Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Tangle with CreateSpace

By Andrew E. Kaufman 



One of the reasons I worked like a madman to get my latest novel finished was because I wanted to have it out by Christmas. Books make great holiday gifts. Lots of holiday gifts mean lots of sales, and  therein lay my motivation. As it turned out, I was able to release the e-book on December sixth.
Then there was the paperback.
I uploaded the file around the same time as the e-version, and to my satisfaction, it appeared I was on schedule. I ordered a hundred books—many of which already had buyers—then waited for the estimated December 19th delivery date.

They arrived on schedule, but when I opened the boxes, I got an unpleasant surprise: it wasn’t the book that I’d uploaded. Well, it was, but it wasn’t, because this one was riddled with formatting issues: paragraphs that had no breaks between them and other problems. Now granted, I knew those problems had existed, but I also knew that we’d fixed them, then uploaded the corrected version; yet somehow, the one with the errors was what ended up being printed.
I saw red.
Immediately, I got on the phone and called CreateSpace (the Amazon company responsible for printing and distributing the book). The lady I spoke with seemed dumbfounded. She confirmed they had the correct file yet had no idea why the bad version ended being printed. Apparently it was some sort of glitch on their end, but since she couldn't figure out what that was, she told me they’d need to have technical support take a look, assuring me they’d re-ship the new books once they knew what had gone wrong.
“How long might it take for them to do that?” I asked.
“Two-to-three days,” she replied.
“But you don’t understand. I have nearly a hundred people waiting to buy  books as Christmas gifts. I can’t give them these.”
“It would be impossible to get the new ones to you by then.”
A deep sigh. “But this wasn’t my fault.”
“I'm very sorry,” she said, “but until technical support investigates the matter, there’s nothing we can do, and that will take at least—”
“Two to three days. Yeah, I know. Isn’t there a way to expedite the process?”
“I’m afraid not. They’re very busy this time of year.”
Now, besides having three boxes filled with books that will never see the light of day, besides not being able to sell them before Christmas, there was another problem, a much bigger one: a lot of people had already purchased the paperback on Amazon. People I don’t know and have no way of reaching. People who laid down their hard-earned money expecting to have a good book to read. People who were not going to get that.
Those people  will likely take one look at my book and decide I’m some yayhoo who thinks he can write. And that, in my world, is far worse than having three boxes filled with very expensive firewood.
So I asked the lady: “What about the customers who have already bought the book? Isn't there some way to alert them that they got a bad copy, maybe send them the good version once it’s available?”
“I’m afraid not,” she said.
I don't know if I've mentioned this here before, but I’m fiercely loyal to my readers. I have great respect for them, and I always put them first. It’s why I work so hard to create the best work I can. They deserve that. So the thought of them receiving a defective book makes me want to gnash my teeth to powder.  Now, luckily, the majority of my sales are on Kindle, and that version is fine. But I wouldn’t care if just one reader had bought the paperback—as far as I'm concerned, that's one too many. I don’t want anyone getting less than what they paid for. Not one.  
As it stands now, I'm still waiting for technical support to conclude their investigation. There will be no books for Christmas; in fact, I've pulled the paperback from Amazon to prevent any further sales until the matter is resolved. And, of course, I have three boxes of books that will likely either be headed back to Amazon or to the dumpster.
So why am I telling you all this? For one, I think it's good to share these experiences with other indie authors so they can be aware. But beyond that,  I also think there’s a lesson to be learned here: technology is a beautiful thing, and it’s made our lives better in so many ways.
But it’s far from perfect.


Incidentally,  if anyone reading this post bought the paperback version of The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, please contact me as soon as possible (mail@andrewekaufman.com)  so I can figure out a way to get the good version to you. I’m hoping Amazon will make good on this, but if they don’t, you have my promise: I will, even if I have to replace every one of them myself.


19 comments:

  1. Eek - horrific! Do hope you get it sorted soon. Keep us updated - as a CreateSpace user I'm worried! And feeling for you - that's awful.

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  2. That must have been heartbreaking to see all those messed-up books! CreateSpace seems to have excellent customer service, and I have to believe they'll correct this. Keep us posted.

    I'm waiting on a box of books from CreateSpace now and feeling a little nervous.

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  3. Merry Christmas from your friends in the IT department! That really sucks Andrew but I admire your dedication to your fans. Something tells me they'll understand and be happy to open a "late" gift. It's scary to put your career, or parts of it anyway, in others hands but it's the system we have. Please keep up informed on how they respond from here.

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  4. I've fortunately(!) had nothing go wrong with Createspace, but you are serving as a shining example of what could happen. They've also been nothing but nice answering my questions, etc.

    One question, just for my curiousity: did you order a proof copy prior to placing your order? I always do and think I can rest easy if the proof is good. If you did and got this mess, I'm feeling a little less secure.

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  5. Wow! I'm feeling your frustration, Drew! If it helps any, many readers don't notice small formatting errors, so why not put a disclaimer sheet inside the front cover and sell the ones you've received at a discount? I think a lot of people would appreciate the reduced price, and very much enjoy the great story within! You could also post the same notice on Amazon and reduce the price there, too, until the "perfect" copies are up.

    Keep us posted as to how this pans out with CreateSpace. Good luck with this!

