Thinking of self publishing? This might give you some idea of what you’re getting into.

My experience so far as of 7/11/14.

The first POD (print on demand) book printer I tried was an outfit based in Florida called Instabook. I liked their straightforward website—simplistic—no hidden fees etc. Their books? Well, I haven’t ordered any copies from them since 07, so this might be greatly outdated information, but: The books I received were, let’s say, durable. The covers were a rough, mat-finished card stock; tough, but really did not do my cover art much justice. I was advised by Instabook to date my files that I uploaded. I then ordered a book and was sent a copy from an outdated file. Instabook refused to correct their mistake and said it was my fault for uploading too many files—nonsense. On one hand, Instabook never slapped me with any last minute shipping and handling fees—nice, but on the other hand, they have a very high minimum creator revenue amount—$100. Apparently, if your creator revenue never exceeds that amount, the law allows them to hang onto the cash forever, with no interest owed; either that or they are circumventing the law. So if anyone does purchase a book, you are going to have to sell a lot of books from their website to ever see your revenue. I would steer clear.




Lulu

The positive: Lulu’s minimum creator amount, last time I checked, was $20. But again, sell a book or two from their website and they will pocket your revenue in the meantime. Lulu makes books that look like anything you might see in a bookstore, and the covers of the books I have ordered have been spot on. At one time, Lulu’s email support was very sluggish, with replies coming a month later, but there has been a tremendous improvement over the last several years. I have only had a couple problems uploading books to Lulu: The first one involved my revenue settings being automatically reset to zero after I revised a book. Of course, then I failed to notice it for a couple months. Lulu did fix the problem. The next problem was when Lulu’s pdf converter stopped being compatible with a Microsoft Word feature called “full justification.” Luckily, by that time, free pdf converter programs were available, and I was eventually able to create my own pdf with no great expenditure. All orders I have placed have been received promptly. Lulu’s website is much more organized than it used to be, especially regarding their distribution packages. And a while back, Lulu added the Epub ebook format to their list to choose from; which requires an ISBN (expensive to self-purchase) to be distributed on Amazon.com, yet can be revised while keeping the same ISBN. Called globalREACH, they eventually extended this free service to other formats, including print copies. However, there are specific guidelines in regards to formatting that must be met, and Lulu requires that you purchase a copy (of paper books) every time you make a revision. I’m not sure I agree with this move, myself; after all, the “ready to print” pdf file and image file (if uploaded using the Lulu Cover Wizard) is the book. I have never had a book come out looking any different than these files. So if such things as the page count, format, or cover-file size etc. of a book is the same as the last proof purchased by the author, I see no reason for forcing the author to purchase a new copy, as long as he/she has reviewed the files. Lulu also offers a free ISBN number, which, of course, can only be applied to one particular format. Take note: This will make Lulu the publisher without paying you for your work (in other words, with very little vested interest), they will probably make money off the proofs you are required to buy, and you may lose some control over removing the book from the market, but if those things are not anything critically important to you . . .

The negative: Lulu claims to split the profit from each book at 80/20 between the author and Lulu, but historically they would add a flat $3.00 shipping and handling fee to book orders in addition to the normal shipping cost. This dropped to $1.50 a while back; great, but if you purchase someone else's book, now look out for a sales tax. On the plus side, the last time I made a purchase from Lulu, they offered a pretty reasonable basic shipping rate. But the worst problem with Lulu, in my experience, has to be the ability to communicate policy changes. In this regards, I would have to give Lulu an F-, simply terrible. Lulu has done away with several features over the years; a content rating system, and then a feature that allowed only persons who purchased a book on Lulu to leave reviews and ratings. This prompted me to write Lulu and suggest that all reviews be accompanied by the annotation (verified purchaser) or (unverified purchaser) to distinguish the two. My idea was apparently applied to Amazon.com, but not Lulu. Remember that pdf converter problem I mentioned in the previous paragraph? Well, I set my availability settings to “unavailable” until I resolved the problem. Instead of leaving the book in a state of revision, I grabbed an old file (a past version of the book) and replaced the corrupt file. The move did not make any sense on my part, of course, considering that the book was (supposedly) not available to the public, but that is beside the point: A month later Lulu fabricated an Epub from the old file and sold a copy. Still not happy about that.

