Publishing On A Budget: Lulu vs CreateSpace

If you haven’t yet been notified, I’m publishing my first book, a soft sci-fi dystopian about cyborg former prisoners of war and their mutiny aboard a transport ship (I love my elevator pitch SO MUCH! Ahem.) this September. Go here for the chance to win a paperback copy (Lulu version) of the book.

Speaking of paperback copies, now that I’m more experienced in using two self-printing services, I’m going to give my thoughts on both and reveal why I decided to go with one and not the other.

The two services are Lulu and CreateSpace. I’m comparing them in terms of service, quality, and value. Please excuse all the flashes with my photography – I live in England and it is a bit gloomy and overcast, and my camera believes the flash is needed!

CreateSpace and Lulu versions of my book.

PLEASE NOTE: this is purely from the point of view of someone who lives in the UK on a strict budget. There will be different opinions of self-printers living in the US, and clear pros and cons for each country. I am talking about what it is like to self-print with very little money while living in the UK. I’m also not comparing all the bells and whistles offered by either company, because I’m quite competent with manuscripts and didn’t use any of these extra (and expensive!) services.

Lulu

What I liked about Lulu:

  1. They have a printing house in the UK, so the book was delivered in one week.
  2. The cover is a higher quality than CreateSpace.
  3. Lulu’s Extendedreach program (free) covers both Amazon.co.uk AND Amazon.com.
  4. Lulu offers to automatically convert the paperback uploads to an ebook format. I don’t know how this turns out, because I would rather use Smashwords.com.
  5. If you are VERY confident of your ability, and you have all the documents ready, you can upload and order a Lulu book within the hour (they don’t make you wait while they check the files). As a bonus, they take payment in Great British Pounds, which appealed to me.
  6. When I ordered my book, they were doing a deal on free proof copies until the end of July where the creator just has to pay shipping. This is why I have a Lulu version of The Edge of Darkness.

What I didn’t like about Lulu:

  1. Lulu’s Globalreach program costs $75 – however, this puts the book in Barnes & Noble and other brick and mortar stores.
  2. There is no spine artwork on the book. The spine is black with basic white text. Disappointing.
  3. The best size recommendation is 6×9, which is bigger than I like. You can only choose this size or an even bigger size for the Globalreach package.
  4. Lulu.com do not check the files for printing consistency, so there is a lot of pressure on the creator to get everything right.
  5. Lulu claims it takes .doc documents, but when I tried to upload my manuscript as a .doc it went completely out of whack. I re-uploaded it as a PDF and it was fine.
  6. If you want them to give you an ISBN, Lulu wants to be the publisher, and wants exclusive publication rights. This is what turned me off about Lulu. This means that I couldn’t use both Lulu and Createspace to get my book into as many different channels as possible.

Price: £7.99
My Revenue: £2.95
My Price: £4.30
Shipping: £2.99
NOTE: What initially drew me to try Lulu was that they offer hardcover as well, but seeing as I’m broke, I can’t try that out just yet.

Size differences: CreateSpace book on top of Lulu book.

CreateSpace

What I liked about CreateSpace:

  1. CreateSpace checks the book for printing consistency, making sure pictures are minimum 300dpi (dots per inch) and all the text is in the proper place, not half cut off.
  2. Their cover creator is basic, but if you have your own cover you can upload it, and it includes artwork on the spine. This is only a big deal to me because the artwork on The Edge of Darkness wraps around the book.
  3. You can choose whether to print on white paper or cream (originally I chose white, but when I changed the cover I switched to cream) and whether or not to print the interior in colour. I think interior colour books are more expensive, though.
  4. When you publish on CreateSpace, it automatically gets put up on Amazon.com. However for $39 extra, you can buy bigger (and random) online distribution with the Pro Plan.
  5. If you buy the Pro Plan, ordering your own books is cheaper. I don’t plan on buying boxes of my books, but someone else might find that useful.
  6. I have heard that if you upload a new version of the book and it’s not too different (for example fixing typos etc) you don’t need to order a new proof copy of the book. I can’t confirm this yet.
  7. I finished NaNoWriMo in 2010, and CreateSpace offered a free proof copy code, so I haven’t had to pay for my CreateSpace publishing. Very generous!
  8. Unlike Lulu, CreateSpace refuses to be called the publisher of the book, only the printer. I discovered this when one of my files accidentally labelled CreateSpace as the publisher, and they asked me to remove that. No problems! I am the publisher, not CreateSpace.

