Thursday, May 19, 2011

Using Lulu to print copies for feedback

I'm trying something that might appear a little self-aggrandizing or precious but that I really think makes sense. I'm using one of the new online vanity/self-publish/print-on-demand services to print drafts of my books for my readers to comment on instead of just printing out the typescript.

After comparing prices and other factors I decided to use What I should be getting in the mail in about a week is a few copies of a trade-paperback size version of my novel, formatted with margins customary for trade size, front and back, and perfect bound. I'm expecting to be pretty cheap-looking, on the cheapest possible paper with one of their boilerplate cover designs. (I could have taken the time to design or have designed a better cover, and I could pay more for premium paper.)

The first major reason I decided to go with this method is price plus convenience. My 294-page typescript at $.9/pg cost almost $30 to print at the copy shop, plus between $6-13 to mail it to a reader if they don't live nearby. Plus the cost of a mailer or the hassle of finding a box in the basement to pack it in. It's almost always at least two trips in the car.

Lulu prints it for around $10. (In the layout I chose, it comes to 234 pages.) Shipping is $5 on the low end for one copy. The big drawback is that I might lose a week -- still to be seen -- waiting for it to be printed and mailed. I sprung for some faster and more expensive shipping, and even with that it is a savings. Plus they have lots of different coupons floating around for percent off the order or free shipping over a minimum amount. I ended ordering 3 copies to be sent to me to hand deliver to readers nearby and another single copy to be mailed directly to another reader. Hopefully everyone will have them in their hands by this time next week. I might have lost a little time through this method, and maybe I'll end up thinking the week was more important than the $100 or whatever I saved.

The second major reason I decided to go with this method is because I have a hunch it will actually help my readers give me better feedback. For naive readers who don't normally work with draft typescripts, having a ream of copy paper dropped in their laps might be intimidating, and I think that might affect how they read it. It might be even more of a factor with children, which is an issue with some of my readers, since it's a children's book.

For example, I often coach my "naive" readers on how to develop feedback and give it, since they might be afraid to say anything critical. One of the ways I do that is to ask them to imagine that they are reading a real published book that they paid $15 for. Then I ask them to mark in the margin as they go along whenever they become aware that they are not in fact reading a published book -- where the illusion is broken. When you're reading 300 pages of single-sided copy paper, which looks more like homework than a book, it's harder to get into the illusion to begin with. Children might not understand that this thing is supposed to be a book instead of a chore.

This is all just a crazy theory. I have no idea if it's really true. But it just makes sense to me somehow that the more I can create the familiar experience of reading a book, the better feedback I'll get on it.

The process is maybe is just slightly time consuming, but not in a way that I mind. I had to download a template for the book size I chose. Then I pasted the typescript in there. Then I did some fussing with where the formatting I had didn't carry over. (Usually where it involves margins; I had to re-center the chapter titles.) I full justified the margins, fiddled with the line spacing. (I know for professional designers, this is a key issue, and I didn't really know what I was doing, so I just guessed. Same with the type size.) Assuming any future revisions happen in my usual typescript, then I'll have to redo all this work to update what is getting printed by Lulu.

Then I wrote a kind of intro letter explaining what this thing was. That replaced the memo I usually include with the printed typescript to focus the comments from my readers. Then I uploaded it to the website, which involved creating an account for myself -- careful to make the project private instead of for sale to the public. Then I designed the cover. Select from one of the template styles. Select a color. Select a layout. Type in the title and other info. (I have a draft summary, so I pasted that on the back cover like you would see on a paperback.) None of this needed to take much time, but I indulged myself in making it look as good as I could. I even played with having a cover illustration by doing a quick search on google images, saving one, uploading it Lulu and pasting it onto my cover.

It occurs to me that there's a third benefit to this. I've found that just the act of printing out my book in the past forces me to imagine how other people must see it, which fires up different critical faculties and helps me see it in a new light. Same for putting it in the mail to someone or just knowing that it's in someone else's possession. With this I think just seeing my work perfect bound with wide margins, etc. -- impersonating a book, basically -- will make me see it in a different light and give me some ideas about what else it needs.

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