I was surprised when I noticed the above question popping up in my internet search results recently, and I wondered if people were talking about some other Lulu.com to the one I’ve been using. But no, it’s the same one, and it seems there’s a problem – not with Lulu.com, but I think with the unrealistic expectations of some very naive writers, with dreams of stardom.
I’ve now got six books on their server( actually this is no longer true – update below), and I’ve never had any problems, either with the website or with the quality of the books they’ve delivered. Of the half-dozen proof copies of my own books I’ve purchased, the quality has always been top notch, both in paper-back and hardback – the equal of any conventionally published book. As for the cover design, what you see on-screen is pretty much what you get. You follow the template, upload your design at a decent resolution and the quality of reproduction has always been spot on. Perhaps I’m one of the lucky ones, I don’t know – I can only speak from my own experience – but everything Lulu promised me it could deliver, it has done so, consistently, many times.
So, is Lulu a scam? No. It’s exactly what it says it is: a print on demand publisher. This is a new era. You need to forget the old way of doing things.
Some of the comments I’ve read are regarding late payment of royalties, and if that’s true then, okay, there’s a problem there that needs sorting out. I can’t offer anything on that debate because I’ve set my royalties to zero and am consequently not making any money from my books at all. To be frank, I’d rather shift copies than optimistically charge the earth for them and have them sitting there doing nothing. This means the e-book versions cost nothing, while the print copies are the cheapest they can possibly be, and every penny paid by my customers goes to the printer. I’ve managed to “sell” about 40 print copies to complete strangers, even one book of poetry, which was the last thing I was expecting, while my free downloads are currently in the region of about 8000 all told.
Perhaps I’m odd, but I’m actually very happy with this. Perhaps my expectations are pessimistically low, but I’ve been writing stories and sending them to commercial publishers for thirty years now and I don’t think they are.
Writing is a hobby for me. The odds of making it big as a writer are actually rather small and most of us just labour on in obscurity. We have to grow up and be accepting of this. My novels are never going to top the best seller list. Commercial publishers won’t look twice at my stuff because I’m an unknown scribbler, possibly crap, and unlikely to make them much money.
Lulu is a print on demand publisher. They’re different. They are not in the business of making you rich and famous. They will take anything – even if it’s a load of gibberish – and “publish” it for you. What they make out of it is what you pay them for your own copy of the book – there’s no obligation for you to buy it, but I think most writers will want to. Any more copies you sell to strangers is a bonus for them. If they can sell you an ISBN number, a marketing package and a listing on Amazon, then fine, it’s not expensive, but you’re straying a little deeper into vanity publishing territory there, and you really shouldn’t expect miracles. Now, multiply all of this by the million writers who have used Lulu, and you get an idea of their business model. It works for them. It works for us. But it’s not a scam.
If you want to be rich and famous, then study the market, as they say, write your novel, send it off to a big name publisher and good luck to you. The writers who follow this route and make it are the ones who can still keep their heads together when their manuscript has been returned for the fifteenth time unread, and so many years have passed they can barely remember what their own story is about any more. I’m not one of them. I admit I can’t handle it. It depresses me. It takes my love of writing and turns it into a three-by-two that others can use to hit me with.
I’m done with that. I didn’t want to waste my whole life negotiating the literary path to published authordom, finally to drop dead and with not a single person in the world having ever read a story by Michael Graeme. So, I’ve got a day job to pay the bills, and I’m currently writing like there’s no tomorrow. I’m also thoroughly enjoying it. That’s entirely thanks to Lulu.com and other free to upload sites like Feedbooks.
Use them wisely, and be under no illusions. If you want your writing to make you rich and famous, then okay, Lulu is probably not for you. If you want your story to be read by people all over the world, tomorrow, then go for it. You’ve really nothing to lose.
Updated Jan 2016
This piece is becoming rather dated now (2009) but it’s still a popular read and reading it through again I realise it’s mostly still relevant, so I’ve left it unchanged for writers who might be searching for answers to the question it poses. In 2016, the only thing I would add is that from the writer’s point of view things have moved on a lot in the DIY self-publishing world. In my opinion paper books are looking a bit old fashioned – harking back to the olden days of print publishing and what it means to be a proper “published” writer. So, I no longer have any books on Lulu’s server, and have moved them all to the likes of Feedbooks and Smashwords, where the download rates are better. I no longer think of paper when I write.
Certainly for the unknown, independent author, I think ebooks are the best and most progressive option, offering you the potential of delivering your work to everyone’s pocket via their smartphones. There’s still no money in it, but if it’s readers you’re after that’s where you’ll find them for now. Is Lulu a scam? No, it’s still a print on demand publisher offering some paid “author services”. It’s up to you, the writer, to understand exactly what that means before you fall into the trap of nurturing unrealistic expectations about what they’re capable of delivering.
1) A writer is a person who writes.
2) A publisher publishes.
3) Publishers pay writers.
4) Writers never pay publishers. Anything!
Michael Graeme January 2016
If you’ve used Lulu.com, you might like to help other writers who are still exploring the issue by voting in the simple poll below: