Welcome to my “Write a book” series. Here are all the articles:
- How to pick a profitable book topic? Some suggestions on how to make money with your non-fiction book.
- How to write a book I go through the actual steps involved in writing a book.
- Traditional publishing vs self-publishing A look at the pros and cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing your book.
- Self-publishing company comparison – Amazon CreateSpace vs Lightning Source vs Lulu Which company will provide the highest profit for your book?
This article will compare the book costs and overall costs (including distribution) for three of the biggest self-publishing companies – Amazon CreateSpace, Lulu and Lightning Source.
Ok, so you wrote a great book and were rejected by every publishing company in North America. Or maybe you would rather self-publish your book and do your own promotion and maintain more control over the book.
The question now becomes:
Which self-publishing company do I use?
Lulu and Amazon CreateSpace are probably the best known self-publishing companies, but there are many to choose from. Lightning Source is another option, but it is not a publisher – in fact it is a printer and you have to set up a publishing company (easy) in order to get an account there. Lulu and CreateSpace are also technically not publishers.
Most of the self-publishing companies you will encounter (such as Lulu) use Lightning Source as the printer for your book. Needless to say, having an intermediary company involved will cost you money, but it should also be a bit easier to get your book into print.
How self-published compensation is calculated
In order to analyze the self-publishing options properly, we need to understand the costs involved with self-publishing – printing and distribution. Note that the distribution costs are only applied to books sold through a distributor such as Amazon.com. If you buy the books directly from your publisher and sell them yourself – then you are the distributor.
To calculate the book profit, you simply subtract the printing cost and the distribution cost from the retail price (set by the author).
Example: An author has a book with a retail price of $10, the distribution fee is set to 40% and the printing costs are $3.50.
The profit = Retail price – distribution fee – printing cost = $10 – $4 (40% of $10) – $3.50 = $2.50 per book.
Using a self-publishing company
If you use a company such as Lulu, they will be the printer and you will be the publisher and author. However, they will only provide limited service unless you pay extra money. Things like formatting, editing, book covers can be obtained from Lulu, but you have to pay for them. They charge more per book than Lightning Source.
If you wish to outsource any aspects of your book creation process, it is not hard to find someone on eLance or oDesk for this purpose.
Using Lightning Source
If you sign up with Lightning Source then you will be the publisher. This sounds a lot scarier than it is. Here are the extra steps you need to do compared to using Lulu:
1 Get an ISBN – I had no problem getting these. These are free for Canadians, so I got 10.
2 Set up a publishing company.
Lightning Source only deals with publishing companies, so you have to pretend that you are one.
Instructions on how to set up a publishing company:
1) Think up a company name.
Yes, that’s it. Just come up with a name. Alan Sheppard recommends setting up a website which I did, however I’m not sure if that is necessary or not.
In my case, I came up with the name Money Smarts Publishing, set up a website and that was that.
Let’s take a look at my recent book and compare the costs at Lightning Source,Lulu and CreateSpace. The Lulu cost calculator is available on their web page on the left sidebar:
My book has the following specs:
- paper = standard
- book type = paperback
- color = black & white
- size = 6″ x 9″
- binding = perfect bound
- number of pages 128 (this includes everything – table of contents, blank pages etc)
The costs are:
- Cost at CreateSpace – $2.38 (with the Pro Plan)
- Cost at Lightning Source – $2.82
- Cost at Lulu – $7.06
You can see that CreateSpace has the lowest printing cost, followed by Lightning Source. Lulu has a much higher printing cost. Lulu charges an extra $4.24 per book compared to Lightning Source (who I use).
Lulu does provide some services which make publishing a bit easier such as providing ISBN numbers and not having to create a publishing company. In my opinion all the benefits that Lulu offers are provided up front and should have a finite cost. If their upfront service is worth $300 – then pay $300. If you are paying an extra $4.24 per book and sell 500 books per year, then after five years you will have paid them $10,600 for the upfront benefit.
Lulu is not a good deal.
Yes, you can change your book from Lulu to Lightning Source or CreateSpace at any time, but then you have to get a new ISBN number and will probably lose any Amazon ranking that you had. Plus it would be a hassle.
Why don’t I use CreateSpace?
If the printing costs of my book are cheaper with CreateSpace, then why do I use Lightning Source? Simple – the other big cost is distribution. With Lightning Source you can set the distribution fee to 20% and still get listed on Amazon. The minimum distribution fee at CreateSpace is 40%. For a $10 book, CreateSpace will cost an extra $2 in distribution which you won’t make up with the printing costs.
Why does anyone use CreateSpace?
I asked this question to April Hamilton, who is an indie author extraordinaire. She explained that setting a lower distribution fee and making your books non-returnable (which I have done), means that a lot of book sellers will not list your book. It really depends on the author and their books, but in a lot of cases, CreateSpace can be a better option than Lightning Source. One great feature of CreateSpace, is that you can list a book for free, whereas it costs just under $100 to list a book with Lightning Source.
Another reason for going with CreateSpace is that their printing costs are the lowest. For an author who distributes their own books, CreateSpace will probably be the best deal.
Check out April’s analysis of CreateSpace vs Lulu.
I think for most authors, Lightning Source or CreateSpace should be their top choice. Lulu is just way too expensive.
- If you want your book listed on Amazon and Barns & Noble only,- choose Lightning Source and set the distribution to 20%.
- If you want a wider distribution and will set the distribution to 40% or higher, choose CreateSpace.
- If you distribute the book yourself, choose CreateSpace.
- If you are just creating a fun book, which you will give to your family as gifts – choose CreateSpace.
Anyone out there have any thoughts on self-publishing companies?