How I published my first CreateSpace book
Many authors have used CreateSpace with great success and I've happily suggested it to clients. But just how easy is it to turn a manuscript into a perfectly produced paperback?

Introduction

I set myself the challenge of producing a paperback, simply to test how easy CreateSpace's free platform was to use.

Some people dream of completing a marathon and never get beyond running around the block a few times. Others dream of writing and publishing a book. If you have a plot running through your imagination, perhaps have even completed the first draft, why not consider self-publishing?

You don't need to be a Paula Radcliffe to run a marathon, nor do you need to be able to run a marathon to enjoy running – I'm proof of that! Writing a book is the same – you don't need to be a Hilary Mantel to write a book and enjoy it.

My jargon-free diary takes you through the stages of how I wrote my first CreateSpace book – and published it. It's jargon-free because there is no jargon. If you can use Word and follow simple instructions that prompt you to 'save' and 'continue', you can produce a paperback.

If you're writing your family's history, it would be the perfect way to produce paperback copies for your family to enjoy and save for future generations. Can you include images? Yes! My book contains thirty images - all in glorious colour.

How much did I need to invest to fulfil my dream? I produced my book for the price of a couple of bottles of cheap Italian plonk.

You just need to write!



If the diary's too much for you to digest, go to the CreateSpace Basics page for a brief summary.

01 – Perfecting the art of procrastination...

The Spanish Steps
Choosing the subject for my first CreateSpace paperback was simple. It needed to be something that enthused and excited me. I had no time for writers' block.

All thoughts – and roads – led me to Rome. Six years ago I'd enjoyed a holiday in the city and I'd even written an article about the trip. That article covered one element of the holiday – and it was to become the bones of my book.

The holiday was a trip with the Ramblers. Photos taken – of which there were hundreds – were snapped to illustrate future writing.

The image shown here was taken at the Spanish Steps. The tour guide was rounding us up and holding her folder. It would make the perfect shot, if only she would stand a little to the left... Fortunately she obliged and I had the photo I wanted.

The copyright to that image is mine – but it includes the organisation's logo, so could I use it in my book?

An email to the Ramblers' media office would free me to move on and get to work, wouldn't it? Not quite. The manager was on holiday.

I had no choice but to begin writing.

02 – It's all in the name

The view from the hotel's roof
Even if you don't judge a book by its cover, you probably take notice of its title.

The book's content would be based, mainly, on a week's holiday in Rome. I intended to draw on my memories and diary, but I would also need to add some researched details about the locations visited.

One of the reasons I adore Rome is its association with some of the best movies ever made – Three Coins in the Fountain (not really a classic), Only You (strictly one for the romantics), Angels and Demons (not sure about those CGIs) and Roman Holiday.

Ha! If you think I'm naming my paperback after Angels and Demons, you're mistaken! There's no way I want Dan Brown to steal my thunder. No, Roman Holiday it is – My Roman Holiday.


03 – The cull before the storm

St Peter's Square
Although I knew I had hundreds of photos to choose from, I decided I needed to check through them carefully before getting down to writing. Perhaps it was more procrastination, but I knew that within those hundreds were many photos I wouldn't be able to use.

Most of the attractions visited allowed photographs to be taken, but any photos taken on private property might be subject to licence restrictions.

I needed to write the text to complement the images, not just add random holiday snaps that had no real connection. An email was sent to the Vatican Museums and I contacted some of the sites where usable photos had been taken. I stressed that my self-published memoir was just that – and that my photos were not of a professional's standard.

04 – Research...

Audrey Hepburn and
Gregory Peck at the
Spanish Steps
I've already mentioned the films associated with Rome. My particular favourite is Roman Holiday. Starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn it was filmed on location – there's none of those ghastly CGIs that Angels and Demons employed.

From memory I knew the locations used, but I wanted to have a clearer record. So what else to do than watch the film!

The plot revolves around Hepburn's European princess escaping the rules of royalty as she explores Rome – with Peck as an opportunist, but moral, journalist. Both stars were perfectly cast and Hepburn won a Best Actress Oscar. But, to me, it's the scenery that steals the show.

Research can be such hard work!

05 – Back to the drawing board?

The Tiber
At an early stage I began considering the cover image for my book. From the hundreds of photos taken there really was only one contender.

