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.

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