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CreateSpace or Lightning Source?

My first novel, Ava, will be coming out in print in a matter of days. While I’m excited to finally have this option for readers who do not use e-readers, it has taken more time than I had originally anticipated to make a paperback version of the book available.

On this blog, I’ve been candid about the highs and lows of my journey from occasional writer to self-published author. Even as I write this post, a certain part of me still hopes that a literary agent, one skilled in navigating the release and promotion of print books, will discover my novel and insist on representing it, and me.

There is real value in having an educated, experienced guide when traveling to new areas of business, and personal growth.

I can’t help but wonder if making the choice to move forward on my own will remove the possibility of agent representation, permanently. Time will answer that question, I suppose. For now, as my dad would say, Onward!Createspace logo

Through research, I determined that my best two options for self-publishing a print novel were CreateSpace and Lightning Source. I spent several weeks reading up on the two, and comparing procedures, pricing packages, distribution logistics, and ease of use.Happily, there is a lot of useful information, and a wide variety of opinions as to which company offers the best possibility of making a printed book accessible to the widest range of shoppers.

I decided to consult on the matter with three self-published authors that I know and admire. Two of the authors used CreateSpace and were happy with the results, and one, though she had started with CreateSpace, had moved over to Lightning Source.

Once I had their input, I went back and reviewed the websites for both companies. CreateSpace came across as faster, easier to work with in terms of preparing the manuscript, and had the obvious advantage of getting a newly-published paperback version of my novel onto in a matter of days. 

Lightning Source Logo

Lightning Source, on the other hand, seemed more complicated to me, considering this was my first time prepping a book for print. I could have dealt with the complications if it weren’t for the fact that Lightning Source has no immediate path to availability. Amazon will carry books printed by Lightening Source, but making that happen would add in more steps – and more time – to achieve what was essentially the same outcome: the availability of my paperback on

The key advantage Lightning Source offers, it seems to me, is the potential to have my novel reach the shelves of brick-and-mortar book stores. However, I would have to do all the marketing myself, on a store-by-store basis. With one reasonably new novel and no readership history to my name, I determined that marketing my books to the stores would take far more time than I would be able to give, or justify.

Imagine making this call hundreds of times in a row: “Hi, I’m a self-published author! I’d like to let you know my novel is now available in print and is ready to be stocked at your store. Who is the right person to speak with about this process?”

I can’t count the number of blind marketing calls I’ve made over the course of my career. With my first business, I made a thousand — maybe more — in the first few months alone. Once those calls started connecting with right buyers, at the right time, the volume of daily marketing calls I needed to make declined, but I still had to make time for that activity every afternoon.

Of course, that was a service-based business not a product-based business, and it was an entirely different marketplace from this one.

Still, if I went forward and dedicated the time to make those marketing calls, would I have success? Some, yes. But I have no idea how many calls it would take, how many books would be ordered by a store, and how many of those books would ultimately sell. I also don’t know how much time, in terms of paperwork and channel management, is required once a book is added to the stock of an individual book store.

And what about the opportunity cost of spending huge chunks of my time on marketing the paperback version of Ava?

There is always a chance that a large distributor, or well-connected book buyer, would choose my novel, thus opening many doors with one connection, but, for the same reasons stated above, I had to face the fact that this was an unlikely outcome.

My decision made, I opened an account with CreateSpace and moved forward into the next phase of self-publishing.

I already had a professional cover, one for the e-book version of Ava, but had forgotten that I’d made arrangements with the designer to wait on producing the print version of that cover until I had completed the book description. The time had come; I had to buckle down and write a 3-paragraph description of Ava.

As you know, authors, writing a first novel is a very personal undertaking. When it came to boiling down my plot to a handful of paragraphs, I had never been able to see the forest for the trees. Finally, the words came to me. It was if they were waiting for me to reach a point in my development where I could step back far enough to see the big picture.




The next part, understanding the mechanics of properly formatting my manuscript, took me longer than I had anticipated. I made a mess of it several times before the logic behind the process began to make sense to me. But, on the upside, it gave me a chance to review my entire novel once more, looking for any small changes that needed to be made.

