Lulu, Dan on the Double, and The Future of Publishing

Last week we cited a Publishers Weekly Soapbox Blog where John Edgar Wideman revealed it was in fact his son, Daniel, who suggested he consider Lulu’s self-publishing services for his next book, Briefs. Wideman has been publishing books in the mainstream arena since 1967 and is an intrinsic part of the American literary scene. He had been thinking about an alternative route to mainstream publishing for a number of years because he wanted more control over the publishing process and expressed a wish to create a more direct connection with his readers. Witnessing the evolution and considerable changes in the publishing world, he decided his latest book, Briefs, would be an ideal way to experiment with a different publishing path—self-publishing.
Wideman’s decision to use Lulu to self-publish his book created a real stir and garnered quite a number of media headlines. After all, it was quite a coup for Lulu to have on board an author who had twice won the Faulkner Award and published twenty books. Over the many weeks since we first heard of the news, Wideman spoke eloquently about the freedoms self-publishing could deliver and the flux of the modern publishing industry. But last week, writing a personal piece in Publishers Weekly Soapbox, Wideman revealed, for the first time, the role his son Daniel played in his decision to self-publish with Lulu—at least it was news to me for the first time—and I had been following the news story since it was first announced.

So, who is Daniel Wideman – apart from the obvious?

Well, Wideman Junior is Senior Product Manager at Lulu, and he has been partly responsible for the business development and running of Lulu’s VIP Service. The service itself is at the top premium end of what Lulu offer, and the service is specifically designed and tailored to the needs and aspirations of authors otherwise familiar with the traditional machinations of the publishing industry. From Lulu’s own site about the VIP service:

“Mr. Wideman is the inaugural customer of this program, which provides white-glove service to premiere authors. It’s our most customizable offering, executed by industry-leading professionals who have helped drive the success of A-list authors. Each title receives the highest level of attention and each author retains complete control over the process, from cover design and editing to online marketing and media relations.

Indeed, our new VIP Services program provides everything a traditional publisher can offer. We launched the program to help authors gain more control over their own publishing process and recruited an experienced team of professionals with traditional and bestseller experience to lead the way. We’re extremely honored that Mr. Wideman decided to use Lulu for Briefs and that our VIP Services are part of his journey.

Our goal is to expand the visibility of authors’ works and maximize their success through red carpet treatment, personalized attention, and quality, publishing-house services at their fingertips. We’re confident that authors and agents alike will find comfort in the professionalism of our VIP Services program.

Email us today at for a free consultation.”

Sherrie Wilkolaski, Lulu publishing Consultant

I do applaud Lulu and Daniel Wideman, their Senior Product Manager, for introducing this particular service/product—it is the only way they are going to encourage experienced authors, institutionalized in the ideas and models of mainstream publishing, to take a deep breath and climb aboard. But here is the nub of all this. Lulu do not tell us openly the cost of this VIP service. The gathered media who were happy to interview and write about John Edgar Wideman’s decision to go with Lulu were also not prepared to ask the distinguished American author any such questions on what he payed like so many other Lulu authors. The direct question was never asked:

OK, ballpark, how much is the Lulu VIP Service going to cost an author like Wideman?

Ultimately, Lulu and John Edgar Wideman may argue that it is none of our business—some may believe this stance is entirely correct—but I would argue it most certainly is our business. If any author is prepared to stump up the fee for the Lulu VIP Service; are they going to get the same equal service as Wideman, or for that matter, if Stephen King drops by?
Last month I touched on this issue and suggested the shifting grounds in the publishing industry are still slowly merging many models of publishing, from self-publishing, vanity, right the way to mainstream publishing, and we may see a newer class system which we find deeply uncomfortable. We would be wise as authors not to be so eager to drape ourselves in what we see as labels of convenience or status, be that through reasons of social network status (read arrogance) or sheer ignorance (read stupidity).
From my piece last month – Time We All Took the Self from Self-Publishing. This is a large enough chunk from it, but in light of this posting and its context – I believe it to be highly relevant:
Looking at the deal John Edgar Wideman did with Lulu; if any author believes, like the multitude of authors who sign up with Lulu each day, that Wideman somehow decided one evening over a coffee, ‘ah fuck it, I’ll sign up with Lulu and self-publish my next book’, they are being naive, deeply naive. Wideman was negotiating with Lulu and using their VIP services. From an article I wrote on Wideman’s publication with Lulu:

“…but fellow Lulu authors (myself included) who might be quick to trump the line ‘Hell, yeh, I’m published by the same publisher as John Edgar Wideman’ might pause for a little reflection before they go dancing on the streets. This is the first release for Lulu by an author using their VIP service, specifically set up to attract established authors like Wideman. As the Animal Farm Literary Adage might go:

All authors are equal, just some are more equal than others!