Some time ago, a review for AOTEC (the first four chapters of Earth Raiders, which I published in 2008)--since discontinued--was deleted from the storefront page after I revised the book. Luckily, I had saved the review, but I received no prior notice whatsoever from Lulu regarding the policy change. It was some time later when the review returned to the Lulu storefront page, and when it did, it was hidden. It was also about this time that the industry in general seemed to lose its proverbial mind regarding book reviews: I generally don’t peruse the forums, but from what I heard, there was a sudden burst of controversy over who was writing reviews, with Amazon.com resorting to censorship by deleting reviews made by authors simply for being authors, and every kind of nuttery. As far as this problem is concerned, I refer back to my verified-purchaser idea: Have the reviewer state their relationship to the author (acquaintance, family member, or stranger), whether or not they have received or expect to receive any compensation for their review (yes, no), whether or not they were instructed in any way regarding what to write, (yes, no), and perhaps whether or not they themselves have any written material for sale (yes, no); then deal with any shenanigans down the road should any come to light.

Watch creating a pdf version of your book that you intend to sell on Lulu. A while back (Jan 2013), Lulu did away with a copyright protection service for PDF’s. To be clear, I am not referring to the pdf files you may upload for a print book, I am referring to the creation of a separate “project,” as in, offering the pdf as an Ebook. I don’t know all the implications of the move, but I decided to discontinue the Ebook versions except for the free PDFs posted on this website. Incidently, and for the first time, I believe, Lulu did manage to send a me a notice about the change. Perhaps I should upgrade their score in this area from an F- to a D.   

Misc. advice: I have found it to be a good idea to always include the date in the name of the file you are uploading. Also, if you are a budding author who would prefer to take advantage of the ability to update your work as your skills improve, adding more formats may over-complicate things. This is unfortunate because libraries prefer hard covers, soft covers are cheaper, Amazon.com likes Epubs (for Ebooks), and the list goes on.




Agents, book queries, publishers etc.

I finished my first book, The Pegasus Mission, in 2006. While I had confidence in the story, I had little confidence in my grammatical skills. On top of that, I wrote the story in Wordpad, as in – no spell check etc., and paid little attention to spelling or punctuation, figuring I would just fix it all later. What a mess! (a lesson in how not to write a 200 plus page novel). After months of proofreading, I sent out perhaps five literary-agent queries before giving up. One agency requested the first thirty pages of the manuscript, before giving me the thumbs down. Of course, they will not give you any reason for rejection.

Sometime after this, I happened to read a newspaper article regarding a new type of book printing called Print On Demand. So I uploaded some files to Instabook in May of 2008, switching to Lulu in 2009. The next logical step was to add a link to the book on my website/hobby, which had been up and running since 2001, although I had to purchase a commercial domain to do it. For the most part, adding the book has been pointless, although the virtually unlimited bandwidth has been a big plus. While the free PDFs appear to be quite popular, about the only books I have sold have been to acquaintences, who seem to think they are wonderful; (at least that is what they tell me). 

I finished the second book, Earth Raiders, in 2011. By this time, my grammatical kills had improved greatly; however, I can’t say the same for the economy. So with much more confidence, I sent queries to about 27 different agents specializing in science fiction, so they claimed. (I guess there are publishers that do take queries directly, but I dare anyone to try and find one that takes queries from an author who has not been referred). This time around, I got absolutely nowhere. Many of them who accepted email queries would not even send a read receipt, which is quite rude, if you ask me. And only about half responded at all—with rejection notices, which really serve no purpose if they do not include any critique. As it stands, none of the agents contacted read more than the requested number of pages, usually 5-10, assuming they bothered to read anything at all.

So anyway, if you want to go to the bother of contacting such people before or while you are self-publishing, be my guest. I, for one, no longer have the patience. And I wouldn't feel bad if you don't get anywhere, as I don't think there is an ounce of integrity left in the industry. I'm not going to hold my breath, but as far as I am concerned, if any publisher or agent is interested in my books, they can come to me. 




Plagiarism

Plagiarism, a definite downside to small-scale publishing. Of course, small scale or large scale, as soon as any manuscript leaves your computer or typewriter, you run the risk of someone stealing your ideas. I like science fiction literature, movies and TV shows, and I watch or read to be entertained, but the writer in me is watching or reading in order to discard it all and try to create something original, which is my idea of the best science fiction—a good story with some original, thought-provoking ideas, and with some relevant philosophical point behind it (not an easy task). Technically, your work is copyrighted as soon as you create it, but if you want better legal insurance, there are several options. The ultimate safeguard, of course, would be to register your work with the US copyright office. But before sending out any queries, requested manuscripts, or uploading your work to any self-publishing outfit, I would recommend at the very least doing what I did, and that is taking a print copy of your entire manuscript, sealing it an envelope, signing it near the seal, and then taking it to a notary and having the seal stamped and dated by the notary.




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11-28-10, last rev = 11-27-17
2010-14 Dave Conklin