Before You POD

Hi Writers,
With all of the chatter surrounding Amazon’s recent announcement that they’ll now only sell POD (print-on-demand) books printed by their subsidiary BookSurge, I wanted to offer some important questions to ask yourself before you enter into any POD arrangement.

Writer’s Digest has occasionally been criticized for accepting POD advertising. I’ve already stated my stance about that here. You can go to My Manifesto, if you’re interested in my point-of-view on advertising. 

To be perfectly honest, when trying to publish a book, it’s almost always the best first course of action to attempt to land an agent and get on with a commercial publishing house so you don’t have to underwrite the expense of publishing the book yourself.

But there are instances when good books don’t fit into the right business model or the right trends to garner attention from commercial houses.

Whatever your opinion on PODs, it’s a legitimate industry made up of publishing companies that run the gamut from the good to the bad to the truly ugly.

With that in mind, here are three essential questions to ask yourself before you go POD:

1.  What’s your Goal?

So you’ve written a book. You probably think it’s a great book given that you’ve put a lot of time and energy into it.

But if you’re going to publish your book and attempt to sell it, it’s essential to put some distance between you and your book and start thinking of it as a product. Who’s your target market? If it’s just your family and friends, realize that and proceed consciously knowing and accepting that you’re probably not going to sell 500 books.

Have you brought it to trusted readers who will offer you honest, objective opinions? This should be your first step before any attempts to get your book published, POD or commercially.

2. Are you a good self-marketer?
If you already have an established platform—a newspaper or magazine column, a popular blog, etc., or if you have some expertise and make frequent appearances on TV and radio—POD might actually be a viable alternative for you. If you’re a businessperson or motivational speaker with regular speaking engagements, that’s actually a great way to sell books.

Of course, “sell” is the operative word. If you’re shy about selling, think twice before going POD because the selling impetus rests entirely on your shoulders. If the idea of cold calling a local bookstore gives you cold sweats, think twice.

3. Have you done the research?
Enter into a POD agreement with the due diligence you’d give any contractual agreement. I’d strongly consider running any POD contract through a lawyer (one with experience in publishing law or, at the very minimum, intellectual property law), since the language and terms vary widely. Make sure you know the bottom line number you’ll be paying and the specific terms of what you’re getting.

Have you seen first-hand examples from the POD company you’re considering? Make sure you’ve seen at least several examples of their work. Is the binding firm? Are the pages intact? Is the cover art attractive? Check references of other authors who’ve used the POD’s services.    

A few more things to consider:
There are some professional associations that overshadow the POD industry. These are the current affiliations you should know about in order to make an informed decision if you do decide to go POD:
• BookSurge is a subsidiary of Amazon
• Barnes & Noble is a shareholder in iUniverse
• Most POD books are actually printed by Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram (the industry’s primary book distributor and wholesaler). Infinity is one notable exception.

If you’re interested in learning more about PODs—and self-publishing in general—here are two good primers:  
The Evolution of Self-publishing by our online managing editor Brian A. Klems

Print on Demand article at Writer Beware (sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America)

I hope this post wasn’t too basic. But I really wanted to put some solid, factual information and suggestions out there for any writer who’s considering POD as an alternative because it can be very confusing. I don’t want any writer to get blindsided.

Please consider this is an open forum. Feel free to post any thoughts, questions or experiences with POD companies here.

Keep Writing,

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16 thoughts on “Before You POD

  1. Ritergal

    I have had two titles published by a small commercial publisher, and self-published a short memoir of my preschool years via Lulu (without Amazon connection). Based on my own experience as well as that of friends, no matter how large your publisher, you are unlikely to see large royalty checks unless you work on book promotion yourself, pretty much non-stop. So don’t assume that your book will sell better with a traditional publisher.

    POD is perfect for those small projects where you just want to have a few copies available for a specific purpose, and in this case, there is no set-up fee. Just upload the files and you’ve got a book, for better or worse. I’ve been delighted with the results of my publishing experience both ways. The commercial books sell primarily because I’ve promoted the heck out of them myself!

  2. Stacey McFadgen

    As I am not yet a published writer I am always seeking advice on how to make that happen, I was impressed with the way you addressed the POD aspect of publishing. The first book I bought when I decided to get my novel on paper was GET PUBLISHED by iuniverse. I read it cover to cover and surfed every available page on their site. Not once did they mention a few of the little gems of info that you offered up in a mere 3 questions. Thanks for taking the time. I appreciate it.

    Stacey McFadgen

  3. Sharon Miner

    Defending POD Publishing

    As a published author of both traditional and POD publishing, I’d like to share my insight.

    Traditional Publishers: The larger houses are hard to break into; the five largest ones will only accept agents’ submissions. Smaller publishers are a little easier especially for first time authors, but even there the slush pile is huge. Checking a Writers Market listing and following the guidelines is a must.

