No discussion on self-publishing would be worth the salt on a steaming bowl of fluffy white rice, if it did not go into the world of POD (print-on-demand). Since this is such an extensive topic, and one that I am rather familiar with, I decided to break the conversation into two parts, based off my personal experiences.
Now whether you are a bodacious eighties-baby like me, or an older and wiser global-savant, or a post-internet Gen-Z babe—you should thank your lucky stars that you are a writer in the 21st century. Prior to this fabulous era, aside from lack of caller-id (which gosh-I quiver in horror at the thought of picking up the phone and not actually knowing, who are what is calling me! dreadful times) self-publishing was a highly expensive, extremely limited venture, which mainstream audiences turned their noses at. A self-published author was mostly limited to vanity presses, where you were typically obligated to purchase a large selection of books that more than likely, ended up in the dark abyss of your basement. This was a lucrative venture for the press, and a waste of money for the writer.
Thankfully the internet and a new burgeoning market for self-publishing has changed the game on this. I recently came across this great website that breaks down the pros and cons on specific POD companies. It is http://www.booksandtales.com/pod/index.php. She also has a blog as well http://booksandtales.com/blog/?p=17 I definitely recommend that anyone interested in publishing should check it out, but please take note that this is a subjective list. There were a few points that I didn’t necessarily agree with, which I’ll get into more in part 2 of this discussion. The two well-known PODs are CreateSpace and Lulu, and since I’ve actually used both, I figured would be the best area that I could speak about.
A long time ago, I fancied myself as a poet. I wrote poems, performed at a few poetry clubs, and was a passionate lover of the SLAM Poetry contests held at one of NYC’s beacons for the poetry scene, the Nuyorican Poets Café. It was this neo-artist soul-child in me that gave me my first taste of the publishing world. I discovered Lulu around seven years ago, while I was doing an online search for methods of self-publishing. I did not have large amounts of cash (funny, how some things never change) so I was looking for something affordable—i.e. cheap. Lulu appealed to me, because it allowed me to do something I didn’t think was possible—publish virtually for free. F-R-E-E- are four letters that signify—HALLELUJAH THERE IS A GOD—to the financially challenged, but artistically inclined writer. If there is a better word in the human vocabulary, other than love, money and sex, then God must be sitting on one hell of a secret.
So of course, faster than you can say SHAZAM, I set up my account. The process is fairly simple, as you merely need to pick out the size, and layout for the book, upload the document, and your cover, and voila—you’re published. Lulu allows you the option of keeping the book private, which allows you the time to order a copy and check out the book thoroughly before you allow it to be available to the public. The best part though, is once you are done, your book can instantly be available either on Lulu, or through expanded distribution sites now available like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
In addition to that , if you are willing to front the cash you can also seek to have them have your book professionally edited, cover professionally designed (rather than using one of their generic cover options, if you did not have your own) and either be assigned a Free ISBN or pay them to obtain one for you. I am not sure what the overall cost would be for this total package, although I doubt it would be cheap. But even if they did quote me cheaper, I actually don’t recommend getting all your work done through one company, no matter how tempting one-stop-shopping sounds. As I have come to discover there are several limitations when you deal with these type of companies, and I always feel that it is better to do your homework and find people you would like to work with, especially when it comes to the editing aspect. Finding people who do this for a living and are professional is key and I have my doubts, as to how expert these so-called POD editors are. The same goes with cover designers. This is why I always outsource those things, and use the POD for what I most need it for; book printing and distribution.
I continued to use Lulu to publish my underground, so secret you’ve probably never heard of it, best-seller poetry books, for the next few years; however when I decided to switch to the novel, there I discovered the bitter aftertaste that thus far I had managed to escape. Life didn’t earn the title of being the biggest, baddest, bitch on the block for nothing. As always—with anything—there are drawbacks. There were three major ones with Lulu that ultimately forced me to seek alternative publishing methods. Those were: pricing; limited trim size; and poor customer service.
