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The Pros and Cons of Self Publishing With Lulu

Updated on April 17, 2010

Self publishing was once looked down upon because people viewed it as the last resort of a writer who wasn't good enough to be published by a traditional publisher. Then people realized that Mark Twain self published Huckleberry and we all rushed to the Internet to publish our very own works. provides a pretty decent service for writers looking to publish their works online or in print. In this article, I'll discuss my experiences with Lulu and self publishing in general.

Three Terrible Truths

  • Self Publishing Means Nothing

This is actually more of a neutral, but it is important, so it is at the top. Self publishing means nothing. Nothing at all. It does not guarantee success, and it does not guarantee failure. A much greater indication of success is how much of a following you have prior to self publishing your book. If you have a site that receives 10k hits a day, with at least 1000 people returning on a regular basis, you have a chance of making some sales. If you have a site that barely gets any traffic at all and nobody knows who you are, don't count on getting any sales outside your close friends and family. There are ways of offsetting the fact that you're new to self publishing though, and I will discuss them further in the second part of this article.

  • Lulu Won't Make Your Book A Bestseller is an excellent platform for creating and hosting books. It is not a sales platform. Read that again. It is not a sales platform. Yes, it is possible for people to purchase books through the site store, however you have to keep in mind that most people visiting Lulu are authors, not readers. By all means, list your book in the marketplace, just don't make the mistake of thinking that doing so will result in any sales other than the ones you refer there via advertising.

Lulu does offer some services associated with publicity and marketing. I haven't used them so I can't comment on them, though I would imagine that, like most publicity and marketing, if you are not taking an active role in the process, it is probably not going to work terribly well.

  • Fewer People Will Buy Your Book Than You Expect

Your sales will probably be lower than you ever imagined. It is not uncommon for conversion rates from visitors to a personal site to be 1% or lower. The Internet is full of free material and people only feel motivated to buy a product when they either really feel that it will be good value, or when they are motivated to support you, regardless of how awful (or not) your book may be.

Seth Godin says not to expect to make any money on a book until you've made money on a previous one, and he's right. The low barrier to self publishing combined with people's reluctance to pay for words these days (they're just words, you can find 'em everywhere) means that making a living selling books is difficult. Is it doable? Obviously, yes, yes it is. Are you ready to make the sacrifices necessary in order to not only make your books a success, but in order to wait out the long time it may take for you to have things break even? Only you can answer that.

  • Should You Get A Commercial Publisher?

Publishers only publish books that they believe will have large scale commercial appeal. Your experimental novel, in which the protagonist spends the bulk of the tale covered in cake batter and rocking in place probably doesn't have large scale appeal.

Even if you believe that you have written the next Harry Potter, large scale publishers have large piles of material that they are going through at any given time. You therefore need an agent to represent your work. Getting an agent can be difficult, but after reading this article, you may very well decide to go the traditional route after all.

The Good News

The good news is that I've finished telling you the bad news. Now we're ready to discuss what you can do to boost the dreary sales you have a high likelihood of facing.

Get Your Books Listed On Relevant Book Selling Sites

If there is a relevant niche site that sells similar books to your own, submit your title there. You'll always make more money from listing books on popular and established sites than by listing them on your own personal little site. Eventually of course, you want to work towards no longer having to pay other people up to 50% for selling your books. (Sites that actually sell books usually take a cut. If you want to only place your books on free venues, feel free to do so, but be aware that your results might be limited.)

Get Some Publicity

Send free copies of your book to people who matter. Don't expect them to necessarily give you a write up, or a mention. Don't expect them to even reply to you. If they do, it is a bonus, a bonus that can pay off big time. Send free copies to people who write review sites. You may get a better response from smaller review sites who will be pleased to be treated with a copy of your book, vs larger ones that are inundated with dead trees and have sort of stopped caring.

Make Your Network

Mention the fact that you have a book out. Link to the book. More importantly however, start taking notice of other people related to your field. Link to them. Email them. Strike up relationships. Try not to be too mercenary about this, and if you are being purely mercenary, then don't sugar coat it. Be up front. People aren't dumb. Writers have a habit of getting very self involved and viewing other writers and related site owners as the enemy. They're not the enemy, and getting in good with a few people who have the same interests as you do is always a good thing.

