Lulu.com - a much better experience, second time round
Written: Jan 22, 2005 (Updated Jan 2, 2007)
Lulu.com is a service for budding authors. You create your book / ebook, upload it to them, choose the cover artwork etc, set the price, and they print and sell it for you.
Creation of the book is easy at least, thats the theory. The only way to do it now (they had another option previously but have discarded it considering how fiddly it was and how bad the resulting formatting often turned out to be this is no real loss
) is to upload a PDF of your book, which theoretically gives you complete artistic control over the whole project. To me, this would be fantastic, but for one not so small problem; I couldnt get the darned thing to work properly. (In case any of you were wondering, this is why Ive parted company with Lulu.) I use a freeware Word to PDF converter, which works fine but apparently uses a version of Ghostscript that is incompatible with Lulu. That is quite forgivable, but when I used Adobes own online converter, it still gave me an error message that a particular font wasnt embedded and refused to go any further. Now I admit that I may simply have been unlucky, but for me that was just too much hassle and I deleted my account.
I refuse to give the site a one star rating on the basis of this because there are thousands of books on sale at Lulu, presumably indicating that thousands of successful attempts have been made at doing what I failed to do. But Im not going to give it more than two stars since my experience with them led to me deleting my account with them.
And thats what would normally go at the end of my review but I had to get it out of my system first!!
Lulu doesnt just do books, incidentally. You can also publish music albums, photographic collections, and various other things there. Since I never used those services I cant really comment on them in detail. The overall site layout is actually very good and navigation feels quite intuitive. There seems to be a fairly good community at the site willing to help out newcomers, not really a service I took much advantage of, and maybe thats part of the problem. But anyway
the account management was concise and worked well, and the tools for marketing your books or whatever were pretty well thought out. Though Lulu have an online store for you to browse, dont expect them to do any real marketing of your publication thats completely down to you, which is fair enough.
Setting the price (assuming you can get the blooming document to this stage in the first place) is quite straightforward. Theres a nominal charge per page for the publication and an extra charge for the cover and binding, for which there are a couple of different options. On top of the printing costs you add a royalty, of which Lulu takes 20%. Ostensibly if you dont take a royalty yourself and thus Lulu dont either, the book is sold at cost, though frankly I cant quite believe that Lulu dont add a little bit of profit margin into the printing costs. Ebooks, however, can (genuinely) be distributed completely free if you dont take a royalty. Various extra services (such as getting an ISBN and getting listed on the database used by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc) cost you, but the basic service is free.
Shipping and packing are handled by Lulu too, and while the service internationally seemed a little slow, it probably wasnt any slower than anywhere else and it was well packaged. I was quite happy with the production standards despite being unhappy with the formatting. The answer to that was to PDF my own version and use that
which is where the trouble began! Regular emails featuring tips and news are part of the service too. Your own storefront is completely customisable in look and there are some very nice templates available. The URL for your storefront www.lulu.com/yourname isnt too cheesy either, which is nice!
Im sorry this has turned out to be such a rambling review but using Lulu, who seemed to have such a professional approach, was such a frustrating experience for me. In fact I probably wouldnt have written this at all apart from the fact that there was considerable interest about Lulu from various epinions members. I know other eps users have used it, probably more successfully than me, so now that its on the database hopefully some more objective viewpoints will be put across in time.
As I write this I keep feeling that I must just have been unfortunate. Since its difficult to be completely objective in this situation Ive just told it all like it is and, while personally Ive given up on Lulu and am considering trying iuniverse, about whom Ive heard good things (but have never seen the finished product from), it doesnt necessarily mean Lulu is a waste of time. I guess if this review hasnt put you off trying, its definitely worth a shot. Who knows, you may make your fortune!
After much searching and finding no company that seemed to be reasonably capable of doing what Id wanted Lulu.com to do, I decide to give the site another go. Much to my surprise, I found that most of the problems Id had with the site were gone. Here are the improvements Id found:
1/ The HELP feature was much improved and really comprehensive
2/ You can upload Word documents now, and the converter program has worked perfectly for me so far
3/ It can now handle currency in 3 different currencies US dollar, GB pound, and Euro. This makes things quite a bit more user friendly for both users and buyers.
There are still some things wrong with it, of course. It can still take quite a while to get things how you want them, though Ive found that in general, if youve prepared your file and cover artwork beforehand, as long as you log in at a time when the sites not too busy then you can get your book / ebook or whatever published very quickly indeed. Of course, you have to do all your own marketing, which is the downside of every self-publishing venture. I feel that you could do with being able to do a bit more with the formatting of your shop front, but what you can do doesnt look bad.
Now that my main issue with the site problems with getting perfectly good files to be accepted is gone, Im very impressed with the Lulu.com site that exists now, and would recommend it to anyone wanting to give self-publishing a try. Go through the FAQs first though and itll help you a lot. Im reserving that fifth star until Im really sure its stood the test of time, though.
My Lulu.com site can be found at www.lulu.com/darscom
I have books and ebooks for sale, as well as free ebooks and free previews of upcoming works (which will still be available for download when the full books are finished and for sale, so you can get a taste for the story and writing in them)
Since this is only my third review in Online Stores & Services, Im entering it into my Challenge Yourself 2005 Write Off. (It qualifies because OS&S reviews make up less than 1% of my total reviews.)
The other two sites Ive reviewed so far are:
Sold Out Software
Thanks Amy for adding this to the database for me. :-D