Michelle Davidson Argyle and Davin Malasarn, along with Scott G. F. Bailey, run the Literary Lab, a vibrant online community dedicated to the literary craft of fiction. In the past several months, they’ve run a contest for short stories in a variety of genres, with the results published as the Genre Wars anthology, from which the proceeds go to charity. Michelle and Davin graciously agreed to be the first to be interviewed in this series exploring the independent publishing options available to authors.
First questions first—why did you choose Lulu as your self-publisher? Was it the price vs. service level, reputation, print quality, or something else?
Davin: Well, I first started using Lulu only because Scott (and others) told me how fun it was to print out a draft of their novels in this format to get a sense of actually holding it as a book. So, I tried that with my novel and had a blast. When it came time to do the contest, I knew that other aspects of this would be complicated: reading the entries, judging them, advertising, finding charities—so I wanted to minimize the complication and stuck with Lulu because it was familiar. The price seemed reasonable, although I didn’t have anything else to compare it to.
Michelle: I first heard of Lulu through my father-in-law a few years ago, but I never did anything with it. Then I heard about Davin and Scott printing out their manuscripts through them and how the quality was up to par. I then ordered a novel from a fellow blogger who had put her work for sale on Lulu. I was impressed with the quality and the prices offered. I haven’t really looked into other POD publishers, so I’m not sure how Lulu compares to any others. So I guess you could say it was the reputation that initially got me interested in Lulu.
What service level did you choose, why, and how much did it cost? Were you happy with what you got for the price?
Davin: We chose the most basic service level. This means that we did everything on our own, from the cover design, to the formatting of the text, to the copy editing. So, all that was free. The only cost we had was the cost per copy, which was around $9 each.
Michelle: I’ve been happy with the overall price and the fact that we can also offer downloadable copies of our anthology at whatever price we choose. I like how we can set the price of the anthology, how much profit we’ll make with each sale, and the cut that Lulu takes as well (which seems to be about a fair percentage to me).
Rights: who retains them, and for how long? In whose name is the ISBN registered?
Davin: We didn’t get an ISBN for the book. Again, we wanted to keep things simple. So, as far as that goes, we have the rights to publish the stories. But, since this was an anthology, we only asked for one-time rights to publish the stories in the anthology (and the winners on the blog also). After that, all rights revert back to the original story authors.
Self-sales: does the publisher give author- or bulk-discounts if I want to purchase copies to distribute locally? I have heard that Lulu makes authors pay full price, like everyone else. If the publisher is not associated with a major distribution channel (like Ingram), doesn’t it then cost a lot of money to place physical copies at local bookstores?
Davin: We are able to get copies of the book for the standard price minus any additional revenue we decided to add onto it. That means we can get copies for about $9. We could have also made the book available at that price. But, since we’re donating our profits to charity, we chose to pay full price like everyone else. However, we did order the cheaper versions of the anthology so that we could copy edit from the hard copy. As for bookstores, that wasn’t really a consideration for me. We are basically an online presence and an online community, so we planned to stay within that community.
Michelle: Lulu does also offer bulk discounts—the more copies a buyer purchases, the cheaper each copy is. I’m not sure how this works with Lulu, since we seem to make the same profit off each one, even if they are discounted for the buyer. So I’m guessing it just costs less for Lulu to print multiple copies, so the price therefore goes down, which is nice. I’m not sure if that answers your question at all about distribution. I guess if we wanted to distribute physical copies to local bookstores, the cost would be doable since we’d order in bulk and just have to pay the printing cost.
Quality: some people are saying Lulu’s not a publisher, just a really, really, really good photocopier. Was that your experience? Where you pleased with the quality of what you paid for?
Davin: I’d be okay with calling Lulu a really good photocopier. That’s how we used it. I do believe they have other service options, though, so one could presumably get a more professional book if they were willing to pay more. With that in mind, though, I’m very happy with the results. Lulu tells you if the cover image you want to use is of high enough resolution. The actual text pages look beautiful, in my opinion. Perhaps the one downside to Lulu is that the cover quality doesn’t seem to be as nice as other books I’ve purchased. The glue that holds the pages together is not quite perfect, but not a big problem either.
Michelle: Overall, I’ve been impressed with the quality for the price. Mostly, I’m happy with how simple and easy-to-use it was—especially if someone doesn’t have a lot of design experience. Lulu made it easy to design a cover and have it look decent (and even better if you know what you’re doing), and it was easy to upload the file straight from Word. Lulu converts it to PDF printable format for you. I dealt with my university’s press when I was in school working as the editor-in-chief on the literary journal, and the printing wasn’t as nice as Lulu’s. Quite frankly, I was surprised when I saw a book printed from Lulu. I thought the quality would be less that it is.
How did you like working with Lulu, personally? Did you find them pleasant and helpful, informative, really inspiring? Or simply business-like? Or did the service kind of suck, but it was worth it for what you got? Would you recommend others use them, and would you use them again yourselves?
Davin: For me they are pretty business-like. I think they do their job and they do it well. We also didn’t require hardly any assistance on their part, so it’s a bit difficult to evaluate. I’d use them again, especially as I feel more comfortable with the process.
Michelle: We didn’t really run into any problems with this printing from Lulu, so I didn’t personally have to deal with their service. I’m impressed with the turnaround, though, and how well the site is designed. I’m already planning on using Lulu to print out a copy of my current novel so my husband can read it and not complain about staring at his computer screen for hours. I’m excited to design my own cover and get the book in the mail. It will take a little of that “need to get published right this second” edge off so that I can be patient with revisions and querying the book in the future.
Michelle Davidson Argyle can be found at both the Literary Lab and her personal blog, The Innocent Flower.
Davin Malasarn can be found at both the Literary Lab and a science blog he shares with fellow lab scientists, The Triplicate.