in Book Publishing

POD and You (or how to tell the difference between Print-on-Demand vs Publish-on-Demand without checking for an Adam’s Apple)

> I’m interested in hearing any response to this question. I’m looking
> into publishing for myself…going through the research phase for the
> best solution. My question to you: have you looked at multiple
> quotes to compare prices? The price quote below seems really
> expensive for 120 pages (especially since their only using 60 pages
> since it is double-sided). For those of you who have went through
> this process, please give feedback. My head is spinning right now
> because I’m looking into self-publishing…getting everything all
> twisted up since their is so much information out their. Are POD
> services the right way to go? You’re not really self-publishing
> since the POD owns the ISBN and not you!

FYI, there’s a common misconception between POD printers (Print On Demand, the technology) and a POD publishers. Self-publishing through a POD publisher you are essentially publishing using their resources and ISBN number but you’re paying for it. It’s essentially a cousin of subsidy or vanity publishing.

POD printers refer to print houses that utilize POD technology to produce books and offer other services to customers ranging from self-publishers to larger independent publishing houses. Many don’t offer any support as far as ISBN numbers, editorial, or graphic design support — all they want is your finished layout in electronic format, how many you want printed, and your payment for those copies. Once you’ve gotten your book set up with a POD printer, basically you’re always just a phone call away from getting another batch printed and shipped, whether it’s sent directly to you, distributor/wholesaler or a bookseller, usually ranging from between 1 and 1000 copies at a pop. If you’re looking at self-publishing and really want control over your destiny, this is the way to go. Set up your own company, get your own block of 10 ISBN numbers from Bowkers (I think they only sell them in minimums of 10-blocks now), and read up on all the do’s and don’ts of the endeavor. A book you definitely want to read before embarking on this trip is “The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book, 14th Edition” (by Dan Poynter, Para Publishing, ISBN #1568600887). If you’re serious about self-publishing, don’t bother checking it out of a library; the book itself is a must-have. You’ll end up reading and rereading it till the pages begin to curl.

Even though some might disagree with this, but when it comes to looking at self-publishing as a means to get your book in print, approach the entire project as a labor of love versus a strictly money-making venture. Unless you’re someone who is actively touring and can sell your books in the back of the room (e.g. – poet, self-help/motivational speaker, subject expert, etc), you’ll find that the toughest part of the equation is distribution. Although larger distributors like Ingram have special programs set up for small publishers, they still shy away from the one-shot self-publishers because, well, most self-publishers only have one book to sell and many haven’t put their book through the rigorous editorial and quality controls that established publishers tend to. With that in mind, that might contribute to the collection of horror stories that are circulating around. Producing a marketable book (cover design, layout, proofreading/substantive editing, printing) can easily cost a few thousand dollars minimum, not including miscellaneous fees, marketing, promo and shipping expenses. Most people that make the self-publishing trek eventually run into the Distribution Problem; effectively it’s the main Barrier to Entry into the Publishing Game that keeps larger publishing houses and POD publishers (e.g. – Xlibris, etc) in business. Once encountered, the self-publisher will find him/herself at an interesting crossroads where they end up doing one of a few things:

  1. Selling copies while doing speaking engagements or readings with varying degrees of success (depends on the subject, the author, newsworthiness, quality of content, etc),
  2. Occasionally selling copies online or by word of mouth, sometimes giving them away to friends and family as gifts,
  3. Decide to grow a small publishing company (starting out as a side business) by building up enough of a catalog of works by other authors (including themselves), and using this as a means of leveraging their way into some good distribution deals,
  4. Luck into a deal to sell the book to a larger publisher after having made the proof of concept work,
  5. – or –

  6. They get impatient or completely turned off by the whole publishing idea and walk away from it pissed, never looking back.

I started as #2 and ended up steadfast in slot #3. Again, as a labor of love, the expense just to reach those crossroads isn’t that bad. You love what you do, what you’ve written about, and by taking that self-publishing journey you’ve probably learned alot of things along the way about yourself, the craft, and God knows what else. Now, embarking on self-publishing as a task to serve a strictly as a money-making business venture, it’s a different story.

The Publishing industry isn’t exactly barnstorming CNBC with stories of high yield profits, especially these days with all the shifts between old and new technologies and business practices. Larger publishing houses are running on shoestring budgets to get maximum profits, wholesalers are still getting their books at a fraction of the cost from the publishers, and once technologies such as digital ink and e-paper become stable enough for widespread use in the marketplace, the publishing industry is going to undergo other sweeping transformations as rapid as those that hit the music industry after the invention of MP3s and the iPOD. Hope that helps. Whatever is going to happen over the next 10-20 years, it’s going to be interesting. Enjoy the ride. 😉

Good luck with it.

— Max