Random bitching about Lulu, and why print is dead

I am publishing a book of short stories momentarily.  [Edit: I just did.  Go here to check it out.] The initial thought was to pull together a bunch of the stories I’d published elsewhere, and make a nice little 99 cent download on the Kindle.  And I’d make that a free download on the Kindle, but you can only do that if you’re a publisher, and even though Bowker thinks I’m a publisher, Amazon doesn’t.  Fair enough.  But I also have this strange affinity for dead trees, and I gauge my success as a writer by the number of books on the Konrath shelf of my library, so I wanted another volume in there.  Also, enough luddite contrarians have bitched about my last eBook release that I thought I’d throw you all a bone and do a print version, too.

So I just switched to using Lightning Source for print-on-demand.  But that costs money in setup fees, and I didn’t want to pay a ton up front and then have to spend the next three months hustling copies to break even, especially if the print edition wasn’t my target in the first place.  So I decided to go back to lulu for this one.  And man, I forgot how much I hate lulu.

Here’s a list of the various annoyances I had putting this one together:

  • First of all, Lulu’s web site sucks.  It took me roughly 20,000 clicks to find out how their ISBN/distribution options worked, and each page load takes as much time as it took me to download those Cindy Crawford Playboy GIFs back in 1996 on my 14.4Kbps modem.  They could solve all of this with the one-two punch of some content delivery network like Akamai and a real CMS like Jive.  But they won’t.
  • There’s always the decision between a one-piece and a three-piece cover.  Their new three-piece cover wizard is garbage, but they’re honest enough to almost cop to this and give you the option of using their old wizard.  With that, you can just upload PNGs of the front and the back cover and be done with it.  What you can’t do is upload an image of the spine, which means you’re stuck with their fonts on the spine, and you can’t do something like put your publisher logo on there.  I get it, the spine thickness varies, but you know the number of pages and thickness, so why not just tell me, “upload an image that’s x by y pixels” and let me do it?  So I decided to do a one-piece cover, which I’ve never done before with Lulu.
  • If you do a three-piece cover, they give you templates for the front and back cover, and they have guides for the bleed and trim and usable space and all that jazz.  If you do a one-piece cover, they give you vague instructions of what pixel rows and columns these are.  So yeah, I took 9th grade geometry and can figure this out, but it would be much nicer to have a solid PSD template with all of this predefined to make sure I don’t screw it up.
  • There are two fundamental changes in this book over the others I’ve done on Lulu: I’m using Scrivener for the source, and I’m doing a pocket book, which is an oddball size, or at least not 6×9.  And I struggled on how to get this laid out correctly.  I normally would use FrameMaker to belt out a 6×9 book, and maybe export the Scrivener into RTF and paste it in and go.  So I designed a 4.25″ x 6.88″ book in Frame, but could not figure out a way to get the Scrivener-generated RTF into Frame without losing all of the character-level markup, like italics and bold.  The problem is, Scrivener doesn’t export those as character styles, they do it as font property changes.  So when I exported, pasted, and changed the fonts, I lost all of the character style stuff.  Which means I had to, ugh, I don’t even want to say it…
  • I ended up using Word to lay out the inside of the book.  Word is not a publishing platform; anything longer and more complex than a grocery list in Word quickly becomes a world of hurt.  But lulu has a template for Word for their pocket book format, so after some gymnastics with pasting the Scrivener RTF into a third Word document to knock it down and strip out half of the font stuff, I got it into Word.  I then spent the next seven hours trying to figure out how the hell to get the page numbering and section breaks and paragraph styles and everything else to behave.
  • There’s also this issue that Mac-produced PDF may or may not work with Lulu.  Of course, there’s no information about this on the Lulu site, or if there is, it’s buried and mixed together with out-of-date information from 2004.  You can do a google search on it, but the top hits are wives’ tales from a half-decade ago, and very little solid information.  The Mac uses Quartz to produce PDF natively, and not Acrobat.  So it might embed fonts correctly, it might not.  And I’m using a weird font for headings, so that’s a big deal to me.
  • A site told me to download the actual capital-a Acrobat reader from Adobe, uncheck the “use local fonts” option, and look to see if all of my special fonts suddenly looked like Klingon.  They didn’t.  But, and this is much worse, I had to install an Adobe product on my system.  This means that even though I checked the box that said “DO NOT INSTALL THIS SHIT IN MY BROWSER YOU DOUCHEBAG”, the next time I opened up a PDF in Safari, it sat for a long Adobe minute, churned and beachballed, and I got the ugly Adobe bar and crap display.  And of course, now every time I get up from my computer to get a drink of water and come back, there’s a notice on my screen asking if I want to install the latest Acrobat update.
  • Okay, so now I’ve got a one-piece cover and a PDF.  I go to lulu, upload everything, and step one of the wizard says “do you want an ISBN?  you can totally add it later if you like.”  And I say no, add it later.  Rookie mistake.
  • I get all the crap in, and then order a proof copy.  $7.50 for a 150 page book; it would have been $2.85 to order it on Lightning Source.  But Lightning Source has the setup fees.  And they don’t have that wonderful cover wizard I avoided like the plague.
  • The worst part is $3.99 shipping on a $7.50 book for the slow-boat-to-China USPS shipping.  Amazon Prime has spoiled me.
  • So then I decide to add that ISBN like I mentioned.  One click done, right?  No.  There’s no option.  There’s no help.  There’s nothing, and I finally just say fuck it and delete the whole thing and start over to see why it won’t let me add it.
  • Turns out that if you do a one-piece cover, you have to select that ISBN option, download a bar code, and add it to your cover; it will only overlay the bar code if you did your cover with the wizard.  Fine, I’ll download it and add it.
  • I download the PDF of the bar code block.  Lulu insists on 300 dpi covers, which is par for the course, but this PDF is 72 dpi.  If you import it into a bitmap editing program like Pixelmator and jack it up to 300 dpi, it becomes all blurry.  I thought about just leaving it like that because, seriously, every brick and mortar bookstore with a scanner is going to be out of business by the time I get to step 5 of the wizard.  But I play nice and spend an hour fucking with this thing until I realize that GIMP handles EPS natively and let me easily blow up the size without distortion.  I think Photoshop does that too, but until one of you pals of mine with an educational discount sends me a $5 copy of CS5 for the Mac in exchange for a bunch of books in trade (hint), I don’t have Photoshop.
  • Click, click, click, and we get to pricing.  Um.  To make a long story short, I had to price the book at $12.49 retail so Lulu could pay the Amazon tax, then set a 30% discount on Lulu.  That means if you buy the book on Lulu (which nobody ever does, because of their shipping and that involves three clicks instead of one), it’s $8.74.  On Amazon, $12.49.  On Kindle, $.99.  BUT WHAT IF YOU DROP YOUR KINDLE IN THE BATHTUB?  WHAT IF YOU WANT TO BUY A USED COPY OF A BOOK?  WHAT IF BLAH BLAH DRM GEORGE ORWELL AMAZON IS HITLER GLGLGLGLGLGL.
  • I then had to order a second proof, so another $11.49 there.

