Reader M asked me:
I was wondering what your experience with Lulu.com has been to self-publish your books?
Did you engage (heh) them for marketing? For editing? Or simply for publishing??
This sort of inquiry is pretty much a FAQ at this point, so I thought I'd share a slightly-edited version of my reply to him with the rest of the class:
I've been really happy with Lulu. Everyone I've ever talked with there has easy to work with, and very supportive of my work.
When I first took my work there, they reached out to me and offered to do some marketing for me, because it was the kind of relationship that made sense for both of us: I got good marketing and support, and they had a moderately high profile example to show prospective self-publishers what their marketing and support could do.
Remember, though, that the responsibility to promote falls on the author's shoulders, and a book will sell as well as you promote it. A publisher can only get you in a place where you'll be seen and then support you once you're there; nothing is guaranteed.
Also, it's a little cart-before-the-horse to be worrying about marketing and publicity when you're on the first draft. All the marketing and publicity in the world won't matter if you don't write a compelling story that engages (ha. ha. ha.) your readers.
As far as editorial goes, a content editor is a VERY personal and important relationship to have, so I wouldn't grab one at random, or stay with one who doesn't work as hard as you do. You should work with someone who understands what kind of story you want to tell, has experience editing that kind of story, and who has earned your respect. Your editor is someone who you're going to be accountable to, who is going to help you make your work better, make you a better writer, and ultimately be more of a partner than you ever though they would be. Do not rush into an editorial relationship, especially when you're self-publishing.
Copy editors, though just as important as content editors, aren't as personal. You still want someone who is going to let your voice come through, so that's important, but they're mostly going to make sure those inevitable spelling and grammar errors don't end up in your final manuscript.
I've also learned that it's really important to have a designer layout your final book. After publishing a lot of books, I can tell you that we writers are good at putting words together, but we're not as good at laying them out on the page as we think we are. If you're doing an eBook, you can probably do it yourself in Sigil or whatever your preferred markup editor is, but for print, you absolutely want to work with someone who can build you an interior design that looks great.
I encourage you to make sure your work is available for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks, as well, because people read in a lot of different places and formats these days. It's also a really good idea to establish relationships with indie booksellers and librarians, because they are awesome.
If you haven't, I recommend reading Dan Poynter's book on Self Publishing, as well as the Complete Guide to Self Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross. If you're on Google Plus, go add Evo Terra to a circle RIGHT NOW because he's the smartest indie publishing guru I've ever listened to.
I hope this helps you a little bit.
My only disappointment with Lulu is that the company stopped doing digital files like audio books, but I understand that since they returned their focus to only books, it's been good for their authors. Finding a new place to host and sell my audio books has been a real pain in the ass. The Audible agreement is unacceptable to me, and everything else I've been able to find seems to be geared toward bands, so I'm still mostly in the wilderness at the moment (I say mostly, because Scott Sigler pointed me to what looks like a perfect solution for me, but nothing's been set in stone, yet.)
So there you go. This isn't exhaustive by any means, and while I'm not an expert, I have had a lot of experience so I mostly know what I'm talking about. I hope this is helpful for indie authors who Get Excited and Make Things.
If you have personal experience to share, or advice that's been helpful to you as an indie creator (not just authors), I'd love it if you'd leave a comment.