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Which is Right for You - Lightning Source, CreateSpace, or Both?

If you're thinking of self-publishing not only in electronic form, but also in print, a huge consideration is your goal.

Do you wish to be considered a publisher in your own right?

If so, I recommend Lightning Source as your printer.
If not, CreateSpace will work fine.

With Lightning Source as your printer, you'll need to set up your own publishing company, which will establish you as a separate entity in the publishing world. This applies whether you're having your own books published or if you're widening the field as a small publisher and offering your services to others.

Relatively speaking, it's not horribly expensive to set up a company, but there's some bother involved. You'll need to decide on a unique name for your company. You'll probably want to purchase a post office box, unless you wish the company's address to be your home's; then you'll register the company and send out notices. You might also consider a special logo for your books.

Also, you'll need to get an ISBN, which you can purchase at, in differing quantities, depending on how many books you plan on publishing.

When I published Killer Career through Lightning Source in August, 2009, I paid $75.00 for a setup fee, which was reasonable. To be competitive, Lightning Source also suggested a discount of at least 40% to bookstores. They also suggested accepting returns.

I wanted to play the game right, so I followed their suggestions about discounts and returns. I must admit regretting those choices and have since changed my specifications to a smaller discount and no returns.

One good thing about following their initial suggestions about discounts and returns was, after sending a letter, I got my book into the Barnes and Noble bookstores, mainly in my area. It also appeared in their catalog for ordering. Sure, the books were in the stores, but not in featured positions. Instead, they languished in hard to find, out of the way spots.

When I asked for permission for book signings, I received a green light at many Barnes and Noble stores, as well as Walden's, which was owned by Borders. However, the managers tended to over-order. They had no worries. If the books didn't sell, they could always ship them back. Even when I had what I considered good sales at signings, there were usually books left over to be shipped back. Being the publisher, I had to pay not only $2.00 for each book returned to Lightning Source, but also the price the bookstore paid.

I learned the hard way that POD (print-on-demand) is the best policy. It doesn't get you into as many bookstores, but the expenses are less.

Most small publishers offering services to authors have always gone the POD route, and those that didn't before, are fast changing over.

Lightning Source produces a quality product and offers a great distribution system through Ingram, Baker and Taylor, and other entities, making it possible for your book to appear online for ordering and in catalogs, as well as internationally. So, even though Killer Career is not printed through CreateSpace, it still appears at Amazon. I have heard rumors, however, that Lightning Source books take a little longer to get to the customers than those created through CreateSpace. Some self-publishers have gotten around that obstacle by offering their books through both Lightning Source and CreateSpace.

I've focused a lot here on Lightning Source. CreateSpace is also good in its own right. If you're publishing your own books and don't care for the hassle of setting up your own publishing company, you can publish your books free through CreateSpace. For $25 more, you can pay for their expanded distribution as well, which will get you to libraries, Barnes and Noble and other online venues. For free, CreateSpace will supply you an ISBN through Amazon.

Because the stigma associated with self-publishing has almost completely disintegrated, a publishing company's name doesn't carry as much urgency as before. Still, some authors feel more secure listing a publisher, instead of only Amazon. As I mentioned before, there's always the option of using both Lighting Source and CreateSpace.

By the way, whichever printing source you pick, for best results I recommend hiring an editor. You can find plenty to choose from right here at The Blood-Red Pencil.

You can set up your book cover by yourself through following instructions offered by whichever printing company you choose, or you can hire a cover art designer. After designing the cover for Killer Career, I decided it was too much of a hassle to do so again. The rest of my covers have all been designed by Stephen Walker at SR Walker Designs. I choose the stock images and he puts them together at a reasonable price.

I hope this information helps you somewhat in your decision. For a more in depth look at how I published Killer Career though Lightning Source, I've included a few links from my series here in 2009. Keep in mind that my other books were published through CreateSpace since then, which means I'm unaware of any changes in pricing or procedures which may have occurred in the meantime. Still, it will give you an idea of the steps I took, which may help you along.

Morgan Mandel is a past president of Chicago-North RWA, a library liason for Midwest MWA, and at one time freelanced for the Daily Herald Newspaper.

Morgan's Amazon Central Page.

Excerpts and buy links to her full length novels are at , two in print, all in e-book.

She's also contributed two stories to The Corner Cafe: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories.

Coming soon to Kindle is Her Handyman, a contemporary romance  involving a famous artist and a handyman.
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  1. Another consideration is proofs. Through Lightning Source I paid $30.00 for each proof. I kept finding things I'd overlooked, so I ended up ordering at three different times.

    Through CreateSpace, I paid the normal publisher fee for a proof, which was less than $5.00 each.

