June 28th, 2011 by Will Entrekin

My Experiences with Lulu (and, now, CreateSpace)

I should open this post by noting that Lulu made possible many of my achievements as an author, and for that I’m grateful. Back when I first decided I wanted to experiment with publishing and make an actual book people could actually buy, Lulu was the best way to do so. CreateSpace was, of course, another option, then, but from what I gathered from research, Lulu put more of an impetus on the author. Lulu seemed to give me more control. In addition, it was totally and completely free. There was no “pro” option. There were marketing and cover-design plans and offers, but for the most part, I could do absolutely everything myself, without interference.

I could make better mistakes, in other words. And boyhow, did I. But I also did a lot of cool things.

Lulu, for example, made it possible to offer digital singles of my stories, allowing me to implement what I called, back in 2007, the iTunes model of publishing. I priced those stories, to start with, at 99 cents each, with the full collection download priced at $10 for the digital version and $15 for the print.

Without that option, my collection never would have become the first ebook, ever, on the iPhone, just a week after that device was launched, at a time when Steve Jobs was claiming nobody reads books anymore.

I’m still proud of that. I’m still proud of that collection, in fact, because it’s a good snapshot of where I was at the time, both personally and professionally. I think it was Hemingway who said something like, “Fuck ‘em all. Let ‘em think you were born knowing how to write,” and my collection, I think, very much demonstrates that wasn’t the case. It’s very early work. Nascent, if you will.

When it came time to publish Meets Girl, there were a few considerations. When I published my collection, Lulu had only two size options, which was why my collection was 6″ x 9″. The height and width only really ever highlighted that, at 170 or so pages, it was slim. Despite that it was a collection of twenty or so short stories, essays, and poems, many clocked in at fewer than ten pages. Some were only one. In addition, it was usually just a bit bigger than other trade paperbacks I saw.

By the time I wanted to publish Meets Girl, there was a new size option: 5.5″ x 8.5″. Which I think is better and more comfortable.

I went again with Lulu for the print-on-demand option because that was what I’d known, not really because I had a great experience with Lulu. Which wasn’t really true. I tried to engage in the forums but had a very negative experience there, and I think that was about when I started to withdraw from the author community. I saw a lot of writers I didn’t think seemed really professional about what we were doing, and it frustrated me. Looking back, it might have been one reason I focused so much on getting another professional degree.

Who knows?

Last summer, when I got an Android phone, I started using the Kindle app more, and liking it. I thought it seemed like a good way to make my collection available, and I tried it. At first it wasn’t properly formatted, but I bought a book or two about formatting and got my hands dirty and learned it, and I liked the experience. The Kindle Direct Publishing platform is intuitive.

And when the third Kindle came out in August, I fell in love. Which I’ve discussed before. I was really excited to bring Meets Girl to it, and I love digital publishing and business. I love being at the forefront of it, trying new things, breaking stuff as I go along and giving myself new things I have to fix. Whether it’s learning Kindle coding or learning how to ePub or designing a better cover that will look better on a screen, it’s a lot of fun.

Now, personally, I’ve moved away from paper books. I read one a few weeks ago solely because the book wasn’t yet available on Kindle. Other than that, I read, quite literally, everything on my Kindle. No really. If I find an interesting essay online, I send it to my Kindle. If I buy a magazine and see a compelling article I actually want to read, I go to the magazine’s website and send the article to my Kindle. Pretty much the only paper I really touch anymore comes out of my wallet. That’s a joke; I use my card.

I know not everyone has adopted new technology so quickly, though. I constantly read people note that they prefer “real” books, by which they mean bound paper (situational irony: it’s nearly always online). And though I wanted to concentrate on Kindle and digital distribution, when I ordered proofs of Meets Girl to edit, I thought highly enough of their quality that I decided to use Lulu again. Doing so allowed a truly print-on-demand product–it was available exclusively through Lulu, and barely even that; I sold an incredible majority of Meets Girl paperbacks personally. I’m not even sure anyone actually buys it themselves; people tend to email me and then I end up buying one, signing it, and sending it to them. It’s not a direct system, but it’s actually been easy for two reasons:

1) Most people have a Paypal account, and that’s what I’ve used for payment.

