Sighted via Twitter from Mariah Jovan: Lulu now offers conversion of manuscripts into ePub format in addition to its other electronic offerings. While more support for ePub is certainly a good thing, if you actually take a look at the rates you might vacillate between staring in disbelief and laughing yourself into an apoplexy:

  • 250 Pages or Less  $175
  • 251-500 Pages  $350
  • 501-750 Pages  $495

Do you see that? They use “less” instead of “fewer”! And they call themselves a publisher! Oh yes, and their prices are outlandish, too.

They also note that in the event of a manuscript that “requires work outside the scope of our service”, they may either decline to do the work altogether or charge $100 an hour—and also, “ePub conversion takes 4-6 weeks” (unless, as a footnote indicates, it takes longer).

Self-publishing author Henry Melton often blogs about the little annoyances that come as part of the process of creating his own ePubs—but I doubt he would be willing to pass up those annoyances in return for several hundred dollars and 4 to 6 weeks (or more) per book!

Adobe InDesign CS4 itself, the software used to make these conversions, only costs $699—the equivalent of 1 1/2 to 4 Lulu conversions depending on size.

And Calibre is free. While Calibre’s automated conversion may not create e-books that look as professional as InDesign, it is unclear whether looking that professional is worth several hundred dollars to most self-published authors. Several hundred dollars might be the average self-pubber’s entire profit on a given book if he’s lucky!

Lulu seems to be meandering ever further away from independent-author-enabling “self-publisher” and toward independent-author-scalping “vanity press”. But on the bright side, this means there’s plenty of room for dab hands with InDesign to undercut them by offering their services at more reasonable rates and timeframes.


  1. Saving from InDesign to ePub requires that the book is already typeset in InDesign. That might actually require some time and skill.

    There have been complex ePubs where I’ve spent twenty or even forty hours trying to make them as beautiful and usable as possible. Under some circumstances, just hitting the “convert” button might produce acceptable results. But not always!

    I find it interesting to see this type of article in the midst of all the complaints about the low quality of eBooks.

  2. I have found that the complexity in ePub building is usually in the poor input format and encoding of the source chosen to make the ePub. If you use clean html and know which codes are supported by ePub, then it is relatively easy and fast to build a decent ePub. There are even step by step tutorials on line to do so.

  3. Properly formatted InDesign files do not produce perfect ePub files and I’ve had to tweak every one created that way to make them valid ePub files that any device can use. Admittedly, InDesign gets you close but not perfectly usable. If someone can’t do the conversion themselves I have heard of people doing it for you at the $20-30 range.

  4. I LOVE IT!!!

    Because when people come griping about my prices, I can just point them to Lulu.

    I refuse to use InDesign. Besides the fact that it costs more than my first car, I’m not convinced it’s the best tool.

    I also don’t like Calibre’s output and I wouldn’t feel right about charging money for files I created with it (which is why I know about 6 different ways to do it).

    There are a couple of free places online you can plug in a nicely done (x)html file and it’ll spit out a fairly decent epub. And, of course, Smashwords.

    My process is to open a Word document in Atlantis, save it as epub, then edit the code in Sigil. It’s a good compromise for me both in time and quality.

  5. @RobPreece

    And this does seem like a profit center rather than a service to me.

    Yeah, but you know… There are people out there who equate spending a lot of money with getting good quality. They have a right to spend what they want where they want without a whole bunch of do-gooders trying to save them from themselves.

    Hat’s off to Lulu for sheer ballsiness.

    Would I do that? No. I charge what I think is reasonable and what the market will bear to keep me in business.

    What it REALLY tells me about Lulu, though, is that they don’t know much about the market at all.

  6. You can also skip InDesign altogether and use FastPencil’s book writer tool. It produces output for print, ePub, and PDF and uses templates for formatting. There is no conversion process – you write, select a template, and publish to your formats of choice.

  7. In Germany, there are several companies offering similar conditions and rates. Usually, they will also accept PDF as input. (I sometimes point small publishers in their direction.)

