In the recent past, few people could afford to spend the money to have formally bound copies of their finished lifestory projects made for their families. If you did have them professionally printed and bound, you had to decide ahead of time how many copies you wanted, and that was the end of it.
With the advent of POD (Print On Demand) publishing, all of that has changed. You can order a single copy of a professionally printed and bound book, hard bound or paperback, for no more than you would pay off-the-shelf at a bookstore. But, let the buyer beware. Few of the POD publishers are well-suited for working with individuals. Most charge a minimum of $500 for setting a book up.
Enter Lulu.com. Without investing a single cent, you can order as many or as few copies as you wish of a professionally printed and bound 250 page paperback book, with your choice of cover design (they have templates to help you set one up) and several pages sizes, for a mere $7.53 (as of December 2006), plus shipping. Imagine — you can order a single copy, just one, of a book you wrote yourself! That’s about the same price as photocopying it yourself.
If there is a catch to all this, it would be the need to get all the formatting in order yourself. You do the proofreading; you do the editing, you do the layout. Most projects are simple enough that you can handle this yourself with your word processing program, especially if you have a copy of the soon-to-be-released The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, by yours truly. In the final chapter I give you step-by-step instructions for the layout process. You upload your finished file to the Lulu website where it’s converted to a PDF file (think Acrobat Reader) for printing.
For an additional fee, Lulu will provide layout and editing services if you want to pay for help. If you wish, Lulu will list your book on their website so other people can order copies. You set the cover price with any amount of markup you wish (or none at all), and Lulu keeps 20% of the additional amount as their sales commission. There is no charge to you for this listing service, though they do charge a modest fee to set up a link with Amazon.
Think of the benefits of this: you may want to purchase nineteen copies at your own expense to give to your children and a close friend or two, but you may not want to purchase fifty-seven copies to give away to your barber, members of your book club, or third cousin Herbie. When cousin Herbie asks for a copy, you can smile and say, “I’m sorry. I’m out of copies myself, but you can order one from Lulu,” and give him the URL.
There may be other sites that offer similar prices and services. I haven’t done an extensive search. Lulu is probably the most popular right now. Although Lighthouse Point Press, a traditional publisher, is publishing The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, I’m working on a couple of projects that will have limited distribution, and I will definitely use Lulu for those. In fact, I just might start creating unique books for unique people. Why not?
The prices mentioned above are for black-and-white content. It can include as many pictures as you wish, but if you want color, the price goes up. Some people want to do books that are primarily pictures, with some text. These will cost more, as you’d expect, but you can do them the same way. Kevin Kelly writes about several color POD publishers and the relative merits and charges of each on his blog. You might want to check it out.
It may be a bit late to have books printed for holiday gifts this season, but this is a great time to start thinking ahead to next year.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal