To answer (and update) this question, I first have to back up and explain what CreateSpace is, and by extension what Lightning Source/IngramSpark is—and then spell out some of the primary differences between self-publishing and partnership publishing.
CreateSpace and IngramSpark are both print-on-demand printers—CreateSpace owned by Amazon and IngramSpark by Ingram. The primary purpose of these publishing platforms is to print books.
Both companies offer a la carte services to authors to help them create their books. CreateSpace also offers packages that ostensibly have them do everything from start to finish, which, on the outside, might look a lot like SWP’s package. But there are some big differences.
When you print with CreateSpace or IngramSpark, you can be fully autonomous, or you can lean on them. They will even provide you with one of their ISBNs if you want, meaning that you are in essence affiliated with them out in the book world and recognized as an author who’s not only printed with one of these companies but published with them. (Most savvy self-published authors opt not to do this in order to retain their autonomy.)
CreateSpace and IngramSpark are both great for printing. I personally think Ingram’s paper quality is better, but CreateSpace is a little cheaper. A benefit of CreateSpace is that because it’s affiliated with Amazon, Amazon makes the books available on the Amazon platform more quickly. I actually recommend that self-published authors create profiles on both platforms, to make your book available through both outlets just to cover all your bases.
So now—how are CreateSpace and SWP different from one another? Well, to start with, CreateSpace is not a publisher. Like I said, they are a POD printer. They do offer those a la carte and package services, so you can use their team to edit, design, and help you with your book. But this does not make them a publisher. When you go this route YOU are the publisher, and don’t let CreateSpace tell you otherwise. You want to retain control of your product, so you will want to make sure that you have a checklist of all the things that need to be done beyond just the editorial and design pieces of your book—because there is much much more behind the scenes.
She Writes Press is a hybrid publisher with many aspects of our business model that mirror a traditional publisher's. I originally modeled SWP off of Seal Press’s processes, because that’s what I know. In 2013, we signed a traditional distribution deal with IPS, meaning that the only two things that differentiate us from a traditional small press is that the author pays for their publishing package, and we don’t have in-house publicists.
When you sign with SWP, it’s a lot like signing with a traditional press. You are not left trying to figure out what you need. And yet there are some specific and obvious things to pay attention to, of course, the big three being editorial, production, and project management.
We vet our books, so the editorial quality of what we publish is not arbitrary. The stable of editors we work with are industry professionals, so the finished product is always publish-ready. There are too many editors out in the world hanging their hats as editorial experts when really they’re not. You need an editor who understands both book structure, genre-specific issues, and The Chicago Manual of Style. We also require that every book be proofread. This is part of our package. When necessary, our books are edited two or three times.
At CreateSpace, editorial is optional. They make their money through printing and “distributing” your book, so they actually don’t really care that much about the quality. (I intentionally put distributing in quotes here because the distribution they offer is very limited.) They will hire you an editor, but their direction to that editor may be to do their best to “fix” your book. When outsourcing your editorial work, you need to be careful that you aren’t just turning it over to someone to do the best they can with it. That’s often not enough.
We have a team of cover and interior designers that are trusted and vetted professionals. They know book design, and I am super proud of our covers, which you can find by viewing our catalogs on our website if you’re interested. As the publisher, it’s my responsibility to make sure the author is happy with their cover, but also to steer them away from making decisions that might negatively impact their book. (Read my post: "5 Things Every Author Needs to Understand about Book Cover Design.")
CreateSpace offers cover and interior design a la carte. I’m sure the quality is sometimes good, sometimes not. The biggest issue here is that you are not working with industry experts who are giving you opinions and feedback about your covers. If we have a designer who doesn’t execute a good cover, we go back to the drawing board. CreateSpace is going to mostly be interested in getting you a simple cover that you’re happy with. This might be enough, but I think covers are a place to splurge. There is far too much competition out there to have a mediocre cover. Obviously you can print with CreateSpace and hire your own interior and cover designers, and I recommend this if you’re going this route. Interior design is almost as important as cover design, and when you work with a designer who doesn’t know the mechanics of good interior design, you can and will compromise your book.
At SWP, we project manage your book from start to finish. We push it through a production schedule that involves all of what I discussed above: proofreading; query integration; cover design and rounds of corrections/polishes; interior design and rounds of corrections. When you publish with us you are a SWP author. You are assigned a SWP ISBN. We apply for your Library of Congress Control Number for you. We register your book with Bowker and we file for your copyright. You retain all the rights to your book, and if/when you want to pull out of a relationship with us, you fully own the content (as well as the interior and cover files), and we make extraction easy. But we also make it so that you don’t have to think about all the things you shouldn’t need to think about as an author.
With CreateSpace, especially if you’re hiring your own team, you are the publisher and there are a lot of little details to figure out. It’s not that it’s hard; there’s just a learning curve, and you don’t want to forget anything. Don’t trust that CreateSpace is going to take care of all of the details for you. Make sure to get a checklist of everything you need to consider so you know they are crossing all their t’s and dotting all their i’s.
