Createspace: One Author’s Opinion

createspace logoCreatespace, for the uninitiated, is a paperback creation and distribution platform – currently owned by Amazon. With little understanding, and as cheap as free, you can design and publish paperbacks. By free I mean they will even provide you with ISBN numbers. Which is something, as far as I know, no other company currently does. They do provide a rather basic cover creator if you’re in a pinch, but I’d recommend finding other means for a cover. There are plenty of premade covers out there for cheap. Many of them will come in correct dimensions, including spine depth. This is an important thing to consider when publishing a paperback for the first time, because it’s also the single most difficult part of the process.

Over about six years, I’ve written nine books. For eight of those books, I created my own covers. On top of that, I’ve created a number of covers for friends and people who were in need of a cheap, personalized cover. Understand that I am not boasting, but making a point. I know what I’m doing. I may not be a professional, but I know Photoshop well enough to understand how layers and dimensions work. Yet, somehow, every single book I’ve ever published for myself I’ve had to deal with cover issues. The biggest “error” I am given is that there is a “transparent layer” on top of the image. Most of the time, if I resubmit the exact same cover image (which is a pdf by the way), it’ll be fine the second time around. Why? I have no idea. I’m still unclear what transparent image they think they found. Either way, it’s a minor grievance in an otherwise very easy process. The rest of the publishing process is mostly a form you fill out, detailing the: name of the book, author name, genres it fits in to, etc. Upload your manuscript and you’re done. Then there’s distribution. I have a minor quibble with this, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Distribution comes in five flavors: two are Amazon, and three are called “expanded distribution.” The two Amazon are nothing more than Amazon.com and Amazon Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es, according to the helpful link under the title). Truth be told, I’ve never tried to ONLY pick one of these. No idea why you would want to; there’s no cost to it. Expanded distribution, way back in the day, did have a fee on it, but that is no longer the case. That being said, you still have to pick book dimensions allowed by those expanded distributions. The specific dimensions can be found here, and it really only affects the “bookstores on online retailers” option. But, let’s be real here. Bookstores, online retailers, and libraries are why you wanted expanded distribution in the first place. This book sizing requirement is a more recent change, and one that forced me to redesign every single one of my books, thus making me go through the approval process again. I was not a happy camper that month.

In case you’re wondering what the royalty structure looks like, here is a link to that. I’m not going to compare it to the likes of Lulu or any of the other distributors, because even if they do offer better rates, you still need an ISBN. As of the time of writing this, one ISBN costs $125 and 10 are $295. There is one consideration to make when choosing Amazon, and that is dealing with the negativity of publishing with Amazon.

I am speaking purely from my own experience here, and as such means it is not to be interpreted as fact, or even quote-worthy. The first time I went to a small, locally owned, brick and mortar bookstore, I was berated for 45 minutes because I was publishing through Amazon. This was a few years back, when Amazon started really pushing the indie publishing scene and Kindles were becoming ultra popular. So, there was a lot of tension going on with small-time bookstores because they saw Amazon as a threat to their livelihoods, in the same way every other small business has seen Walmart and Amazon for years. So I understand why the owner of this bookstore was upset. She wasn’t upset with me, but the situation and I just happened to be the final straw of the day. It’s just a consideration and your mileage will probably vary greatly. I’m happy to report the small bookstore is there and thriving, but I’ve yet to go in there since, despite it being recommended to me as a great place for indie authors to go.

Lastly, and probably the more important thing to anyone who likes to venture into comic conventions, tradeshows, or what have you – the cost to you for publishing. When you order copies from Createspace, you pay a very reduced amount versus any distribution Amazon offers. Currently, after tax and shipping, assuming I order at least 10 or so, I pay roughly $6 a book at 50-70k words. This is handy for running contests, or donating to libraries (always try selling to them first, you may get lucky), or even walking around and putting them in the Little Free Libraries that a lot of neighborhoods are beginning to install. The print to ship to your front door process is generally about two weeks, but you can always pay for faster delivery.

Author: Nicholas Forristal

Nicholas Forristal is the author of nine books, including "The Chronicles of M," an ever growing series of fantasy books that range from historical fiction to modern day wackiness. Learn more about Nicholas and his writing from his websiteand his Author Central page.

23 thoughts on “Createspace: One Author’s Opinion”

  1. I’ve also had the same intermittent transparency error on cover PDFs.

    “The print to ship to your front door process is generally about two weeks, but you can always pay for faster delivery.”

    My last two orders for delivery to Australia, for which I paid only for the slowest shipping (4-6 weeks), both arrived in less than a week!

    Also, a word of caution for authors considering migrating from Createspace to Amazon’s native paperback publishing option. I tried that with my oldest (and slowest selling) title. It worked fine until I tried to order wholesale copies for delivery to Australia. Amazon recently stopped shipping from Amazon.com to Australia (having recently decided that collecting Australian sales taxes was too much work). Trouble is, Amazon fulfills wholesale paperback orders through it’s normal order process, so not allowed. I assume there are other places Amazon won’t ship to from its US store which would be caught in the same net.

    1. I think you are correct. But, based on how long both have existed, I almost wonder if Amazon is waiting for enough people to start using the KDP option before closing down CS. In my limited experience, I think it’s going to be a while. I don’t know a single person who has switched over entirely, and the few who have tried out the new service weren’t particularly happy.

