where the writers are
Looking for anyone with print-on-demand experiences

I'm prepping the manuscript of my novel So Dark the Night, fiddling with the cover design, composing jacket copy...and, meanwhile, looking into print-on-demand companies.

Initially, I was set to go with lulu.com:  the set-up was simple, no frills, seemed to be what I was looking for.  But then me old pal Robert Runte reminded me of Lightning Source.  Both of us had heard good things about them but, for some reason, I'd gotten locked into lulu and had excluded other alternatives.  So I've been doing some checking into Lightning Source and they seem to be much closer to what I'm looking for.  Better distribution, a line into Amazon and Barnes and Noble...plus the per book printing price is about half as much as lulu, which means I can keep my cover price lower to attract more readers.

Anyone out there want to confirm (or disspell) these first impressions?  I've registered with Lightning Source but only as a preliminary to getting price quotes and more information.  I'm told I should expect a minimum $150 setup fee...but are there any other hidden costs or value added services I don't want or need?

Drop me a line or three, folks, let me hear about your experiences with lulu, Lightning Source, iUniverse or any of the other print on demand places.  More and more authors are turning to these companies so it behooves us, as colleagues, not to be miserly with resources and knowledgeable advice.

Look forward to hearing from you.


(P.S.  Don't be shy about adding links to good forums and discussion groups related to print on demand...)

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Lightning Source

Lightning Source is the dominant Print-On-Demand printer with excellent quality, unmatched distribution and good pricing. They work with many publishers ranging from the giants to self-pubbers.

I have used Lightning for six books and recommend them highly.

The cost for setting up a book, getting a proof sent for next-day delivery, and maintaining the file for one uear is $117. You should not have to pay more unless you choose to pay them to fix your mistakes. Plan on going through at least three generations of proofs at $30 each.

The cost to print and ship a 300-page paperback is $5.40. If it sells on Amazon.com or At Barnes & Noble with a $15.95 cover price, the bookseller pays $12.76 to Lightning and Lightning pays you $7.36.

I've used Lulu once and the book was terrible, with wrinkled pages where the text disappeared. However, the photographic reproduction was better than Lightning's.

iUniverse is just one of many sleazy vanity presses. Lulu works as both a vanity press and as a printer.

Lots of info about self-publishing is in my book and on the Alliance website and my blog (below).

Michael N. Marcus
-- president of the Independent Self-Publishers Alliance, http://www.independentselfpublishers.org
-- author of "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press," http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742
-- author of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," coming 4/1/10. http://www.silversandsbooks.com/storiesbookinfo.html
-- http://BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
-- http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com

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My thanks


Good stuff, lad.  My thanks,


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You have it right

Cliff, your observations are correct. Lulu is easier to publish through initially because there are forums with people who can answer your questions, and the uploading and creating a PDF file is very simple.

Lightning Source, on the other hand, expects you know how to meet the correct specifications for printing. At Lightning Source, it's $75 to set up and $45 to correct either your content or cover files once you receive your $30 proof and realize there's a mistake.

Still, the per price cost of the books is half of Lulu, and you can make your books returnable by bookstores and offer bookstores a 40% discount (both things you'd need if a bookstore were to carry your book.)

The main areas authors make a mistake in self-publishing are:

a) They don't hire an editor to edit the book. Writers cannot edit their own material well, which is why traditional publishers use editors. An editor will cost between $500 to $2500. You usually get what you pay for.

b) They don't hire a graphic designer to design the front and back covers and the interior of the book. Writers are not graphic designers, and your book needs to compete with books designed by brilliant graphic designers. A graphic designer will cost between $500 and $2000.

c) They don't create a publication date at least three or more months in the future in order to set up marketing.

d) Marketing includes sending out pre-publication copies to reviewers. Reviewers need months to review your book if they're gong to get to it.

I urge you to get Carolyn Howard-Johnson's "The Frugal Book Promoter," which gives you other things you'll need to do.

You may not be aiming for bookstores and reviews and just want your book available on Amazon and other online vendors for as cheaply as possible. Thus, Lulu would be the better way to go.

My books are printed through Lightning Source, and are in bookstores. I happened to work in publishing before I set up my own small publishing company, White Whisker Books. I started with Lulu, liked the company a lot, but needed to get into bookstores. I'm very happy with Lightning Source, but I also have a graphic designer setting everything up.

For more information on self-publishing, go to www.selfpublishingreview.com.

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Absolutely smashing response, Christopher, and I'm indebted to you for answering at such length.

Lightning Source's distribution is one of its major selling points to me. We do, indeed, want to see SO DARK THE NIGHT in bookstores, listed with Amazon. This is not some little vanity effort, it's a book that cost me nearly 4 years of my bloody life.

I'm think I'm doing fine on the points you mention. I've been an indie/micro publisher (Black Dog Press) since 1990...but that was dealing with the old offset method. I got a camera ready copy together, zipped it off to the printer and bingo. This time, I'm dealing with (gulp) computer files.

My novel is saved in the Mac/Pages format--will this be a problem? My understanding is that Lightning Source doesn't take PDF's, so there will have to be some fiddling with the formatting. Which is worrisome, since my novel employs about 30 footnotes and I don't want to see them get mucked up.

Ah, well. we learn by doing. Any thoughts you have are welcome.

Thanks, mate...

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They take PDFs

Cliff, I'm glad I was of help. Lightning Source absolutely takes PDFs. There's a FAQ page there somewhere telling you exactly how the resolution and fonts and more should be.If you have a 6 x 9 book, then the PDFs have to fit 6 x 9. The cover is a one-piece in PDF form, with the spine included. You clearly are used to publishing, so this is all about moving from camera-ready to digital. Also be sure to allow Lightning Source to use your files for the Espresso Book Machine, the latest thing going into bookstores. Thus, if your book isn't on a shelf at a store with the machine, a customer can have the machine pop a copy out, much like photos at a One-Hour photo shop.