Is POD for Me?
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POD Articles
Balancing a Promotional Budget
Beware of...
Beware, Treacherous Clauses Ahead
Do's and Don't's 101
Fee or Free?
From the Press to the Reader
Great Expectations
Is POD for Me?
Library of Congress 101
Measuring a Publisher's Health
Publish or Self-Publish?
Royalties, the R-word
Sales Rankings
Should You Accept Returns?
What Is POD?
A few notes concerning the 2011 update
Title: Is POD For Me?
Author: Clea Saal
Summary: A sort of "User's Guide" that may help you evaluate the pros and cons of using this new technology, and it will also give you a clear idea of what to look for when choosing a specific publisher.

First of all, I admit that this is a personal list, and that I am not entitled to judge what is best for you. My reason for creating this user's guide to POD is the fact that I had a hard time looking for a POD myself, and I decided that, since I had already organized this information, there was no point in keeping it to myself.

I chose a fee-charging publisher, as opposed to a small press using POD technology for a couple of reasons. First, even though not every POD publisher charges a fee, the vanity press stigma is unfortunately attached to the technology itself, so the fact that a publisher does not charge a fee is virtually irrelevant when it comes to this. Second, fee-charging publishers usually work faster. And finally, fee-charging publishers often offer better deals to writers (for example, non-exclusive contracts are rare among non-fee-charging publishers).

This information is divided into four sections. These sections are pros, cons, what to look for, and finally a wish-list of things I would like to find in a POD publisher (I mention the ones that do fulfill these requirements, but I would suggest looking for the elements of this "wish list" after you have taken the "what to look for" elements into account, not the other way around. It is true that some publishers meet these criteria, but it is at the expense of other, far more relevant, aspects).

Think of what you are looking for, and then consider this information, after all, you are the only one who can honestly answer the question "Is POD for me?" in your particular case.

Pros

What it is

What it means

You don't need an agent to get published

Most major publishers won't even consider a manuscript that is not being presented by an agent. Unfortunately this has turned into a Catch-22 for first time authors, since you can't get published without an agent, and you can't get an agent unless you get published. In recent years this situation has become exacerbated because many small publishers (the traditional option for new writers) have either gone out of business or have been absorbed by major publishers.

It doesn't take years

Unfortunately, getting a book published through a traditional publishers takes years. First you must do the rejection dance (you submit your manuscript to a publisher, wait a couple of months until you get a rejection letter and then you submit to another publisher and repeat the process), then after you have finally found a publisher, you are more than likely to discover that the publisher has a backlog of other commitments and, since new authors are not usually a high priority, you will probably have to wait another two years or so before your book comes out.

You are in control

With most POD publishers you are in control of virtually every aspect of your book, and you can be almost certain that you will not find unauthorized editorial changes. With some POD publishers you can even design your own cover. If you are a control freak (like me), this can save you a lot of grief.

You get higher royalties

Traditional publishers pay royalties of approximately 6 to 10% (if you are lucky). With POD providers royalties ranging between 15% and 35% are the norm. Direct sales obviously pay higher royalties.

You have no additional commitments

You know what your life is like. Being in control of your book also means being in control of your book's promotion. Even though book signings, book readings and other such events are still a great idea, you are not forced into those commitments (you don't have to take on an engagement unless you feel comfortable with what you are about to do).

You get published

I guess that one is self explanatory.

Cons

What it is

What it means

You are stuck with a vanity press

Let's face it, if you are paying to get your book published, you are dealing with a vanity press. Some charge rather hefty fees, others charge only to break even. As I explain in the "What to look for" section, a low fee usually means that your publisher actually has to sell books to make a profit, so this is a better option.

You don't get any help when it comes to book promotion

You must pay for any sort of advertisement you feel you need. You must organize your own events. So you are more than likely to find yourself juggling your day job, your marketing campaign, your efforts to write your next book, your life. and probably your family.

Low bookstores' discount

This is not a universal problem, but many POD publishers offer bookstores only a 25% or 30% discount. This effectively closes the door of traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores, since they ask for a 40% discount (at least). This problem is compounded by the fact that they don't usually list this information on their web sites, and they may be reluctant to answer this question before you sign a contract.

It may lower your chances of finding a traditional publisher in the long run

Even though POD will get your book released within a reasonable amount of time, and it may attract the interest of traditional publishers, it is important to keep in mind that traditional publishers may also be reluctant to assume the expenses required to publish a book when that book has already been published by someone else.

