Number Eighteen In A Series of Self-Publishing Posts

August 22nd, 2005 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

One day, we will find ourselves sitting in our cozy little office (though we are hoping it will be a bigger cozy little office with a couch), lamenting the attendant problems caused by the rise of print on demand. Because, we are sure, the problems will be legion. After all, how does one calculate the delightful reversion of rights clause without a final print date?

(This is where, in another post, we’d note that now is a good time for all authors to start looking at how they can regain as many of their rights as possible as soon possible)

POD is the great promise of the publishing industry. It will, once perfected, cure all ills, including the agony of defeat. It will allow for more rapid turnaround, smaller print runs (fewer returns) with almost instantaneous deliveries to stores, and, just like its cousin Video on Demand (something we were once assured was nothing but a chimera), unlimited access to back catalogs. And so on. It will be a dream come true, a William Gibson fantasy, a thing of vending machine magic.

But this is now, and print on demand seems to be stuck in a rut: all self-publishing all the time. By focusing the POD discussion on one aspect of the market, the publishing business is missing an opportunity. See above for examples of said opportunity.

Until then, we’d like to remind all of our loyal readers that there is a difference between Print on Demand and self-publishing. The latter is the technology (though still not quite on demand, as promised), the other is a publishing avenue. PublishAmerica and other companies are still self-publishers. You pay them to make your book into a physical object. That they can produce limited copies is not the point. Thus we find ourselves amused by carefully delineated distinctions between the two:

Print-on-demand is different from the old style of self-publishing, known as “vanity press” or “subsidized publishing.” For $5,000 (but usually $10,000 to $20,000), vanity presses typically sell an author 1,000 hardcover copies of his book.

In contrast, POD companies use what are essentially giant desktop printers. They print and bind trade paperbacks, charging the author several hundred dollars (the fees go up with added services) and giving him or her more involvement in production and design.

Even the most careless of readers will note that print on demand isn’t really different from old style self-publishing. Only the levels have changed. Old school self-publishing required big bucks. New school self-publishing requires a smaller investment with fewer books being produced. Thus more authors can afford to get into the game. They still face the issues of getting into bookstores, hand selling to friends and family (or hand selling by friends and family), scaring up reviews. Same problems, more people facing them (we have only to look to the growing number of review requests we receive from self-published authors for evidence of this).

This is the reason for our semi-regular rants on this topic: far too many people leap before they look, ending up with nasty sprains to their egos. There are many well-written, deserving books that end up self-published. Unfortunately, as we have had the misfortune to note, there are many poorly written, undeserving books that end up self-published. In the latter case, the authors do not have the experience to accurately judge their work, nor do they have the technical skills to do so (we are reminded of a published authors contest that allowed self-published works; we could not judge the self-published entry fairly due to the marked lack of editing and proofreading; it matters). The reason that reviewers tend to stay far away from self-published works is the perceived lack of quality; this is not helped by an increasing number of publishers foisting unready authors on the books community.

We often talk about education when it comes to the publishing industry. This includes the self-publishing industry. Step one, in this case, is understanding what self-publishing is and what it means. Step two is learning to judge your work fairly. Step ten involves actually targeting reviewers who might be inclined to read what you write. And so on.

Do not confuse A with B. Print on demand is merely a vehicle for the sauce, and someday, we’re going to lament the attendant problems. . .

File Under: Square Pegs

2 responses so far ↓

  • Elizabeth Burton // Aug 23, 2005 at 8:52 am

    Thank you on behalf of the 114 talent writers published–in POD–by Zumaya Publications. We chose POD for reasons economic and environmental, and so far those 114 people are very happy with the way we operate.

    As for your question about reversion of rights, we contract only for those we intend to use. The contract term is two years from date of publication. If we don’t hear otherwise, it renews automatically. If we do hear otherwise, all rights are returned to the author. If the author lands a contract with the trads, there’s a kill fee after which their rights also revert, but ONLY if the book is published.

    Our contract has been vetted by agents, media attorneys and writers groups and has been pronounced “decent,” which is what we intended.

    The media prefers to equate the process with the product, as it gives them a chance to be sarcastic. Rather like giggling over Stephen King’s ebook “failure,” which netted him $600K. I should have such failure.

  • Booksquare // Aug 23, 2005 at 10:35 am

    Elizabeth, if I may (g), if your contract is decent, then you’re a unique publisher. Sorry…couldn’t resist. And thanks for clarifying reversion of rights as far as your company is concerned. I know that many print publishers tend to use the out-of-print concept as a way of starting the clock. I (personally) think a specific time period is a better gauge. Given the shelf life of most print books, I also believe shorter is to the advantage of the author.

    I think education is the key — as long as authors walk into the process with their eyes wide open (which means that authors need to stop pretending that the business isn’t their business), all options are valid. It’s those who make uneducated decisions that worry me…