“If you think Lulu see all their authors in the same light; think again. This is akin to DellArte Press authors (Harlequin’s self-publishing service) thinking they are operating in the same field of publishing dreams as all of Harlequin’s traditionally contracted authors. The Lulu VIP program offers everything to try and lure an established author to the lulu brand, every turn of the drive shaft and spark from the Lulu engine—pre-production and post-publication—is being directed towards the sale of the author’s book. It is notable that the press release to go with the book was not released by Wideman, but Lulu themselves. While Lulu right now needs Wideman more than he needs them, there is no doubt in my mind; the experimental nature of Wideman’s Briefs made it a difficult sell to Houghton Mifflin, and as the author freely points out, he is no writer of literary blockbusters.”

There is a dichotomy at the heart of this discussion, and it can lead us to make an inaccurate assumption about self-publishing and mainstream publishing. Lulu has taken a step closer to the traditional world of publishing by taking on the wider marketplace, and the traditional world of publishing has begun to re-evaluate its own publishing models and taken a step closer to embracing some of the components of the self-publishing fraternity. Some might say never the twain shall meet, but it is discussions like this which come from the inevitable collision and consummation of all publishing into one entity. We are seeing the Lulu marketplace as a platform where self-published author collides with traditional author. The glare of the headlights shows us that an author is an author and a published book is a published book. It is just that some authors and their books are more equal than others. There is nothing new in this – it has being going on in the traditional world of publishing for decades.

This is also one of the reasons why I believe self-published authors should be careful not to be so quick to adopt labels like ‘indie author’ or ‘indie publishing’ when so many authors happily label themselves with these convenient monikers as badges of honor when actually they have little experience or knowledge of what it is they perceive themselves to be independent of; in abhorrence of; or dislike. I have pointed out before the label of ‘indie’ is a complete misnomer, Faber and Canongate are strictly ‘indies’, but they punch way above their weight in the publishing industry.

It seems to me that what this whole discussion is simply here to remind us of the fact that self-publishing is still publishing a book in essence, and now that self-publishing is broadly accepted as it is; it is still reluctantly part of the whole publishing industry. Self-published authors must realize and accept that they shelter under the same umbrella of the book buyer, book reader and industry. They must accept that in any form of aspiration, commerce or even faith, there comes an ordained hierarchy whether it is perceived or imposed.”

What actually sparked this piece today was not another news story or view on Wideman’s choice of Lulu to self-publish his book, Briefs, but rather, the reappearance of a name and cited influence for another notable author, Dan Gillmor, and also a very well-respected media educator and business entrepreneur. Dan Gillmor is also a former journalist and his site Mediactive reveals the lazer-sharp ideas of a real media guru and some great analysis on the publishing industry as a whole.
Gillmor published his first book We the Media under Creative Commons Licence through O’Rielly Media a few years ago, and after his contract ended there, he explored traditional channels for a while with his literary agent for his next book Mediactive. Gillmor’s advocacy for the Creative Commons License and the democratisation of publishing proved to be a stumbling block. He explained CC License this weekend on Mediactive and his plans for his next book this summer.

“As with We the Media, the kind of Creative Commons license would say, essentially, that anyone could make copies of the work for non-commercial use, and if they created derivative works, also only for non-commercial purposes, those works would have to be made available a) with credit to me and b) under the same license.

It was after I turned down the New York publisher’s offer that I contacted Bob Young, Lulu’s founder and CEO. Bob also started Red Hat, one of the first companies to prove that it was possible to make money with open-source software by providing services, and he’s been an ardent supporter of ensuring that what we call “intellectual property” involves as many choices as possible.

Bob had told me about Lulu several years earlier, and in that conversation he’d suggested it would be a good fit for me someday. Now, we both thought, this might really be the time.

He put me in touch with Daniel Wideman, who runs what Lulu calls its new “VIP Services” for established authors making the move to this kind of publishing. Daniel said he very much liked what I was trying to accomplish in this new project, and we had several further discussions. In the end it was clear to me that this would indeed be a good fit.”

In the space of just a week, Daniel Wideman, Senior Product Manager of Lulu had appeared twice as the source of persuasion; this time for Dan Gillmor. Whatever about the discussions and negotiations Daniel Wideman had with his Dad, while not a Luddite, but certainly more comfortable with the ballpoint pen and notepad; on the other hand, Gillmor’s finely honed ideas on the media industry and the publication, availability and licensing of his book would have presented its own unique challenges to Wideman Junior and Lulu.
We may very well hear a lot more about Daniel Wideman, and who else he can lure to the Lulu VIP stable, but what is clear is that this VIP publishing service is as much a part of ‘traditional’ publishing as a whole, as self-publishing is part of the publishing industry itself. There is a trade-off when two distinct worlds collide—wrapped in their own self-created identities, morals, structures and perceptions of what is right, whether allowed or even fair—as authors and publishers in this new world, we must ensure we are not so quick to place a label upon our identity or the platform of choice we assign our work to.

The ground is moving under us. Mind the gap.

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