Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

In Response to PODymouth

Over at Podymouth I found some disparaging remarks regarding Lulu, the self-publishing system that I myself am using to publish my own book. I think you can lay out the general criticism as this: the way Lulu works—free to publish with fees per book sold—is ultimately unfair to authors because the majority don’t sell any copies, while the much fewer successful authors are essentially paying all of Lulu’s revenues.

I don’t really understand this criticism on several levels. The first problem is the idea that it’s a problem that 2% of Lulu’s titles are really supporting the other 98%. Perhaps you aren’t aware of how publishing companies, music labels and movie studios operate. They look for what they think will be hits, fund them, and hope that some of them make money. Most of them don’t. Most bands don’t get re-signed after a sophomore album. Lots of movies don’t make money. Thousands of (published) books never sell more than a few thousand copies before they go out-of-print—and some of those still win Pen/Faulkner and Pulitzer awards. The only thing that Lulu has done is turn the filtering process of what is successful over to audiences—the market decides. This puts the responsibility of marketing squarely on the shoulders of authors.

I don’t see anything wrong with that. Real creative work is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. So yeah, authors who are apathetic or uninterested in taking their work to the next level aren’t going to do well, but then, they never were, and you can’t blame Lulu for that. As for how the 2% are getting screwed by Lulu because they’re not switching to a POD or a “real” publisher; again, I just don’t see the problem. You keep the rights to the book. Market your work. Put it in the hands of reviewers, sell it, have a copy on you at all times. Use Lulu to organically build a fan base. Then, take your numbers to a small publisher and show them that if they opt-in on your next book, you come with a built-in audience. Lulu’s not going to stop you. But as opposed to traditional publishers, the onus to market your work is on you. And you know, if you talk to a lot of published authors you’ll find out that it’s not as if there was ever a guarantee that traditional publishers were ever going to do that good a job of marketing your book. Author’s will (even with traditional publishing) always have a responsibility to curate and sell their work (provided you care about having a career as such).

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