Createspace screws up for the first time

May 4, 2011 at 7:34 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s how Createspace works: you create an account for free, and give them the title and ISBN of your book. Then, you determine the physical properties of your book, such as its size. All of this is incredibly easy, and the website guides you through the process quite nicely.

The next stage is where things get complicated. You need to upload the files that will form the interior of your book; the actual text of the novel, in my case. You’d think that would be simple, but you’d be wrong.

Createspace’s submission guidelines can be found here:
They seem straightforward enough; all text and images must have a margin of at least .25”, but they recommend .5”. Gutter margins (as they helpfully explain, the left-hand margin next to the binding of the book) vary according to the thickness of the book, and a handy little table right there explains that my novel, Scar, will need gutter margins of .75”. This is all relatively easy to deal with, at least in Microsoft word, which is what I used to write Scar.
Then things get trickier. You are to export your book as a print-ready PDF. This means that it has to be exactly as you want it to be printed; the pages of the PDF must match the pages of the physical book. Being blindly unaware of that, I wrote Scar on Word’s default page setting of 8.5” x 11”.

If I had written a regular book, it wouldn’t really have been a big deal to change the page size. But I didn’t. As previously mentioned, Scar is formatted unusually, with certain text written over other pieces of text. Some pages are utterly black, with fragments of white writing floating in the gloom like stars. I achieved these effects mainly through the use of text boxes, not worrying too much while I was writing about the feasibility of what I was doing. That’s the publisher’s problem, I figured, and chuckled to myself, unaware at that time that I was, in fact, the publisher.

What all this means is that changing the page size essentially meant going through the entire book again and moving everything around. Tedious and time-consuming work, but the effects I want to create are essential to the novel, so I did it. My difficulty was perhaps compounded by my utter ignorance of design, and only a very basic grasp of computers in general. I’ve been working in manual labour jobs since I was eighteen, so I never really acquired those kinds of skills. Ask me to stack a pallet or kill a rat, and I’m all over it, but when it comes to technology, I have the skills and confidence of a storm-beached whale shark.

With this in mind, I decided to take advantage of one of the paid services Createspace offers: the Total Design Freedom Custom Book Interior. You can see it for yourself at, but I’ll summarise. “Graphic designers will incorporate your ideas and vision into your book’s interior, giving it a customized look and feel through layout, typography, and formatting” the website trumpets. Sounds good to me. This service is regularly priced at $499, but was on sale for $299, so I snapped it up. Given the difficulties I knew I would have with Scar, it seemed like money well spent.

I sent my faceless ‘design team’ the Word file of Scar, and waited for their response. I had already taken care to get the margins right and get everything looking the way I wanted, so I figured they’d just covert it to a PDF and we’d be rolling.

About a month later, I got a message back from my design team. They had a couple of problems. One was an image I put at the start of the book; the resolution was too low, they said. OK, that’s fine. I’ll fix that. Their other problem was more intractable:

“2) There are text boxes throughout the interior file overlapping the main body of the text, example page: 164. When your book is formatted the text boxes will get lost in your text. If you would like text boxes, please place them without overlapping text in your interior file.”

But the text boxes are supposed to overlap the text! If they have to be out on their own, orphaned on the page, cut off for no apparent reason from the rest of the text, the effect is ruined and I may as well not have them at all. I sent a message back, stressing that the text boxes as they currently appeared were crucial to the book’s aesthetic; is there no way this can be done? Here’s what they told me:

“….we are unable to format the text how you currently have it because when we format the document for design, the text will shift and not appear as you currently have it. The only way for you to be able to keep your text as shown is to have you send us a PDF document of your manuscript, in which we would have to cancel your current interior service and have your publishing consultant set you up with one of our PDF interior services. Of course you or a designer would then have create a print ready PDF file of your manuscript as you want it to appear and then we could print this text in this manner. Please verify if you would like to switch to a PDF interior(sic) service or if you would like to upload a revised manuscript with your text formatting corrected.”

My project consultant also called me on the phone to say basically the same thing. If I wanted something flashy and unusual, I would have to do it myself. They offered to refund the money I paid for their design services, and I was on my own.

None of this is exactly unreasonable, but at the same time, I can’t help feeling that they missed an opportunity here. Their interior design service offers the skills of graphic designers to help you create a book that looks exactly as you want it, but at the first hint of something unusual, they give up. If you’re going to have words like ‘total design freedom’ and ‘customized look and feel’ in your promotional material, you should really be prepared to deal with some unusual requests. It’s not like I’m doing anything that unusual anyway; pick up a copy of Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House Of Leaves’, or Matthew Remski’s ‘Dying for Veronica’, and you’ll see far more innovative things done with the novel form.

It was disappointing that they gave up so easily. It seems to me that they only want to help you design your book if the book is already more or less complete; but if that’s the case, why pay them hundreds of dollars? I only needed their help because of the unconventional formatting of Scar, and that’s precisely why they couldn’t help me. As the old saying goes, you don’t have a dog and bark yourself.

As a footnote (which Scar is also riddled with, incidentally) I got these messages on April 8th. It’s now May 4th, and I still haven’t been refunded for the service they couldn’t provide. Not an impressive showing so far.


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