Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

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

This is the first part of a series of first-person posts documenting the experiences of a self-published, niche author with Amazon and CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand publishing platform.

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.

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.

Casey Brown (@aurdraco) is a graduate student in Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program (B.A. History, Texas A&M University; B.A. Creative Writing, University of Houston). He is the author of BDKR1: The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summarywhich he self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. A prewar Army veteran (13B, 3HWB/2ACR), Casey also previously served as acting production editor for CALLALOO while working at Texas A&M University during 2008 and 2009. Casey just finished a contract stint as a junior project manager with PreMediaGlobal (but he can’t talk about what he did there yet). 

10 comments on “Working with the Evil Empire, part I: Deciding to self-publish with Amazon

  1. David Shepheard
    June 5, 2012

    Did you consider Lulu and/or DriveThru RPG at any stage?

    I know people who have published RPG products via both of these sources and wonder how they match up against CreateSpace.

    • Casey Brown
      June 5, 2012

      David, I actually didn’t consider either of those options. I have heard about Lulu but I am not yet familiar with it. I may research it in the future though.

  2. WK Nolen
    June 5, 2012

    Fascinating, Casey! I have *really* been wondering about the process, and am *very* keen on reading your next blog, and in finding out about the rest of the process, royalties, and -though it may be non-PC to ask- how your sales are comparing to your original projections!

    Who knows, maybe I’ll follow in your footsteps some day! I’d love to write a novel, or anthology, and learning about it through your blog about your own publishing *definately* makes me interested!!!
    Or, now that I think about it, it would be interesting one day to publish a coffeetable book of my own artwork! WOW! Now *that* would be cool!

    • Casey Brown
      June 5, 2012

      Wade, I discuss sales in Part II so stay tuned. 😉
      Yeah, it’s very easy to self-publish like I did. I’ve convinced my roommate, who’s got an MFA in Poetry, to put together his first chapbook so he can publish it via CreateSpace later this summer. For a traditional novel or anthology, if I thought it was going to sell, I’d probably still first try to get it accepted by an agent before resorting to self-publishing.

  3. David Shepheard
    June 5, 2012

    I’ve started a thread about publishing your own RPG book with CreateSpace at The Piazza (and have linked to this blog entry):

    I look forward to the other blog entries. I might even give this a go myself.

  4. Pingback: Working with the Evil Empire, part II: Distribution, pricing, and royalties « appazoogle

  5. Pingback: Kobo launches Writing Life, its new self-publishing platform: How does it stack up? « appazoogle

  6. Pingback: Working with the Evil Empire, part III: Kindle edition « appazoogle

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This entry was posted on June 5, 2012 by in Opinion, Technology and tagged , , , .

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