Recently I had some enquiries as to whether a book I had released was available in a hardcover edition. It wasn’t something I had considered until then but interest was sufficient that I decided to produce one. The self-publishing company I had been using for print books until that point, CreateSpace, didn’t have hardcover as an option, so I needed to use somewhere else. The company I chose was Lulu. I found it interesting to see how a different publisher functioned. This article will discuss some similarities and differences between the two companies, to help you decide where to self-publish your next project.
Both CreateSpace and Lulu have downloadable interior templates for each folio size of book they produce. When I looked at the Lulu version it was a blank page. I’m assuming it has the correct margins embedded into the document, but decided to continue using the CreateSpace template for the size of book I wanted to produce, as both companies offered that folio size. If I plan to publish a book with Lulu, in the future, in a different folio size to one offered by CreateSpace, I will have to use the Lulu version.
CreateSpace offers a choice of basic or fully formatted interior templates. I use the fully formatted version and wouldn’t have been able to produce professional looking print books without them. Some knowledge of formatting is still needed, as copied and pasted text tends to not adopt the template formatting (in Word, at least), but the whole book is laid out for you – including margins, headers and footers, contents table – and you can adjust any part that you wish to. If you stick to their suggested formatting, your book will look nice, clean, and professional. I adjust some components, such as chapter heading fonts, to give my books a more individual feel, but the framework provided is more than adequate.
Both companies have cover creators, and both have templates available within them, as well as the option to use your own wraparound cover. They function in a similar manner, and if you’ve used one, the other is easy to adjust to. Of the two, my favourite is Lulu. The cover creator is slow to load, but you can adjust or work on any part of the cover from a single view. Both allow a choice of background colours, but Lulu has an eyedropper function that makes it easy to match background colours to any part of the cover image. Lulu also allows you to change the font size of writing on the spine. CreateSpace limits you to JPEG files, but Lulu also allows PNG images. Both warn you if your image resolution is too low for print, but it’s more obvious in Lulu. Both generate a preview of the full cover.
Both companies offer free ISBNs for your books. This records the company you use as the publisher, and can’t be used elsewhere. Both also accept an ISBN that you own, which records you (or a press you run) as the publisher.
Lulu gives the option of not assigning an ISBN to your book.
A proof copy is a print copy of your book that you purchase and review before authorising publication. Ordering a proof copy of your print book is a good idea because cover images often look a little different printed than they do on a screen. The colours can appear different, and resolution problems aren’t always obvious when reviewing your book online. Looking at your book in a different format can also make it easier to spot errors that have previously escaped your notice.
CreateSpace recommends you order a proof copy before publishing, but does allow you to review an online version instead. Lulu insists you order a print copy and will not allow the book to be published until you do.
Both companies recommend viewing your uploaded files as part of the publishing process. Both seem to prefer PDF files to be uploaded, but both will convert several other document types to PDF if you upload them.
In CreateSpace, the resulting file is presented on the screen as it would appear in a book – the title page, and then the paired pages that follow. You click through as though leafing through an actual book. This gives you a good feel for how the book will appear in print. Lulu, on the other hand, shows you a PDF file, which displays as a single page at a time, making it harder to determine if the final appearance is what you want.
Ordering Author Copies
Both companies allow authors to purchase copies of their books cheaper than the list price. CreateSpace limits the number of proof copies to five. I don’t know if Lulu has a limit. The cheaper price applies after publication as well, however. Postage per book tends to decrease with the number of books ordered.
Both companies determine a minimum cost for your book based on its production cost.
CreateSpace is an Amazon company, and if you opt to publish on Amazon exclusively, the minimum cost is lower than if you select expanded distribution to other retailers. If you do choose to go with expanded distribution, your royalties from Amazon sales increase with the associated price increase.
With Lulu, the option of distribution beyond Lulu itself is also offered, and also means an increase in price to generate royalties from sales from the other retailers. Lulu, however, allows you to offer a discount (up to a massive 40%) on sales of your books if they are bought directly from Lulu. This allows you to keep costs down for your readers, while still having the benefit of exposure over a wider market.
One advantage of Lulu over CreateSpace is that they have frequent discount coupons on their site. These discounts apply to author copies as well as retail sales. Some discounts are short-lived, others are regularly available for orders over a certain number of books. These discounts not only make purchasing copies of your own books less expensive, but are also a handy marketing tool to encourage your readers to buy direct from the publisher (where your royalties are higher per sale). What I haven’t compared (yet) is the cost of producing the same book through each company, so whether Lulu is cheaper overall or not I can’t tell you.
I have experienced and/or been aware of problems with both companies in recent times.
Lulu has been experiencing problems with (some of) their servers. I have been preparing a number of titles for publication in hardcover and frequently couldn’t advance beyond the file upload stage. I would have to return to the project after a break, sometimes needing to generate the print-ready files a second time before progressing. The site has also been logging me out at random, even in the middle of preparing a title. Last I saw, Lulu was still working on rectifying the problem.
CreateSpace sometimes has a problem when the interior of a book is altered. If you change the interior file in any way, it should prompt you to go through the cover creation stage again, even if the book length is the same. Sometimes it doesn’t progress through this stage and can result in a corrupted cover image. If you are not prompted to go through the cover stage, log out and go back later, and it will then ask you to do it.
Another recent problem I had with a CreateSpace published book was likely an Amazon issue, but I was never given an explanation of what happened, so I can’t be sure. The book disappeared from all Amazon websites, including my Author Central account. I sent CreateSpace a message about it. Their response was that they would have to consult another department as to what the problem was. The book reappeared as mysteriously as it had vanished after a five-day break.
I have only recently started using Lulu, so I can’t say whether one is definitely better than the other. In the end, the choice is probably going to be due to the type of book, and size, that you want to produce. There are some folio sizes that both providers make, but both have a number of options not offered by the other. As mentioned before, Lulu has a hardcover option that is not available in CreateSpace. Lulu also has calendar options, which could be useful in marketing books or simply as an extra income stream.