Amazon’s CreateSpace vs. IngramSpark: Which is best for self-published authors?

Amazon's CreateSpace beats IngramSpark in four out of five categories.

[This is Part 1 of a two-part post. For Part 2, click here.]

So you want to self-publish your book. Excellent. In the race between Amazon’s CreateSpace and Lightning Source International’s IngramSpark program, which is best for you?

Today, I’ll compare the two sites’ ease of use and speed to publication. Tomorrow I’ll tackle customer service, merchandise quality, and how quickly and cheaply each company can ship your author copies to you for book signings and events.

Ease of use: CreateSpace, by a wide margin

I was pleased with the process of uploading my book to Amazon’s CreateSpace site. Initially, my file was rejected, but Amazon showed me exactly what was wrong, page by page. If something had bled out into the margins, or an illustration was falling into the gutter, Amazon pointed out where it was happening. If the resolution on a cartoon or image was too low, Amazon let me know.

Here is what Amazon’s digital proofer looks like. It lets you go through your book carefully page by page.

Amazon's digital proofer makes CreateSpace much more user-friendly than IngramSpark.

Amazon’s digital proofer makes CreateSpace much more user-friendly than IngramSpark.

Contrast this to IngramSpark, where the process of even uploading the files in the first place was cumbersome and clunky. I tried several times to upload my interior file and cover, only to have Ingram make me walk through all of the steps again for editing the contributor information, ISBN, etc. — even though the information had already been saved. I could not figure out how to reach the page where I could upload my files.

After much frustration in reaching customer service (see tomorrow’s post), I learned that IngramSpark was having some kind of difficulty interfacing with the Firefox browser. When I switched to Safari the problem was solved. However, I wasted the better part of an afternoon working through this problem.

When the files were finally uploaded, IngramSpark identified a problem. Never mind that this was the same PDF that had already been vetted through Amazon’s careful process, and that all of those problems had been fixed.

I would have been happy to try to correct whatever problems Ingram identified, but it didn’t tell me what they were. It just informed me there were problems, and left me hanging.

At the end of this incredibly frustrating day, I gave up, frankly. It just wasn’t worth it to continue with Ingram’s inscrutable process. I was heading out of town for a conference and then the Thanksgiving holiday, after which I planned to tackle the issue again.

Twelve days later, I received this email from IngramSpark promising to fix my files for me for a modest fee of $10:

Only $10 to do what should have been free! What a bargain.

Only $10 to do what should have been free! What a bargain.

So I gritted my teeth and paid the $10 for Ingram to correct whatever “problem” it refused explain and that Amazon had not charged me for. Finally, my file was ready to go.

Time to publication: CreateSpace, by an even wider margin

My book was already for sale on Amazon at this point in both print and digital editions. When you upload a Kindle file to Amazon, it will be available for sale within 24 hours, and often half that time. As I mentioned, Amazon’s print process took a little longer than the digital because I had to correct some problems. Still, the book was available for purchase within nine days of my initial upload. If my files had been acceptable the first time, it would have been more like three days.

Don’t expect the same speed at Ingram. Despite all the slowness and problems I had encountered with Ingram during November, I naively hoped that since I approved my proof just after Thanksgiving that some bookstores could at least order the book in time for Christmas.

Was I ever wrong. A bookseller friend was trying to place an order at the beginning of December, and my book was not showing up in her computer system. When I called Ingram to inquire about this, I was told it can take up to eight weeks for third-party accounts to find the book. Eight weeks! And this is what century?

So in December and early January I fulfilled some bookstore orders myself from home, sending my poor intern to the post office several times a week. For other orders I actually went through CreateSpace. I’m not sure how small indy booksellers felt receiving my book directly from Amazon’s CreateSpace, whose shipping policies I’ll explore tomorrow.

Also tomorrow: Ingram scores points with the finished product