It's not the sharpest of shots, but the softness of the palette does conjure up a holiday feel – at least to me.

I had other photos held in reserve, but the more I looked at this image, the more I liked it. The colours haven't been enhanced, it really was a beautiful sunset. So, do I need to go back to the drawing board, or do I have the cover?

06 – The man from Del Ramblers say...

The fully approved photo
...yes! I'm as surprised as anyone, but I have full permission to use my photo of the Ramblers' logo. 

I'm still considering my options for the cover photo. I've recently found another contender. It's a view across to St John in the Lateran – Rome's cathedral. The photo was taken from the hotel and that view deserves (and gets) several mentions in the book. 

Although the sunset was always a pleasure to witness, this particular photo is very clear and sharp – not obvious when shown on a blog.

St John in the Lateran




07 – Chapter and verse

As excited as I was about the prospect of writing a travel memoir, I knew it still required structure. Chapters would need to be carefully balanced, allowing the reader to follow my story without it lurching from one tourist hot spot to another.

My arrival at the airport wasn’t without drama – nor was the first meeting with my fellow roaming Ramblers. Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was a new experience, not just for me. It had only recently opened and that in itself sets the scene for the opening chapter. A photo would be handy, so I emailed the airport’s media centre.

As I continued drafting chapters,I was surprised (and relieved) when forgotten memories returned.

08 - Paparazzi or privacy?

Spot the Ramblers!
Writing is all about sharing information, but a writer has responsibilities. I wanted to include my memories, but what if they compromised the privacy of others?

I'd kept the details of some of my fellow Ramblers – we'd exchanged photos after the holiday – so I had some means of contacting them.

Whilst none of the photos I had were embarrassing – and had already been shared – having them published in a book is another matter.

Perhaps they would refuse and demand I change their names – or maybe they'd be flattered?

One email bounced back, but a quick search revealed the postal address was still valid. Hopefully a short note in the post would receive a response.

09 – Gathering momentum

Heathrow's media office granted me permission to use their images. I could make my choice from their Media Centre site.

I'd also received emails from two of my fellow tourists.

Things were taking off.

10 – Adding colour to the mix

​I'd now completed the first draft of two chapters. That second was a toughie. It had been the busiest of days and the content covered many of the locations most tourists aim for – Spanish Steps, People's Square, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain...

I was using the trip's itinerary as my starting point and this worked on two levels - first, the book would follow a natural schedule, and second, the book could be used as a mini guide. Although I had no target audience (the purpose of the book was to test CreateSpace), I did want it to be worth the effort.

Whilst my memoir would be very self-indulgent, it would also contain interesting facts about the locations visited.

Accompanying those facts with my own images could produce an absorbing book, I hoped. Absorbing to whom? Possibly just me!

CreateSpace base their royalties on certain criteria – no images, black and white images, or colour images. I was already aware that the royalties paid to me would be low, but as I wasn't writing my book for fame and fortune, I had to go with colour images.

11 – Size matters...?

100 DPI
I'm an impatient writer, actually I'm just an impatient person. I'm so wrapped up in the project that I keep looking ahead. Yes, the writing is progressing – but it's still going to be some time before I finish the first draft, let alone have the final manuscript ready for editing and proofreading.

Despite all that, I dipped into the murky waters of CreateSpace today. I found a fascinating site offering a blow-by-blow guide to uploading a book. But one thing stuck out – images that are less than 300 DPI will be rejected. Rejected? How can that be? My images are barely 100 DPI and yet I have them enlarged and on canvases without any issues.

Further reading revealed that DPI is almost irrelevant. I could sympathise with that blogger, but what about the folk at CreateSpace? To them, size matters.

I posted a query on their forum – many had previously despaired at this rule. On the CreateSpace Help Pages it clearly stated that,  'For optimal printing we suggest that all images for both the cover and interior are at least 300 DPI. As this is a recommendation only, you will be notified during the file review process if there are low resolution images, however, you may still move forward with the files as is.'

I also emailed CreateSpace's Help Desk. 

A search on Google revealed that the chap who believes DPI is irrelevant posts an awful lot about it. But I did find some free software. paint.net has done the trick. It's free to download and allows you to do some pretty nifty things with photos.

12 – Publish and be darned?

