In my last post I came out as a POD person – a print-on-demand author. Strictly speaking, I may not have used the term correctly. As several writers have reminded me, print-on-demand refers to the technology, not the business model. Perhaps I should have called myself a self-published author, but the new technology is changing the publishing field so rapidly that definitions are in flux. So I’m not going to back down – I still like the term POD for the publication method I chose. In today’s Q&A, I’m addressing some basic questions.
What is Print on Demand, anyway?
Print on Demand is a printing technology that came into being with the advent of digital printing. In POD, copies of a book or other document are not printed until an order has been received. It’s now possible to produce single copies or very small print runs at a fixed cost per copy. This wasn’t possible with traditional technologies such as letterpress and offset printing, which involve much higher setup costs.
Who uses Print on Demand technology?
Although the term’s commonly used to refer to online publishers who help authors self-publish their books, more and more traditional small presses have switched to POD technology, often contracting their printing out to POD service providers. According to Wikipedia, many academic and university presses are using POD. Large publishers may also use it to reprint older titles or for test marketing.
What’s the difference between Print on Demand and Self-Publishing?
Many companies have sprung up that offer POD services to authors who want to self-publish. Their services include design and layout, printing, shipping, handling copyright and ISBN numbers, and listing the books with online services like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders. Self-publishing, on the other hand, can refer to any technology. I know many poets who produce small chap books using the machines at Staples or Kinko’s, and some authors who have self-published by shepherding their own books through the design, printing and distribution process from beginning to end. To me, that would be like slogging through hell, and I’d much rather pay someone else to handle the technical and business aspects.
Will a POD company edit my work?
Probably not, unless you pay extra. Most companies offer editing packages for an additional fee. Patricia Stoltey posed the question well: “I’ve read some great books from POD publishers (mostly nonfiction), and also some not so good. The big difference is usually in the editing (or lack thereof). My questions: Do the POD sites make an effort to tell beginning authors that they must not only self-edit, but should often hire a professional editor as well? Or do they offer editing services as part of their contract?”
My publisher, Virtualbookworm, is selective in choosing which manuscripts to accept for publication, and they refuse to publish anything pornographic or excessively violent. Other publishers will accept just about anything that comes their way. The owner of a local independent bookstore established a print-on-demand company several years ago. She’s candidly admitted that she started the new business because she doesn’t expect the bookstore to survive more than another decade. She refers to the POD firm as a printer rather than a publisher, and makes no judgments as to the quality of the books she prints, at least when communicating with the aspiring authors who comprise her customer base. Privately, she’s told me that 90% of what she publishes is crap.
Morgan Mandel, who published two previous books with a small press, posted an interesting comment on Friday’s blog. She said in part, “This time, I went the self-publishing route for Killer Career. It’s very liberating to call the shots myself, but it’s a lot more work than having a publisher do it for you. . . . I received a thorough edit three times from Helen Ginger and I’m confident my book is the best it can be.”
People often ask me who edited my books, and I reply, “I did.” However, I have professional experience in copyediting and journalism, and both my mysteries went through exhaustive critiques in three writing groups, so I’m confident of their quality. Feedback from readers has validated my judgment.
With so little quality control in the POD field, how do you convince people your work is worth reading, let alone buying?
Good question, but I’m going to save it for Wednesday’s post. In the meantime, keep sending me your comments and questions. What’s your experience with POD publishing?