Guide to Book Launch and Advance Sales Strategies with CreateSpace and Lulu

by Joel Friedlander on November 2, 2012 · 19 comments

Post image for Guide to Book Launch and Advance Sales Strategies with CreateSpace and Lulu

by Tracy R. Atkins (@TracyRAtkins)

Tracy, a frequent commenter here, has put together his experience with both CreateSpace and Lulu to give you strategies for your book launches. Although this article is long, it provides specific steps you can take to make the most of your launch timing. You might want to bookmark it for later retrieval. Tracy’s last article for the blog was Adding Google Analytics Tracking Code to WordPress.



As most self-published authors know, launching your print-edition book within a specific timeframe is a frustrating task.  We often see snazzy promotions from traditional publishing houses where their print books hit the market on a specific day. To gather a hefty launch-day purse, these books are offered for pre-order through major vendors. All of the marketing is tied to the buildup of the launch and is carefully choreographed for maximum launch-day sales impact. Trying to replicate these successful marketing and promotion tactics are difficult for the self-published author using print-on-demand.  If one were to compare launching a book to symmetry in art, most self-publishing launch timelines are forced to resemble a Picasso.

Launch Control with Little Control

Today’s self-publishing service landscape is geared for a different mindset and series of expectations than those for traditional publisher marketing.  Traditional publishing relies on scheduling events months in advance, including supply chain considerations and carefully planned marketing windows. The current service lines from the top self-publishing and print-on-demand companies are quite different when it comes to book launches. Instead of careful planning and timing, the expectations and delivery guarantees seems to be mostly geared for people to self-publish immediately, or in an ad-hoc fashion, with little regard for extensive pre-marketing and launch planning.

Traditional Publisher

Self-Publisher with POD and eBooks

Tight launch window control

Retailer promotional cooperation / relationship

Retailer support for pre-orders

Launch windows are estimated in weeks

Fewer promotional opportunities with retailers

Little support for retailer pre-orders

 

Whereas traditional publishing houses can specify a launch week or even day for many titles and promote accordingly, self-published authors may struggle to get their book product into all retailers within the same target month.  Absolute retailer availability and delivery date guarantees are virtually non-existent with POD services. This leaves many author promotion plans in disarray or necessitates vagueness around hard delivery dates.

This lack of focus on coordination services may stem from a perception that the self-published author’s motivations, actions, and methods differ significantly from those of traditional publishing houses.  Though that may have been true several years ago, self-publishing has become a mainstream profession for a multitude of authors and many are seeking a higher degree of control for a more professional book launch. No matter the underlying reasons, until service-company offerings change in a way that is favorable to self-publishers, having a realistic expectation of the POD book launch process will help you plan your release with increased confidence.

We will look at planning a print launch with two of the most popular self-publishing service companies, as examples of what to expect from the industry. Although these are typical results, there is an inherent unpredictability that comes with self-published authors getting their work out on a wide-release. As such, consider this guide part of the 80/20 rule, where there are outliers with experiences in delivery timeframes that are either faster or slower than typical.

Working with CreateSpace Distribution Channels for Print

CreateSpace is one of the largest POD and author services companies on Earth.  Hundreds of thousands of authors have published titles through CreateSpace, especially since Amazon took over operations. The ease of use of the service is remarkable. The guided self-publishing process is well laid out so that anyone can DIY a complete book product release quickly.

To have a trade-paperback book published through CreateSpace and available on Amazon takes only a few steps and a few days to complete.  As a self-publishing platform, CreateSpace is geared toward immediate availability and publication of your title.  Simply approving your proof and enabling the CreateSpace e-store or Amazon options, will have your book product online within a week.

Strategy for an Amazon-Only Launch with CreateSpace

CreateSpace’s process is perfect for those who intend on only selling a book product through Amazon in a rapid fashion. Planning a launch of a CreateSpace printed trade paperback is simple.  Upload your book files and order a proof, or utilize the digital proof feature, and then approve that proof. After approval, enable the three standard distribution channels, including both Amazon options, a week prior to your launch date.  Your book will show-up in as little as twenty-four hours on Amazon and CreateSpace’s e-store, and you are then in business to sell. This approach exemplifies the timescale that you can expect from an integrated POD/Retailer relationship.

