Self-publishing, POD or print-on-demand, and vanity presses; these are all methods of taking a manuscript and getting it into print, for sale. As someone who has a vested interest in this, who published a book last year using POD, I’m still amazed at the number of people who are misinformed about what these three terms mean.
There are many writers out there with stars in their eyes– looking to self-publishing as the holy grail. I talk to many of them on a weekly basis; both locally in Rochester, NY, which is the print-on-demand hub of the world, and online, through email, or my blog at A-ha! These are writers who have a story to tell and who know they probably won’t make it through the filtering process at a big publishing house. Or, they’ve tried that route and been burned.
This post is to help explain the New World of Self-Publishing. A place where authors really do have the control– but often don’t have the knowledge– to get their book into print.
Let’s look at how the publishing world works today; a comparison of traditional publishing and POD, which has become synymous with self-publishing.
First of all, being self-published is NOT a BAD thing. Self-publishing your work does NOT mean you are unworthy of being published by the likes of Random House or MacMillan. There are numerous self-published authors who went on to become best-selling authors, who chose the self-publishing route to get their leg in the door.
Self-publishing got readers interested in their work, and attracted big name publishing companies. The stigma of being a self-published writer is placed on writers by the big publishers, to protect their image of being in charge of print publications. It’s time for self-published authors to stand up and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any longer!”
Okay, let’s dispel some myths. First, an explanation of the various forms of self-publishing is in order:
1. Self-publishing itself is a term to denote the author’s involvement in not only writing, but producing, his or her book. When an author chooses to bypass the traditional publishing route (a route that could take years to make it to bookstores, and is fraught with disappointment because traditional publishers want ALL rights, or as many rights as they can get, and then…may or may not publish the book– it happens, you get to the end of the contract, book is done, even printed, and the publisher has found a new darling, so…you’re left out in the cold. The book sits in the publishers warehouse– and gathers dust), he or she is considered a self-published author. This means she or he went to Kinkos and had the book printed, and paid a pretty price for however many copies she or he desired (or had enough cash for), or he or she went to a printer and had the printer handle the job. In the end, the author is left with numerous boxes of books…to sell.
2. Vanity Presses– are still in operation today. These are companies that purport to aid authors by doing the printing of their book. An author submits a proposal of their manuscript, the vanity press acts like a traditional publisher (sometimes, not always) and accepts or rejects the manuscript. Few manuscripts get rejected. Once accepted, the vanity press requires an upfront fee, usually in the thousands of dollars, to handle the printing of the book. Generally, again, these books will be hardcover. The author has, essentially, bought hundreds of copies of his or her book, and now has the onerous task of selling them. Vanity presses are never a good choice. IMHO
3. Subsidy publishers– as close to a vanity press as you can get. They want a large cash outlay up front, for very little return.
4. Print-on-demand: POD is a new form of self-publishing. There are a number of options available to the author, using this form of self-publishing. Xerox and Kodak have made it possible to print ONE BOOK at a time, for the same cost as printing a hundred books. (they seldom actually print ONE book, they usually print them in batches of four or more, then hold onto the extra copies until orders come in.)
Here’s how this works: in POD, the author contracts with a publishing company to print his or her book once it’s completed. Reputable companies give the author guidance in setting margins, choosing font style, and formatting the inside look of the book. They sometimes also help with cover design. For this, they require an upfront fee. It’s generally thousands less than either a subsidy publisher or a vanity press would require.
Once the author delivers a PRINT READY manuscript to the POD company, that company — for the most part — OUTSOURCES the printing to a reputable POD printer, usually, but not always, here in Rochester, NY. Lulu.com, one of the largest POD companies online, and the cheapest, outsources its printing to Lightning Source, a book distributor that deals with companies in the Rochester, NY area most of the time. Lulu gets its money from sales of the book– so the author receives 75% royalty, while Lulu only takes 25%. However, Lulu sets the price of the book. They also do not do any marketing. The book sits in their database waiting for someone to find it. The only book I know of that has reached best-seller status at Lulu is The Hardball Times, which sold 500,000 copies– because bloggers took it up and promoted it all over the Net.
Companies that offer POD have a distinct advantage both over traditional publishers and vanity presses. POD companies can publish your book for much less, they sometimes (not always) offer a marketing package, and they take a smaller royalty cut.
4. Author Services: another arm of POD. An author services company works with the author to make sure the book is exactly what the author wants. An author services company combines the power and ease of POD, with the expertise and insight of traditional publishing. An author gets personal assistance in the writing and editing of her book, as well as the design of the cover– both front and back– and has an experienced professional to interface with the POD printer, to make sure everything is done properly, and on time.
An author services company does not abandon the author once the book goes to print. They offer marketing plans, which the author may purchase upfront or negotiate after the book is printed, and they also have a bookstore associated with their company. A bookstore that can’t rival Amazon, but, which pays the author a much higher royalty than Amazon, which should encourage authors to send family and friends to their publisher’s site to buy their book.
Amazon, by the way, takes a big cut out of the set price of the book, and even lowers the price at whim. One wishes Amazon would open a dialogue to explain the purpose of this– well, we know it’s to sell more books– but it undercuts the Author Services ability to sell the book at retail, and doesn’t do the author any good. Of course, this is America. That’s business, I guess.
In conclusion, self-publishing today isn’t the same game it was back in those old Dick and Jane days of the previous century. Self-publishing using POD is a respectable way to get into print, pays better royalties, and comes with marketing help, if one is willing to invest some cash upfront. Self-publishing using just a POD company is still better than a vanity press, but has numerous pitfalls. Lack of communication is one, lack of expertise is another. By choosing an author’s services company, you get the best of both worlds because unlike a POD company, an author services company makes its money on more sales of the book. The upfront cost merely helps keep the doors open. Author services’ companies rely on their ability to market and sell your book, to make their profit.
Let’s look at a few famous folk who started their writing careers by self-publishing:
Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Edgar Allan Poe: anything, he was totally self-published and did not receive renown for his work until after his untimely death.
Tom Peters: In Search of Excellence
John Grisham: A Time to Kill
The list could go on for pages. You get the drift.
So, don’t whine and wail if your book gets turned down by a big NY publisher. In fact, unless you’re willing to wait a year or longer for your book to get into print, don’t waste time on them. They’ll come calling…if you choose an author’s services group to help you get noticed by the buying public. It’s not a matter of luck– it’s a matter of professionalism and expertise and marketing.
Get published when you want– by investing in a good author services company that understands print-on-demand. You won’t be sorry. You may get rich. You may just get famous. But, you won’t get taken to the cleaners.