Self-Publishing: Which Service to Use – SPOILER ALERT: Lulu Press is a Nightmare!

So you want to self-publish your book? Great idea, but which service do you use? There are so many? Luckily, I’d done a little research for you, mostly on the customer-service end. I also learned a few tricks and shortcuts on the way – ways to save both time and money…and even sanity.

The Nightmare That was Lulu Press
I self-published my first book with Lulu, back in 2009, and really enjoyed the experience. The turnaround time for revisions and other steps wasn’t the fastest, but I enjoyed that just one company could take care of most everything I needed, included fetching me an ISBN number, formatting my manuscript into a book and making my work available online. (I did use a third party for proof-reading and copy editing) Lulu’s service wasn’t perfect, and in hindsight I would’ve changed a few things (like making a more professional cover), but I really did enjoy the overall experience; in fact, I’d go to recommend LuLu to a lot of friends and colleagues. My how things have changed in ten years.

2020: The Lulu Nightmare
So here I am in 2020 and it’s time publish my second book. As any loyal customer would, I returned to Lulu – headed straight there, I didn’t even compare any other services. As I mentioned, I was happy with my first project, especially the ease in which my project was completed. I was hoping for the same experience, specifically, a “case manager” who could take me by the hand and guide me through each of the steps again, from start to finish. I’ve only published one other book and I’m far from an expert. I really needed the proper guidance from a pro, and that’s why I chose Lulu. Sadly, this time, they would waste over two months of my time and ultimately tell me to take a hike without explanation. Crazy!

The first thing I noticed, was that my initial “check-in” rep didn’t seem like she was from the USA. I’m a world travel, have friends from everywhere, and absolutely love other cultures…however, not necessarily when it comes to customer service. It’s just a guess, but I’m pretty sure I was pawned off to the ol’ Philippines customer service. (I can’t underscore enough that I have nothing against my Filipino friends…in fact, I plan to actually live in the Philippines one day…Filipinos are the BEST! However, when it comes to customer service, it’s my experience that while the folks working overseas are nice enough and do just fine reading from the standard script – once you have an issue or need something that is even slightly off-script, they just simply have no power nor the know-how nor wherewithal to think for themselves and actually “solve” problems. Not because they’re not capable of doing so – I just don’t think they’re given the power to do anything besides “stick to the script.” Anyone that’s tried to fix an issue with DirecTV or their phone, etc. will know what I’m talking about. There’s always a huge difference between the American reps (with the power to really help, override the system, etc.) and our overseas friends who often tell you–in the nicest way possible–“Sorry sir, there’s nothing we can do.” Sigh. Anyway, so yeah; I bet dollars-to-donuts that my rep, “Liz Belmont” was most likely not in the country.

While “Liz” was nice enough at check-in, the customer service was nothing impressive, and seemed to get increasingly worse as I’d reach out with questions via email and get no or severely delayed responses. Something didn’t sit right with me. The last process was so much more comfortable, I got answers quicker, and my rep in 2009 seemed to genuinely care about me and my book. This time around it seemed like I really didn’t matter.

While I won’t bore you with the long, drawn-out details of just how embarrassingly bad my service with Lulu was, I will give you a few bullet points, including some dates. Strap in.

May 13th:
I submitted my manuscript and photos. Step 1 – The “Content Evaluation” process was supposed to take four weeks.

June 18th:
“Liz” wrote back asking for some permissions for a couple quotes in the book, my foreword and my photos. I sent them right away. C’mon, let’s get the show on the road…why am I just getting these requests after my manuscript sat in your inbox for over five weeks? Huh???

June 30th:
Haven’t heard ANYTHING back…weeks are flying by…time is wasting. I fire off a follow-up email to “Liz” and she writes back with this ridiculous email:

The following issues were found during the revised review:

1.       Images: According to the content evaluator, any image that was not taken/created by you  must have written permission. Several images can be found online, professionally taken, others are marketing advertisements.

Well no doy. I’m writing a RADIO book about RADIO DJs. All of them provided me with their professional head shots and permission to use them. Of course those images weren’t “created by me,” of course they were “found online” (You think these fancy radio DJs might have their own websites, Liz?), of course they were “professionally taken” and the “marketing advertisements” were from my company!

I was beginning to really lose my patience.

You guys are killing me.

This was a lot easier during my first book. I have followed all of your instructions, and there continues to be holdups.

What more do you need from me?
After another four or five back-and-forth emails with this clueless “Liz,” I finally just had my attorney draft a permissions and licensing email:

Dear Ms. Belmont:

Please let this letter serve as formal and official (and final) confirmation that my client, Randall William Rehak and his respective company, Fusion Radio Networks LLC, has obtained all rights, clearances, permissions and licenses to use all 80+ photos he has submitted for use in his book, “Go Syndicate Yourself!”

May this letter serve and assist to move his project to the next stage expeditiously, which is clearly well behind schedule.

This ought to do it, right?

July 4th:
After deafening silence, I reached out to “Liz” yet AGAIN. What could those guys possibly be doing over there???

July 7th:

Good morning Mr. Williams,

I have endorsed the book for revised review  after I received the permission from Mr. Bofill. However, I haven’t received the result yet. Rest assured it will  be out anytime this week.

“Rest assured, huh?” Some how I wasn’t “assured.”

July 11th:
I was about ready to lose it. Over EIGHT weeks inside the “Content Evaluation” process…which was only Step 1. This is CRAZY!

My email to “Liz” below:

Well the week is over…have we moved on to the next step?

July 14th:

Following up on my last email. We are currently at the two month mark since I have submitted my materials.

I am extremely patient, but I must be candid: my patience is wearing thin. I’d like to hear back from you that we are moving on to the next step by close of business tomorrow (Wednesday) or I’m going to have to move on to a manager.

I once again request that you tag this project priority/rush.

This process has been much more difficult than my first book with Lulu many years ago. I am more and more disappointed as the days without service go on.

July 16th:
Then, on July 16th the weirdest thing happened. Some dude named “Eugene Hopkins” calls me from Lulu. He literally tells me something along the lines of, “I don’t think Lulu is the right match for your book,” and tells me they can’t or won’t publish my book. What the actual f***??? TWO MONTHS LATER! Gee, thanks for sitting on my manuscript and wasting over two months to only tell me to go pound sound. Eugene could not offer a reason for rejection either.

To Lulu’s credit, they did issue me a pretty swift refund, and Eugene was actually somewhat pleasant over the phone. But to sit on my book for TWO MONTHS and then tell me to take a hike…and not offer a reason…after I had followed all their instructions and jumped through a dozen hoops. Unbelievable.

For obvious reasons I will never turn to Lulu Press again. They put me in a very bad position, having to start all over and losing literally over TWO whole months. What a horrible business.

To be continued…
Needless to say, I had to shop for a new publisher, and here comes the good news. I learned a lot and ended up working with an amazing company who got my book out super quick.

Come back to this article soon and I’ll tell you all about the new publisher I found, and also some notes on some others that I talked with and compared, too. I learned so much and am looking forward to sharing it all with you.