Before You POD

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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,
Maria