Thursday, February 10, 2011

CreateSpace or Lightning Source???

Are you an indie author preparing to publish your latest and greatest work of art? Your masterpiece? Your baby? If so I want to applaud you and congratulate you for accomplishing one of life’s greatest feats. Lots of people talk about writing a are one of the few who actually did it!

But wait!
Before you ship your precious baby off to LuLu or CreateSpace, did you get your little darling professionally edited? I hope so! Is the cover art up to snuff? It better be! What about the interior? Is your PDF perfect? Are your ebook paragraph indentions and chapter headings in the right place? I sure hope so.

Have you thought about using Lightning Source as your printer? Huh? Who? Lightning Source, L-i-g-h-t….oh, never mind! Lightning-Source is one the biggest and best printers for small and independent publishers…and if your an indie author, that means you! After much debate and research I’ve decided that there is no better choice.

If you're interested in selling digital books only and paperback books via Amazon & B&N, than Create-Space or LuLu is probably the best place to go for your print copies. They’re quick, cheap, easy and come with a FREE ISBN. But if you want to sell books to brick-n-mortar stores or have a book signing at your local B&N or Books-a-Million, you better go with Lightning Source. 

Don't let CS or LULU fool you into thinking advanced distribution means you can sell in stores...You can't!       

Here's a few things you need to know that CS & LuLu won't tell you.

  •      Lulu and CS, do not offer the industry standard wholesale discount of 40-55% to retailers. They offer more like 25%, which is not high enough to get into stores. I tried having a book signing 10 miles from my house with a B-a-M and they flat refused, because my book did not offer a 40% discount through Baker & Taylor. I had no idea! I thought I had paid for full distribution. WRONG!

  •      Another major stopper is the issue of “Returns”. If you want to get your book into stores, you have to offer returns (be willing to pay the bookstore back the wholesale price of the book if they don’t sell). Some local stores and B & N’s might let you place a book on consignment…but maybe not. Most stores demand that your book be returnable, especially if they want to buy it through their distributor.

  •      Lightning Source, allows you to do both. You can choose the wholesale discount and the method of taking returns. You can pick a 25, 40, or 50% wholesale margain! And, you don’t have to feel embarrassed when you tell your local bookstore manager that your book is non-returnable.

  •      At lightning Source, you are the publisher, no longer giving Create-Space 60% of your wholesale margin. You do, however, have to provide a print ready cover (front-back-spline) and interior PDF’s. But fear not, if you can’t learn to do this yourself, there are many affordable folks out there who will format your interior for $99 and create a polished cover for around $300 or less (I paid $40 to have an artist add the back cover to my front cover that I designed. That’s extra, but a great incentive to learn how to make a good cover! If you were planning to sell in stores, it could be worth the expense. Besides, $300 is cheaper than the going rate for many self-publishing companies who offer custom covers.

  •             Lightning Source will also upload your book to Amazon and B&N and other sources for you. Best of all, you get ALL the publisher's profit! You have to do a little more work, but it’s worth it.

  •      Lightning Source offers great service! You get to talk with a real person. So if you have questions, you just dial a number and POW! there’s a live person BAM! on the line SMACK! waiting to help. (How'd you like the Batman reference?)

  •     Lightning Source is cheap. A $75 set up fee and a $12 a year renewable print fee. That may sound like more than the $0 for Lulu and CreateSpace' $39 Advanced Distribution Channel. You'll have to buy your own ISBN, which can cost up to $125, or as little as $1, depends on how many you buy, but you will be the publisher. Period.

Listen, if you want to go indie, and go all the way, you have to think like a publisher...become a publisher and LEARN everything that goes with it. 

  • You have do what they do. 
  • Get Arc’s (advance reading copies) and send them out to reviewers. 
  • You have to take your time and plan a blog tour, contests, giveaways! 
Publishing isn’t just about writing a book and having it magically appear on Amazon. There’s a reason the process takes 2 years in the Pub industry. Even if you publish an eBook, you should still take your time, get it edited, polish your cover and publicize and get reviews first.

