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Posts Tagged ‘lulu.com’

tennerSimple answer: no, not under any circumstances. You must never pay a publisher anything, not for reading, editing, polishing, publishing, distributing or promoting your book.

Nothing.

There’s a suggestion these days this is rather old fashioned advice, like not wearing a tank-top to the office, or mixing your drinks, that the times have changed with all this online whizz-bang stuff and surely an inexperienced author would benefit from some “paid” services in shining up their manuscript in order to attract a publisher. But actually things haven’t changed at all. Whether we are publishing electronically or on paper, if it’s 2015, or 1915, publishers who ask writers for money are vanity publishers; they are predators, they are the bogeymen on the shady periphery of the writing world. Our grandmothers terrified us as children with cautionary tales of their sneaky antics. They are like big cats stalking their prey, always on the lookout for the lame author on the periphery of the herd, sick and burning up with the fever of self-delusion that their book is going to change the world, if they could only get it out there.

They praise him, seduce him, convince him of their faith in his mastery of the craft, convince him of his inevitable success for only a small up front investment. So the author hands his money over, and falls into the machine that will eventually mince his self worth to sorry shreds, and he will come out the other end as unknown and as unpublished as before. If in doubt, follow the money – not the promise of it tomorrow but where it’s going today, then ask who gains, who loses? If it’s you who’s writing the cheque, then it’s you my friend. You lose.

Back in 2010, I wrote a piece on one such online “publisher”, Lulu.com. They offer print on demand services for free but with some extra paid services like editing and promotional work. I was complimentary about the quality of Lulu’s printed product, but keen to steer would-be authors away from those tantalisingly glossy paid services, because you just know it’s going to go wrong. The books I had from them in the early days were the equal, visually at least, of any commercial paperback. But this was all a long time ago and I’ve moved on. Those books went to the charity shop and I was grateful they took them. As for paid editing and distribution services – no thanks. Yet authors comment on that piece time and again, telling me how they handed over money and received little or nothing in return. I feel desperately sorry for them, and understand their dilemma.

The fire that ignites a piece of work does not die when the work is finished. We want to change the world with it, we want readers to purr with delight at the run of our prose, and the critics to trumpet in adulation at the planet-like proportions of our intellect, and the laser precision of our insight. And we want the opposite sex to fall at our feet when they learn they are in the presence of a published author. But really this is very small minded, and we have to get over it. There are a lot of writers out there, all of them better than us, and no one’s heard of them either. As for changing the world, really, no one cares that much about anything, least of all as much as you care about it.

As I write this, it’s going up for midnight on a Saturday night, and I don’t know why I’m writing it, or for whom. I had decided blogging about writing, was an increasingly fallow tag, and I wouldn’t do it any more as there are far more interesting topics to write about. I suppose the real topic here is more the perennial egoic delusion of our self worth, and all the dangers that lie therein, that it will divest us of our dignity, render us tender prey to the publishing troll. But I’m bursting with an opinion on this tonight, and bloggers don’t need publishers in order to find listeners.

So if you’re a writer, unpublished but trying hard, struggling in the storm tossed waves to make a difference, do not think you can make a difference by paying someone to get you published. A real publisher takes a chance on an author, asks for nothing up front and pays them, usually, and usually not much to begin with. The problem is there are so many of us writing, and only a small paid-publishing trough. How we get our snouts in it has always been a mystery, but we do not get ahead by listening to the siren voices of the bogeymen. That’s how we get taken to the cleaners.

Don’t do it.

 

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Back in 2009, I wrote a piece about the Print on Demand (POD) outfit known as Lulu.com. Judging by my web-searches back then, a lot of people were thinking Lulu was a scam, but I couldn’t agree because that hadn’t been my experience. Instead I felt many aspiring writers had misunderstood what Lulu was about and consequently had unrealistic expectations of the service. I probably came across as a bit of a Lulu salesperson, which was not my intention, but I think my enthusiasm was justified at the time.

