JW: Have you tried any other self-publishing providers?
I had also looked into Xlibris and iUniverse (and a number of others), but I decided against them because of the money required -- I just didn't have the $300-$3,000 to spend! I had a lot of books I was going to be publishing, and it would run me into the tens of thousands of dollars, by the time all was said and done. Plus, I wasn't very impressed by the printing and binding quality of the samples I received -- I can't remember which service they was from, so please don't assume it was iUniverse or Xlibris! It could have been from a smaller "vanity" press.
Until Lulu came along, my self-publishing was limited to small-scale, do-it-yourself manual operations -- which, ironically, gave me exactly the kind of quality I was seeking!
Lulu came along about the time when I was on the verge of signing up with either Xlibris or iUniverse. Something told me to hold off on committing to a service, and when I found Lulu, I looked no further. They offered me exactly the kind of flexibility and power I needed, and there were no contracts to sign! Plus, the fact that Lulu was started by one of the founders of Red Hat, (which made Linux a serious contender against Microsoft Windows in my small uber-geeky social circle during the late 1990's), made Lulu look pretty friendly to me. The founder had started this company to offer authors an alternative to the pitfalls of corporate publishing, which were exactly the kinds of problems I wanted to avoid like the plague. Philosophically and artistically and technically, Lulu just made a lot more sense. And it was free. I signed up as soon as I found out about them.
Logistically, too, Lulu was a total no-brainer. The thought of being locked into another company's production schedule and having to accommodate their calendars, was not very attractive to me. I looked at the samples they sent me, I checked out their websites, and the quality I saw just didn't justify the added hassle of having extra staff do the job. I could do it myself just as well - if not better! Why would I spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars, on a book that wasn't 100% my own vision?
All in all, I'd have to say that Lulu is the best thing since sliced bread for struggling and frustrated writers. (It's even better - no calories and no glucose! ;) If you're still wedded to the idea of being picked up by a mainstream press, if you make tons of sales you may catch a publisher's attention, you can attract a potential contract. I've heard stories of people being successful on their own, and then signing with a mainstream house. It's almost like Lulu is a "farm team" where newbies can vet themselves and their talents. But the real beauty is, you're not hamstrung by waiting by the phone (or your e-mail) for someone to get back to you with a contract that offers something like $1.50 per book in royalties... and you can do it all on your own terms and set your own price.
When it works (which in my experience is 95% of the time), Lulu is a dream! And when it doesn't on the first pass, you can always keep trying till things sort themselves out.
I'd strongly recommend that writers take Lulu for a test spin. Even if it's just out of curiosity, It doesn't have to cost anything at all to get set up, and the payout -- your own published book -- is pretty amazing!