OK, end of bitchfest.  More details on the book when I get a proof in the pony express mail, which will be in 5-244 days.

[Note: The book is done.  It’s called A Fistful of Pizza, so go read about it and check it out!]

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  • Bill

    I'm just embarking on uploading a book for a client.

    Yeah, tons of pitfalls re Lulu.. I've googled extensively re 'lulu issues' and have fortunately found a lot of fixes, and what to avoid. One is to avoid letting Preview on Mac create your PDFs. I save my PS files in QuarkXPress 8.1 and distill in Acrobat Pro X (Mac).

    Could be a problem with my one piece, full bleed cover, as Lulu Fuck-Wizard wants trim size. Maybe I missed a choice earlier… I'll just start over.

  • ARTZY67

    Here I am waiting for Lulu to switch to the one piece wizard ('Switching Cover Wizards…') for the last 30 minutes. Yawn. Well, it's just a dry run.

    I researched the s**t out of Lulu issues and will do so with this one.

    Re Acrobat, in my google travels I stumbled across the fact that Lulu has a specific ',joboptions' file which I've loaded into Acrobat Distiller X (Mac). I've used Acrobat Pro since it was called Acrobat Exchange, back in the day. Unlike you, I'm a huge Acrobat fan. But then I have 15 years experience using it with thousands of files produced. It really saves my bacon because my clients have always been Windows users, and tech-challenged to boot.

  • Great post there. I'm also going through similar issues. I have an A5 pdf cover created on a mac 37mb and not only does it take ages to upload but keeps going to a blank screen and if I upload on ftp then it seems to automagically delete the file. What!? Anyway, nice rant.