If you’re like most cartoonists, a moment you hold dear is holding something tangible in your hands that is an attestation all of your hard work. We’d all like a trophy, yes; however, I am referring to the exhilarating moment of holding the first compilation of your own work. But this is not the easiest process without a publisher, who already knows the ins and outs, to shoulder the workload. Society has reached a point where we no longer wait around to be found- selected out of the herd as “special” and signed to contracts, but do it our %$#@ selves. We’ve seen filmmakers become famous because of their own movie clips on youtube, musicians who made a name for themselves via myspace or facebook, and just like these entrepreneurs, we cartoonists can take the reigns. Again, the lovely internet has bestowed upon us Print-on-Demand services like Creatsespace, Lulu and Ka-Blam.. Where we can create our own books, and sell them ourselves, without having to make a huge investment. Yes, this is more work for us as artists (many of which would rather just draw and let someone else handle the business aspect), but that’s a line we each need to decide if we want to, or can, cross.
If you are one of the many who have decided, “YES.. I’m sick of waiting around, let’s DO this”, then the next step is deciding which printer will work best for you and your product. There are many, more thna I’ll cover here, but these are the ones that are commonly used by our Webcomic Ilk. So, here’s a little info on each of the “Big Three” Print On Demand services, straight from their website:
Createspace is a free online publishing tools and Community can help you complete and sell your work.
Distribute on Amazon.com, your own website, and other retailers without setup fees or inventory.
Lulu.com lets you make, self-publish, print and sell print-on-demand books, e-books, photo books and calendars with free book publishing.
Ka-Blam is a publisher services company. We offer digital printing (as well as a growing list of other services) for independent comic book publishers.* There are plenty of other P.O.D. Services, I choose these to breakdown because they are the most popular among the webcomic community. If you have a favorite you wish to share/promote, please tell us about it in a comment!
Still undecided? Yeah, me too. Lets just dive right into the first thing on your mind….
1. Price Point.
No doubt this is our #1 issue… we “starving artists” are not typically rich. I hear ya friends: “So, how much am I gonna have to spend on a book? How much will I have to charge my readers? Will I get any profit back, if I order small minimum quantities, or do I have to buy 10,000 books and pray I sell them all?”
Of course, it all depends. Things like size of the book, color or B&W interior, how many pages… these all factor into your price… and will obviously be different for each person. And, the good think with Print on Demand is that.. well.. you can print on demand.. no need for huge quantities or making huge investments. Check out the basic quotes I listed for you here, and you’ll get an idea of which service you can best afford. I tried to keep the specs about the same:
- Perfect bound
- approx. 8.5″ x 8.5″ (square, or close to square)
- a quote for color, AND for black and white interior
- 100 pages
This pretty much says it all. Color interior really does jack up the cost per book, no matter where you go. So the cheapest route there is via createspace’s “pro plan” (which is basically a no-brainer if you want to purchase more than, say, 20: “Upgrade your book to Pro Plan at any time for $39.00. After your first year, pay just $5.00 annually for each of your Pro Plan titles”.). Even if you choose go B&W on the interior, Createspace wins there as well.
Honestly, that one decision will be the hardest for most creators to make: is color worth it?
The obvious winner of The PRICE POINT Round is: Createspace
2. User Interface
Nothing is more frustrating than an interface that sends you around in circles, or is too confusing for you to figure out without a personal guide. The hardest part of getting your book made should be the creation itself, not the uploading process. Therefor, this is an important issue to consider… especially if you’re not a Techie Internet Genius.
I have no experience with Lulu personally, so I’ll defer to my Webcomic Alliance buddy Ken Drab to fill you in on The Lulu Experience:
Both Volumes 1 and 2 of Rick the Stick are done through Lulu. I have many years experience working with traditional print companies so I thought I had a head start with getting everything ready. When I began the process on my first book, I realized it didn’t matter much because of the automation process that they have set up. They walk you through everything and even to a pre-press pro like myself, I didn’t have to relearn anything. It was pretty painless. One of the great things about these services is that after I made some edits, I was able to resubmit my file and it was ready to go.