Target Release Date

Perform These CreateSpace Actions

Book Appearance in Channel

1 Week from Release

Enable all Standard Distribution Channels

1-5 Business Days

Strategy for a Targeted Wide-Release Launch with CreateSpace

Planning to go with a targeted wide-release launch date through CreateSpace’s expanded distribution is a bit tricky.  Whereas Amazon and the CreateSpace e-store will take only a few days to update, the expanded distribution channels may take six weeks to go into effect and display your product. Although it appears to be a no-brainer to time a launch, where an author simply enables these channels six weeks prior to launch, and the standard Amazon channels one week prior, it is actually not that clear.

In the case of one novel, the expanded distribution took only one week to complete, instead of the expected six.  The book wound up on Barnes and Noble’s website a full five weeks early. To add to the issue, expanded distribution also makes the book available through Amazon, in a round-about way.  Though the Amazon channel was not selected, the book hit Amazon’s store the same day as B&N. Let that be a valuable lesson in tempering expectations with reality.

With this in mind, planning a wide-release means that you may have to change your strategy and target dates in accordance with the wildly-variable catalog inclusion schedule.  If a specific launch week is of the utmost importance, you may have to concede that your product will be available on Amazon first, with wide-release anywhere from concurrence with Amazon, through six-weeks out.

It is recommended that you disable ALL distribution channels when you are setting up your title in the CreateSpace dashboard or wizard. When you are a week away from your launch window, enable all of them. Your book will show on Amazon shortly, and will filter out to all other retailers over the course of one to six weeks. Although you may not have availability at B&N or Books-A-Million immediately, your title will be available on your launch date through Amazon, which is often the most important channel.

Target Release Date

Perform These CreateSpace Actions

Book Appearance in Channel

1 Week Away from Book Release

Enable all Standard Distribution Channels

Enable all Expanded Distribution Channels

1-5 Business Days

1-6 Weeks

Using Lulu to get your Print Book Out

Lulu continues to be one of the most author-friendly service companies out there. They are one of the top POD vendors that offer hardcover book options, and also have affordable distribution services as well.  As a company, Lulu is a fine example of how POD outside of the Amazon/CreateSpace ecosystem operates.

Like CreateSpace, Lulu offers three tiers of distribution. The lulu.com store option works much like the CreateSpace e-store, where your book can be created, approved, and published online on the same day. Distribution through Amazon is offered via the extendedREACH distribution package.  For wide release, to bookstores other than just Amazon, the globalREACH option is fairly affordable.

Strategy for an Amazon-Only Launch with Lulu

Though the Lulu packages are similar to CreateSpace offerings, the timeframes differ by a fair margin. Lulu advertises a six to eight week turn-around for their extendedREACH program to place your book product on Amazon alone. This timeframe is fairly accurate, with many authors in Lulu’s forum reporting similar experiences, though a rare few have seen it take ten weeks or only four.  Planning your launch around this timeline is not difficult if you keep the eight-week figure in mind as the most likely to occur.

Although your book may become available on Amazon earlier than expected, it is advisable to initiate distribution a full eight weeks away from launch. With Lulu, it is also critical that you follow Lulu’s guidelines for distribution, including what to include in the book’s front matter. A rejection down the line in the process can cause a significant delay. Lulu also requires the purchase of a proof copy, which may take several days to print and receive, so plan accordingly.

Target Release Date

Perform These Lulu Actions

Book Appearance in Channel

8 Weeks from Release

Enable expandedREACH Channel

6-8 Weeks

Strategy for a Targeted Wide-Release Launch with Lulu

Lulu is also consistent and realistic with its six to eight week timeframe for Ingram catalog inclusion, which filters out to retailers abroad, including Amazon.   Like the effort to be included on Amazon through extendedREACH, your book launch will have a similar six to eight week window for being listed at a major retailer like Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million. Again, you must also be certain to follow Lulu’s guidelines for your book product to ensure there are no delays.  It is advisable to initiate your globalREACH distribution option a full eight-weeks prior to launch.

