Thursday, May 28, 2009

Adventures with Lulu (Part III)

This is the third and final post in my brief series, Adventures with Lulu. Part I offers some thoughts on why I decided to publish my book with Lulu, the online print-on-demand company. Part II gives you a glimpse into the process I undertook to create my book. In this post, I share some last thoughts on design issues and what happens after you hit "publish."

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When last we met, I had left off with a (more or less) completed book in need of a cover. Let me say a few words today about covers.

We Have Issues

I had a wonderful cover illustration in mind when I first began my Lulu odyssey. It did not survive the cover design process. The cover design process was, shall we say, a royal pain in the ass.

I'll preface by admitting I have issues with Lulu's book covers. They're glossy. I don't like glossy. The boilerplate templates are insipid. The instructions will get you through the process, but if you're looking for more substantial cover design help from Lulu, you'll have to pay for it. And honestly, you might want to do that if you have your heart set on your book looking a certain way.

Because otherwise...

I've seen some gorgeous book covers in Lulu's marketplace, so I know people can and do produce them. I just wasn't up to the task. And I'm such a bull-headed DIY-er that I didn't want to turn any of the process over to someone else.

So apparently my issues are not all with Lulu.

The good news is, by the time you get to this point in the publishing process, you will have either learned to accede to Lulu or you will have given up. I think they plan it that way.

My advice when it comes to designing your book goes double for designing your cover: know your limitations. The process of converting original artwork into a cover that looks great on your book is best left to those who know a lot more than I do about digital design.

As you can see from the photo in the sidebar on the right, I ended up creating a very simple cover for my book. It consists of text and background color. Nothing more. It's not at all what I originally envisioned, but I've come to like it well enough. It's black and red, my favorite color scheme. And it's simple and straightforward, which suits the simple, straightforward contents of my book.

And Then I Hit Publish

But was I finished? I was not. There were still a bunch of decisions to be made. Mostly they had to do with money and publishing rights and ISBNs and such. I waded through it. It didn't kill me.

I had fun playing with the price calculators. My original hope was to be able to price my book at $10, but that was too low a price to allow me to sell it through Amazon -- between Lulu's fixed charge and Amazon's markup, I would have been paying them to carry it for me. So I had to bump the price a bit, but then I added the very-low-price download option, and that made me feel better.

I had fun making my storefront.

And I took particular delight in getting my first sale, a download to my friend (and fellow unschooler) Kris.

In Sum

Lulu has its problems, and its detractors. It is, first and foremost, self-publishing for amateurs -- people who want to be authors, not those looking to establish book-publishing empires or see their books on the shelves of the local big-box merchants. There is nothing wrong with either of those goals -- it's just that Lulu is not the best way to achieve them.

Lulu's pricing structure leads to a higher per-book cost than you'd find with, say, CreateSpace, though it's much less than online publishers xlibris or iuniverse, which follow a different business model.

As it irons out bugs and correct problems, Lulu sometimes leaves old information in the archives and the faqs, which can lead to no small amount of confusion. And it can be precipitous in its policy changes, as it was recently when it made books available to Amazon Marketplace without first informing its authors that it was doing so.

That said, I found the process of publishing with Lulu to be pretty damn satisfying. The company markets itself as a simple way to get your book into print and available for purchase, and it pretty much delivers on those promises. It lived up to my expectations. I would do it again. And probably will soon.

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101 Reasons Why I'm An Unschooler is available in two versions through Lulu. One is a relatively inexpensive print version that will come to you in a handy, reusable shipping box. The other is a ridiculously inexpensive digital download that's extremely readable and very kind to trees. You can visit my Lulu store here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Adventures with Lulu (Part ll)

In Adventures with Lulu, Part I, I shared some thoughts on the self-publishing process in general and why I decided to publish my book with the online print-on-demand company, Lulu. Today, a bit of the nuts-and-bolts stuff of how that process worked for me.

As always, feel free to share your own experiences or ask questions in the comment section.