The price thing, which I initially thought was great, turned out to be a deal breaker for me. Once I wised up, I realized that Lulu wasn’t offering me the best deals. They charged—on average—between three to four dollars more, for their printing, than a competitor like CreateSpace. Since this will determine how much you will price your book, this puts you at a disadvantage. The other issue—trim size—correlates with the pricing issue. Lulu has an extremely limited selection. Generally speaking you are given only two to three choices of trim sizes which varies depending on what grade of publishing you choose. If you choose the Publisher Grade, which is a cheaper alternative, you get only two trim sizes and are not allowed to have an ISBN on the cover. If you go with the Lulu standard, you are charged more, but you get three choices with the option of having an ISBN. This is their sneaky way of getting you to pay them more money. Not to mention their options are pitiful; 8.5 X 11 is the size of a textbook, so unless you’re writing a textbook, this is not a good option; 6 x 9 is the standard, so more than likely you will go with this; and they now have 9 X 7 which is a landscape view, and really is only good for picture books.
I initially chose the 6 X 9 version, but since the original version of my book was long 508 pages (which I subsequently trimmed down) the price, just for printing was $15. That meant that my book would be priced slightly above average, BEFORE, I added my royalties. With shipping and handling fees (which Lulu also charges more than Amazon) it would cost over $20, so this was clearly not a good option. I decided to switch to Publisher grade, and picked the trim size of 5.5 X 8.5 (which is one out of the only two options available) and aside from a significant price reduction—just $10 to produce—I ended up preferring that size better (and is currently the size of my book).
So having done what I thought, settled the matter, I went on the business of obtaining my ISBN and getting my cover professionally designed. I had the designer place the barcode and the ISBN on the back of the book, and then figured I was set to go. That was when I hit several road blocks. First, Lulu morphing itself into the stringent dictator that it is, has a very strict policy on the exact proportions and dimensions of what it will accept for its one-piece advance cover option (the option that allows you to upload your own cover). Generally speaking when a designer is designing your cover, they base the dimensions on your trim size, and page count (the page count is what allows them to determine the width of the spine of the book). Those proportions should be exact and will allow you to go to any professional printer, and get it done correctly. Lulu’s version has nothing to do with that. However, I was lucky that I was able to go back to my designer and she adjusted the proportions very quickly according to Lulu’s requirements, and I was able to upload it without a hitch. The problem came when I looked at the proof onscreen of what my book would look like, and saw that Lulu automatically superimposed their own generic barcode and ISBN to my back cover (which is not a legitimate bar code) next to my own barcode—so now I had two barcodes!
I tried to reach out to their customer service, and quickly started to see smoke. Not only could I not find a phone number for them (even after I checked on better business bureau) but their only means of communication is via email—which would have been fine, if they didn’t take FOUR BUSINESS DAYS to respond back to you. When I finally did get an answer, it was pretty much generic, but it boiled down to, me having to choose their Standard option, so that this problem would not occur. Imagine—I have already reformatted my book to 5.5 X 8.5 (which let me tell is a BITCH to do, if you’re doing it yourself), paid to have my cover formatted to that size paid—for my ISBN, and now these fools are telling that I have to use another trim size—just so they can remove their damn superimposed pseudo ISBN # !!! That’s when bullshit allergies kicked in, and I discarded those fools like a new year’s resolution.
While I realize some people may not have had the issues I did, what I ultimately feel is at hand, is the severe, and rather unnecessary limitations Lulu imposes on its customers. The fact that they are not easily accessible is another major issue, because it you have a deadline, or needed to get your book out by a certain time, and then have to wait all that time, just to play ring around the rosie with them when you have issues, you will really be setback. Considering that their are other fish in the sea, and that Amazon is now in the game of publishing makes this not a worthwhile venture—in the long run. However when it comes to self-publishing, like all things, all that glitters is not gold, and I have a few issues with CreateSpace as well. This will be discussed in the follow-up post.