    If accepted, the author has little control over the final product, especially the artwork. In my first book published by a small children’s press, I did not see the cover until the book had been printed. I’m a professional horsewoman and the cover shows the rider holding the reins upside down!

    A publisher’s editor will be very helpful, but I have read several books published by large and small houses that have had errors, poor layout and questionable grammar. Just recently, I read a best seller by James Patterson that was difficult to follow because the point of view changed constantly within a setting. And I had to reread to find out who “he” was several times throughout the story.

    Most authors do not receive large advances if their manuscript is accepted. The amount paid up front is the amount the publisher feels the book will earn you for the life of the book. Sales would have to exceed that amount before earning any more of the agreed royalty – usually 10%.

    Most houses will give the author a few free copies of the book, but will not allow the author to purchase any to sell. So, if you set up a book signing, the book store purchases them from a distribution center and you better sign a bunch or the book store will send the books back.

    Print On Demand Self Publishing: My last five books have been via POD – Infinity Publishing. I’ve been extremely satisfied but will admit I have a niche market – I write about horses and young adult mysteries that have horses in them. I market them to saddle shops and private book or gift shops in horsey areas. They are listed on Amazon as well.

    I also have PR/Marketing background, both from owning a riding stable for 25 years and working in the corporate world. If I am doing all the work marketing my books with signings, writing workshops and school visits then I feel I should earn more than the 10% royalty. And I do, a lot more.

    I love having the control over the final layout and cover, choosing the artist for the artwork and that fact that I can make changes to my book at any time for a small fee. This is because they are printed “On Demand.” I also gather my own reviews before publishing.

    Another benefit is the timing. Once a manuscript is submitted (I send in a CD – saves paper) it takes about two months for the proof to be read, and once signed off, it is listed on Infinity’s Web site within a week. I can then order my books with a large discount and start selling!

    Yes, many authors who have self-published should have had a professional editor review their work first. Attending writing workshops (free from most libraries), writing conferences and creative writing classes would also be a benefit.

  4. Anthony Buccino

    Maria, you are off to a good start and your three questions should help people going into POD do so with their eyes open.

    Regardless of how long we’ve been around, there is always someone new who has written something they think is worthy of sharing with the world. I’ve read some poorly written self-published books.

    I self-published five books, the last two, in small runs so if I needed more, I could order more of the local interest paperbacks.

    As a regular WD reader (several decades), I’m wondering where were your Three Questions in 1990 when I did my first book? You could have saved me a lot of angst.

    However, and this is the good thing about boldly making mistakes, with each new book, I think I’ve gotten smarter about how to publish, especially seeing the market for what it is and seeing myself for what I am.

  5. David Alderman

    Maria, this was indeed a great post. I like how you have pointed out that if you plan on going the route of POD, then you have to come to the reality that there is sales involved. I myself have never liked or felt that I was good in a salesperson’s shoes, but ever since I went the route of POD, I have come across some challenging lessons about what I need to overcome (my fear of advertising, word of mouth, cold calling bookstores) if I truly care about my book and want it out there in the hands of potential readers. I did try the path of trying to garner an agent, etc, etc, and it didn’t work out for me in a timely manner and I realized that I didn’t want to sit and wait for my book to sell itself. This realization has forced me to get my feet a bit wet and I am still learning as I go along (baby steps, I guess). Thanks for the great post and for being so honest about the road ahead for those who are interested in POD publishing.

  6. Ann

    Hi Maria,

    I tried to comment on the Open Letter from Amazon, but as you know I had an issue and it would not save. This may be a better post for me to comment on regarding both issues. So I try again (smile).

    I have personal experience with a POD, even though they claimed to be a "traditional publisher" who does not charge the authors to get published and pay royalties! Part of me is grateful for the experience of getting my first book published. It is the most amazing feeling, very surreal to hold your first book in your hands, printed, with your name under the title and photo on the back. And the best part of the experience is the amazing responses from readers…which have been beyond my wildest dreams.

    However, it turned out that the publisher did not do all they said they would do, even to not paying some royalties. There were many authors up in arms about issues with that publisher, and there was an article in the Washington Post about the publisher and the issues. Several authors, including myself finally decided to get out, requested termination of contracts, and received letters from the publisher confirming acceptance of contract cancellation.

    One problem after contract cancelled, is that any books still on Amazon or other internet sites are not pulled, and if and when sold you don’t get even your meager royalty from the sale.

    I did contact Ingram and they confirmed that no further printings are allowed. Of course, I still wonder if any places such as Amazon who now have their own POD printer, would be so bold as to poach books such as mine and reprint them. I would hope not.
    If I could afford it I would buy up all books currently showing for sale through Amazon, or any other website.

    Another problem with being published by a POD, I have read, is that anyone who is published by a POD will never be considered by an agent and commercial publisher as a bona fide writer. This is not good news, especially when your first book published is to be the first in a series. And, when you want to submit other works for publication, you are not considered a good and potentially great writer if published by a POD.

