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June 18, 2013

Using CreateSpace as a Learning Experience

Open book with text: Practice Print Publishing with CreateSpace

For many writers, we long to see our name on a book. Even better is seeing our name on a book in print that we can hold in our hand. I got to have that experience for the first time this past weekend. Sort of.

No, I’m not published yet. *smile* But as part of my winner’s package for completing NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) last November, I received a coupon for five free books from CreateSpace. That coupon expires at the end of this month, so it was use it or lose it time. (Yep, that’s a reminder to all of you who won NaNo and haven’t used your coupon yet.)

Print-on-Demand Demands Extra Work

CreateSpace is Amazon’s print-on-demand division for self-published authors. Virtually all self-published authors are aware of Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP), their ebook publishing option. But many self-published authors don’t bother with creating a print version of their book because it can be difficult to set a price that readers will pay and won’t result in a negative royalty.

In addition, creating a print book requires more set-up. We have to design not just a book cover, but a book spine and back cover. We have to decide if we want fancy fonts or design elements that ebooks can’t handle. We have to do typesetting, check hyphenation, choose between widows and orphans versus squared-up pages, etc.

It’s easy to understand why—especially when we might not sell many print copies at the price we’d have to set—many self-published authors don’t bother. However, CreateSpace also gives us the opportunity to see our name in print. Hmm, decisions, decisions…

Why Might We Want to Do That Extra Work?

I’ve stated before that I expect to be a hybrid author, with some titles traditionally published and some self-published. So I decided to use the NaNo CreateSpace coupon as a learning experience. What would it take to set up a print version of a book?

A couple of years ago, my friend Angela Quarles used her NaNo coupon to print copies of her book for beta readers. Others might use their coupon to print copies for friends and family, or for reviewer copies, or special giveaway prizes.

Even without the NaNo coupon, author copies don’t cost much (CreateSpace prints author copies at a lower price). The shipping might be almost as much as the book. *smile*

Or if we just want the learning experience, it costs us nothing to play with setting up interior (book content) files and book cover images. Similarly, it costs nothing to send those files to CreateSpace and see if they have technical issues. CreateSpace even has a free online digital proof that does a good job of showing us how our book would look if we decide to pay for print copies.

In other words, whether we plan to self-publish or not, it costs nothing to experiment. If we like the result, we could pay for enough copies to scratch our “see our name in print” itch early. If we really like the result, we might decide to go self-publishing after all.

On the other hand, if we struggle with the set-up, we might decide that self-publishing is too much work. Or we might change our self-publishing budget to include paying professionals to do all the set up for us. Or we might decide to stick to ebooks only.

These are all choices that we’ll be better able to make after we have the information and the experience. And unlike many other things in life, we can gain that experience for free. *smile*

My Experience with CreateSpace

I used my coupon to print five copies of Treasured Claim, my story “done” enough to win and final in so many contests. I’ve been formatting in Microsoft Word for a long time, and Jordan McCollum’s guest post the other week gave me the missing pieces on how to work with templates and styles.

I’ll admit, being the perfectionist I am, the set-up was more work than I expected. Those who aren’t perfectionists might be fine with uploading their MS Word file to CreateSpace and letting them do the final formatting, but I was trying to do this as hands-on (and as control-freak nitpicky) as possible—just to get the full picture of what it would take. *grin* Creating a book cover was another pile of work, as I am not a graphic artist.

In all, I spent the better part of three days messing with the various files. A good chunk of that was fighting with MS Word to not compress images. (I never did figure out how to make it work the way it was supposed to. *sigh*) I also fought with font embedding, setting gutter margins, and everything else you can think of.

Suffice it to say that I learned a lot, and I’m glad I did it. (No, this doesn’t mean Treasured Claim is available for sale. I never set up distribution, and in fact, the files are no longer active at CreateSpace. This was just for my own one-time experiment. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with some of the copies yet, but I gave one to my parents. *bites nails*)

I also have new “personal experience” evidence that self-publishing at a professional level of quality is a heck of a lot of work—or money. There’s a good reason people pay companies to design covers and format and typeset their books.

