Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guest Post: Lorna Suzuki-On Choosing Lightning Source

Lorna Suzuki is the very talented author of the The Dream Merchant Saga and the Imago Fantasy Series (optioned for a major motion picture trilogy).  She is also a martial arts expert and savvy business woman.  I'm very pleased to have her here today to share her indie experience switching to Lightning Source. If you haven't published yet, I recommend you read this link as a primer to frame up the differences between the companies Lorna talks about.  Enjoy!

With so many aspiring authors looking to publish their works, I often get asked about my experiences with POD publishing companies and why I decided to become an indie author/publisher.

There are many great options these days and because of this, I’ve been pulling my books from the POD company that once published my books.

Why you ask?

Before I knew going completely indie was a possibility, POD companies like Trafford & iUniverse seemed to be the only option. But now, there are other, better options available to those who want to take the initiative.

In truth, even the most basic publishing package these POD companies offer that DO NOT include any kind of distribution is very expensive. To upgrade to a full distribution package can only be described as outrageously expensive, especially as this will not get you into the brick and mortar bookstores to generate sales.

So what is an author to do?
I tell writers that first, try the traditional route. Query agents, submit to publishing companies that welcome unsolicited submissions, etc.

Once you feel you’ve exhausted all possibilities (or you’ve wasted too much time waiting for the gatekeepers of the publishing world to crack open the door), then it’s good to consider all the options open to a writer.

The POD companies are okay if you have money to feed these publishing monsters, as the best distribution packages are very costly (and still don’t guarantee any sales). If you don’t have this kind of money to throw around and want to take control of all creative aspects of publishing, including setting your profit margins, going indie is the better, cheaper, option.

If you decide you’d like to take a crack at going indie, do your homework! Go on the internet and google as to how many complaints have been lodged by other authors. I was surprised by how many negative comments I’ve found posted about Lulu and CreateSpace!

On the other end of the spectrum, I found only one complaint about a company called Lightning Source!

This is what first caught my attention about this company. Upon further investigation I discovered LS was used by some of the big name traditional publishers to print their books; they charged a fraction of what Trafford charged for setting up a title for the sale of print books; plus, and this is the big one: for the cost of setting up a title, because they are partnered with Ingrams, one of the largest book distributors in North America, they offered the same distribution you’d be paying in a premium package to distribute through a POD company like Trafford!

When I set up my first book with LS, the $70 included distribution. This same level of distribution had been well beyond my financial means through Trafford, hence, the reason I’ve been pulling my books from them to publish with LS.

It seems that many POD companies focus on making their money by charging authors for all these services, including distribution (many using Ingrams). In the case of LS, they charge a much smaller fee to set up and distribute, with the understanding that greater distribution means greater exposure; the more exposure for your books, the great chances of sales. The more they sell of your book, the more they and the author will benefit!

I like Lightning Source’s way of thinking and conducting business with the author. And guess what? For a one-time $60 fee, your book is included in Ingram’s Advance Catalogue!

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions I’ve had from authors who ended up going with Lightning Source, too:

What distribution "service" to use on Lightning Source?
That depends on what you want. If you want limited distribution (& possibly some difficulties in receiving royalties) go with CreateSpace as they are owned by Amazon, so they want to keep as much of the profits for themselves, but if you do want greater distribution, I understand it is pretty expensive.

LS charges a little more to set up and distribute your book, but when you consider they will distribute widely (partnered with Ingrams, one of the biggest book distributors in North America) to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, etc. as well as making your books available to thousands of libraries in US & Canada, plus, for a one time fee of $60, put can list your book in Ingrams advance catalogue. (Trafford charges thousands for a premium distribution program using Ingrams.)

I’d recommend going with print books with LS as they are professional, fast & always helpful. (You will usually receive proof copy 1 week after submitting files!)
I make deluxe pdf versions available on my website as they look just like the print books with the maps, graphics, etc.

Go with Smashwords for ebooks to sell on Kobo, Sony, Apple  Store, etc. for various mobile reading devices. (Bonus with Smashwords.com? As of May 2011, they now convert your titles into Apps for free and distribute to various App sellers!) Set up ebooks separately on Amazon to sell on Kindle.

Is Lightning Source or CreateSpace better?
I did my homework and CreateSpace has limited distribution to Amazon unless you pay a premium for wider distribution, but based on customer complaints, many authors had frustrations with them for various reasons. I’ve also encountered as many authors voicing their frustrations with Lulu. 