  2. I like to read informational posts such as this. Usually it's facts and such that do not apply to me, but that's fine...I like facts and such.
    Thanks for sharing your personal history with self-publishing a print book. Anyone considering the other would definitely benefit from reading this.
    Good job.

  3. BTW Lightning Source is also a POD printer. Good comparison, Morgan, between the two. Certainly it offers affordable avenues for indie authors. Now I wish they'd both offer more environmental options, like recycled paper!

  4. Celia, It's nice to share my experiences with the hopes some of it will help others.

    Yes, Dani, with Lightning Source you do have a choice for print on demand, which is the mode I'm using now. I fell for the recommendation at the time for accepting returns, but POD is the way to go!

    I've never investigated whether or not they have a recycled paper option. Seems to me that would be just as easy on the eyes and could look professional if done right.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Morgan, your opening question was brilliant, and set up one of the clearest posts on the self-publishing choices I've ever read. Am passing it on now to interested friends!

  6. $75 for Lightning Source vs. $35 for CreateSpace ... it was a no-brainer for me.

  7. Thanks for this information, Morgan. I've been considering self-publishing my work for adults, but it seems so overwhelming to me. This is very helpful.

  8. I've used POD for a decade, both for my own books and for those of others I've published. It makes publishing affordable for so many people who can't afford thousands of dollars to get a lot of books printed -- books that may never sell. POD balances the supply and demand budget and doesn't create a storage problem.

    Excellent information, Morgan!

  9. What I don't understand is why it's taken so long for POD to become more popular!

    And, as I mentioned, it does depend on your objective. If you don't care about having the label of publisher, it's more cost effective to use CreateSpace. However, if being a publisher is your profession, you'd pick Lightning Source.

    Morgan Mandel

  10. Great post, Morgan. It should come in very handy for a lot of people, including, maybe, me.

    I well remember the first days of POD when it was a dirty word and some writers insulted other writers who were using it. Even so, I thought it made a lot of sense, and I'm so glad it proved its worth.

    Now the latest wrinkle is the Espresso machine, where you choose a book the same way you used to pick a song on a jukebox, and you get a book in under five minutes.

    I remember the CEO of Barnes and Noble predicting such a thing in a chat room almost 15 years ago, and it has finally happened.

    There's an Espresso machine in a bookstore in Oklahoma City and I'm planning to go in and order my book just to watch the machine work! (-:

    Pat Browning

  11. Those book machines are a great idea, but there aren't too many of them around.

    Morgan Mandel

  12. Thanks for this very informative post, Morgan.

  13. On the topic of Espresso machines, some of the university presses are buying those rather than go POD. I didn't dig deeply into acquisition and costs, but would wonder about machine maintenance printing on-site.

  14. I chose the Espresso machine option with Lightning Source for Killer Career, but so far I haven't made any sales from them. Not that many around.

    Morgan Mandel

  15. Morgan, this is a great post. I was thinking of POD my indie books. I may ask you for more informations when I'm ready.

  16. Mona, I'll be glad to share what I know. I may be putting a few of my backlist books back into print as well. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

    Morgan Mandel

  17. You can publish under your own imprint and ISBNs on CreateSpace, too, Morgan. My novels are published under an imprint via an existing micro-publisher (Ampersand Press) with their own ISBNs, but printing and distribution is via CreateSpace. Best of both worlds!

  18. Great post. There's a lot of helpful information here and it's clearly stated. I'm in the process of publishing a novel with CreateSpace and, so far, am pleased with the program (waiting for the proof to arrive before I give final verdict). It's always a good thing to know what other options are available.

  19. Thanks for that VERY informative post! I've been thinking about CreatSpace to publish a little novelette I wrote earlier in this year...but I will keep thinking :-)

  20. Good to know that Larry. I'm wondering though about the expanded distribution option on CreateSpace if you use your own ISBN.. I'm not sure if it works in that case.

    I'm glad I've helped some of you out.

    Morgan Mandel

  21. Here's the distinction I've found. With CreateSpace (my clear choice), you get POD, plus the option to use your own publishing imprint and ISBN, all at a cheaper rate than Lightning source. They're good, accurate, helpful, always available, etc. The ONLY drawback is the extended distribution option. If you want them to provide your book to academic institutions and libraries, you have to use the CreateSpace imprint. For most of us, our books are not meant for university libraries or college bookstores, so that is not a problem. If you DO have a strictly academic book, you bow to their requirement. For the rest, I alwasy go CreateSpace and use Smashwords for ebook distribution.

