About Print-On-Demand Publishing
John M. Daniel
I have often been asked by authors what my opinion of Print On Demand publishing. Usually the author is seriously considering this option as a means for getting his or her book into print. I am no lawyer, and Im not especially knowledgeable about advanced printing technology; but I have spent twenty years in the business of seeing books into print, and I know what a publishers contract should look like. So I have the right, I feel, to offer my two cents worth.
POD publishing is a growing business, the wave of the future for personal publishing, enabling virtually any writer to get a book into print fairly inexpensively. It will, perhaps, in time, render obsolete the old-fashioned subsidy presses. I am an old curmudgeon, an old dog when it comes to new tricks, so I am naturally skeptical. I dont believe POD will improve the quality of literature or of life to have every book automatically publishable. In the past the main gatekeeper was cost: conventional, royalty publishers had to like a book enough to take a risk on what was a fairly expensive production process; subsidy publishing required the author to take that risk. The POD process reduces the risk to almost nothing for both parties. So there will be more books, and (I know this because of the manuscripts I read each day) most of them wont be worth publishing except insofar as they make the author proud.
Your book may be worth publishing, but like a great many books worth publishing, it may have a hard time finding a standard royalty contract, because the odds are stacked so high against such luck. When youve decided youve had enough enough the door-knocking process, if you still are determined to see the book in print, then the time may have arrived to consider POD publishing. When you reach that point, its time for some soul-searching.
The questions to ask are really simple:
1. What do you want from having your book published? Be honest about this.
2. What will your POD publisher deliver to you? Be honest about this too. Dont expect the publisher to be more than technically honest; they want your business.
3. What will this process cost you? Have your eyes wide open, and dont buy snake oil.
1. What do you want from having your book published? There are a number of possible answers to this important question. Fame. Money. Communicating your message. Entertaining your readers. The pride of authorship. There are others, Im sure, but these are a few that come to mind.
2. What will your POD publisher deliver to you? Alas, I dont think your POD publisher will deliver on any of the menu items I listed in #1. The only real promise made in the standard POD contract is a couple of free books. You wont get famous, except in your own home town and among your own friends, and youre already famous in that arena. You book probably wont be reviewed by any significant publications, because POD publishers dont seek such reviews. You wont get any money from book sales or royalties, because any book sales will be generated only by you, and that wont amount to more than a few dozen copies. Youll probably spend more money courting the market than youll make on royalties. Your book wont communicate your message to the general target audience because theyll never hear about it, and if they do hear about it because youve done a costly mailing, the book will be too expensive for them to buy. They wont be entertained either, for the same reasons. Pride of authorship? Well, two books in hand is better than no books in hand, but since the literary world knows that POD publishers have virtually no gate-keeping process, its not much to crow about. You can be proud of having written a good book, of course, but that it got published wont be important in the long run. Closure comes closest, but even then, as long as you feel the need to achieve your other goals, youll be working on this book, because youll have to generate all the little publicity and few sales on your own with no help from your publisher.
3. What will this process cost you? Well, financially not much, according to most POD contracts. At least not up front. But there will be other financial obligations that may be disguised in the contract, but theyre there (the cost of corrections, for example, which can mount up rapidly). Then theres the cost of marketing, which will be up to you. The total expense wont be a huge amount, perhaps, and probably nowhere near as much as youd pay a subsidy publisher. But be aware that nothing comes free. POD publishers dont offer a publication contract because they expect to make money off of selling books. Or, better put, if copies sell (because of your efforts, not theirs), theyll be happy to grab the lions share of the money and consider it gravy, because theyve already made their money from having sold you a contract.
Final advice: read that contract carefully, to see, point by point, what they will give you and get from you. It may be that POD publishing is right for you. But dont take the publishers word for it.