Days in the life, PODs at night

Over at Nature Network, we have a group called “Ask the Nature Editor”, where scientists (frequently young ones as it turns out) can ask questions about the publication process, how to format their papers, how to successfully apply for an editorial job, and so on. It’s quite a serious and worthy enterprise. Today, I read the most wonderful photo-essay there called A day in the life of a senior editor. It is brilliant, as well as hilarious. I can’t post an extract here and do it justice, so all I can do is to say that no other editor could have a life like this, and no other editor could describe it in such terms. Please, just go and read it. Pay special attention to the captions.


In the interim between reading this account and being able to write this post about it, the author of it, Henry Gee, has been busy. He’s published three books at Lulu, the print-on-demand service. Henry writes: “I have to say that using Lulu was simplicity itself. Even I didn’t screw up. I managed to load all three books, write blurbs, format covers and so on in around three hours.” Each book costs about £5. There is a great discussion in the comments, in which it emerges that Henry sent the link to his agent, who has thereby purchased the three books. What a great way to send your agent a book, rather than paying the postage and photocopying costs, and having to bind the book up, you can get it all done by Lulu and end up with something in much more readable format for your agent and potential publishers. I also learned that you can delete your book from Lulu if your efforts get you a publishing contract, and other useful tips. Have a look for yourself.


Nature Network, “the” social website for scientists and those interested in science, is free to access, but registration is required. You can read everything, but if you want to comment, you have to register (which is quick and simple, and also free). The comment threads are true demonstrations of the beauty of blogging, but I will draw a veil over some of the tags.

15 thoughts on “Days in the life, PODs at night

  1. Lulu is a great tool, and I’d encourage anyone who’d like to see their work in print to check it out. But while a writer with an agent might score some points with a bound manuscript, I’ve read a number of interviews indicating agents are not impressed when they receive one from a writer merely seeking representation. Having a Lulu book seems only to be an advantage at that stage if it has high sales figures and/or a lot of press coverage or internet buzz – – and achieving those can be just a bit tricky.

  2. Thanks Maxine – the cheque is in the post.
    James – you’re right, but I used Lulu to solve a very specific problem. I have a draft novel that will need work, but I’m at a stage where the perspective of several other pairs of eyes (including my agent’s) would be useful. But how to get people to read it? Printing out a 280,000-word SF trilogy is costly in terms of time and consumables, and then you have to carry an unwieldy sheaf of paper around — but most people find reading long documents on screen a chore.
    Lulu seemed the perfect solution. It costs less than printing out, and the result has the heft and feel of a regular paperback. My team of readers find this more accessible. In fact, I was spurred on to adopt the POD solution when one potential reader commented that he’d love to read it, but didn’t fancy carting a ream of paper on his morning bus-ride.
    My agent thinks its a grand idea. When I do a printout and send a manuscript it costs £££ in printing and postage. When I send her a file by email, she prints it out and passes the costs to me. So by downloading a Lulu file, she’ll still pass the cost to me, but it’ll be a lot less. Everyone’s happy.
    Once I get all the comments I need, I can simply delete the books from Lulu and start again.

  3. Hi Henry,
    Yes, it sounds like you hit upon the perfect solution for your problem. (And you must be good at formatting – it took me a lot longer to get my book to look right.) Good luck with your trilogy – and thanks for commenting further on my remarks.
    My situation was a bit different. I went with Lulu after online readers asked if I could put my novel in a manageable print form. (I already offered a PDF download at my site – since I don’t care to read off the screen either.) The one negative of doing POD is that if you’re an unknown with no track record and no agent, you’ve now got an actual book out in the marketplace that isn’t selling much (since you’re a nobody). When seeking representation, you’re obligated to mention the print version, and my impression is that agents tend to view that product as an unsuccessful used item. It’s a similar situation if you’re just posting online for free but not burning up the blogosphere. (Gathering a diversity of positive reader comments from other unknowns doesn’t count for much, high volume does. I can understand that viewpoint, I guess.) The alternative is to keep your work private while plugging away at queries to the literary establishment.
    In my case, I felt I had a book with some unique and valuable “insider” insight on a very relevant topic (nuclear power) and my reading of press reports and popular science books kept telling me it would be a valuable addition to the marketplace – now. So I finally put it out there online, and eventually in print. I wrote an essay on this for Lab Lit, http://www.lablit.com/article/83 . Like you, I take no royalties.
    I have thought of using Lulu for other, more personal stuff – it is very easy and inexpensive for what you get!
    Best of Luck,
    Jim Aach

  4. Jim – now I can place you. I got a copy of your Rad novel via Maxine (tho’ I haven’t read it yet). Your comments on format are well taken. I just piped my word documents up to Lulu – who knows what they’ll look like when I get the books back? (I fear the print will be rather tiny…)

  5. I really appreciate Maxine handing those out. (Too many books, too little time.)
    I think I went through about 8 or 9 conversions from Word to PDF before I got all the spacing, pages and chapters right (PDF had the nasty habit of changing a few things each time), and then I went through perhaps 6 versions from Lulu before I was satisfied. On the other hand, the first copy I got would have been just fine for what you’re proposing to do with them. Hope it works out for you.

  6. Oh my God, Mr. Gee’s “day in the life” is hilarious! Thanks so much for pointing us to it, Maxine.

  7. I’v e enjoyed using Lulu so much I’ve posted a kind of mystery thriller there I wrote last year. My agent and I agree that it’s going nowhere, but it seemed a shame to waste all that effort. It’s called ‘By The Sea’.
    Maxine – you might want to read it. It’s not quite crime fiction, though it has mystery elements and the protagonist is a detective.

  8. I’ve just got the first copies of my SF trilogy back from Lulu. The print seems very small, though my tame test-reader (who also ordered the set) says it’s quite readable. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the formatting. But bigger print means more pages which means more £££, and I’d like to keep the price low.

  9. It’s definitely a tough balance there. I tried all sorts of type faces, line spacing, margin spacing – mostly during the PDF conversion process – to keep the price as low as possible without punishing the reader. Adobe offers a few free conversions and then a subscription PDF service by the month (I think it was $12, but I could be wrong) if you want to try multiple files until you’ve got the formatting where you want it. But if your test readers are happy…… Certainly easier than looking at galley proofs, in any case.

  10. It is certainly true that many books one buys from the main publishers have very small print and wood-chip style, greyish paper, a deadly combination (small print, no contrast) for one whose eyes have become rather less eagle-like than they once were.

  11. Well, I tried to read the books, but a combination of middle-age and varifocals defeated me, so I’ve reformatted them with a bigger font. They still come through looking slightly strange, with an enormous margin at the top — probably because I wrote in A4 and the 6″ x 9″ US trade size demands a slightler more rectangular page shape. But I can live with that.

  12. Yes, I recall now the reformatting down to 6 x 9 took up quite a bit of time at the start. I know I played with all four margins a great deal, including the extra indent you give the inside of each page (the special name of this escapes me). Most of these changes I could see on the word document before I PDF’d it and they seemed to transfer reasonably well. Of course, I’m telling you things you already know…. Good luck. Oops, the reactor is critical, gotta go. (That’s an inside nuclear joke. It’s a laugh a minute here at the old neutron factory.)

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