Lightning Source (LSI) is a print-on-demand printer that’s widely used by self-publishers, small presses, and self-publishing companies. Some large trade publishers also use LSI to keep their backlists in print. LSI is not a publisher. It’s a printer that will deal only with publishers.
An advantage to working with LSI over other POD printers is that it’s part of the Ingram Book Group, the company most bookstores turn to when ordering books. If your book is available through LSI, Ingram lists it. LSI also offers distribution to all the major online bookstores in the English markets (but not Chapters/Indigo; I’ll post about that at a later date). They handle everything—you never have to ship a book yourself.
It’s not a bed of roses. Printers like LSI won’t hold your hand. They expect you to provide them with print-ready files. They will not edit your book, typeset your book, design your cover, or anything like that. All of that is up to you. They might provide help in the form of templates or FAQs, but that’s it.
Whether to use a POD printer or an offset printer, and whether to use LSI specifically, is something you’ll have to decide for your book. The choice can differ from book to book, depending on your goals for the book and other factors. Based on my goals for my first book, I’ve decided to use LSI to print it. I’m using Aaron Shepard’s book, Aiming at Amazon, as a guide. I highly recommend Shepard’s book if your focus will be selling your books online. Read it before you do anything else.
So, I recently signed up with LSI and thought I’d briefly touch on the experience here. I don’t have much to say because it’s a straightforward process that’s mainly done online. You must have established your company and obtained your ISBN prefix before signing up with LSI. Remember, LSI will only work with publishers. It doesn’t work with individual authors. Yes, if you’re a self-publisher, this is a matter of semantics—it’s called playing the game.
To get started, go to the Lightning Source website and look for a New Client item along the top menu (if you’re not in North America, go to the appropriate international site). There should be an option under the New Client menu for opening an account. You’ll be asked a few simple questions that many believe are there to weed out those who think LSI is a publisher. After answering the questions, your application will be reviewed and you’ll be contacted by email. I presume that if LSI thinks you’re actually looking for a publisher, the email will be along the lines of “Sorry, we’re not a publisher” and the application will be rejected. If not, you’ll receive an email from a sales rep instructing you to sign into LSI to continue the application process.
Now things get more serious. The questions are more detailed. They’ll want to know the nitty-gritty about your company, things like its address, phone number, contact person, etc. They’ll also want to know how you’re going to pay them. You can provide a credit card or apply for credit. Fortunately LSI displays a list of what information it wants right up front, so you can gather the information you’ll need before you begin this part of the application process.
At this stage you’ll also sign up for one or more distribution options. You can always opt in or out of agreements later by contacting your sales rep, so the choices you make here aren’t cast in stone. If you want LSI to ”distribute” your books to online bookstores, opt in to the wholesale option. If you want to order books directly from LSI and have them shipped to anywhere in the world (including to you), opt in to the publisher distribution option. You can also opt in to an eBook distribution option.
LSI offers other distribution options, but not during the new application process. For example, there’s a Canadian Distribution option (though nobody’s sure what that does yet) and an option to have your book distributed through the Espresso POD machines. If you’re interested, you can contact your sales rep and sign those agreements later.
After filling out the forms online, the application process will pause again. You’ll receive an email with copies of the forms you just filled in. You have to sign them and then fax or mail them back. I don’t have a physical fax machine. I use a scanner and MyFax, a virtual fax company. So I printed the forms, signed them, scanned them, and “faxed” them back.
Once they’ve reviewed your forms and are satisfied that you’ve signed everywhere you’re supposed to, they’ll activate your account, assign you a sales rep, customer support rep, and credit rep, and you’re ready to go. That’s the stage I’m at now. Once I have my print-ready files, I can upload them.
I’ve hired someone to do the interior design (typesetting) and book cover for me. It came down to a matter of time. I own InDesign, but I’m not too familiar with it. If I had more time, I probably could have typeset the book myself and may do so for future books. I simply don’t have the time for this one. As for the cover, I’ll always outsource that. Graphics/art isn’t one of my strong points.
If you’d like to typeset the book yourself and can’t afford a program like InDesign, which is quite expensive, you might consider a free program like TeX, though apparently it has a hefty learning curve. Another possibility is to use Word. Some people swear that you can decently typeset books using Word; others are adamant that a book typeset with Word will never look good. If you do decide to go with Word, you might want to check out Aaron Shepard’s book, Perfect Pages. I haven’t read it, but those in the know usually recommend it when someone is inquiring about typesetting with Word.
If you’re looking for an offset printer, not a POD printer, head on over to RJ Self-Publishing or Pete Masterson’s list of book printers. In fact, Pete’s site is a great place to visit to learn more about printing, regardless of whether you’re going POD or offset.