Printing books online: an author you can't refuse

NEW YORK Sat Jun 9, 2007 12:28pm EDT

A screengrab of blurb.com taken June 9, 2007. REUTERS/Screengrab

A screengrab of blurb.com taken June 9, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Screengrab

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller are among the world's most respected authors, but for a while they had a hard time finding a publisher.

Rather than seek a mainstream outlet for racy novels such as "The Black Book" and "Tropic of Cancer," they used the Obelisk Press, a French publishing house started by Jack Kahane to print his own novel.

That was the 1930s. Now, a young Henry Miller could use new Internet companies like Blurb.com, i-Universe, Lulu.com or Xlibris to print his book -- and even sell it through their online stores.

Gwen Fuller used Blurb (www.blurb.com) to publish her book, "Do Mallet the Suitcase," a collection of spam e-mail arranged as haiku.

Among them: "Dude, get all U need/And dragonhead by reckon/She will love you more," and "Just what all men need/C'Mon Baby, Light My Fire/Chat and meet women."

Avoiding traditional publishing was a plus for Fuller, 48, a life coach in Menlo Park, California.

"There was a process that I was sort of unwilling to get engaged in when there was something that could so immediately deliver a quality book," she said.

Blurb requires customers to download its software, which then lets them lay out text and photos. Then they send the specifications to the company, which prints the books in either hardcover or soft.

Rates start at $18.95 for one small softcover. Bulk-order discounts start at 10 copies, company founder Eileen Gittins said.

"If you order 10 copies, you get a 10 percent discount, 100 copies you get a 15 percent discount," she said. "Over 200, we encourage you to give us a shout."

Blurb also allows authors to sell their works on its in-house bookstore, printing copies as new orders come in, and to charge a markup so they can make a profit. The company sends out a check every time an author earns $25 or more.

"PEOPLE WHO LOVE TO WRITE"

Many people use Blurb for personal projects as well. Michelle Flaherty and her husband Peter received a book made by their daughters with photos of Haunted Acre Woods, the large-scale Halloween display they mount each year at their home in East Falmouth, Massachusetts.

"It was the first Christmas gift in I don't know how many years that actually made me cry," she said. "It was so original, so different."

While a budding novelist could use Blurb, the company specializes in photo layouts with glossy paper and the look of a "coffee-table" book.

Some writers looking to print more literary works are visiting Lulu (www.lulu.com).

Lulu, founded by Bob Young, co-founder of software company Red Hat Inc., allows customers to publish school yearbooks, artwork, calendars and many other things -- but especially books. Lulu recoups expenses and takes a 20 percent cut of the profit on a book sale.

Mark Wilkerson's biography of Who guitarist and writer Pete Townshend has led him to the brink of a deal with a conventional publisher in Europe.

Wilkerson, 37, is an aircraft maintenance planner for UPS, and lives in Prospect, Kentucky -- about as far away from the mainstream publishing world as it gets.

Publishers that he pitched rejected him or asked him why he was qualified to write his book, the 618-page "Amazing Journey: The Life of Pete Townshend."

"Lulu has been fabulous for me, because what else would I have done?" he said. "I was completely ignorant of the many facets of the publishing industry."

Wilkerson sent his book to reviewers, and received positive notices in The Rocky Mountain News, the Chicago Sun-Times and influential music magazine MOJO. The book came to Townshend's attention, and the legendary musician tentatively committed to writing a foreword to the next edition, Wilkerson said.

Blurb and Lulu are not the only self-publishing options on the Internet. Xlibris (www.xlibris.com) is a self-publishing company that works in a partnership with Random House's investment unit, and iUniverse (www.iuniverse.com) offers similar services.

Both offer more services, with packages from about $300 all the way up to nearly $13,000.

Blurb and Lulu are better for enthusiasts, said Scott Flora, executive director of the Small Publishers Association of North America,

"If there are people who love to write and they want to see their book in print, this is a good option," he said.

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