Saturday, 27 July 2013

Createspace - How paper compares with digital for the self published author.

It finally came. That one precious moment when I felt that I could confidently and proudly say “I am a writer”. Not just a wannabe or an amateur, but a bona-fide writer. It happened a few days ago when I came home from work to find a parcel waiting for me. It was from Createspace.

Many writers will be familiar with Createspace, even if they have not used the service themselves. Createspace is a print on demand (POD) company affiliated to Amazon. Unlike with vanity publishers who request an expensive upfront fee in order to fulfill a large print run for unsigned writers, POD is a completely free to use service whereby copies of the writer’s work are printed to order.

I must admit, I was sceptical at first. Particularly with regard to product quality. Ultimately though, I found the lure of holding an actual physical copy of my book too hard to resist, so I took the plunge and signed up. I am speaking figuratively of course. There was nothing to sign and no contract to bind me. It was as easy as uploading a book to Amazon. In fact, it was even easier.

Those who are not confident with computers and hate anything overly technical can find formatting ebooks to be quite daunting. I would be surprised if many people get it right first time. I know that I didn’t. The problem is that an ebook has to be formatted to be readable on a kindle or equivalent device and how it looks in the original Word document is very different to how it looks when uploaded. Rogue formatting is also a problem. All tabs have to be removed. Page breaks must be in the correct place. And paragraph indents can be especially annoying (it took me a while to discover that in order to avoid the first line auto-indent on early kindle models, the indent has to be set to 0.01cm as opposed to none).

With Createspace none of this is a problem because you can format directly to word and provided you have your base document set to the correct size specifications (5” X 8” is common) the interior of the book will look exactly as it does in the Word document. Of course, there are still a few things to keep in mind. The side of the page where the spine is going to be needs a wider margin and the pages have to be mirrored to make the interior symmetrical. (instructions are provided by Createspace and a wealth of information on what works best can be found by browsing the usual forums).

The spec that I used was as follows:

Inside margin – 2cm
Outside margin – 1.25cm
Header 0.75cm
Footer 0.3cm
Line spacing 1.15cm

Everybody will have their own preferences, but the above works for me and is similar to some trad print books that I compared mine to. As for the font, I eventually settled on Garamond 11pt. This was the style/size combination that I found most pleasing to read. I increased the font to 22pt for the chapter headings and began chapters 12 lines down from the top of the page (again, a case of personal preference). To give the interior that little bit extra, I also added Drop Caps (2 line).

Other variables are paper colour (generally speaking, cream for fiction and white for non-fiction), trim size (as stated earlier, 5” X 8” is typical for fiction) and things like page numbers/headers, which can be chosen however the author prefers.

Createspace has a very good interior viewer so everything can be proofed before moving on to cover design. This is where things get a little more complex than with uploading an ebook. I personally, would not recommend using the pre-made cover templates on offer as they are a little boring (although they could work well with non-fiction), in which case you need to create a back cover as well as a front. The barcode is automatically placed, so you do not have to worry about that. For my back I used a faded mono version of my cover (titles/name removed) and placed a brief tagline at the top and my standard blurb from the ebook version under that.

(left) In the final version the barcode is in the bottom right corner. The cheesy tagline is a nod to Ridley Scott's Alien.

The cover may also need to be different from an ebook version depending on the layout. The cover creator requires for spaces to be left around the outer edges where you cannot have any font going over. If your titles go all the way to edge, you will have to bring them in a bit.

(above) The left image is the original ebook cover. Right is the Createspace version, the received copy had the writing closer to the edges and parts would have been cut off had I used the ebook image.

Once the interior and cover is complete, it is time to add the meta data and set the price. The royalty calculator makes pricing easy.

ISBN’s are provided free of charge, but there is also the option to use your own if you have one. There are also several extra paid for packages with regards formatting, editing and marketing services, but again I am not in a position to comment. In the case of the formatting, it is so simple using Word that I do not see the need for this. It is far better to take the time to learn the necessary skills and do it yourself.

Once everything is complete, it is just a case of ordering a proof copy before going live in store. As I stated at the beginning of this post, I had the moment where I truly felt like I am a bona-fide writer. The reason being is that the quality of the product received far exceeded my expectations and is virtually indistinguishable from any print book to be found in traditional stores.

I am posting this review to coincide with the release of my paperback version. It may take time to see the benefits (apart from the boost to one’s confidence in seeing the physical fruits of all of the hard work), but it certainly looks more professional to have the print option available alongside an ebook (the two copies are automatically matched up in the Amazon store). Though there are other POD services available such as LULU and Lightning Source, for the moment I see no reason not to stick with Createspace. For ease of use and the fact that it links to the ebook version on Amazon it cannot be faulted. For authors interested in expanded distribution it would certainly be advisable to shop around, but for me Createspace satisfies all of my requirements at this stage in my self publishing career.

Now, if you will forgive I have to go, because I have a book to read. My book.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.


  1. Great post. I know nothing about self-publishing and am impressed by the look of your final product!

    1. Thanks Sandra. I was pleasantly surprised too, by the quality. The interior pages are actually closer to the quality of a hard back book, rather than a trade paperback (ironically, this puts some people off, as they think that because it is different it is therefore inferior).

      With the expanded distribution options, the books can also be ordered for stock in high street bookstores. I have heard that LULU and Lightning Source are better for this though, because Createspace will not accept returns of unsold stock and is therefore less attractive to the retailer.

      The tools are definitely in place for self publishing to rival trad publishing, but until the issue of quality control can be solved it probably will not happen.

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