We need to remember that prior to Lulu, and other POD outfits, there was no such thing as an Independent author. The only way for a writer to acquire even the most modest readership was through the conventional press, an ambition realised by the few, rather than the many. Indeed, to put it bluntly, for the majority of aspiring authors, chasing the favours of a publisher was a pain the arse. It was also undignified, and I was glad to abandon it when the online world began offering some viable alternatives. But it really wasn’t until the advent of Lulu that the landscape of writing changed completely for me, because people suddenly started mailing me to say they’d read my stuff. It wasn’t Lulu’s print services that won me a small readership, though. It was the e-book downloads, something I’d not considered relevant at the time, a time when ebook readers were still rare, expensive and butt ugly.

Another important thing to remember here is that Lulu and its ilk eliminated the so called vanity press, who for too long had preyed on vulnerable authors. But the critics seemed to be implying those vanity press shysters had now morphed into POD outfits and were tempting those same vulnerable authors with paid distribution packages and guarantees of bestsellerdom, things which did not materialise.

Hence the bad press.

Speaking for myself, I was under no illusions. I resisted the paid promotional packages and, from the outset, did not expect to make anything from my work at all. I was happy instead to simply discover a readership through this new, experimental and at times delightfully anarchic medium.

To make real money from writing, you will always need a staggeringly vast and opaquely professional distribution network, also a manic publicity machine pronouncing you the best writer in the world. In other words you will always need to court the man. But the man cannot bestow his blessings upon everyone with talent. It’s always going to be a lottery – the odds of winning are probably about the same, the only difference being that with the lottery, you don’t spend several years filling out your ticket – i.e. your manuscript.

For an unknown writer, without a publisher’s publicity machine behind you, you’re either going to have to resign yourself to obscurity, or you’re going to have to pay for someone to publicise you, and that’s always going to be risky unless you know them personally and would trust them with your mother’s life.

So here’s where Indy writers split into two camps: those who’ll pay to publish/promote their work, and those who won’t. Me? I won’t, under any circumstances. I’m a sworn follower of the muse’s golden rules for writing, number one of which states that you should never ever pay anyone anything to have your work published*. The muse’s second golden rule of writing is that if no one will pay for your stuff, then it’s okay to give it away. The former is exploitation, and not to be encouraged, the latter is artistic self preservation, which is sometimes necessary.

Perhaps it’s on account of this rather more circumspect approach I have no reason to complain about the free aspects of Lulu’s service, and I stand by everything I wrote in that earlier piece. However, it’s important we recognise that things are moving on now. 2012 is not 2009, and four years is a very long time. My later novels have not appeared on Lulu. They were written purely as ebooks, because it’s just so much easier if you can eliminate the obsession with producing a paper book.

For the few Lulu paper editions I managed to shift, it really wasn’t worth the effort of all that pernickerty formatting when compared with the sheer distributive power of the Feedbooks website – which takes text in a much simpler form and formats it automatically for a wide range of reading devices. As for Lulu’s ebooks, my only complaint with them is that if you’re not charging for your work, Lulu deems it unnecessary to supply you with any stats, so I’ve no idea how well my stories are doing. I think they’re missing a trick there and they could learn a lot from Feedbooks and Smashwords in that respect.

If you’re writing for nothing, you’re motivated by something else, obviously, by the love of writing perhaps, or by the desire of all story tellers to communicate the worlds inside your head to as many other people as possible. There’s no sense therefore putting your stories where no one will find them, whether that be a bottom drawer at home, or a website where no one clicks on your thumbnail. You have to go where the audience is.

Which would you prefer? One person to buy a copy of your book, or a thousand people to read it for free? Me? I’ll take the thousand readers every time, thanks. You don’t need “sales” to call yourself a writer. You need words, that’s all. Readers are a bonus of course. I understand that “sales” can sometimes equate to self-confidence, that you have what it takes, that you’re a good writer, hip, wikkid, cosmic, and all those other stock phrases, but in chasing such reassurances for too long, be aware that you also run the risk of shredding any self confidence you already possess.

