By Laurie Miller
There are many things to consider when deciding to self-publish a book: eBook or print, paperback or hardcover, print-on-demand or invest in a print run? Then of course there are the seemingly endless number of self-publishing platforms to choose from. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
This article looks at the pros and cons of three of the most widely used self-publishing platforms: CreateSpace, Ingram Spark, and Lulu. This is in no way a comprehensive comparison. It looks at only three platforms and compares a small number of factors I believe will be of the greatest interest to children’s book writers and illustrators.
Below is a basic breakdown of what the three platforms provide. Since most children’s book authors write with the goal of getting a physical book into the hands of a young reader, I’m choosing to look only at print-on-demand books rather than eBooks. The numbers below are based on a 300-page 6” x 9” black and white paperback novel priced at $14.95*
Features CreateSpace Ingram Spark Lulu
Offers hardcover No Yes Yes
Books returnable? No Yes No
Cost per black & white copy $4.55 $4.80 $7.25
Cost of set-up $0.00 $49.00 $0.00
Provides ISBN# Yes Yes Yes
Print Quality Very Good Excellent Very Good
Profit per book if sold on Amazon $4.55 $4.20 -$.16**
Profit per book if sold elsewhere $1.55 $4.20 -$.16**
Profit per book if sold on Lulu.com n/a n/a $5.79
Ease of Use Easy Difficult Easy
Customer Service Excellent Good Good
* Information taken from the Alliance of Independent Authors.
* * Because of Lulu’s higher print costs, the 300-page paperback in the chart above priced would not make a profit if sold outside of Lulu.com. If the book were priced two dollars more, at $16.99, it would only make a profit of $.84 per copy.
When dealing with print on demand platforms, two of the most important factors to consider are distribution and print quality. While all three platforms produce books of high quality (with Ingram Spark being a notch above the other two) the distribution options and the amount of profits made from each platform vary widely. Before choosing the best option for your book, you’ll need to consider how and where you want your book to be sold. To help you decide, I’ve summarized each platform’s strengths and weaknesses below and made a recommendation as to who might benefit the most.
CreateSpace (A division of Amazon)
CreateSpace is one of the largest and most popular self-publishing platforms for a reason. They charge no set-up costs, offer great customer service and have a system that is easy to use. They offer a lower per-book print cost than Ingram Spark and Lulu. CreateSpace also gives authors a higher profit margin for every copy sold at the world’s largest retailer of self-published books – Amazon.com.
If you want to sell yours books outside of Amazon, you’ll find your profits greatly reduced. This is because CreateSpace uses an outside distributor for sales outside of Amazon. The distributor – which happens to be Ingram – takes a cut, further reducing an author’s profits.
Another thing to consider is that CreateSpace will only offer your book to brick and mortar stores at a discount of about 25%. This is far below the Industry standard of 40% and makes CreateSpace books far less attractive to retailers (although most stores will order your book if a customer requests it). Books published on CreateSpace are also not returnable, which means authors will have a hard time convincing their local bookstores, schools, or libraries to purchase them for author events.
Bottom Line: CreateSpace may be the best option for authors who wish to publish a paperback and sell it primarily on Amazon.com.
Ingram Spark is CreateSpace’s main competitor. Of the three platforms discussed in this article, they offer the highest print quality. They also offer authors the option of publishing a hardcover book, making them a good choice for picture book authors.
If you are set on a hardcover book and want the highest possible print quality it might be worth the time and effort to publish with Ingram Spark. Many authors report that once the learning curve has been mastered, the entire process is not that much more difficult than CreateSpace’s.
In terms of distribution, Ingram gives authors the option of offering brick and mortar stores the industry standard discount of 40%. This makes it easier to get your book into stores and to sell at author events. Plus, Ingram books are returnable.
Bottom Line: Ingram Spark may be the best option for authors who want to publish a hardcover book and for anyone who wishes to sell their book outside of Amazon.com.
To maximize your sales, many self-publishing experts advise publishing on both CreateSpace and Ingram; using CreateSpace to sell on Amazon and Ingram Spark to sell everywhere else.
Lulu was one of the very first self-publishing platforms available to authors and is one of the pioneers of independent publishing. Since it has been around for so long, it is often on the list of platforms authors consider.
Like, CreateSpace, Lulu has no upfront set-up costs. They do however, take a $.40 cut on each book sold. Lulu’s print costs are also considerably higher than both CreateSpace and Ingram Spark’s so authors need to price their books much higher in order to secure a profit outside of Lulu.com.
Lulu may be a good option for those who are publishing with the goal of printing a small batch of books for friends and family. It is also a good option for those who want to publish a hardcover book but don’t want to deal with the steeper learning curve of Ingram Spark.
Another thing to consider: In order to stay competitive in the ever-growing self-publishing industry, Lulu has partnered with Author Solutions (ASI), a company that offers authors pricey editorial, marketing, and design packages. ASI is a company that has consistently taken advantage of authors by using deceptive practices and unfavorable terms. Please do not use them. If you are interested in hiring professionals to help with the design and editing of your book, please take the time to research and find reputable people.
SCBWI’s resource, The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children,has many reputable freelance editors listed. The guide is free to SCBWI members and can be found here: https://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/the-book/
Bottom Line: Lulu may be the best option for authors who are not seeking wide distribution for their books or who want to publish a hardcover book without the steep learning curve of Ingram Spark.
For more information on self-publishing, please visit:
- The Alliance of Independent Authors
- Jane Friedman, publishing consultant
- Information on choosing self-publishing services (editors, designers, etc.):
- Information on Author Solutions scams: