Nothing Smells Like An Old Interface

Which sounds horrible, but sometimes when you sign on to a service, the scaffolding shows. It’s not quite as bad as a six-letter password in caps, but the Lulu website is putting all its pennies and time into their ebook section and letting the print option roll on as if it was 2001. Or 1990.

For example, there’s a neat manual for ebook publishing, which you download from the main page. For print, you sign on and start working your way through the steps. As you complete each step, then, when it is too late, you find out the rules and have to back out and do the step again. I’m sure the answer to “why is there no print how-to manual?” is cost-based. Or perhaps they lost enthusiasm, because ebooks are hot and print is not, but there are many many ebook publishers out there and Lulu has made its name in print. Dangerous, to ignore your core customers.

According to the main page, there are many sizes of print books available for authors, and there are templates for equivalent page sizes. Only after you sign on and decline their expensive marketing services do you find out you’re limited to only a few of the sizes. Bait-and-switch. If you’ve spent a considerable time formating to a template, you toss all that out the window and resize and reformat.

After the happy news Word documents are acceptable, there are ominous warnings that the system may “resize to fit” and make the book unreadable. Or you can create a PDF and imbed the fonts, which is much safer. Assuming, of course, you have the full Acrobat suite, which is about $500 and not easy to learn quickly. Or, you can pay them to format, imbed, and size your manuscript — and we haven’t even gotten to the cover.

There are Help screens. They aren’t specific to the process steps, and you have to exit the process to search them. There’s the main help screen, then you pick out of three options, Knowledge Base, Users, and something else, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and select help again. Why? And once you are in a section, say the Knowledge Base, it’s not a keyword search, but a thesaurus-based search on controlled keywords, which isn’t a phrase I thought I’d ever type again, having left the 1990’s behind. I suspect it’s a tree structure and you must be very careful to be at the top of the tree since it searches top to bottom. Then you log in again to pick up the publishing process.

At certain times of day — and certain days only — live chat is available. The wait is long, and the answers tend toward “no, you can’t do that.”

I’ve paid a very good friend of mine, who is a file formatting expert in Word, Acrobat, graphics and layout, to format my manuscript. I’ve also found a cover designer, also paid, to do the cover. Next week I’ll return to the Lulu interface, upload the various bits and see how far I get.

In the meantime, I’ve downloaded the Smashwords ebook manual and completed the formatting on the electronic version. I’m waiting for the final version of the cover to upload. I’m not using Lulu’s ebook version because the Smashwords free distribution and file creation software is so very superior. Not to mention the interface was written in the current millenium …

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Mary Holland

Mary Holland writes alternative-world fantasy for grown-ups. Her books include Matcher Rules, The Bone Road, and The Dog of Pel. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with three cats and an ever-changing assortment of wildlife.

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