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What's the difference between self-publishing and print-on-demand (POD)?

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Q: What’s the difference between self-publishing and print on demand (POD)? Is one better than the other? —Rachele LaBello

A: With self-publishing, a company generally charges you an upfront fee (roughly between $500 and $1,000) and then does print-runs, or large orders, just like a traditional publishing house. You pay the cost of your book’s publication and control almost every aspect of the production process. Your name will be listed as publisher of the book. The upside is that you have many copies and control everything, which makes it easier to market and sell. But if you haven’t done research on how to market your book, you could end up with so many leftover copies that you’ll have to start building furniture out of them.

POD publishing uses printing technology to produce books one at a time through a company at a cost-effective price. The books are printed individually as orders come in. Therefore, if you have an order of 200 books, you can print 200 books. If the only person who wants a copy is your mother, you can print just one book. POD cuts back on costs and eliminates the need for space to store unsold copies—that way you’re not stuck with 10 tomes stuffed in every corner of your bedroom. I hear spouses don’t like sleeping on piles of books.

Both are great options if you’re looking to get your book in print, and if you research companies that dabble in each, you’ll find benefits to both. If you’re writing a family history, memoir or book of poetry that has a limited audience, using POD is probably to your advantage. POD books are rarely stocked at bookstores, however, because they’re often nonreturnable and not sold at a discount. If you know how to market and promote your book and want to try to make a splash in local bookstores, printing in bulk via self-publishing may be a better bet.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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