Lulu PoD: Yes, but

I’ve done several books through Lulu, most of them highlighted at the bottom of this page.

I’ve always been happy with the resulting book quality–the printing has been excellent, the covers have been great, the binding has been acceptable. (Lulu’s not responsible for the content itself: It’s a services agency, not a publisher.)

Until now.

My wife, the smart one in the household (also the actual librarian) has been working on a family history for some time–some years, that is. She brings her reference-librarian skills and writing skills to the task, and has done a great job of combining stories from various family members, additional stories through research, and solidly verified facts into a narrative–enhanced with lots of family pictures. The story grew too large for one book, so it’s now in two volumes (one for each side of the family), in each case with more than half the book made up of family group sheets (yes, she’s an subscriber).

We assumed we’d use Lulu to produce the books, not anticipating any outside sales (except from members of the extended families who she doesn’t already know). We ordered test versions last fall, finding that there were some issues with how Word & Acrobat handled photos (which we could, by and large, fix–which now means the PDFs are 51MB and 150MB respectively!). The books were fine in all other respects–but my wife used them to do another pass of page-by-page, line-by-line copy editing and correction.

We did new versions a few weeks ago, this time ordering six copies of the smaller book (my wife’s aunt needed five copies and needed them now) and another test copy of the larger one. The copies arrived with some problems–the paper quality seemed lower than before (no longer bright white), the print quality was a little worse (possibly a side-effect of the paper)…but most of all, after sitting out for a few hours, flat on their backs, the books were warped–with a couple of areas curved up more than a quarter-inch from flat, and the front cover “wavy” in general. I’d never seen this before. (Both books are 8.5×11″; one’s about 240 pages, the other about 440 pages. The 240-page books were warped more than the 440-page one.)

I sent in order problem reports on both orders. After automated responses requesting them, we also sent in digital photos documenting the warping. After a while–four business days–Lulu service did respond, and said they’d replace the copies.

Which they did–this time using expedited shipping (at Lulu’s cost). The replacement copies arrived yesterday. And, well…here’s the message I sent to Lulu service. (Turns out Lulu regards these trouble incidents as closed, so I’ll have to send the message in new incidents.)

[Service rep’s name here:]

There’s good news and bad news here.

Good news: Your expedited delivery reached us yesterday–both shipments.

Further good news: The print quality is better, at least on the larger volume, and maybe on the smaller one.

Bad news: The warping is as bad, or nearly as bad, as on the previous order. There’s slight warping as soon as we tear the shrinkwrap–and within five hours sitting flat on a shelf, the books are significantly warped.

I don’t believe there’s any point in sending new copies of the books. It’s hard to believe that four separate shipments, presumably processed at four different times, all coincidentally have the same problem–unless there’s a more general problem in either manufacture or handling.

I believe Lulu needs to look into how 8.5×11 paperbacks are being handled (since, so far, that seems to be the trouble spot). Somehow, these books are coming out in a condition that causes them to take on permanent warping when received.

Note that this was *not* the case a few months ago, when we ordered the trial copies of these two books (my wife’s done a lot of copy editing since then), or when I’ve purchased copies of my own 8.5×11 books (although those books, after standing upright for some months, do develop cover warping).

We’ll have to look at these after a few days and determine whether we can go forward with opening the books for general sale, or whether we have to find another route (e.g., CreateSpace). Since my wife’s put in several years writing, researching, gathering materials and refining these books, she is–needless to say–disappointed.

I do encourage you to raise an appropriate flag within Lulu. Something is wrong with the production or handling. It needs to be fixed.

Walt Crawford

At this point, while I still generally like what Lulu does, I’m more than a little uneasy, particularly when it comes to “big” books (that is, 8.5×11 size–so far, I haven’t heard of problems with 6×9, but that size isn’t feasible given the number of photos in these books).

The one hopeful thing: The first books do seem to be flattening out just a bit, after a couple weeks. They’re still far from flat, however.

Note: If you purchase C&I books (there’s still the 10% April sale, and I see that one book has actually been purchased this month), inspect them carefully. If you find production problems, ask for replacements–and if they’re warped, they may improve over time. I don’t think the same problem will arise with 6×9 books, but I can’t be sure…

Final update (I think), April 13, 2010: It’s now clear that Lulu support is taking this issue seriously; they’re being informative and noting explicit steps to track down the source of the problem (part of which may have been a bad shipment of paper). They’re also doing their best to make amends.

I’ll stick with previous advice:

  • Lulu is a great way to get specialized/short-run/no-run books done. (In the case of my wife’s two books, the only way to get the books done with no up-front costs, I believe–CreateSpace doesn’t do 8.5×11, and even 8×10 tops out at a lower pagecount than the larger of the two books.)
  • When you get a shipment from Lulu, inspect the book(s) carefully. If there are problems, let them know right away–and if the problems are visible, you might as well just attach a digital photo of the problem.
  • They will respond. It may take a few days, but they will respond, and I believe they’ll do their best to resolve the situation.

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