I hold in my hands a trade paperback titled We the Enemy. It’s the real thing—except you can’t buy it anywhere because this is the one and only copy.
This rare, one-of-a-kind book, written and designed by me, cost me all of $10.86 (including shipping). This is by way of Lulu.com. I couldn’t buy one at the bookstore for that.
This book is a “proof” copy of a novel that I’m going to make more copies of through Lulu in order to try to raise funding to actually print and market it. But maybe the process and results are something that you might want to try.
Places to make your book
There are three POD (print on demand) resources that I’m familiar with: Lulu.com, CreateSpace (Amazon’s POD company), and Lightning Source (the firm I’m using to publish The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles, and the one the big publishers use). I’ve only shopped CreateSpace, but haven’t used it yet because I could produce a book for less on Lulu.com.
Lulu is carefully thought out and makes it easy. If you’re handy with software including Word and Photoshop, and can created PDFs of the results, you can design the book (cover and interior) any way you want. That’s what I did for this copy of We the Enemy.
But it can be much easier than that. You can use Word to format your book using templates provided Lulu for different print sizes—I adapted one of theirs for We the Enemy, but used my own for The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles.
Using their template and doing some basic type formatting, you can design an acceptable book interior and then upload the Word doc to Lulu, and they will convert it into the PDF needed for printing.
They also offer easy-to-use cover options. If all you want is one copy of your book, it’s easy to keep it simple with just a front cover and a spine. They also offer design services for a fee, but that’s going to drive your cost way up. I designed the full cover, and there’s an option for uploading a PDF of that to Lulu. To do the 5.5” by 8.5” size, you have to choose “Publisher grade” to get there.
There are plenty of sizes to choose from. Lulu’s handle for the 5.5” by 8.5” trade paperback that I produced is “digest.” They also do a 6” by 9” size, which is the other popular size for a trade paperback. I produced my writing book at first with Lulu as an 8 ½” by 11” book, but eventually invested in “real” printing for Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells so that bookstores would be open to stocking it.
The results from Lulu.com are “good enough.” In my experience, the interior of the book comes out just fine. The book cover on this proof copy, however, has things on a little bit of a slant. I had cover problems with the writing book too, but not after I went to a regular printing company for final production.
Lulu.com offers many tutorials and tools, including a spine width calculator for the cover, a cost calculator, etc. However, direct, personal support doesn’t really exist. They do have an extensive FAQ section that will probably cover what you need, but don’t expect anything outside of that from the company. If you want to produce a single copy, or a few copies, Lulu.com is hard to beat. They also offer a store, ISBN numbers services, and more, but I found that I could do a better job as a publisher by using Lightning Source for my final production.
These are the pros, and focus on the business of printing books. They don’t provide any design services, and have tight standards for the PDFs you have to supply. While the final print cost per book turns out to be less than that of Lulu.com, there are set-up fees and costs associated with the initial proof copy that make it an unaffordable one-book source. So you have to bear the cost of interior design (which you can do with Word or a program such as InDesign), cover design (Photoshop or InDesign), and producing the PDFs needed for printing, something that I already have the software to do (Adobe Distiller).
It also costs $40 to upload a change in the text, and another $40 for a change in the cover. Lulu.com doesn’t charge for making changes or creating new versions.
The quality of the Lightning Source books is excellent, though, their service is very professional, and there’s someone to help you, answer questions, etc. Both my interior and the full cover came out perfectly.
They are partners with the big distributors, including Ingram, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. If you’re producing the book for sale as I did with the vampire kitty book, this is the way to go. If I end up publishing We the Enemy myself (the most likely scenario), I’ll do it through Lightning Source and delete the editions at Lulu.com
The benefits of making your book
For one thing, it’s a real kick to hold an honest-to-God book in your hand instead of a manuscript. But, beyond the emotional payoff, you will now have an opportunity to understand, as you could in no other way, how your story works in book form.
It will read differently because you’ll react to it differently. I’ve found that I spot clumsy language or typos that I’ve missed in all the previous iterations. I also gain a better understanding of how the pacing is—or isn’t—working.
If you have beta readers that you like to get feedback from and can afford a few copies, a Lulu.com book could be the way to give them the true experience to react to, and that can be invaluable.
You can also, as I am, use these self-produced books for marketing purposes, or as ARCs (advance review copies). They’ll be good enough for that from Lulu.com.
Bottom line, seeing, feeling, and reading your real book for less than $15 or so is, for my money, well worth it.