I’m a huge fan of automation – especially since I can get everything like prices and digital proofs immediately – not to mention that I can send the files when it’s convenient to me. Not during regular office hours when it might interfere with my day job.
Having been through the process and having my template already set up, my second book was so easy I felt like I had done something wrong!
Of course the drawback is the price. My books were just under $8 per piece, but I also liked the horizontal layout. I thought about using other services – such as CreateSpace, but I was a little worried about the square layout.
My Z&F collections are done through Createspace, so I have a good feel of the navigation, interface and general usability of the site. The process was pretty self-explanatory, and I was able to set up my first book following their specs with little issue. Mind you, during my FIRST book, I was a nervous wreck… afraid I’d set it up wrong and pay for it in the end. Really though, my anxiety was unnecessary… and my book came out great. You do have to allow time for your PDFs to be approved for print, and then order a proof and wait for that to arrive in the mail (something you can barely wait for!). Then, once you approve the proof, your book can go live, and you can order more! I have to admit, I did have a little confusion when I tried to update a old file with a new one on an already existing book just recently. This issue was resolved, but not without having to wait a day while the wrong PDF was being reviewed!
Also, a huge pet-peeve I had with Createspace has been resolved since my first book: I am happy to say that the maximum size requirement for the interior PDF has been boosted from only 100MB to 400MB. That is HUGE in my book, no pun intended.
As for Ka-Blam, this specific category is where I think they suffer the most. The site itself feels like a mom-and-pop type company, as opposed to the big corporation feel that Lulu and Createspace exudes as you are lead through the process. Ka-Blam actually has one of the oddest payment and review procedures I have seen. They put you through six steps (per the website, below):
1. Order Submitted Waiting for Files
This means we’ve got your order, but haven’t yet downloaded your files. 2. Validating Files
This means we’ve got your files and are checking them out to make sure they conform to our tech specs and are printable. 3. Waiting for Payment
This means we’ve validated your files as print ready and have sent you an invoice. 4. Ready to Print
This means we’ve received your payment and your order is scheduled for print. 5. Ready to Ship
This means your order has printed and is in the shipping room. 6. Shipped
This means that you’ve been sent tracking numbers and the order is on its way to you.
Yep, you upload your files, wait for approval (which can take weeks), and then you receive a payment invoice link to pay via paypal (ONLY), and once you pay the order can be printed. It’s just a TAD confusing, but it did work. The first time, anyway. When I tried to reorder with changes, my order was delayed weeks due to miscommunication and payments “being overlooked”. This is critical if you’re trying to get your shipment delivered before a comic con! I’ll go into how they handled this mishap in the “Customer Service” section of this article.
The winner of The User Interface Round is: Lulu
We’d all love our books to be top-notch quality, of course. However, when you are weighing the cost of top-notch printers against the price of them… you may decide you can go with the middleman. It all depends on your product itself. If your comic is full color, littered with gradients and textures that you really hope to highlight in print, you may not have a choice. You may also have a comic that works perfectly well in grayscale and flat colors (like Zorphbert and Fred for example).. so the difference in detail and quality may be so minimal that going with the cheaper deal makes more sense.
It has been said in review after review that Lulu is pretty much top-notch in quality. I have seen books printed by Lulu myself, and can testify to the quality. I have heard that Lulu’s paper is not a brilliant white, but an off-white ivory, so if the paper being stark white is important, Createspace’s paper may be more beneficial for you. If you want rich colors and glossy vivid pages, that together give your book the heft that it needs to stand out, Lulu is honestly the way to go. Webcomic Alliance’s own Ken Drab is a very happy customer, as you can see below:
“I ordered a few test samples to see the quality and I couldn’t have been more pleased. They were great quality and exactly how I had set them up.”
I can speak from experience with Createspace, with both color and grayscale interiors, that they’re pretty decent. Yes, I have seen better… the paper used may not make the colors bounce of the page, but they are pretty true to my computer screen at least. I can account that the grayscale looks better if you link a vector image in InDesign, rather than a raster one… it’s crisper, cleaner. I have kept that in mind as I work on book #2 for Z&F.
