Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The POD Way of Publishing

Print on Demand (POD) publishing is sweeping the country, says the New York Times this a.m., to the point that soon we could have more people writing and publishing books than reading them. The article predictably wrings its hands about the state of the publishing industry and it makes a strong case for a dying form, but, as with so many new technologies, this represents change and change often means the death of one so we have life for the other.

What POD has meant to me is the publication of my memoir (Burning the Furniture) without the time, energy, humiliation and sheer aggravation of agents and for-profit publishers. I've done that and I didn't like it, so Burning the Furniture took the futuristic route and I've been tickled with it every step of the way. My publisher is Author House and it has been adequate. Some are less than that, others are better. I'm likely going back to Author House in the spring or summer with my new children's book, Homer, more because of familiarity than anything else.

The Times' piece talks of a lawyer from L.A. who, after several rejections by traditional publishers of his political book, took it to iUniverse and got the process going for $99 (Burning the Furniture cost north of $700 to set up). Writers pay that fee up front to get the book ready to print and fees I'm aware of have run up to $3,000 for a full-color children's book. I've read about set-ups and the extras (like marketing, which you should never buy through a POD publisher) costing $10,000. Each book is printed separately. The writer can set the price. Mine is $14.99 on Amazon and, I think, $11.99 at Author House's Web site. I normally sell them for about $15 at signings.

The small miracle here is that if I need one book, I can order it and that book will be printed for me. There are no boxes of books in my basement or anybody's warehouse. I have about 10 copies for my own use and that's pretty much it for stock. I sold a number of them at our Roanoke Regional Writers Conference over the weekend and need to order some more, but I'm in control of that. I pay about $9 for them. When one sells at Amazon or Author House, I get less than $2. I have a royalty check--framed in my office--for $1.84, so you can see that the money in this isn't something you'd want to have to depend upon.

Still, many of us don't write books in order to make a living--or even to break even. We write for a number of reasons, many of which have to do with having something to say. My memoir began as a christmas gift for a new granddaughter, a sort of short family history. Originally, it was to have been no more than 10 pages. A month after I started, it was a full-blown book and I liked what I'd written. Four months after I finished, I was at a book signing. Try that with a traditional plublisher.

The Times says PODs accounted for 2.5 million book sales last year. That's spit in a bucket, but it's a lot of happy writers (and some happy readers; the feedback on Burning has been gratifying).

Whether or not you'll want to go with the POD is, of course, your choice. It takes some research, but information is readily available--starting with The Times story. I recommend it, unless you want to be John Grisham.

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