Notes on the Lulu Experience
As I was getting closer to publishing Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change, people asked me to comment on self-publishing via Lulu. I don’t want this edition of Cites & Insights to be “all Balanced Libraries all the time,” but a fairly long Library Access to Scholarship assures that doesn’t happen.
These are informal notes. They’re not finished. How can they be? I’m editing and copyfitting Cites & Insights while I wait for the “test copy” of the book to arrive. I won’t know how smoothly Lulu’s reporting and payment processes work until some copies have been sold and at least a month has gone by. The best I can do is comment on how it’s gone so far, and add Walt at random posts or a followup after the book’s been out for a while (or as I publish the second one, assuming that happens).
The usual caveats apply, maybe more so than in other cases. These are my experiences—and the process I followed reflects my background, preferences and current tools. Your mileage is quite likely to vary.
The short version: If you know what you’re doing and understand what Lulu does, it’s a fairly smooth process—but pay close attention to the details.
There are a bunch of publish-on-demand or print-on-demand operations out there. As far as I can tell (checking a variety of online sources), only two of them combine the elements I was looking for:
Ø No pretense of being a publisher—strictly service agencies.
Ø No up-front charges except for extra services.
Ø An online bookstore as the single point for ordering and fulfillment.
Ø Plausible prices and quality.
The two that emerged were Café Press and Lulu. You’ve probably heard of Café Press in other contexts. It’s mostly a place to create and sell custom t-shirts, coffee mugs, thongs and other tchotchkes with your brilliant logo or design. Lulu is mostly a book service, although it also does offer calendars, DVDs and CDs.
For my purposes Lulu was a pretty clear winner. Just to be sure, I ordered a book I already knew about. The book is attractive—great 60# (24lb. by copier-paper standards) cream book stock, well-made cover, well bound. I don’t have Balanced Libraries in hand yet, but I’ll be happy if it’s close to this good.
I’ve produced camera-ready copy for a fair number of books (most recently Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality and Being Analog: Creating Tomorrow’s Libraries, but also most of my earlier books), although never directly in Word. I’ve done moderately complicated templates in Word—e.g., Cites & Insights.
You can upload Word documents but that limits you to “standard” typefaces. Since I use Adobe Acrobat to produce C&I, it made sense to produce a full PDF under my control instead of Lulu’s autoconversion to PDF. That was a little more troublesome than I expected—but we’ll get back to that.
I based the “cibook” template on the C&I template—reducing the page size to 6x9", changing to single column, modifying margins and adding a gutter, establishing page heading styles and expanding the body type styles slightly. I used traditional page numbering and headings—centered footer page number with no headers for the first page of each chapter, otherwise page number and book name left-aligned on each verso, chapter name and page number right-aligned on each recto. If that all sounds bizarre to you, you’re probably better off using an existing book template; I believe Word includes several.
Next step was to complete the book and put it together. The set of chapters ran to roughly 78,000 words. After a third editing pass, that was down to about 72,000—which turned into 265 pages in the 6x9 book template. Copyfitting brought that down to 242 pages and about 71,600 words, before adding a brief index. Front matter almost always requires four pages: Title, title verso (credits and copyright), contents and a blank verso. The final product was 251 pages in all, so I added a “Continuing the Conversation” verso after the last page of the index to bring it up to 252.
There was a problem when I uploaded the PDF. Acrobat doesn’t normally embed “common” typefaces (e.g., TimesNewRoman and Arial). Apparently my bullets and possibly other symbols were in these typefaces. The error message offers a link to a quick tutorial that showed me how to change Acrobat settings to embed all typefaces. I was able to make the changes, reconvert the Word document to PDF and do a correct upload within 15 minutes.
I’m no graphic artist, even if I do have amateur background in typography and page layout. Lulu offers flexibility here. You can upload front and back covers as GIF, JPG, or PNG images—Lulu tells you how much space is required for “bleed” (the portion of a cover that gets cut off in processing—since, unlike normal book pages, covers typically don’t have blank margins) and gives you both pixel and inch dimensions for the covers. In that case, Lulu uses a little of the back cover for its logo (unless you say not to) and a stock number/bar code (again, unless you say not to); you select a color for the spine and Lulu puts the book title on the spine.
I chose the alternate route: An all-in-one cover where I provided the entire image as a PDF file. Scanning the selected photo to create the appropriate overall size, I added type for the title, subtitle, author, and “A Cites & Insights Book”—and the title and my last name rotated 90 degrees for the spine.
But how wide is the spine? Lulu offers a calculator. I plugged in 252 pages and got back “0.42 inches” and an appropriate total number of pixels for the all-in-one cover. I prepared the cover to be exactly that size. Then I uploaded the cover—and saw a white strip on the right-hand edge of the front. Why? Lulu said the cover was 9.25" by 12.82" (the bleed is 0.125" per edge)—not the 9.25" by 12.67" I’d designed. It also said the spine was 0.57", not 0.42".
I still had the scanned photo without type, so it was easy to trim it wider, re-add type and upload a revised cover (half an hour total), after which I raised a question in Lulu’s user forum about the calculator.
And got the answer. Oops. The calculator was fine—I just hadn’t recognized that “pocket book” at the top of the calculator was not what I wanted. Click on the pull-down menu, go down to “6x9” (leaving b&w as the choice) and there it was: 0.57", not 0.42". While it’s not one of their most common sizes, Lulu will publish true “pocket books” (mass-market paperback size), that is, 4.25x6.875". Those books are printed on 50# white paper, not 60# cream, so they’re thinner for the same number of pages.
Lulu’s publishing wizard works very well. Lulu’s price calculator works well: Given the known production cost (based on binding, color or b&w, size and number of pages), you can either choose a target price and have Lulu fill in your net proceeds (80% of the difference between price and production cost) or fill in the profit you want and have Lulu calculate the price.
I’d say the whole process—upgrading my account to a “creator account”, using the book wizard, using the storefront wizard—probably took about an hour, not including the time needed to redo the PDF and do a new cover PDF. Assuming the first copy of the book looks good, it should take less than a minute to make it available, a few minutes to clean up the storefront, and then time to publicize it and publish this Cites & Insights.
If you want to get books in bookstores, Lulu’s not the way to do it: The production costs are too high. If you want to produce a special item for a handful of people or do a book that you know won’t get into bookstores anyway (how many of my books have you ever seen in a bookstore other than at ALA?), Lulu so far looks like a good option.
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