Today's internet is redefining the way people connect and communicate in both exciting and challenging ways. Many writers are going direct-to-consumer with their books, often bypassing the traditional print publishing route to publish via print-on-demand (P.O.D). The good (and bad) news is there are a lot of P.O.D. publishers out there. So how you choose the one that’s right for you?
Two words: comparison shop.
Most P.O.D. publishers offer a selection of packages ranging from no frills (choose a cover template, submit manuscript) to full marketing packages, including promotional support materials, PR, and custom cover design.
Of course, there’s a price tag associated with all the incremental support, pro-rated such that the package deal is a better discount than choosing the services a la carte. It’s tempting to upgrade and go for the high-end package – but is that always the smart choice?
The answer is no. So how do you decide what’s best for you?
Step 1: Ask yourself what are your objectives with your book. Are you hoping to be the next bestseller with wide distribution or is this a book you simply plan to share with family and friends? Your plans are pivotal to what packages you should even consider.
Step 2: How much time and money do you want to invest in the book. Right up front, understand that it’s usually a long uphill slog to get recognition for your book. And much of the work is going to be done by you. Industry data says that over 200,000 books are published each year, all clamoring for share of shelf and share of readers’ minds. Whether you do it yourself or pay to have your P.O.D. publisher do it for you, you have to invest both time and money to generate awareness. And there are no guarantees.
Step 3: Learn the landscape. Visit a variety of P.O.D. websites to see what types of publishing packages they offer, and to familiarize yourself with the industry. Make up a comparative spreadsheet so you’re able to compare all the elements, ranging from services to pricing. Organize your sheet into two sections: the actual printing and publishing process (i.e. proofing, galleys, cover design); and the marketing process (promotional materials, PR, availability on wholesale distributors such as Ingram’s and Baker & Taylor which is where many bookstores place their orders). A good start is at “An Incomplete Guide to Print On Demand Publishers” (http://booksandtales.com/pod/index.php).
Step 4: Do a background check. Check with the Better Business Bureau and online to see if there are any complaints about a P.O.D. publisher you are considering. I found that googling the publisher’s name with the word ‘complaints’ helped to find useful data.
Step 5: Make sure you have control over setting the retail price. This is pivotal. Many P.O.D. publishers set your book’s retail price based on standard trade discounts of 40% to 50% or more. In other words, if your book costs $10 to publish, the cover price will be $20 so that the bookstore gets their profit. This becomes a real problem if books in your market segment normally sell for less. Think about it: you’re an unknown author with a book priced higher than better-known competitors. Not a good starting point.
Step 6: Check customer satisfaction. It’s a mark of service quality when the P.O.D. not only lists the book names but also author information that allows you to directly contact the people who have already used them – and you don’t have to get the publisher’s prior approval to do so. I emailed a number of authors as I winnowed down my choices to find out their level of satisfaction. I eliminated those P.O.D.s that didn’t enable me to easily contact their clients. Some questions to ask: responsiveness to questions and problems; quality of printed materials; meeting deadlines; and overall satisfaction - as in would they print a second book with this P.O.D.
Step 6: Read the contract thoroughly. This is a legally binding document. Make sure you retain all your rights to your book and that you can exit the contract at any time in case a traditional publishing house approaches you, or you decide to publish elsewhere. If you’re not clear on any sections – ask! And get the answers in writing.
Step 7: Remember GIGO. Your P.O.D. printed book is only as good as the effort you put into it. Your attention to editing, proof reading, a thorough review of the pre-print galleys, and inspection of the author’s copies are all up to you. Understand that unlike a traditional publishing house, the P.O.D. publisher will print whatever you approve, no matter how good or bad it is. The old adage, Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO), is very much a factor in this process.
Helpful hint - Consider alternate promo printing options. It can often be less expensive to print your postcards, bookmarks and other items via online print resources as opposed to through the P.O.D. Again, comparison shop prices, remembering to include design fees which many sites offer, if you are not going to design it yourself. Once you have a high-resolution image of your books cover (provided by your publisher), you can use it for any promotional efforts.