Anyone who is serious about making their name as an author, especially an Indie one, would probably make the rounds of the many online publishing services. Most likely they would have accounts with several. This means they would certainly have come across CreateSpace and Ingram, the affirmed leaders in the industry. However, navigating all these sites can be intimidating, to say the least, and more so for unpublished writers – newbies – and one of their greatest fears is screwing things up.
Many aspiring indie authors approach the process with an overload of information gathered from reading anything they can lay their hands on about self-publishing. How can we blame them? They are victims of their determination to succeed. To those in the early stages of the process, here is something you should remember. As green as you are, as unsure as you feel, it pays to bear in mind that common sense is your best friend. There are countless tools out there, but they are just that, tools. Use them as guides and take what is relevant to your particular situation.
CreateSpace has a straightforward signing-up process. They require email verification from your inbox, but I did not have to verify my email address from my inbox since I used my Amazon account to sign in. Once in, I tried to familiarize myself with the process and get the hang of things. I quickly realized that the most important place was the top horizontal bar on the left-hand side, the Member Dashboard. This is where you will find the links to the various steps for publishing your book.
Entering the title, subtitle, author(s) information and uploading your book and cover files are all easy to handle. I must say, the Cover Creator is an interesting place. If you don’t have a ready-made cover, you can try out different design templates. They are not the most innovative but they will do just fine for most projects, especially for those on a budget. I am not against professional cover designs; in fact, if you can afford it, I would suggest making use of the pros.
However, since many new writers are operating on a shoe-string budget, utilizing CreateSpace’s Cover Creator is a perfectly reasonable choice. No previous experience is necessary. I have designed covers using CreateSpace’s templates that I feel are better looking than the professionally designed one I used on the initial upload. I ended up using those covers at other publishing services where I listed my books. Several people have told me they prefer the covers on those sites, and I tend to agree with them. However, if you are into fancy covers, make sure to have high-resolution pictures of at least 300 dpi. Anything less will look fine on screen but when your book comes out in print, you would wish you had listened to the countless warnings. Nevertheless, I still believe that with the right quality of picture, a creative writer can still make a decent cover using the Cover Creator.
CreateSpace also offers a free ISBN. There are as many comments on the issue as there are writers on this topic in the Community Pages. The best you can do is to read them and make a decision that best fits your particular situation. If you are wondering what I did about the ISBN issue, I used the free one offered by CreateSpace. It has not hindered my ability to sell on platforms like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. Again, if there is any doubt, check out the discussion forum in the CreateSpace Community, where there is a wealth of information on the issue.
After your cover and ISBN issues are settled, you may be ready to upload your book files. This should be a piece of cake once you use one of the supported file formats (print-ready pdf, MS Word doc, docx or rtf). If your files are accepted, you are now in the review stage. But don’t start rejoicing just yet; in fact, for me, this was the trickiest part of the whole process. In many ways, your book is made or broken at this stage.
I wish I could say that I was successful in my first attempts at the review process of my book, but I wasn’t and it is nothing to be ashamed about. The system looks for errors in your files.The commonest are margin errors. However, if your book has images and tables, you are in for the long haul. CreateSpace is highly table unfriendly if you deviate from their guidelines. I learned this the hard way. Most of my projects include loads of tables, figures and charts. What can I say? I do academic writing most of the time. We adore table and figures when presenting facts. Little did I know that this was to be my Achilles Heel. It annoyed me having to face such difficulties with tables, especially since they are something I am quite comfortable with. But it certainly made me appreciate the folks that do the technical work in printing and publishing.
My book file kept coming back with tons of errors. Most of my tables were acting up. Some decided they’d do an Azonto dance inside the gutter margin (the area of the bookbinding). The others favored more active exercise, running about the outside margins. Interestingly, none went into the header or footer margins, as if this was any consolation. My trim size was 6 x 9 inches (15.24 x 22.86 centimeters). I set out to make these rascals behave, but each time I shifted or adjusted one set of tables, I ended up offsetting the rest of the text on succeeding pages. Imagine, I had about forty tables or figures of different sizes and they ran in as many different places. I painstakingly tried to correct them, but it was more like one step forward three steps back.
Thoroughly frustrated, I went back to researching and I came across something I’d forgotten about: e-book layouts are not the same as print books, where the reader controls the text and page layout. I had to get out of the e-book layout mindset. I had to see CreateSpace as a print book service (print-on-demand; POD), which is more like what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Eventually, I began to comprehend it, but it was a hard lesson.
Determinedly, I continued crawling until reality hit me - I had no time left. Since I had a deadline, I opted for hiring a professional. Money was not the factor here, although it was a contributing one. I was reluctant to take this step after all the effort I had put in. In addition, I knew that I could find the solution; I felt I was hovering close to it.
In the end, I met my deadline, the book was published and everyone was happy except a part of me. With some time to spare before attacking volume two in the series, I decided to set things straight. I took the completed e-book files and uploaded them. By now, the tables were down to twenty-one. I figured that this amount was quite workable, but I was not looking forward to the review process. It made me think that it would be nice to have a live editing program. Where are all the programmers when you need them most? Someone please cook up a simple one, a bit like FastPencil, but more sophisticated.
After I uploaded the e-book doc files, the first issue I encountered was that my selected trim size of 6” x 9” was smaller than the e-book doc file I'd uploaded. Amazingly, CreateSpace gave me two options, one of which solved the problem easily. The first was to scale down the text and the second was to re-trim the book file. With the former, you could end up with huge gaps of empty spaces all over your work. The latter is the preferred choice: while your page size will increase, your text will fit perfectly into the live text or printable area. Now my texts were no longer all over the place. They were well behaved. I had arrived somewhere. I was in the review process with just eight errors.
My next issue was with graphics. All my tables were blurred. This was because they had been scanned and converted to images to meet the Smashwords e-book specifications. Since I still had my original files and I now knew the range to set my images, I set out to remove all the scanned images and replace them with the originals. I converted a few tables, tested them and things turned out great, but I had to get rid of some tables, grudgingly, in exchange for text. When I uploaded the new files, all my eight errors vanished. BINGO!!!! I had finally achieved what I had originally set out to do, before I had to call in a professional due to lack of time.
As a final test, I took the novel I'd been writing and, using the 5.5” x 8.5” template, I passed through the process much more smoothly. Of course, it is much easier when there are no tables or figures, only text. This book remains unpublished because I decided to add more sections and turn it into a series.
In the end, I took away from the process much more than I went in with. There are many things I know not to do and much I know how to do better. My other projects are already showing the value of that experience.