Philip: Hi Michele. I’m getting ready to publish another book, and I’m hoping to send it to you soon to begin the design phase. I’m calling today, though, to ask for advice about working with CreateSpace, Amazon’s print on demand (POD) company. I’ve heard there are reasons to use their ISBN number instead of our own, but I’m not sure what that would mean for my book.

Michele: You’ll find conflicting advice when you research this topic, but you should never use an ISBN CreateSpace gives you, because if you do, Amazon becomes the publisher instead of you. If you use your own ISBN, you remain the publisher, and you can still go through CreateSpace to list your book with Amazon.

Philip: So it’s not a requirement to use an ISBN that CreateSpace provides?

Michele: That’s right. They purchase their ISBNs from Bowker, the same as you do, and there is no reason you can’t use your own. You can set up an account at CreateSpace, enter your own ISBN number, and upload your book cover and interior files to that account. CreateSpace then becomes the pipeline for your listing with Amazon, and they provide Amazon’s print on demand (POD) and shipping services for your book. You pay them to print the book, plus 40% of the cover price for each book sold through Amazon. That’s a fine use of CreateSpace.

Philip: What about using CreateSpace for extended distribution to get your book out to retailers other than Amazon?

Michele: CreateSpace offers that service, and you can select that option while you’re setting up your account with them, but I don’t recommend doing that. CreateSpace actually uses another company to provide their extended distribution services, and they have to pay that company 55% of the cover price per book sold outside of Amazon, unless they have a special arrangement. They charge you an extra 5% to serve as the middleman, so you end up paying them 60% of the cover price per book. If you go directly to the company they use, you only pay 55% of the cover price for exactly the same service.

Philip: I see.

Michele: When you use CreateSpace for extended distribution, they do require you to use their ISBN, and they also require that your books be tagged as non-returnable. Some authors see this as an advantage, but it can have the effect of discouraging sales, because most bookstores will not allow a customer to special order a book that can’t be returned.

Philip: So what do you suggest?

Michele: I recommend that my clients open two accounts: one with CreateSpace, only as the pipeline into Amazon, and a second one with, the new front end for Lightning Source. They will provide the POD and shipping for retailers other than Amazon, and you pay 55% of the cover price for their extended distribution services instead of the 60% CreateSpace charges. You’re connected to the IngramSpark database, and your books are returnable. Setting up the two accounts is a bit more work up front, but once it’s done, you can sit back and wait for checks from both companies.

Philip: Okay. So, you’re saying to use both CreateSpace and Ingram Spark/Lightning Source at the same time? I’ll admit that I’m a bit confused.

Michele: Well it’s confusing! CreateSpace uses Lightning Source for the extended distribution service it provides and for POD services for retailers other than Amazon. But if you go through CreateSpace to obtain these services, you’re paying an extra 5%. And since CreateSpace books are tagged as not returnable, you’re paying the extra amount for a service you’re not really getting, because bookstores don’t want books that can’t be returned. By setting up your own account directly with Lightning Source, you won’t need to pay CreateSpace the extra 5%, and your books will be returnable.

Philip: Can you break this down a little more?

Michele: What you can do is this: First, get your book uploaded onto CreateSpace, using your own ISBN and ignoring their option for extended distribution. Second, once you see your book available for orders through Amazon, open a second account with Ingram Spark, set up your title there, and select their extended distribution service. You don’t want to do this in the reverse order, because you don’t want Lightning Source to list your book on Amazon. When CreateSpace is your pipeline to Amazon, they provide POD and shipping services for Amazon orders, and that’s what you want. For all other retailers, you want Lightning Source to provide POD, shipping, and extended distribution services. Eventually, you’ll get checks from both companies for any sales they have.

Philip: Well, I called because I knew I could trust the information you gave me, and there have probably been some changes in the industry since we last worked together.

Michele: That could be true. Information from various sources is sometimes not up to date.

Philip: Right. Another question: Does Amazon make more money if CreateSpace provides the ISBN for a book?
Michelle: No. ISBNs and extended distribution are two separate services. Here’s how it works: If you use CreateSpace as the pipeline only for Amazon and not for extended distribution to other retailers, they make $2-3.00 per book to provide their POD service plus 40% of the cover price on each book you sell through Amazon. If you elect their extended distribution service, they make the same $2-3.00 per book for printing, plus they raise their charge to 60% of the cover price for each book sold by retailers other than Amazon.

Philip: So there is no advantage to using CreateSpace for extended distribution other than the convenience of having just one account?

Michele: That’s correct.

