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Working with the Evil Empire, part I: Deciding to self-publish with Amazon

This is the first part of a series documenting my experiences using Amazon and CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand publishing platform, to self-publish BDKR1: The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary. This post was first published by the now-defunct Appazoogle blog on June 5, 2012.

I published with Amazon.

I admit it: I am a traitor to book publishing. Such an admission coming from a graduate student in Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing program may seem startling during these times of Amazon’s increasing belligerence towards book stores and publishing houses. However, maybe one of the things we are overlooking in the midst of our worries about what Amazon is doing to publishing is the fact that Amazon, via CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, has, for the first time, made self-publishing and print-on-demand a truly viable option for authors of works both great and small—something I have learned firsthand through my experience self-publishing my book, BDKR1: The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary, via CreateSpace. This series of posts will walk you through the process, pros, cons, and, perhaps more importantly, the numbers of how my book came to be.

The nature of the book itself really isn’t the focus of this discussion—for the idly curious, it’s a commentary and summary of 130 Dungeons & Dragons® adventures written for one region of Wizards of the Coast’s Living Greyhawk campaign. Suffice it to say that the title is a mere step above a vanity work. The book’s subject is, at most, of interest to perhaps 500–1000 people, most of whom live in Texas and Oklahoma. As I knew this when I began the project, I figured that if my book sold 50 copies total—10 percent of the low end of the expected target audience—it would be a success.

(Casey's note: As of March 31, 2016, the book is approaching 450 copies sold!)

Choosing Amazon

After I completed my final draft of the three-year project in spring 2012, it was time to decide how to publish it. Because I knew the book would be of no interest to any traditional publishers, the three main options I saw for publication were Oerth Journal (a bi-annual free online fanzine whose audience included my target market), the Espresso Book Machine network, and CreateSpace.

Oerth Journal

While Oerth Journal would expose the book to those most interested in the work, it has a slow publishing schedule and provides no royalties. Since my manuscript was 90 pages, it would have to be published in serial form. As a result, it would take more than a year to fully publish it. Despite having a targeted audience for the work, this option just wasn’t the right fit.

Espresso Book Machine

I am familiar with the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), having used it to create a bound proof of concept for a book proposal for one of my classes in the spring of 2011. The setup and production costs are very high: per the Harvard Book Store’s website, the initial setup cost would be $100 (which includes “one free proof copy, one round of revisions, and the option to distribute and promote your book at Harvard Book Store and”), while production costs would be $8.50 for each 90-page copy—a cost which would necessitate a higher retail price for the book than I desired. These costs do not include multiple revisions; each round of revision after the first would cost $25 plus the cost of an additional proof copy ($8.50). In addition, the EBM network, which makes the book available as a print-on-demand title in 57 bookstores, is, as far as I can tell, poorly setup for shipping orders to customers. Thus, I would have to convince those interested in purchasing the book to either find an EBM near them or go through the hassle of ordering shipments from stores and their websites which may not be optimized for such tasks.


Having decided against using the EBM, I turned my attention towards other print-on-demand options. After creating a CreateSpace account, I was pleasantly surprised by the low costs. In fact, the entire setup process was free (as I had no need to purchase any of CreateSpace’s editing, layout, or cover design services) and, even better, relatively easy: within an hour, I had uploaded my final interior and cover PDF files, been assigned a free ISBN, and submitted my files for a final review. It took only one or two business days for CreateSpace’s team to review the files to ensure they matched the specified trim size, that the author’s name on the cover and in the book matched that given to CreateSpace, and that the ISBN given matched that printed on the copyright page. During this time, I reviewed the distribution and pricing options CreateSpace offered for my title. They will be discussed in Part II of this series.

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