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.

Published by

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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