Living the life (and living with Lulu)

The high life in a basket
The high life in a basket

Today, I shall be making use of the Christmas present from my sister-in-law and her family. Thank you, Kat and all! I used to hate colouring – the legacy of a secondary school religious education teacher who used to set it as homework – but since it dawned on me that I didn’t have to finish anything ever if I didn’t feel like it, and nobody was going to mark me for ‘not putting enough effort in’ it’s become a joyful form of pointless quietening. Wine, chocolate and candle are of course guaranteed to improve a day.

I think taking today as annual leave was an excellent plan. If I’d been at work I would have spent the whole day drinking far too much coffee and refreshing Twitter every thirty seconds. This is exactly what I’m doing at the moment, but at least I’m doing it on my own time. And I like my day job. I wouldn’t want to give it up even if I could afford to (if you’re interested, Lulu tells me that I have made £28.61 so far; there’s a long way to go before I make back the cost of the ISBNs); the worst part is the fifty-eight-miles-each-way commute, and I can call that writing time. At least, when I’m awake enough to write I can call that writing time. Reading this article on the life of touring musicians reminded me how fortunate I am, that I can do what I enjoy and make a living, and enjoy what I do making a living, and make, if not a living, some money doing what I enjoy.

Returning to the subject of my in-laws, one of them asked me about my experience with Lulu. My first reaction was to point them at Ankaret’s blog (apart from anything else, she’s got a very nice post about Speak Its Name up there at the moment) because pretty much everything I know about Lulu I learned from Ankaret’s early posts. Things have moved on in Lululand since 2010, particularly in regard to their provision of ebooks, but there’s a lot that remains the same.

Apart from that…

Lulu is very intuitive and easy to use…

… right up to the point where it isn’t and you spend hours swearing at it and crying (not that this was me on Monday or anything)

Specifically, I have learned that if you have a paperback book on Lulu under ‘private access’, and you want it to be available to everyone, all you have to do is click on the title in the ‘My Projects’ thing and change it to ‘general access’. It sounds so obvious, but you’d expect that to be under the ‘Manage Distribution’ button, which is right next to it, and only deals with making it available on things other than Amazon.

You get out what you put in.

One of the things about self-publishing that I found daunting was the fact that I’d have to do everything myself, or find someone else to do it. Cover, type-setting, publicity, editing, proofreading – everything that would be somebody else’s job if I’d gone down the route of traditional publishing, I had to do, or organise its getting done, and the one that was freaking me out the most was the ‘making the book look good’.

Lulu doesn’t help you with that. It’ll chuck the book back at you if you’ve got the margins wrong, or forgotten to put the ISBN on the back cover, but that’s about as far as it goes. You have to make it look as good as you possibly can yourself.

I’m reasonably pleased with how Speak Its Name has turned out – I’m fretting a bit about the definition of the flower on the cover of the paperback, and I don’t much like Times New Roman as an ebook font (but it’s better than all the alternatives) – but it took a lot of work to get it to ‘reasonably pleasing’.

It really helps to know about…

… using styles in Word (or Word-alike – I use LibreOffice Writer) programs. The ebook converter insists on formatting being done this way. You can’t just hit the return key until the text goes where you want it to, because the converter strips that out.

However, if you are using a first line indent style and you want to signify a change of scene with a paragraph break, it will recognise one double return. And I only wish I’d known that before I’d gone through the whole document putting in line breaks with the ‘Insert… line break’ tool, because the converter strips those out, too.

It can be really, really sloooooooooowwww

This is partly the way that Lulu works and partly the way that everything else works. I submitted the ebook for checking prior to distribution to retailers other than Lulu nearly a week ago, and it’s still ‘pending’. And of course even once it has been approved there’ll be a delay before those retailers pick it up. Similarly with the print version – it will filter through to Amazon eventually, but by all accounts this will take the best part of a month, or possibly even longer.

I think that making all versions available on all platforms at the same moment is an impossible dream.

When you really, really want something, it takes longer to arrive

Which I suppose is just life, really. Lulu’s stated printing times for paperbacks are 3-5 business days, and of course with the first proof copy, which I really desperately wanted, it was the full five days.

This all sounds a bit negative

These are the whinges, but overall I’m pretty pleased with Lulu. I’ll post another time about the hell that was self-publishing in the nineties (I know because both my parents did it) but for the moment I’ll just say that Lulu cuts out ninety-five per cent of the hassle that I remember. I gave them a file and they gave me a book. What more can you ask for, really?

Free stuff that isn’t Lulu but that is useful

  •, for the cover. Apart from the way it refuses to let you change text once you’ve added it, which is infuriating, it’s brilliant. Not entirely intuitive, but once you’ve worked out how to do something then it will do it.
  • LibreOffice, if you don’t want to pay for Microsoft Office. LibreOffice Writer does most of the stuff that MS Word does, albeit in a slightly different way.
  • the thing within your word processor program that converts to PDF. Essential, so far as I’m concerned, for peace of mind. I didn’t trust Lulu to convert my .odt document into a book. I didn’t really trust it to convert the PDF into a book, but it did do that properly, and the inside of the paperbook looks as I expected it to.
  • Calibre, for checking the ebook version. For doing just about anything with ebooks, actually. But I found myself downloading the ebook version over and over again, and Calibre lets me look at it on screen, add it to my Kobo, and convert it to different formats.

This is all that occurs to me at the moment, after a couple of months as a member of Lulu and forty-eight hours as a live author. No doubt I’ll discover more of its little quirks along the way. I’ll keep you posted – if, that is, its little quirks are at all interesting.

2 thoughts on “Living the life (and living with Lulu)”

  1. Oh, goodness, yes, when it started out they only did ebooks as .pdfs.

    It is entirely possible Speak Its Name will hit first and then percolate slowly to .uk and the other Amazons. Most of mine showed up on the American site first.


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