So. Self-publishing is becoming quite a ‘thing’. It is more widely available than ever, and you hear and see more success stories stemming from this avenue than before as well. This is great. This is wonderful. I think it’s pretty safe to say it is by no means a perfect art, yet, but our options have certainly grown and improved.

Two of the big companies you’ll likely run across in your self-publishing endeavors are Lulu and Createspace. I know there are others out there as well (Cafepress comes to mind…), but these two seemed to be the ‘main’ ones that I heard about and ran across (and found myself drawn into) during my own endeavors. At this point I’ve experienced publishing through both of them, and I wanted to write a piece that compares the two, as there were some outstanding quirks in each. So here is my possibly irrelevant and likely frivolous take on both of these avenues.

As a creative person, I like options. I like to have control over the destiny of my project. As probably many of you can relate to, when I’m writing a book, I can see the end result in my head. I can picture the cover, the fancy typography inside, how big it’s going to be, what it’s going to feel like in my hands, how glossy the cover is, if the pages are going to be those rustly stiff ones or those whispery soft ones – even what the pages are going to smell like. (Probably one of the biggest disappointments in self-publishing, to me, is that the books don’t come out with that beloved ‘book smell’. You can’t ruffle through the pages and get the same nostalgic high, and that’s a huge bummer to me…)

These things are important to me, and so, when I decide on a publishing company, I want to know what options they’re offering. (This of course is actually one of the reasons that I love self-publishing regardless – because you actually DO have some say. I always hated the idea of turning over the finished manuscript to an editor and then being subject to professional modifications from there on out – especially where the cover art was concerned. I love that I have the freedom to make my project completely my own with self-publishing. In a way, that to me is much more fulfilling than getting that break in the ‘real’ publishing world.)

I originally published my first book through Lulu. I was delighted with the process just because it was so exciting getting a book out there, but there were some things that ended up being pretty swift disappointments. First was the paper quality. For me, publishing young-adult fantasy, I imagined getting my proof copy in the mail and holding this lovely cream-paged book in my hands that matched every other cream-paged book out there. The kind that get darker with age. It was impossible not to be disappointed when I discovered the pages were white. White and unworthy of being the main ingredient of a book, in my opinion. It just felt like paper straight from my printer at home, cut to size and stuck in a book. Now, that doesn’t mean it was bad-quality paper, but as comparison with other books goes, I felt cheated of an important novelty (no pun intended). It was just the kind of thing that makes you think ‘these people don’t understand books’. Surely ‘book people’ would understand the importance of pages. It can’t just be paper. They have to be pages. Page paper is different than paper paper. (Or am I the only one…?)

The other thing, which I figured early on was just a necessary evil that came with publishing a print-on-demand book, was the price tag for a book. It’s to be expected that ‘print-on-demand’ is going to be more pricey than if you could take the liberty of printing in bulk, but I just felt like there was no way anyone was going to take a $16 paperback seriously. If I kept my book around the 200-page length, then I could keep the price down somewhat around what you might see a REAL book priced at in a bookstore, but, as an aspiring novelist, that felt a little restricting (I wanted to be able to write a big book, man). I felt torn. I could write 200-page books, or I could write $16-$20 books – both of which I felt as though would hurt the being-taken-seriously issue. (I mean no disrespect to authors who write 200-or-less page books. More glory to you. I am a firm believer in telling the story and not caring how long it is, and especially lately have even been quite taken with the idea of resorting to novellas for a change – I just had big dreams in my head of writing these big, juicy, respectable books, and felt devastatingly limited and reduced to a capacity I did not think I could bear being reduced to.)

Fortunately, my first book DID happen to be a 200-page book. (Those are the easiest to finish and get out there first). But still, setting its price as low as I possibly could, I would hardly be making a penny and it still wasn’t actually as low as a ‘real’ book you might see in a bookstore. Harrumph. I remember, when I got its sequel out there as well, my grandmother wanted to lend her support – but when she went to check out, the price of both books together plus tax PLUS shipping ended up creating a total that had her cancelling the order thinking something had to be wrong. She ended up having me just email her the book file, and in return sent me ten dollars in the mail. She got a decent deal, and I made more revenue than I would have if she’d purchased actual copies.

This is one thing I like about Createspace. While some of their options have you tagging just as expensive a price onto your book (which some people might indeed prefer because of other benefits included with these options), they DO have options that allow reasonable prices as well. As in: I can have a 400 page book selling for $9.99 on Personally, so long as the freedom to toggle back and forth as desired is there, I think it’s perfectly fine (great, even) to have both options. It’s all about options, people.

Createspace, as well, has the CREAM PAGES I like to insist upon! This was another huge plus that had them gaining points on my score sheet. Along the lines of that whole ‘options’ issue, they offer both white and cream, depending on your preference. YES!

Unfortunately, I prefer Lulu’s covers. Sigh. It isn’t a quality thing – (in fact, as far as durability goes, Createspace may have the edge) – it’s just a…well, I guess it’s a texture thing. A nit-picky ‘I-just-like-this-one-better’ thing. Createspace’s covers tend to be more glossy, more shiny, and so it’s just a little bit harder to hold them at just the right angle to get a good visual without some part of it glaring in your face. (I wouldn’t say this should be a deal-breaker. It’s really not all that bad. But I’m a detail-person, at least where my creative works are concerned, and so it’s something that I notice.)

That being said, Createspace seems to have superior ‘distribution’ options. Their range seems to be wider where making your book available through other channels is concerned. And they’re an offshoot of Amazon, so their direct connection with Amazon means your books are included on right off the bat, without any distribution.

Of course, Createspace doesn’t offer hard-cover books. Lulu does. And Lulu offers the ‘pocket book’ size option (think: the charming size of all those science-fiction and fantasy novels), while Createspace’s smallest size is more like what you might find in the Young Adult section. Something along the lines of 5×8. Now, since I write a lot of Young Adult, I don’t mind so much, MOST of the time. But I happen to have a personal soft spot for the ‘pocket book’ size, and feel like many other novelists might as well.

There are many other details and differences that might be relevant to you, or not, but these are the few main ones that stick in my head as a creative self-publisher who wants to be in control of her projects and make them like others out there and be taken as seriously as possible. Or perhaps they’re just what stick in my mind as a picky artist. Regardless: in the end I went with Createspace as my main publishing avenue (at least where physical paperbacks are concerned. I do e-books elsewhere). Cream pages, cheaper price options, and that direct ‘in’ with Amazon won out over slightly preferable cover textures, the hardcover option, and the pocket-book size option. (I should mention that Createspace does have a ‘custom’ size option, so essentially you can make a book any size you please, but custom sizes don’t fall under the ‘industry standard’ category and therefore are limited where distribution is concerned. I could write a whole ‘nother (yes, yes: ‘another WHOLE’) article just on that nonsense (I can and I will), but I’ve gone on long enough about these issues.

(Keep in mind – companies are always changing their policies and what they have to offer, so I don’t presume to claim that any of what I’ve outlined here hasn’t or won’t be altered in a fashion that suddenly redeems itself. I hope it will! I like to think the future of self-publishing is just awash with every company realizing they ought to provide as many options as possible.)

And should everything compiled here fail to be relevant at all, suffice it to say I’ve sold way more books through Createspace than I ever, ever did through Lulu. Createspace wins! (What are other people’s experiences with these two companies? Any quirks worth noting that other ‘quirk’-oriented people might be interested to know?)