I remember the feeling of seeing my first novel “The Singing Loch” fresh back from Lulu’s printers. It looked great. Just like a proper novel. I slid it proudly between all the other proper novels on my bookshelf, and then I thought, what now? Well,… skip forward several years and now it gathers dust, languishing several editions out of date, and resembles more a curiosity from a bygone age, while the current ebook edition on Feedbooks has recently topped 2000 downloads. If I want to skim “The Singing Loch”, with a view to possibly updating it and sweeping up yet more typos, I turn to my ereader, not to the paper copy on my bookshelf.

There’s nothing magical or godlike about publishing. It’s just distribution. It’s a means of putting your words into other people’s hands. And it’s changing. So is writing. I’ve not used a typewriter in twenty years, nor do I possess the stereotypical private study, lined with leather-bound books, and neither do I use a desk-hogging, steam driven PC with a printer attached. I have a laptop, and an ereader, and I work peripatetic fashion, wherever others are not. So long as I’m in range of that ubiquitous WiFi connection, I’m in touch with my “publisher”, who lives in the clouds and no longer deals with paper. I can “publish” anything in seconds, and people all over the world will be reading it. Instantly.

There’s a moral debate about the rise of the ebook, and many of us older folks are looking on with tears in our eyes as the bookshops close, and publishers tighten their grip on the printed word, attacking the second hand book market with their built-in digital rights management software. But it’s coming, and we just have to prepare for it. Ebook readers are everywhere now. The rate of uptake of ebooks has outstripped all industry forecasts. Publishers have realised there are no material costs whatsoever, no printing presses to maintain, and they can still get away with charging as much as they would for a paper book – sometimes more! No wonder they’re pushing ebooks! Indeed, have they any choice in the current economic climate?

Of course the debate rages between Romantics, still hoarding and sniffing paper books, and Progressives, drooling over the spec of the latest e-reader. As a reader I mostly straddle the fence between these two extremes, but as a writer, it’s the words that count, and the means of delivering them must always come down to whatever is the most efficient technology of the day. Right now, that’s digital. It’s also where a great many readers are now turning.

To date, there are around 45 people in the world who have read a paper book by Michael Graeme. But my Feedbooks stats tell me there are around 150,000 people who have had one of my stories on their reader – and most of those readers are Android smartphones, sitting in pockets, and handbags, which is a very good place for any author to be.

I’m not blowing my own trumpet here. Anyone can do this. If you’re a writer, lying prone and demoralised under a mountain of publishers’ rejection slips, you could be doing it too. You could be published now, for free, and readers will write to you and tell you what they think of your story. Instead of spending time tidying up your manuscript yet again and redrafting your pitch, you could be doing what you actually love, doing what you really need to be doing, which is writing stories.

So to come back to my opening question, is Lulu still relevant? Well, it depends. For an independent author, paper seems very dated now and I think you should be looking more at the ebook services Lulu offers, as well as outfits like Feedbooks, Smashwords, Wattpad and the Kindle Marketplace.

Paper’s for the big boys and girls who sit at the exclusive high table of best-selling authorship. Unknown, independent authors who insist on paper are missing out on a potentially wide distribution of their work in favour of a glossy cover and the smell of printing ink.The only circumstances under which POD services make sense are if you have a small guranteed audience for your work, say members of your family, or your club who’d really like a professionally printed copy of something you’ve written, and they’re just not into ebooks.

But I reiterate the message contained in all my other writings on the subject of self-publishing online, whatever route you take, (E L James’ bondage bonkbusters excepted), it’s unlikely to win you a place at that high table of best-selling authorship. You’re an Indy. You do it because you can’t stop yourself. There’s no glory in it for you my friend. For that you’re still going to have to tackle the conventional printed press at some point, which means convincing a publisher, and an agent how wonderful you are. You’ll spend as much time on your pitch as on your story, and still longer hawking it round from one outfit to the next, with no guarantee anyone will even read your work.

Bah!

No thanks. I don’t do that any more.