If I decide to self-publish in the future, I’ll be more prepared for those ebook-only or ebook-and-print decisions. If I decide to pay someone for formatting and typesetting, I’ll be better able to judge whether they’re good at their job (or if they’re no better at it than I am). No matter how I publish, I have ideas for what type of cover I might like (or what type I don’t like).

In short, I’m more educated about my options. And that’s always a good place for us to be. *smile*

If you won NaNo, have you used your CreateSpace coupon yet? Have you played around with CreateSpace before? If so, what was your experience: what did you learn or struggle with? If you plan on self-publishing, would you offer a print version or stick with ebook only? Do you have CreateSpace advice or recommendations for where to go for tips?

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Lindsay Leggett

Createspace is such a great tool. When I decided to go Indie, I set up Flight with Createspace and have had only good experiences. The print copies are beautiful, and I currently make more on print than I do from ebooks.

I think the biggest thing to learn when publishing on demand is to learn how to sell. Createspace’s expanded distribution adds your book to catalogs for Barnes&Noble, Powell’s, Indiebound, and more. The bookstores might not stock it, but readers can order in.

The best part is selling to Indie book stores and doing signings. From my experience, Indie stores LOVE authors, and consignment selling can be very rewarding; at heart if not financially.

In this day in age, unless your book is a top-tier seller for the big guys, it might not be stocked in bookstores anyway, so from my view, Createspace really is a great resource for affordable printing and quality books.

You might not sell any books at all, but guaranteed if you order some stock, at least your family and friends will buy copies. Easily covers the miniscule cost of setting up distribution 🙂

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hey Jami! Wow, you’re done already! D: *uber jealous XD* I’m still struggling with the image issue being of too low resolution, sigh. 🙁 But I hired my friend who’s an expert at Adobe Photoshop and we’re trying to figure this problem out! But oh—MS Word compresses images??? :O I hope there’s a solution for this somewhere on Google… 🙁 “(No, this doesn’t mean Treasured Claim is available for sale. I never set up distribution, and in fact, the files are no longer active at CreateSpace. This was just for my own one-time experiment. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with some of the copies yet, but I gave one to my parents. *bites nails*) ” Aw! 🙁 I wanted to buy your book and see how your writing style is like! Especially as I’ve seen so many of your posts now and even your blurb, so I’m very curious about how Treasured Claim is like. 🙂 (I also have a feeling that I will like your hero more than I did when I was commenting on your blurb. My impressions of a story and characters usually improve dramatically after I read it. 🙂 ) So tell me when or if you do change your mind and decide to make it available on Amazon! 🙂 Yeah, I agree that there’s SO much to struggle with when it comes to formatting and stuff. O_O It took me a while to learn the common sense that since MS word doc…  — Read More »

Marcy Kennedy

Joel Friedlander sells MS Word templates that are supposed to make it much, much easier to format books for CreateSpace. I was able to beta test one of their non-fiction templates before they went live, and I loved it. It really was mostly copy and paste because they’d set up everything for you. I haven’t tested out uploading them to CreateSpace or printing a copy, but the templates seem to be a viable option for reducing some of the work and still coming out with a professional-looking product. (In terms of the big picture, they’re affordable too.)

http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/

Widdershins

I’ve also checked out Joel’s templates. They’re the real deal and worth their weight in gold pressed latinum … and Joel’s very open to questions.

Pauline Baird Jones

I used one of their templates for Relatively Risky and it was beautiful. I had a few issues with setting up the pages right, one a glitch in the template that fixed for me in minutes and one user error. LOL I got two of the templates when they were half off, and got the unlimited license option. My plan is to use the same template for all the books in my new series and use the other for other projects. I spent the last year learning about self publishing. After having 12 novels (and short stories, etc) trad published (5 different publishers over 15 years), I have decided it is time for me to take charge of my IP. And I’m tired of waiting to get paid. The biggest spur for me was when I used ACX to exploit my audio rights. Getting paid every month, instead of every quarter or six months (yes, some places only pay once a year!), is very addicting. (And how sad is it that once a month feels good? LOL) I am lucky to have an “in-house” support team, though. One daughter is a professional editor, the other a professional graphic designer. My sister-in-law is an awesome copy editor and she’s also a great graphic designer (she just redesigned the covers for my Lonesome Lawmen books). I also belong to a couple of indie author yahoo groups and have learned so much from them. I’m in the process of securing rights reversions to…  — Read More »

ChemistKen

So it’s not enough that you have me playing around with setting up WordPress sites? Now you’re giving me something else to toy around with? I’m never going to get mystory finished! 🙂

Would you ever consider putting your old fan fiction into print using Createspace, just so you can put in on your bookshelf?

