If so, I know exactly what you are going through, and you are certainly not alone! With the many publishing options available to authors today, it would be a rarity if you weren't confused as to how to proceed.
I myself have researched time after time to determine my options. It was challenging and time consuming... and so I've decided to give you all a helping hand!
For the following information I mostly looked at the Amazon and Lightning Source websites, but I also found loads and loads of great information on the following three blog pages:
I focused on Lightning Source and CreateSpace because I personally found these to have the best over-all packages out of the innumerable publishing paths available.
Pros of Lightning Source:
- You can choose not to allow copies of your book to be returned (unlike with Amazon, where you hardly have any control over the book after you've submitted it). You can set the retail price, the discounts, and the return policy.
- Lightning keeps track of everything. They provide detailed sales reports and send payment each month.
- LS is nonexclusive. If you have a better offer, no sweat!
- Wide distribution.
Cons of Lightning Source:
- If you're not planning to publish more than one book, the difficult setup might not be worth it. That's why you certainly need to be technically able, as the instructions are quite complicated (as LS is aimed primarily at publishers rather than authors).
- Apparently there is not such great customer service..
- Also from the above-mentioned post, "their work flow (Laser printing) is so dated and inefficient, not the least the totally flopped sub-minus customer service you get for all the trouble" and someone's had "to deal [with] poor print quality  with customers calling to say they received books where the print was so light in some pages they couldn't make it out." (But then again, there are negative commentaries everywhere. Another thing I read was aimed at CreateSpace for the same thing I saw them commended somewhere else: "Don't do CreateSpace unless you want to have a horrible experience with a bunch of backwards people who will not answer your questions properly")
- You have to put in the effort. You have to go through a large set of set-up tasks as well as marketing, otherwise you'll not earn a thing from the LS approach.
- You have to pay for it (unlike CreateSpace). Amazon, on the other hand, does not have set-up fees nor as many proofs. Lightning Source charges $37.50 (or $75 if you use the scanner) for setup (certainly less than most other POD, yet more than the $0 of Amazon). Proofs cost $30-35 and revisions cost $40 (for Amazon the change of title costs $25).
Pros of Amazon CreateSpace:
- Charges less than SL for printing and setup.
- Offers extended distribution ($39). However, this is only available for those that have a CreateSpace ISBN, which will decrease your credibility as a self-publisher.
- Much easier use than Lightning Source... Great way to start off with if you're first self-publishing.
Cons of Amazon CreateSpace
- Bookstores generally won't buy the book, as Amazon will earn money by it (and they're "the competition/opponent").
- As mentioned earlier, Amazon offers extended distribution, but only for those that have a CreateSpace ISBN, which will decrease your credibility as a self-publisher.
- LS has a larger distribution.
- Unlike Lightning Source's monthly pay, CreateSpace only pays when the $100 minimum is reached.
- There seem to have been problems with royalty payments. Is CreateSpace withholding royalties through unreported sales? I'm trying to learn more about this and post it as soon as I know more. If you know anything more about this, leave comment.
Here's a little excerpt from http://www.thepassivevoice.com/03/2013/do-amazon-and-createspace-rip-off-indie-publishers-with-failure-to-correctly-report-sales/. I generally stand by CreateSpace from what I've read, but this really seems quite discerning:
"What should have shown as a surge of sales, as the book peaked, never appeared on the royalty reports. The author was suspect. She contacted Ingram directly, only to be informed that they were not supposed to reveal information to an author directly. So, the Indie publisher, AgeView Press made the call. Ingram showed 16 copies of the book ordered through their system total since May. Those sales never showed on the June or July royalty report. The author filed formal complaints with Createspace customer service, but received only canned letters in response explaining that indeed there was an issue with reports in Expanded Distribution and it was being investigated. Advice to author? Please be patient.By August, it was clear there were gross in accuracies. The 30 copies ordered from Barnes and Noble never showed up. Few if any sales were listed for August. Yet the author had confirmation of over 4,000 copies in distribution worldwide."
- Why not use both? As mentioned on the above recommended blog,"use Lightning Source in ADDITION so that you can be ordered by the bookstores and libraries from the large wholesalers with which they prefer doing business."
- Have your own ISBN - it makes you much more credible than when you use the Amazon-assigned ISBN.
- Do you want your book to be in stores? Consider Lightning Source. If this is not your aim, stick with CreateSpace (much easier in use, yet I'll still have to look into the possible withholding of royalties).
- Lightning Source might not make you as much money per unit as CreateSpace, but it does keep more options open.
- I'm still considering both options, so if anyone has more pros and cons they think should be added to the list, certainly comment them below!
Before you go on though.. Are You Ready?
- Is your book well-edited?
- Do you have your ISBN?
- Is your interior professional-looking (check: margins, headers, page numbers, etc).
- Does your cover look appealing and is the text and title legible?
- Do you have a price specific barcode? This is necessary if you want your book to end up in bookstores.
- Does your book generally look professional and intriguing?
- Does your book have an acceptable price?
- Do you have a copyright page? (I'm no genius on this aspect, but I do know that books are automatically copyrighted, yet paying for a more professional copyright is advised. As I said, I'm no master of this aspect, so check out the following link if you need more guidance: http://www.newshelves.com/2013/06/05/library-of-congress-cataloging-data-and-bowker-oh-my/.)