Self-Publishing: Why a 1st Time Author Chose Lulu

July 21, 2010

1:32 pm

You can’t be on Twitter for more than a day without seeing a link to someone’s self-published book. Whether it’s an ebook, or an actual paperback or hard cover, the options for self-publishing are endless and have leveled the playing field for anyone with a laptop who’s ever dreamed of being an author – which many entrepreneurs will relate to. With the opening of the floodgates, new opportunities and challenges arise. On the one hand, some amazing writers and creators have expanded opportunity for public discovery and possibly new revenue streams. Perhaps they were overlooked by publishing companies in the past, or never considered going through the submission process at all. Overall, the world is bound to discover new talent that may have been overlooked by traditional publishing institutions. On the other hand, with open access comes a deluge of content to sift through and just like the rest of the web, finding quality, relevant content is a challenge and targeted curation becomes key. There’s also an endless stream of information and choices for newbie self-publishers to wade through.

This post is the first in a series focused on self-publishing and will explore some of the tools, challenges and opportunities authors are now working with. Today’s post focuses on a first time children’s author, Mary Barnes, who chose to self-publish her book Is Today A Stay At Home Day? via the popular service, Lulu.com. Mary is a Vice President at AOL with over a decade of experience managing project teams building user-facing technology. 

Is Today A Stay At Home Day?JC:  You recently self-published your first book titled “Is Today A Stay At Home Day?” – congratulations! How long did the entire process take you from concept to launch?

MB:  It actually took me about 18 months. The topic of child care is near and dear to my heart with three daughters who attended and had great experiences. The title and the activities are all tied to their experiences. This is a long way of saying I was passionate and determined to do this book but I had fits and starts in terms of attention I could give it.

JC:  How long have you been thinking about writing a book, and did you always intend to self-publish or did you look into publishing companies first?

MB:  I felt like I should at least try to get the book published vs going directly to self publish. I researched which publishers were actually taking children book submissions and in my area of focus. The list of actual publishers I could submit to ended up being very short. I sent my manuscript out and waited. I heard back sooner then I thought but they were all declines.

JC:  Ultimately, what made you decide to self-publish?

MB: I am just passionate about the subject so I was determined to make it happen. Doing further research online, I learned a lot about self-publishing. It’s great that these opportunities are now available to us. 5 or 10 years ago this would not have been an option.

JC:  You used LuLu.com… did you do a lot of research before selecting them? What made you chose LuLu.com?

MB:  I reached out to several self publishers and liked what I saw with lulu.com. They also did not badger me while I was making my decision like some publishers. What made my decision was my illustrator, Mike Motz, who’s team has illustrated many children’s books, was also a big fan of Lulu.com.

JC:  Other than actually writing and illustrating the book, what were the biggest challenges to getting it published? Where there many technical hurdles? Can you describe the process?

MB:  Actually the process went very well. There were no technical issues. The format lulu.com requires manuscripts and illustrations to be in are pretty standard; Word, GIF, JPEG for example. On lulu.com you can choose a publishing package. Since this was my first book I chose to purchase a publishing package. The lulu.com support team was very responsive to any questions I had and made suggestions on which package was most appropriate for me (the package they recommended was actually cheaper then the one I thought I needed). As I was going through the publishing process they kept highlighting the need to choose components of the book (size, paper binding etc) that would qualify for distribution. Not all sizes will work. Overall the process is pretty cookie cutter. All communication was done via email and that worked just fine. You have opportunity to make changes to a point. The cover/back cover are handled separate from the manuscript. The only area I was not that clear on was the pricing.

JC:  Did you decide on your own price point? And if orders come from LuLu or Amazon’s sites, what % do they keep?

MB:  Pricing was the one area I did not feel I had enough information on up front. I chose “print on demand” as I did not want to deal with inventory or having to ship out orders. This in itself adds to your base price. I can tweak the price but given the base cost there was not a lot of wiggle room. I make 15% more on a purchase through lulu.com vs other sites (Amazon and B&N). However, the other sites are more likely to offer free shipping so I want to be sensitive to the costs involved for the purchaser  – so I have leaned towards sending people to Amazon or B&N. Clearly with that attitude my goal is more to get the book out to families and cover costs.

JC:  Your book is also listed on Amazon. Is that part of LuLu’s distribution? What other distribution options do they offer (ebook services like Kindle or Nook?) Does LuLu do anything to help promote your book or is that all up to you?

MB:  You have to establish an ISBN number for your book in order to get any real distribution. Lulu.com takes care of securing the ISBN for you if you purchase a publishing package. Lulu.com then offers an “Extended Reach” distribution package and a “Global Reach” package. This allows you to list on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The “Global Reach” also allows for brick and mortar stores to sell it. Lulu takes care of making these distribution channels happen and the cost is next to nothing with a publishing package. One word of note, Amazon and B&N update new books once a month so it takes 6-8 weeks from the time your book is available on Lulu.com to have it appear on those other sites. In addition, those sites can choose not to list your book, but that’s the exception.

Lulu.com does provide the ability to offer a download of your book but given mine is a children’s book I did not include that option. They also provide you with cut/past buttons (badges) to add to your site, Facebook and other social networks at no charge. They do offer other marketing packages for a price. They also have contests to encourage more promotion on their site.

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Jen Consalvo is the COO of Tech Cocktail. She is also an entrepreneur and new media journalist who worked in product development for almost 13 years at AOL for audiences of millions. Follow her on Twitter at: @noreaster.

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