    I agree that Lulu’s rates leave a lot of room for other companies, especially if these are located in India. On the other hand, a conversion job might take a full working day for a non-trivial document in one of the usual formats (i.e., something like a less-than-perfect Word file). Remember that the goal is not to produce something that will just work on your Sony reader, but something that passes as a professionally produced eBook.

  8. I find it extremely frustrating when I hear people say that rates like these are too high for a properly designed eBook. How much do publishers and authors spend on print design? Do they balk at the idea of putting down $2000 or more for a professional to do the job right?

    I’m not saying that Lulu’s rates are related to their quality, because I don’t know. My conversion rates are similar to Lulu’s, but I’ve been doing this much longer and have a proven track record. I’m not gouging authors, I’m providing them with a service that most of them are unable or unwilling to take on themselves.

    And as for calibre… Automated conversions do not create publishing-quality eBooks! Why do we whine about the horrible issues in eBook quality, then try to convince authors that they can convert their pretty PDF into a valid, well-formed ePub file with a program that does whatever it likes with the formatting?

    InDesign may only cost $699, but the investment in time trying to learn how to use it will cost an author much more than that.

    You’re a techie, I get it, but don’t assume that every author out there will be able to or even want to do the conversion to eBook formats themselves. They want to write, not be saddled with the task of figuring out what works in which format and on what device and messing with HTML and XML code to make their file look right.

    If you really think that eBook conversion prices are too expensive then go start your own company providing the same service for $20. See how long that keeps food on your table.


    Joshua Tallent

  9. Hi Chris,
    I want to thank you for taking the time to discuss Lulu’s ePub conversion services. As mentioned above, the process of creating a well formatted ePub file is a bit more complicated than simply pushing a button. We are committed to the continued success of our authors and help them get the most out of their work by providing this ePub conversion as well as a diverse array of other tools and resources.

    At the moment we are offering our ePub conversion services at a 50% discount with coupon code SVCEPUBBLOG at checkout.

    Thanks again for your feedback. It is very much appreciated.

    Carol @

  10. Joshua, I’m not sure at whom you’re ranting (I think probably me), but I do believe I said I don’t like Calibre’s output, that I would never offer a Calibre-built EPUB file for sale, and that I do, in fact, edit code. By hand. Every line.

    When you speak of well-formatted EPUB, are you talking about the basics of justification (and even some ebook consumers are torn over left versus full because most readers don’t auto-hyphenate and full justification is HIGHLY annoying), curly quotes, internal links, section/chapter breaks–

    OR are you talking about embedding fonts, embedding images, using drop caps and dingbats in an attempt to replicate a print book? “Well formatted” and “fancy” are, IMO, two different beasts. The cost for fancy way outstrips most people’s sense of ROI, whereas the cost for well formatted doesn’t. I’ll get fancy for my own books because I can and for no other reason.

    Further, just because I kinda-sorta-not-really say what I do doesn’t mean I expect anybody to be able to do it. NO, I am not expecting authors to do this. I expect them to come to ME.

    Yeah, I do think Lulu’s prices are too high. Why? Because of *perception* and people’s willingness or ability to pay. If an author can afford to pay Lulu’s prices, more power to him!

    But…if you weren’t ranting at me, carry on. Because in general, I agree. It ain’t easy and about half the people who come to ME think I’m expensive, too.

  11. Moriah,

    I was not ranting at you at all; I think we are on the same page. I was ranting at Chris initially, but really at the universe. The idea that you should only have to pay $20 for an ePub file is silly, and I think it denigrates the hard work that you and I put into our conversions.

    Getting proper paragraph formatting, dealing with Unicode and glyph issues, ensuring paragraphs are not broken improperly, etc… all of that takes time. Then you add in the “fancy” side of things…

    – Joshua

  12. @Moriah Jovan: “My process is to open a Word document in Atlantis, save it as epub, then edit the code in Sigil. It’s a good compromise for me both in time and quality.”