When I googled complaints lodged against LS, where they were numerous with CreateSpace, I found only one had been lodged with BBB against LS and many favorable comments posted about working with LS. I’ve had no problems & I’m very happy with them, as are the other writers who asked me about LS and switched over, too.

Is there ever a chance of getting into book stores with LS? If so, how?
Best thing to do is to make friends with the indie bookstores. Just remember, publishers must pay for a strategic location on shelves and tables.

Same question as above, but with libraries? 
Start with making friends with local librarians, doing book readings, support literary events they host etc. When you get your foot in the door, librarians will be happy to help.

My books are creeping into libraries province wide & should have greater presence once I attend the provincial ‘Read Dating’ event next week.
In Canadian libraries, because of Ingrams, books can be ordered through Coutts Library Services.

If printing books to ship ourselves, how many should we print at first?
LS gives you an exact breakdown as you place your order so you’ll know how much the shipping charges will be. How much depends on how many review copies you’ll need, how many you’d like to gift to libraries/friends, etc., how many you’d need for reading/signings, and so on. Just don’t go crazy and order hundreds, then feel bad when they don’t move as quickly as you’d like.
It seems that with iPad, kobo, kindle, etc. more readers are buying print books when there’s an opportunity to meet author & have it signed. My ebooks outsell the print books, but I discovered some readers, after buying the ebooks, also end up ordering print ones through Amazon or B&N because they wanted they on their bookshelves.

LS also offers hardcovers. Should we offer them at all?
You can, but overall, the sales seems to be with ebooks, paperbacks and hardcovers being paid for by those who are collectors, etc. 

What are the benefits of printing your book thru Lulu (who uses LS as it's printer)?
Argh! Avoid Lulu, I’ve heard so many complaints, that's why these authors have switched to LS!

Should you allow returns on your books?
With LS, DO NOT allow returns. For example, Amazon bought a shipment of Dream Merchant through LS. They sold as many as they could and with the last two, they practically gave it away. If I had allowed a return & they bought hundreds & only sold a handful within that allotted time, I would have been stuck with all these books!  If you do it with no returns, then it will be like a true POD service. Trust me on this!

Hope this answers most of your questions! If you do have more, feel free to contact me through my website: http://web.me.com/imagobooks


  1. This is a really useful post - I've been wondering about LS myself but now I'm sold!

  2. Love this post! I have decided to go with LS. I've been thinking it over for some time now. I'm convinced the distribution channels will be well worth it.

  3. Another Indie author I recently talked suggested LS. I was already planning to use them, but now I'm even more confident with this decision.

  4. Nice post! I, too, was going to use Createspace, but now I may have to give LS a look.

  5. Great post! I've done my printing homework with my partner and LS definitely seems the way to go!!! Thanks again for some new questions and answers.

  6. Thank you all for stopping by! I've used Createspace and have had a good experience with them but have to charge $12.99 for my book in order to cover the cost of extended distribution. It is 330 pages which also raises the cost. I can see the benefits of LS if you want to compete in the paperback marketplace.

  7. Tnx for an excellent post. I would like to suggest the books by Aaron Shepard on PoD publishing with Amazon. He guides you through the Lightning Source territory. You have to have ISBNs and show LS that you are a publisher in a few simples ways. My BaldyBooks has a Lightning Source acct., tnx to Aaron's books. Now if I could only figure out how to generate 8-bit graphics ... . LS requires that publishers use Adobe Acrobat, and InDesign is essential, too, but not required. That is an investment of considerable size. MS Word does the rest. The upside is 50 percent profits on your book sales through Amazon.

    (I'm @baldyblogger on Twitter.)

    Blessings and peace.

  8. She does seem enamored with LS. I wonder if there are any drawbacks on not allowing returns?

  9. News you can use! Thanks Lorna and GP!

  10. Excellent post! I am considering self-publishing and am definitely going to research my options. Thanks for some enlightening facts.


  11. Excellent post, Lorna. I've posted a link to it near the top of my page on
    Self-Publishing and Print-on-Demand Technologies

    Pat McNees
    Writers and Editors

  12. Sigh, next on my list was to research demand publishing. ;) must be a nice feeling to get your hands around a book after staring at the screen for so long.

    You mentioned lots of complaints with hulu? quality? cost? I am so out of the loop. Just the info I needed to read about multiple POD options :)

    Thank you very sincerely for sharing


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