(Starting now, I plan to use a print format for any manuscript I’m working on. Once I’d tweaked the margins and set up the proper spacing, I could see six pages at a time on my computer screen. I found that this view made a real difference, from an editing perspective, with the flow of the story.)

Within a week, my print cover had come back from the designer, and the formatting of my manuscript had been approved by CreateSpace. Now, I was ready to set the price of my print novel. The task gave me pause, as it always seems to do. After much internal debate – and an informal study of the pricing choices made by dozens of other self-published authors – I settled on $9.99 as the right price point.

My share of that price is less than a dollar, but that doesn’t worry me so much. [pullquote]It’s too early, as I learned from my e-book pricing challenges, to focus on royalties over distribution.[/pullquote]

I’m an unknown author (I’d prefer to say undiscovered author!), with one novel in publication, who is working to establish a readership. I felt an $11.99 price point, which I was seriously considering, would be too much of a deterrent to readers who might be willing to gamble a certain sum on a writer’s first book.

Plus, with the e-book version of Ava currently priced at $.99, I felt there was too much disparity between the two amounts if I chose the higher price for the print version.

This afternoon I completed the last step in the CreateSpace process. My novel will be available in print format, on, sometime in the next five days.

I can hardly believe it. I think I feel a little dizzy with excitement!

So much work, so much time, so much sacrifice to arrive at this place. I want to savor the feeling of accomplishment and celebrate the knowledge I’ve gained. And I will, right up to tomorrow morning, when I open my eyes and a new day begins.

And what does tomorrow hold in store for me? I don’t know.

But I’m ready to find out.


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  1. Congratulations, look forwards to read and review it.

  2. Ashley, congratulations on the print edition! I think your cover rocks BTW. I am planning to publish my zombie novel this summer, and am going to start with the eBook edition, then try print later on. Like you, I’ve pretty much narrowed down the choices to CreateSpace and Lightning Source. I have a question, though. If I understand correctly, only Lightning Source can offer an actual hardcover edition. Did you consider this option, or did you always plan to do a paperback? I would love to hear your thoughts.

  3. Akin to a baptism by fire, isn’t it? ;o)

    I believe Create Space is the best way to go for first time published authors. Lightning Source is very easy after you’ve done all of your learning on CS. I use the same template for both places.

    Congratulations to you! I want an autographed paperback. Email me. ;o)


  4. I used CS the first time around and am leaning toward LS for my upcoming release. I haven’t done all the research yet, so the jury is still out.

    Congratulations on your print edition. As exciting as it is to see your novel on Amazon, actually holding the paperback in your hands is a great experience. Being able to sign copies is a great promotional tool as well.

    I love your cover, especially the back, down near the bottom. 🙂

  5. Congratulations on your dead tree edition, Ashley! There’s nothing like holding one to make your title feel “real.”

  6. It is such a joy to follow your blog, Ashley. Your openness about the decisions you make and the processes you follow is such a help for those of us wandering the self-publishing wilderness!

    I love the cover for Ava – it really sets the tone for the story. Good luck with the print edition!

  7. Congratulations, Ashley! You made a good choice with CS. I venture to say most books do not need Lightning Source. Many book stores will take self-published books on consignment if they look professional, and libraries will buy from Amazon if they have to.

    LSI does not provide ISBNs, costs $ to upload, and usually requires a pdf from InDesign or other publishing software program to load right. LSI is worthwhile if a book will be attractive to picky book stores and libraries nationwide – which usually means nonfiction, unless you are famous.

    Also, beware of uploading to LSI alone. Amazon will list the book as having an availability time of 2 weeks plus. Big A doesn’t like competition.

  8. I wish I could bottle your energy, desire, ambition and passion. I’d greedily drink the whole bottle.

  9. Thank you, Steven! And thanks for the positive feedback on the new cover!

    I didn’t pursue a hardcover edition for Ava. I decided to move forward in this order: e-book, then paperback, then audio book, then (maybe) hardcover. I think Peter Adler (he goes by @arsilverberry on Twitter) has some experience with hardbacks. He is very nice and is quite knowledgeable about both traditional and self-publishing paths. I hope that helps!