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  6. Thanks,Gayle, I forgot to add that part. I actually did order a proof to check the cover and be sure the colors were correct, which they were. I used their online Interior Review feature to check the actual text (which showed my corrected file) before ordering my copies. CreateSpace told me that what I saw on the screen would be what my book would look like when it arrived. It wasn't. This only confirms that even though they had the updated file, they printed the original one which was flawed.

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  7. I feel your pain. It's not only Create Space. One of my previous publishers somehow "lost" the three pages of errata I had sent them for one of my books. They said they'd fix it in the e-book version, but until there was a call to print more of the trade paperbacks, the errors would be there.

    And congrats on having the pre-orders, even if they won't arrive for Christmas. My experience with Create Space has been positive--except for the fact that only my e-books of that title are selling. Maybe by NEXT Christmas I'll have sold enough to recoup the outlay for proofs and the distribution fee.


    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  8. I was saddened to hear about your Create Space experience (friends of mine have used it and on the whole, they seem to be pretty good). Let's hope it gets resolved. Might I add that your dedication to your readers is super. Keep up the fabulous work Andrew and I'll be buying an e-book version of The Lion, The Lamb & The Hunted in time for Christmas!
    Best,
    Ria :-)

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  9. Drew, how many paperback sales through Amazon are you talking about? From what I've heard sales are about 100:1 ebooks to DTBs. Maybe you can convince Amazon to make good. If not, maybe you can convince Amazon to either mail the corrected copies and bill you, or, even better, provide you with the mailing information so you can personalize the books and send them directly. (Trying to make some lemonade here.)

    Speaking of making stuff . . . I made my first ever batch of almond toffee this afternoon. Neet to go make sure it worked!

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  10. I'm sorry, Andrew. I do know how you feel. I separated segments of chapters with four spaces. But Createspace cannot put four spaces at the top of a page, so the reader wonders what? What? when the text jumps to a new character, new scene.

    I'm reading Lion now in Kindle and please, be consoled. It's perfect and it's a very good book that engages me completely.

    Jodie had a good suggestion. Think of it like a flaw in a stamp that makes it worth thousands to collectors.

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  11. Thanks, everyone. I received word today from CreateSpace that they're going to reprint the new books and send them out to me shortly. No word on what caused the problem. They informed me that they don't have access to Amazon's customer records since they're a separate entity and that I could try to get in touch with them to see if there's anything they can do. I plan to.

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  12. My book, KILLERWATT, is also Create Space and the print copy is perfect. HOWEVER, I got a proof copy and proofed the entire book before placing my order. I had proofed the upload twice and still found formatting errors in the printed version. Once I corrected the proof copy I ordered a second proof copy. When it was ok, I ordered the books.

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  13. I have a friend who got her proof from CreateSpace and it had an 88-page book that belonged to someone else printed right inside her book. Big mess. You might consider looking into LSI for printing, instead of CreateSpace. This does seem to be par of the course for them.

    However, it might not be all bad. Reviews are an amazing way for authors to sell books. I run a book review site and all I ask for is a copy of the book - well, you can take those bad copies (if they allow you to keep them) and call them 'unedited galley copies' and send them out to reviewers for free reviews. This could turn out win/win. Reviewers who regularly get ARCs (advanced reading copies) are used to reading galleys that aren't 100% ready for public, including formatting issues or even some unedited bits. The point is to review the story and plot and characters and get those reviews out quickly. For you, this would be a print book galley you can give away without it costing you, since CS is redoing them for you.

    good luck with your book sales!

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  14. I forgot to mention that in the middle of my box of books of Dying for Justice was one bright yellow book with a cover for Squirrel Eyes. The interior was my story though. It made me laugh and I kept it for kicks.

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  15. Drew, so sorry you had that problem. Hopefully Amazon will send replacements for those copies sold. Send a letter to the top, if they don't. I had a complaint once about an Amazon policy about reviews and I sent a letter to Jeff Bezos himself, and I received an email rsponse from his assistant almost immediately after my letter arrived.

    I have now published 22 books with Createspace. And to my knowledge everything has been fine. I always order a proof copy.

    Hopefully if mistakes are made in their printing, readers would make that known.

    But I understand how you feel about putting out a quality book, all the way around. Buyers expect that.

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  16. Glad to hear they're going to fix it, Drew. :)

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  17. As it turns out, CreateSpace said they don't want the stinkers either, so more than likely, they'll end up in my garage gathering dust (it's hard for me to throw away books--even the misfits), or perhaps they'd make attractive door stops.

    Thanks Michelle for the idea about using them as galley prints for reviews. I never thought about that.

    I guess the one thing I can be grateful for is Amazon's outstanding customer service. I've yet to find anyone as diligent.

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  18. A hundred copy with formatting issues? That's terrible. Didn't you order a proof first? Just one copy to check if everything is okay? I hope CreateSpace would be able to solve this problem right away. Well, they can be trusted.

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  19. UPDATE:
    I spoke with Amazon today. They are aware of the problem and have informed me that anyone who purchased the PAPERBACK version can contact them and they will ship a new copy free of charge. The e-book version is fine. No problems at all.

    They claim there is no way to reach customers who bought the book by email to inform them of the problem. Something I have a difficult time believing.

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