite satisfied with the quality, price, speed and distribution. However, in an effort to learn more about this business -- and to inform you folks -- I am experimenting with CreateSpace, WordClay and Lulu.

The test subject is a 138-page 6-by-9-inch paperback book attacking the Evil Empire (also known as inept and dishonest Outskirts Press.) The title is Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy: The Strange Story of Vanity Publisher Outskirts Press. How do they stay in business? 

It's already available as a $5 eBook from Lulu. The $10.95 CreateSpace pBook version should be available from Amazon by the end of March. I've just started setting up the WordClay version.

CreateSpace provides an inexpensive and easy way to get into print. The document preparation is simpler than with Lightning Source. You just upload a PDF.  Unlike when I use Lightning Source, there is no need to make additional generations that are saved as a Postscript file and Adobe Acrobat Distiller file.

You can upload your own custom cover design, or work with one of the CreateSpace templates. There are 30 choices that can be customized by changing colors. You are somewhat limited, however. For example, I was unable to have underlined or italic type on the cover and I couldn't change the size of the boxes that hold illustrations. I was trying to minimize my expense and not planning to enter any beauty contests, so I settled for what I could achieve with a freebie template.

Cost is very low. There is no upfront or ongoing fee for the basic service.

However, if you are willing to pay $39 for the "Pro" program, you can make much more profit per book. I became a Pro, and my printing cost for the $10.95 book is just $2.50. With the standard program, the cost is $4.26 per book. Please don't think I'm getting rich with the $10.95 cover price, because the booksellers get a piece of the action, too.

Lightning Source charges $2.97 to print the same size book; and $117 to set up a book, send a proof for next day delivery, and maintain the file for a year. Lightning has somewhat better distribution, but CreateSpace is catching up.

After uploading my files, it was time to order a proof. The first box up above shows four choices with four prices. Strangely, three of the choices with three different prices, all offered (estimated) delivery on the same day!

Even stranger, after I made my selection, the options changed (second box above). The price for standard shipping increased by 83 cents, and the time increased by eight days!

CreateSpace has robots which (who?) interact with its customers by email. I received frequent status reports to confirm my uploads and let me know about progress or possible problems. The same messages are available on the CreateSpace website's "Member Dashboard."

Robots are not as smart as people -- or at least not as smart as smart people. Some of the automated messages are confusing.

For example, I received the following two messages a few minutes apart on the same day:
  • Thank you for ordering a proof copy of "Stupid, sloppy, sleazy," Book #3436960. This is to notify you your order has been received and is currently being processed. Your proof copy will ship to you within five days; delivery times vary dependent upon selected shipment method.
  • Thank you for ordering a proof copy of "Stupid, sloppy, sleazy," Book #3436960. This is to notify you your order has been shipped and you will soon receive it.
I had ordered and paid for Express Mail service, which should provide next-day delivery. When the proof was a few days overdue, I clicked to send a message to get the tracking number. (Lightning Source provides tracking numbers without being asked.)

Apparently my message was misrouted, and I received a canned response telling me how great CreateSpace is, and offering to answer any questions I have.

I wrote back saying that I just needed my tracking number. I received a rather snippy reply saying that the rep I had contacted  works only with full-service customers (apparently in the vanity publishing department formerly known as BookSurge) and not with lowly do-it-yourself customers like me. She could not or would not provide the tracking number.

The proof showed up later the same day, but I'm still pissed off because of the lack of information and cooperation.

I'll let you know when the pBook goes on sale. It's important, informative and funny.

I'll also let you know if Outskirts sues me (or if they sue CreateSpace, Lulu and WordClay). It will be good publicity, and a lot of fun. I love playing lawyer and almost always win my cases.



  1. Wait 'til the shit hits the fan. There's gonna be a lot of it.

    I hope you wear a raincoat and hat, or a diving suit with a facemask, or maybe a haz-mat suit.

  2. Purchasing the express mail shipping option with CreateSpace is always a waste of money. And I mean ALWAYS. They never ship next-day, no matter how much you pay. It will arrive in a week, or in two weeks, if you choose media mail. Those are the two real options. And I got two really shitty proofs last week. They are getting sloppy. Customer service sucks, too. But still cheap.

  3. I agree that CreateSpaces shipping options are a bit strange. I also agree that dealing with the "robots" via e-mail can be frustrating.

    I do want to say this for CreateSpace though, they have instituted a "strange" way of getting to talk to a human. You send them an e-mail stating you want to talk to a human. CreateSpace customer service will actually call you - the same day!

    Even stranger, the two times I have done this, the individual I dealt with actually called me back both times and resolved my problem.

    I realize in this day and age I probably got lucky, but it is an improvement to be able to talk to a human - even if it would be easier to just provide a 1-800 service number.

    I agree with Ms. Pinheiro though about the slow shipping of proof copies. I want to see the thing so I can get it approved and for sale. You would think CS would feel the same way.

  4. Hi C. Pinheiro,

    Weird customer service that is. I guess CreateSpace has overdid their phone system.

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