Anyone who knows me well knows that when I hear or see Lulu's name come up in a print-on-demand discussion, my head just about pops off. I've always avoided publicly dissing Lulu, but since someone recently asked for the full story behind my loathing toward Lulu as a POD, so that he could make an informed decision about them, I decided it's probably time to just speak up already. Hopefully, this might help others make their own decisions about whether or not Lulu is right for them.
When I initially released Into the Darkness, I decided to send it through Lulu, because I'd heard good things about them through the indie publishing grapevine, and I wasn't keen on getting in bed with CreateSpace, since they're now owned by Amazon. Also, I liked the fact that there were no upfront fees I'd have to pay, and they offered distribution to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the like, also for no additional cost. But, it turned out that that's where the pluses ended.
Support phone number or chat? Why would we have those?
As I understand it from people who posted to the Lulu forums, Lulu had a support phone number that users could call when they needed assistance. At some point prior to my joining Lulu, they nixed it. This was a problem for me, because I had issues setting up my title from the beginning, but there was no way for me to get immediate help with the problems I had. Lulu offers a support email address, but they really recommend that you check their forum, which I'll add is rarely monitored by a Lulu-employed moderator.
A question posted to the forum either didn't generate any response for days, or it produced conflicting answers, some of which were helpful, some weren't. So, eventually, I opted to send an email to support and waited. And waited. And waited.
The average turnaround time for a response from Support, aside from the auto-responder message, was 72 hours. This isn't a huge deal, unless you are on a deadline for an event and the books you ordered all had defective covers. All 30 of them, which is exactly what happened to me.
We use super nice paper. (Unfortunately for you, it's also super expensive and super heavy.)
Once I got my title set up in Lulu's system, I was greeted by another surprise: a proof of my 450 page print book was going to cost me over $10 to print, and with processing and shipping costs, it will cost you over $19 every time you need a proof. And, I needed several of them.
That paper isn't going to just cause you a headache when you order a proof, it's going to cause you a headache when you go to print your book, too.
Because of the cost to print each book, Lulu set the minimum price I could set my title at and still see a decent profit to be ridiculously high: $22.99. For an unknown soft cover book. I had to offer a special discount, which only applied to Lulu store sales, just to get it below $18.99, which was still well above the average market price of a book of a comparable size and length. That discount didn't apply to any extended markets, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, which meant it was basically a sales-killer, unless one of the retailers was running a sale. It didn't matter, though, because even at $22.99, with the wholesale discount and Lulu's cut, I only saw about $0.23 per sale through Amazon and the like.
The quality of your print book's cover may vary.
They weren't kidding when they put this little note in their help files (and I'm not kidding that it's in there). I had to order two separate proofs before I got a cover that looked even close to the cover file I sent them. Then, on the eve of needing to send out a slew of review copies, the shipment of 30 books I ordered to send out to reviewers came to me with covers printed at 50% the darkness they were supposed to be. They looked like they went through the wash with bleach.
Understandably, I freaked out. Turned out, though, that my publicist at the time (someone else I don't work with anymore) used to work at Lulu, and she still had someone's direct email address. Even then, It took over 24 hours before that person could get back to me with a solution to my problem. Fortunately, that solution was that they would send a new shipment, express, at no cost to me.
We have a super-sophisticated, automated vetting system for ebooks. You're going to hate it.
After all the trouble I had getting my print books up and running right, you'd think the ebook setup would have been super simple. You'd be wrong. Their automated vetting system constantly threw errors I had trouble getting resolved. I believe they've since fixed some of the issues with their system since then, but it took me almost two weeks before I got a file to pass with flying colors.
By the time I made it through that process, my spouse would cringe every time I said the words, "Ok, let's give this one more try." By then, I was done.
So, what do I use now?
Long before I was even done writing The Taming, I started researching other PODs. I ultimately settled on CreateSpace for the Amazon listing and IngramSpark for everything else. It's a more complicated system than most probably want to deal with, but I'm liking it just fine. I'm getting ready to move the Special Edition of Into the Darkness into those systems for its release at the end of this month.
Why did I decide on CreateSpace and Ingram?
Switching was really a no-brainer.
- Setting up titles are pretty easy, although easier with CS than IS.
- I get better distribution through Ingram than I did when I was with Lulu (which is strange, since I believe Lulu uses Ingram for its expanded distribution system).
- I get way more size and format options for my print books than Lulu offers.
- My print costs are a fraction of what they were through Lulu, and I never get hosed on royalties for sales made through retailers.
- I have never gotten a shipment of books where the cover was outright wrong.
- If I need help right away, I can ask CS to have a rep call me, and I can call an Ingram rep. If I email CS, I get a response in 24 hours.
So, there's my story. If you are with Lulu now, and you love it, or you know someone else who loves them, good for you. I'm glad you haven't had to deal with the hardships Lulu put me through. I will never ever go back to them. I said so long over a year ago, and I've never once looked back.