When I started out on the Anthology Project (back in early 2007) I did so with enthusiasm and excitement. For several years, I had been trying to help writers become published and finally, I believed, I had found the way to do just that.
Whilst receiving and reading submissions for the project, I was also spending hours and hours combing the internet to find the right printer for the job. There are so many printers out there, but when I read the small print I was surprised by the charges involved and the odd terms that didn’t sit right with me. I continued my search, widening it to include reading what other people’s experiences were and this narrowed the market for me considerably.
From memory I ended up with three possibilities. None of them were perfect, but these three sounded better than all the rest and the reviews were more positive too. For reasons I can’t remember, I settled on Lulu. I set about creating an account and started a “fake” project so that I knew the process well before doing the real thing. In all honesty, the process was mostly painless even if it was time consuming.
The anthology was published on 25 July 2008. And that’s when my excitement truly started to wane.
Suddenly, everyone at Lulu was complaining that the distribution service had changed; it had gone downhill…and quickly. It is clearly stated on the Lulu website that books published by them will appear on Amazon and other online bookstores within 6 to 8 weeks. The anthology appeared within three weeks so it wasn’t an outright lie. However, it showed an “out of print” status and no one, no matter how eager, could purchase the book. Although I was aware a problem existed I didn’t know (or understand) the depth of it…or the ramifications. I am, after all, a writer, not a publisher. But that is no excuse and I realise now that I should have made it my business to know what the problem meant. Anyway, the anthology has now been published for 16 weeks and the status remains unchanged even though I have been in contact with Lulu repeatedly in this time.
No wonder the service had suddenly become “free”. If they (meaning Lulu) had charged for the service then they would have been faced with a lot of unhappy people demanding their money back – me alone with them. I feel they knew the problem was bigger than they were letting on and that’s why they dropped the charge and this knowledge angers me more.
Having said all this, I understand that Lulu is between a rock and a hard place. I don’t think they wanted or intended for this to happen to the people who use their service – not at the beginning. I also believe that there is nothing much they can do about it, which presents a problem for the anthology (but I’ll get back to this later).
Amazon is the real problem. They have become greedy and are trying to squash print on demand books being published by anyone but themselves. If a POD book isn’t printed by their subsidiary then they will not list it on the website (or they will, but the “buy” button will be deactivated so they may as well not list it, in my opinion). From what I’ve learned, this only applies to the books distributed from about six to eight months ago. Those already in the system are not affected.
If the people at Amazon want to be jerks, fine. I’d be happy to ignore Amazon from this day onwards and buy my books from other online bookstores instead…and I would encourage everyone else to do the same thing because, quite frankly, Amazon isn’t the “be all and end all” of the publishing (or reading) world.
But…the other bookstores are listing the book as unavailable too! Why? What reason do they have? Are they sheep? I’ve contacted a couple of them and their response is that they want copies of the book sent to them so that they have them in stock. Why? POD means the book is printed as needed. It never runs out of stock. They don’t need a stock pile. Honestly, I have no idea what the hassle is and I’m finding the whole mess frustrating and pointless.
At this point, I would like to clearly state that I do not recommend Lulu in any way, shape or form. I would never use them again. Ever! If you had any brains you wouldn’t either. It’s not worth the stress.
What does all this mean to the anthology?
In hindsight, if I could redo this project from scratch there are certain things I would change. Of course, experience is talking now. I didn’t have any experience when I started this project back in January 2007, but now I’m older and wiser.
The main change I would make would be that I wouldn’t pay for the stories and artwork in royalties. That is the biggest mistake I made. I would have been better off paying outright for the stories and artwork and having a contract for world wide exclusive rights for the first year and then the right to continue publishing the book, but allowing the authors to submit the stories elsewhere. If I had done this I wouldn’t be bound by a contract that has literally killed the project. You see, it’s because of that contract that I can’t pack my bags, walk away from Lulu and start afresh with a POD company that doesn’t have the hassles Lulu has. In order to do this, it would mean I would have to apply for a new ISBN (because Lulu owns the current one). With the new ISBN I could apply a new cover, fix anything that might be wrong with the current book and then publish a second edition. The contract doesn’t allow any of this to happen because it’s for the first edition only. The second edition would require a new contract and, to be honest, I’m not keen to go there.
Right now, that means two years of planning, reading and publishing (and I don’t mean just me here either) has been…for what? To me, it feels like a waste of time. Maybe the others don’t feel that way, but when I was bubbling over with excitement two years ago I wasn’t imagining the frustration I’m experiencing now. I was imagining speechless joy and wonder. Believe me, this experience doesn’t come close to that.