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

POSTED ON Nov 2, 2012

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Self-Publishing > 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 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 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:

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

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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