    Yep, either Word or RTF in Atlantis. Get a basic, clean ePub output that’s already better than 99% of the ePubs out there. Then comes all the CSS and HTML tweaking to make it stand out (the real work that’s worth money). Sigil is working really well now with the 0.2.0 beta (0.1.9 was so horribly slow I didn’t use it).

    Authors need to forget that PDF, and all its tools, exist. Back to basics.

  13. I really don’t understand how Dave C. could spend “40” hours making an ePub file “beautiful and usable” when such a file is actually HTML plus CSS. I think he doesn’t know that.

    I may be way off base, but his description and tone makes me thinks he’s trying to replicate a print page for ebook. He’s going for the seriously “fancy” that Joshua and I briefly referenced.

    In my estimation, what’s going on here is that book designers can’t think of an ebook in any other way except as another way of displaying a PAGE instead of another way of rendering content. The PAGE was irrelevant before iBooks and it’s even more irrelevant now that iBooks and ebooks-as-apps have come along, not to mention enhanced ebooks and vooks and all the sea changes in storytelling that are going to come along.

    IMO, book designers would do well to start learning some code to go along with their InDesign export. 20-40 hours is getting into minimum wage territory.

  14. I’ve done a lot of ePub conversions. It takes a hands-on human with real live eyeballs and design skills to make an ePub book that can sit proudly among those from big publishing houses. Lulu’s rates are exactly average (although that 4-week lag time is eyebrow-raising).
    Just like with print, amateurish design in ePubs hurts sales. All book buyers respect someone who gets details right, and retailers ignore those who don’t. If a quality presentation isn’t important to you, you didn’t read this far anyway. For more info on ePub formatting, see

  15. Let me preface this by stating that I’m sure those making comments here know what they’re doing and produce exceptional ePubs that look beautiful in every ePub reader on the planet.

    In general, this reminds me of the early days of the web when print designers got themselves Dreamweaver or one of the other “web studio” packages, designed elaborate web sites, and had them look like garbage on anything other than their target browser, of a certain version, at a specific resolution, running on one particular platform. (e.g. IE 4.2, 800×600, Windows 98).

    I have two e-ink ePub readers which do not display the same ebook the same way even though they’re both ADE compatible. And neither looks like Adobe’s Digital Editions desktop program on Win7, nor like EPUBReader in Firefox, nor like the viewer in Calibre, nor even like Sigil’s WYSIWYG mode. Those things don’t look like each other all the time either and sometimes an ePub that looks great in one will actually crash or display garbled text in another.

    I’m not talking about your basic ePub, the kind that allows the main body of text to do what it wants according to the reader firmware/software, with minimal but very nice-looking chapter headers and paragraph indentation (and spaced breaks where appropriate). You know, the kind that’s a joy to actually read, which works and looks good on everything.

    I’m talking about ePubs like the one I bought recently, a hot new title by a well-known author published by one of the “big five” agency model imprints. It looked great in ADE, but on my preferred dedicated e-ink reader the main body text was centered in a column only 60% wide. When I broke it apart I found five or six freakin’ pages of CSS controlling every little detail of the display, a different set of definitions for each chapter, all twenty-four of them. Not to mention the page or two of CSS for the stuff that came between the cover and where the novel actually started. I’m sure it looked really, really fine and professional on the designer’s ePub publishing suite though.

    It was a nightmare. I ended up opening the HTML files in Firefox and copy/pasting them into Atlantis, added h1 and h2 headers where needed, auto-generated a TOC (which the original didn’t even have for all the overkill), and output an ePub that looked just as good on my reader as the original did in ADE. With maybe half a page of CSS.

    I’m convinced that a good portion of the ebooks that people complain about aren’t badly formatted because no effort was put into them. Rather, I think in a lot of the cases it’s because they put too much effort into them. That is, too much attempted control of the output.

