Virtual Bookworm or CreateSpace?

For well over ten years I have been maintaining a comparison of Print On Demand (POD) publishers. In those years the number of choices has expanded, new publishers have come along, while others have gone out of business, leaving quite a few authors in the lurch in the process. Through the years my first choice has remained constant: Virtual Bookworm… and yet when the time came for me to release my latest books I decided to go a different route, why?

This was not because I had a problem with them or because I was unhappy with their services, far from it. For ten years I have received an excellent level of support and I have had no major complaints. The reason I made a different choice this time around came down to some concerns I had regarding the possible content of a potential sequel to one of my books… yes, I know, not exactly a pressing concern, but an important one for me nonetheless.

Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind is a pseudo-Young Adult fantasy work that will hopefully be the first in a series, and while chances are that this first volume would have been deemed acceptable, there was one issue that I had to consider: the restrictions in terms of what VirtualBookworm is willing to publish according to its FAQs. They read, and I quote:

As long as your book doesn’t show folks how to turn their enemies into frogs or kumquats, you should be okay.

That seems reasonable enough, but the thing is that while I am not entirely sure of where I am going with this series, and I am partial to toads and loquats myself, I didn’t want to run the risk of finding myself on the wrong side of this particular line with a later book. This was what first led me to consider the possibility of looking for a different publisher… and then a number of other factors came into play.

Still, this was not an easy choice.

Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind is a project that has been in the works for a very long time, and even though I have no way of knowing whether or not its possible sequels, if any, will fit with Virtual Bookworm’s publishing guidelines, I was also reluctant to trust a publisher I had never worked with before for something that is this important to me. At the same time I was also working on a novella, Laira. This seemed to present me with the perfect opportunity to test the waters with CreateSpace before committing to either publisher for Citlalli… but then life got in the way, the release schedule was compressed, and at that time I decided to release both books simultaneously, along with a fully revised version of my first novel, Soulless. Seeing how I didn’t want to find myself trying to coordinate three separate processes with two different companies I realized that I had to make a decision for all of them. I had some misgivings, but in the end I decided to go with CreateSpace.

Am I going to regret that choice? I don’t know, it’s too early to tell. So far, other than the fact that both their uploading and their proofing systems seem to have more bugs than the Amazon in the rainy season, I have had no major problems. Both my layouts and my covers were approved within 24 hours and I received an e-mail telling me that my proofs had shipped in a matter of hours, but at the same time, as I said above, I really appreciate the support Virtual Bookworm has provided me with for the past ten years, and right now I still have the feeling that, when it comes to CreateSpace, I am flying without a net. That in turn explains why Virtual Bookworm remains the top choice in the comparison in spite of the fact that I am currently using a different company myself.

In the end I believe that the answer to the question of which one of these two companies works best for a given author depends to a large extent on the level of experience of said author.

CreateSpace has the upper hand in financial terms, that is a fact. This is not so much because it pays higher royalties, but rather because sales via amazon.com count as direct sales, though the fact that authors can purchase copies of their books paying only their printing costs doesn’t hurt matters (in my mind, a low author’s discount has always been Virtual Bookworm’s greatest weakness). The price you pay for this financial advantage, however, is a far steeper learning curve, the fact that you must design both your own cover and your own layout (one tip here don’t use Word) and the fact that you have no one to turn to if you run into trouble… to say nothing of a really disturbing publishing agreement, or rather a lack thereof.

Let me be clear about that. The fact that CreateSpace reserves the right to change the terms of the agreement whenever and however they see fit, and the fact that your only recourse is to stop using their services altogether (though they theoretically reserve the right to deny you the freedom to do even that much) is extremely dangerous. Yes, amazon.com is a huge company that is not likely to want to run the risk of tarnishing its reputation by pulling a fast one on a bunch of self-published authors, but that is as much of a reassurance as you are going to get, and the bottom line is that you are still playing with fire here.

So, if you are new to the publishing world, or if you just want to have someone there who can take care of all the details, a fair contract, and someone to turn to if, or rather when, you run into trouble, then chances are that you are better off with Virtual Bookworm. If, on the other hand, you have a certain level of experience, you know how to put together both an interior layout and a cover design, you don’t mind the lack of support and you are willing to play what amounts to Russian roulette with your publishing agreement, then CreateSpace does give you a better deal.

There is, however, one last thing I would like to mention here: even though I am the first to admit that CreateSpace is probably not the best choice for those who are completely new to the publishing world, a number of POD publishers are actively promoting the idea that trying to publish a book using CreateSpace’s free tools is a horrifying ordeal that will only lead to heartbreak and that will end up being far more expensive than hiring an independent publisher in the first place would have been. In my experience this assessment is, to put it kindly, overdrawn.

May 1, 2013 update: I have just added a follow up to this post with my thoughts after a year of dealing with CreateSpace. You can find it here.

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18 thoughts on “Virtual Bookworm or CreateSpace?”

  1. Instead of going with a POD publisher, why not have a printer that does POD books do it for you? You are going to have to pay for the formatting and layout in Adobe InDesign anyway, so why give a POD publisher a cut when you could be the publisher?

  2. Actually a publisher is supposed to take care of those things for you… and there is more to book publishing than book design.