  10. It sure is, Suzan! Thank you for the support and good wishes!!

    That’s a great tip on using the same template for both CreateSpace and Lightning Source. It makes the idea of moving forward with both a little less daunting.

  11. I started reading Ava the other day and was excited to read this post because I’m on the verge of doing a print version of Au Pair Report with CreateSpace. Like you, I have fantasies of “being discovered,” and wonder if I should have been more patient about trying to find a literary agent. Is that fantasy more or less likely to become a reality if an ebook goes into print?

  12. LSI is owned by Ingram. They are most expensive to set up, but they do offer one thing that Createspace does not – LSI allows for POD books to be made returnable, which means that bookstores such as Barnes and Noble can stock them on their shelves without worry if they can’t sell them. If they can’t, then they send them back to LSI/Ingram. Also, if you have to make changes in the book (cover or block) then you have to pay for each change and that can become pricy.

    Createspace is owned by Amazon. There are no fees for setting up with them at all. The ONLY fee is if you want their expanded distribution. That you have to pay a one time fee of $25USD. This expanded distribution is handled by…if you can’t guess it…Ingram, the owner of LSI, as well as Baker and Taylor. Ingram and Baker and Taylor are two of the worlds largest book distributers. The ONLY thing that Createspace can’t do is make your POD book returnable, thus you won’t see your books on bookshelves, but honestly, even if you go with LSI, what’s the chance of that happening in any case.

    In both cases, if you are not a USA recognized person with a Social security card or green card or whatever they recognise taxable individuals, or an ITIN# for those who aren’t and are not citizens of the USA, you will have to get an ITIN# or equivalent or have 30% of your royalties held back.

  13. Lulu also does hardcovers. I liked that one because you can set it up for the hardcovers to print on demand just like with create space, becoming available on amazon for free, and was the only company I found that had no minimum volume for printing hardcovers.

  14. CONGRATS! That’s very exciting news. Love the cover art for your book, too. There is a lot of decision making involved in self-publishing, isn’t there? The benefit is that YOU get to make those decisions–and who knows your book better or cares about it more? Good luck; hope it sells in huge numbers.

  15. Good luck with Ava. This blog answered lots of questions I had concerning CreateSpace & LSI. I used CS couple years ago for a book and was totally satisfied. I’m in process with CS with a 2nd book, “My Life Shattered…” my drop-out-of-society days in 1968 bumming around Europe & Morocco. I received a book proof the other day, & the cover was dark green; I wanted a lighter green. My designer said this is typical with CS & also with LSI to certain degrees. Sometimes covers are hit-or-miss. My designer will send it back far lighter than what I wanted and we hope it comes out okay. Anyone else had this problem?

  16. Thanks for your candid remarks. I rarely read blogs and when I do I almost never read much before I leave the sight. I read this one to the bottom! I use CS for my paperbacks and have been happy with their production of my novels. I will be finishing a collection in June and will go with them (if my own publishing company – Write Beyond – is not up and running yet). Good luck to you. By the way, from what I’ve been told ‘undiscovered authors’ do most of their marketing and distribution even with a traditional publisher. I spend almost half of my year doing this – but it pays off.

  17. As an indie musician, I used CreateSpace to release three CDs over the past 6 years, and found the company to be awesome. I had some trouble with their interface, wrote an email expressing my frustration, and detailing why I thought the process didn’t work well. I not only got a phone call in response (not an email) from a VP at the company, thanking me for my input and offering me free duplication for my trouble, 8 of the 10 steps I outlined to improve the service in my initial email were implemented within two months.

    That’s the kind of response that makes CreateSpace, and Amazon in general, such a pleasant company to work with as both an independent content creator and a consumer of content.

  18. Thanks for the great post, I also used Createspace and was very happy with it. I took a udemy online course to help me with the creation. It helped so much I had no errors after uploading. I’ll be going to them again for my next book in a couple of months.

    Good luck with AVA! 🙂

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