  2. Nicholas, forgive me if this is something you already know, but if you learned Photoshop the way I did (seat of my pants and still a work in progress), you might not. Before you export to PDF, try saving a flattened version of the cover (one that combines all the layers). Then export from that. In theory, at least, you should no longer get that transparent layer message.

    1. I absolutely learned it from the seat of my pants! Once this “transparent layer” issue started happening, that’s exactly what I started doing. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

    1. True enough. So I solve the problem by mirroring my cover image *across* the spine *and* overlapping the left fold by 1/8-1/4 inches. This even works if the cover is printed crooked (which has happened to me).

      I can explain this more if needed.

  3. The all-important ISBN. With the company I’ve used to publish my four books to date, FeedARead, you get the ISBN as part of the package, and it is free. The complete process is not, as it is with Amazon, free. However, it is far below Lulu prices. I usually pay less than £100 (I’m publishing in the UK) for the initial setup, which includes a distribution fee as the major part of the cost (£88 at last count). One advantage is that my books should be available from more places than just Amazon. (Although, obviously, Amazon is the major seller.) Does using Createspace mean you can *only* sell through Amazon?

      1. I have discovered, over the years, that the experience of Amazon/KDP/Createspace authors – and purchasers of their books – in America is quite different from that of the rest of us scattered round the world. While the American market is vast and lucrative, it is likely that a British author will sell better in Britain. I don’t suppose you know whether expanded distribution could include to outlets operating in Britain? It is something I could ferret out myself, but I do not currently have the carrot of a book needing to be published. I found Createspace completely counter-intuitive to my experience of publishing when I tried it some years ago. I daresay it has changed (haven’t we all), but if someone did happen to know the answer it would save me wrapping the wet towel round my head and plunging back in. 🙂

  4. Great article and I agree with everything except expanded distribution. To go down the expanded distribution route, you give up another 20% of your share of the royalty – i.e. you go from 60% to 40%. The reason is that CS uses third party distributors, such as IngramSpark, to fulfil those orders. These third party distributors have to be paid and that payment comes out of the author’s share.
    The second problem with expanded distribution is that the minimum list price automatically goes up to cover that extra 20%. This would not be a problem except for the fact that the new, increased minimum list price now applies to both expanded /and/ standard distribution.
    Essentially, the only way to actually make any money on expanded distribution is to hike the List Price so high that Amazon customers may end up not buying because the price is too high. Makes price based promotions difficult as well. 🙁

  5. I have published over ninety word search books using CreateSpace: in my experience, the intermittent transparency error for cover images occurs when you submit a .pdf file made from a .png file or you submitted a .png file itself. (CreateSpace does not support layered or framed images) and flat .jpeg images are preferred.

    To resolve this, what I do is to convert my cover .png image file to .jpeg and then I submit it to CreateSpace, or I insert my cover .jpeg image into a .pdf file for submission using Adobe Acrobat.

    I hope this helps someone, have a nice day.
    Joe

    1. In Photoshop I will flatten the image, then save as a PDF. I’ve tried zip and jpg compression with the same results. I haven’t tried a tiff file, as K.S. mentions, but this is the same process I use for comic book submissions. That company has never mentioned having any “transparent layer” issues.

  6. Authors can solve some of these expanded distribution problems by buying your own ISBN and publishing both with Createspace and IngramSpark (the one libraries and bookstores buy from). I do this will all my books. Great article at https://selfpublishingadvice.org/how-to-use-createspace-and-ingram-spark-together/ Just follow the steps and it is easy. I found that I sell more to libraries/bookstores with IngramSpark than I do with Createspaces expanded distribution.

  7. I always buy my own paperback books direct from Amazon.co.uk rather than from the Createspace platform, as shipping can take far longer from Createspace than from Amazon. And although you pay the full amount, don’t forget you will get back your royalties two months later, so not too bad a deal.

    My main quibble about Createspace is that the quality of the cut can be variable, and I have received a couple of copies where the cover image or the title on the spine have been off centre or even partially missing, even though I have observed the margin requirements. However, I still think it’s great value for money, and I have seen a slow but steady increase in paperback sales, with readers often buying all the titles in my series together.

  8. I love CreateSpace. Yeah, I’ve had some issues, but most were easily solved. I’d be very upset if they did away with it because I don’t think using an ebook format to convert to paper is very professional looking. I haven’t done it, so if anyone has, can you answer if the books have headers and footers and page numbers? I like my books to look like all the others on the library shelves- Indie or not. To me, it’s a sign of our professionalism as an author. I also like the fact that when publishing, it goes straight to Amazon- no muss no fuss. And having free ISBNs is a definite bonus.

  9. I am a first time self-publisher. Boy are you right about interior design. I asked CreateSpace a question about binding size and got, “no, we don’t know” from the help desk, and “read our FAQs” … thus proving that the help desk doesn’t read its own FAQs. I’ve been told that IngramSpark is better for non-Amazon distribution; they certainly are better at customer support. For that reason, I’m going both ways (IngramSpark and CreateSpace for the print version.

  10. For authors in Canada, there are other considerations when using CreateSpace. First, you can get as many ISBNs as you need free through the National Library. CS holds back your sales money until you accumulate C$100. That means, they always have some of your money. You can sit a $99.99 owed for the rest of your life. I have asked CS why they can’t pay Canadians using the US and UK model but they just deflect.

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