Lulu and the Trojan Horse

Nobody seems to spit out their morn­ing cof­fee in a shower of sticky rain any­more, so I was pleased to re-ignite the tra­di­tion this very Saturday morn­ing while read­ing the Guardian Review.

On page thir­teen, I found Nicholas Lezard’s review of Spoilers: Film Reviews by Anne Billson. Nothing sur­pris­ing thus far…and until I reveal the ter­ribly excit­ing secret, I beg, dear read­er, that you replace your cof­fee cup and swal­low any­thing extraneous.

The pub­lish­er of this book is Lulu.

For those not in the know, Lulu is an online ser­vice through whom authors can pub­lish their work. There is no upfront cost. It is a van­ity pub­lish­er in the sense that pub­lic­a­tion is not soli­cited. Lulu provides the har­bour; its writers are free to turn up in whatever sea-going craft they wish, from row boat to float­ing res­taur­ant. However, Billson’s book com­prises film reviews that were pub­lished in the New Statesman and the Telegraph. It would not do to call this a van­ity pro­ject.

To be sure, Nicholas Lezard, the Guardian man, seems unaware of Lulu.

There’s no price on the cov­er, I’ve nev­er heard of the pub­lish­er, and it was pos­ted to me from, unusu­ally, Jamaica.

This is sur­pris­ing. Lulu is at the centre of what might be termed a pub­lish­ing revolu­tion. It uses a tech­no­logy called Print on Demand to min­im­ise up-front costs. (Cf. and N.B. Lulu with any brick-and-mor­tar van­ity or sub­sidy press.) Nicholas Lezard is a fea­tured review­er for the Guardian Review. How had he avoided this?

The sub­stant­ive point (for the writer) is that Lezard has con­sidered the book without pre­ju­dice. Here’s how he sums it up:

You are get­ting a series of joy­ously executed reviews, by a clear-eyed yet pas­sion­ate com­ment­at­or, of films that, per­haps sur­pris­ingly, have lingered longer in the mind than you might have thought, at the time, that they would.

This whole epis­ode has put a smile on my face. Not two (or was it three?) years ago, I found myself walk­ing from Waterstone’s to Waterstone’s with a copy of my book, Déjà Vu. It also car­ried a great write-up from the Guardian Review. But because my pub­lish­er (not Lulu) used the Print on Demand tech­no­logy, no branch of Waterstone’s would touch it. The prob­lem is one of iner­tia. Waterstone’s, and oth­er large brick-and-mor­tar insti­tu­tions, derive the bulk of their income from the terms they demand of pub­lish­ers. When con­fron­ted by pub­lish­ers who will not — or can­not — meet these terms, that’s the end of the con­ver­sa­tion.

This is not a good situ­ation for the con­sumer. Today, per­haps, we’re a little closer to a time in which books that receive atten­tion and acclaim can be pur­chased in brick-and-mor­tar shops along­side those books that are pushed by hard cur­rency.

Spoilers: Film Reviews, by Anne Billson, is pub­lished over at Lulu and costs £10.20. You can down­load it £6.84.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

12 thoughts on “Lulu and the Trojan Horse”

  1. Interesting… Lezard wasn’t pre­ju­diced, because he hadn’t heard of Lulu. Had he known about it, he’d have known it was a PoD oper­a­tion, and might not have been so well-dis­posed.

  2. I think you’re right, Tim. In fact, I wrote a com­ment about that in the first draft of this post. It cer­tainly would have put a dif­fer­ent spin on things…

  3. Weird, isn’t it? I wish I could find his email address, but the Guardian’s web­site is tight­er than a duck’s arse.

  4. I think it is not sur­pris­ing that a main­stream book review edit­or has not heard of Lulu. (I don’t know if this is true in this par­tic­u­lar case, but I know if book review edit­ors at major pub­lic­a­tions to whom blog­ging and inter­net pub­lish­ing is a vague haze).
    Another inter­est­ing use of POD/Lulu, as a friend and col­league Henry Gee has found, is that an author can use the ser­vice to pro­duce a nicely bound and prin­ted copy of the mss for his agent and oth­ers– it is cheap­er to get the book “pub­lished” by Lulu and for the agent and poten­tial pub­lish­ers to down­load from there, rather than for the author and agent to go to photocopying/binding/postage costs, and the end product much nicer to read than a bound/posted manu­script.

  5. Hi Maxine — Hope you’re keep­ing well. Yes, I’ve used Lulu to pro­duce cop­ies of my own manu­scripts (mostly to help me see the thing in book form; my agent seems to prefer send­ing my book elec­tron­ic­ally). I think Lulu is great for that kind of thing. It’s still a shame, though, that a lit­er­ary journ­al­ist hasn’t heard of Lulu…

  6. As Maxine says, I’m using Lulu as a handy way of provid­ing copy to inter­ested read­ers … but I have also star­ted pub­lish­ing on it in earn­est. If most books only sell a tiny num­ber of cop­ies, the cur­rent pub­lish­ing mod­el, heavy with middle­men (agents, pub­lish­ers, whole­salers, book­shops) is not cost-effect­ive. Better for an author to con­trol the means of pro­duc­tion. And, as I have found, exhil­ar­at­ing.

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