Target Release Date

Perform These Lulu Actions

Book Appearance in Channel

8 Weeks from Release

Enable globalREACH Channel

6-8 Weeks


Paths to taking Print / POD Pre-Order

One of the major complaints most self-published authors have is the lack of support for pre-orders.  Since many professional self-publishers want to market their books months in advance, while picking up pre-order sales along the way, this can lead to frustration. Although conditions are not optimal, there are several paths available to offer pre-ordered titles, with varying levels of difficulty and labor involved. Here are a few of the ways you get to sell your book before your launch, to capture some extra revenue and generate early interest.

CreateSpace and taking Pre-Orders through Amazon

CreateSpace currently offers no integrated means for automatically processing pre-orders for POD titles.

However, Amazon does have a mechanism for offering CreateSpace (and other POD vendor) book products on pre-order through the Amazon Advantage Program. Using Advantage to process pre-orders through Amazon.com is a somewhat cumbersome task to accomplish, with several steps.  The process to setup an Amazon pre-order involves becoming an Amazon Vendor and marketing your book as a pre-release product.  Once onboard with the Advantage Program, you can then enter your ISBN information and begin to presell your title. There are some caveats and processes that you must follow, outlined in the program.  Many authors have had success with the program, but most report limited help and technical support from both CreateSpace and Amazon for those the using the program for pre-release items.

Details of the program can be obtained here: https://advantage.amazon.com

Selling Advance Copies Directly through CreateSpace or Lulu

Both CreateSpace and Lulu offer online stores that sell your POD title directly to consumers. These stores have limited public visibility. Few people will find your title and purchase it without direct advertisement of your book being listed on those sites. Though the titles are not highly visible, they do (typically) offer higher author royalties due to fact that they cut out the retailer middleman.  Although some people will get a copy of your title early, there are several benefits for using the build-in e-stores for these vendors for selling advance copies.

You can use this to your advantage in several ways. By directing advance-order customers to these sites, you can make immediate sales to interested readers. You won’t have to handle the sale, as the vendor does all of the work, and you earn a higher royalty too. As a bonus, these early customers may help to build excitement and provide reviews when your book launches later on. You also have some ability to customize these vendor storefronts to appear co-branded with your author identity. This is where CreateSpace shines.

Selling Pre-Orders on your Website using Amazon Payments or PayPal

Another widely utilized method for taking pre-orders is to do it yourself. This involves quite a bit of legwork and time, but it assures that your pre-orders ship at the exact time you choose. In addition, this method gives you the ability to autograph copies of your book. Though this is fairly old-fashioned and involves handling money, shipping, and customer service, the opportunities to connect with your early customers and wow them with personal services make it worthwhile.

Prior to launch, set up an area on your website to advertise your book and set a price. Utilize PayPal, Amazon Payments, or similar to create a payment button with the details of your book product. Be sure to charge a reasonable shipping price to cover applicable costs from the POD to you, and then to the customer.  After you have set up your book on your website, you can begin to take pre-orders.

Since you receive the lowest possible price for your book from CreateSpace or Lulu, you can make a fairly good return on these pre-sale copies. Simply hold the pre-order money in your account and then order all of the copies of the book you need to fulfill those orders when the time comes. You will be responsible for shipping each title, so keep in mind the cost of mailing supplies, postage, and your time. For US customers, the US Postal services offers inexpensive flat-rate padded envelopes that will fit most books and is a good option for shipping a single book. Keep in mind that postage from the US to foreign countries can be very expensive, depending on the shipping method and customs. (For example, shipping one copy of a 334-page, 6″ x 9″ trade paperback to Sweden was over $100 via FedEx when I inquired.)

Make it Happen!

The impact of a late launch is diminished somewhat by allowing pre-order or advance sales channels.  By combining the techniques outline here, you can use the pre-order and advance sales to cover the gap or inaccuracy in the launch window. Making a smooth transition from pre-order to full-retail availability is much preferred over having missed sales and expectations, or the book not making it to market when it was supposed to. Keeping your readers happy and able to buy at their convenience is crucial for today’s author in this competitive market.

