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.

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