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Monday, February 25, 2013

Part I, What I Did Not Know About CreateSpace, by Lorilyn Roberts, and Part II, Comparing Lightning Source and CreateSpace, by Bruce Brodowski

By Lorilyn Roberts

Lightning Source and CreateSpace are the two leading companies that self-published authors use to publish books. While the process of publishing with Lightning Source is more complicated and time-consuming, the end result of publishing with CreateSpace may be different from what you expect, particularly with their expanded distribution.

Recently I went to Books-A-Million to see if they would be able to order one of my books for the bookstore. Since the manager is someone I know – her mother is one of my best friends, she, of course, wanted to know all about my new book. I asked her if it would be possible for Books-A-Million to order my book Seventh Dimension – The Door either for the store or for a customer. She looked up my book on the computer and found it on the Books-A-Million website, but it showed that store delivery was not available. However, my book could be ordered online by a customer as long as it was delivered to the customer’s home.

The manager said they had gotten around this issue before (a book being listed as “not store deliverable”) and she would see what she could find out.  When I came home, I called CreateSpace. Their phone rep said their expanded distribution, which I paid extra for, was done by Ingram. I would have to ask them why Books-A-Million didn’t have store delivery availability. I went on the web and searched for Ingram. In an epiphany moment, I got a live person (not a recording or computer) who was very helpful (amazing things happen every once in a while).

This is what I discovered as one of the major differences between CreateSpace and Lightning Source: CreateSpace does not have returnability of books. In other words, if a bookstore were to order 10 books and only five of them sold, the bookstore couldn’t return the unsold books to CreateSpace. If that same bookstore ordered 10 books from Lightning Source and only five sold, the bookstore could return the unsold books to Lightning Source (if your contract is set up that way). Therefore, it’s much easier to get bookstores to buy books from self-published authors who publish with Lightning Source than with CreateSpace.

The CreateSpace rep also said that with CreateSpace, you can open your own ebook store and give an additional discount to bookstores. Another choice is for bookstores to set up their own account with CreateSpace and then they could order books directly from CreateSpace. However, I doubt that a major book chain would open a CreateSpace account to be able to accommodate one customer who special-ordered one book. Also, CreateSpace only gives a 25 percent discount to bookstores. Not awful, but not the best. When I did my initial research between the two companies, no one explained these differences between the two companies in terms that I understood. 

I also noted on the CreateSpace website, they make this statement:

We will determine how to handle Customer returns of Units, which may include, without limitation (a) in the case of physical Units, placing the returned copy of the Unit into inventory and reselling it to another Customer, in which case we will have no obligation to pay you any Content License Royalty for the resale of such Unit (because we paid, or will pay, you for the original sale of such Unit); or (b) destroying the Unit and calculating amounts due to you net of the Content License Royalty we previously paid for the destroyed return. We reserve the right to prohibit returns under any circumstances (or to impose any other restrictions on returns) with respect to sales or rentals (if applicable) of electronically formatted Units. If a Unit is returned and we have already paid you a Content License Royalty on the returned Unit, we may offset the amount of the Content License Royalty we previously paid you for that returned Unit against future Content License Royalty, or require you to remit to us the amount of the Content License Royalty we paid to you for the returned Unit.

Despite the fact this paragraph makes it appear that CreateSpace allows for book returns, I checked with their representative once again, and they do NOT have “returnability” of books. Period.

The Ingram representative said, though, that you could get around this. She gave me an email address and I contacted that Ingram person to see what I could do to make my books returnable with CreateSpace. I wanted bookstores to be able to order Seventh Dimension – The Door for a customer as a special order even if they weren’t going to stock it.

I specifically asked this question of CreateSpace before I decided to publish with them: “If a customer walked into Barnes & Noble and requested my book, could the store purchase my book for their customer?” I was told yes, with expanded distribution. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Again, store delivery is not available through CreateSpace.

With Lightning Source, you can.  In fact, bookstores may even stock your books if they know they can return your books if they don’t sell. I cancelled my expanded distribution with CreateSpace and will be adding Lightning Source as one of my publishers for books I want to sell outside of Amazon. I want any bookstore to be able to order my book for one of their customers without having to set up a separate account with CreateSpace. What bookstore is going to do that for one customer for one book? Nada.

I understand from other articles I have read on the web that Lightning Source will also distribute to Amazon and I can’t limit that distribution to outside of Amazon. That means I will have two detail pages and two sales rankings because I have a CreateSpace ISBN for CreateSpace and a separate ISBN for Lightning Source. The biggest disadvantage with that is when it comes to sales rankings. Instead of all sales being to one ISBN number, they will go to two numbers. I suppose you have to choose which is more important—sales ranking or availability of books to bookstores. It’s a tough choice, but I think I’d rather go for book sales. I’d take money any day over sales rankings, even though I know a higher sales ranking generates more sales. But when you are at the bottom of the barrel, all you can do is go up, so I figure I can’t lose, except not to do anything but limit my books to Amazon distribution, which has been paltry at best as far as print book sales.

