Monday, April 02, 2007

The Scar

A while ago I was hearing things about how websites like Cafepress and Lulu had begun to come into their own. Now that self-publishing is not such a dirty word they seem to have found an important niche. I was intrigued however, by the possibilities for a more conventional arm to my publishing work. At the moment I create two kinds of book. The first is a booklet format which, although I hope I have developed into something which looks good and has interesting content, has its limitations in terms of the length of text it is possible to publish. The second are the hand-made casebound books which also have limitations not just of size but also of time and resources as they are difficult buggers to get right.

My original aim in starting publishing was to get as much interesting and difficult-to-find material as possible 'out there' so it's always been an irritation that I can't reprint whole books - the capital costs and minimum orders from almost all book printers are simply too great. But here comes Cafepress and Lulu with the option of doing all your own design-work and being able to order just the one copy if that's all you want. So, in order to test out how easy (or not) the process was I needed a text of a suitable length. Handily I, like how many millions of other people, have at least one unfinished novel in the metaphorical drawer (these days a computer file) so I used that. A fair amount of reading is required on the Lulu website (I chose Lulu because they offer a hardback with dustjacket format) to understand the technical specifications of what files and formats are required but I DTPed the text and designed my cover in the appropriate *pdf format and so on and eventually uploaded the files and ordered a copy. Obviously I am not trying to self-publish here. The aim of the exercise was two-fold. I wanted to see how the process worked and I also thought that perhaps seeing even half a novel in the form of a 'real' book, I might be encouraged to go back to writing it.

Obviously, you are looking at a picture of the final product. Apart from a little tweaking, the formatting worked and was straightforward enough. I now believe that once I have a text it would only take a few hours work to get it to the stage of being able to order the first copy from Lulu. It's cheap enough that there's a profit margin to be had and (although the page paper is just a tiny bit thinner than I would ideally like) the quality is very good.

The upshot of this is that I am now planning my first conventionally printed hardback publication to go alongside NOT replace the hand-made stuff (it's the only way I could publish book-length material) so look out for a new edition of Aspects of Wilde by Vincent O'Sullivan being anounced in the near future. I haven't yet decided on the details such as will I keep the notion of limited edition for these books or will they be open, things like that, but I am most of the way through digitising the text and the introduction has been written so it won't be all that long.
Will I be sharing the text of my magnum opus with you all here? - no.
Can I really work in the mess you see there on my desk? - yes

1 comment:

John C said...

A couple of points: never say that self-publishing is a lesser business, it was good enough for William Blake, after all. :) Professional publishers produce enough badly-written, poorly-proofed and cheaply-produced crap these days to have forfeited any immediate rights to a value beyond the humble but diligent amateur.

Second point is that most print-on-demand stuff I've seen to date seems limited in terms of choice of paper stock and other options which the costlier solutions give you. So I'd be curious as to how Lulu fares on this count. I use CafePress myself to sell posters and so on but their book option seemed rather limited on the production side. Worth investigation though.

Third point is that I think this is going to grow and grow. Publishing is starting to go the way that music production has done, with the means of production being available to the creator. It's more difficult, of course, few authors would know about typesetting, or be able to use the software but they can find people who do. Distribution and promotion remains the sole advantage that pro publishers have over the smaller press. Sort that out (easier said than done...) and you have a winner.

Who links to my website?