When I talked about Elitism in the Writing Community a few weeks ago, I mentioned print-on-demand publishing only briefly, deciding it was a large enough beast to tackle separately.
The world of print-on-demand publishing has exploded in recent years, and many writers look down on it with a wrinkled nose and a grimace … and not without justification. However, there are many layers to this publishing option, with a long string of benefits and detriments.
I have very mixed feelings about the whole operation, myself, so I thought I would do a little series of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Print-on-Demand Publishing. Today, let’s start off sunny and talk about the good.
The Biggest Benefits of POD:
- No Politics: Traditional publishing is dominated by the Big Five: Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Now, all five of these have a bunch of imprints that specialize in different genres and whatnot, but when you think about how many people are trying to “make it” as writers and send their stuff to these giants, it is so easy for great books to fall through the cracks and get looked over. There are a nice number of smaller publishers (though the numbers are shrinking by the year), but they are usually very selective because they can only produce so many books per year. It’s hard enough for even a widely published short story author with a large platform and a good agent to get selected from among the pile of submissions, much less someone with no publishing history with a book that isn’t “mainstream.” The politics of this can be very frustrating. Just because it’s the first book you’ve submitted for publishing and you have a smaller following than someone else, your content shouldn’t get overlooked, but a lot of times it does.With POD, there’s no god-like authority figure to pick and choose who is worthy and who is not. You don’t have to wait for the luck of the draw for your book to be picked over another that is just as good and in the same genre.
- No Hoops: Getting traditionally published isn’t nearly as easy as just writing the book, editing it to perfection, and sending it off. Not by a long shot. Unless you want to end up in the dreaded slush pile that’s only ever ventured into by publishing house interns or assistant editors trying to prove their worth by nabbing a bestseller, you have to find an agent. To do so, you have to undergo a sort of application process, where you send a synopsis of the book, define who you think it’s marketed toward, prove that you have a platform and following of people who will buy your book, list books that are similar to yours that have done well, and provide the first thirty pages or so of the book, etc. You must send this out to many agents to actually land one. Agents mostly pick books subjectively with a knowledge of marketability in mind as well. They have to like the material to act as your champion, peddling your book to the Big Five.Once you land an agent, he or she has to go through the same process you just went through essentially, but about tenfold, sending it off to his or her connections in the industry and trying to get someone to bite.
If you want to opt for a smaller publisher, a lot of times you don’t need an agent, but you have to do all of the legwork yourself, jumping through the many submission hoops and writing up a stellar proposal. Your proposal needs to be written just as well or better than your book itself. It’s an art, and it takes lots of practice to master.
Many authors try traditional publishing first, but they aren’t familiar with the proposal process, they’ve had many agents all try to fundamentally change their book based on their own personal preference, or they’ve just never gotten responses either way and feel ignored. All of this is very discouraging, and eventually some folks say, “To hell with it.” In POD, there are no hoops. You just upload your very best into a program like CreateSpace, and you automatically have an ebook and a hard copy version.
- No Deep Pockets Required: This is what sells some authors on POD over the more traditional self-publishing option. In traditional publishing, the publishing house pays for all the expenses of producing and marketing the book. In regular self-publishing, the author carries the weight of those expenses. After you’ve paid for an eye-catching cover; paid for a professional(s) to do a content edit, copy edit, and proofread; paid to have it formatted and printed; and paid for the marketing, your pockets will be significantly lighter. Now, I suppose you could find someone with lackluster or zero talent to do all of these things for dirt cheap, but that would be money wasted in my opinion.In POD, while it’s still a good idea to pay for an editor and marketing materials, the printing and formatting all happens through the free platform (they take a percentage of sales, but usually it’s no money immediately out of your pocket). I would suggest still hiring someone to design a cover, but you can do that yourself in the POD programs as well. Some also have an “auto-edit” program. This isn’t a real substitute for a professional, but if you really have no budget, it’s a handy tool to catch a lot of little stuff you might have missed. You should also always edit the hell out of the book yourself anyway. The point is that with POD all of the expenses can be taken away, and then you can pick and choose the things you want to put your budget toward.
Ideally, you’d want to get professionals to do everything, but not everyone has that kind of money.
POD works really well as a sort of first step, so long as you actually put real effort into making your story great. With a great story that’s been edited to the best it can be, the money and the politics shouldn’t have to matter. With POD, they don’t matter, and that’s the real beauty of it. It allows authors to get their work out there so they can begin to build a following that will look good to a publishing house. It allows authors with a great story but a very low budget to actually produce a book and display their talent to the world. POD isn’t going to make you filthy rich, but if your content is high quality and you work like mad person to get the word out about it, you can potentially make enough to pay to truly self-publish your next book.
In short, when used correctly, POD is a stepping stone to bigger and better things. The problem is, it’s very easy for people to use it incorrectly and stain the name of writers everywhere. But that’s a subject for a future post.