Some call it just plain ”publishing.” Others claim to have self-published their books when they use Publishing on Demand (POD). Actually neither designation is completely correct. Yes, it is a kind of publishing, but a very special kind. It is not self-publishing, a process that differs substantially and requires far more expertise and involvement.
POD is an outgrowth of the huge changes that occurred in printing technology when digital printing was developed. For the first time, authors were not forced to use offset printing with its minimum press runs of 1500 to 2000 books. For the first time, an author could order only the number of books he/she needed with this new technology, and was able to fill in small quantities as future needs arise. This was a great boon for beginners who were feeling their way in the publishing industry and for memoirists who wanted to distribute books just to family and friends.
The novice writer enjoys the advantage of having the POD house handle all of the prepublication work that is required to produce a book. And that service is available at a very minimal initial outlay of money for the services one receives.
For a production payment of as little as $300, the house will produce a finished book and in most cases do it extremely professionally. The high end of that scale—a ceiling of about $1,000—represents lots of bells and whistles that the house will try to sell you, but which frankly are of little or no value. You can receive a top quality book for an average investment of under $500, and that’s the level you should be at when dealing with this method of publishing. Use the company’s basic program, nothing more.
You turn your manuscript over to the POD house, along with an initial production check. In return, the house art staff produces a professional book cover. That alone would normally cost you anywhere from $300 to $600 if you were to hire a designer yourself.
The text that comes off the computer, of course, is not what appears in a finished book. It must be formatted to conform to the page size, produced in a type font that is conducive to easy reading and leaded (spaced between the lines). This requires a high level of skill. You can learn to do it, but I strongly recommend a professional formatter. The cost depends on the length of the book. Formatting a 300-page volume, for example, can cost between $800 and $1200.
Every book requires an ISBN number if it is to be sold to bookstores or libraries. This is an identification number that is assigned exclusively to a single book. Barcodes are needed to accompany the ISBN. In addition, Library of Congress Cataloguing is a necessity if you plan to tap into the huge library market. All of these are obtained for you by POD staffers.
The POD House will then print your book, bind it and register it with a major wholesaler (usually either Ingram or Baker & Taylor), a requirement if you are selling to libraries and bookstores. The book will also be placed on Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com and Borders.com. Further distribution and promotional activities are your responsibility.
Two words of caution: Most houses do not obtain a copyright for your book. But that’s not a serious problem. You can do it yourself for just a few dollars. Search for “Copyright” on the Web. The government’s copyright web site will come up and explain each step you must take. It will also supply you with a formal application form. Completing everything is perhaps a 15-minute task and very easy to accomplish.
The second matter you should be aware of is that when the ISBN is ordered by most POD houses, it is listed in the house’s name. You must understand that the entity that owns the ISBN controls all of the finances of the book. So when you read in the publicity, “You control the book. All decisions are yours,” it is a bit misleading. Don’t construe this to mean that you lose total control over your book. It is yours by copyright.
In fact, on the finance side, you do have the right to decide how much of a royalty (percentage of the profit of the sale of the book) you wish. But the reality is that when it sells your book, the house will insist upon taking a certain flat amount, which is usually quite substantial. As a result, if you select a high royalty, the retail price will shoot up above the competition. With a lower royalty, you will make very little money. Nonetheless, at any level of royalty, you have managed to publish your book with no more money out of your pocket than the initial production fee. That’s a pretty fair deal for what you’re getting in return.
The only negative, aside from the minimal compensation, is that there is still some reluctance to handle POD books on the part of the better book reviewers and some book sellers. This a carry-over from the old days of the vanity press, when the level of quality was so poor and from the sloppy, haphazard work y turned out by the charlatans who infected the POD world when it first began.
Today most of the reticence has faded. People judge POD books not by the publisher that produced them, but by the quality of the book itself. POD creations have reached the best seller lists in some cases, and they are available through the majority of bookstores. Even if they are not stocked on the store shelves, they can be ordered quickly.
Finding a POD House
Most POD publishers maintain web sites. Click onto “POD Publishers,” and you will find a number of them. Read their sites carefully, and discount the meaningless extras (the bells and whistles I spoke of above). Be extremely careful if you go to contract. Study the document before you sign or better yet ask a literary lawyer to review it. Think ahead. What impact will each of the conditions of the contract have on the sales of your book. How easily can you leave the POD house and either self-publish future editions or contract for them with a traditional publisher?
While I am reluctant to evaluate the different houses that I have not used, I leave that task up to others. There are a number of sites that make these evaluations. The one I recommend most strongly is www.bookmarket.com/ondemand.htm. The site is owned by John Kremer, a highly respected publishing guru, and supplies information on a large number of publishing on demand houses.
Another site I recommend to you is www.sfwa.org. This extremely informative site is maintained by the Science Fiction Writers of America, but its information is applicable to all genres. Although I do disagree with the site’s contention that POD is not the best choice for a beginning writer, I find the rest of its counsel excellent.
Click on the site, scroll down to the box near the bottom that states “Writer Beware.” Click on it. Over on the left side of the next screen, you will find “Print-on-Demand, Self-Publishing Services.” Click on that, and read it carefully.
POD publishing may not be ideal for every author, but it is a worthy alternative for beginners, family memoirists and in fact anyone who strikes out with traditional publishers and and has a burning desire to make his/her book available to the public.
This column is an excerpt from the blog of Charles Jacobs, book coach and author of “The Writer Within You,” named a Best Book of the Year seven times and winner of both gold and bronze medals. The book can be ordered at www.retireandwrite.com. For coaching, Charles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.