Another writer asked how I sell print books. She saw that I have print books available for sale on the Barnes & Noble website, and wanted to know how I had gotten them there.
Short answer: I used CreateSpace.com to do it.
Now for a much longer, step-by-step answer, but first some of my guiding principles for making print books.
PRINCIPLE #1: It is entirely possible to do a handsome print book in CreateSpace. Granted, the process is tedious and nitpicky, but it is doable. The first time is the hardest, and after you’ve gotten it down, you can go much faster. It took me a few weeks of on-and-off work to make a CreateSpace book the first time. Nineteen of them later, I can do it in about two hours if I put my mind to it. If I figured it out, you can too.
Realistically, it is far easier to create a print book now, right now as you are reading these very words, than at any other point in human history. Medieval monks spent months or even years creating print books by hand. Early printers had to toil for days with lead type, pages, ink, and binding. Even in the computer age, preparing documents for print publication was a lot of work. If you’ve ever spent any time with the abomination that was Quark eXPress, you know what I mean.
By contrast, creating a book with CreateSpace requires a few hours of fiddling with Microsoft Word. I think anyone can learn to do it.
PRINCIPLE #2: I try to make the print books as simple as possible while retaining an acceptable level of quality. This is because, by and large, people buy more ebooks than print books from self-published writers like me. Like, in December of 2014, I sold 17 copies of print books through CreateSpace, but over 6,400 copies of ebooks. So print books run into the Law Of Diminishing Returns. You can make an amazingly beautiful print book through CreateSpace, but unless you’re doing so for emotional reasons (like turning your grandmother’s memoirs into a paperback book or something of that nature), it generally does not represent a good return on the time investment.
PRINCIPLE #3: I try to sell the print book for the lowest possible price that will allow me to earn $1 per copy through Expanded Distribution sales. More on that below.
PRINCIPLE #4: This isn’t likely the Most Efficient Method to create print books, and I don’t claim this is the best way for you to do it, either. That said, it works pretty well for my workflow, and some of it might be helpful for you.
So! Now that those are out of the way, how does one create a print book in CreateSpace?
You start by creating a new project on your CreateSpace member dashboard. Once you do, you’ll need to fill out some basic information about the book – title, author, and so forth. You will also need to select an ISBN, both an old ISBN-10 number and the new ISBN-13 numbers. CreateSpace offers free ISBNs, but then CreateSpace gets listed as the publisher. Some writers prefer to buy their own ISBNs so they can list themselves (or their LLC or S-corporation) as the publisher. I think that is a prestige thing and I don’t think it’s worth the trouble (ISBNs are expensive, and frankly in my opinion obsolete), but that’s up to you.
The next step is the interior layout. This is where you can get really elaborate, and this is also where inexperienced people can trip themselves up. Print book layout is much harder than ebook layout, since the ereader or tablet can adjust the text size and layout on the fly. Once a print book is printed, it is set in stone (or print). So here I try to keep things as simple as possible.
I use the CreateSpace suggested Word template for 6 x 9 print books. What I do is convert the EPUB of the book in question to an RTF. Then I copy and paste the chapters one by one into Notepad to scrub out all the formatting, and then copy the plain text from Notepad into the Word template. This means all the raw text inherits the formatting of the template, so I get a nicely formatted book without much effort.
There are a few things I have to guard against. The template does have a bad habit of forcing the final line of a chapter to be justified rather than left-aligned, so if the last line of the chapter is only a few words it looks weird. I also use a triple hash mark (###) for scene breaks, so I need to make sure they’re all centered. It is also important to remember to copy and paste your text into Notepad so it scrubs out the formatting, otherwise all the formatting comes from the RTF file and then into the template, overriding the template’s settings.
Also, the template file itself can get pretty huge – a 4 megabyte Word document for a book of, say, 240 pages. This is normal. It can take Word up to 20 or 30 seconds to save the file when you make changes because of all the formatting. This is also normal.
Once you’re finished, you upload the book file to CreateSpace, preview it, and then approve it. That means it’s time to do the cover.
How you do the cover depends on how you made the original cover. Some book cover designers can create a cover for you at this stage. They’ll just need to know the physical dimensions of the book along with the page count, which CreateSpace will tell you after you’ve uploaded the interior file, and they can create a PDF wrap-around cover you upload. Otherwise, you can use one of the CreateSpace templates and drop your own image into it. This is what I typically do.
After you’ve uploaded your cover, CreateSpace will do an automated print check to make sure the files can print without making their printer explode (I presume). This usually takes about 24 to 48 hours. Once the print check is done, CreateSpace suggests you order a physical proof to examine the book before making it live. This is a good idea to do – the cost with shipping is usually under $10, and you can see firsthand what your book will look like. You can check for any egregious errors that you might have missed in the layout.
Finally, you will have to decide on your book’s price. There is a minimum cost based on the size of the book, but after that you can set pretty much any price you like. You might be tempted to set the lowest possible price, but I would recommend that you avoid that. The trick is to set the price high enough that you will get paid at least $1 through Expanded Distribution. This is because small bookshops can order CreateSpace books through their catalogs, and small bookshops like discounts. If the price is high enough, the distributor can offer a discount, which makes it easier for small bookshops to order your book. (They’re unlikely to actually carry your book unless you’re hugely popular – what is more likely is that a customer will ask for your book and the bookstore will order it for them.)
After you’ve set your books price, be sure to include Expanded Distribution as well. This is what will push your book into the distributor catalogs, allowing bookstores (including Barnes & Noble) to order it. Otherwise, your book will be available only through CreateSpace and Amazon. Granted, most of my paperback sales come through Amazon and Amazon UK, but Expanded Distribution is the way to get your paperback in other stores. And since Expanded Distribution is now free (CreateSpace previously charged a one-time fee of $25 per book, but that was dropped at the end of 2013), there is literally no reason not to use it.
Once you have examined your print proof and decided upon pricing, all that is left to do is to approve it. The book will go on sale. It will appear on the CreateSpace site immediately, on Amazon in a few days, and in Expanded Distribution catalogs in a few weeks.