You don't get any sort of advance

With traditional publishers you get an advance when you sign a contract. You obviously don't get one when you sign up with a POD (in fact you have to pay).

Low sales

Lets be realistic for a moment. Your book is not going to end up in the bestsellers list. Very few POD published books have sold more than 2,000 copies.

What to look for

What it is

What it means

Non-exclusive contract

There are two kinds of contracts, exclusive and non-exclusive. Non-exclusive contracts allow you a greater freedom, however you must read your contract carefully because they often don't add up. Pay special attention to anything having to do with subsidiary rights, anthologies and eBooks. You must keep in mind that what you sign is the contract, not the promises you find in the publishers web site, so read any contract carefully and with a *very* paranoid eye before agreeing to it. Asking customer support for an explanation would be the same thing as a sheep asking the wolf if it wants to eat it, and then believing the answer when the wolf says "No".

A low setup fee

You may have to sacrifice some bell and whistles here. Simply put, if you are paying only your publishing costs, then your publisher must sell books to turn a profit. If you pay a hefty setup fee, then you are the one who is paying for your publisher's profit. (I would personally consider $250.00 to be an acceptable limit for a setup fee that includes preparing the manuscript, some corrections and a non-generic cover. Copyright registration and LCCN would be acceptable extras).

Manuscript selection

Looking for a publisher that screens what it publishes may help you to reduce the vanity press stigma a little.

Flexibility

All publishers have some guidelines, but it is a good idea to find one that is willing to bend them a little (but you must also be willing to listen to reason and to acknowledge that your publisher may know something you don't when it comes to book design and book promotion). If your publisher tells you "It's my way or the highway" well, you are probably better off choosing the highway. All I'm trying to say here is that "one size fits all" usually translates into "one size fits no one".

Someone you are comfortable with

Ask questions, plenty of questions, and look for someone who is willing to answer them. Try asking a couple of unusual questions, since these answers will probably be the most telling ones, even if they are not too relevant, because they are not likely to be included in a sales manual.

Control of your cover design

You don't have to design the whole thing yourself, but look for a publisher that at least gives you a say in the matter and allows you to provide a graphic and an author's photo. Remember that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and your cover will be your first impression. Avoid generic covers.

Distribution

What does the publisher do to help you market your book? Where would your book be made available? Keep in mind that some POD publishers don't even offer promotion on their site for their least expensive packages.

A reasonable retail price

Some POD publishers' books are just too expensive (with prices above $20.00 for an average length, unillustrated book). Ask yourself "Would I buy a book by an unknown author at this price?" and look with a publisher that has realistic retail prices (for a fiction book of less that 400 pages I would set the limit at $20.00. Technical or specialized books may be more expensive).

Royalties

Since your sales are likely to be low, look for the highest royalties (and then try talking your publisher into reducing your royalties to increase the bookstores' discount, in an attempt to boost sales).

A good rule of thumb for setup fee and royalties would be the following: the setup fee should be less than the royalties for 200 copies, taking as a reference the lowest possible royalty payment (a book sold through a bookstore, more often than not). In other words, if your royalties are $1.50 per copy, then you should look for a setup fee of no more than $300.00, however you should not give away your rights to save a few bucks, because this could cost you dearly in the long run.

Wish list

What it is

What it means

No sales commission on sales to the author

With most POD publishers you get your own royalties as a discount when you buy your book directly form your publisher. I would like to see a publisher that is willing to add the external sales royalties and the bookstores' discount as an author's discount. As things currently stand you cannot, for example, buy a large number of copies and then make arrangements with a bookstore to have a book-signing in which they sell your book, with the standard commission, while you assume the responsibility for all unsold copies (BYOB, Bring Your Own Book), simply because your own discount is often lower than the one the bookstore would get (since many, if not most, POD publishers don't accept book returns, bookstores are not likely to take the chance of buying the books from the publisher for such an event).

Submit ready as a ready to publish PDF

It would be great to be able to submit your book as a PDF that follows certain guidelines (such as trim size, margins, etc.), and then have it come out *exactly* as you envisioned it, with your choice of fonts, chapter drops and overall format. No matter what publisher you choose, you can consider asking about this possibility.

A chance to have your own imprint

This is a great option to reduce the vanity press stigma, since it puts you in control of which books are published under the same "imprint" as yours.



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