Do I Have To Be Friendly And Networky? I Hate Marketing!

If you hate marketing, then don't expect to make anything off your self published book. Either find a traditional publisher who will help organize you into marketing events, (a rare find these days, so I am led to believe,) or accept that your works will languish in obscurity forever.

Alternatively, wrap a waterfall. It worked for Christo.

Invest In Some God Cover Art

Blah blah, that thing about judging books by their covers. People do it, so although it technically shouldn't matter, if you can rustle up some professional looking cover art from somewhere, it will probably help your cause considerably.


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    • Hope Alexander profile image

      Hope Alexander 7 years ago

      Interesting, I've handled all my own art work, never had any trouble, and made hundreds of sales on Lulu. Having said that, I never gave them any money either. I simply used them as a sales platform. You must have been using their publisher services, I suppose?

    • RobertAllenSavage profile image

      RobertAllenSavage 7 years ago from Buffalo, WYOMING

      Sorry folks but Lulu is an absolute joke, they cannot even get proper formatting down, and they seriously botched my artwork, which was done by a professional graphic artist. So you can choose to throw money down the drain, but do I would never recommend ANYONE give Lulu a red cent. I giove this advice several hundred dollars later.

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

      Very helpful! Thank you!

    • Hope Alexander profile image

      Hope Alexander 8 years ago

      Regardless of how many reading sites Lulu acquires (though it is a nice step), it is not going to change the fact that an author who does no promotional work and doesn't give a fig about marketing probably won't sell very well.

      As Mytwo pointed out, even traditionally published authors sometimes make less than 100 sales. And that is because of lack of public awareness and no marketing. I've sold well over 100 copies of my books and not one, not ONE of those sales came through the Lulu marketplace.

      Having a website and readers who give a damn about your work, or having your book listed on a niche site where people are open to new authors will do infinitely more for you than simply tossing your book on Lulu and wondering why nobody cares.

      I don't think Lulu is a bad venue to self publish, in fact, I personally think that it is probably one of the best venues to self publish in. However, if you want sales and fame, your efforts cannot stop once you hit the 'Publish' button.

    • Mytwo Sense profile image

      Mytwo Sense 8 years ago

      There is one thing you forgot to mention about going the traditional route: these days publishers will not accept work that is not given to them by an agent. So before you can even get your foot in the door to a publishing house, you have to first find an agent who gives a rip about your work. And then be prepared for the agents and publishers to say that they won't touch it until an editor goes over it. And then they won't represent it until you agree to all the changes that the editor makes, which translates into your work not looking remotely like your work once they are done. And don't forget that just because you get published in the traditional sense does not mean you are going to make it. There are tons of traditionally published authors out there who have sold less than 100 copies of their work. As you said, the bottom line is that publishing is a business and if they don't think they can make money off your idea, then out the door you go.

    • profile image

      Matthew S Adelson 8 years ago

      "however you have to keep in mind that most people visiting Lulu are authors, not readers. By all means, list your book in the marketplace, just don't make the mistake of thinking that doing so will result in any sales other than the ones you refer there via advertising. " - in fact has acquired weRead the largest facebook application for books for the same. I heard that they are reworking on weRead. If that goes on well then the sales may also increase

    • profile image

      AlanaRaso 8 years ago

      Where does God distribute her cover art? ;)

      Thanks for article, your hubs make my day

    • Hope Alexander profile image

      Hope Alexander 8 years ago

      Cheers guys :) I hope it is of use to people.

      It's not so much about being well known, as much as it is about having groups of people who know you.

    • Putz Ballard profile image

      Putz Ballard 8 years ago

      A very good article.

    • profile image

      xureus 8 years ago

      As far as I know writing was always a tough employment as most arts.

      People only want to buy from well-known people. If people don't know your name, you won't sell much.

      Sad but true.

      I don't write anything of meaning but it was interesting to read about the process of publishing something. Thumbs up!