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Home > Articles > Journalism > Self-publishing tips

July 2008

Secrets of successful self publishing with Lulu.com

by Sean McManus, author of 'University of Death'

Book cover: University of DeathI published my novel satirising the music industry called 'University of Death' through Lulu (Lulu.com). (Update in 2015: I've since republished it as Earworm using Createspace to get it into Amazon).

Lulu is a print on demand (POD) publishing service. It stores a digital copy of your book, and provides a shop front for customers to order a copy. When they do, their copy is printed and despatched to them directly.

In this article, I'll reveal my tips for getting the most from Lulu.

Why use Lulu?

The advantage from a publisher's point of view is that you don't have to pay to print a large batch up-front and you don't have to fill your garage with those books until you can sell them. Lulu provides ecommerce facilities and customer service, which means the service can be fully automated from the publisher's point of view. There are no set-up costs. You set your own price (as long as it's above the cost Lulu wants to charge you for printing), and Lulu will pay you the profits directly.

The disadvantage of using print on demand is that it's more expensive per book than it would be if you printed a large batch through a conventional publisher. If you're aiming for conventional distribution through shops with an ISBN, it can work out prohibitively expensive once the retail margin is factored in. Because each book is printed when the customer orders, it can take a couple of weeks for books to arrive.

My own experience using Lulu has been fantastic and I'm happy to recommend it. Even if you're producing a mass market work, print on demand can be a good way to test your product before committing to a large print run.

12 tips for self-publishing success with Lulu

  1. Try before you buy. I would recommend familiarising yourself with the service Lulu offers before you commit to it, by ordering a book that's already been published there. If you don't want to order my book, I can also recommend Shaggy Blog Stories published in aid of Comic Relief.
  2. If your work is a full-length book, it's probably cheaper to get a test copy printed through Lulu than it is to burn out a printer cartridge printing your final draft. Your books aren't available to the public unless and until you decide, so there's no risk. Use the opportunity to test layout and cover ideas too.
  3. To avoid any surprises, give Lulu a PDF file. Lulu can convert Word files to PDFs for you, but if you upload a PDF file you can check for any conversion errors promptly. You can also be much more creative because you can embed fonts. If you don't have Adobe, there are much cheaper alternatives available.
  4. Be creative with your use of fonts. The two biggest font crimes are overdoing it with a blizzard of conflicting typefaces, and using fonts that strain the eyes, particularly for body copy. I used Palatino Linotype for my main copy, which looks a bit more interesting than the over-used Times, but which is still a professionally designed font. For subheadings and titles, there are plenty of free and shareware fonts but these rarely scale well for use at smaller point sizes.
  5. You can upload multiple files and have Lulu combine them into a book. I'd recommend having one for the front matter and one for the bulk of the book, if only because it makes the page numbering much easier (you can more easily start the numbering at your content start, not your title page).
  6. Lay out your book like a book. Don't have blank lines between paragraphs, or indent paragraphs too far. Always start a new chapter on a right hand page (even if it means leaving one and a half pages blank), and start each chapter a third of the way down the page. Don't scrimp on the front matter either - books that go straight into the story without a title page feel poorly presented. Look at how major publishers use white space to create something that looks professional and is a pleasure to read.
  7. A good cover is vital. If you haven't made an effort with the cover, readers will guess you haven't made an effort with the insides either. Do not use the default cover templates Lulu provides. If you're no artist and you don't know any either, stock images can be licensed relatively cheaply. Some artists licence the same picture through different outlets at different terms, and you can save a lot of money by shopping around.
  8. Choose a cover image that's striking when minimised: Anyone browsing Lulu's directory will see the image scaled down to 62x92 pixels. Many covers get muddy and lack detail at this scale. Make sure yours doesn't.
  9. When you use Lulu to sell your book to the public, you have limited space to promote it. But you can include HTML links in this space, so you can bring people into your website for more information if they discover your book at Lulu first.
  10. Configure your book preview so it shows enough content that readers will be convinced to buy. You need to give away something of value if you are to expect readers to buy your book. A simple summary, or the title page and author biography, won't cut it.
  11. Test. Before making your book available to the public, buy a copy and check it thoroughly. Make sure you're happy with it before you start to try to sell it. Don't get a bad reputation by selling defective books.
  12. Remember Lulu.com just accepts orders, prints books and distributes them. You'll need to do your own promotion if you want to actually sell any. Lulu is like a shop, but you need to drive customers to the shop to buy your book.

Earworm

Book cover: EarwormSean McManus's novel 'Earworm' is a satire of the music industry, based around a major record label and all those who invest their hopes and dreams in it. The book is independently published and can be bought online now.

"Raising a number of surprisingly sophisticated issues, this book is enjoyably cynical about the seemingly cold-hearted and impenetrable nature of the record industry and peppered with a number of highly comical cameos from the cream of rock'n'roll, which ensures that it never feels like heavy going."
- Record Collector Magazine. More great reviews!

More advice

You might also be interested in my article 'How to write a novel'.

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