Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Self-publish and/or Perish

Today my guest is Sheila Deeth, who's discussing some of the alternative roads to publications.

We used to travel on trains, back in the age of steam, and my Gran would teach me to listen to the engine’s refrain, “I think I can, I think I can…” I’d watch the slowing countryside from the window. “I hope you can.” Then at the top of the hill, the engine would always speed up. “I said I could, I said I could,” I’d sing, running up and down the aisles while Gran tried to keep me in my seat.


In life, in writing anyway, I guess I’m still thinking I can, though I wonder sometimes what made me decide to self-publish.

I tried looking at real publishing houses first—ones I’d heard of—and they said no un-agented submissions. So I tried the agents—again, ones I’d heard of—who said no unpublished writers. Then I tried the internet and searched for publishers and agents that I hadn’t heard of. The smoky clouds of too much information surrounded me, and I soon became expert at knowing why my work wasn’t suitable without even trying.

Afterwards I looked at the houses that publish “for a price. We expect our author’s to invest.” But I’m investing time, and I haven’t got a job, so I invested more time and found Lulu. FREE! It said, and that was enough to hook me.

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It really wasn’t that hard to get started with Lulu. I panicked when the “upload” button mentioned pdf files, but then I realized I could just use Microsoft Word documents and Lulu would convert. I even learned to format my Word docs to the right page size and pagination (File>Page setup…). It was easy, apart from the pages that required endless re-edits and re-uploads when they didn’t quite fit, and the sudden crash when I changed an x to a y. It turned out Lulu didn’t like the font I’d used.


Soon, I had a genuine downloadable pdf file. For someone who’s never created such a thing, that felt pretty good. And when I said CONTINUE, Lulu took me to its book cover page. I checked the size requirements for an uploaded picture and typed them into Microsoft Paint (Image>Attributes). I like drawing on computers. The fact that the resulting page went from my computer’s windows all the way out to the back yard was a bit of a problem, but I remembered those old drawing games I played as a kid, and sketched pieces on a grid.

Meanwhile Lulu kept saving my unpublished project till suddenly it declared that I was DONE! Price setting came next, and that was really a pain. All those happy dreams of selling on Amazon disappeared when I realized I’d have to set the price so high even my best friends wouldn’t buy. So I couldn’t get free distribution after all, just a Lulu storefront to keep the prices low. (Nice storefront though.)

“I think I can,” I said, in happy delight, imagining my writing in craft stores and book stores and Christmas fairs and markets. But books aren’t crafts, and self-published books aren’t quite accepted as real; even the library wouldn’t look.

If I’d known then what I know now, I might have saved up my money and gone with a company that gives you some help selling. Lulu’s great quality, easy and cheap to use, and has really incredibly wonderful customer support. But if the books are priced too high, or aren’t offered to Amazon and bookstores, sales are hard to find. And if you have to buy your own stock, mail your own copies to reviewers at your own expense, pay for copyrights, send “best versions” to the library of congress, advertise, pay for stalls at Christmas fairs, etc, pretty soon you’re already spending several times what you’d planned.

One day, this train’s going to reach the top of the hill and I’ll sing “I said I could.” But for now, “I hope I can.” And I’ve got to admit, thanks to Lulu, I do have real books on my shelves (and on some strangers’ shelves) with my own name as the author. It may be rather small as triumphs go, but I still think it’s worth running up and down the aisles while my family tries to keep me in my seat.

Sheila Deeth finally took the plunge into self-publishing just one year ago, so Terry’s guest-blogging invitation seemed like the perfect excuse to assess where her adventure’s taking her. Sheila just attempted to turn her blog into a website and would love to have some visitors.

18 comments:

Linda Kage said...

I love your wonderful, positive outlook with "I think I can" and hope you come back to let us know how lulu worked out. Thanks.

Sun Singer said...

Your "I think I can" focus on the challenges is the only way to look at this crazy business. I self-published one of my books with Lulu in 2006 and found the process remarkably easy. My brother's working with them now and reports that they no longer have the live chat feature they had when I did my book. Too bad. Some kinds of glitches take a real person to fix. Even so, Lulu's not a bad place to start as we all make our way up the very high mountain.

Enjoyed hearing about your experience.

Malcolm

GunDiva said...

I had always wondered about self-publishing. Thanks for the insight.

Sheila Deeth said...

So far, things are still working out okay. I've had to invest some money in books and I'm not making any profit, but it's certainly very cool when a total stranger stops by a stall and leaves with one of my books under his arm.

Thanks Terry for inviting me here today. I'm really looking forward to reading and replying to comments.

Carol Kilgore said...

I'm glad to read the Lulu info because a friend is putting together a family book to give out at Christmas and is considering using Lulu. I'm going to give her the link to this post so she can read your experience.

Maryann Miller said...

I didn't realize that Lulu set prices so high that books could not be sold on Amazon. Definitely something to consider as I make my decision whether to self-pub the paperback edition of my latest books.

Terry Odell said...

Maryann, I believe Amazon will only sell books printed by one of their affiliates. That was a real blow because although Cerridwen Press has its own printing press, Amazon refused to purchase books from them to sell; they insisted on printing their own, drastically increasing the price point.

Sheila Deeth said...

The problem with pricing is you have to set the retail price to at least twice the "wholesale" if you have distribution through Lulu - at least, you did last time I looked. At that time "wholesale" was $3 less than the basic print price, so it's not really a problem with black and white text. But with color printing it was too much. I hope that helps Maryann. And good luck with your books.

Sheila Deeth said...

I actually had three of my books on Amazon for a while. Lulu was "testing" something and I was lucky enough to be selected for it. It didn't generated any sales though.

I think Lulu has an option now where you can pay to put a book on Amazon (Amazon marketplace?) without getting distribution, but you have to pay per book per year. It gets round the issues with wholesale and retail prices.

Anonymous said...

I KNOW you can,I KNOW you can....
Love your sunny outlook,Sheila ,and sampling your talent the past months on Gather and elsewhere I believe you are a great ,imaginative author ..especially in the macabre genre..
you're like Poe in heels..;)

The more exposure the better so just keep at it and
it will happen!
Very nice of Terry to have you guest hosting..
BTW this is the "other "Sheila..

Sheila Deeth said...

Hi Sheila. Fun to see you here. And thank you for the encouragement.

A. F. Stewart said...

I originally went with Lulu because of the free part, too. It's a good way to test the waters, so to speak.

Self/subsidy publishing in general sets its book prices higher, not just Lulu; it is one of the problems.

Sheila Deeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheila Deeth said...

Fingers typing, eyes looking elsewhere.... That one made no sense.

I was trying to say, I guess they have to make their money somewhere. Most Lulu books have such short print runs, and many only sell to the author, so they probably have to set the prices higher to get by.

elaine cantrell said...

Thanks for your insight, Sheila. Good luck with your writing. This is one tough business to break into.

Karla Brandenburg said...

I've used Lulu myself - and the price for an ISBN throws the cost of the book back up. When you set your own price (before the ISBN), you can make the cost relatively inexpensive. I went ahead and invested in the ISBN because you get wider distribution, and then you have to concentrate on the marketing end of things. Barnes & Noble will work with you, although you can't leave your books in their store, but I have done book signings there and did quite well. IT's a lot of leg work, whether you're completely on your own, or with a traditional publisher.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks for the added information, Karla. Knowing what to expect is a big part of deciding what path to follow.

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks Karla. I hadn't thought of asking about book-signings without leaving books in the store. Perhaps I should ask Powells about that too.