The ability to launch a tightly scheduled book product for wide-release is a game of chance.  Following the tips of this article, you can launch a print edition book within a week-wide window if you utilize CreateSpace and Amazon as your primary retailer. Past that, the window for distribution is large, with small odds that you will over or under shoot the launch window. It is frustrating, but with some preparedness and foreknowledge, you can have a chance at organizing chaos.

Tracy R. AtkinsTracy R. Atkins has been a career technology aficionado since he was young. At the age of eighteen, he played a critical role in an internet startup, cutting his tech-teeth during the dot-com boom. He is a passionate writer whose stories intertwine technology with exploration of the human condition. Tracy is also the self-published author of the singularity fiction novel Aeternum Ray.

Photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

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    { 14 comments… read them below or add one }

    Erica June 12, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Dear Tracy,
    I have had experience with both Createspace and Lulu and I agree, Createspace is much faster, in launching and selling your books. But Lulu surpasses Createspace immensily when it comes to treatment of the indi publishers. It is enough to so something slightly unaligned with their policies and you are reached by the Validation team or Executive customer relations which impossible allegations and treats to close your account. Then you are forbidden to re-open an account as if you have committed a crime.
    I had 50 titles apparently – as they said – erased from their system. My account was locked and all the books are now kept inside. I cannot access my account and also all my bank information are locked inside, along with my file. My surprise is that all the books I had published with Createspace are sold, and printed out from the files they have kidnapped, and they are keeping selling my own intellectual copyrights as author, regardless of my letter that they are producing counterfeits illegal of the books I had published with them. The books I have published and which I can no longer access simply to delete the materials are sold under my name as author. I and my family members have bought copies from Amazon of my books to proof the illegal sales…The books remain on line, with the announcement “Last copy available”, but in fact we have bought 5 more copies. And god knows how many they will be selling without paying me my royalties. None of this kind of actions occur at Lulu Press and you as author and owner of your intellectual copyrights are not put in the position of suddenly having no longer access to your own files and data. I do not recommend to authors to place their intellectual property in the hand of Createspace.

    Reply

    TW December 25, 2012 at 7:21 am

    As mentioned in the article: “Though the Amazon channel was not selected, the book hit Amazon’s store the same day as B&N. Let that be a valuable lesson in tempering expectations with reality.”

    In our case, we wanted to test CreateSpace’s print quailty before we released our finished book so we created an edition that had 3 chapters and a lot of test pages and filler. We purchased one copy. We did NOT enable any distribution AT ALL. But the title showed up on Amazon a few days later, albeit with the warning the book was not available yet. So far, we haven’t discovered any method to remove the book. Luckily, we gave it a different title from what appears on the book cover, and used a CreateSpace ISBN on this test edition instead of our own ISBN, which we plan to use on the finished version of the book.

    Reply

    Craig November 24, 2012 at 4:47 am

    Thanks for this great article; it clarifies a lot of questions for me. However, I am confused about one point. I don’t understand the discussion on pre-ordering. In the first section you said, “CreateSpace currently offers no integrated means for automatically processing pre-orders for POD titles.” But then you go on to talk about “Selling Advance Copies Directly through CreateSpace…” and you go on to talk about how that works. So I am confused: From the second discussion, it sounds like there is no problem with pre-orders, that you can easily sell them through the CreateSpace online store.

    I am sure I am missing something here, but I haven’t been able to sort out this point.

    Reply

    Clement November 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Its good to see a treetop overview when you’re in slugging away in the forest. Thanks for that.

    How are promotions supported? Lets say you want to promote a paperback / ebook with a time based price discount of lets say one week. This could be a launch strategy or as an ongoing strategy. How is this filtered from CreateSpace/Lulu to Amazon? Is it possible?

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins November 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Hello Clement,

    Offering a promotional discount is fairly effortless thing to do.
    With Createspace, go to your books dashboard and select “channels” under distribution. There you will find the “Discount Codes” link under the E-Store Channel. This is where you can set and manage discounts for the Createspace E-Store.

    Controlling Amazon’s Cost is only possible through lowering the retail price on the book, or offering a post purchase incentive on your own.

    Lulu is offers a little less control. Log into Lulu and select “Discount” from the project list. This will allow you to set discounts in set increments. The discount changes the price in the e-store for the book for everyone.