What I didn’t like about CreateSpace:

  1. Because they only print in the US, it took FOREVER to get my copy of the book (six weeks).
  2. The cover quality is not as good as Lulu. It’s not bad, it’s just not quite as high. In fact, you’ll hardly even notice it.
  3. Prices to ship to the UK cost just as much as the actual book. It would be so much better if they had a printing house in the UK (and automatically put the book on Amazon.co.uk as well – a girl can dream!)
  4. The Pro plan, which costs $39, randomly assigns your book to other internet stores. You don’t get to choose.
  5. CreateSpace can take up to 48 hours to check the files, which can be good because it catches things you might not be aware of. But if you’re quite confident it can just be a waste of time, especially if you’ve already addressed previous issues and you’re just uploading a corrected copy.

Price: $12.95 (US)
My Revenue: $3.86/$6.51 (Pro) on CreateSpace
$1.27/$3.92 (Pro) on Amazon.com
My Price: $6.50/$3.85 Pro Plan
Shipping: $6.38

Spine artwork, or lack thereof.

CreateSpace spine art wraps around entire book.

The Lulu spine is basic: black with basic white text.

Lulu:

Service: 3/5 – No free service offered, but fast turnaround for the book.
Value: 3/5 – I wanted to make the book cheaper so it could compete with traditionally published books, but then I wouldn’t make a profit.
Quality: 4/5 – The book looks outstanding. I’m just disappointed about the spine.
Overall: 10/15

This is the Lulu edition. You can see the very slight difference in cover quality.

CreateSpace:

Service: 5/5 – The file checking won’t edit for you, but it does check quality.
Value: 4/5 – I wanted to make the book cheaper so it could compete with traditionally published books, but then I wouldn’t make a profit. However, I make a larger profit using the Pro Plan.
Quality: 4/5 – Slightly disappointed that Lulu’s cover is higher quality, but I much prefer my CreateSpace book, and I hope everyone else does as well.
Overall: 13/15

This is the CreateSpace edition. You can see the very slight difference in cover quality.

In my opinion, as a user of both print on demand services, Lulu is probably better if you’re very competent and want individual private copies for yourself. It’s fast, requires no turnaround, and you can have a book ready in an afternoon and delivered within a week. But for selling the book, I’m going with CreateSpace. Lulu’s exclusive publishing terms turned me off, and I’m willing to forgo CreateSpace’s slightly poorer quality cover and longer shipping times to get it on Amazon.com.

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Posted on August 15, 2011, in Publishing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. Thanks Lissa very interesting!!

  2. It seems to me that you’ve made a good choice. I also like the size of the CreateSpace version better.

    It’s all very exciting and inspiring and I’m so proud of you for actually DOING something to make your dreams of being a published author come true.

  3. This is really helpful, thank you for sharing your experiences.

  4. This really is a good post, very very helpful. Definitely food for thought for aspiring self published authors.

  5. Rachel Russell

    This was highly informative. I like how you broke down the pro’s and con’s. It really helped to give a better idea of the services offered by both. Great post and hi-5.

  6. I do a lot of publishing with both. In the States, Lulu does not demand exclusivity. I agree with the quality issues you mention (though I am a graphic designer with 40 year experience so I just write in InDesign and do my own covers).

    I would publish in both. I suspect you can give Lulu exclusivity on one version and one size and use another size and version with a different ISBN for Createspace. I find most of print sales come from Createspace/Amazon. Most of my sales come from Lulu in downloadable PDFs and ePUBs through iBooks. I find both are necessary. CS’s Pro Plan has added quite a few sales. Increasingly Kindle and ePUB are growing outlets.