Philip: Okay. Why even go through CreateSpace as a pipeline to Amazon if they are not providing either the ISBN or the extended distribution services? If I use my own ISBN number from Bowker, why not go through one company like Lightning Source for all retailers, including Amazon? I think we’ve done that with two of my previous books, but that was years ago.

Michele: You’re right that you could do that, but books coming directly from Lightning Source to Amazon are sometimes shown as having a delayed delivery date. This doesn’t always happen, but it can. If you have used Lightning Source to list any books you already have on Amazon, you might want to check their delivery dates. You could find that the shipping timeframe is 2-3 weeks.

Philip: I see. I’m planning a marketing campaign for my new book, and I want to be able to get books printed and shipped within a few days of an order, even if there is a high demand. Are you saying my book might not be shipped as quickly if I don’t use CreateSpace as the pipeline into Amazon?

Michele: Yes. But if you use your own ISBN and use CreateSpace as the pipeline only for Amazon and Lightning Source for extended distribution, the book will be listed on Amazon as immediately available and ready to order. If you go through Lightning Source as the pipeline to Amazon, your title may be displayed as available for shipping in two or three weeks. Depending on what the need is, that could discourage some orders. To avoid potential problems, I would set up the two accounts I’ve told you about—one with CreateSpace and one with Lightning Source.

Philip: Now to throw another question at you: My assistant had the impression that you have to use the ISBN from CreateSpace/Amazon in order to get your book into libraries, but I read that you don’t actually get your books into libraries that way—just listed in a catalog among many other titles that the library could choose to order.

Michele: Correct. That’s disappointing. It’s another reason I would decline their option for extended distribution. After your book goes live on Amazon, you can set up your account with Lightning Source and use them for that service. Since you have published books in the past, you already have a Lightning Source account, right?

Philip: Yes.

Michele: So all you have to do now is set up a new account at CreateSpace. You can’t get very far in the CreateSpace setup before they ask you to upload your files, but you can still open the account with them and complete your order whenever you’re ready. You can set up accounts with both CreateSpace and Lightning Source, but just be sure to upload your files to CreateSpace first. It takes a few days for your book to go live on Amazon, but once that happens, upload the same files to your Lightning Source account, and select their extended distribution option.
By the way, some authors tell me that if you use a CreateSpace ISBN or if CreateSpace designs your book, you will not be able to access your files to make changes.

Philip: I thought that if CreateSpace did the cover and layout, I would still get a blue line copy to proof and could change anything at that time.

Michele: Well, that’s true. They have a proofing process similar to ours; but if you want the application files so that you are able to independently make changes or print the book elsewhere, you can’t get them. They will give you the PDF file, but you can’t change a PDF.

Philip: I see… I also heard that if you used an ISBN from CreateSpace and used them as your pipeline into Amazon, you could later cancel your account with them and put your book out again with your own ISBN number. What is your feedback about that?

Michele: You will need to ask CreateSpace to remove the book and deactivate the ISBN. The book that has already been advertised on Amazon with the ISBN from CreateSpace would remain on the Amazon site but be listed as out of print. You could then go back into CreateSpace and resubmit your title under your own ISBN. Since Amazon never takes a book listing off their website, when someone does a search and your title comes up, they will see the first listing as out of print and the new one as available. People won’t be able to buy the one displayed as out of print. Using your own ISBN from the beginning at CreateSpace eliminates this complication entirely.

Philip: Okay. My goal for most of my previous books was to make them easily available to my students, and your company helped us set them up on Kindle and Nook. But I’m hoping my new book will be distributed more widely. Our book consultant thinks he has a good chance to make it a genuine best seller, but I know I’m going to have to make a big effort to promote it. I don’t think Amazon can do much to promote a specific item or book, but I’ve heard they sometimes briefly offer a book at a deep discount, or even free, to make it a bestseller for a day. Then they promote it using the phrase “bestseller on Amazon.” Have you heard of that practice?

Michele: No. But I’m aware that some authors round up their friends and contacts to buy their book on launch day so it will show up as an Amazon #1 book or on its bestseller list. Some consultants recommend authors do that so they can take a screenshot of the #1 position on the first day. Of course, the next day they’re back down to number 1,000,276, right? I don’t like that approach very much.

Philip: I don’t like it either, but I feel responsible to do what I can to get this book circulated, because I think it has real potential to help people who are interested in the spiritual path. With limited resources for marketing, I have to consider all possibilities.

Michele: Right. Everything in self-publishing success comes down to promotion, and it’s getting more difficult for any book or business to get attention.

