Well, 2020 is officially in the books. And I don’t think I’m alone in saying ‘good riddance.’ It was undoubtedly a tough year for all of us. Even with indie author sales climbing in 2020, the specter of COVID-19 and shake-ups in the traditional publishing industry made for a terribly uncertain year.
Here we are, with 2021 on the horizon and full of promise. Today, let’s have a look at what Lulu’s got on tap for indie authors and how we’re working to help authors retain independence in the face of a constantly consolidating industry.
The State Of Publishing
It’s not often I’m willing to link to a competitor for reference, but Mark Coker’s predictions for 2021 on the Smashwords blog offer a succinct look at the state of publishing. I encourage everyone to take a moment to read it because I’m going to reference his post a few times.
First, we have to look at the state of traditional publishing. The most significant change there was the consolidation of the Big 5 US publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan) into the Big 4 with PRH’s acquisition of Simon and Schuster. Consolidation means efficiency for the publishers, but it likely means more stringent guidelines for authors.
Which should be (kind of) a good thing for indie authors. Traditional publishing has never looked less appealing for the majority of authors than it does in 2021.
But we also have to contend with the growing monopoly of Amazon. For a lot of authors new to self-publishing, Amazon might appear to be the only option. And many indie authors will point new authors to Amazon. As if publishing through KDP is a good thing.
Not to say that listing your book on Amazon is a bad idea, but if you publish with the biggest and greediest marketplace and you think you’re an indie author, you’re deluding yourself.
2020 thoroughly showed us that there is a difference between self-publishing and independent publishing.
The Difference Between Self-Publishing And Indie Publishing
Twenty years ago, the two terms were interchangeable. Today, not exactly. Because self-publishing really just means you foot any costs associated with publishing. That means publishing for free through Lulu, Amazon, or another online platform or paying a vanity publisher for the editing, design, and production services traditional publishers normally cover.
Independent publishing might follow the same basic course, but the author’s emphasis is on developing fans and growing their own, independent following. In this scenario, any retail sales are supplemental to the primary goal of selling through their own platform.
Coker uses a political metaphor to describe the difference: “In a democracy [indie publishing], power lies with the people. With authoritarianism [Amazon], power is consolidated under the control of a single supreme leader.”
It’s a little extreme, but I think that helps drive the point home. At Lulu, we get a ton of feedback from our users and we make updates (weekly since September!) to act on user feedback. Because all of our users are indie authors and we are acutely aware that we need each other to be successful.
Amazon (who I’m picking on, but aren’t the only ones) are so big they can shrug off requests for improvements. Their goal is to make it fast and easy for you to publish whatever you want. If it sells, terrific because Amazon gets their cut. If it doesn’t, Amazon will barely notice.
2021 Will Be The Year Of Indie Publishing
Okay, that’s maybe a little bold. In fact, I’d be satisfied with just seeing the indie publishing world retain the growth we’ve seen over the last year.
After spending all of 2020 surviving the pandemic and launching a top-to-bottom redesign of our site, Lulu is going to be focused on helping you become an even more successful independent publisher.
Our new site makes getting your book printed fast and easy; you literally just need the PDF ready and you can be ordering prints in under 10 minutes. And for authors who want to utilize our retail tools, the process has been reorganized to be clear, direct, and easy to follow.
But we’ll go one better in 2021. We’re adding more instructions to address the areas you’ve said aren’t clear. Our Help Center will get a facelift to help you better find answers to questions and contact our support team.
And (my personal favorite) we’ll be updating the Bookstore to include better sorting, improved categories, and search; and to make it easier to visually ‘browse’ content. With our search and sort capabilities upgraded, our creative and content teams will be able to start sharing curated lists like our Support Black Authors page.
The primary distinction between a self-published author and an indie publisher is direct sales. And it’s something you’re going to hear a lot from me and everyone at Lulu this year. You have to be your own best advocate. That means owning your reader’s experience and earning more than a percentage from sales.
First and foremost, when you sell directly to your readers, you’re cultivating a direct relationship. That comes in the form of social media connections or email signups. And don’t discount email; your mailing list will bring the best return on investment for your marketing efforts.
Helping you earn the most (money and followers) is the idea behind our Lulu Direct Shopify App. With Shopify, you can create an ecommerce site (or integrate their service into your existing site) and sell print-on-demand books directly to your readers.
In 2021, we’ll be emphasizing how important your website is with guides, videos, and more updates/upgrades to our ecommerce tools.
Monopoly No More
If you self-publish your book on Amazon and that’s it, you’re essentially buying into the ‘new traditional’ publishing.
Modern self-publishing means diversification. It means using a lot of different platforms and funneling readers and attention on your own platform. You need to be where your readers are and you need to convince those readers to come with you; both on a journey into your book and into your network.
A reader might buy one copy of one of your books. A fan will buy at least one copy of all your books. At the end of the day, you want fans more than shoppers.
That’s what 2021 is going to be about. Helping new and veteran authors find the right tools to achieve their goals and supporting the importance of wide, diverse marketing and publishing strategies.
I’ve got one more quote from Mark Coker before I move on. I think it sums up the direction self-publishing needs to take to embrace its indie roots: “Are you okay that a multi-billion dollar publishing industry continues to profit on the backs of starving artists?”
For everyone at Lulu, the answer is a resounding “nope.”