If you think of self-publishing is a business, indie authors will always have a much leaner structure. You only have to report to yourself and your readers; you owe them that much. Anyway, you can get that book out their quickly, professionally, and with the same quality and wholesale policies as the big boys, but ONLY through Lightning Source.

I used Lightning Source with REUNION and it's only cost me about $100 to get my cover assembled. 

I used CS to get an initial proof of the interior and Cover art. They did a great job, but in the end, I’m going to publish more books (Act of Vengeance in October 2011), and I’d like to be professional and match publishers pricing, discounts and returnability. 

We indies have a stigma of poor quality to overcome. It’s time we take the bull by the horns, create our own destiny and do this right! 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Can I ask before I make a long comment - where did you hear about ISBN's costing as little as $1? And are you purchasing the ISBN directly through Bowker?

  3. You can get ISBN's for $1 if you but 1000 ISBN's! I'm not in that ballgame. That's a totally different league. But that's probably how CS and LULU can offer free Isbn's.

  4. You can get ISBN's for $1 if you but 1000 ISBN's! I'm not in that ballgame.

  5. Very useful post, Jeff.

    I'd like to add a point about support. I know friends in the US who've used LS and say, like you, that support is top notch. But we tried printing a graphic novel from the UK and support were obstructive and clueless.
    We had problems because the graphic novel files were very big, but the support people were sniffy about us using them at all and only grudgingly allowed us to upload to the FTP site. Then they kept deleting the files and the Amazon copies, which cost us a lot in proofs.

    However, we've printed conventional books through LS in the UK and they were absolutely fine. Just be aware that if your book has a lot of heavy graphics and you're in the UK, LS may be a headache.

  6. Hello

    Yes you're right. That is how Lulu, Amazon, etc offer "free ISBNs". The drawback is a third party publisher will have the "Insert Your Book Title Here" and be listed in the Library of Congress for all eternity - not the author his/herself. I know that's not the point of your blog but it is something more author's should know if their going to go all out :D
    10 ISBNs average around $22.50 - that's not too bad if you plan on one title as both e-book and printed, then you have left-overs! :D

  7. their = they're. I shouldn't type or even think when I have a migraine. lol

  8. Thank you Dirtywitch and RL. More authors should be aware who the publisher really is when they assume they are "self-publishing". The most important step in becoming your own publisher is buying a block of ISBN's, either 1 or 1000, it matters not, as long as you own the ISBN. And Dirty, I'm sorry about the crappy service in the UK. I guess you'll get that anywhere. But as you said, in the black and white print departmant, they seem very capable.

    Thanks for your comments!

  9. After self-publishing for seven years and using Lightning source for all of them, anyone who is serious about self-publishing is only hurting themselves by going with subsidy publishers Createspace or Lulu (for that is what they are; the don't charge up front, but instead nail you on the backend). However, with true self-publishing comes additional cost. You have to spend money to make money. That's business. Ask any entrenpeneur. Artists shy from this, then wonder why they're broke instead of reaping solid profits from their products.

    Anyway, it's Lightning Source bar none. Period.

    For more info and essays on self-publishing, see my blog at

  10. Thanks A.P! I appreciate your comments and experience on this topic. Come back and share any time!

  11. I agree with all of your conclusions regarding Lightning Source, but wanted to give a shout out to how I publish. For my debut thriller Asylum Lake I used an espresso book machine at my local independent book store. Six months and 3,000 copies sold later and I am preparing to publish its sequel Grave Undertakings. Costs were very reasonable and it really helped to have a bookstore supporting my efforts.

  12. Hi Raven, Can you post a link to where you learned about that? Sounds like a great idea.

  13. Good post, Jeff.

    Question 1 - How does LS interface with Amazon? Do you sell thru Amazon Marketplace?

    Question 2 - I understand that you really need your book to be returnable for B&N to shelve it. How do you assess the risk (cost) for potentially returned books from brick and mortar stores and does LS handle the returns? Is there a fee for handling returns?

    Many thanks,




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