Philip: I know.

Michele: When we’re sitting at our computers, we all receive a steady stream of tweets and Facebook updates, so even if an author is able to reach people in those ways, they will receive ten new messages in the next ten seconds. Getting someone to act on any announcement is not easy.

Philip: I’m sure that’s true. So, what would you suggest?

Michele: What will your book consultant be doing for you?

Philip: Well, he has been helping me with titles and ideas for design and distribution. He is well known among people likely to be interested in my book, so his help in promoting it should be meaningful. He will endorse the book, and he provided guidance about requesting additional endorsements from my contacts and some of his own. He has about 5,000 Facebook followers.

Michele: It may be well worth paying someone to introduce your book to a targeted audience such as you’re describing. Somebody might have 100,000 followers, but if only 2,000 of them are interested in your topic, that’s likely to be the extent of the real value of the contact list.

Philip: Right.

Michele: If he has 5,000 followers already intensely interested in your topic, that is worth something. Working with him on promotion sounds like a great idea, and he may be able to bring other benefits to the endeavor.

Philip: Yes. I decided to work with a consultant because there are so many books out there, and I wanted to do everything I could to make this one successful. He was recommended to me by a friend who is also an author, and he has been very responsive to all of my concerns. I don’t want to take short cuts, because they usually don’t pay. Have you written a booklet or anything about all of this? You should, because there are thousands of authors like me who need the information. If we just start researching these topics, there are so many sources, choices, and details out there that it’s hard to discern who knows what in deciding the best route to take.

Michele: Well, I do have my little book, Publish Like the Pros. Do you have it? It doesn’t go into all the details we’ve talked about today, but it’s an overview of how to self-publish the right way. It’s on Amazon, but you can just go to my website to download a free copy.

Philip: Well, what you have been telling me in plain English could help a lot of people.

Michele: Well, I hope so. I do what I can to blog and participate in groups, but it’s hard to get the message out to the thousands who want to self-publish.

Philip: When self-publishers contact you for any reason, they ought to be guided to read your book, because I’m sure it would help people make informed decisions. So, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Michele: (Laughter) Everything is going well. It’s just that we’re so busy it’s hard to find time to think!

Philip: Oh, that’s great. You’ve always done such a good job for us, so I’m really glad you’ll be doing my next book too.

Michele: Well, thank you!

Philip: We don’t have a final title yet. Can you receive a manuscript without a title?

Michele: Sure. But if you want us to do the cover, we’ll need the title!

Philip: I do want you to do the cover, and we’re actively working on selecting the title. I seem to remember that you offered us some different options for getting the cover done.

Michele: We have four levels of cover design, so you might want to go to the website and look at those. I have a number of designers now, so depending on the nature of your book, I can offer suggestions about which one would be a better fit stylistically.

Philip: Okay. I would like to work with someone who can do original art rather than using a template.

Michele: We never use templates. But I do need to tell you that the higher the level of design you use, the higher the cost is, especially if you decide to request custom work.

Philip: I understand.

Michele: For a lower cost, you can choose the image you want to use, and we can design the cover around that image. You can go to to see the description of options and the cost of each one.

Philip: Okay; I’ll do that. I will be so glad to get this book done!

Michele: What is it about?

Philip: It’s a book of channeled information from twenty masters in the spirit world. With the help of a professional hypnotist, I went into a trance state, and they spoke directly through my vocal cords. One of them gave me a dictated message. The book is largely about finding God within as we move through our lives. It could be an important book for interested readers. The information is both practical and inspirational.

On a different subject: With full credit to the original author, I have written substantial introductions for two books in the public domain, and I want them listed for sale on Nook and Kindle with my other books. Nook displays the cover images for all of my titles together on one line; but Amazon won’t list these two with the rest of my books because they are in a different category. I don’t think there’s even a link from my Amazon page so that people can find them. It would really help me and others in this situation if Amazon allowed all our titles to be listed together.

Michele: Did you use your own ISBN for these two books?

Philip: Yes.

Michele: And when you set up the title details at Bowker, did you list yourself or the original author as the author? It may be as simple as going into your Bowker account and revising some of the information for those ISBN numbers. Amazon just pulls information from the Books In Print database, and they don’t look at individual books.

Philip: Right. They don’t have time to look at millions of books. Well, I won’t take more of your time. Thanks for being a friend and for your professionalism in providing all the information you’ve given me today. I’ll be back in touch.

Michele: I’ll look forward to hearing from you, Philip. Take care.