The Pitfalls of POD for self-publishers


I meant to post this yesterday, but I had to spend most of the day traveling back from the wedding I attended last week. So here is a piece about the importance of crunching your numbers BEFORE signing up for POD outfits like iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Outskirts Press or CreateSpace. Best, Cynthia

I went to Google to research the top three POD companies in self-publishing, and they were iUniverse, Author House and Outskirts Press. I added CreateSpace because of its link to Amazon. I’ll summarize what I learned in the table below:

Provider Name: iUniverse Author House Outskirt Press CreateSpace
Provider URL
Project Setup $599/select $599/found’n $699/ruby (OR $199/emerald OR $35/consultation) $299/Author Express OR $499/Author Advantage
ISBN Yes Yes Yes No
EAN ? ? ? No
Barcode ? ? Yes No
Editing No No Yes No
Interior Layout No Yes Yes Yes
Cover Design Yes Yes Yes Yes
Amazon US Distribution Yes Yes Yes Yes
Amazon UK/Canada Distriubtion ? ? ? ?
Barnes & Noble Distribution Yes Yes Yes No
Expanded US Distribution Not libraries Not libraries Yes No
Expanded Foreign Distribution Not libraries No Yes No
E-book release To avoid THEIR formatting, send your files as PDFs Electronic Proof? No No
Royalty Rate 20% Depends on # of books 100% – author sets price 80%/estore or 60%/Amazon
Turnaround time ? ? ? ?
TOTALS $599.00 $599.00 $699.00 $499.00

I was disappointed with iUniverse and AuthorHouse.  Generally speaking, they weren’t that clear on the services they provided. In both cases, I went for the cheapest option, but it still cost $599, which is not nothing. But I couldn’t tell if they provided me with EANs or a barcode, or whether they distributed on or, although it did seem clear that neither of them supported distribution to libraries. The worst thing about iUniverse was that it automatically turned your files into an ebook format whether you wanted it or not. The only way to prevent them doing that was to send them pdf files. I was disappointed to discover that my royalty rate was only 20%. At least Author House didn’t automatically turn your files into ebooks. But they were cagey on the royalty rate, saying that it depended on the number of books sold. I have to say I felt turned off by both of these companies.

CreateSpace was complicated to work with, because they have many different choices both for the setup fee, as well as all kinds of details about publishing specs, for which they have a “Standard” and “Pro” program. The “Standard” program costs nothing in fees, but really makes a dent in your royalties. The “Pro” program does a better job with royalties, but costs $39/title for a one-time fee, plus $5/year/title thereafter.

Unlike all the other self-publishing presses I examined, CreateSpace did provide some specs on book costs in line with the table that April Hamilton gives on page 35. If you plug the numbers into the converter that CreateSpace gives you, it becomes apparent that going for the Pro choice is probably the better option:

Production Costs Table

COSTS (fiction book between 400-800 pages) CreateSpace “Standard” CreateSpace “Pro”
Setup fee 0 $39/title one-time;

$5/tittle/year thereafter

Per copy fee $1.50 $0.85
Per page fee $0.02 $0.012
Shipping ? ?
Production cost per book (line 2 + (# of pages * line 3) $1.50 + (460 * $0.02) = $1.50 + $9.20 = $10.70 $0.85 + (460 * 0.012) =

$0.85 + $5.52 = $6.37

Cost per author copy $4.50 $2.85



Frankly, I was disappointed with the amount of royalty that was being offered. The website claims that it DEDUCTS a certain percentage depending on the “sales channel” you use. If you use the CreateSpace e-store on your website, it deducts 20% in royalties. If you sell on Amazon, it deducts 40% in royalties. If you use the Expanded option, it deducts 60% in royalties. But if you ignore the last option, it seems like you either earn 80% in royalties selling it yourself, or 60% if Amazon sells it for you. These are numbers I thought I could live with. Until I crunched the numbers myself.

Royalties Table for 460-page book, costing $15.99 using CreateSpace’s Royalty Calculator

  E-Store Amazon Expanded (Pro required)
Your Royalty Standard: $2.09 (13% of list price)

Pro: $6.42

(40% of list price)

Standard: -$1.11

(You LOSE $1.11 for every book sold)

Pro: $3.22

(20% of list price)


(Less than 1% of list price)

Their Cut Standard: $13.90 (87% of list price)

Pro: $9.57

(60% of list price)

Standard: $17.10

(BUT you priced the book at $15.99)

Pro: $12.77

(80% of list price)


(More than 99% of list price)

Given these numbers, I can’t see why anyone would sign up for the “Expanded” option.  And this is on a book that costs $15.99. I think that is too much to ask for a newbie author. But the royalty rates get worse for lesser-priced books.

Frankly, I was turned off by CreateSpace. I didn’t go into Indie Publishing to hand over at least 80% of my royalties. The only way to avoid doing that is to sell it yourself from your own website. But that raises a whole host of headaches that I’m not yet prepared to take on.

This leaves Outskirts Press. This was the only outfit of the four I examined that I actually liked, partly because they provide so many different pricing plans for their books, and they are very clear about what these plans actually cover.

However, there is one area where they fall down. They claim on their home page that you retain not only 100% of control and 100% of your rights but ALSO 100% of your royalties. AND you get to set the price. Does this sound too good to be true? It was. When I plugged in my numbers into their pricing calculator, I immediately found a few problems.

Choosing “Price Plan 40” the compromise plan between pricing and availability, I chose a 6 x 9 paperback white, thinking that was a standard format, and told the calculator that the book was 460 pages long. The LOWEST price I could get for this book was $17.95. To get that price, I would have to sign up for an expensive plan (Diamond, which costs $999), and my per book royalty would be only 45 cents or 2 1/2 per cent. Even if I decided to accept that terrible royalty rate (worse than legacy publishers), I honestly don’t see how I can sell a book for $17.95.

I went into this planning to self-publish my book using both the Kindle format and the softcover format, because the best-selling historical novels on both Barnes & Noble and Amazon sold in those two formats.

But I’m going to ditch my plan of self-publishing POD. Instead I’m going to put some time and effort into investigating Indie Presses both here and in the UK to see if they would do a softcover edition for my book, for both a reasonable price for the buyer and reasonable royalties for me.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. THWARTED QUEEN  is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear.FAMILY SPLINTERS is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.


Filed under About Cynthia, How to Publish Your Novel

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