My experiences with Ka-Blam yielded good results. I had 2 orders of a Z&F minibook printed through them, and the colors were very rich (almost darker than I expected), and I was happy with the quality considering it was for a cheap $5 con-exclusive book. They do offer more than traditional comic books now, so I’m curious how their perfect-bound paperbacks hold up.
The clear winner in The QUALITY Round, from what I have seen, is: Lulu.
4. Customer Service
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. And in those times, with your book in the hands of a publishing service, you may need their help. Or, you may simply have questions during your process and need assistance sooner than later. A good customer service base is a must!
Again, I was going to defer to Ken, on his experience with Lulu…. however, it turns out the interface walked him through the process so efficiently that he never needed to contact their customer service department. So, we do not have first-hand experiences for this particular P.O.D. service. I did scrounge up a variety of reviews from different sources on the internet. The Good: this customer MUCH preferred Lulu to Createspace for many reasons, including their customer service. The BAD: are the 171 (as of 3/8/11) comments on their “Improvements to Customer Service” blog post… mostly very disgruntled… tells me Ken should be happy he didn’t have to contact them. Also, poor review from your potential customers isn’t a good sign either. It seems like Lulu has tried to spruce up their overall service, but the shocking discrepancy between the positive and negative reviews, when you google: “Lulu, customer service”, leaves a bad taste in my mouth, at least.
I have only dealt with Createspace’s customer support once, in reference to the issue I had when revising an existing book. Right in the sidebar of their site is a “Call Me” button, and yes.. if you click it they will call you immediately (within 30 seconds, for me). I was on hold for only a minute when a rep took my call. He answered my questions and was very friendly. As stated earlier, nothing could be done once the files were submitted for review, but less than a day later they were approved, and I could go back in and upload my new revisions properly. All in all, a reliable and courteous support base, ready and willing to answer my questions with the usual motto of “customer is always right”. I feel more confident in calling them in the future with any concerns.
As I explained earlier, there was a mishap in my reorder of Ka-Blam books. It honestly could have been handled a little better. There was a lot of blame and “whose fault was it” that went around first… but they were very quick to respond, especially via twitter. Mention Ka-Blam on twitter, and man are they on top of things! Only being able to send an email, no phone number like Createspace offered, can be frustrating… so if you want immediate service (during working hours) try twitter first, as silly as that seems. As for the mishap with my order, the books were a day late for the convention (even with the free expedited mail)… but since it was local, I simply brought the books with me on the second day.
It’s close, but the winner of The Customer Service Round is: Createspace
5. Bonus Points
Just a few more bullet points to ponder, when deciding which service best fits your needs.
- Lulu is the only service that offers that coveted landscape 9″ x 7″ (great format for comic strips!), as well as hardcover books! (Ka-Blam offers hard cover books now too, but it’s had issues in the past)
- Having your book on amazon.com may seem like a great deal, but keep in mind amazon keeps a lot of the money. It’s always more cost-effective to order and ship the book yourself, from your own storefront.
- If you are not ready to get your own store set up, Createspace does offer a private user E-Store for your books.
- You can save money with Ka-Blam if you don’t mind their ad on the back, or inside-back, of your book! You can also earn credits through contests or promotion of Ka-Blam on your website.
- As opposed to amazon.com, which takes a good chunk of your money, Lulu’s storefront (though not as well known), leaves you with 80% profit.
- Both Lulu and Createspace have extensive forums you can sift through with questions. Ka-Blam only has a F.A.Q. section, which is a bit clunky and hard to find what you need.
- a great Createspace vs. Lulu article HERE
- a forum discussion on Lulu vs. Ka-Blam HERE
So, as always with these type of decisions, there’s not one end-all-be-all answer. I have found Createspace works for me and I’ll probably stick with them. But I would love to hear about others’ experiences with all 3 of these services, or any others you have found… please, feel free to give a review in the comments! What did I forget? What do you agree or disagree with? Who have you decided will get the honor of printing that compilation of your hard work and passion…. and place it tangibly in your own hands?