Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cheaper Than Kinko's: Part 7 of Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think

Formatting is a scary thing. Even if I had never self-published a book, I would still be using basic formatting skills. Did you know you can get drafts of your novel printed and bound like a real book for cheaper than it would cost you to have it printed at Kinko's? It's true! I've had a manuscript printed there for $30 and my Lulu copy of Monarch only cost me $15 (that includes shipping).

Here's a picture of me with my copy of Monarch. This was one of my final drafts. It was a nice experience to be able to ship this book to some beta readers and to be able to hold it as a real book in my hands as I took a red pen to the pages. I saw things differently that way. But in order to do this, you need to know have some basic formatting skills. Once you have those, you can usually branch out on your own to learn whatever else you need.

Here is my super-simplified step-by-step guide to formatting a manuscript for printing - from the experience I've had, at least!

(1) Choose Your Printer

You have several options in this arena. Here's what I have found out about some printers. If you have more info to share, please do and I'll add it here to the list.

Quality - Good
Cover - Fair - the color printing doesn't seem as slick as others I've seen - it's more pixelated
Binding - Good
User-Friendly - Good

Quality - Good
Cover - Great - the color printing is really nice! I'll talk about some setbacks down below
Binding - Good
User-Friendly - Good

Lightning Source
I don't know! Anyone willing to share some information here? All I know is that you do have to purchase your own ISBNs and have your own publishing name/business even if it's just you

Small Printing Press (this is limited to two books I've seen)
Quality - Excellent, that I've seen
Cover - Excellent
Binding - Excellent
User-Friendly - Don't know

Here are some photos to give you an idea of the quality and issues with your printing options. For all photos, I've uploaded high resolution copies. Click on the picture so see more detail!

This set is Lulu printed books:

This set is CreateSpace books:

This set is small press/publisher books:

Jamie DeBree was kind enough to send pictures of a Lightning Source book:

Doesn't appear to be too much difference, huh? Let's get CLOSER! Here is a close up on the bindings. I personally think the lack of "glue" on the small press books looks SO much nicer. One reason to go that route, but it's more expensive...or you need a small publisher to accept your manuscript.

The one here is from Lightning Source:

Here is the wear-and-tear of the books:

These ones are on Monarch, a Lulu printed book. If you click on the photo to see it larger, you can see the printing quality of the cover as well. The book hasn't fallen apart at all. The bends seem to hold up pretty well.

The cream one below is a Lulu printed book. Notice the raised area where the glue for the binding spilled over to the front and it creates a "bead" underneath the cover. That's not the prettiest thing, and a big drawback, I think, to this type of binding if it's not handled correctly.

This book below is a small press book, Immortalis. It got crunched on my shelf, but it has held up well.

This one below is a CreateSpace book, Cinders. I really hate this flaw...the beautiful glossy cover has a film over it, which is gorgeous until it starts to peel! I've had other readers who own this book tell me they haven't seen this happen on their copies yet, but I handled mine a lot, so I'm sure that's why this happened. Also, I've this happen on commercially published books. It's nothing to do with the printer, but that type of printing.

These shots below are of the printing on the inside. The first one is of Son of Ereubus from Rhemalda Publishing, a small publisher. This is the nicest printing! Nice and crisp, and lovely paper.

This one is Immortalis from a small press. It's white, thick paper, and the printing is nice.

This one below is of Cinders, done through CreateSpace. It's done on their cream paper, and I love it. The printing is nice, as well, and is the same quality as Lulu, although Lulu's cream paper is thinner. The page isn't crooked, sorry. I had a hard time taking the picture and holding the book at the same time!

And here is one of Blood Lust from Lightning Source:

All right. There you have an idea of quality!

(2) Choose Your Formatting Software

I've used QuarkXpress and Word. That's it. I used Quark about 9 years ago, and I loved it, but I don't have it anymore as it was the property of the university I attended. So...being the cheapskate I am, I just use Word for all my formatting. There are pros and cons to this. Katie and Jamie helped a lot in yesterday's post about formatting if you want more information on formatting software.

What I can help you out with today is to tell you these simple guides.

(1) For Word, it's pretty easy to format if you're going to stick with something simple! And, honestly, simple is almost always the best option when it comes to a reader wanting to immerse themselves in a book, not pretty formatting. The only things you have to know how to do are how to set the page size, line spacing, page numbering, and headers and footers. It's not more difficult than that! Any printer you choose to go with will give you guides on the margin spacing you'll need.

