What’s Under That Rock?

We’re not quite sure how we missed it back in March (although it might have been that one night when Rich Meyer spiked the gruel). But it came to our attention this week that Lulu, the print-on-demand company that many indies use instead of CreateSpace for their hard-copy books, began offering bundles of book publishing and marketing services a few months ago. Ranging in price from $999 to $3,199, the packages include such services as a custom cover, interior layout and design, e-book formatting, and an ISBN. At the $1,999 level, your book receives an “editorial review” and a “cover copy polish.” At the $2,999 level, you also get a website.

I bet you hadn’t noticed yet that you can get all this stuff on your own for significantly less – and in many cases, for free. So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Lulu has contracted out these services to our old friend Author Solutions.

You remember Author Solutions, right? The vanity publisher that’s now calling itself “the world leader in indie book publishing”? The company that Random Penguin bought last year?

Why is it that every time you kick over a rock in the indie publishing world these days, Author Solutions comes crawling out from under it?

The accepted wisdom is that trad publishers are running scared. Amazon is threatening their old business model (expensive Manhattan real estate, expensive warehouse space, inexpensive author contracts) in several ways. And one way for them to shore up their sagging bottom lines is to do a deal with somebody who knows how to get people to pay to be published, instead of the other way around.

But I begin to wonder whether Author Solutions, too, is running scared. Think about it: In the days before the indie revolution, only a few voices could be heard crying in the wilderness against their business practices. Things like class-action lawsuits and blackball listings on Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors could be swept under the rug. ASI is a big company, after all. All they had to do was keep sucking in newbies who dreamed of “being published.” If anyone got a whiff of their deceptive business practices, ASI could claim the criticism was coming from a handful of cranks.

Then came Smashwords and KDP, and we all realized that we didn’t have to sign a pact with the devil in order to become published authors. Already, ASI’s repeat business had shrunk to nearly zero. Now real indie publishing – the way we do it, for only tens or hundreds of dollars, instead of thousands – is luring away the pool of newbies. At the same time, the chorus against ASI is growing ever louder, and it’s easier than ever to find out exactly what kind of business they’re running.

So how can ASI keep its bottom line fat? By aligning itself with the traditional publishing establishment. And it’s done it, I think, by trading on the persistent belief in trad publishing circles that all indie authors write crap, except for one-hundredth of one percent who don’t – and those few books that actually make money can be snapped up more easily once they’re “in house.” In return, ASI gets its reputation burnished by association with respected names in publishing.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that ASI was the one who initiated all these deals with the trad publishers.

The good news is that you can still publish with Lulu the regular ol’ (free) way. Just be aware, if you’re tempted to buy one of their packages, of who you’re really dealing with.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

25 thoughts on “What’s Under That Rock?”

  1. Yikes. That’s a lot of money. I haven’t created any print copies yet. The thought of formatting for print has chased those thoughts right out of my mind. But I’m sorry to hear some writers may be lured into signing up for services they don’t need. The cry was and apparently still is: Writer Beware.

    1. Indeed it is, Anna. And believe me when I say that you can do your own print formatting. I wrote a post on formatting your manuscript for CreateSpace awhile back (it’s around here somewhere…), but I’m told CreateSpace also offers a template that does the formatting for you. 🙂

      1. Hi! Yeah, Createspace offers a template, but it’s far from doing the formatting for you. The template simply has the correct margins for the book size you choose. Everything else is up to you: font, text size, page breaks, headers (title and author name), page numbers…
        It’s a long list but it’s completely doable. I’m a debut author and I survived, headaches and all. 😉 There are literally TONS of websites with step-by-step information on how to get formatting right. In my case, I actually formatted for the print version first. One week later, exhausted yet happy, I formatted the ebook version and was surprised at how fast I went.
        You can do it!

        1. I’m always kind of surprised when people say they think e-book formatting is hard. It takes me more time to format the print version than it does the e-book. 🙂

  2. I think they have a death wish, each attempt of control is more desperate than the last. The Titanic is sinking and the Indies have the last life boat. Well at least in my little mind.

    1. Yikes! I hope you’re wrong about that, Rich.

      Wait — can’t you already buy formatting/editing packages on CreateSpace? I’m pretty sure I ran into somebody in a Facebook group who had gone that route.

  3. I’m ePublished through LULU, Lynne, it seemed like an easy way to reach a few of the distributors at the one time; I did it before I went to Smashwords and with those two and Kindle I figured I had all the ePublishing bases covered. I have never taken up any of their ‘pay for’ services though; from them or the others. Author Solutions certainly seems like an insidious monster lurking in every dark corner though!

    Thanks for the heads-up, Lynne, excellent post.

    1. Thank you, T.D.! My publisher used Lulu for my first book. There’s nothing wrong with their POD operation, imho, as long as you don’t let yourself get sucked into the high-priced packages. 🙂

  4. I love it when the Indie community comes together to spread the word about scum-sucking scam artists and warn aspiring authors away from them. This is a great article, Lynne. I have shared it and I hope it helps newbies the same way other Indies helped me.

  5. Thanks, Lynne. The more indie authors who learn about the business of self-publishing means fewer who will think packages like this are their only solutions. If they still want to go this route, read the contracts and buyer beware.

  6. Seriously this is a travesty. I keep telling myself if I won the 400-500 million lottery, I’d buy up the publishing companies doing business with AS and then kick AS to the curb.

    Thanks Lynne for keeping us in the know.

  7. If I can figure out how to indie publish without paying anything to anybody, everyone can do it. I’m elderly (and finally ready to admit I’m way past middle-aged) and technically challenged. The main thing I have going for me is perseverance – not just for getting the novels written, but for figuring out how to publish through KDP and CreateSpace.

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