Hardy's house - Stourcastle
One of the benefits of using CreateSpace is that authors can play God and create their own publishing house. Really? Almost! When you create the blurb that runs before the book begins, you can include the name of your 'publisher'. Your book will have been published using CreateSpace and, if you have used their free ISBN service, they will be listed as its publisher. But using your own name inside the book adds a little polish to your already gleaming work, but what random name should you choose?

I thought long and hard about this one. I wanted a name that had some relevance and connection to me. I live in a small town in north Dorset. For a short time Thomas Hardy lived here, writing some of his work a few minutes' walk from where I live.

Hardy often re-named locations and my town is no exception. Stourcastle features in Tess of the d'Urbervilles and there are many businesses that use the name. The town does indeed have a castle, of sorts, and there's the Stour - the river that runs through Dorset to the coast at Christchurch. Stourcastle Books seemed the perfect name.

But what if a reader sees the name and wants to know more? For less than £5 I've taken the domain name of www.stourcastle.co.uk and linked it to a page on this site.

Hopefully there will be more than one book published – but that's down to me!

As I want to use the free ISBN service offered by CreateSpace, my book will be registered as being published by CreateSpace. On the book's Amazon page, CreateSpace will be listed as the publisher, not Stourcastle Books.

For the purposes of this project, to demonstrate how publishing can be really affordable, I've used the free option.


13 – If you don't ask...

© FAO Headquarters Library Image
Today I heard back from the United Nations. How's that for a name drop? I needed a photo of a specific building and fortunately they sent me three to choose from.

Any images used have to be credited to them – but apart from that, there's no limitation on their use. I've selected the one I would like, but it's not the one here.

A cheeky email, an acceptance of their terms – that's all it took. If you don't ask, you don't get!

14 – Biting off more than you can chew?

When should you stop researching? I had become immersed in details that demanded research and it wasn't long before my 'short memoir' was in fear of becoming much more than I had originally intended.

So, before I lost track of my schedule, I decided to call it a day. Yes, I've checked information and yes, I've added facts that I didn't know at the time. But now, I believe, I have the complete manuscript.

It will need editing and proofreading, but the writing is finished. So what's next? It was time to dip into CreateSpace proper and see what was on offer. A few clicks and I had downloaded a formatted template. This blank document has margins set and once you copy your text into it, it begins to look like a book – a real one!

Why do this now? Because I want to check the spacing of paragraphs, that chapters begin on a new page, that punctuation doesn't run off a line. Checking those details is as important as removing typos.

Before you bite off more than you can chew, familiarise yourself with page and section breaks – having those set correctly will be critical to the successful layout of your book. Don't forget that you will need the pages numbered, the CreateSpace template won't do this for you. You need to add every element that will make a perfectly baked book. Or pizza. Either works for me.


15 – Ready, steady, print!

Yes, I was finally at the point of printing the book.

I had edited and checked the text as it sat in the CreateSpace template, and inserted the photos and checked their alignment. There was nothing more I could do until I had a proof copy to check, so this was my next stage.

The Word template has to be converted into a PDF – that's straightforward enough, I'd saved each version as a compressed PDF.

But what of the cover? CreateSpace offers several layouts and I picked a landscape option that suited my choice for the image. The back blurb was already drafted and soon copied in. That was it – nothing else was needed. Can it really have been that simple?

I knew the images might prove to be an issue, I’d already been aware of that. But I’d decided that even if CreateSpace warned me that some photos might appear ‘fuzzy’, I’d click on accept. All of the authors I deal with are publishing books without images in the content, so the quality of the images only mattered to me. Yes, I wanted them to be an acceptable quality, but I wasn’t going to remove them.

CreateSpace do not check for typos – that’s down to the author. They will check for technical issues, whatever they might be. Within a few hours (a lot fewer than the twenty-four I was instructed to expect), I received confirmation that the content was accepted. There was nothing left to do but order a proof copy.

The book can be downloaded and checked as a PDF (free of charge), but that’s how I’d developed the content and it’s important to do a final check with the content in an unfamiliar format. It’s worth noting that purchasing the proof copy is the first cost incurred. How much? This copy of the book will cost $6.59 plus delivery. There are three delivery options: standard ($4.88 six weeks), expedited ($7.99 two weeks) and priority ($14.38 days). I opted for expedited and the total cost (at current exchange rates) was £9.36 – as the book is produced in America, I was sceptical that it could arrive within days, so decided to keep the costs down!

