Laura Howard: Greased Lightning (Source)!


Greased Lightning (Source)!

Johnell Kelley and Robbyn Hill

Hey Laura, thanks for having us! 

We’re happy to share what we dub our ‘almost big mistake,’ with others.

These Getaway Girlz decided to go against the grain, and chose a lesser-known, print-on-demand company, Lightning Source, versus the company-who-shall-not-be-named -- not to imply it’s evil like Voldemort, but you know, we don’t want to piss anybody off, especially if he does have a large wand.  

The decision was not made lightly, but was made last minute. 

Three weeks before the launch party, 100 people invited.

We had gone through the entire process with Voldy. We had outsourced the cover, but chose to have their design team format the interior, a common, black and white file. We expected a few edits on the first go-round, not perfection, and in fact did request a few simple formatting changes. The corrections requested initially (font in a few areas such as a text message and newspaper article, chapter headings, squirrely do-dad that delineates a break), we felt, were fairly simple. However, because of the way Voldy’s set up, each new change request pushed the previous one down and therefore wasn’t visible to the design team. To make matters worse, almost every time we called, we spoke to a different person. We have seven names in our notes. Every formatting change was seven to ten business days. They admitted they had made a few errors and rushed our request, but even then the turn time was two business days and honestly, it probably could have taken one of their designers five minutes to make the change. The clock was ticking (we were pressed for time) and gray hairs were sprouting in unprecedented numbers. Even with these potential deadline breaking issues, we kept going, thinking they were the answer to our printing prayers because of its affiliations.

While waiting for our proof to arrive, we attended a writer’s conference. It was literally three weeks to the day of our first launch party. It was liberating in so many ways. Not only did we meet James Rollins (who is awesome, so down to earth and full of insight for those of us who are up and coming!), but we received great advice from published authors and other printers. We knew switching printers was insane, but after what we learned, we did it anyway.

With Lightning Source, the process flew by. Monday, we applied to be approved as a publisher. 

Meanwhile, the sales representative emailed us a list of interior formatters. This was invaluable. It is not a requirement to use them, but we needed them.

By Thursday we were approved as a publisher, assigned a client service representative and had uploaded two PDFs -- the final cover and the interior file. Friday, Lightning Source mailed us a proof for a minimal fee. Wednesday of the next week (delayed for Memorial Day), the proof arrived and looked fabulous. We approved it right away and ordered our initial run. We chose to expedite printing but not shipping -- that would have been a small fortune. The books were delivered the next Wednesday, three days before our launch. Whew! Our rep told us this type of expediency was not the norm. We got lucky; the stars were perfectly aligned; whatever…we were happy. Holidays can make turn-around times for printing longer. Delivery, too. Be warned.

Double bonus -- within three days of approving the proof, the print version was available on, (we’d already published on Nook), and within a week it was up on The cover image was delayed, but we weren't too concerned as we had the Kindle version up which links to the print. What can we say…it looked freakin’ fantastic.  Go check it out!

Here’s the gist of what we’ve learned in the POD process:

  • Voldy would not allow books to be returned, which is a REQUIREMENT of most book stores. Learning that we’d never be in Barnes and Noble, or probably any other bookstore, was a biggie. We might add, we’ve had several signings at B&N, selling out at most of them (which is sooo cool!), and have several on the calendar now! This would not have been an option with Voldy as our printer.
  • Lightning Source is also our distributor with Ingram, which is crucial to being in libraries and bookstores.  
  • We needed to set the wholesale discount at 55% and not a percentage under in order for retailers to carry it.
  • By going with Voldy’s free ISBN, that company would be the publisher, not us.
  • With Lightening Source, we are the printer, as in our corporation, not Lightening Source, not any other entity.
  • It’s official. The quality of Voldy’s book isn’t as good as Lightening Source. We’ve got the proof! Ha!

So that's a wrap. We hope you've learned from our ‘almost big mistake’. We’re super happy with our POD/distributor/launch-party-saver, Lightning Source, and there’s no looking back.

