27 Feb 2009
Publishing Lady Caine on Lulu.com hasn't been without its frustrations, but these have mostly been minor. I've already outlined why I chose Lulu - mainly a matter of cost, but also because it has a reasonable reputation. And I haven't come to regret it, even on the occasions when I was tearing my hair out.
First, don't try to rush. Give yourself time to make sure everything is right. This may be an Internet-based service, but it doesn't provide the instant gratification that that implies. Some processes - such as getting ISBN numbers or having proof copies printed and mailed - take days or weeks. Plan ahead.
The biggest headache for me was creating the main text file.
Lulu allows you to upload word processor documents from which it creates print-ready PDFs. To help ensure that the book looks as close as possible to what you see on your word processor screen, Lulu provides templates for its various book sizes. It also issues a list of basic fonts that it supports. And it is basic - just 11 fonts.
The alternative is to create a print-ready PDF yourself. Lulu offers advice on how to go about this, but this is so replete with warnings about how you can get it wrong that I imagine most people will be put off. What the advice boils down to is that you should use Adobe Acrobat itself - not some alternative package - to create the PDF. If you choose one of Lulu's distribution packages - and I went for 'Published by you' - you must have created the PDF with Adobe Distiller, they insist.
I dare say that this is an easy way of filtering out the most common mistakes. Among other things, they want to ensure that the fonts you've used (and you can use any if you're going this route) are properly embedded in the PDF document. There's a useful tutorial on embedding fonts here.
But it's annoying. Adobe software is horribly expensive - beyond my means for this project. So I opted to upload a Word (.doc) file. This wasn't without its problems.
I stuck to the approved fonts. The text of Lady Caine is set in Times New Roman - not my favourite serif font, but it's okay. In OpenOffice.org, I'd selected single line spacing but with a very slight amount of leading to put a bit of extra white space on the page, making the text easier on the eye.
Once the file is uploaded, Lulu creates the print-ready PDF straight away - or within a couple of minutes, anyway. You can download and review this before proceeding.
I hit problems straight away. The text had reflowed, so that page breaks were entirely different to those I was seeing in the word processor. I suspected that the problem might lie with the drop caps with which I'd started each chapter. I laboriously went through the manuscript, restyled all the opening pars and uploaded a new file. This was much better but still, within 10-11 pages of each chapter start, I'd see differences between the Word-format file and the Lulu PDF.
The text in the Lulu file was running slightly longer. I wondered about that leading. But then I noticed that occasional words were being bumped from the ends of certain lines on to the next. This meant that either there's a slight difference between the Times New Roman that I use and the one used by Lulu, or there's a tracking issue. I never did find out. (If it's the former, then Lulu might want to consider licensing a bunch of fonts that members can download.)
Widows and orphans
This made controlling widows and orphans very difficult.
For those who are new to all this, a widow is the last line of a paragraph that appears at the top of a column of text (ie, the top of the page in this case). The rest of the paragraph is on the previous page. Because this last line is shorter than a full line of text, it looks a tad awkward and messy starting a page that way. An orphan is the first line of a paragraph appearing at the bottom of a column or page. I have less of a problem with these in a book because the text fills nearly the whole line. (Purists won't agree.) But widows are annoying.
I found myself in a loop, making slight adjustments to the text to get rid of a nasty widow, uploading the new file, downloading the resulting PDF, finding another widow, and so it went on. This is a very clumsy way of editing a document. In the end, I never did get rid of all the widows, but I got most of them and all the really bad ones.
OpenOffice.org has a setting to control widows and orphans. But this works quite crudely by pulling text to the next page, leaving the previous page one line short. I prefer to control them by editing the text. Next time, however, I might just use that feature and accept that some pages will be of unequal lengths. Or I might find the money to invest in Acrobat, at which point I'd have full control over the look and layout of the book.
Producing the cover was much easier. I created separate images in Photoshop for both the front and back and uploaded these as max-quality JPEGs in Adobe RGB colour space.
If you only want text on the back, you can enter this directly into Lulu's cover creation page. But then you're stuck with a single font, size and weight. I wanted more flexibility than that.
You don't need to create a front cover image, either. Lulu has a large number of stock images and cover templates you can use to build a cover. But you will be using an image already used by other authors, and I wanted something a little more dynamic.
Once you have your files uploaded, it's time to order a proof copy.
I was pleased with the results. The cover image matched the original graphic I'd produced pretty well, so choosing the RGB colour space was evidently a good move. The blacks weren't quite as deep as I would have liked, which made the text on the back cover look slightly washed out. That could be overcome by selecting a slightly larger font size.
The interior text is very crisp. Overall, the printed book feels like quality.
The number of the beast
I opted for Lulu's 'Published by you' package because it not only gives the book the all-important ISBN number, you also get to own that number. In fact, you own 10 because that's how many are issued at a time.
The 'Published by Lulu' package is cheaper and more flexible (you get a single number at a time, as you need them). But, as the name suggests, the book is then technically published by Lulu, which owns the ISBN.
We're in the process of setting up our own virtual imprint, WebVivant Press, so it's very important that we are seen as the publishers.
The process is fairly simple. You buy the package through Lulu's store and are then emailed a Word document containing a very simple application form. Email this back to Lulu and they handle everything else. Once the ISBNs are assigned to you, the first is attached automatically to the project you specified in the application.
We had one minor hiccup. You need to provide the address and phone number for the publisher of the book. Now, we're in France, but for all intents and purposes we want to present WebVivant Press as a UK publisher (the books will all be in English). I entered our French address. The form even had a field for 'country'.
It turns out that you have to be UK-based. This seems somewhat antediluvian in this globalised, Internet age, but selah. The publishing world has never been exactly leading edge. Lulu contacted us about the problem and I resubmitted the form with the registered address of our UK company. That worked.
Now that the ISBN has been assigned to the book, I've had to order another proof. Once that has arrived, and I've let Lulu know that I approve of it, then the book will be officially 'published' (even though it's already available for sale).
Although publishing via Lulu appears to be free, the truth is that you'll need to allow for the cost of at least a couple of proof copies (including postage) and - if you're at all serious - the distribution package that gives you an ISBN. It's still cheap, but free it ain't.
[PS. This is a slight rewrite of my blog post about working with Lulu.com. The original was lost in a server crash but turned up in Google's cache.]