After looking at the available print-on-demand (POD) options I decided to go with CreateSpace. This decision was not unqualified, however, and there were certainly things about CreateSpace that gave me pause.
Chief among them: the CreateSpace Royalty Calculator. While it is possible to get a rough sense of the royalty splits for a hypothetical title, the calculator’s utility for the work I want to produce seems dubious, it not utterly useless.
And CreateSpace essentially admits this. The title above the calculator reads as follows:
Use the royalty calculator to figure out how much you’ll make every time your book is manufactured.
Clear enough, right? You plug in data and the calculator tells you how much you’ll make with every sale. Except…when you follow that nagging asterisk, here’s the text you find immediately below the calculator:
* Figures generated by this tool are for estimation purposes only. Your actual royalty will be calculated when you set up your book.
Okay. So the calculator won’t so much help you “figure out” what you’ll make, but rather give you an “estimation” that is both unreliable and non-binding. I guess I have to give CreateSpace points for being honest about the calculator’s lack of utility — after proclaiming its utility — but the clarifying and contradictory information doesn’t inspire confidence. And it gets worse.
Not only doesn’t the calculator do what it purports to do overall, it fails in specific ways that quite literally make no sense. If you haven’t looked at or used the calculator, there are four variables that can be changed, each of which ostensibly affect the prices that are displayed in five different columns. The variables are: List Price, Interior Type (page color), Trim Size and Number of Pages.
Here’s what works and what doesn’t:
This is straightforward. Plug in how much you intend to sell your book for in dollars and the calculator shows you a breakdown of the author/CreateSpace split. Change the price and the amounts shown in the columns change, as you would expect./p>
There are four page-color options here: black and white, black and white with bleed, cream, and cream with bleed. The calculator, however, only recognizes two variables: any black and white selection or any cream selection. There may be some utility in having the calculator announce options that will need to be considered later, but the calculator itself doesn’t need to have all four options included. There is also no context-sensitive help by which someone might make an informed decision, or learn why some choices do not affect prices.
This is the physical size of the book, in inches. There are thirteen different sizes offered. No matter what other data has been entered, as far as I can tell changing the trim size produces zero change in the amounts displayed. Again, while the physical size of the book is something that will need to be specified, if it has no effect on the price of the book or the percentage splits, I’m baffled as to why it’s included.
Number of Pages
Changing the number in this box seems to produce the greatest variation in data returned by the calculator. And I think that makes sense. Publishing is about printing pages. Unfortunately, of all the numbers the calculator requests, figuring out what number of pages I should input remains a complete mystery no matter how much I learn about CreateSpace’s work flow.
Between varying the size of the book, the size of the book’s page margins, the size of the book’s font, the style of the book’s font (if that can be specified), and other variables, I don’t have any idea how many CreateSpace pages I’ll end up with, and I can’t see how any first-time user would be able to arrive at an informed answer.
Which brings me back to my point above about how the calculator contains no context-sensitive help for the data requested. If the CreateSpace calculator calls for anything, it calls for small buttons that can be clicked for more information, including links to exhaustive explanations of each variable.
There are context-sensitive links provided for the program options that define the five columns of calculated data. I also know that CreateSpace is a subsidiary of Amazon.com, and if any company knows how to add links to a web page it’s Amazon. Given the amount of testing the CreateSpace Royalty Calculator must have gone through, it’s tempting to conclude that the omission of context-sensitive help is intentional — perhaps as an inducement to fantasy on the part of the user.
The only other possibility I can imagine is that CreateSpace has included variables in the calculator that they may need or elect to charge for in the future. While I might support such a decision in terms of an in-house calculator, risking the possibility of confusing or driving away potential customers by making them wade through choices that have no meaning seems to me a blunder.
The kicker? I’ve now pushed into the actual set-up process for creating a POD book on CreateSpace, but so far the only additional information I’ve been given about pricing has linked me back to the calculator. This despite the claim that, “Your actual royalty will be calculated when you set up your book.”