    If you are doing a DIY, where you buy your own books at cost, you can set special payment buttons through PayPal or similar.

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan November 4, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Tracy, informative article. I plan to eventually use Createspace, so this is another article to bookmark when that time comes. I love authors sharing experiences in this rapidly evolving market. Thanks Joel also!

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins November 5, 2012 at 5:40 am

    Thank you Grace!

    Reply

    Carole Pivarnik November 2, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Good article and timely! I am close to submitting my book project to CreateSpace for a (hopefully) final proof, so promotional planning for the next six months is very much on my mind.

    The author recommends that distribution channels in the CreateSpace dashboard be disabled until one week before launch. Why is this? It is my understanding that until the proof is approved, the book is considered incomplete/unpublished and no information about it is released to any distribution channels.

    Also, authors might consider using Kickstarter as yet another method of reaching out to a wider audience for pre-sales. It is a bit of work and there are fees incurred if your project is successfully funded, plus you can’t count on Kickstarter themselves to promote your project. However, if you are already building community, your chances of a successful project improve dramatically. Plus, it not only serves as a way to do pre-sales of a book but also of related items (tee-shirts, note cards, etc) that can help generate follow-on exposure.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins November 2, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Good Morning Carole,

    That’s a great idea with the Kickstarter. I am curious how well received books are with Kickstarter. If you are going that route, I would love to hear your experience.

    On the CreateSpace Distribution Channels;

    You may leave your book in the un-approved state to prevent it from going live. However, CreateSpace limits you to five copies of the book as in proof form. To get additional copies, you have to disapprove of the proof and are still limited to another set of five for each approve/disapprove cycle.

    On top of that, all proofs are marked as such in the back of the book with a large “PROOF” stamp. Although that may be OK for certain circumstances, many authors will want to purchase several copies of their final books in advance of launch for marketing purposes. Simply leaving the channels deactivated will allow the author to purchase as many final copies as they wish, at any time, with little hassle, and without going live.

    Reply

    Carole Pivarnik November 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Ah, thanks for the clarification of why to leave channels disabled. Now that makes a lot of sense. I am definitely going to want to order copies prior to the book going “live” that don’t have the proof notation on that back page. So, you’ve just saved me from wasting time with another “learning experience” haha! Thanks!

    I did a Kickstarter project to raise funds to underwrite the cost of book promotion, mainly to be used for sending copies to reviewers, supporting giveaways, and having copies for book signings. My project was well supported and exceeded its funding goal. However, that is due to spending nearly a year before that building a community on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. People invested time in following my project’s progress, submitting their dogs to be painted for the book, etc. Because I blathered on about it a fair bit, everyone knew what Kickstarter was and that a Doggitude Kickstarter project was in the plans. When it launched, they were already primed to become backers.

    Books are pretty well supported on Kickstarter; there is an entire category devoted to Publishing. How successful a project is, is really down to the audience for the book and how well the author manages to reach them and convince them to back their project. Strategies for running a successful Kickstarter campaign are well documented; I “followed the rules” based on my research and was therefore not surprised that my project’s results matched the averages just about dead-on in terms of most popular pledge, funding %, etc.

    I haven’t seen a lot mentioned about Kickstarter in book promotion circles and believe it is an under-utilized resource for someone who is willing to put in the necessary effort and offer creative rewards to backers.

    Reply

    BD Crowell November 2, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Very nice, detailed info. The timeframes for appearances in the various channels are especially helpful. Thanks for this post!

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins November 2, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Thank you BD.

    Reply

    Anna Erishkigal November 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

    Another great (and practical) article from The Book Designer! As an indie, I’m still at the ‘launch it … THEN market it’ stage. But with this latest book I was sure wishing I had a way to do some advance marketing since it’s a non-fiction title which should compete head-to-head with some of the traditionally published non-fiction in its subject matter. I’ll be watching for more articles on this topic [*hint*] :-)

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins November 2, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Thanks Anna. Pre-marketing isn’t so bad with some of the pre-order or advanced order options. From a psychological standpoint, people get a little bit excited about a pre-launch book being provided to them. Therefore, that can be a helpful edge.

    Reply

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