Self-Publishing For EVERYONE
Independent publishing, by its nature, is open and inclusive. And with the events of 2020 swirling around us, the executive team at Lulu took a look at our own diversity and inclusion policies.
It’s not something you’d see as an author publishing on Lulu or a reader shopping the bookstore, but 2020 has been a year of internal growth and improvement for all of us. Our office and culture have always aimed to be pretty inclusive. But late in 2020, we decided to put even more work into our internal culture.
We’re going into 2021 with new core values and a new dedication to our social, environmental, and community goals. Look for more B Corp content to start showing up with a renewed emphasis on sharing our story.
Staying On Theme
If you’ve followed Lulu for the last couple of years (or even just the last couple of months), you’ve seen that we believe strongly in providing authors a wealth of free materials. Don’t expect that to change in 2021. We still aim to help authors everywhere, on any platform, find success.
That success will continue through diverse publishing, independent marketing and networking, and great writing. 2020 was a rough year for a lot of us, but many authors still found success. We’re going to keep that going into 2021 with new technology, education, and publishing options to help you.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.
Hi, I would like to publish with Lulu. My books are in Chin (Lai) language. It is not among the supported languages. I saw Lushai on the list. Lushai and Lai are very similar. Could the one who is responsible for books in Lushai also handle books in Lai language? I would like to request Lulu to add Chin Languages on the supported languages. Thank you.
Y’all have an essay I wrote in college published as a book under my maiden name. I never authorized this. Via e-mail in the past with no help. Someone else is getting whatever little royalties y’all might have of something I wrote and in my maiden name. Now someone purchased copied and is trying to sell them with a huge mark up on amazon.com. I have been in touch with Amazon, because at least they answer the phone. The seller is getting reported and I’ve filed a complaint against lulu.com to get this resolved. Y’all owe me for publushing my copyrighted essay and y’all need to remove it from sales and issue a formal apology for not fixing this when I first became aware in 2018. Now that it’s being resold on Amazon I’ll be taking this to a whole new level.
I’m not a support agent, so there’s not a lot I can do to assist you actively, but I can provide a little information that may be helpful.
Looking back at the support case you opened with us in 2018, it appears the account used to publish the book (back in 2010) belongs to you and the issue was resetting your password to regain access. This too is something our support team can help you with.
I suggest creating a new support case here – https://help.lulu.com/s/contactsupport
Once you have access to your account, you can retire your work to remove it from publication.
Regarding your concern with Amazon, third party resellers often list print-on-demand books for sale. This in no way means they’ve purchased any copies of the book they’re listing. They simply scrape the available data (like title, author name, publication date, ISBN, and cover thumbnail) to create the store listing. In the past, Amazon hasn’t been helpful in removing these third party listings. Authors I’ve spoken to have had more luck contacting the reseller directly and asking them to remove the book.
I published in 2016 with Lulu. In 5 weeks I had a beautiful looking book. All I had to do was send in the manuscript and select a cover. Lulu did all the formatting. Does Lulu still offer this? I am a senior and not confident enough to do it myself.
We no longer offer direct services like we used to, but we do feature a variety of terrific partners who can help you!
I’ve been unable to navigate the new Lulu website to get a manuscript and cover uploaded. I keep getting messages about hidden codes which I can’t figure out how to rectify or unembedded fonts, even after I have embedded them. Does this new Lulu have anyone on staff who can assist users in getting these sorts of things ironed out so I can move forward with my project?
Lulu’s support team can’t help you format or build your file. We do host a page for approved designers and such who you can hire to work on your file design. But the work that goes into building a print-ready file is beyond what our team can do for free.
There are a TON of factors (the software, elements, fonts, specs you’ve set) that impact how your PDF is output. If our system is seeing unembedded fonts, it means something in your word processing/design software is not embedding those fonts.
The fastest/easiest solution is to use our Job Options with an Adobe product to output your PDF with our specs.
If you don’t have access to Adobe products, I suggest clearing all your formatting and reapplying styles.
2020 was my best year for book selling, thanks to Lulu. Looking forward to setting another record this year.
This is great. Lulu has helped me a lot in getting my books published. I really hope it will get better in years to come, most of all a responsive costumer service so we don’t have to wait and worry so much. Good Thanks.
While you’re talking about new things, can we have a set up where an author can issue discount codes for individual titles on the lulu store? My preference is always for the reader to buy from you not amazon, and when they do, my share is huge compared. I want to offer my readers a good deal. For example, I have an omnubus hardcover, its huge, and to make it viable on other distributions sites like amazon, I had to set the rrp to a stupidly expensive $75. Nobody on earth is paying that, even here in Australia where books are expensive. Yet if I aimed for the same cut, I could shave a full thirty buck off that for buyers at lulu.com, even without touching Lulu’s cut. THAT would enable more of us to be the kind of indie you are espousing in this blog post. Sure we can drop ship, which is my current method to reduce prices for readers and take sales away from the zon, but with the busy lives many face, streamlining things in any way is a good way. Without that kind of support from lulu allowing even busy authors with day jobs and tricky homelives to support their fan base, this post is only words.
The option for authors to add their own discounts and/or create unique coupons is in the works. I’m not a developer, so I can’t speak to the complexities of doing this from that perspective, but I can say it’s been requested by a number of our users and we’ve got it in our roadmap.