Got something to say? Go free. Go e. For your muse’s sake, just get it out there.

But whatever you do, don’t pay to publish!

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I’m still struggling with a snail-slow computer, but at least I’ve not had a blue screen error for a few days. I took a risk and spent yesterday revising my novel The Road From Langholm Avenue and reformatting it for Feedbooks. You can find it here.

It’s always a pleasure for me, revisiting a story like this. It gives me the opportunity to sweep up a few of the more elusive typos – the ones I missed last time – but also to run the words through my mind again. Sometime I surprise myself, discovering a passage I’d forgotten about. Sometimes I wonder where these stories come from – it’s like I’m only really half in charge of the telling of them.

I suppose this is another plus to being an Independent Author. If you publish the conventional way, the manuscript is signed off, the book goes out and that’s it – there’s no point in looking at it again. But retaining full control of everything you can do what you like – even rewrite the whole thing if you feel the need. The text, the characters, the slice of time you’ve created, they remain yours and being able to revisit this world is as pleasurable as creating it in the first place, even if all you actually do when you’re in there is zap the odd glitch in formatting.

The Road From Langholm Avenue was self-published on Lulu.com, in 2007 and had achieved around 4000 downloads. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Lulu decided to pull the plug on their stats and I’ve no idea what its download rate is now, which is a pity because I like to keep an eye on how my stories are doing.

In the end the Feedbooks version of the novel saw only minor changes to the text, but it was a pleasure visiting all these old friends again.

My thanks to all who downloaded it from Lulu, and to those who took a chance on purchasing a printed copy from there. It won’t be disappearing from Lulu, it’s just that putting on Feedbooks as well increases the distribution. It’s free to download from either place – you just click on the link and it comes at you in whatever format you prefer. This is a full length novel, about a hundred thousand words, which Feedbooks tells me equates to about 6 hours of reading. I hope all you Feedbookers enjoy it.

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Big day today!  I’ve just put this one up on Lulu.com and look forward to seeing how it does. If my other stories are anything to go by, I can probably expect around a 100 downloads a month. Durleston Wood is a project I’ve been working on for years, working through the delicate psychology of it and trying to figure out just who these characters are. As usual I’ve grown very fond of them and it’s hard to finally put the book down and say: that’s it.

As with all my stuff on Lulu, there’s a print copy available for which Lulu will charge you £6.24 plus postage. However, the down load is in PDF format and  free. This is not a taster or a sample or a teaser or any other kind of sleazy gimmick – it’s a full length novel of 353 pages and you can get it by clicking here. If I can tempt you into downloading it, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

**Updated Oct 2012**

As with all my work now, I’ve moved away from paper and focus entirely on the ebook market, so those Lulu links above won’t take you anywhere. I have no problem with Lulu, and I think what they’re doing is still great, but I personally believe the future for the serious indy author is in ebooks – and getting your work on the iPhones and “droid” smartphones of ordinary people all over the world. In Durleston Wood  is therefore exclusively available on Feedbooks here, for free. Download to your Kindle, iPhone Smartphone or whatever. Thanks very much to all my readers for their comments. I delight in all your mails, and shall always endeavour to answer each of them personally.  I initially write these stories for myself, but it’s all the more satisfying to know others enjoy them as well.

This is what indy publishing  is all about!

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I’ve just put this one up on Lulu.com. It’s a collection of short stories, originally published on the Rivendale Review, and more recently on Feedbooks. I’m not sure about the title, nor even why I wanted to collect the stories together. I suppose I just felt they belonged together, and that it would be good to have them under one cover on my bookshelf.

The sunny side of strange reflects my preference for the positive side of life. Speculative stories seem so often laden with doom and gloom, or there’s this sense that strangeness must always be threatening. It’s not a view I share. It’s the intriguing nature of strangeness that interests me, and its potential to expand one’s horizons, to enlighten, to redeem, to transform our awareness from the every day to the extraordinary. So, while my stories might venture into some dark and mysterious labyrinths from time to time, there’s usually sunshine at the end of it.