2) I sign the books before I send them along. Usually with a personal note. In the case of Meets Girl, usually with a tarot card, as well. If requested.

*

For several months, that worked well enough. I didn’t give Lulu much thought, to be candid, because I was focusing on Kindle. And then I moved, and changed jobs and finished school . . . there were other things to worry about.

And then, in May, I saw this video:

That’s Lulu CEO Bob Young discussing Lulu, self-publishing’s growth, and business. It’s an interesting video, and Young seems both articulate and enthusiastic.

Even if I disagree. Or I think I do.

Specifically: “Publishers play a role. Most authors actually don’t want to sale their books. They’re afraid that what if someone doesn’t buy their books. It’s the personal . . . so the author needs help. He needs help understanding who his market is, he needs help crafting his content so it has more appeal, and so Lulu is moving from being a self-publishing platform to being an open-publishing platform.”

I think maybe the problem is trying to separate these roles. Young talks about more authors using the Lulu platform, which is all well and good, I suppose, but there seem to be better ways to do so. Personally, while I suppose it’s convenient to go to Lulu as a one-stop shop from which all content can disseminate, I, personally, as an author/publisher, would prefer to have more control over each channel, I feel.

So, for example, if I want my book on the nook color, I’d rather go to Barnes & Noble than through Lulu. If I want it on Kindle, I’d rather go through Kindle Direct. Not least because it appears that Lulu considers making a PDF available as sufficient for fulfilling the needs of the Kindle market, and that’s just not the case.

That may be an incorrect take on Lulu’s method. I’m not familiar with it.

I think it’s also the reason I’m still hesitating with regard to Smashwords.

But this is about Lulu.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, Nina Perez, published her book The Twin Prophecies: Rebirth. It’s available on Kindle and in paperback via CreateSpace, which, as I mentioned, is an Amazon company.

Now, Amazon draws plenty of hostile reactions. Lots of authors and, recently, some mom-and-pop bookstore have expressed their dismay about its being such a big corporation. That it has too much power. That it can effectively stop selling your book for no reason other than that it wants to, and that it is, effectively, censorship in a way, in the long run.

What’s struck me as odd has been that many of the authors I’ve seen complain about Amazon as a corporation signed contracts with corporations themselves.

Now me, personally, I love Amazon. I’ve loved Amazon for years. For years, I used to go to my local Barnes & Noble (we had no indie bookstores near where I grew up. Just Walden and B. Dalton in the mall and then, later, a Barnes & Noble) to browse the books. Often, I’d browse the fiction and literature sections, find books that looked interesting, and then write them down to go back home and order them through Amazon. Sometimes I could get them for a penny through the Marketplace feature, and with four bucks shipping that was still less than five bucks.

So I’ve never had anything against Amazon. And I liked the idea of making the book available there, too, with its own actual page, through Amazon. My collection is available from Amazon, it appears, but I believe it’s somehow fulfilled through Lulu. To be candid, I’m not entirely sure. I generally regard my collection as an ebook nowadays, anyway.

I also spoke to another friend, Steven Novak, author of Forts. Novak had experience with Lulu, as well, and he told me he’d never looked back.

So I thought, what the Hell? It couldn’t hurt to give it a go to see what it looked like. For $40, I purchased the pro plan, which cut my author price for ordering, and bought an ISBN registering myself as author and Exciting Press as publisher. Not bad. I could have given it a trial, first, and done neither, just paid an extra couple of bucks for the proof, but I didn’t mind.

It gave me a chance to tweak a few design elements. I’ve changed a few things, most notably in the cover.

That was probably the most difficult aspect of the set up. I had a sort of backwards way of using Lulu; I’d go with one of their template covers, then save the print-ready PDF, and then open that and edit it in Photoshop and build a new one.