I’ll continue to wrestle information from CreateSpace and I’ll follow up here as warranted. I know I can produce a POD book through CreateSpace because lots of other people have already one so. What I’m not clear on is why CreateSpace insists on making it so difficult.
Update: While working through the formatting process I was again mystified that CreateSpace hadn’t taken time to pull together basic formatting information into a single document or work-flow template. While mining answers from the admittedly helpful community forums, however, I realized that CreateSpace also sells formatting and production services, so making the process easier for do-it-yourself customers might also cannibalize service dollars from people who don’t have the time or temperament to reinvent the process that CreateSpace is intentionally obscuring. I can’t say I blame them, but I’m also a CreateSpace customer, and I don’t like the fact that the company I’m doing business with is making my life more difficult in order to protect another revenue stream. It’s another reason why I’m thinking about moving to LightningSource in the future.
— Mark Barrett
Brad J. Murray says
Don’t you have to supply a laid-out product for CreateSpace — a PDF that is print ready? This is usually the case (certainly at Lulu unless you pay them to lay it out) and of course if you do this then you know your page count.
Yes, I think the only way to plug in the right number for the page count of a book is to have gone through the process of formatting the book for CreateSpace. And maybe everybody already knows that.
But if you’ve never made a POD book before, and you’re confronted with what purports to be a helpful calculator, and the calculator does nothing to help explain how to provide the data it seeks, I think that’s a fail. At the very least it’s backwards — and omitting easily-added information that would clarify the work flow only comes across as incompetence.
Obviously people have figured out how to do this. But given that so many people new to publishing are investigating the self-publishing process, and assuming that CreateSpace wants as many happy customers as possible, it strikes me as odd that a forward-facing widget like the CreateSpace Royalty Calculator is so difficult to satisfy. The right choice from a customer-service point of view is not to assume that everybody already gets what needs to be done. It’s to assume that nobody knows how the process works, and to hand-hold the whole way. People who don’t need to hand-holding will just skip ahead.
And how much in-house work are we talking about, really? An hour? Two? Half a day?
Brad J. Murray says
We found the calculator at Lulu (which is similarly available right up front) pretty valuable for estimating our costs per unit and this consequently allowed us to make many layout choices with a target price per unit (implying a target profit per unit) in mind, and so to this extent it was valuable as a “what-if” tool before and during layout. We had a pretty narrow range of acceptable prices for the customer, and an idea of how much we wanted to make per unit, and this plugged into the calculator basically told us flat out what kind of binding we could afford, how many pages of what kind of paper, and so on. We then tuned layout to meet these constraints.
As far as teaching you the work flow, though, yeah it’s pretty opaque all over. We spent a fair amount of energy soliciting advice and guessing when we started the project. A tutorial would have been welcome.
Briana Johnson says
I work for a small publisher in OKC. On average, a printed page should contain about 250 words. Take your book’s work count and divide by 250, and you’ll have your page count. That’s how I estimated it when comparing which service to use.
Hope that helps.
Frankie Robertson says
Or count the number of words per page of a book with a similar trim size and font. I’ve found that for a 6X9 trade with reasonable size margins, the count is over 300 words per page.
I agree that this would probably give me a closer approximation, but I’ve decided to just work through the formatting process and get my number on the back end. An advantage in doing this is that I’ll know which decisions (font size, style, margins, etc.) increased or decreased the length of the book. That’s important because more pages has a big impact on the royalty splits. (At any given size, fewer pages seems to produce more author profit in the CreateSpace calculator.)
I’m glad you reminded me about the 250-word standard. It’s a metric that harkens back to the typewritten page, but in terms of making cross-platform, ballpark pricing comparisons it’s probably as good as any other number.
My concern in the post was how to come up with the actual number of pages my book would have on publication, but I now know there’s no way to do that without going through the entire formatting process. Even with the update I just added to the end of the post, it’s still a mystery to me why CreateSpace doesn’t make this clear.