(2) Do Google searches. It's not hard! Figure out how to manipulate line spacing and headers, etc. As you can see on my Cinders page up above, I used some wider spacing between the lines and paragraphs. If you can't find help online how to do this, email me. I'll help.

(3) If you need to convert your file to a PDF, I highly suggest using if you don't already have the software. This one is free, easy to use, and doesn't put a stupid watermark over everything.

(4) Word is really, really bad at doing drop caps. If you want to do that, you might be better off using a different program. 

(3) Choose Your Book Size

This can be a tricky one. All these books are 6x9:

I don't necessarily like this size for a novel unless it's a huge, long novel. For my book, Cinders, which is a novella, I went with a smaller size. These CreateSpace books are 5.25 x 8:

You can kind of see the differences in sizes here, but I took the picture at a bad angle, sorry. To really see the difference you have to hold them and open them up.

Also, you are severely limited, unfortunately, by what your printer offers. CreateSpace, nor any other print-on-demand publisher I can find, offers 5 x 7, the trade paperback size you see in grocery stores all the time. They also don't offer the publisher-grade paper, either - that flimsy cream paper you see on mass market paperbacks. Lulu offers this, but only on 2 sizes and they don't let you do an ISBN (so far) with this option, either. I'm not sure if WordClay or Lightning Source offers these? Anyone know?

(4) Format, Send It In, and Sell (or use it to edit)!

This is much easier said than done, but CreateSpace at least offers a formatted file you can download and use, as well as offers a formatted template for your cover so you get the spine width correct. A huge drawback for Lulu is that I've never been able to use their pre-formatted templates. They never work for me...they'll never upload. I don't know what I'm doing wrong there, so I'm stuck using their crappy cover software online and it's severely limiting, especially for the spine.

As far as CreateSpace goes, from my experience, it was a pretty simple process, although a little more time-consuming than Lulu, and I had to wait for a few things to be approved. You are also forced to order and pay for a "Proof Copy" of your book before you can get the book up on Amazon. They print "PROOF" on the last page, too, so you can't even sell it! I DETEST THIS. I wish they'd do away with it. I have already complained to them. If you use CreateSpace, you should complain, too. Hah.

Anyway, this is all very simplified, but it's already 11:20 my time and I need to get this post up! I hope this has been helpful for you! Let me know if you'd like more or different information in this arena.

Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think Series

Do You Want to Jump the Fence? - August 26th
The Vase - September 1st
What Going Indie Will Cost You - September 8th
Whither The Author-Artiste? - September 9th
Influences & Self-Publishing Might Just Stink For You - September 16th
The Absolute Nightmare (or not!) of Formatting a Print Book - September 22nd
Cheaper Than Kinko's - September 23rd 
Don't Listen to Me - September 30th


  1. Wow, Michelle. Thanks for all those examples. That is insanely helpful.

  2. You've almost convinced me. All those books look professional. I'm bookmarking this series to peruse at my leisure. A real treasure trove of info. Thanks for taking the time to do this!

  3. When you want a copy just for yourself to proofread, how to you prevent other people from seeing it in Lulu or on Amazon?

  4. Nevets: I'm happy it's helpful! There is SO much more information, but I'm trying to skim the surface here and see if anyone wants more.

    Yvonne: Hah! I'm not trying to convince anyway, but I'm glad I'm being helpful for your decision!

    Tara: Oh, good question! You have the option on Lulu whether or not to make the book public or to keep it as your own. Through CreateSpace, I believe there is a similar option. You don't have to put your book on Amazon or have it distributed anywhere. You also have the option to sell your book using only a CreateSpace estore link that isn't available to anyone unless you share the link somewhere. You get the most profit per online sale this way. I don't offer this on Cinders. I probably should, but it seemed like I had enough options already, and most readers prefer to purchase through Kindle or Amazon.

  5. Tara: On lulu you can just tag a project as private. I don't think you can do this on Amazon (or at least you couldn't back when I looked at it). I use lulu to print up copies of drafts so I can read them on the bus like they're a normal book. It stops me from getting hung up on spelling and forces me to read for character and story. I also give people lulu prints of drafts if I want them to read it but not give me marked up pages because it forces them to read for story and character, too.

    Anyway, it's easy to do this on lulu.

  6. Ok thanks. I wasn't going to do a Lulu copy, but maybe I will.

    And I wondered what the "eStore" was on CreateSpace.

  7. This is the best explanation I've ever seen! Showing how the product will look like is a superb way to get the point across. Brava!