Before making that final commitment, I scanned through the pages on-line, just to check alignment and that the pages were set out clearly. Having those potential problems removed would enable me to focus on text errors.

Manuscripts should be proofread before they are submitted to CreateSpace. When you order your proof copy, you want it to be as free from errors as possible. If you've raced ahead and are concerned errors may have slipped in, it's not too late. I offer a CreateSpace safety net service – an affordable option that will check your final version before you commit to buying extra copies to sell direct.

Click here for more information.

16 – A tale of two covers

After the excitement of reaching the ‘final’ proof stage, a query fought its way through the celebration. My book cover will have no text on the spine. A quick search on the CreateSpace help pages revealed the answer: ‘Books with 131 pages or more will include the title and author name on the spine.  Books with fewer than 131 pages will not include spine text. Page count is automatically determined when you upload your interior file.’

I could, if I wanted, create my own cover and include that spine text, but I was testing the easiest route. Most novels contain more than those required 131 pages, so authors I work with wouldn’t have to worry.

Producing the cover for a non-fiction book cover is very different to that of fiction. For a novel, the cover would need to include something associated with the plot, and that’s why many authors opt to have their covers designed. But can an author produce an eye-catching cover without incurring those fees?

The book cover that illustrates this post is for Mandrake’s Plot by Helen Laycock. The book is set in a boarding school and there’s a ‘skeleton, a curse, a key and a code. St Agatha’s is no ordinary school…’ Helen’s cover needed to be atmospheric and she sourced a photo of an appropriately creepy-looking building. The photographer asked only for a credit in the book – so there was no cost.

That photograph perfectly complements the book's theme and demonstrates how authors can create a quality cover.

17 – Time for some revision

I'm sure it won't have escaped your notice, but there's a distinct lack of 'technical' advice on this blog. Why? CreateSpace has created such a smooth process for authors that there's very little I can add – other than to confirm how easy it is to use.

But perhaps it's time for a re-cap. Here's a summary of the stages completed:




  • Create manuscript in Word (using formatted indents and page breaks for new chapters)
  • Copy and paste manuscript into CreateSpace template (set page numbering)
  • Create cover
  • Produce PDF version of Word document
  • Submit to CreateSpace, via their download option
  • Receive confirmation there are no technical issues
  • Order proof copy

Other stages are completed within the CreateSpace site – setting the price, for instance. CreateSpace sets the minimum, but the author opts for any price above that. The minimum price for my paperback was £7.32 and I set the price at £7.95. From every copy sold I will receive a royalty of £0.38 – it's not a fortune, but as a return on my investment of £9.36 (for the proof copy), it's okay. Marketing the book will be key to how much I ultimately receive, but more of that later.

If you've written a novel and are considering using CreateSpace, you might be disappointed with that £0.38 – but don't be. CreateSpace royalties are tiered:

  • Text only
  • Black and white images, plus text
  • Full colour images, plus text

If you're publishing a book that has no images (apart from a colour cover), you will receive a much larger slice of the pie – pounds, not pence.

It's worth pointing out that if authors buy 'author' copies, i.e. to sell direct, they pay the cover price, less the royalty. That's a great option for authors who intend hosting events, but don't forget there will postage fees to recoup.


18 – Marketing your masterpiece

Before you began writing your book, you had the idea – and you had your readership in mind. At that moment you subconsciously began developing your marketing campaign. Now you've almost finished the project, how will you actually sell it?

A year or so ago I read and reviewed a book that explains how to market books. Debbie Young's an accomplished writer and also involved with the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), so she knows a thing or two about the subject.

If you haven't already planned your campaign, spend an hour or two with this book and make sure you're ready for that big launch!

Click here for a link to my review of Debbie's book.


19 – Logo mania!

I've mentioned before about creating a name for your 'publisher' and if you do go down that route, perhaps you need a logo?

That logo can be used on the back cover of your paperback, CreateSpace allow for this on their free templates.

