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11:37am on Tuesday, 29th May, 2007:

Novel Solutions


I have a number of ideas for novels, but absolutely no self-marketing ability. To get a book published these days, you either have to be famous, know someone in the publishing industry, or be incredibly lucky. You can improve your chances of publication if you have an agent, but to get an agent you need to be famous, know someone in the publishing industry, or be incredibly lucky — just even more so. It's getting so you need an agent to get an agent.

There is a solution in today's print-on-demand world, though: self-publish! You create your manuscript, send it to a print-on-demand service, and when someone wants to buy a copy they print one. Better still, they'll handle all the tedious things like getting an ISBN number and putting it on Amazon if you buy a "distribution package". Not many actually sell distribution packages, though.

I'd been thinking about trying some self-publishing for a while, but it wasn't until a friend of mine commented on the success he'd had with his book that I decided to give it a shot myself. The company he'd used, LuLu, seems to be the market leader, so that's what I went with.

OK, well given that their entire business concerns publishing print-on-demand, I have to say I was somewhat surprised by the rather less-than-helpful organisation of their site. Things that every new would-be publisher wants to know, such as what to put in the front matter, aren't mentioned anywhere — you have to search through forum posts to find anything half-way close to answering the question. Cafepress is much better in this regard. However, LuLu does something Cafepress doesn't: it sells distribution packages. No need to buy an ISBN, you just get one from LuLu.

I decided my guinea pig book would be INsightflames. Running the numbers, it's about 50 pages too long to do as a single "pocket size" paperback, but I wrote it so it has a natural break in the middle where it could be split into two. I went with that, calling the two parts In Sight and In Flames (I'd have preferred INsight and INflames, but I don't think cataloguing systems would do anything but choke on that). I reformatted everything to the precise specifications demanded of the pocket book size, and spent some considerable time working on the cover and putting together the front matter.

The way ISBNs work, you can only put one on a book that's already "published". This means that the process is: write a book without an ISBN; upload it to LuLu; publish the book but don't release it; buy a distribution package; put the ISBN inside where it goes; put the ISBN and bar code on the back; release it. LuLu doesn't tell you any of this, by the way, you have to scour the forum posts.

OK, so I wrote the book without the ISBN, uploaded it to LuLu, published it but didn't release it, then ... akk! It wouldn't sell me a distribution package! What the blazes?!

More scouring of forum posts revealed that LuLu only sells distribution packages for certain sizes of books, of which pocket size is not one. Pocket size is 4.25" by 6.875" — it's the most common book size in the world. All those novels you have on your shelves are either pocket size or you cursed them for being too big to carry. Yet LuLu doesn't do a distribution deal for pocket size. Uh? This information is actually buried in their ISBN FAQ, if you follow one of the links. Regrettably, I didn't spot this rather important fact when I looked at the link because it had another link I followed from there, which led to another, and I popped too many frames from my stack when I came back.

Oh well, not to worry! LuLu has two distribution deals for sale: "published by LuLu" and "Published by you — US". I may not be able to use "published by LuLu", but I could still use "Published by you — US". This entails registering as a publisher and buying your own ISBN and living in America because the US at the end means United States. Damn!

So I can't publish through LuLu as they don't do it for unimportant formats like the very one every novelist wants, and I can't self-publish through them because they only do that for authors who live in America.

Yes, well that's certainly a lulu.

Referenced by Reasons to Publish.

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).