    As an avid reader of ePub ebooks, my plea to publishers and ebook designers is to please, please keep it simple unless you’re willing and able to test on every ePub-reading program and device out there. KISS.

    Apologies for the long rant. It’s just so frustrating sometimes. I shouldn’t have to “liberate” ePubs and re-design them in order to enjoy the content.

  16. Ted R., I think that’s exactly what Joshua and I are trying to say. Fancy versus well-formatted. IMO, well-formatted *is* KISS.

    I got an email awhile back from a coder who gave me some *very* valuable insight on what I do, and I certainly appreciate the feedback. (I’m guilty of over-coding, although not to that extent.) I’m also re-thinking my stance on full justification (pro) and leaning toward simple left justification.

    Aside: I’ve seen those with 6-7 pages of CSS. The first time I saw it, I fell over in a dead faint. NO WAY is there any ROI in that. Are people hand-coding that or is that InDesign?

  17. If I didn’t know any better, I might think the people at Quark knew eBooks were coming and made their software as un-cooperative as possible! My client keeps asking me, ‘You’d think they’d want to make it easy.’ I tell him it’s difficult to add features when you’re losing customers. Like everyone else here, I’m learning conversion by trial and error. I create ePubs using Excel on steroids (VBA). Any style sheet more than one page is obviously from a desktop publishing tool. In short, the eBook world is still the Wild West. Don’t look for the equipment someone has, look for the blood on their knuckles. Now that I’ve finished my rant I’ll get to my point.

    I try to keep my ePubs simple because each chapter will eventually live on some sort of database server that will spit out the content for whatever device the reader prefers: Kindle, iPhone, Nook, PC, etc. The database will probably have places for small black and white photos and color (for iPad). Or it might convert. In any case, I can’t see that one ePub file will bring out the best of every reader. How this flexibiity will be realized is anybody’s guess.

    So Chris, I hope you do an article on that question.

  18. I use InDesign exclusively for ePub files. I take them from a Word doc that has been properly style formatted and then import to InDesign. Once done with tweaking in InDesign, I pull it apart to create a side TOC and then create one ‘book’ with all the chapters/sections.

    Once that is done, I then create cross-linking for the Contents section. This is done to provide the reader with both an in document TOC and a side TOC.

    Yes, it is a time consuming process to convert ePub files when done with both TOCs. But, in the end it produces a good quality ePub file.

    PS If I am writing a book I write it totally in InDesign, then the conversion is much quicker. 😉

  19. Lulu while a great premise and POTENTIAL resource is marred (in my opinion) by a terrible website and support system. The majority of interactions I have had with them end in..”no, you can’t do that” or “sorry, your message did not reach support because…” or “sorry, all operators have suddenly become unavailable”. the website is fine until some change needs to be made. When that happens, the instructions are vague, support is clueless and overall service is dismal.

    It has been a constant stream of sorry this and sorry that; no, not possible and not at this time..since I started. In spite of paying out substantial sums of money, my book never made it to the promised outlets and the marketing never happened,

    My advice: stay away from Lulu. There are a number of other sites much easier to use with support that actually cares about their customers. In my experience at least, Lulu certainly does not.

  20. Lulu sounds to good to be true and you know what? That’s it!
    Not unfamiliar to web designing I thought I ca do my epub conversion myself. Well it took long enough, I tested, ended up hand coding much of it and when it passed all of the validation like (threepress) Lulu still said it needs fixing.

    Lulu is not into ebook publishing, that is just their front for epub conversion business.

    A big disappointment to those of us who are serious about ebook sales. I bet no one ever passes their validation.

    I will look for another source to get my epub on the market because Lulu is obviously not in that business!

  21. I have had a lot of experience with conversions of all sorts and converting to epub seems to be the most difficult. It seems crazy that I can convert a mpeg2 with 5.1 digital audio and high def to anything I want but formatted text requires $800 software, or that I need to write an entire book in Indesign, that is stupid.

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