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Okay, then. In order to publish a book on Lulu, you need three things:

1. a manuscript
2. some idea of how you want the interior of your book to look
3. a simple cover design

All three of these things can -- and probably will -- change as you go along. Change is good. This is a learning process.

The Manuscript

Once you've said all you have to say, and you're happy with how you've said it, you have a manuscript. Show it to people or don't show it to anyone. It's up to you. Get someone to proofread it or do it yourself. That's also up to you. Just know that if you proofread your own work, you can expect to find mistakes even after your 27th time though it. The more familiar you are with the material, the less likely you are to notice mistakes. I speak from experience.

I also speak from experience when I say that you might decide, somewhere around the 14th time through your manuscript, that you've written a boring piece of crap that no one will want to read. Never mind. Ignore yourself, and proceed with your publishing.

The Interior

Now that you have the words you want, you have to decide where you want them. In other words, you need to imagine your manuscript as a book. Here's where you will either kiss Lulu or curse her, depending.

The difference between a book and a manuscript is in the design. A book is an arrangement of elements -- a title page and other front matter, headers and footers, page numbers, text, artwork, etc. When you publish with a traditional publishing company, they take care of all of this for you. When you self-publish, you have to attend to it yourself.

Lulu helps you, somewhat -- they'll happily take a chunk of money from you to do the design work for you, and you may find that comforting, especially if you're easily frustrated and expect to get things right the first time or two you do them. But if you're more of a DIY kind of person, and you're willing to spend some time and learn as you go, then by all means give design a try.

But first...

Get Acquainted with the Process

First, peruse the forums and faqs looking for tips and tricks to help you along. If nothing else, this will help you familiarize yourself with the issues other people have had, and can serve as a "I know I read about this somewhere" reminder when you run into trouble with your own project. Which you probably will.

Once more with feeling: it's a learning process.

In my case, I had a bear of a time with page breaks. And blank pages. And page numbering. I'm still not entirely happy with the page numbering for 101. It's a Microsoft Word thing, not a Lulu thing, and Lulu does offer helpful suggestions for getting it right. I just couldn't get it to work for me, and in the end I decided to leave well enough alone.

It helped me a great deal to just pull some books off my shelf and look at how they were designed. I looked at the size of the typeface, and what went on the title page, and how big the margins were. I also made ample use of Google to search for design websites and self-publishing websites to learn what went where and why.

Lots to learn.

Lulu offers design suggestions, which will give you a place to start, but in the end, you can pretty much do what you want. It's your book.

Uploading Your Files

You can begin uploading your files as soon as you set up your account with Lulu -- which doesn't cost anything and requires no commitment on your part, as I indicated in Part I. This is good to know, because it means you can take a risk without, well, taking a risk. Think of it as publishing for peasants.

My manuscript was contained in a single file, so uploading was a snap. If your manuscript is made up of lots of separate files, you'll have to upload them individually, in the correct order. This can get confusing, especially when you begin making revisions. You will be tempted to curse the process. Instead, accede to Lulu. Try to limit the number of files you upload. Combine chapters into two or three files at most. It will help keep you sane.

If you have art or photos or tables or charts to put into the interior of your book, be prepared to spend some time getting them where you want them. Again, accede to Lulu. And when all else fails, ask for help.

Always Review

Once your files are loaded, Lulu will convert them to a pdf for your review. Always review your pdf. Always. Every time you revise. It's a slow process. You will become bored with it, and with your book. Never mind. Review the pdf anyway.

Expect to find mistakes. Typos, spelling errors, page break errors, blank pages inserted where you don't want them and missing where you do want them. Go back to your files, fix them and upload again.

Rinse and Repeat

You can revise and upload your files an unlimited number of times. This is a mixed blessing, since you can tweak and polish and edit and rewrite again and again, and never finish your damn project. I'm sure there are lots of people who live in this Lulu limbo -- be forewarned.

In my case, in addition to all the basic errors that had to be corrected, and revisions to the text that I made as I went along, I also changed my book size, twice. Each change required a complete re-formatting, and each re-formatting required several pdf conversions to get right. Oh well.

It's learning process.

