The CreateSpace Issue

I have alluded to this around the internet before, but I wanted to tell the whole story about an issue I had with the POD printer I use for Chronica Feudalis: CreateSpace. If nothing else, this will be a place I can point people at when I allude to this issue again. Hopefully, small publishers like myself can learn from this experience.

Imagine you have a little more than one week until Gen Con Indy, your self-imposed and somewhat public deadline for having your book done and printed and ready to sell to the eager masses. And imagine that the latest proof of your book comes in the mail and something is wrong with it. In this case, the cover art looks fuzzy, a little out of focus. Well, this is what happened to me, just as I was getting ready to debut my first ever RPG to Gen Con Indy 09.

In no place that I have ever been able to find does CreateSpace list a phone number or an email address that you can use to get in touch with a customer service representative. There is a “Contact Support” button on the website the brings you to a form you can fill out if you have some issue. So this is what I did.

A little background: when I first set up the book with CreateSpace, I did not yet have any ISBN numbers. It was just at this point that my numbers arrived and so I needed to set up a new title to include the ISBN. I had made a few changes to the interior document, so that was a new file. But the key here is that I uploaded the exact same cover file to the new title. That is the very same cover file that I had uploaded and had received a completely satisfactory proof on from the last title, that is the one I uploaded now to the new title.

When I ordered the proof on the new title, the CreateSpace system warned that my cover file was only 150dpi. Weird, I thought, because the exact same cover file worked fine with no warning before. I ordered the proof anyway. When I received it, just about a week before Gen Con, the cover art looked fuzzy like you would expect 150dpi printed artwork to look.

So I used the “Contact Support” form to bring up my issue with CreateSpace, desperately hoping to get a response soon in order to resolve the issue. The following day I got the “Thank you for contacting CreateSpace” message sent by their automated robot. But there was no sign of a response from an actual human being.

At this point I got desperate and talked to a bunch of friends. Until I pointed it out, none of them really noticed that there was an issue with the cover. They said it was fine. I decided to place an order for the book as is. If I waited any longer, there was no way I could get them in time. The 75 copies I brought to Gen Con have fuzzy cover art. No one ever really seemed to notice or care but, well, I did.*

Three days after I sent my initial message, a customer service rep finally responds. They respond with a no-reply email address and with instructions that if you want to follow up, you’ll need to use the Contact Support feature again. Now, I’m paraphrasing, but the dialog between the representative and myself continues from this point much like this:

REP: We looked at your file, it is only 150dpi.

ME: But how can that be? It’s the same file I used for title id 3388354. That one printed fine!

REP: We looked at your file, it is only 150dpi.

ME: That’s the same thing you said last time, why don’t you respond to the title id 3388354 issue?

REP: We looked at your file, it is only 150dpi.

ME: Fuck this, I’m going to Lightning Source!

You can see how frustrating the above conversation is. But that’s not it. Between every time I say something and the rep responds, tack on three days of waiting for the rep to get back to me. That conversation took two weeks!

And that last line, with the profanity, I didn’t actually say. And I didn’t go to Lightning Source. Now, I made an account with Lightning Source, but they have a $75 setup fee and after my Gen Con expenses, I didn’t really have another $75 to spend.

What I ended up doing was deactivating the title and submitting the EXACT SAME COVER FILE again. Ordered a proof and it came back fine. (I have since had to submit the cover file one more time to fix a typo I found on the back cover).

CreateSpace has a lot of good things going for it. Their pricing competes with Lightning Source (at least for small quantities) and their turnaround time for printing is amazing (just the other day they printed and shipped 60 copies of CF in 24 hours). As far as I’m concerned, they blow Lulu out of the water. But CreateSpace (maybe even more so than Lulu) is a completely automated service. If you want to go with them, be prepared to deal with the following:

1. They have poor customer service.
2. They have very slow response time to service requests.
3. They will not hold themselves responsible for their own mistakes.

If you have a problem with them, you may need to be prepared to fix it by brute force: continuously sending them new files and ordering new proofs. In fact you can probably order a proof and have it printed and shipped to you in less time than a service rep will respond to you.

Wow, feels good to get that out of my system. Learn from this what you will. For my next book, I’m going to Lightning Source.

*If you are one of the people who purchased Chronica Feudalis at Gen Con (or in the first week it was on sale at IPR’s website) and you are not satisfied with the quality of the cover, please email me at jeremy /at/ cellar-games /dot/ com and we can work out an exchange for a corrected copy. To know if you have one of these first batch printings, look at the back cover. If you see that the website address is misspelled as “” (missing the letter L), then you have one of the original 75.

  1. Thanks a bunch, Jeremy. Super useful.

  2. For the record, I noticed the cover’s fuzziness and the misspelled URL, and took them to be part of the inherent charm of indie releases at Gen Con. I’ll keep my copy as the totally playable and fun curio that it is.

  3. Thanks for the writeup. I’m going to go with CreateSpace for Anima Prime in a couple of months, so this is good info to have.

  4. I am having a similar experience.

    I liked BookSurge just fine. It was easy to contact customer support via email, and if they didn’t answer all my questions to my satisfaction it was easy to just hit “Reply” and ask a follow-up. With CreateSpace, OTOH, you have to log onto their crappy Dashboard to ask a question. I haven’t had any problem with timely replies (usually within 24 hours), but they’re bad to just reiterate whatever they said the problem was or restate their policy without actually addressing your specific question. (“Egg management fee.” “What does that even mean?” “Egg management fee.”) So when I ask a multi-part question, or a question with “if/then” or “either/or,” I generally get only an answer to part of the question. And if I ask for a clarification of the previous answer, they just repeat it in slightly different words. And every single fucking followup requires logging on AGAIN to their shittily designed Dashboard.

    What’s more, I’ve uploaded interior files to the exact same specs I used for my previous books, and gotten endless hassles and nitpicks–despite the fact that I had no problem whatsoever with Booksurge.

    This is a textbook example of how mergers destroy value and customer goodwill.

    CreateSpace is the Microsoft Vista of POD.

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