Due to the fact that we have traditional distribution through IPS, I also want to list some other major perks we offer that are not even on CreateSpace’s radar because they are not trying to compete with us in the space of moving increasingly toward a traditional publishing model. As a result of our distribution deal with Ingram, we have a number of new opportunities that don’t exist for other self-publishing entities:
1. Because we look like a traditional press, and our books are vetted and gorgeous, we qualify as a traditional press to the major review outlets. We can and do submit our books for consideration to be reviewed by the following major review outlets: PW, Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and Shelf Awareness. When you self-publish, you can submit to PW and Kirkus for a paid review.
2. We have a sales force. Twice a year I head out to IPS headquarters in Tennessee to pitch SWP's authors’ books to a sales force of fifty or so representatives whose job it is to “sell in” books to the trade. Getting this kind of face time with reps is invaluable.
3. We manage your metadata. This alone is massive! And I didn’t realize how much so until we ran into metadata issues last year. (I write about this here.) Now, due to traditional distribution, we have an ONIX feed, which means that corrections and updates to any and all data goes out EVERY NIGHT across every major platform—and we distribute to the following partners: Amazon Kindle, Apple®, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, Goodreads, Page Foundry, Rethink Books/Bookshout!, Sony, Chegg, VitalSource, Gardners (United Kingdom), Blinkbox Books (United Kingdom), Sainsbury’s (United Kingdom), and Txtr (Germany).
4. Our books get into libraries. When you self-publish, libraries are generally off-limits. A few savvy authors may figure out how to get in, but libraries mostly have not wanted to navigate the total clusterfrack that is self-publishing’s quality control problems and so have stayed away altogether.
5. We put press releases out on the wires on behalf of our authors for each and every book. We have access to MediaHub, a database of 700K media subscribers, which means that when we get a major media hit it reverberates and is seen.
6. We have access to iPage, a business-to-business tool where buyers can order direct. This site features all of our books and gets approximately 30K visitors a day.
7. Our books are featured in Edelweiss, an online catalog reviewed by the heavy hitters in the industry—book buyers; reviewers; and some media.
9. We give our authors dedicated attention. You have access to me, the publisher, and/or your project manager and our managing editor, at any time. We edit and proofread your back cover copy and catalog materials, and make sure that everything that’s going out into the world is well-presented and polished.
10. We give each author access to resources, including MJ Rose’s “Buzz Your Book” class (available for anyone to purchase) and templates for galley letters, press releases, media kits, and more. You also get to be a part of the SWP author group on She Writes, where you can connect with other authors, many of whom have been working to cross-promote one another’s books.
Obviously when all is said and done you will want to know how this all breaks down along financial lines. SWP’s package is $4900. Because this doesn’t include publicity, we recommend authors hire a publicist for a campaign, which can range anywhere from $3,000-$15,000 depending on the publicist and the kind of coverage you are hoping for. In 2014, SWP was brought under the umbrella of SparkPoint Studio, which means we now have a publicity firm, BookSparks, as part of our family. Authors are not obligated to use BookSparks for publicity, and we have a list of recommended publicists in our author handbook for authors to reach out to.
At CreateSpace, they offer a few different packages that range from $998 to $2,835. There are some caveats in their pricing that have to do with a book's length and complexity. They must outsource their interior design to the Philippines (common practice) to get a base price of $349. I don't want any designer working on one of my books who's only going to charge $349 for a layout. Too much is at stake! They include the Kirkus review in their custom advanced package, which is interesting. Kirkus does charge $455 for a self-published review, so they must have cut a deal with CreateSpace for this service. You are guaranteed a review if you submit to them through Kirkus Indie Review, but it might well be a bad review. So be prepared. (Note: I personally that this "service" is way too expensive.)
If you were to do it all yourself—and do it well—I would argue that our price is pretty comparable. A proofread is typically $500-$1000. A cover design (and I mean a good one) will cost you anywhere from $1000-$3000. Interior designers worth their salt will charge anywhere from $600-$1000 to design an interior. And then there’s the project management, which you can take on yourself, but I’d advise working with someone to at least make sure you’re not forgetting anything. Anyone who’s self-publishing for the first time should hire a consultant who knows something about books and the book industry. As I write in my book, you don’t know what you don’t know. And sometimes those mistakes you don’t know you’re making can be costly. I’ve worked with a number of authors over the years who’ve had to reprint their book and who’ve lost entire print runs because of egregious mistakes that could have been avoided. And as a self-published author, you still need to be thinking about publicity and how to get your book out into the world. It’s not a cheap endeavor, getting published. But do it well and you will earn your money back. At She Writes Press, the break-even point is 500 books—and that’s a lot of books to sell, though it may not seem like a lot. But our expectation is that authors will sell this many books in one year, and we’re making every effort to make sure that happens. With a team on your side helping to push those books in any way possible, it’s a wild—but fun—world out there.
I appreciate the opportunity to share this information with all of you, and I hope you’ll ask whatever other questions or points of clarification you’re hoping to understand better. You guys are my inspiration for these posts, BTW. Thanks for reading!
*Pile of books image courtesy of BigStockPhoto.