Writers Are the Market for the Publish on Demand Industry
163, 036 self-published titles were launched onto the market in the United States in 2010, an increase of almost 260% from 2006, according to Browker who track trends in publishing. Nearly the same number was published in Great Britain. Amazon lists 3,000,000 plus titles available for sale. 288,355 new titles and editions were published in the United States in 2009.
Self-publishing makes it possible for anyone to break into print. Agents and editors at one time controlled who was admitted into the ranks of the published and only writers who brought either great talent or great ideas (if not both) were considered. Once a writer’s work was accepted, rounds of rewrites followed before the final draft was approved. Agents and editors are still their desks, but writers by the thousands stride right past them into an arena where they are fair game for printers, publishers, publicists, reviewers, web site designers, seminar moderators, consultants, how-to gurus software merchants, graphic artists, layout specialists and who knows what else. Writers, not the reading public, have become the market for the publish-on-demand industry. There is blood in the water and the sharks are circling.
The first thing the unpublished writer must do is back out of the word-processing program and slow down. Finishing a book is exciting but the eagerness fanned into impatience is dangerous. The minute writers finish a manuscript, like it or not, they become business owners. They need to get quickly up to speed on running a small business. Bad decisions waste precious time and capital, and can be a drag on the creative spirit.
Bringing a product to market involves several critical steps, not the least of which is quality control. Publishers who print on demand do not proof read manuscripts. They don’t even read them. Any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage will pass directly into the finished product only be cited by reviewers to the author’s embarrassment. Catching copy edit errors is the job of a good proofreader, a professional, and yes, they charge for their services, sometimes as much as $.02 a word or more. A 90,000-word novel can cost $1,800—more than the cost to print the book.
There is little point in subjecting a manuscript to a proofreader if a story editor has not read the manuscript. Story editing is a specialty. A good editor will look for the chronology of events in a story, the credibility behind what occurs, the thoroughness of character development, and may extend a critique to include writing style, dialogue, and descriptions. Story editors are expensive. Good editors charge more and have plenty of work on their desks to complete.
Publishers may provide both proofreading and story editing service for an additional charge. The fees, however, may not be the most competitive. It pays to shop around. Publishers also often offer layout and cover design services. Again, it may pay to shop to at least substantiate that a competitive price is being offered.
Once a book is produced, the hard work of promoting it begins. Many publishers, often for an additional fee, will send copies out to reviewers with established internet sites—like Norm Golden’s BookPleasurese. Reviews do not necessarily sell books, but it is far better to have them published, especially on Amazon, than not. Some reviewers, including venerable Kirkus, now charge for reviews. Writers need to decide whether the expense is worth it.
As for distributors, John Kremer writes, “Most distributors… aren’t likely to take on distribution of a single POD (printed-on-demand) book. POD does not lend itself to distribution via distributors, except in the case of backlist books that are being kept in print only via POD.” POD publishers may list several well-known names in the distribution field such as Ingram and Baker and Taylor, but it is window dressing. Distributors of good standing offer larger retailers the privilege of returning volumes that do not sell. POD books are not returnable under most of the programs of this type. One publisher, Outskirts Press, charges writers $499 per year so that retailers can return books. The writer who pays the fee can kiss the money good-bye because retailers will not carry POD books as a matter of policy. Placing a call to a retailer in search of a POD book meets with the reply that it is not in stock but can be ordered. The records that the retailer has available on computer designate the book as POD which automatically means that no return privilege is extended—even though the author has paid the publisher a fee to make it available.
It is the author’s job to get books on bookstore shelves, either on consignment or the rare storeowner will buy volumes at a wholesale price. Consignment agreements, the most popular format, usually split sale proceeds on 60/40—60% to the author and 40% to the storeowner. Most bookstores are eager to help a local author on consignment. They typically will have a consignment agreement under the counter ready for signature and willing take on four to six volumes, often with the suggestion that the author schedule book-signing in the store.
The economics of self-publishing are daunting. In shopping for a publisher, authors need to keep any eye out for profitability. Several cost factors need to be considered. The most critical is the price the publisher charges the author, especially if the author wants to sell most of the books online. The second important consideration is the price at which the book will be offered to the buying public. Writers should work with a worst-case scenario. Only a handful of POD books each year will sell more than a few hundred copies. The majority will sell less than 200, which means that most writers will fall far short of recovering expenses. However tempting it may be, it is a mistake to think in the thousands because it will lead to overspending on expenses.
Writers may choose to sell books personally to family and friends because the margin is higher when they do. Other costs are involved, however. The author pays to have books shipped from the publisher, perhaps as much as $.90 per volume. If the author is mailing books out to buyers, those shipping costs also become part of the overhead. In the United States, the lowest rate for media mail at the time of this writing was $2.78 and the cost of a padded shipping envelope somewhere in the neighborhood of $.70. If a writer is traveling to place books on consignment with dealers or appear at signings, the going rate is $.40 per mile according to the IRS. In short, unless a writer hits the jackpot, he or she is working for less than minimum wage.
This posting, because of space considerations, touches lightly on the issues for the writer in self-publishing. More information is available online and writers, especially those who are just entering into the field, are urged to research the topics introduced here more thoroughly on line. LinkedIn is home to several groups for writers that routinely address issues for the beginner. John Kremer has a free web site that is a wonderful forum for writers to share experiences. Prededitors is a web site that provides background on publishers and editors. It is a critical site to visit before hiring anyone for any task in the publishing process. There are no easy paths. Shortcuts lead to disappointment and heartache. Good luck.
Thank you again, John, this is brilliant! I’d always welcome a part two (and three… and four… :))
John J. Hohn is the author of two five-star literary mysteries, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds, 2011 and a sequel, Breached, 2014. As I Was Passing By, a collection of poems, was published in 2000. His prize-winning poetry appears frequently on his web site along with articles on a variety of subjects. He plans to publish a book of selected works later in 2017.
He contributes to various web sites dedicated to writing and publishing. His own website, www.jjhohn.com, features articles on a wide range of topics including book and drama reviews, autobiographical sketches, financial planning, and civil rights.
Born and raised in Yankton, South Dakota, USA, John graduated from St. John’s University in 1961 with a degree in English.
He is the father of four sons and a daughter, a stepfather to a son, and has resided in North Carolina since 1978.
He and his wife Melinda divide their time each year between their home in Winston-Salem, NC and a cabin near West Jefferson, NC.
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