2011-04-30

The making of, Part 4: Publisher

In this post I want to discuss my choice of micro-publisher.

I chose lulu.com because their prices seemed reasonable, they had many formats available for publishing, and because the company was founded by Bob Young, who was formerly the founder of RedHat software. This gave them some credibility.

In a nutshell, with Lulu.com, the publishing process is as follows:

  1. Create a project: set its name, category, etc.
  2. Choose a layout (paper size, paper type, cover type)
  3. Upload a PDF file which contains your formatted book contents
  4. Upload a cover
  5. Order a copy for yourself, so you can verify it (optional)
  6. Make your book available for sale

It's really that simple. There is no minimum order. There is no maximum order. There are startlingly few restrictions at all. However, as the book's author you are also its editor, it's marketer, it's layout editor, it's cover designer, etc. You have to do the work and take care of the details.

For The Mouse and The Bean, we had the following requirements:

  • Colour
  • Paperback version with perfect-binding (square binding)
  • Hardcover version

This meant that we'd need to use the 6"x9" Trade Paperback size if we wanted the hardcover version to use the same layout as the paperback. No other combination of colour book size was available in both paperback and hardcover. If we had chosen to use a different size for each cover type, we would have had to make two different books, one paperback and one hardcover. Each page would have needed a different approach. We felt that it would be good enough to go with the 6"x9" format and make the hardcover the same size as the paperback.

Using the 6"x9" format proved to be challenging for LeBinh because a typical illustration will usually be wider than it is tall. It is for this reason that several of the illustrations in the book are at the top or bottom of the page. Making the book fit into the layout was the main problem after the story was written. Everything else was relatively easy by comparison.

The basic process for publishing a book is quite simple on Lulu, however there are some things that a layout editor should know. Printing a book on paper is quite different than, say, printing a document on 8.5"x11" paper. You have to pay attention to margins. You have to pay attention to bleeds. You need to concern yourself with your colour process (more on that later). There are fonts to consider. There is a binding, and a cover. The cover has a spine which takes up width. Etc, etc. There are many details, only some of which get the attention they deserve on the lulu.com website. I wish there was a comprehensive guide which explained the process from start to finish, including all these details. Instead, you are encouraged to read the FAQs and online help in order to find the information that you seek. The problem is if you don't know what information you need, you won't know to search for it.

I spent some time reading the help before I finished laying out the book and so I was somewhat fore-armed when it came time to publish the PDF file and upload it to Lulu. The one detail which required some planning on my part was dealing with margins and bleeds. Essentially, the margin is the space on the page which is outside the main content area. The bleed is the part of the page which is cut off during the printing process. When you are printing a book which contains illustrations that reach the edge of the paper (i.e. there is no margin) then you need to actually ensure that the picture is larger than the paper, so that it can be cut accordingly. Lulu's documentation recommended a 0.125" bleed. I was able to set up the bleeds automatically in the software I used for the layout, and then stretch my images slightly so that they went into the bleed area. Note: the bleed may not matter for the inside edge of the page, because you can't see that edge.

After combing through the documentation and feeling somewhat secure that there were no surprises, I uploaded my PDF. The PDF file was over 500MB, so I used Lulu's FTP upload method. This is more reliable than a browser upload. When the file is uploaded, the publication wizard on the lulu.com website lets you select the file and add it to your project. My project had only the one file, so I'm not sure what happens if you have multiple files. Then I uploaded the cover, which was a single graphic designed to fit the cover's dimensions: front and back (each 6"x9"), spine, and bleeds. The cover is printed from a single sheet, so there are only top and left/right edge bleeds here. Lulu offers a cover creation tool, which lets you specify a front and back cover separately, but I didn't use this and didn't need it.

Once the cover was uploaded, all I had to do was order a copy. I left the book as "private", so that only I could order copies, until I was certain that it was ready for people to read. I did end up making some changes before the final publication; once I was satisfied with how it turned out I made it public. The process was very easy overall.

Lulu has some other features which I didn't use, namely ISBN and bar codes, and distribution features, such as submitting the book to the Amazon Marketplace. I will be investigating these features and reporting on them later once I use them.

If I were starting over, I might try out some other publishers. I would shop around and pay more attention to the shipping costs, and the ease of getting into Amazon.com and brick-and-mortar book stores. However, I have been quite satisfied with Lulu so far and don't hesitate to recommend them to any other aspiring authors.

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