Adventures with Lulu

In my previous article posting below, I discussed the reasons why I chose Lulu to publish my book, Academy.

In this article, I would like to discuss and record what I discovered at Lulu. initially, Lulu’s homepage, with its bright orange graphics, strikes the visitor as casual and unassuming. ‘Publish’, ‘Buy’ and ‘Sell’ banners clearly define what Lulu is all about, ‘No set-up fees’. Lulu are not entirely exclusive to the ‘no set-up’ arena when it comes to the world of Printer/Publishing. Createspace and Cafepress also offer a similar service. However, it is the beast beyond the front door which sets Lulu far ahead of the competition.

It should be remembered from the outset that Lulu does not carry out printing in-house. This, until recently, regarding book publishing, was farmed out to Lightning Source in both the United Stated and also LSI’s plant in England. Lulu also use a printer in Spain, and from a look at their own Lulu forum posts from users of Lulu’s service, this does appear to have been a cause for some concern, regarding general quality. It should also be noted, with the recent moves by Amazon (see my other recent posts), the printing looks like it will now move across to Booksurge, though no formal declaration of this has come from Lulu. In itself, that is another story I won’t go into in this article. We will see how it all pans out; it’s back to the beast beyond the front door. Lulu’s strongest two features are its load-up/converter widget software and its online forums for Lulu’s registered users. I say two strongest features, but I could add a third, their ‘Live Help’ chat feature.

Before engaging with the Lulu beast, I would strongly recommend (very strongly) that perspective users fully read the ‘Help FAQ’ pages, in full detail, as there is a considerable amount of information there which will avoid many later problems and frustrations. I have trawled the forums and found many users posting there who have clearly not read these help pages, and have simply dived in at the deep end and wrestled the beast without the actual tools to tame it. Reading the ‘Help FAQ’ pages will greatly tame the beast. In my time on the site, I did not come across a downloadable PDF help file which many POD Publisher’s have on their websites. This would have allowed users to read at their leisure and absorb all the finer details to properly use Lulu’s site load-up software. Access to these widgets can be found on the ‘Publish’ link tag, or, far better to wait, read the ‘Help FAQ’, and then register with Lulu for your own ‘My Lulu’ webpage where you can load up your book files, load to the PDF converter, design a template cover, load up original cover art for your own book cover, manage your store front, and place orders for stock and publishing/marketing/distribution/editing services.

I should point out at this stage that Lulu also offers a host of other printing/production solutions, from artwork, brochures, calendars, cd’s etc. The beast has many teeth.

From my own experiences using the Lulu site, at least for now, I would strongly recommend downloading the ‘Mozilla Firefox’ web browser (available for free). This was one thing which initially did my head in. Pages freezing, cover graphics/text not appearing where it should dogged my early efforts at the book creation process. Lulu’s own help agents in their forums and ‘Live Help’ chat facility will suggest this ad-nausea. The reality is, they are right. This, though, does not excuse them from resolving the glitches which seem to occur when using the more widely used ‘Microsoft Internet Explorer’.

There seems to be a wide view on Lulu and on other web forums, not mind by their own staff and web site help pages, that users should preferably have a PDF file of their book interior to load up to Lulu’s converter. PDF is a digital standard for print files in the book publishing world, but Lulu’s converter will happily do this from a pre-prepared Microsoft Word file. That is, so long as you have been careful to correctly format your Word file, paying particular attention to customizing the page size, margins, headers & footers, using page breaks, page numbering, and section breaks. The Lulu converter will happily authenticate and replicate yours pages exactly as you have prescribed. Though I have no experience of them, I would suggest if you are preparing an art-book, an illustrated book, a book containing detailed diagrams and tables, unusual foreign scripts, non-standard fonts (Lulu list their standard fonts), then, yes, you really need to load up a finished PDF file with all images and fonts fully embedded.

I used a template for the 6 x 9 Word file I prepared for publication by downloading one for nothing from the internet. Lulu do offer Word page-template-files for varying sizes on their site, but your can get files if you search the internet for fuller more complete templates, including the title pages, copyright page, index page, chapter pages etc. Many of these have the footers and headers, page numbering and section breaks set up already. It is simply a matter of copying the text from your original manuscript and doing a ‘paste special’ to preserve the pre-set formatting in the template. As an overview of your overall Lulu book project, I would concede that you do need to be pretty proficient using Word, and do not practice lazy habits like using the space bar to position text and not using proper paragraph space indentation etc. The best advice I can give is to pick your favourite book from your bookshelf at home and replicate it in your book template. When I say favourite book, I mean, the most visually appealing book. Study the layout, pay close attention to the copyright pages and title pages. Most mass produced books are quite consistent in their layout, they differ only in things like style, size and font type, amount of words per page etc. Remember, you want your book to look as professional as possible. The books that have gimmicky fonts, poorly aligned margins, exaggerated paragraph indents (no indents!), page numbers showing on copyright and title pages, copyright pages that have ‘©Sid Snott 2008’, and nothing more; they look amateurish from the moment the book is opened, let alone read.

My final impressions of working through the Lulu site with my own book, ‘Academy’; you will not get it right first time, if you really want a finished proof delivered to your doorstep that you can be happy with, then, prepare your file properly, when you see it visualised on Lulu’s previews, you will want to change things, revise your file and have another go. Only ‘Approve’ the final book when the first proof hits your doorstep and you have carefully checked it, inside and outside.

Do remember, the Lulu books are reasonably priced on their own storefront, but there are considerable mark-ups if you choose a ‘Distribution’ pack and it becomes available on Barnes & Noble, Powells and Am…Amm…Amma…Amma…zon, ICH! I said it! You can virtually add 50% to the retail price. Bear in mind, I actually paid the €89 (euro) for distribution, but I am publishing a hardback, ouch. Still I went for download sale as well. You can also opt for their ‘Publish by You’ (your ISBN/publisher name) or ‘Publish by Lulu’ (Lulu’s ISBN).

In my next article, ‘Adventures with Lulu-Part 2’, I will tell you about the stage when the proof hits your doorstep.

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