In the US, you can use Amazon’s CreateSpace, and that’s probably what I’ll do if I decide to make my book available over there. In the UK, the only real option is Lightning Source.

Before Robin Saikia told me about Lightning Source, I was planning to use Lulu, but I was already getting a bit frustrated with them and looking around for alternatives. The problems with Lulu were:

  • the only economical size they had was US trade paperback, which is much larger than standard UK paperbacks
  • the paper is only 60gsm, which is noticeably thinner than proper books – the words on the next page show through in a distracting way
  • it cost £5.26 per copy plus £2.99 P&P, before I made any money on it, and I didn’t want to ask people to pay any more than a standard paperback (£7.99)
  • my cover PDF – which I made using Word 2011’s page layout mode – came out oddly in some of the proof copies

The advantages of Lulu are that it’s easy to use and there are no set-up costs – unless you want an ISBN, which costs $70.

Lightning Source produces books more cheaply (per copy), will send out individual copies (ordered through Amazon etc.) without charging P&P, and has a much bigger range of paper, sizes and bindings.

Unless your book is very small, LS will charge you 70p per book, plus 1p per page. My novel is around 107,000 words, which is on the long side of average, and runs to 314 pages when page-set. Each book costs £3.84 to produce, so I can earn some notional profit, allow retailers to make money from it, and still sell it more cheaply than a standard book.

I say notional profit because there are more set-up costs with LS. Also, you need to give retailers a discount of between 25 and 55% on the cover price. I have decided to set my cover price at £7.99, because it is the standard for a softback novel, and because this gives me some flexibility in setting the discount at which retailers buy the book. I’ve started with a 35% discount, because it means Amazon will probably sell the book for close to £6, and because it’s just about high enough for bookshops to feel all right about ordering it if a customer requests it. I don’t expect any bookshops to carry it, especially since I’m not offering returns, but I like the idea that someone can walk into a shop and order a copy. With the 35% discount, I’d make £1.35 per copy.

Set-up costs

Here’s what I’m paying Lightning Source:

  • Set-up fees for cover and text     £42 + VAT
  • Catalogue fee                                  £7 + VAT per annum
  • Ingram listing                               £40

I also need an ISBN, so that the book can be sold through Amazon and available for bookshops to order, so that’s another cost:

  • Nielsen – ten ISBNs                    £118.68

So, to make my book available in the UK, I’m paying a total of £207.68. I’d have to sell 154 copies to break even on that. It’s very unlikely that I will sell that many, but at least it is theoretically possible for it to happen, and not too expensive if it doesn’t.

Unfortunately, that’s not all I spent. As we’ll see a bit later, there turned out to be another couple of LS expenses:

  • Proof copy                                       £40 + VAT
  • Uploading amended files           £45 + VAT

I also decided to buy Adobe InDesign, which I hope will also turn out to be useful for my real job.

  • InDesign                                        £270

That gives us a grand total of £589.48 – meaning that I’d have to sell an unachievable 436 books to make my money back. Still, forewarned is forearmed: at least you know that if you get yourself into this, you may drift into unexpected expenses. After a certain point, you’ve put in so much time and effort that you feel you may as well pay a bit more to get something you’re happy with. (I believe the same thing happens with weddings.) Also, I now own a publishing house and I can put out other books if I want to.

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