(As an update to the comments above, I later learned you can "retire" the ISBN number from Create Space and just use the ISBN number for Lightning Source and you can ask Amazon to add all the reviews from the Create Space ISBN version to the Lightning Source version before you retire the Create Space ISBN. I have since done this and resolved the issue).

The above comments were originally posted in a similar form on the John 3:16 Marketing Network Forum and one of our members, Bruce Brodowski, posted some additional information. For those who are still confused or uncertain about whether to use CreateSpace or Lightning Source, here are his follow-up comments. He has published with both CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

by Bruce Brodowski

1. LSI does not do business with authors. They only deal with publishers. That means you have to set yourself up as a publisher with a DBA (doing business as) legal name.

2. LSI ONLY accepts book covers on their templates. If you don't have a means to do that, (such as Indesign) then you have to hire it out. I hired out mine to Walt Shiel and now to Lisa Hainline.

3. Mainline bookstores do not shelve books of self-published authors. However, they will order them through LSI IF they get their normal discount of 40%. They require all books to be returnable; otherwise, they will not order them. This means that all books submitted to LSI must be set up at a 55% discount and returnable. Be careful! LSI gives you two choices:

Returnable and shipped to you—you get charged for the cost of the returned
book—OR you can make them returnable from the bookstore and then destroyed. I have since changed all of my books to make them returnable and destroyed to cut the cost of returning them to me.

4. If you establish an account with LSI, you need to fill out ALL of the forms necessary for ALL other countries. There are several.

5. The advantage of LSI is they own Ingram Distributors, which is the largest distributor in the world. This allows your book to be ordered from LSI to all bookstores in other countries.

6. You need to use you own ISBN. They are available through Bowkers.

7. LSI is better quality than CreateSpace BUT more expensive. Your cost per book is more than CreateSpace.

8. NEVER approve a book with LSI until one or two weeks after CreateSpace. Otherwise will use LSI INSTEAD of CreateSpace and you will make fewer royalties.

9. NEVER upload your interior pages to LSI UNTIL ALL MISTAKES ARE CORRECTED. Only upload the final version. I just made this mistake. I found grammar errors. I uploaded the revision. Then I found content errors.

I uploaded the revision. LSI nailed me for $40 for each revision. I just lost $80 and will have to sell 80 books to recover from that mistake. From now on, I will upload my books to CreateSpace first, order proof books, make revisions, and when I finally approve the PDF for CreateSpace, I will upload that PDF to LSI.

10. There is an upload cost for LSI. You get what you pay for.

11. Always order books for yourself from CreateSpace. They are cheaper. I am about to put an order in for 50 books. Always drop ship single copies of books through CreateSpace. Let them do the packaging and shipping and bill you for it.

I have now successfully published on CreateSpace with no upload cost and no revision cost. I am distributing only through two channels: and Amazon Europe. This is the main way of selling my books to the public. My books are being sold on ALL websites in all countries.

I do not use Expanded Distribution because I have an LSI account and I use my own ISBNs. There is a danger in using CreateSpace ISBN's as discussed in Charlotte at our last writers’ group meeting. If you use CreateSpace’s ISBNs, CreateSpace can do anything they want with your book. By using my own ISBN, they can’t. In my opinion, the Expanded Distribution is worthless.

To sum up, my book A Journey to Heaven is available online at Barnes and Noble because of my account with LSI. The bookstore in Meadville, PA, Tattered Corners, that is hosting Tammy's March 9 book signing was supplied 10 books that I drop shipped to the bookstore through a CreateSpace order. As of yesterday, the store is also able to order more books through LSI/Ingram and will do that at a 40% discount before the book signing. The book store Park Road Books (an Indie bookstore) in Charlotte, NC, has approved carrying A Journey to Heaven on consignment. I will order books through CreateSpace at my cost and supply them to that store. They will pay me 60% of the sales price of the book twice a year.

One other thing: I have a sales use tax license for NC and have had temporary licenses for other states in which I have sold. The only way around this is to have a bookstore run your books through their cash register during a book signing. They collect and pay the sales tax.
Borders did that for me as well as a sweet bookstore in Inlet, NY.

Phew, that is a lot to cover and I probably forgot some things. I hope this may help to clear up the differences between Lightning Source and CreateSpace.

You can contact Bruce Brodowski on his website at http://orphanheart.wordpress.com

You can contact Lorilyn Roberts on her website at

To learn more about the John 3:16 Marketing Network, where information like this is shared daily, go to


  1. My first book was done through Strategic and printed through Lightning Source. I did several signings at B&N's and had zero problems this way.

    I am self publishing my latest book "The 15th Star" with Create Space, and will only do signings at places that order it in or allow me to bring it in.
    Strategic and B&N handled everything for me the last time, which made it super simple.
    I, however, have no desire to become a publisher, double up my tax collection for a business and me personally, or jump through all the additional paperwork hoops.
    Marketing, cover design, formatting, writing, and editing are enough to keep me busy.

