Monday, March 29, 2010...8:30 am

Today’s shameless plug: The Trusted

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It turns out that my friend and regular Freelance Unbound commenter Mel is at more-or-less the cutting edge of publishing.

Apart from the time she spends as a welcome gadfly here, it turns out she is a secret novelist. In fact, I’ve just received her latest (well, first) outing through the post after ordering it online.

It’s kind of chick-lit (tagline: “Never date a celebrity with a drink problem” – not normally one of the things that concerns me much), but it’s an impressive achievement. Not least because, like many in the media field, I have been not managing to write a novel for about 15 years now.

It seems that life in rural Wiltshire – and possibly the media recession – is kind to creativity. I mean, when there’s nowhere to go in the evening, and the day job is quiet, what else are you going to do? Watch daytime TV?

Why is it at sort-of the cutting edge of publishing? Because I bought it from Lulu.com. Lulu.com is one of a few sites now that allows you to publish work yourself, entirely digitally, and then prints it on demand for anyone who wants a copy enough to pay the £8.62 plus P&P it costs. Delivery is in three or four days – and the total cost is about as much as a premium price paperback in a real shop.

It’s a fascinating model – and one that is only possible thanks to both digital creation and distribution of media files, and one-off digital print that has very small set-up costs.

After uploading your digital files (it takes Word, PostScript or PDF among others), you can specify a range of different print sizes, in either paperback or hardback. You can also set your own price – whether just enough to cover the costs (if you’re just aiming it at your Mum), or higher to give you a larger royalty. Lulu also takes a 20% commission on each order, if you price it so you make a profit.

This used to be the kind of thing that was the domain of vanity publishing. You fork out several thousand pounds to publish a limited edition of your beloved history of Hertfordshire railway stations, for example. But instead of having boxes of unwanted copies mouldering in your attic, now you can print one-offs as they’re needed. Yes, the unit price is much higher, but you don’t have to lay out any money at all up front, as all the cost is borne by the customer.

It’s not the sort of thing that will make an author rich – self-publishing rarely does. If you want to make a living out of writing books, you’ll still need to find a publisher with the marketing and distribution clout to sell enough copies to make larger print-runs viable.

But services like this do open up book publishing to almost anyone with the creativity to write, whether fiction or non-fiction. And the results are professional enough. The cover is clearly a bit thinner than a normal paperback, and there’s no printing on the inner covers, but otherwise it’s the same format as a paperback you’ll buy in Waterstone’s.

Is this kind of thing a threat to conventional publishers? Probably not in the way the surfeit of free online content is helping to undermine traditional newspaper publishing. I suspect anyone willing to invest the time to buy and read a full-length novel will also have higher expectations of its quality than casual web visitors.

I did join Lulu.com a while ago, thinking it might be a good vehicle for my own attempt at fiction that I could then promote excessively on Freelance Unbound. But given my lack of progress on that front, I’m more than happy to pimp Mel’s achievement here. Go, visit and buy…

2 Comments

  • Please don’t. It’s dreadful. Or at least wait until I’ve corrected the mistakes, of which there are currently many…
    Lulu is great – relatively easy to use, quick, lots of options in terms of format, and yes, perhaps best of all, it’s cost-effective enough that you can just print a couple of copies for yourself and your dear old mum and then have done with it.
    My main criticism is that the sizes available are a little odd – there’s no standard paperback size, which I found frustrating but no doubt other self publishing sites will have different options.

  • Mel’s being modest – it’s a great book.
    She’s right though, lulu being American, it has those awkward American page sizes (ie either slightly too big or slightly too small). Postage costs can be expensive too; most sizes are shipped from the States.
    Lulu is by far by the most recognised site doing this sort of thing but there are hundreds of others. lightningsource.com is meant to be good and works out cheaper if you’re having larger runs published.
    As Simon points out – it’s not going to make you rich. I had my travel book published on lulu and I actually lose money each time a copy is printed! Still, we’re in it for da love, not da money.

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