This is the second post in a series about print-on-demand publishing: namely programs like CreateSpace that allow authors to upload, format, and publish their books in both ebook format and a hard-copy version that is printed as customers purchase it. This is where we will begin to delve into the cons of this publishing style. To read the pros, click here.
This post will more specifically deal with the cons presented to talented/serious authors. Next week’s post, The Ugly, will deal with the problems that arise when someone who’s hardly even finished a school paper decides to wake up and write a book in a few weeks.
The Disadvantages of POD:
The Stigma: No matter how good your material is, if you publish through a print-on-demand program, you will have to combat the stigma created by those folks I mentioned in reference to next week’s post. It’s not fair, but it’s true. But how will people know? Well, for one thing, say you publish through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The book details will list your publisher as CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Now, not everyone looks down there, but more and more people are learning to because they’ve been burned by print-on-demand books before. The price is usually another giveaway. Print-on-demand books go for less to draw in readership without the help of a major publisher pushing the book sales. Not a bad thing in itself (especially since traditionally published books’ price tags are getting ludicrous these days); just another flag to cautious readers. I guarantee you if a smart reader (I’m referencing reading affinity not IQ here) comes across a print-on-demand book with a premise that intrigues them, they are going to take a hard look at the sample before purchasing.
Now, if that sample is well-written, thoroughly edited, and makes them want to read more, you can still make a sale. However, some people have grown wary of those samples, too, because it seems like some POD writers (typically those who charge higher prices for their books and have a plethora of reviews that are clearly paid for to cover up the atrocious, honest ones) just put a ton of effort into the beginning to make the sale and then let things slide downhill from there. Sometimes that just happens honestly, too. Many writers start out the story really strong because the passion for the story is high, but they can lose enthusiasm and focus along the way (it’s happened to me before). That’s what beta readers and editing are for, but POD lets you skip both of those.
Of course, even if your material is able to speak for itself and earn you steady sales, you will still have to deal with the stigma within the writing community itself, which is entirely unfair. For more about my thoughts on that, read my post on Elitism in the Writing Community.
Amateur Presentation: POD programs allow you to format the inside of your book and create the outer cover by yourself. Unless you have real design experience/talent though, I wouldn’t suggest it.
Now, the inside formatting isn’t quite as important or difficult to nail as that cover, but it still counts for something. The problem with a lot of these programs is that either the ebook’s or the hard copy’s inner formatting suffers because usually only one file is created and then dumped into both mediums. In reality, you need two different file types and each one will need to be adjusted to fit properly on the page or on the screen. What often happens is that the ebook version flows nicely, but if someone orders the hard copy, the inside is all wonky: random, huge spaces between paragraphs or half of the lines are indented while the other half aren’t. Also, usually hard copies have a serif font and ebooks have a sans serif. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you open a hard copy and see a sans serif, something feels off. All of these little quirks just don’t look professional and gives a bad impression as someone thumbs through the book. If a book like that were pulled off a shelf rather than ordered online, it would be put down almost as fast as it was picked up.
The cover of your book is what grabs your reader’s attention. There are millions of books out there, and yours has to stand out in a fraction of a second or it’s going to be overlooked. The covers you can create solely with a POD program are going to look like poop unless you’re some sort of wizard. At least purchase some good stock photos to work with. Honestly, you should hire a designer to do the cover. If you can, shell out the $100-$200 it takes for a good one. I worked with an author who hired an artist she liked, and I cannot tell you how many of her book reviews briefly mentioned how beautiful the cover was. I guarantee most of her sales were made because that cover was too gorgeous to look away from when scrolling through Amazon. After that, the content spoke for itself, and she has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.
Presentation matters, and POD in and of itself doesn’t allow you to create a professional impression. You have to go beyond the platform and hire outside help, but many times, authors are drawn in by how easy and inexpensive the whole process is and don’t take time to slow down and ask themselves if they’re doing right by their book. Which brings me to my next point.
Too Easy?: The biggest problem with POD isn’t the programs or their mechanics, it’s how people use them. These programs make publishing so easy that anyone can do it with a few clicks of a mouse. You could finish the final edit of your book and have it published that same day, essentially. Publishing your work is exciting, and I fear many authors get caught up in the rush of “I can really do this all by myself!” and forget to slow down before clicking publish.
When you’ve gone back and edited that second or third or fourth draft, that just means it’s time to hand it over to someone else, not time to publish. You’ve done what you can for the moment; now you have to see how others receive it. You have to get it vetted; ideally by beta readers and a professional editor. Now, I understand not everyone can afford to hire a professional editor, but please, people, at least take the time to contact some beta readers. Pretty much all of them do it for free or for very cheap. It’s usually a hobby they love doing (that can also give them fodder for their blogs), and it gives you outsider insight into whether your book is achieving everything you want it to achieve.If you can’t afford a real editor, for the love of God run it through a reputable spell-checking program. Your book is dead in the water if readers find too many typos in that sample. And don’t just accept every correction the program makes automatically, either. Those kinds of programs, especially ones that attempt to correct grammar, can do weird stuff to your sentences every now and then. Go through and check all the changes it made, and just know that it didn’t catch everything, I guarantee it. But hey, it’s going to be a hell of a lot cleaner.
SLOW DOWN is the main point I’m trying to get across, if you hadn’t noticed already. Take the time to evaluate your budget and see where you might be able to put in a little extra money to substitute the shortcomings of a POD program. If nothing else, take the time to allow others to vet your material and then do the necessary edits that result before even thinking about uploading it to a program. Don’t give in to the temptation of an easy fix, and allow the whole POD system to work for you, not against you. Your book deserves it.
12 thoughts on “Print-on-Demand: The Bad”
Great post. I’m looking to self-publish now after my publishing contract fell through. My biggest concern (sadly) is that there’s a stigma attached to indie authors, so I’ll try my best to make sure my novel goes through as many edits and beta readers as possible. Thanks for the post
Glad to be of help, Millie. If enough people take their work seriously and make sure it goes through all the necessary steps, that stigma will start to fade. Best of luck with your book (sorry to hear about your contract falling through), and thanks for taking the time to connect.
Great advice. 🙂 I’ve thought about self-publishing and although there’s a lot of material online about the positives I haven’t found too much on the negative side of it (beside it not being considered legitimate by some readers). I like the idea of putting your book through as many beta readers as possible and taking time. I’m sure it’s easy to want to finish as soon as possible just to get your story out there.
Minelli, happy to hear you liked the post! Yes, unfortunately I think a lot of naturally talented authors’ books suffer because they just go about things too quickly, as POD makes it so easy for them.
Thanks for taking the time to connect! I appreciate it. Keep an eye out for the “Ugly” post next week. I’m going to talk about the really, really negative side that’s the root cause of the stigma behind self-publishing these days.
Ooh I will, sounds like another helpful read! 🙂
Great articles. I’ve self-published a couple of poetry books before, to no great acclaim and ended up with a lot of stuff in boxes. I have another couple of collections that I’d like to put together in a publication format, but it’s a long road for a fellow who only found the Blogosphere a couple of months back.
I’ll keep looking out for your articles.
So glad you liked the posts, Frank. Best of luck with those collections. Thanks for the follow and for taking time to comment.