I'd like to say that I did extensive research into creating a logo, but in all honesty I googled 'create free logo'. That search found Logo Garden (click on the name to find their website). You can create a perfectly adequate logo for free. However, if you want it to be of a good printable quality, you need to purchase a hi-res version. Because I shall use it for other publications, I decided to pay the £8. I can edit the logo and the clever folk at Logo Garden will also re-size it for free. That's something I needed – it had to fit into the set box of the template. But if you design your logo to fit the box, you might not need their help.

As I shall re-use the logo, and it's not essential to the process, I'm not including it as a 'cost' – it's more of a long-term investment!

If you're wondering why I fiddled with logos after I'd finished the book and ordered the proof copy, it's simple. You can edit your book every day – the content and cover. So whilst I waited for the proof copy, I continued to polish (not play!).

20 – The proof is in the reading

Today, two days beyond the 'by now' date, the proof copy arrived. As mentioned in Post 5 I was concerned that the image selected for the cover might be a tad fuzzy. It isn't the clearest and sharpest of images used on a book cover, but the softness suits the title. I'd chosen a matte finish and that seems to complement the softness.

The back of the cover has already changed since I ordered the proof copy. I'd added a logo and my 'author' photo. The blurb had also been tweaked (to accommodate the shock revelation that I have a connection to Elizabeth Taylor!), but I like the clearness of the font and have confidence in the final version.

In Post 11 I mentioned about how some images might be rejected by CreateSpace. Overall I am very, very happy with the reproduction of the images I have included. Novels wouldn't normally include colour photos, but because I wanted  this 'test' project to be something a little different, I went for that option.

The only image that is a little iffy is one taken on my camera by a tourist at the Trevi Fountain. That photo is included because it records a very special evening. It didn't matter then that it's crooked and fuzzy, and it doesn't matter now.

Most importantly, Chapter One begins on page one - and not on the first page of the book (containing the legal blurb). All the chapters begin on uneven pages, something else to check.

Out of ten, how would I score the quality and presentation? Ten. A novel would be very well-suited to CreateSpace and if I'd known I might need a photo suitable for the cover of a book, I might have taken one with a different camera.

What next? Check the text again.

21 – Curly covers

A curly cover
It's now a few days since the proof copy arrived. I haven't re-read it yet – it's too soon since the last read (it's important to leave as much time as possible between reads). But this passing of time isn't wasted. When I created the book's cover I had to choose between a matte or glossy finish. Glossy sounds great, doesn't it? But glossy covers show marks, fingerprints, anything.

I chose the matte finish. Apart from not showing marks, it would also be easier to photograph – at the book's launch where the cameras will surely be flashing away!

The actual cover has a lovely smooth texture, very soft to the touch. But here's the important thing: the pages have not curled. What? Curly covers? Yes, many of the self-published books I've read have glossy covers that begin curling after the first hour's read.

As I read a glossy-covered book I was reviewing, it occurred to me that my book's cover was still flat. Despite not reading my book yet, I have handled it. I've checked the pages run on properly and the images are aligned. It certainly hasn't been stored beyond the reach of my sticky fingers.

As dull as matte sounds, for me it was the perfect choice.

22 – It's covered!


Although I hadn't written my book to necessarily compete in the guidebook market, I did wonder what the competition was like. A quick search found the usual batch of excellent guides, but one caught my eye. The cover photo had been taken from almost exactly the same spot as mine. I prefer mine...

If you're really paying attention you'll notice this cover differs to the final version. Yes, I changed my mind. Again. 

23 – The last lap?

Once I was happy with the proof copy, I went to the ultimate stage – allowing the book to go ‘live’. How long would it take before it’s visible on Amazon? 

In less than five minutes the book appeared on .com and .co.uk – but as ‘unavailable’. Another five minutes passed before it became available on .com and two hours later it was available to order on .co.uk. Two days later and the 'look inside' option was enabled.

Before I began promoting the book I needed another copy. I could have ordered it from CreateSpace in America, but I wasn’t happy about the time it takes for them to arrive. It’s the same with ‘author copies’ – I would save on the royalty, but have to wait almost two weeks. As my royalty is a relatively insignificant amount, I decided to order a copy at full price from Amazon.co.uk.

Ordering it from Amazon and not CreateSpace cost me £10.70 (not that much more). Forty-eight hours later and I had a new copy. Everything looked fine, although I did spot a couple of turned apostrophes. After they'd been corrected I submitted an updated PDF, had the file approved and then waited the twelve or so hours for CreateSpace to confirm its acceptance. Then? Then it's live, available to the masses!

