Having just self published for the first time, I wondered if others might find my research and experience of “upload your work and we’ll print and sell it” platforms useful.

The myriad of conditions you sign to are often hidden and put a different face on the company. Suddenly, their bouncy, appealing straightforward self marketing takes on a jagged edge.

Completely Novel claims that they can terminate and delete you for any reason without notice, and won’t enter into a dialogue or even tell you why.

This was a frighteningly common clause.

Blurb says that you’re held to their terms, even after your account closes.

I always reject the services of those who ask us to waive our rights. Laws for our protection are not created to then be waived!

Lightning Source/Ingram Spark make customers agree to waive our right to trial by jury, to sue them, and indemnify them of breaches ‘actual or threatened’ of the terms of use. But they can use all this against you and employ mysterious jurors of their choice. And they want you off their site if you don’t agree − even to read these incredible terms!

I was left with very few choices of whom to go with.

The One Bookshelf family has the most straightforward terms, which is why I chose them.

I sought clarity that I wasn’t allowing them to bill me if someone sued me - I'd rather they directed any would-be litigant directly to me to deal with. I also queried that they say: in the case of non payment, give us a 30 day notice, and then you can terminate. But they could just fail to meet the 30 days and expect us to leave without our money!

I’ve found One Bookshelf’s services to be mixed. They did credit me for the initial couple of quality issues. But when they persistently didn’t put another right, they suggested I leave their custom.

I discourage using Amazon and other big companies. Everyone goes with them because they believe that they need the exposure that only the giants can bring − thus puffing up the giant and making it harder for other companies to vie with them. I made a choice not to solicit their services, partly for their general ethics and how hard they are to deal with, and because of the way that they flood the market.

Despite calling themselves Print on Demand, many companies can’t cope with under 50 copies. A bookshop or even a wholesaler may not stock those kind of quantities.

POD is supposed to be set up so that individuals can order a book. But I was being quoted ridiculous £50-130 for a single copy of a book sold at £10, and £25 each for a batch of the same book.

Lightning Source is connected to Ingram’s, a major distributor in the English speaking world. Onebookshelf uses their printing services, but that’s not apparent til you sign up.

I found LSI’s site difficult to understand and that they were slow to reply to queries.

Lightning Source’s cover template generator is infamously fiddly: the cover is not in the centre of the page, thus making the spine very hard to get absolutely central. I found getting customer support on this was laborious and not very satisfactory.

Many sites are poor at explaining how to create files for print. Create Space has a document twice the length of other printers with how to upload correctly and what you can’t say or do. Onebookshelf has walk through guides, but there are steps missing with screenprints too small to read.

You need to pay $13 per month for Adobe Acrobat Pro just to tick the “preflight” boxes to meet printers’ requirements. Quark Xpress is £800 and offers only a 3 day trial. Adobe offers 30 days but wants you to sign up with your date of birth. I resist Adobe as another over saturated giant. I didn’t find it easy to use. Microsoft Office offers more control for both cover and interior than might be imagined (I typeset and created my cover with it − take a look at the result). Scribus is a free programme which does much of what Quark does.

Several companies have small print about extra being charged if they need to do anything to your files to make them print.

And lots − like Lulu − don’t offer standard trade sizes, such as 129x198mm (5.06x7.81) B format paperback.


—shorter lighter terms which don’t disadvantage the client and create power imbalances

—clearer instructions and explanations

—cheaper software add ons or short term use packages

—better and free design issues support

As ever, I encourage the challenge of harsh terms and anything which causes inequality.

Elspeth Rushbrook is a regular guest contributor to ABOR. Read her debut novel here.