Once you're happy enough with your interior files, you can start working on your cover. This is another great adventure, one I'll cover in Part III.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Adventures with Lulu (Part l)

My relationship with the online publisher Lulu is in its early stages. My book has been available for sale for less than a month. I haven't received a revenue payment yet, since Lulu distributes revenue monthly or quarterly, depending on your agreement with them. I haven't used any of Lulu's extra services, or spent much time in its forums. I've barely got my storefront designed.

So it's all quite new, and I'm not ready to draw conclusions about the relationship beyond the tentative "so far, so good." What I can do is share some details of my experience to this point, from writing and designing my book to getting it ready for print, figuring out distribution, and getting my first sales.

But first...

Why Lulu?

I always knew I would self-publish my book. I didn't want to argue its merits to a publisher and I didn't want to wait a year or more to see it in print, so DIY was always part of the equation. The question for me was, how much DIY did I want to do?

When I began researching the subject, I looked into some very low-tech, very hands-on options to getting my book into print. I considered everything from going the zine route via Kinko's to getting my own book press. I eventually found a couple of useful blogs written by self-publishers and I joined an email group to get some first-hand advice.

None of these sources recommended the Lulu option.

Lulu is, after all, a "middle-man." Like its main competitor, Amazon's CreateSpace, Lulu takes your files and converts them to a print-ready format that it then sends to a print-on-demand printing company -- the same printing company you can work with directly if you so choose. So the cost per book with Lulu is higher than it would be if you skipped the middle-man and did your own file conversions and established an account with the printing company. This is what the independent publishers on that email list do. They don't mess with Lulu. Lulu is for amateurs. These people are pros, and they go right to the source.

So why did I end up choosing Lulu? Because I'm an amateur, and I'm happy to remain one (amateur: from the Latin amare, to love.)

I wanted a simple, inexpensive option. I wanted to experiment with self-publishing without the steeper learning curve, administrative details, or financial investment of a more hands-on approach. I didn't want the project to get bogged down in the not-so-fun stuff.

In other words, I wanted a book, not a bunch of headaches.

About that financial investment.

No matter which way you go, print-on-demand is very inexpensive. If you skip the middle-man, you might have to pay for document conversion software and design software, and you'll need to buy your ISBN. Without the middle-man's "wizards" you're on your own in that regard. But there are plenty of no-cost and low-cost options available -- open source software, free trials, working with a friend who has the software and/or expertise you lack, and so forth -- so it's good to check around before you commit to anything.

Still, with respect to your financial outlay, you can't get much lower than Lulu. There is no charge to open an account, upload your files, design your cover, or even to acquire your ISBN if you choose to let Lulu be your publisher (as opposed to you holding your publishing rights -- Lulu makes both options available.) You can create a digital book, download a pdf and stop right there and you'll have incurred no costs at all. Your only outlay -- and it's pretty minimal -- comes at the end of the process, when you order a print copy of your book for review, and you'll pay for one book (at your author's price, which is about half of your book's retail cost) and shipping (media mail is your least expensive choice, and it's as reliable as the USPS.) And even this one purchase is optional -- you can make your book available for sale without ever seeing a review copy.

Lulu doesn't charge you for any revisions you make, by the way, either before or after publishing, which is nice, because if you're like me, you'll make a bunch of revisions both along the way and after you first see your book in print. I ended up ordering three different review copies of my book before I was satisfied with it.

It helps to know what you want.

I chose Lulu because of what I wanted to get out of the experience: a book. Attaining a skill set for building an independent publishing company, finding the path to the greatest income or the broadest distribution for my effort, these are perfectly fine goals. They just weren't my primary concerns. I wanted to publish a book that people could buy. However many people. Over however long a period of time. No pressure, no worries, just a creative adventure.

When you know what you want, you can sift through expert advice to find the stuff that works for you. When you're not so sure what your real goals are, you can waste a lot of time running after other people's dreams, and getting very frustrated in the process. What fun is that?

My goal was to produce a simple book for a nominal investment, and enjoy myself in the process. And that's pretty much what I did.

Next: me & my manuscript meet the great Lulu maw.