Questions? Comments? We’re happy to hear all sides!


  1. Thanks you for the invaluable information. I'm polishing my first novel and will have to make some tough decisions soon.

    1. It is a tough decision to decide who to use for the print books and what works for one might not work for the other.

      We're happy we could help. Let us know if you have more questions.

  2. Because we chose Lightning Source, we can take full advantage of, a new fansourcing platform to bring "audiences and authors together."

    Per Publisher's Marketplace: "Togather is partnering with Ingram for wholesale book fulfillment as well."

    We're ready Togather, bring it on!

  3. You were smart to choose Lightning Source, and your experience is similar to what I've had with them for the past 7 years of publishing over a dozen books with them.
    However, note that Lightning Source is hardly a "lesser known" PDD printer. As a subsidiary of Ingram (one of the two largest distributors along with Baker & Taylor), they are the leading POD printer and have printed over 120,000,000 books for over 24,000 publishers around the world. The Lightning Source digital library holds over 7.6 million books and adds several hundred thousand each month. (Also, note that Lightning doesn't have an "e" in it...with an "e" is a totally different meaning.)

    1. We realize Lightning Source is a large company and serve thousands of publishers, but I (Robbyn) feel like for first-time writers just looking into POD, less in known about them. There is a lot of talk about "Voldy" among writers, on blogs, at conferences, etc and not near as much talk of Lightning Source, at least that I found. That was the reason we wanted to do this post, help spread the word. We're happy we switched!

  4. Thank you!!! I decided a couple of weeks ago to go with Lightning Source for my next book and I'm so very impressed with them so far. Everyone has been very kind and helpful. ;o)

    The big thing for me too was to be in actual brick and mortar stores. Don't get me wrong, I know the money is better with the ebooks, but there is just something about being able to sign your book in a real book store that I find quite appealing! ;o)

    Thanks again for the wonderful information. ;o)


    1. Everyone we've dealt with at Lightning Source has been great and quick with responses which we needed with our super tight deadline!

      The brick and mortar store issue was the deal breaker for us, too. We might not get into every bookstore in the world, but I have to know we could be, that the opportunity is there. We're shootin' for the stars here and can't be held back by not being returnable.

      Good luck with your publishing endeavors!

  5. Fantastic post. I'm hoping to offer my selkie trilogy in paperback in the near future, and this was a really helpful comparison. Thx!!

  6. Glad you found this informative. Best of luck with your trilogy!

  7. Congratulations on your new release. I followed you from Chazz Writes.

    Did you do the interior yourself for LSI? I ask because you mentioned Voldy doing the interior at the "company which shall not be named," but LSI provided you with instructions on doing the interior through an email.

    I've never used LSI, though quite a few authors say that's the way to go. I do like the speed you mentioned in regards to your books finding their way to B&N. Though the "company which shall not be named" publishes quickly to Amazon, it can take a month or more for books to reach other places.

    One thing I do like about the "company which shall not be named" is the process is easy to navigate, if you do it all yourself. I started the approval process with LSI but working through the sales representative was an annoyance. I also didn't like that information wasn't up front. Instead, I had to send off emails to get basic information like a pricing guide.

    Still, LSI does has the nice benefit of having a return policy which works like a traditional publisher. Authors able to capitalize on that feature without eating huge costs in returns are one step ahead of others.

    Another nice thing about LSI is I hear the royalties are better than they are at "company which shall not be named." Although, I'm told they're not "royalties." :) I guess it's more on the lines of net profit than royalties. Even though the upfront costs with LSI is larger, for authors who sell a lot of print books, LSI definitely seems to be the way to go in terms of profit.

    Anyway. I ramble. I meant to ask just the one question in the second paragraph, but my thoughts seemed to spill out. Now I'm too full of myself to delete the unnecessary verbiage.

    Wishing you much luck on your release!

