Case Study: Publishing a Chapbook with Amazon’s CreateSpace by guest blogger Amy Miller
Author Bio: Amy Miller is the author of 10 chapbooks of poetry and nonfiction, including In the Hand and Beautiful Brutal. Her writing has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Nimrod, Northwest Review, Rattle, and ZYZZYVA, as well as The Poet’s Market, Fine Gardening, Asimov’s Science Fiction and numerous anthologies. She blogs at Writer’s Island [http://writers-island.blogspot.com/].
Case Study: Publishing a Chapbook
with Amazon’s CreateSpace
|All those nights when you can’t reach me?
I’m making these things.
When it comes to poetry chapbooks, I’m a DIY gal. So far I’ve self-published nine chapbooks at home using InDesign or QuarkXPress, a couple of desktop printers, and a huge stash of paper from a print shop that went out of business*. I edited books for a living for many years, and I still get a creative rush out of designing and assembling them. So if it means giving up a few evenings to print, fold, staple, and trim chapbooks while listening to Bollywood music, that’s OK. I like it. It’s fun.
But recently I went a different route and published a chapbook through CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand program. A client had asked me to help him marshal his book through the CreateSpace process, so I decided to use one of my own chapbooks as a guinea pig first. I figured if things went badly, I could steer the client away from the mistakes I’d made. And if it went well, it would be smooth sailing for him…and I’d get a spiffy new book at the same time.
prints and ships copies of the book whenever customers order them. If you design it all yourself and
simply upload your PDFs to their system, it’s completely free and seems almost too good to be true.
You do pay for any copies of the book you order for yourself—say, a few dozen for your own readings or book shows—but you buy them from Amazon at such a deeply discounted author price that it works out
to about what you’d pay a local print shop to do them (for most chapbooks, a little under $3.00 per book, including shipping). And, unlike with a local print shop, your book gets listed on Amazon and is handled and shipped by them, which means your readers can find it easily and buy it while they’re shopping for frying pans, yoga balls, and Breaking Bad DVDs. I’ve got to admit that, even for an independent-
bookstore lover like myself, it was all weirdly attractive.
|The CreateSpace portal.|
To back up for a moment, let me repeat one point: CreateSpace is only free if you can design the whole book—interior and cover—either completely by yourself, or by using their simplest templates. (They also have fancier templates, for a fee.) Obviously it’s great to have InDesign or Quark to do the interior layout, but you could probably use Word, assuming you’re good at it (which I’m not) and your book is something simple like poetry or fiction. For the cover, you might be able to figure out how to lay it out in Word (again, if you have more prowess with Word than I do), but just about any graphics program will work, as long as you can save your final design as a PDF.
|Editing—in my house, anyway—
still takes paper and patience.
For my test case, I decided to do an expanded version of my book Beautiful Brutal: Poems About Cats. I chose this baby for one reason: I sell a lot of copies of it. Now, I pride myself on being a real poet, but this little novelty book has turned out to be surprisingly popular—it always sells well at book shows and writers’ conferences, and people contact me out of the blue to order five or ten to give away as gifts. I spend a lot of time printing those little books.
want your book to look like—page count, trim size, paper color (white or cream; I chose cream), cover finish (glossy or matte; I chose matte). At this point you also set up the book’s Amazon page, which entailed a couple of curveballs I didn’t see coming, such as deciding on a cover price and where to send the royalties, and that brought the process to a grinding halt while I pondered them. The toughest was
the “book description,” that little marketing paragraph that you see on the book’s Amazon page. I tinkered
with that thing for a long time, trying to make it descriptive but not dorky.****
the book. That part went quickly. I clicked through a few windows to send the files, their system processed them in just a few minutes, and then a digital proof of my book appeared on my screen. Many printers use online proofing systems, and CreateSpace’s is particularly attractive and realistic, with animated pages that appear to turn. My book looked fine—nothing had shifted or reflowed, and the fonts looked the way they were supposed to. The one hiccup was that the system froze up twice while I was sending the files, and I had to quit out of my browser and go back in. Also, they didn’t process the cover file right away, I presume because I asked them to insert the UPC barcode on the back (another free option). They finished it the next morning and sent me an e-mail; I looked at an online proof of the cover and it looked fine too.
|Sharp yet velvety.|
The last step in the approval process was to order a print proof of the book. This is the only part of the process that cost me money, and the total was $5.74—about $3.00 for the book, and the rest for shipping. You don’t have to order a proof; you can just have them print the books without seeing a sample, but I wouldn’t recommend that no matter what printer you’re using. And I especially wanted to see how the matte cover and cream paper looked, since I’d chosen both sight unseen.
not unlike the internet itself. I also did a Kindle version (which you can see here) while I was at it—it
was like, I’m in the hospital already, so while they’re fixing my knee, I might as well get my gall bladder
out too. That’s a whole other story, which I’ll write up at a later date. And Amazon is a world unto itself, with author pages and analytics and keywords and search engine optimization, which I will also write
about later. For the time being, I’m just trying to figure out how to get the print and Kindle versions on the same page. Apparently the Amazon robots, which take care of such things while patrolling the system
like so many Skynet terminators, haven’t figured it out yet.