  8. Tara: Even if you can't tag a project as private on CreateSpace, you can always just order the Proof Copy and never approve it. That way it never goes live but you still have your proof copy of the book. :)

    lakeviewer: Thanks!

  9. Ok, thanks Michelle. Good idea. So then if I make changes and want to publish THAT, I start the process over, or can I update and get a new Proof copy?

  10. Tara: Yep, you just make changes from there. That's what the proof is for. :)

  11. I haven't used Lightning Source, but since Createspace uses them to print their books I imagine the quality would be similar. And I totally agree with your assessment of the quality. My Createspace book looks really good, but the binding just isn't as crisp as a traditionally published book.

    One last thought...proofing your ms in a book form is a really good idea. When I got the proof of my book, I just planned to make sure things 'looked' right. But I started reading it and -wow! I found things I wanted to change on nearly every single page. Somehow, seeing it as a book makes the parts that aren't flowing well stand out even more.

  12. This is so helpful, Michelle. I am building a file with your helpful posts while the idea of self publishing incubates a bit longer. Your valuable lessons will make the decision much easier.

  13. It's funny you mention Kinko's because a book I had made as gifts a while ago, I did through Kinko's. I wish I had known about Lulu et. al. back then.

  14. Wow, what a great and informative post!

  15. This is SO helpful!

    I didn't know Lulu can print up a small number of copies--and cheaper than Kinko's--wow! My beta readers will be so happy.

    You're doing some pioneering here and lots of people will be following in your footsteps. Even Nathan Bransford is gung-ho for self-publishing these days. More on that in my Sunday post.

  16. Mac: Thanks!

    Amy: I've heard somewhere that CreateSpace uses the same printer as Lightning Source, but I'm not sure if that's true? I don't know. I'll have to order a Lightning Source book and see.

    I LOVE proofing my ms in book format! I think differently when I'm editing that way. Better. More tuned in to what the book could be.

    Judith: I'm glad this was helpful! Hope your decisions comes easily and without stress.

    Tara: Yah, I hate Kinko's. I've never been happy with anything there. Were you happy with what you had done there?

    Anthony: Thanks, Anthony!

    Anne: Yeah, Lulu makes it pretty simple. However, Lulu is the most pricey I've found. But Lulu is also the only place I've used so far that does hardbacks. I like that Nathan is so open to small presses and self-publishing.

  17. Michelle - I happen to have a Lightening Source book at home...I'll email you photos tonight and you can add them if you want. The glue is a bit different, is all I can see (clear, like small press books).

  18. Jamie: That would be really great! That's why I'm not sure that CreateSpace uses the same printer as Lightning Source.

  19. This is ever so helpful, Michelle. Thanks! It's perfect for me to see the different quality of the publishers. I bet a lot of people would like to know this.

  20. By the by, I love getting Lulu drafts from Scott and Michelle. It's the only way to fly.

  21. Some reciprocity would be appreciated, Big D. *cough*

  22. Yeah, Davin, where IS my copy of Bread???? :P

  23. I'm whistling to myself and can't hear either of you.

  24. The photos say it all. My wife and I have been using a printer in England for several years both for books and magazines - we live in Scotland - the quality is very high, the service personable and the prices very reasonable. I've actually seen one professional firm use them too. If you can produce your own PDFs that's the way to go.

  25. Wow. I am now dreaming of my draft WIP looking like a book. In fact I did something similar with my blog... I was thinking about printing out a year's worth of blog posts so that I'd have a hard copy to refer to, and then came across Blog2Print/Shared Book who did a very nice job. It took me almost no time to do, the result is very nice, and I really don't think I could have printed it out any cheaper.

    I hope to save my blog posts for when I'm old and have the time to reread my life and laugh about what concerned me back then.

    But I hadn't thought of doing this with my WIP. But since I intend to submit it to beta readers, why on earth not? I wouldn't be too fussy about quality or cover design, either. Time enough to think about these things at the "real" publication stage. Just making it easier for my beta readers to go through the text would be the goal.

    Thank you!

  26. Davin: Haha! We'll get it one way or another, Mr. Malasarn...

    Dawn: Thanks!

    Jim: That's wonderful! I think when you've found quality and great service it's a goldmine!

    Jane: You're welcome! I've had it on my list for awhile now to print out my blog with Blog2Print. I need to do that! I'm glad this was helpful to you. :)

  27. Thank you, this is extremely helpful even all these years later. If there's updated ionfo for 2014 that would be great.


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