Saturday, April 15, 2006

Adventures in E-Publishing: My Life as a Lulu

[I've recently received a few questions about my e-publishing experiences. So I thought it would be wise to revisit, slightly revise, and repost an article I published awhile back. Hope you find it helpful!]

Adventures in E-Publishing: My Life as a Lulu

by Erika Dreifus

Within the last couple of years I've learned a lot about e-publishing. Late in December 2003, I published a resource book for writers with one of the better-known print-on-demand (POD) companies. It appeared in paperback, a privilege for which I had to pay a considerable "set-up" fee, but at the same time--at no charge--it was made available as a downloadable "e-book"-- a PDF document.

To be honest, back then I didn't know very much about e-books, but working on this first manuscript taught me some important tips (about formatting, for example), and once the book was launched I learned much more. Many buyers seemed to prefer the e-book version to the paperback, probably because the e-book was considerably cheaper, not only in retail price, but also thanks to its lack of shipping costs. As an author, I couldn't help appreciating that e-books offered me higher royalties, presumably because there was so little effort and so few materials involved, technically, in putting the book together for the consumer.

Over the following months I developed other ideas for resource guides for writers, and I realized that e-publishing was the route I wanted to pursue with them. In my case, many of the resource guides included time-sensitive information. Publishing e-books would allow me to revise and update the content, uploading new editions of the book when necessary.

While I researched and drafted those resource guides, however, I was working on another project: the launch of my Web site, The Practicing Writer. That was a pretty big deal. To put it bluntly, I'm not very technologically savvy. And while I wanted to provide these e-books for the visitors to my site, I wasn't crazy about the idea of getting involved with "merchant accounts" and other things that quite frankly frightened me.

That's where came to my rescue.

I learned about Lulu during the summer of 2004 as I researched the various companies that would allow me to list my e-books with them--and offer links to the book pages on my own website. The more I learned about Lulu, the more I liked it. Why?

1) Lulu, not the author/publisher, handles the transactions and order fulfillment.

2) Lulu tracks and pays the royalties. Authors may log into their accounts at any time, day or night, to check the latest sales, and they set their own royalties. Lulu's commission is 25% of that royalty (or $.19, whichever is greater). Example: You publish an e-book. You set the royalty at $4.00. Lulu adds a $1.00 commission. The e-book price is $5.00. You are earning 80% of the total profit.

3) Lulu charges no "set-up" or "hosting" fees.

But for me, the real winning point involved the aspects of the process where control continued (and continues) to remain with me. Even I could follow the instructions for getting started, and with my first e-book manuscript ready to go, I was able to publish it-- and begin selling it--within minutes.

Admittedly, my previous experience helped. I had some confidence in my ability to write and edit my material. Beyond that, I knew how to convert documents into PDF format, and I wasn't scared to write my books' descriptions. But for someone just starting out, Lulu offers step-by-step guidance. (Take the Lulu publishing tour to get started--you should be able to find it over at the home page.)

Of course, as with any independent publishing venture, getting your work in print-- or online--is just part of the process. Getting it to readers' attention is a whole other matter. That, too, has been part of my life as a Lulu.

What's been essential here are the resources Lulu provides its content creators (who include not only writers, but musicians and others). Many of these resources are geared toward assisting writers with the challenging job of marketing and promotion. And among the resources new/potential authors might want to peruse are:

1) Now for the Hard Part: Marketing Your Book: Annie Broadwater, Rachel Toor, and the Lulu staff offer tips for marketing a self-published book. Doesn't cost a penny. Download it here (you may need to register--at no charge--to download it).

2) The Community Page: Includes posts from the "Lulu Experts" blog (topics rotate and include pointers on everything from writing a press release to sharpening one's grammar).

3) Support Forums: Seek and find advice on all aspects of the publishing and marketing process (and more) here.

Lulu also offers each content creator several features that can be customized:

1) The storefront. Want to sell multiple e-books? This is where they'd all show up. Visit my storefront to see a sample. I set it up myself, following the simple instructions. And I'm pretty proud of it!

2) The blog. I never "blogged" before I became a Lulu, and the blog I kept there helped prepare me for the one I launched right here. Apparently others liked it, too, because within its first six months it had attracted five thousand visitors. Since my Practicing Writer newsletter is distributed only once each month, I began using the blog to post more news about writing jobs, contests, and other information that just won't fit into the newsletter, space-wise or time-wise. The blog is also a good place to inform readers about new e-book publications and updates to old ones, as well as the dates and details of special sales.

3) Previews. Lulu allows--and encourages--its writers to provide previews of their books for readers to download. If you return to my storefront and click on any of the e-books, you'll find that I've made previews available. In one case, for the Practicing Writer's Primer on Low-Residency MFA Programs, I hadn't, in fact, initially provided a preview. But I was motivated to add one after a reviewer harshly criticized the book solely for failing to provide what s/he had expected it to provide. Although truthfully I couldn't understand how the reader could have expected anything beyond what the book description (and other reviews) promised, I thought I'd be doing myself--and other readers--a favor by adding the preview and providing even more information ahead of time. You be the judge!

4) The ability to revise--on one's own. I've already referred to my appreciation for the control I maintain over my work at Lulu. The reason I can hold sales is because I can adjust the prices to reflect a discount at will--I control those settings. I don't have to wait for someone else to upload an updated version of an e-book--I control that. For me, that aspect of "customizing" the publishing process is the best feature of all. It's the perfect mix--independence in the writing and publishing but relying on far-more tech-savvy people I trust for the fulfillment and transactions.

I've learned a lot in this continuing life as a Lulu. Beyond finding out more about my own areas of interest and expertise for my e-books, I've learned about storefronts and blogs and previews. I'm continually keeping an eye on what needs to be updated and what the reviewers are saying. There's always more to learn, and to do. For me, this life is a good one.


Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Thank you for the helpful post, Erika!

Anonymous said...

I'm leaning towards Lulu, but I have heard from some people that POD books are clearly lower production quality than a "normal" book... in other words, you can clearly tell it was self-published. Do you have any comments on the quality of a Lulu-published paperback?

Erika D. said...

Here's some advice on the topic of the paperbacks:

The best way to check out the quality of ANY POD company's paperbacks is to order a sample. When I was researching companies for paperback publication I ordered one book from each of the two companies I was considering toward the end. It was a small price to pay for the larger investment (and also a good way to test the ease of each company's ordering, delivery, and customer service).

I'd caution you, however, to consider that book quality can vary quite a bit even within a single copy. Depending on the skills (and resources) of each individual author, there's likely to be some variation in cover image quality, formatting, editing, and more. Some books may indeed "look" self-published. Others may not.

Good luck!

Manuela said...

I had my book reviewed by Gloomwing magazine which is published by LULU. All I can say is for everybody to stay away from LULU and GLoomwing magazine. Gloomwing gives teh worst reviews ever and the guy who owns it harassed me like crazy and LULU supported him all the way. I had such a sour and bad experience with both LULU and GLoomwing. LULU is also the worse when it comes to self-publishing. It is viewed the lowest in the self-publishing ranking. There are better self-publishing companies than LULU. Plus the forums on LULU site are full of egocentric writers who will make any novice writer feel unwelcomed and stupid! stay away from LULU and Gloomwing!