CreateSpace, Amazon’s print on demand service, is one of the Internet’s best-kept secrets. It provides quality, cost-competitive printing, for audiences as small as one. I know this is true because I helped my thirteen-year-old son create a book for his Social Studies class last year. It cost about fifteen dollars—arguably less than I would have paid to get color prints and a binder cover for a standard report. CreateSpace also provides templates for live areas and margins, which makes page-setup a simple process.
The CreateSpace site lists an impressive array of services, from CD and DVD production to book production to Kindle conversions to editing, design, and marketing.The site's basic premise makes it an excellent option for book production services that can be automated—things like printing, distribution, kindle conversions, and disk duplication are absolutely invaluable. However, for services that are less amenable to the turnkey approach—text editing, book design, and marketing services, for instance—caution is as good idea.
The reason is simple: editing, design, and marketing aren’t things that lend themselves to automation. Users find themselves faced with paying higher prices for the sort of back-and-forth that should be standard operating procedure in design and editing, or settling for substandard results.
Another reason such services are questionable investments is because all sorts of people staff print-on-demand houses. Some are highly qualified. Some are not. And there's really no way of determining what you're getting. A good editor knows when to enforce the rules—and when to break them. A good designer understands that a good book cover sometimes takes time—sometimes it is even necessary to—gasp!—read part of the book! A good marketer understands that successful marketing depends not only on sending out press releases, but on follow-up.
“Most bookings don’t result from the initial press release,” says Sandra Van, CEO of PR Pacific and a long-time veteran of book marketing. “Bookings happen during the follow-up calls. And they depend on knowing which markets are likely to want to talk about what book. Follow-up takes time. I don’t see how any of the online book marketing services can offer the kind of follow-up that’s necessary, particularly not for the prices they charge. It sounds good—but writers are losing the most valuable part of the marketing effort when they lose follow-up.”
So what it comes down to is that CreateSpace is wonderful—for the automated parts of book production. Parts that require specialized knowledge (think “things people actually go to school for a long time to learn how to do”) it’s better to find your own resources—and be prepared to pay for the quality that your book deserves.
Using CreateSpace is, in most respects, incredibly easy. The site walks you through a series of questions about the size and type of book you’re producing, whether you’re supplying your own ISBN number or using theirs (they provide them for free, for books they produce), how you’d like your royalties handled, and how you want to set your prices. It provides templates to help you with layout. And if you get confused, there are customer service people available both by phone and by chat to help. What it can't do is provide you with professional design, typesetting, and layout skills.
And that's one area where users often run into trouble. Because CreateSpace is automated, certain elements of design are rigidly enforced. This can be irritating, but given that much of CreateSpace’s target audience has little design or layout experience it’s understandable that the process needs to be idiot-proofed as much as possible. Correcting a problem can be frustrating, since sometimes the customer reps aren’t quite certain where the problem lies. The best solution is to simply follow the rules from the beginning, or hire a designer who is familiar with both the benefits and the limitations of the site. If you’d like to talk more about CreateSpace and how to maximize its services feel free to contact me over at Magic Dog Press.
Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.