You can download the book from Lulu.com for free. The text is illustrated with line-drawings and photoshopped artwork. The price for a printed copy is about £6.27. I’ve set my revenues to zero so all the fee goes to the printer. I’ve explained why I do this elsewhere.

The cover design was produced from a simple Bryce 5 render, with further processing in Photoshop.

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I’ve just come across this term: “Indie Author” and I think I might be one, which is very exciting because it sounds so “hip”, so “wikid”, so “anarchic”, so “sticking it to the man”, and I’ve never been any of those things before so well done me! Except of course “Indie Author” is just a label and utterly meaningless. What I am is simply someone who likes to write, and will explore any means of  disseminating my work. The natural endgame of all writing is not necessarily publication, but I think for most of us it is, so others can read what we’ve written. So, if you like to write you’re going to have an interest in publication. But publication, as you’ll soon find out,  is a tricky business. Editors might not want to print your stuff. It’s a mystery. It might be that it’s crap – but you’ll never know because they won’t tell you. It might be because they don’t publish that sort of thing. Whatever the reason, if you try to figure it out you’ll only end up tied in knots, with years and years lost when you could have been doing something else, like,… well,… just writing.

So, you stick your short story up on Feedbooks, you publish your well travelled novels on Lulu. And they get read. Maybe that makes me an Indie Author, I don’t know, but if Random House offered me a generous advance for, say,  “Push Hands”, tomorrow, trust me, I wouldn’t be an Indie Author for very long.

I am what I am, and what I am I do not know, and in the words of the blessed John Clare: what I am none cares or knows.

Sure, I know that.

Self publishing online? Why not? Publish and be damned – just don’t expect to make anything out of it. But that’s okay, because you’re not that sort of writer, right?

I read a very sniffy piece today about self publishing online. It suggested that not all those ebooks out there amounted to very much and that a great many might indeed be very badly written, and not even worth a free download. It was the biggest statement of the obvious I’ve heard in a long while. If anyone can publish anything, then of course there’ll be a lot of  rubbish out there. But the  public are actually quite smart when it comes to judging a piece of writing. You don’t need to be a literary critic to decide if you basically liked something or not.  It might be corny, clichéd, of no recognisable genre, a mish-mash of styles that the educated guardian of “taste” would demonize on the spot, but I think people just like to read, and if a story touches them it doesn’t matter if it has literary merit or not, so long as it is reasonably well written. The theme of the story might have been done to death a thousand times by better authors than you, but Joe-public might never have heard of them, and on that one day they were simply fated to download your story – so you can forget about the rest. I’ve read a lot of stuff on Feedbooks, and some of it is very cringeworthy indeed, but some of it was well written and entertaining, and some of it made me think. Is that not the whole point?

A writer posting a badly written piece isn’t going to do himself any favours. Sloppy grammar, poor spelling and eccentric punctuation will all reflect badly upon him, and the next time his name crops up, the ebook-downloading Joe-public’s going to think twice. Quality control in the indie ebook market is built-in and self-regulating. Joe public might forgive an author once if they paid nothing, but if there was a price to download, that author can expect a lot of instant and universally negative feedback, which means they’re dead in the water.  Mud sticks. You have to take special care as an indie author because there’s no pernickerty editor  at the back of you cleaning up your grammatical howlers. Your only defence is to respect the intelligence of your mysterious reader. You also have to be sincere. If you mean well in what you write, I think that will come across,  then you might be forgiven the odd typo, but don’t push your luck.

Are you an Indie Author? My advice? Don’t think about it for too long. Better ask yourself instead what did I write today? What were my impressions? What did I feel?

Maybe John Clare is right, what we are none cares or knows. But that doesn’t mean the view of the world from the inside of your head  doesn’t matter.

And that’s reason enough to write.

_____________________________________

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and live with shadows tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest -that I loved the best –
Are strange -nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie, –
The grass below -above the vaulted sky.

John Clare 1793-1864


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