  2. One thing to take into account is the cost/effort verses return factor. On my first book I tried to target every retailer available. Out of my first 500 sales, only four books came outside of Amazon. This month I've sold just under 700 books from all titles. Only 14 were in print. Plus another 8 I sold in person.

    From a business vs return perspective, I might lose a small number of sales, but is it worth the hassle of dealing with Lightening Source and other retailers. Plus, if someone wants to special order, they probably won't have a problem ordering it online. Amazon / CreateSpace has made things so easy for authors and they give very competitive royalties. Plus, their KDP select gives additional promo opportunities unavailable anywhere else. But to be in their select program, you have to sell exclusively through Amazon.

    I'm giving up 2 or 3 sales a month, but I'm gaining dozens if not hundreds more. So it is a valuable trade-off. Even having others be able to borrow books is a great advantage. Amazon pays more for borrowed books than the normal royalty rate I get. Plus the free give-aways generate interest in my books that does more for marketing than any other avenue I've found.

    I guess it goes back to the old adage, know your target. If you expect more hard copy sales, then Lightening Source might be worth a look. For ebook marketing, kdp select wins hands down.

    1. Hi, Eddie. I haven't talked to you in ages. I have been happy with KDP Select in the past. Had 17,000 downloads on one of my books and reached #11 out of all free Kindle books on Amazon, but since then, I haven't seen the return on KDP Select. I have also sold very few print books on Amazon in comparison to ebooks.

      Because I am looking at distributors, the only way for that to happen is to work with Lightning Source. I am looking at new outlets for selling, and when my books have finished the current 90-day KDP Select Cycle, I am pulling them. I am ready to try something new. Until I can make a living with writing, I will keep trying new things.

      I also believe getting into the e-lending libraries is another avenue that is wide open. Smashwords just signed a contract with OverDrive. It hasn't been officially announced, but if your book is in KDP Select, you are precluded from that option.

      I also say, though, if something is working, don't fix it. but KDP Select isn't working for me anymore like it once was.

    2. I'm an author who uses Createspace and can tell you B&N plus two independent bookstores (one in WA and one in Oregon) can order my pbs for customers to be delivered to the store and the 2 indie bookstores keep an in house stock of my CreateSpace books. This was all done through expanded distribution and I didn't need to do a thing. Very happy with CreateSpace.

  3. Two other points: I see a comment about taxes. I neglected to mention that I publish through my ministry Carolinas Ecumenical Healing Ministries a 501c3 nonprofit. Therefore, all books I publish related to my ministry are considered non taxable income. This was set up to help support the industry.

    Lorilyn, I use the SAME ISBN(My ISBN number) for both CreateSpace and LSI. However, if you have used a CreateSpace ISBN(which CreateSpace owns), then you would have to use your own ISBN for LSI which I think is what you are doing.

  4. Yes, I used a Create Space ISBN because I wanted to get it into libraries with CreateSpace. You can't if you publish with CreateSpace and don't use their ISBN. So basically I will have two ISBNs, one for books sold through CreateSpace and one for books sold through Lightning Source. It's not a huge deal, but I would have preferred it if I had only one ISBN, my own for both companies. Hindsight is 20/20.

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  6. I saved this article to read at a later date. (Much later, as you can see!) I am just finally doing my research. One thing that I haven't figured out is, how do you list your own publishing company as the publisher when you publish with createspcae?

    1. I'd be interested in that as well. In Canada for instance, you have to get the company registered which costs anywhere between $300 and $500. So, is it worth it?

      I wish I had known about the Create Space deal. I just signed up with them for my latest book. Now I am having doubts. Particularly, since I am in Canada. Am not rethinking the whole thing.

  7. YOu need to buy your own ISBN numbers from Bowker. Do not buy them cheap from anyone else. When you enter your information to set up a new book on Create Space, you enter your own ISBN number with the name of the company that the ISBN is registered in. That name should also appear on the copyright page and not "Create Space." Since it's your ISBN number, you are the publisher.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. So does this mean if we don't use CS and its own ISBn the book cannot get access to libraries? Can LSI distribute to libraries as well? And is it useful having CS give the book this option of library distribution-meaning a possibility may not be a probability. Libraries may still not order and hence the book would 2 isbns.

  10. Good research and valuable article. Thanks Lorilyn! I suppose I've just sort of given up on bookstores. I price my books so low that to give them a 50% or so discount would mean to lose money for me. Yet, I believe that I sell more by pricing them low.

    So at this point I'm just sticking with CS. But let us know how it goes if you can track this. I'm all for trying new angles on things. We all learn from each other's experiences.

    Thanks again!

  11. How do publishers feel about you getting an ISBN number through CreateSpace?
    I have my finished novel and was wanting to give out copies to family and friends for feedback. (I have been told that keeping it in a huge binder is too inconvienent.)
    I have no plans to sell it or distribute at this time, only to give to family and friends, but I would like to traditionally publish. I am worried that if I got an ISBN through CreateSpace - or even bought my own - that a publisher would be turned off or if there would be too many legal things to work out. Does someone know how this works? Please and thank you.