Monday, September 10, 2007

If you want to self-publish an ebook...

If you want to self-publish your ebook, don't jump on the first offer that comes along. Do your research into self-publishing, just as you would with conventional publishing, because the packages on offer vary widely in quality and cost, and you could find yourself with a self-publishing outfit that is poor value for money, or an outright scam. If you're paying an upfront fee and/or more than 20% of an ebook's cover price to a storefront site, you could do better.

Several erotic romance epublishers have gone under in the last few months, and you can expect a flurry of new publishers setting up to provide a home for the authors who've suddenly found themselves without a publisher. There have also been the usual suggestions that authors will be much better off if they self-publish, and at least one new self-publishing outfit set up in the wake of the recent bankruptcies and closures. Self-publishing does look tempting for some, but take your time and look into what self-publishing entails and what a reasonable fee is.

I haven't got time this morning to do a full-on article about this, but there's one url you should look at as an absolute bare minimum of research before signing up with a self-publishing outfit, and that's Lulu's terms and conditions for digital media:

Lulu have a track record of five years, so there's a good chance they're going to stay in business. There is no set-up fee. They charge 20% of the cover price for ebooks downloaded from their website, giving you 80% (with a minimum fee of 19c, although they'll waive that if you give away the books for free). If you wish you can also make the book available in print or as an ebook on CD, although those options will cost more because of the physical production costs. There is no set-up charge for the print and CD options. That price includes a storefront hosted on their website, and they handle all the details of collecting payment. They don't take any rights to your material, and there is no minimum contract length.

If the self-publishing outfit you're considering isn't offering you a pricing deal as good as Lulu's, ask yourself what else they're offering to make up for it. If the answer is "making me feel warm and fuzzy and part of a family" -- how much money are you willing to pay for that feeling?


Laura Bacchi said...

I've heard a lot of good things about Lulu, and a friend's print book I ordered from them was of high quality.

Jules Jones said...

I'm not specifically pushing Lulu, as I think most authors would do better finding a good publisher rather than self-publishing. But Lulu makes a good benchmark for what a decent self-publishing package for ebooks should cost -- i.e. no setup fees and 20% of cover price, and no requirement for exclusivity or a minimum term.

The physical quality of the print books reportedly varies somewhat, depending on which supplier they use for a particular order, but the copy of "Atlanta Nights" (the SFWA sting against a vanity press) I saw was of excellent quality.

Anonymous said...


I am curious. Some of the small epublishers who do POD, is this the company they are using? I have heard their name in a lot of conversations, and have only heard good things, so I was wondering about this.

Dark Eden Press

Jules Jones said...

Deb, they're most likely to be using Lightning Source, which is the same POD printer that Lulu uses for its US operation. Loose Id's print books are done through Lightning Source, for example. Lightning Source is a printing service specifically for publishers (including some very large ones), and they will encourage individual authors who want to self-publish to go through Lulu's self-publishing service instead. Lulu is more expensive per copy, but is also probably more suitable for many individual authors, as Lulu includes a lot of other services like the shopfront.

I know at least one epublisher (Double Dragon, IIRC) uses Lulu rather than Lightning Source to produce print copies of its ebooks. I have no involvement with the publisher so I don't know why they do it, but I could see Lulu being a good option for a small publisher that wasn't really looking to distribute through major bricks and mortar book chains and found it easier to let Lulu handle the distribution for their mail order sales.

Dusk Peterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dusk Peterson said...

I think you've set out well the advantages of using Lulu. Lulu strikes me as being the best of the self-publishing/subsidy services available (I slash the two terms because Lulu offers either option, depending on what you pay for). Amazon's new CreateSpace is clearly modelling itself after Lulu, and while it has its advantages (it will list your book at the U.S. Amazon site for no fee), it doesn't yet have the support forums that Lulu has, which are invaluable to a beginning self-publisher.

As far as e-book self-publishing is concerned, I don't know of any better bargain around than Lulu, unless one wants to handle fulfillment of orders oneself (which is always an option in e-book publishing). With POD, things get a bit more muddied. One thing you didn't mention in your entry is that, unless one pays the optional $100-150 fee, one's book isn't sold anywhere except at the Lulu storefront. I think that single-storefront sales can be a viable option for e-books, but the evidence I have from other self-published authors is that single storefronts cut back severely on the sales of printed books.

As for Lightning Source, it's true that Lightning Source doesn't encourage individual authors to sign up with it, but it's also true that individual authors have done so. And (leaving aside the ISBNs), the set-up fee for Lightning Source is about the same that you would pay to have Lulu print your work through Lightning Source. As with Lulu, Lightning Source handles all fulfillment, and as with Lulu's distribution program, your books are made available through online bookstores.

But the profits are tremendously different. If you used Lulu's distribution program to sell a 300-page trade paperback novel for $15.99 (which is about what comparable novels are sold for), your profit would be thirty cents. If you used Lightning Source, your profit would be $7.19.

So I think it comes down to how much skill a self-published author has in dealing with publishing matters. For the vast majority of self-published authors, Lulu is going to be as complex an operation as they can handle. Unfortunately, though, most of that vast majority don't know how to design and market their self-published books. :/ So I think it comes back to what you said above - that for most authors, traditional publishing is the best option. For the authors who are competent at the tasks required to self-publish, there are thankfully many more options in self-publishing than there were a few years ago.

veinglory said...

would add that if you identify your ebook as having adult content it will not be openly visible on Lulu's storefrint--you then need to send the link to each potential customer. At least that is how I understand it?

Jules Jones said...

Thanks for the extra material on Lulu, Dusk. I need to write a long and complicated article later when I've got time to do the research, but for the moment I just wanted to get out a short post that was applicable to people looking at a "single storefront" operation for ebooks (because yes, this was prompted by a promo email I received this morning for one such that offered much poorer terms than Lulu). Someone prod me to do a more detailed article at the weekend...

How easy did you find Lulu to use for the Skinny? I've never used it myself, so I can't speak from personal experience.

Dusk Peterson said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to sound critical in my last comment. I just figured that, since the POD issue had come up in the comments, I'd add the info that you hadn't had the chance to address in your e-book-oriented post.

"How easy did you find Lulu to use for the Skinny?"

Incredibly easy. I'd put together my Lulu storefront beforehand (it wasn't hard), so it took me maybe ten minutes to set up the e-zine at Lulu. Monthly payments from Lulu were prompt, and when a customer pointed out a glitch in the ordering process (not just for my e-zine, but for all orders of that sort), I went onto the Lulu forums, talked to a staff member there, and the problem was fixed. So working with Lulu was a cinch.

Marketing, on the other hand . . . :)

Dusk Peterson said...

Emily Veinglory wrote:

"would add that if you identify your ebook as having adult content it will not be openly visible on Lulu's storefrint--you then need to send the link to each potential customer. At least that is how I understand it?"

No, I got clarification from a staff member about this. By "mature is only accessible by direct access," they're not referring to your book - they're referring to your promotional material at the Lulu storefront. You simply have to make sure that there's nothing explicit in the promo material - no graphic cover art, no graphic title or blurb, no graphic preview. They also suggest that you tag the book as "mature" or indicate in some other way that it's for a mature audience. As long as you do that, then the book itself can be red-hot.

Here's the blog entry that talks about it; skip down to "mature."

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jules and Dusk, you were both a font of information on a subject that I did not know much about but am looking into. Now I know where to start my research specifically which helps a lot.

Dark Eden

veinglory said...

Thanks for clearing that up for me, Dusk. A very informative post all 'round.