  3. Hi:
    The timing couldn’t be better for me re this issue. It’s ironic because I’ve been debating between Createspace and Virtual Bookworm for my anthology of mystery stories. I’m so glad I read this and now have reliable information. I’m an art school grad and have illustrated my cover, but as for layout, well, I did it decades ago using Pagemaker. Needless to say, I think things have changed since then, and I’m someone who likes a little–or a lot–of hand holding until I feel comfortable. Thus after researching so many PODs, I think I will contact Virtual Bookworm. Thanks again for the real-life advice. SLC

  4. I have been following your POD site (on and off) since 2000. I have finally taken the plunge and gone with CreateSpace. I did all the the work myself, but their templates for Word (just paste each chapter in and mess with as desired) and then save as a PDF file were really easy to use. Their .PNG templates for book covers are SUPER easy to use. Once you have your page count, they will generate a template for you instantly, with the correct spine side. You just add your other elements, flatten (save as TIF or BMP) and then save as (or print to) a PDF file. It couldn’t be easier. If other POD companies are talking smack about CreateSpace, I think it’s out of fear. I’m aware of what you say about that dangerous clause in their contract, and I suspect they’d only use that if your book somehow became a best seller!

    1. I do believe that the price they would have to pay for abusing that clause would be high enough to cause them to at least think twice about it, but as long as that clause is there, we do have a very serious problem (another problem has to do with the fact that there isn’t a real ‘out of print’ option you can click to terminate the agreement once and for all, even if your book can never quite be deleted from their database. This means that, at least in theory, they reserve the right to reactivate your title without your consent, as the agreement can never be effectively terminated and they can rewrite its terms to suit their needs).

      As for their free tools, I agree that using their templates may be a viable option even for relative newbies, but as you say you have been researching this business for a decade, so I assume you have at least an idea of just what it is that you are getting into. You wouldn’t believe some of the questions I have received from some aspiring authors. That’s why I say that the viability of the DIY model depends on your level of experience.

  5. This might get interesting. I just used KDP to publish this book the other day, (it’s live on Amazon now) ( http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008EKVS9U ) and THEN I signed up with CreateSpace for the POD paperback. CreateSpace gives you the option to do the Kindle version (through them, I suppose). So I wonder if CreateSpace will be able to control my Kindle version that I did BEFORE signing up with them? I wouldn’t think so, but who knows. Any wisdom/advice on this?

  6. I enjoyed my experience with VBW. My big problem with them, however, is the “basic discount.” That basic discount is a bit more than what bookstores want as profit (on consignment) which makes trying to sell your own book a losing proposition. I mean I would be happy to pay a percentage over printing costs but 30% off cover is prohibitive. That to me is my biggest issue with VBW. If I can’t at least partially offset the costs of future works through a small profit on the sale of my own work, then I am greatly hindered from producing more works! That is why CreateSpace looks so compelling to me. Paying only printing costs makes me an offer that seems very hard to beat… is there no recourse to legal protections against bait and switch license agreements?

  7. Very Faustian. Why would CreateSpace do this? I mean, by darkest nightmare imaginable, they could change their service agreement to effectively steal your work from you, appropriate it outright and deny you future royalties. And if you do not remain eternally vigilant, then you tacitly agree to these changes. In what bizarro reality is that even remotely legal?

    1. Okay replying to both comments together here. First of all, I agree that the discount issue is a problem with VBW (so much so that you may be better off paying full price and receiving direct sales royalties than taking advantage of their discount). Yes, VBW offers what is probably the best deal in terms of cost/reasonable contract, but if you want to market directly, they just won’t cut it.

      As for the CS contract issue, I’m not sure if a very drastic change that claims full rights would stand a challenge, but the concern is there, no question about it (that and the fact that I still haven’t figured out how you are supposed to terminate the agreement other than removing the title from distribution, which is not the same thing from a legal perspective).

      The problem is that these are the best deals out there, and that means you are going to have to take a hit one way or another.

      1. Thank you for taking the time to respond. However, I’m not sure how I might be better off “paying full price…” That would be off the cover correct?

        BTW, if you are the creator of the ‘An incomplete guide to POD publishers’ site, thank you very much!

        1. What I meant when I said that you may be better off paying the full price and receiving royalties is that, since direct royalties are 50% of net receipts, and that can add up to as much as 35-40% of retail price, whereas the standard discount is 30% your royalties may in some cases exceed that discount. In other words, you should check your numbers because there are some instances in which you may get a better deal by *NOT* taking advantage of the discount at all and opting for a royalty payment instead (again, this depends on a number of factors, but it is something you may want to look into).

          And yes, I am to blame for that comparison, glad to hear you found it useful!

  8. I don’t know if you are still responding to questions regarding last year’s post.. but here goes. I too have used VBW and been happy with their support the last 6 mo. They have been upfront about everything… except payment: the number of books sold does not jive with the check I received. The accounts person has been slow to respond and not very enlightening. I have read other authors with the same misgivings re information on bookkeeping. Because I have been happy in every other respect I am waiting to see if this is simply a “lag time” problem.
    Any insights?

    1. Hi, the truth is that I just don’t know. I never really had those problems, but then again my experience dates back to some ten years ago, so it may no longer be accurate. Hopefully it is a lag time issue that will solve itself, but the truth is that I can’t be sure (also remember that there is a three month delay when it comes to payments for books sold via external sources).

  9. Well…since the novel I’m working deals with fallen angels and vampires, Virtual Bookworm will most certainly slam the door in my face…lol

  10. After 18 books with Virtualbookworm I am considering NOT renewing any annual fees to keep my works on Ingram, etc. My question is, what happens to my ebook and print book listings on Amazon and B&N if VBW is dropped and I no longer pay $14 per title/ per format ($28 annually each title)? All 18 are currently listed with both online booksellers, only a few are still within the two-year contract.
    Thanks.

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