    This can be very depressing to any writer who truly wants to be published, especially when they believe they have created something that will benefit others, whether to inspire, encourage, bring joy, laughter, even tears. Trying to get published these days is a trying process. It can be overwhelming when being bombarded with advertisements and articles about having to read, study, learn how to approach an agent, publisher, publication; how to market your work, and the whole business side of being an author.

    And then of course, there is working to earn a living while making time to write, and pray you find the perfect match for you and an agent. Ok, someone start a for writers and agents! (smile)

  7. Elaine Luddy Klonicki

    I think your post was very balanced. POD is definitely not for everyone. Having said that, I have had very good experiences publishing on both iUniverse and Lulu. I did my first book, Thinking About Therapy, on iUniverse after trying the traditional route and being told time and time again that books on therapy don’t sell. I believed in the book enough to self-publish.

    I have used Lulu for subsequent books because they are local and are growing so quickly. I wrote a memoir about my parents, re-published a WWII combat book for my uncle, and recently published an anthology for my writers’ group.

    I have been writing for many years and am somewhat artistic, so I had the complete image for each book in my head before I started. I bartered with a copyeditor, paid for a graphic artist, and have worked tirelessly to promote my books. I think I’ve read everything written on book marketing. I’m still learning how to sell books, both online and in person, but I’m making good progress.

    If you don’t like to sell on your own, don’t self-publish. You will not get sales simply because your book appears online, even on amazon. Many POD books don’t sell more than 300 copies, most to family and friends. But it can be a good avenue, as you said, for those who are willing to mine the net and set up speaking engagements.

    Keep up the good work, Maria. Love your blog.

  8. :Donna

    Maria, this post wasn’t too basic at all. After all, it’s better to keep it basic on a blog anyway, right? 🙂 It was just enough information for anyone interested in POD.

    I had a second-hand experience with it (I have no intention of using POD) on two different levels, that I will impart quickly:

    Over ten years ago, I tried belonging to a local writer’s group; the meetings were held at a library. I think there were 15-20 writers there. I went to maybe 5 or 6 meetings because I got nothing out of it, but ultimately learned a few unexpected lessons, one of them being a very hard one.

    First experience: one of the writers there had self-published a novel which she brought to a meeting to sell; I bought it to support her, brought it home, struggled through the first few pages and literally, for the first time in my life, THREW A BOOK AWAY! It was so bad, it wasn’t worth even giving it away, so into the recycle bin it went. This lesson was simple: some writers can’t write, don’t see that they can’t write, and will self-publish to make sure their writing is in print and their name is on a cover. More often than what seemed "right", I’ve heard people saying "Oh, yeah! My friend published a book!" not realizing these friends had typically self-published. There’s a big difference (as we know) between [self]publishing a book and getting a book published [commercially].

    My second and difficult lesson: the man who organized that same writers’ group came off as though he knew so much about writing and publishing because he occasionally wrote articles for a local newspaper and was working on books. Months after I’d left that group, he called me to tell me he was getting his book published, only he needed an illustrator. Knowing what I knew, I told him that didn’t sound right because publishers prefer authors not finding their own illustrators. He insisted it was a legit publisher who wanted to publish his book and made me believe it could be my "foot in the door" as an illustrator.

    Long story short: I didn’t get the name of the publisher, trusted that this man knew more than I did about the publishing industry (NOT!!!!) and went to work on literally rewriting his story and then laid out illustrations for a complete picture book dummy. We later had trouble with our own personal agreement about the book itself, but that is when I came to find out he was SELF-publishing this book! THAT is why HE needed to find an illustrator! I literally did two months of work for nothing (other than practice and a couple of nice paintings for a portfolio), then several years later the house he was working with at that time turned out to be a scam; I saw it in the newspaper. He screwed me by misleading me (I was very clear in telling him I never wanted to be involved in self-publishing and he flat-out lied to me knowing I never would’ve agreed. I was never paid for that work because, as I said, he led me to believe it was my "in", thinking I’d eventually get paid in some way); I screwed myself for over-trusting him and not researching it myself before I agreed, and he got screwed by the scam publishing house (somewhere in western Canada).

    So, that’s my unpleasant experience with self-publishing. I think many people go into it thinking it’s going to be easy to sell their books and they’ll have a "bestseller" someday. Posting this on the blog was a good thing to do to help open people’s eyes, if they haven’t already been opened.
    : Donna

  9. Helen Gallagher

    You did a great job, Maria. Thanks for the balanced perspective about when POD really is the right choice. All potential authors need to know the points you raised. I have more resources and tips posted at to remind authors that the work isn’t done once your book comes out. POD, and in fact, most publishing today requires a long-term commitment to keep your book alive and in front of that desired target audience.

    Helen Gallagher