Obviously, not ideal.

I couldn’t do that with CreateSpace, and CreateSpace, unlike Lulu, requires authors purchase and approve a proof before the book can be listed for sale. Now, it seems like the system is perfunctory; one can approve the proof just about as soon as one receives the email that the proof has shipped, I guess because CreateSpace doesn’t track each book (and probably can’t, because that would be insane). So it’s technically possible to approve the proof before you’ve actually received it.

The problem I kept running into was that CreateSpace kept telling me my bleeds were slightly off on my cover. By, like, .125 inches. So it was difficult to get the new cover just right.

Lulu had no quality control in that regard, so far as I know. You upload the files, and immediately you can order them or even list them for sale.

The quality control CreateSpace implemented was especially precise, too. For example, I ran into the problem that the full name on the cover and title page had to match exactly. So I couldn’t put simply “Entrekin” on the cover and then “Will Entrekin” on the title page. Had to be both. Which is why both novels now have “Will Entrekin” on the cover.

It’s also why I’ll keep the paperback of my collection with Lulu. I think it might make CreateSpace’s little head asplode.

*

Those challenges aside, I managed to correctly format and design the new paperback, and then ordered the proof. Shipping was reasonably quick–just a few days–and the result?

I have to say, I’m really impressed by CreateSpace’s quality. The paper feels heavier, which appears to yield a thicker book. In addition, the laminate on the cover seems to be better quality, more sturdy and less likely to chip.

Also, the printing itself seems to be of a higher quality.

Look:

That’s the Lulu paperback on the left and the CreateSpace paperback on the right. I’m posting totally unshopped pics because I don’t want someone to think I increased contrast anywhere, and will point out both look better in person, but the CreateSpace paperback looks much better, and I think you can see in the picture that the graphics are darker, with better contrast.

Here’s the back:

I think you can tell without my adjusting anything that the one on the right looks appreciably better.

The difference between the interiors is a little more difficult to discern (especially in a picture), but there, too, CreateSpace edges out Lulu. Especially in person. The print is clearer.

It’s almost like CreateSpace is 1080p to Lulu’s 720i. Lulu’s pretty, but it’s just not the same.

Which is why I’m moving Meets Girl to Amazon, and CreateSpace. Where it already has a product page.

Apparently I have to call them to get them to merge the Kindle page with the paperback page. It’s on my to-do list. But in the midst of launching The Prodigal Hour, said list is rather long.

Speaking of The Prodigal Hour, it’ll be my first book not on Lulu in any form.

It will be on Amazon, for Kindle and in paperback, as well as on Barnes & Noble’s nook platform.

And it’ll be there soon, at that.

Comments

4 Responses to “My Experiences with Lulu (and, now, CreateSpace)”
  1. I was able to pick out which is the CreateSpace book without reading the caption. I’m glad you’re happy with them. I found the whole process educational and satisfying. I’ve been very pleased with CreateSpace. About to order a bunch of author copies to sell at the book event in NY.

  2. The colors are definitely brighter on the CreateSpace one, Will.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with both. I’m sure it’ll help those who are undecided on which is the best option for them, including me, when the time comes.

    (And yay for updating your blog.)

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Will. I too have self-published through both Lulu and Createspace. Currently, I am with Createspace for some of the reasons you’ve already gone over, such as book quality. I also believe Createspace books cost slightly less to make – especially with their Pro Plan in effect – which is one major reason why I migrated from Lulu a while ago. I had a good experience with Lulu, but to get better quality for a cheaper price with Createspace is what tipped the scale. Before both of those companies, I was with iUniverse, which was the most horrible experience I’ve had.

  4. And I hope you sell a bunch, Nina!

    No problem, Nikki. And I know, right? Sometimes it’s once in a blue moon.

    I never even considered iUniverse, David. I think that was around the time of PublishAmerica, maybe (and whatever happened to them?), and I’m sorry you had a negative experience with them. But yeah, better quality at a better price with better distribution . . . that’s win-win-win so far as I can tell.

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