    Also, with Lulu, I do some cheaper versions with no ISBN# to have available on my Website and through Lulu. This gives me a price competitive version. My fiction I put out in Lulu, Createspace, PubIT (Barnes & Nobel), Scribd, and Smashwords. For non-fiction (my main focus) I drop Smashwords (they can’t handle the file sizes).

    Get it out in as many venues as possible. BTW: Do you know anything about Firsty Fish ebooks? I tried them once, but for some reason dropped it.

  7. Thank you for sharing all that info! Very useful to know! I live in South Africa, so I can only imagine how long the CreateSpace book would take to get to me…
    And your cover is gorgeous, especially the fact that it wraps around. I would definitely want the one with the artwork on the spine!

    • You’re very welcome, Rachel! Yikes, I can’t imagine how long CreateSpace’s cheapest shipping option would take to get to South Africa.

  8. Hi Lisa, Thanks for your analysis. I use Create Space because of all the reasons you cite. I have a kids’ book so size was an issue with Lulu for distribution. I just wish CR offered more options in paper weights, gloss, etc. Anne S. Santa Cruz, CA

  9. How the hell do people still spell your name wrong when it’s in the URL and the title of the page?

  10. Lissa–
    Great information, but I’m still confused. I live in the U.S., but my book will (I hope) appeal to a great many readers in the U.K. Therefore, publishing with CreateSpace may not be the wisest way to go since shipping cost is likely a deal breaker for most readers.
    David’s post about publishing the same book (but using different ISBNs) with Lulu (for the U.K.) and CreateSpace for the U.S. sounds good, but I’m not sure if that’s really do-able. Would the different ISBN, and not a change of title, be all that’s really needed?
    Why, oh why, doesn’t CreateSpace have the same friendly relationship with Amazon. U.K. as they do with the one in the U.S.?
    Does anyone have any advice?

    • I’m sorry I don’t have any advice, Harriet. I don’t really know very much about Lulu, having decided not to publish with them.

  11. Excellent organization of pros and cons here. Thanks so much for the point-by-point insight! :)

  12. I have my own ISBN and I am considering publishing with Create Space.

    Since reading all this info, I might also publish the same book with LULU under a different title.

    What advice do you have.

    Thanks.

    Skribe

    • I don’t have any advice apart from watch out and make sure the same book doesn’t turn up twice on Amazon.
      Does anyone have any advice for Skribe?

  13. My problem is the overall quality of the book. I have a proof copy from CreateSpace which is 5.25 by 9 inches and 300 pages. After you open it once, it looks like it has been read for years. The cover is permenantly bent and the book looks used. I have been reading paperbacks all my life and the books do look used after they have been used but jee, the book sits on the table and the cover is open 20 degrees after opening only a few times.

    Are others having this problem also?

    Thanks for your help.

    Louie Flann

  14. Hello Lissa,

    I’m having a particularly hard time going back and forth with Lulu on distribution requirements.
    It seems that there’s always a Header 1 problem or a Heading 2 problem. I make the changes, but they keep kicking everything back with another Headidng problem. It’s getting to be frustrating, and I’m wondering if they’re trying to get me to give up and buy one of their editing packages. Plus, their cover design page just doesn’t work and they don’t seem very interested in fixing it.
    I can’t help but wonder if other people are having these same problems. I’m beginning to lose faith in Lulu because of all this. I don’t want to have them pulling the wool over my eyes. I want to get my work published, not play games with a publisher that’s trying to manipulate me into buying one of their packages.
    Maybe you can perk me up with advice or a suggestion.
    Thanks.

    R. Smith

    p.s. I don’t believe a cover sells a book, but you’re cover does look pretty good. Only you will be aware of the spine. I don’t think the reader will.

    • Don’t buy one of their formatting packages. There are people out there who will do formatting for your cheaply if you can’t figure out what the problem is yourself. Google a bit, read up on the people offering it and get in communication with them, ask for a sample etc. There are a lot of independent editors, formatters and proofreaders out there for indie authors.

      I didn’t have an issue with the cover design page when I made my book months ago however I did find it frustrating to use.

  15. Hi there I prefer the plain text on the spine it’s easier to read, were the other seems blury ;-)

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