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Jami, I’ve never experimented with Create Space, though I have many friends that know it well. And I signed up for NaNo last year, but, alas, I didn’t finish, so no coupon 🙁
But I’m soooooo thrilled, not only that you won NaNo, but that you got the chance to print out your book and hold it in your hand. Sooooo cool!!
Hopefully one day I’ll be able to purchase your novel! Until then I will happily devour your blog posts 🙂
Have a great evening,
Tamara

Carradee

When I was a teenager, I intentionally studied the layouts, fonts, spacing, and sizing of books I read. When I wrote stories, I’d format my word processor so the resultant pages fit the formatting for that genre. When I wrote fan fiction, I used the same page formatting as the original book I was writing fan fiction on.

To this day, I keep a ruler on my desk and can recognize some major fonts and font sizes at a glance.

These days, I prefer Pages (the Apple word processer-slash-page layout program) over MS Word for layout, but if you handed me a file and a computer, I could come up with a decent paperback layout in any of the major word processing programs… some more quickly than others. 🙂

So while the print formatting trepidation mentioned in this post is a foreign concept to me, I do find it useful to remember that not all of us spent our teen years with our own computer and printer, peering at books, measuring the spacing, and printing out a page with Times and Times New Roman in a good dozen different font sizes and line-spacing layouts to figure out which one was used in Kathy Tyers’s debut novel from the ’80s. ^_^

Carradee

P.S. While I realize I date myself as fairly young by this post, note that I didn’t mention which word processor I made my templates on, back in the day… That would’ve really dated me. 😀

Laura Pauling

Wow – and you tried to set a doc up for Createspace without a guide? I’d go nuts too. I found the idea of print intimidating until I watched India Drummond’s 30 minute vlog on it. It walked me through every step. Now, it takes me less time to do print than ebook formatting. Just Google India Drummond CreateSpace and you’ll find it! 🙂

renée a. schuls-jacobson

I’m so glad you did this cool experiment if for no other reason than to go through the process. I figured that it wasn’t easy, and I imagine if YOU struggled…I’d drown.

Sounds like using CreateSpace was a cool learning experience.

And one day, you WILL have a book ready. 🙂

NicoleW

I’m a two-time NaNo winner who hasn’t used the coupons yet. I hadn’t thought of using this as practice, though — that’s a great idea.

I only recently hammered out a second draft of my NaNo 2011 novel and can already think of several things I need to rework. I’m currently in the middle of revising my 2012 novel for the first time, so I’m not sure I’m ready to see either one of them in book form just yet, even if I don’t offer them for sale.

But to answer one of your last questions, if I do end up self publishing, I absolutely want print versions of my books, even if I’m the only one who actually orders one.

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[…] Sarah Pinneo looks at the psychology of Goodreads, while Jami Gold explains how authors can use CreateSpace as a learning tool. […]

Teresa Robeson

Jami, thank you, thank you, thank you!!! for this wonderful post! My SF critique group self-published an e-anthology but didn’t bother with hard copies. I have been curious as to what would be involved in self-pubbing the paper version and once again, you’ve answered a question of mine without my having to ask! How convenient! 😉

I’m bookmarking this for the possible eventuality that we venture into paper copies in our self-publishing ventures!

(Incidentally, we self-pubbed on Smashwords and Amazon, and, I think surprisingly to all of us, it has been doing very well. We’ve sold about 800 copies so far since it went live at the beginning of February!)

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[…] Gold: Using CreateSpace as a Learning Experience. Excerpt: “For many writers, we long to see our name on a book. Even better is seeing our […]

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[…] of my remaining CreateSpace copies of Treasured Claim and/or copies of my other completed stories (The perfect gift for any agent. […]

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[…] I’ve written about before, we can practice print publishing with CreateSpace. So even if we’re not ready for print publishing yet, it doesn’t hurt to think about […]

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