    1. Hi. Alas i am in that category of trying to self publish an academic book but also want to use my own publishing imprint (if i can figure out how to do that). Would it make sense for someone like me to start with create space, let students know that for rigjt now it is onky available from amazon right now, then also submit with same isbn to lightening source so to get their distribution to the group that libraries go to. I could then either not use create space expanded distribution at all or use it and then cancel it when i am ready to upload to LS which may be about 6 months after i upload to CS. Does that sound lije a good idea?

  22. Thank you for this information, Morgan. I too wonder why POD hasn't caught on with the bigger publishers--it seems like a win-win situation for them and their authors.

  23. Great post, Morgan! I've sent a link to my boss who has self published a book, but who as interested in the process as he is in actually doing a book. The information is so useful and you explain everything so clearly!


  24. ¿Can I publish with Lightning Source and CreateSpace at the same time? ¿Does it has meaning?

  25. Kiko, yes, you can produce your book through both Lightning Source and Createspace. Make sure that you use the same ISBN, as to not cause confusion / complications with your Ingram distribution listing. Select the Createspace option where you will get a regular listing page on Amazon.

  26. Good post. Although I'm a little ways off from publication, I'm creating a business plan now, and these are the two PODs that keep coming up. I am trying hard to evaluate and decide between them.

  27. Hi,

    Thanks for this post. I'm a UK author who has just published with Lightning Source and, apart from the cost of having to order a second proof copy, I have no complaints about them. I opted for the smaller discount and no returns: it would have been nice to see the book in a brick and mortar store but I feel that online stores have a significant and growing share of the market, especially Amazon. Lightning Source have been a pleasure to work with and always reply promptly to any queries that I've had. The cover of my first proof copy was too dark, something to be aware of if you have a dark cover design like mine: lighten it before you send it to LS! The book is fantastic otherwise and looks and feels like a great quality product. LS extended distribution has made the book available to numerous other online retailers: the only hiccup was that the image, product description and author bio did not appear on many of these sites. LS told me to contact each store directly, which was actually the wrong advice. The way to get all those details on these dozens of sites was to go through Nielsen, the organisation that provides ISBNs in the UK. They offer an enhanced book data service (at a cost!) where you can edit the metadata info online: this then feeds through all the sites where the book is available over the next few days.

    I also looked at Lulu and CreateSpace but LS worked better for me as a UK author. I outsourced all the headache inducing formatting to an expert!

  28. I am glad to read this post, its an interesting one. I am always searching for quality posts and articles and this is what I found here, I hope you will be adding more in future.
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  29. REALLY helpful article, thank you. I was completely torn. Now decided. CreateSpace - almost totally due to costs!

  30. I have set up a publishing company--Monkshood Press, to self-publish my next book. Can anyone tell me how much Lightening Source will charge me for my books when I bulk order. I want to give books to reviewers, people who have given blurbs, etc. Not for sale.

  31. Dear Morgan:

    I've been publishing with LS for years, doing a second edition thinking about using CS because I get more per copy (only 40% discount taken off list for purchases at Amazon, instead of industry standard 55%, and slightly lower printing costs).

    You mention a couple of times using both LS and CS. Tempting because I'd like to get into libraries and of course bookstores, and LS gives them a better discount.

    Do these authors set the titles up with different ISBNs? I was thinking of putting "Library and Bookstore Edition" in the title for the LS version. Thoughts? Does CS/Amazon object to this?

    Thanks for the very useful post.


  32. I intend to self publish. It is becoming increasingly confusing albeit problematic, to make a decision as to what company I should utilize. I go from site to site and many are continually calling and/or emailing. With so many scams, plus companies buying out others, I get dizzy. Penguin bought Random, so they say, but another site disagrees. This is an imprint of this and not that and the rhetoric goes on. Does anyone I mean ANYONE know who, what, when, where I should proceed? Seems Bloomington, Indiana has a plethora of problems. Unpaid royalties, non delivery etc. etc.
    Would someone PUL-EASE give me a recommendation. I'm on the CreateSpace site, simply due to their affiliation with Amazon. I dso not want to open my own publishing company and publish myself and others, yet. Maybe, next year. Did extraordinarily well in music publishing. Still collecting royalties. Of course, have to have a hit to do so. But why do anything, if you don't intend to do it right AND that doesn't mean paying thousands to companies. Didn't cost me anything to publish music. Left that to the distribution co. OK guys this is a different genre, we're talking books. REAL books. Something you can actually hold and ebooks for those who prefer their gadgets.
    I'm old fashioned, have a library of several hundred hardcovers. (only kind I would buy. Softcover you loan because you'll never get it back, hardcover is for me and me alone. Don't touch my hardcovers unless you intend to buy it.
    So? Which company do I go with?


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