The other day, over on my Daily Photo Blog I mentioned that I intended to gather together a dozen of the old black and white photographs of Halifax and Brighouse I had been featuring on the Blog and send them off to Lulu in order to create a 2011 calendar. A couple of people asked me what Lulu was, so rather than explain to them individually, I thought I would put a short post together to explain the very basics of self-publishing via Lulu or similar services (those already familiar with Lulu and the like can miss out the next 73 paragraphs). This is not meant to be a serious guide to self-publishing : if you want a more detailed explanation of the self-publishing process, I would strongly recommend John Hayes new blog The Spring Ghazals.
I first used Lulu two or three years ago to publish a selection of my Blog posts from 2007. Since then I have used it for a few projects and I have to say that I find in both relatively easy to use and relatively cheap and convenient. There are other self-publishing services out there : if you are interested you can take a look at what they offer and make your own decisions. There are all sorts of reasons you might want to make use of a self-publishing service. The calendar I produced this morning provides me with a way of conveniently bringing together some of my old photographs of Halifax and also gives me a suitable Christmas present for people I am not that keen on. I also try to regularly pull together many of my blog posts into annual collections and publish them via Lulu, simply to ensure that they don't one day vanish down a Blogger vacuum. This is self-publishing as a way of archiving material : if my Sepia Saturday project has taught me anything it is that the physical photograph or book will probably outlive their digital counterpart. The third reason, of course, is to try to sell your work and make money out of it. If you really are out to make money you might be better using an alternative self-publishing service : something which might require a larger initial investment but provide a cheaper unit price.
Lulu has the enormous advantage of being free. You can set up your book or calendar using the various templates they provide, convert it to the files they need for their printing machines, and feature it in your own Lulu shop : all at no cost. You pay, of course, if you buy a copy of your book but you have the ability to set a price whereby you can make a little money if someone else decides to buy it. You can make the book available to anyone or available just to you. You can start out with a trial version and revise it until you are satisfied with the finished product. Indeed, you can do most things. If you want scary grown-up things like ISBN numbers or professionally designed covers you can buy all these services in, but in the first place I would encourage you to experiment. The final price of the product will depend on a number of factors such as size, binding, use of colour, and quality of paper, but the prices are, I think, quite reasonable. My calendar project (large size, good quality glossy paper) works out at £12.74 per copy.
Another advantage of international companies like Lulu is that they use printers throughout the world. If you were daft enough to order my calendar and you lived in England you would probably find it was printed and dispatched from either England or Spain. If you ordered it from America, the same product would be printed and dispatched from the States or Mexico. And even if you use the no-frills, no-publicity, free service - as I did with my blog-post compendium - you will discover that your work has the habit of appearing for sale in on-line booksellers all around the world (I just did a quick check via Google and discovered that "Postcards From Nowhere" can be bought from at least three retailers on-line including Amazon.com).
My one message to anyone who hasn't tried self-publishing is to start out with a free service such as the basic Lulu one and experiment with it. Don't be afraid. Before the days of the large commercial publishers, a writer who had something he wanted printing and circulating would simply take it to his local printers. Lulu, and the like, once again allow us to take control.