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.