DIY publishing: Create a paperback with CreateSpace for free

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Everything I wish I knew before self-publishing my book

Self-publishing a print version of your book is straight forward thanks to the print-on-demand (POD) technology– or is it? Well yes and no. Learn more.


Yes, because POD allows the print of a single copy at a time, which means the book only gets printed after a customer has ordered it. There are two main POD publishers: CreateSpace ( and IngramSpark ( CreateSpace has no upfront costs whereas IngramSpark charges a small fee of $49 to self-publish a print book. To avoid paying the $49 and for several other reasons (see “Self-publish completely on your own – the DIY approach”) I went with CreateSpace for my first book.

No, because there are still some hurdles to jump before your work becomes a printed book. Assuming your masterpiece is finished, copy edited, etc., you can start the online procedure to get it published, for example by creating a CreateSpace account ( Getting a unique International Standard Book Number (ISBN; a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books internationally) is easy since CreateSpace provides one for you. However the layout is the hard part, at least if you are new to the game like I was, and have never published before.

Here is my experience using CreateSpace to publish a paperback of my book. All the writing and editing for my book was done in Microsoft Word, so I first started to push Word to create print worthy files.

1) Do not compress images

Images for print should be at least 300 dpi (dots per inches), otherwise they turn our blurry or pixelated in the book. However, images shown on a computer screen only need 96 dpi which is the maximum resolution of most monitors. So make sure your images are 300 dpi - this can be checked and adjusted with free image viewers such as irfanview ( and then imported into Word. Always use Insert >Picture and then upload a file, never copy and paste from another program since this will result in 96 dpi resolution. Now the big problem is even when you import a 300 dpi image into MS Word correctly, stubborn Word will automatically convert it to 96 dpi without asking. This is great to keep the Word files small but it makes your documents useless when it comes to printing.

The solution is to find the hidden function and tell Word to stop converting images to 96 dpi. For example in Word 2010 this can be done under File >Options >Advanced. Scroll down to “Image Size and Quality” and check the box “Do not compress images in files.” This will force Word to save the imported images in the original resolution (see screenshot below):

Word check do not compress imagesJPG

Go to File >Options >Advanced and scroll down to “Image Size and Quality” and here check the box “Do not compress images in files.”


300dpi pdf print results in179dpi 800xJPEG

If your images are below the recommended resolution of 300 dpi the CreateSpace preview tool will complain bitterly.


2) Size, margins, and gutters

Obviously you have to decide what size the book will be. The final size of a printed book is called the trim size. There are different trim sizes you can choose from, but most self-publishers seem to go with 5 ½” x 8 ½” or 6” x 9”. These are handy, readable sizes and will work for most books – for example I went with 5 ½ x 8 ½ for my sailing book. Some books like photo books might need larger sizes of 7” x 10” and above, but keep in mind that they might not fit on some bookshelves including the ones in book stores.

We are all familiar with margins, but on top of that there is also the gutter which needs to be addressed. In typography a gutter refers to the space between facing pages. Now CreateSpace goes with slightly different terms and uses “gutter margins” which are the inside margins where the books binding is and “outside margins” which are on the page’s edges. MS Word uses “left” and “gutter” which summed together correspond to CreateSpace’s gutter margins (see image below).

CreateSpace vs MS Word gutter margins

A comparison of the margin and gutter definitions used in CreateSpace and MS Word.


It’s also important to know that the minimal gutter margins CreateSpace allows depend on the number of pages in the book. More pages means a thicker book and wider margins – here is the CreateSpace table.

Page Count Gutter (Inside) Margins    Outside Margins
24 to 150 pages .375" at least .25"
151 to 300 pages .5" at least .25"
301 to 500 pages .625" at least .25"
501 to 700 pages .75" at least .25"
701 to 828 pages .875" at least .25"

Table modified from


Note, even if you set the margins in MS Word correctly, I found that Word cheats a bit and italic fonts will stick out beyond the margins.. Thus, it is safer to make the margins in Word a bit wider than the recommendations in the table above.

3) Creating a suitable pdf file

If you jumped through all the hoops and created a print-suitable Word document, then the last step is to export the document as a pdf, in order to upload it to Now there are different ways to do this but I found the best approach is to save your work as a PDF/A1a:2005 compliant file. Per definition, a PDF/A document is 100% self-contained and all information necessary for displaying the document is embedded in the file. This is perfect for printing and I found it preserves all images in high quality and most importantly, creates a file which CreateSpace likes:

 FINAL how to export pdf JPG

Saving a word document as PDF/A1a:2005 compliant file: in MS Word 2010 go to Save > Save as Adobe PDF, then click on Options and check the
box next to “Create a PDF/A1a:2005 compliant file”.

Good luck in publishing your work!



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