Incidentally, the royalty I 'paid' when I bought that copy was added to my earnings. Eventually I will receive the money, so it's not an extra cost - just a different way of crunching numbers.

24 – A good read!

There are a number of ways to announce your book to the world and adding its title to Goodreads is a good start. Members of the Goodreads community read and (hopefully) review books. I always copy the reviews posted on my own site www.read-reviewed.com to Goodreads (and Amazon).

The book was already found via their search option and I only needed to click on a link to 'claim' the book's title. The next day Goodreads confirmed the book was allocated to my account and I posted the book's description and the cover image. Does it increase sales to be on Goodreads? If anyone stumbles across it on the site, they can buy it via a link to Amazon - Goodreads is owned by Amazon. It doesn't hurt and it only takes five minutes.

25 – Whetting the appetite


Although I produced My Roman Holiday for less than £20, I have invested some funds into a little marketing. For a relatively small amount I have had some colour postcards produced. There's space for me to write a short message and the recipients can use them as a bookmark. I have also distributed some as 'tasters' to whet the appetite of anyone wishing to read a self-indulgent memoir packed full of holiday snaps!

Most authors will write with their market firmly in mind. My CreateSpace project was written for a different reason, to test how easy it would be to use CreateSpace's free software. But I still wanted it to be worth the trouble. Why else bother to correct those turned apostrophes?



26 – Get writing!

The great thing about CreateSpace is that a book can be published without a budget. Some people dream of running a marathon and never get beyond running around the block a few times. Others dream of writing a book and holding it in their hands. If you have a plot running through your imagination, perhaps have even completed the first draft, why not consider self-publishing?

You don't need to be a Paula Radcliffe to run a marathon, nor do you need to be able to run a marathon to enjoy running – I'm proof of that! Writing a book is the same – you don't need to be a Hilary Mantel to write a book and enjoy it. 

You just need to write!


27 – And finally...




Here's a very brief summary of the stages – it's pleasing there are so few!





  • Create manuscript in Word (using formatted indents and page breaks for new chapters)
  • Copy and paste manuscript into CreateSpace template
  • Create cover
  • Produce PDF version of Word document
  • Submit to CreateSpace, via their download option
  • Receive confirmation there are no technical issues
  • Order proof copy
  • Complete final check and go live
  • Order author copies - from either CreateSpace or Amazon
  • Celebrate!


  • What if you find you have published in haste? My mother has a saying: 'Marry in haste, repent at leisure'. If errors have crept into your final version, it's not too late to remove them. Make the corrections to your Word document, re-submit and relax. 

    And finally... 

    I began writing this memoir as a CreateSpace project – to see how easy it would be to publish a paperback using Amazon’s free software.

    As I developed the manuscript into a book, I recorded the stages in this jargon-free diary. 

    Once you’ve achieved your dream you will hope that people will buy the book – and review it. If you’d like me to read and review your book, have a look at my review website: www.read-reviewed.com

    You can also find me on Twitter: @ReadReviewed

    28 – Back to the cover

    The great thing about using CreateSpace is that a book can be updated at any time. If you’ve published a book about a local history topic and have unearthed some new information, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t revise your book.

    The amount of changes will dictate whether you should actually publish it as a new book, but there’s information about this on the CreateSpace pages.

    I decided that I would update my cover. Why? Well, although I’d thought hard about it at the time, I wasn’t really happy with how sharp the image was. I mention its quality in Post 05. So, after some more sifting through my virtual album I decided to use a photo I’d taken of some fridge magnets.

    “Fridge magnets?” I hear you shout. Yes. The photo is colourful and fridge magnets are mentioned in the book. The photo used was taken on my last full day in the city and I felt that it was both apt and an improvement.

    Of course, changing the cover meant changing the interior of the book. I had listed the original photo and needed to change its description. 

    That done, the files were uploaded and the new version available. It takes some time (a couple of days, no more) for the Amazon pages to show the new cover but once it’s live (as confirmed by email from CreateSpace), any orders will be for the new version.

    A year after I considered this project complete, I was still tweaking. Now I think it's time to move on to my next project...