Using Lulu for print books

posted in: On writing | 11
MC print 2015

UPDATE: Since I discovered Lulu is affiliated with Author Solutions I have withdrawn my books. Here’s why. All my print books are available through Amazon, though.

I’ve decided to offer printed, dead tree copies of my longer titles via Lulu. Why bother with producing a print book at all? It’s a good question. After all, hardly anybody buys them any more. But some people do, so I’m offering choices. I’m also hoping that having a print copy will help as subtle advertising. People can lend paper books to others, or exchange them, libraries can stock them. Also, I know when I look at the prices being asked for ebooks sold by big publishers, I can’t help but notice how much they’re asking for the paperback. In recent times, some of them charge MORE for the ebook than the paperback. Really?? Anyhow, I figured if I did that, other people did, too, so it was worthwhile offering print books in POD (print on demand). Besides, I rather enjoy doing the formatting and cover design.

In the past, I had used Createspace for print books – but this time, I didn’t. I used Lulu for several reasons, chief among them being it is not affiliated with Amazon, and also it pays funds into Paypal. Lulu offers a good, step-by-step service to do-it-yourself publishers, or you can hire services from them to edit, format and do cover designs. I found the templates they provided more than adequate to set up professional formats myself. You can check each step of the process after you upload files, to ensure what you sent is the same as Lulu received.

Manuscript Formats

Lulu prefers documents in .pdf, although they’ll accept .docx, .doc, rtf and some others. I uploaded my first two books, the Iron Admiral duo, as .doc files and that worked fine. But the Morgan Selwood novels didn’t. The first chapter heading appeared as expected, but none of the others was visible. After several hours of tearing my hair out, I decided I needed to convert the files to pdf to ensure that what they got matched what I sent. First, I tried the Mac’s built in export function. It worked, sort of. But the number of pages changed, and the Open Office writer doesn’t readily support presenting chapter numbers as text.

So I shifted to the Windows machine, which I use to write my books. (I’m very comfortable with MS Word 2003). Adobe’s pdf writer is horribly expensive, but Lulu itself recommended doPDF, a free virtual printer which allows you to embed fonts (IMPORTANT) and produces an Adobe compatible file. As usual, using styles in a program like Word produces the best, most consistent results. Some other things to consider for your book to be eligible for distribution:

  • Page numbers start at your chapter one, so you’ll need a section break
  • The last two pages of your document must be entirely blank – no page numbers or anything else, again easily achieved with section breaks.
  • The number of pages in your book must be divisible by 4. That’s the whole book, including blank pages etc.
  • One trick for young players is that odd numbered pages will appear on the right. So if Chapter One is on the fifth page, it will be on the right hand side of the open book, with the page number as 1.
  • Lulu offers a free ISBN so you can distribute to bookstores etc (they do that for you). But you must ensure that the isbn is in the right place in your MS. It’s best to enter your book’s record, then download the barcode and enter it into your book, which you then save as a .pdf to upload to Lulu.
  • I found that if I wanted to upload a new version of the file, I needed to delete the one in Lulu first. The system uses all the files you’ve uploaded to produce the print ready file. My 200-page document suddenly jumped to 400 pages if I didn’t delete the previous version first. Um. Wrong.


Once you have uploaded your MS to Lulu, the system has enough information to calculate the exact size of your cover. Lulu allows you to upload your own cover, or use their cover creation wizard or their service. As with all these systems, adherence to the rules is vital, even though sometimes the rules seem to be a little hard to find.

  • You must ensure that the isbn is also on your cover. If you do as I did, and upload a full cover, you must add the barcode to the back, formatted as 1″ by 1.75″.
  • Lulu produces a barcode for you to download for your custom cover, but for some reason known only to them, the size is not 1 x 1.75, and it is not on a white background. Never mind, that’s simple Photoshop skills. And while you’re there, you can check the exact size of your cover image matches Lulu’s expectation, and that your spine wording is correctly placed.

Final checks

With the cover uploaded, you move on to fill in the metadata, and fix your price. It’s not cheap to produce a quality print book and the profits (especially from retailers) can be slim. When that’s done, you get one last chance to check your files. In particular, you’ll be shown the back, spine and front of your cover to check. I found several times I had to tweak the position of the wording for the spine so it sat in the centre.

Once you’re happy, press the finish button. Your book will appear in Lulu’s files. At this stage, you can still revise your book without too much pain. Lulu will create a new revision for you, going through the same process you used to get that far.

In order to be eligible for wider distribution to Barnes and Noble, Amazon et al, you press an icon “Manage” on your list of projects. This leads to a page where you can “Get Global Reach FREE.” You must adhere to these requirements. However, you must purchase a copy of your book and confirm that it meets the requirements. That’s not cheap from Australia, because of postage, and I’d have to sell a few to get a return on investment – but as I said up front, I have other reasons for making the investment. Also, if you decide to make changes, you’ll need to buy another copy of the updated book before it is eligible for further distribution.

Last words of wisdom

  • The link to Lulu
  • Use the templates and read them carefully.
  • UPDATE – apparently you can copy and paste your MS into Lulu’s template, which will avoid many issues.
  • Check your work each step along the way. Don’t assume it will be right.
  • DON’T press that global reach button too soon. You can cancel an order, but you’d have to do it very quickly.

11 Responses

  1. Mary

    So why did you choose them over Createspace? I’ll have to look at what they have to offer. I’ve been using Createspace. Sales for print aren’t a downpour, but it is another paycheck.

    • Greta

      Mary,I wanted to avoid yet another association with Amazon. Earning $10 on every Amazon affiliate is a slow and may I say unlikely process for print books – for me, anyway. Lulu pays into Paypal. The only advantage I can see that CS has over Lulu is that you can approve a proof online.

  2. Pippa Jay

    Re: your issues with the interior – you can download a template from lulu and copy and paste your doc into it. I found this not only fixed the issues when uploading my own doc but it meant I didn’t have to convert to a pdf either (using my original doc converted to pdf hadn’t fixed my issues).

    • Greta

      Thanks for that, Pippa. I didn’t think about using their template in that way.

    • Greta

      Thanks, Doug. I felt my experience might be of some value – to avoid the gotchas.

  3. Eva caye

    Thank you for this! I’m dealing with CreateSpace right now, and have my first four books set up with them, but hesitating over pressing the ‘Approve Proof’ button over the last four. Since this is a series, I might just do so, but I am glad you wrote this so I can check Lulu out for future novels.

    Q: Have you received that print proof yet? What is the quality like compared to CreateSpace? Especially the paper quality; I had set up a year ago but never finalized my proof, and when I set up these new titles, I noticed the white paper was really cheap, even compared to last year’s proof.

    • Greta

      Haven’t received the proof yet. I’m not expecting it before Christmas. I’ll let you know when I get it. But I did notice Lulu offers premium quality paper – if you want to pay for it.

  4. Diane Nelson

    Very helpful. Thanks for spelling this out. I am interested in having HBs for all my titles, if only for myself.

    • Greta

      You can do HB from Lulu – and premium quality paper if you want to pay for it. I’ll settle for trade paper backs 🙂

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