    1. You crack me up, Reena and thanks popping over.

      Heck no we didn't format the interior ourselves. We were going to have Voldy do it, but when we switched we asked LSI if they could recommend anyone. Our sales rep emailed me a list of independent formatters that knew the ins and outs of what LSI needed exactly. I contacted several but chose one who could meet our tight deadline. She was awesome to work with and we'll use her again. It cost us less with her than it did to have Voldy format the interior.

      I do agree that Voldy's process is easier to navigate, but our sales rep with LSI helped us immensely. I asked her a lot of questions up front and when something came up later, she was quick with a response if I couldn't get her on the phone. The interior formatter we used was also a huge help in navigating the process, even down to how to name the pdf files we uploaded. Without those two ladies, we would not have made our tight deadline. They rock!

      Not that we want our books to get returned, but we gotta have that option available so we can get into stores. I love to go to a book store and peruse the aisles for a while, find new authors, chit chat with folks in the store. We had to know our book would get into stores, no way around it with us.

      With LSI it's not royalties, it's the cost to print a book, and in our case, it was less expensive by about $.80 cents which adds up. I don't see where the upfront cost with LSI is larger, well, I guess it depends on who does the cover and interior, but LSI's cost of $75 isn't too bad, all things considered. They happened to have a promotion going when we published so we didn't have to pay it.

      Best wishes with your writing and publishing!
      Robbyn, the Ry in Rylen

    2. $0.80 does add up, and $75 isn't bad when considering the added benefits. In comparison, the "company which shall not be named" would be less than $5 + SH for most proof copies. If we go with the assumption no additional changes are made, and author is only looking at a $60 difference. Because of the hire return with going with LSI, 75 books would even the playing field... all books sold after would put an author ahead. When I look at a number like that, my mind says, "Come on... you can't 75 books? Are you kidding me?"

      Another thing to keep in mind is the $0.80 difference probably applies only to book sold on Amazon. I'm making up numbers now. An author might receive $3.00 from the "company which shall not be named" when selling on Amazon but only $0.70 when sold in other places. With LSI, books sold wherever might receive the $3.80 net difference. Amazon doesn't have a brick and mortar store. So just hitting a B&N and selling 20 books would break a publisher even, and 20 books is a reasonable number at a book signing.

      The other consideration is if the author wants to become a full-blown publisher or not. With LSI, you are the publisher, which means purchasing ISBNs (the biggest financial costs), creating a publishing company, etc. The "company which shall not be named" gives authors a choice. If one does not become the publisher, the upfront costs are significantly lower. But when you think about it, not becoming a true publisher has little to do with the companies (LSI or "company which shall not be named"), but rather a personal choice. And really, the upfront of costs of becoming a publisher isn't bad considering those funds are meant to be recouped over a period of time rather than upfront. :) Kind of like purchasing a vehicle for a business but receiving the tax breaks over the course of 5 years. Each time one publishes a book, one receives the benefit of having an block of ISBNs.

      When it comes to becoming a true publisher and the financial bottom line, you've sold me on LSI.

    3. The cost to print the books are the same whether its books we purchase for our inventory, or if goes through the wholesale channel to retails such as Amazon and B&N. We make less on the wholesale books because of the 55% discount most retailers require in order to carry the books. We're still available in print for sale at Amazon and B&N so we're okay with that.

      We were doing just about everything ourselves and pretty much acting as publishers with Voldy, except for formatting the interior and purchasing the ISBNs, so to take it that extra step wasn't all that difficult and seemed like a no-brainer. We're trying to do this as professionally as possible and it was just a matter of figuring it out. Glad we did!

      Go get 'em, fellow publisher!

  8. I have a few books I want to put into print and thanks to this post I will go with Lightning Source, and I have been looking for a good POD publisher. I had no idea the books are not returnable if you go with the other one. Thank you for this post it makes the decision pretty easy.

    1. A CRM at Barnes and Noble is the person that clued us in on the returnability issue. I called Voldy and got transferred around a little before being told not returnable unless the book was damaged. Thank goodness for Chris at B&N. We had a signing in her store last month and almost sold out. She's already asking when the next book in the series will be out so we can have another signing.

