Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lulu - Not the annoying singer.

I read somewhere that there are two defining moments in a writer's life. The first, when they see their book in print. The second, when people actually go out and buy that book.

That first defining moment is easier than ever to accomplish, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. I stumbled across a website called, who offer a POD service. That means 'Print on Demand.'

Basically, you can upload your book and buy a perfectly bound copy of it, just like you'd pick up in Waterstones. What makes 'POD' different from paying somebody else to print your book is that you can print out just a single copy and it won't cost more than an equivilent book in WH Smiths. Printers generally expect orders of hundred or thousands of copies. suggest that this service is going to revolutionize the publishing world. I'm not so sure about that, but it is a wonderful facility to have. They will print your books and mail them anywhere in the world. In addition, you can actually 'publish' your book on line and buy an official ISDN number (the international book code that allows book sellers to take orders for books.) With this service, you can put your book online and sell it via Lulu's website or tie it in with a real online bookseller like Amazon. When somebody orders it, a copy gets printed and mailed to the customer.

The advantages of POD are obvious. Printing books is expensive. If they don't sell, the printed books just end up festering in some warehouse (if books fester) or being piled up high and sold cheap at The Works. Unless a publisher sells the books they print, they lose money. Sometimes a lot of money. Dorling Kindersley printed 13 million copies of their pictorial guide to Star Wars: Episode One and only sold 3 million. The firm was sold soon afterwards.

With POD, copies of the book are only printed when they've been ordered. While the cost per unit might be higher than large scale printings, in means there's no wastage. It basically takes the risk out of publishing.

However, there are disadvantages.

The reason it's so tough to get your book published is because publishers have very high standards. They are only going to invest in products that will give them a return. In that respect, the books they publish need to be more than just well written and entertaining. They need to appeal to a market that will shell out money to buy them.

With POD, however, anybody can publish anything. There's no quality control. If you look on the Lulu website you'll see thousands and thousands of books being pushed on their online catalogue. Most of them are supposed to be awful.

Real publishers spend money on editing, fact checking and layout. Since Lulu leaves all of that to the individual author, many of the books you'll find on their catalogue are poorly edited and riddled with spelling mistakes. I should know. I've tried my hand at it myself. More on that later.

Lulu offers something wonderful. The chance for absolutely anybody to see their books in print. What they can't offer are the things that really make publishers worthwhile. The attention to detail and their immense marketing budgets.

Marketing is the big one. You can have the best book in the world, but unless people know about it, nobody will ever read it. Compare, for example, Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code against a best seller on the Lulu Catalogue. Da Vinci sold over 30 million copies. Lulu's 'best sellers' struggle to sell more than 500.

Which brings us on to the second defining moment in a writer's life. That moment when you find out about people - lots of people - going out to buy your book. Lulu say their philosophy is to turn around the old publishing system. Instead of one hundred authors selling a million books, they want a million authors to each sell 100 books. Is that a good or a bad thing?

While POD services like Lulu have made getting into print easier than ever, they're making it harder and harder to break into the big time. And, let's admit it. Secretly all aspiring writers want their books to become the next Da Vinci Code.


EelKat said...

great post

Cam said...

Great blog, it was VERY, VERY helpful thankyou.