Increasingly authors are realising that they can cut out the middlemen and produce their books themselves at minimal cost, and with (potentially) much better returns than the average ELT publisher can offer. Two of the best known self-authoring tools are Lulu and Squidoo; both enable the rapid creation and publishing of web-based and hard-copy resources.
Squidoo lets users create pages (rather bizarrely – and confusingly – called lenses) on practically any subject. Essentially it’s a community site, and one which is growing very fast, with over 1.5 million “lenses” (how I hate that word) to date. Squidoo is very big in the US, and has been publicised in the NYT and on CNN. Authors are called lensmasters, which makes them sound rather like whiskery wizarding characters from Dungeons and Dragons. You need no technical or programming knowledge whatsoever; the authoring process is even simpler than WordPress.
Lenses are effectively long blog posts and – here’s the interesting bit – allow users to generate revenue from referral links to sites like Amazon. 50% of all revenue goes to the authors – sorry, lensmasters; many of them use the cash to generate money for charities, but you can of course just spend the cash on exotic holidays for yourself instead. It’s a really nice idea, though one of the major headaches I’ve found about it is the feeble search facilities – it’s actually very hard indeed to find exactly what you’re looking for via a random search, unless you have the actual link.
For that reason – among others – would-be net authors might turn instead to the more enticingly-named ebook publisher Lulu. Again, Lulu is massive in the US, and has published over 1.1 million titles to date, with 20,000 titles being added to their catalogue each month. Lulu-published books can be distributed both as ebooks or in hard copy form, through retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble and its own online shop. The physical products, while not quite coffee-table standard, aren’t bad at all. The process for authors is relatively simple and not unlike traditional book publishing, even down to the allocation of ISBNs. One downside is that the author generally acts as his or her own editor / proofreader – not that easy without some professional help. So while Lulu is not great for complex multi-referenced titles such as coursebooks, it can provide an excellent channel for methodology and more niche titles which require less editorial input. I’d actually stick my neck out here and say that – if I were considering writing a methodology or teacher-training title – Lulu would be one of the first companies I’d look at. One important reason is the sizeable margin Lulu potentially offers.
After the deduction of printing costs, if any (those for physical books correlate to page count, paper size, binding and print type; printing is on-demand) the margin is split into 80% for the author and 20% for Lulu, making the arrangement far more profitable for the author, if they can sort out sales and marketing. That’s a big if, of course. Traditional ELT publishers would point out that they have marketing teams and field sales staff, but the truth is that sales reps hardly ever focus on methodology books, being targeted on large-scale coursebook adoptions. You could probably do better yourself using social networking media. To see an example of how Lulu works as a retailer, see David Petersen’s book on Reading the News on the Internet on the Lulu store.
One ESP author who is really embracing BOTH Squidoo and Lulu in a big way is author Virginia Allum, who has some excellent ESP titles out on both platforms, and uses one platform to cross-market hard copy titles on the other ( English for Doctors) . Take a look at her Facebook page if English for Medical Purposes is your thing, or if you’re interested in becoming a lensmaster (yuk!) yourself.