* Helpful wizard-like publishing tools let you get out a book pretty easily.
* Many, many options and extras.
* Print quality is decent to excellent.
* Site arrangement is not the most helpful – clearly shows signs of continual growth.
* Help is plentiful, but not always clear.
SUMMARY: Lulu.com lets you create your own books, calendars, CD's, and more – as well as sell them. What's not to love?
So finally, my review of Lulu.com. I held off as I was trying out several different features and processes, and wanted to be able to give a comprehensive review of everything.
This is that review.
SO JUST WHAT IS LULU.COM?
It's easy to think of Lulu.com as a place to get print-on-demand books, which really doesn't cover the scope of what Lulu.com is. Lulu.com is an entire print and production solution for books, calendars, CD's, eBooks, and other forms of media. For anyone who wants to use Lulu.com to produce these kinds of media, it provides a selling system, product wizards, a store, distribution to other publishers/sites, and more. Lulu.com is a more-or-less complete solution for someone who wants to get published and maintain control.
Lulu's methods are pretty simple – Print/Produce on demand, and providing the files for other vendors to do the same. This means that items are made as ordered – saving everyone time and storage space, but requiring some proper setup before things are ready to go.
Best of all, it's free for a lot of the services. Lulu.com makes it's money off of actual orders, and by providing assorted services to potential authors. Yes – Lulu is free unless you buy specific services, the money is made off of actually selling stuff.
So, let's say you want to make a book. Here's what I experienced.
MAKING A BOOK:
I'll deal with the hard part up front – unless you want to pay for design services (which Lulu provides), you're going to need to know how to do the formatting and covers yourself, and no matter what you'll blow a few dollars printing out revisions to see how they look in real life.
Lulu.com is no substitute for actual graphic and layout skills. It will provide them for a fee as noted, but the best publishing wizard is not going to make up for your lack of skills, the wrong software, or lack of knowledge.
Making a book itself is pretty simple – you upload the contents (preferably as a PDF), design or upload a cover (or mix design wizard work and self-made covers), set a bunch of parameters, and you've got a book. You have two cover wizards to use, it will generate your own ISBN (or use your own), and even better you can interrupt or go back to the design process until you finalize it to modify things.
It's actually quite simple – the work is pretty much on your end, as noted, getting things all in order. I would not count on the Lulu.com PDF converter – it's OK, but it's not perfect, and is really only good for simple documents.
So you have a book done, you can revise it (the site tracks revisions for you), make it private, public, limited access, etc.
As noted you'll want to print a copy or so to see how it looks before a release, and that leads to.
The simple answer: "surprisingly good." I never doubted Print On Demand, but I'm pleased with the overall quality.
I'd say the quality of the books produced is average to above average, depending again on the work you put into it. The paper quality is good, and the cover colors print very well. Depending on the paper you choose, your cover design, and your layout work, you can produce something very professional.
I've really only saw two issues.
- My cover had a lot of black. In a few prints I did, on the back, some of the binding produced small white streaks on the edge near the binding in one corner, in the black area.
- Once out of my shipments, one book had some odd dirt on its back. From what I know it appears to have actually been due to the automatic shipping-package part of the Print On Demand. This only happened once out of about 30 prints.
Would these books stack up next to "big name" books in a bookstore? If you set them up right, yes.
This is where Lulu.com shines – it's easy to get your books out to the world. Here are the ones I could choose form at the time of making Fan To Pro:
You can keep your book private.
For free you can get ExtendedReach – which sends the Biblographic data to the US and UK Agencies and gets you into Amazon.com.
You can buy MarketReach for an Amazon Marketplace listing, for certain specific products.
You can buy GlobalReach – which lives up to its name, getting you into assorted Amazons, BarnesAndNoble.com, other online retailers, and making your book able to be ordered Wholesale from Ingram
I purchased GlobalReach (for $75), and the process was pretty simple:
- I ordered a copy of the book to approve it.
- I confirmed the copy was OK.
- I waited 6 weeks (it can take up to 8) for it to process – because the book basically has to be confirmed to fit all the proper formats for other print services, and some companies then have to confirm they pick it up. ExtendedReach supposedly works a bit faster.
Its pretty easy – and there are rules for getting your book out that are clearly spelled out, so you can avoid a rejection (wrong formatting is the usual reason). If I had an issue its that the wait was annoying, and there weren't any updates on it until I saw my book at Amazon.com. Admittedly I'm not sure what kind of updates they could send you as the book approval goes out of their hands. It'd be nice to see an update system in the future.
Still $75 to reach the world? I'm happy.
As a side note I am requesting iBookstore distribution, but need to wait on that a few weeks . . .
MANAGING YOUR PROJECTS AND MORE:
Lulu.com provides you central control area where you can manage your projects, start new ones, place orders, see your profits, and get help.
This area works reasonably well – but it's not perfect. Lulu.com has expanded over time, with more and more features and pages and wizards and so on. The interface unfortunately reflects this – some things are easy and obvious, some require clikcthroughs. There's occasional odd redundancies, and other points where a useful feature is incredibly hard to find. Lulu.com feels like a house that's being constantly remodeled – by very good people, but the sense of remodeling is there.
This doesn't extend to the wizards and core functionality, which as noted are incredibly streamlined and effective. It is however a bit annoying to have to go from one status screen to a similar one, or have to guess a help search phrase, and so on. It doesn't diminish the power of Lulu.com, but be ready to spend a bit of time sorting everything out.
On the plus side, the site's look is very professional. This is great for introducing it to people, especially if they think self-publishing sounds fishy or low quality. Lulu's site really shows a love of what they do and is very, very professional.
Lulu offers a lot of other services, such as design, promotion, and more. Some are free, some aren't. There's quite a lot to sort through, and it's hard to do justice to them here – made more complicated by the fact that frankly I didn't use but a fraction of them. A few noteworthy ones:
- Cover design and formatting.
- Setting up promotions at shows.
- Free marketing advice and tools.
I've found that, having purchased one service (ePub formatting), the Lulu.com team is very helpful and personable. It was nice to not be a number.
Lulu.com is a slick, well-done, usually straightforward way to get things published on your own. It has room for improvement in some workflow, but really, it delivers the goods.
– Steven Savage