      Wish you the best!


  9. I wish this post had come out a month ago, before I signed up with 'the other one!' I did a lot of research before choosing to go with Voldy, but hadn't realised my book will not be available at B&N and other like stores. I've got my ISBN with them as well. Is it too late to change to LSI for PODs?

    1. I also went through the "company which shall not be named." If you sign up for the extended distribution plan ($25) your book will be in other stores, including B&N. Mine are available in print at B&N, TBD, Amazon, and a host of other online stores. Where it won't be is sitting on the shelves in the brick & mortar (B&M) stores. HOWEVER, readers can order your book from B&M stores. One thing to consider though, most individuals do not order books from B&M stores. They go to the B&M stores to pick up a book on the spot and go home.

      The other thing to consider is just because you go through LSI and have the ability to get your books on the B&M shelves doesn't mean they'll automatically land there. My understanding is you have to contact each store individually (even chain stores) to get copies of your print book in their stores.

      If you went with the "company who shall not be named," are satisfied with their service, and don't plan to do the leg work of contacting each store and/or doing book signings in B&M stores, then you're probably good. If at a later date you do decide you're ready to upgrade to the status true publisher, you can always republish your books through LSI.

      Before you change on a whim... definitely do your research. LSI offers great benefits, but so does the "company which shall not be named." Truly, it depends on your preferences as an indie author. Unless you do some research, you might have difficulty determining which company is the right fit for you.

    2. One other thing. You might try offering your books at your local independent book store on consignment and even schedule a book signing. You can do that with the "company which shall not be named." It would give you an opportunity to see what it's like trying to sell your work to a bookstore before switching... see if it's something for you.

  10. If you haven't approved your proof with them, it's not too late to switch. You won't get your money back, but it's worth it in the long run to switch.

  11. Authors do have to contact the individual bookstores they want to be in. Just publishing through LSI won't get you in there, too many books, not enough shelf space.

    You could go through Voldy and then switch to LSI later, but you'd have to re-do your cover and call it a second edition. The second edition part isn't too bad, but depending on how you're branding yourself, changing the cover could be problematical.

    The quality of the paper used on the cover is better through LSI, it doesn't curl up. The proof we got through Voldy didn't take long to look beat-up. Full disclosure - it lived in Johnell's enormous purse, but I've been carrying copies of the LSI books (always gotta be prepared to make a sale!) in my huge purse and they look fine. I'm a little more organized than Johnell (understatement) so maybe that has helped.

    Definitely do your research!

  12. I compared both companies and for me, Lightning Source is more expensive, up front and when changes are made. That "nominal fee" for a proof costs around $35 if I remember correctly. With this "other company", you can download your proofs for free, and I've had few problems with them. For example, in my last order, one box got wet and I lost the ability to sell 8 books. Called them up and no problem. Replaced free of charge. Plus they ship very fast. Any time I uploaded new files they were usually ready within 24 hours. Quality of both companies is said to be excellent, so for me, this company works out well. Your article is obviously in favor of Lightning Source, but the other company has real good benefits as well. I think it's good to have at least 2 competing sources. To me, the more the merrier!

  13. Lightning Source only requires publishers to order a physical proof on their first project. After that, publishers can approve a work by viewing the digital proof only. There is no cost for the digital proof, however, if changes are made, they do charge a fee to upload a new file. We did have to submit a revised file as there was a formatting error on our end due to a last minute change we made. The new digital proof was available in less than 24 hrs. It's really best to upload the absolute final file to avoid any additional fees.

    We got a digital proof with Voldy and it looked fine, but when we received the physical copy, the front cover was missing anything in black print, like the author name... The colors on the LS proof are richer and more vibrant than the Voldy proof. LS ships quickly as well, which helped us make our super tight deadline.

    The publishing industry needs options and competing sources. We all have different needs, circumstances, etc. But for us, Lightning Source was the better way to go and we're glad we made the switch.


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