Thursday, January 28, 2010

Using Lightning Source

Well, we're deep into winter. I don't know about you, but visions of daffodils are dancing in my head. OK, maybe not literally, but you know what I mean. To distract us from the dull month of January, let's see what Michael Marcus can tell us about the experience of using Lightning Source to print his books.

Lightning Source serves many major publishers when they don't need to print lots of books, but the company will also work with self-publishers – IF you know what you are doing.  They are not set up to provide much hand-holding, and expect to deal with knowledgeable publishers, not just writers.

To do business with them, at a minimum you'll need a credible business name (not Sally's Book Company) and will need to know how to produce (or pay someone to produce) PDF files of your book's cover and interior text. It's not difficult to master the process. I've done it for six books so far, and I'm getting better all the time. There are various programs (some free) for producing PDFs. The most dependable is Adobe Acrobat Pro. New version (#9) costs up to $699 depending on version and discount. With the "education discount" you can pay as little as $159.

Older version #5 is now available on eBay for about $100. Version #8 sells somewhere between the prices for versions #5 and #9. Keep checking for the best deal, and be careful not to buy an upgrade if you need the full version.

You can have someone produce your PDFs but I strongly recommend that you get your own software. It's common to produce several versions of the PDF of your book's interior, and you'll waste a lot of time if you keep having to ask someone else to do the work, and then wait for it.

When you are satisfied that your PDF is ready to become a book, it takes just a few minutes to upload the separate cover and interior files to the Lightning Source website. Before doing this, you must register and become a customer. There are no tough questions to answer.

When you are ready to upload your first book, you will pay $87 plus $12 per year to maintain the files for one book. The fee for a proof shipped for next-day delivery is $30.

Two or three days after you uploaded your files, the man in the brown truck will deliver your first proof. You'll be thrilled and proud to hold the book in your hand and see your name on the cover.  Then you'll start flipping through the pages and your mood will quickly change as you are horrified to discover all the stupid errors that you and your editor had missed.

No book is perfect, and first proofs — especially from new self-publishers — are less perfect than others. The bigger the book, the more errors there will be. You should expect to go through from three to six generations of proofs (at $30 each) before you decide you are ready to start selling your books. Even after you start selling, you will discover more errors, but with POD you will not face the horrifying knowledge that there are 5,000 defective books sitting on the shelves of an expensive climate-controlled warehouse. With POD, you can make repairs or updates any time you want.

The cost to print a 300-page paperback book via offset would probably cost about $1.50 - $2.50. With POD from Lightning Source, you'll pay  $5.40, but you won't have inventory unless you want it. The price includes the charge to ship a book to a bookseller or to the seller's customer. will accept a "discount" of 20% off the cover price. If your book has a cover price of $20, Amazon will pay $16 to Lightning Source. A few months later, Lightning will pay you the $16 less the $5.40 cost or printing, or $10.60 per book. Now you are a professional self-publisher.

(Michael N. Marcus is now completing his fifth and sixth self-published books. His "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don't Be a Victim of a Vanity Press" has been on two Amazon bestseller lists for business books. He recently founded the Independent Self-Publishers Alliance. His blog about writing, editing and publishing is Book Making Blog. His publishing company website is Silver Sands Books.)

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