Back when I was beginning to research self-publishing options several years ago, there were two names that kept popping up: Createspace and Lulu. Both offer completely free self-publishing services with supposedly professional results, both have authors who swear by them and both appeared to be intuitive and easy to work. The reviews for both were nearly identical, and I had no idea which, if either, would be a better bet. I first used Createspace because NaNoWriMo was granting free proof copies for writers, but this past year I have gotten to try Lulu for the first time, and now I finally know how they compare! Let’s take a look and see how it all adds up:
Intuitiveness: Createspace has a special publishing option for first-timers and people who aren’t too familiar with the process. I’ve used it all but once, and I can say that it is so simple and comprehensive that you might experience a slight euphoria when using it, feeling that you now know everything there is to know about self-publishing. However, if you stray from the beginners’ option, things quickly get more complicated. Formatting becomes a nightmare, and you’ll quickly find yourself lost in a swamp of options that you know almost nothing about!
Lulu, from my experience, uses the same process with everyone. It’s more flexible than the simplified Createspace option but not as overwhelming as the more complicated one. If you have specific ideas about how you want your novel formatted, Lulu might be better for you! If you just want to focus on getting your book out there, however, Createspace will probably be your better bet.
Cover Design: My first few covers with Createspace were boring as anything. There are generic templates that you can use for free, and if you’re willing to take your time and play around with them, I’ve found you can come up with some very nice results. You also have the option to design your own cover from scratch, but it’s very hard to get the right dimensions and resolution, so I prefer to stay with the templates.
Lulu assumes you already have at least an image in mind. When I designed my Lulu cover, I used an online layout program that I combined with one of Lulu’s more open-ended templates. It took more time, but in the end I was able to get largely the design that I wanted. Unfortunately, I am not a graphic designer and there was no way to hide some of my more blatant mistakes on the back cover. The spine was also much less attractive than the Createspace Template that I used and kept an incredibly generic and ugly sans font that didn’t match the cover lettering at all.
Interior: Createspace has different templates for different sizes and helps guide you through the formatting process so that your book looks as professional as possible. Unfortunately, it does have rigid guidelines that can get annoying if you want to be more creative with your formatting, and your book will have to pass a review process before it can be accepted for publication. This can be either a blessing or a curse.
Lulu is a lot more open-ended about formatting, but there is a price to pay. My Lulu book had several blank pages randomly inserted throughout the novel–not due (as I first suspected) to mistakes in my own formatting, but because of printing mistakes from Lulu itself. This was one of the most disappointing things for me, and the biggest reason why I will never go far with Lulu. While depending on your number of pages, blank pages may need to be inserted in the end of a book, I do not see any reason for the blank pages thrown all over my book–sometimes even interrupting chapters and always drawing attention to itself.
Distribution: Createspace has to win here. Though Lulu does have a sizable online store and some good distribution options, it can’t hold a candle to Createspace’s connection to Amazon and to its digital cousin, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. You can decide fort yourself how far you want your distribution to go for either service, and in both cases the differences will matter most in your own enthusiasm and efforts at advertising.
Overall: Createspace has to win this showdown for me. Lulu does offer more creative options for both the exterior and interior of your novel, but the resulting quality is disappointing and not suitable for serious writers. Please let me know what you think, and check out my Tools and Resources page to find more things that can help you finish that novel!