Friday, 23 January 2009

In praise of Lulu! by Meg Harper

Ha! This is a bit risky! Normally I write in word and then post on this blog - but today I'm posting late at night on a friend's computer because I'm away from home! So this might be brief through sheer fear - will this disappear at any moment?!

Now then...a quick scan of the keyword list suggests no one else has written about the glories of www.lulu.com here but apologies if they have and you're bored of reading about it! I'm sure you all know that Lulu is an on-line self-publishing company which an be used to create anything from a single copy of a small paperback booklet to an infinite number of case-bound illustrated tomes. I have recently had my first couple of flirtations with this entertaining plaything and I'm pleased to wax somewhat lyrical about it.

Last summer I ran a 3 day creative writing workshop for adults on the theme of Banbury Stories. We sought inspiration from Banbury museum and local history books and then got cracking. We weren't aiming to write hugely well-researched local history - instead we wrote fiction and poetry inspired by what we gleaned and had an immense amount of fun, all with the aim of publishing a small booklet that we would sell in the museum and the arts centre where we were based. The head of adult education had agreed to take over the publishing side, once I'd edited the ms. Lovely! Fantastic! We finished the project and were all thrilled. And then disaster struck. The H of AE became seriously ill. Suddenly, I had to find another publishing solution - and decided, having heard so much about it, to try Lulu.

Now I am a techniphobe. I was expecting hours of frustration, major headaches and serious bad temper. I therefore decided to go for the simplest type of publication possible - which as it turned out was just about all I could do with the small size of ms that I had! With much trepidation, I began, starting with the registration process you might expect. After that, I had to take a deep breath and dive in - I had to START A PROJECT! Believe me, this couldn't be simpler. Essentially, if you have your ms ready to go, all you do is select the size and style of book you want, upload your ms, click 'make print ready file', create your cover - and publish as many copies as you want! I had one or two minor problems but found the on-line chat excellent as a means of help (though that seems to be more restricted now than it was - probably far too popular!). I also needed to consult my resident media expert (18 year old son!)about the photo and lay-out I wanted for the cover, but apart from that it was astonishingly simple. I ordered one copy as a proof and discovered that, sure enough, my on-screen editing skills were dire - but as each copy was only costing me £1.61 plus p&p, I wasn't too bothered! My only real criticism is that the weight of the cover paper could do with being heavier as it is showing a tendency to coil and there is no choice about that for the simplest style of book - but we still have a very professional-looking little product and are almost ready to put in our order. A tragic footnote is that one of our writers (who unbeknown to us was fighting cancer) died on New Year's Day without seeing the finished result but the lovely thing about this type of publishing is that I can easily go back and include a dedication to her before publishing the copies we need.

I'm not about to plunge into publishing my novels this way - though people do and sell them through the Lulu marketplace and Amazon as well as themselves (I have a really excellent drama games book which appeared in my Amazon suggestions and turned out to be self-published through Lulu - so the system works!) - but for creative writing projects and personal use, it's brilliant. I've just created a single copy of a little book for a special present for a friend - and I'm thrilled with it. A member of the group I teach has created a fully illustrated picture book for a friend's new baby - it looks great! Lulu provides a (fairly restricted) gallery of front cover images (I used one for my friend's present) but it's relatively easy to use your own.

Enough? Want to have a go? I've dwelt on the practicalities here but there are wider issues of course. Thousands of people are publishing through Lulu and it's clear from the drama book I bought that there is excellent material 'making it' in this way, rather than through conventional publishing. Publishers beware! There is something very attractive about the autonomy of this - and the speed and the cost! I've just been granted funding to be a writer in residence in two local schools - and guess what I said I'd be doing with the children? So that will be my next Lulu project - but I'm rather tempted to have a go with one of those novels that I think ought to be out there but hasn't found a publisher! I've so very, very little to lose!

8 comments:

Anne Rooney said...

Thank you for this Meg - a really useful insight into how it all works. I've thoguht of experimenting with Lulu for ages, just to see how well it works. The idea of producing something from your workshops and school residencies is brilliant! I'll be stealing that one... It must be so inspiring for students who have never seen their work in print to be able to have that printed copy.

Katherine Langrish said...

This does sound interesting, Meg. My father-in-law used to write comic verse, and since his death we've been thinking about collecting it and publishing it for the family. This could be ideal - thanks!

Candy Gourlay said...

how exciting for you! there is so much one can do with facilities like lulu. recently saw a collection of photos that a friend self published using blurb.com - it was beautifully printed, complete with dust jacket. this might be the solution to all the digital images now stored in a hard drive and in danger of destruction in one electrical spark.

Meg Harper said...

Glad that's been useful - and I'll be looking into blurb.com too, Candy! What an excellent idea! Am so hopeless about saving photos of the kids now!

Nick Green said...

Can't believe I missed this post. I owe quite a lot to Lulu. After despairing of ever publishing The Cat Kin, I Lulu-published, got a press review, and bingo – I got a mainstream contract. I am sure it would not have happened otherwise. And then, when my sequel was turned down, I Lulu-published again, at least until a better option came along. And even now, I still use Lulu to print off working drafts of my books in progress. In short it's a long-distance printer - rather extravagent perhaps, but I just so love having a bound copy to work from, instead of a cumbersome typescript.

Long live Lulu!

Lee said...

Another cool thing to do is to use Lulu to make blank, custom-covered notebooks. Just leave the uploaded file blank and specify the number of pages you'd like. The do-it-yourself version of Moleskine ...

Meg Harper said...

What a great idea, Lee! It's all such fun! Could solve the 'special present' problem for ever! And great to hear how Nick uses it - another good idea - and not that extravagant. I've just ordered a load of Banbury Stories books for the sum of £2.31 each.

Joanna Kenrick said...

I had no idea it worked out so cheaply! What fun! I already upload photos and have them printed into books - why not do the same with my writing?! I have a pet project I've never managed to sell...maybe it's time to self-publish it? Thanks so much for this!