Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thinking POD? Think Again....

Authors often ask me if self-publishing is a viable option.

You'll have to work your butt off, but I believe it can be done. A few months ago I interviewed Sandy Tooley, who self publishes. And I really liked Jim Hansen's Night Laws.

But these folks became their own publishers.

POD vanity presses (XLibris, PublishAmerica, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Booksurge) are another thing entirely. For a price, they'll publish your book.

Some quick definitions: POD is a technology that allows books to be created to order, as opposed to offset printing that requires books to be warehoused. Vanity presses are publishers that the author pays, rather than publishers that pay the author.

Is it possible to be successful using one of these services? Let's crunch some numbers. For this example we'll use real figures, but we'll call the POD vanity publisher "Happy Press."

Happy Press demands a minimum retail cover price of $18.99 for a standard 6 x 9" 250-350 page trade paperback. If your book is longer than 350 pages, the price goes up.

Would you pay almost twenty bucks for a trade paperback, when the current bookstore rate is between $10 and $16? You can buy bestselling hardcovers for $19, or for less on Amazon.

But, for this example, let's assume your book is so good that people will pay that much.

Tradional publishers offer between an 8% and 15% royalty, depending on the book type and print run. Happy Press offers a 25% royalty. This seems pretty good, but why the hell are you even getting a royalty? It's your book, you're paying to have it printed, so you should keep all the rights and make 100% of the profit. Right?

At least, you would be keeping the profits if you self-published on your own, instead of using Happy Press.

That aside, 25% of 18.99 is about $4.75.

Depending on the set-up package you buy (between $2k and $5k) you'd need to sell between 422 and 1052 to break even. But those would all have to be online sales (through Amazon mostly.) Why?

Because you still have the problem of getting your books into stores. For an extra $600 fee, Happy Press will get you into Baker & Taylor, which is a distributor. Newsflash: BT distributes millions of books. Do you see millions of books on the shelf at your local bookstore? No. Just because you have a distributor DOES NOT MEAN they'll stock your book. Only that they can order it.

Who is going to go into a bookstore and order your book? Considering POD won't get reviewed, no one will know about your book. And I'm betting that Happy Press doesn't offer the standard 55% discount to distributors, which means the bookstores will only be able to order copies at perhaps a 15% discount (standard for POD) which means the bookstores WILL NOT carry you on the shelves. Do you think they'll stock a $19 paperback from a POD company and an author they've never heard of? They'll know you're POD because the stock number will always be 100. Do you think the postcard you sent the bookstore will persude them to stock you?

The answer: No.

Can you sell 1000 copies through Amazon? In the first few weeks of its release, bestselling author Kay Hooper sold 35,000 copies of her last book through bookstores. How many did she sell through Amazon? 300 copies. Think your book will outsell hers online? Think again.

But perhaps there's another way to get your book into stores...

Happy Press offers authors books at up to a 70% discount if they buy 1000. That sound great, doesn't it?

Perhaps you can sell those to stores yourself and make all the profit.

Let's do the math. You've got to give the bookstore a 40% discount. So you'll sell them the books for $11.40 each. That leaves you with a $5.70 profit per book. Not bad. But out of that comes the Happy Press Package fee, the printing cost, shipping the book to bookstores, and the effort to just get the bookstores to carry you (an effort that traditionally published authors don't have to make.)

Also figure in a 50% return rate.

If you get 1000 books into stores, and sell 500, you'll make $2850. Subtract the $5700 (the cost of printing 1000 books at the 70% discount) and subtract the package cost ($5000 for all the set up fees.)

You've only lost $4900, selling 500 books.

If you sell 2000 (which means you'll have to ship 4000) your total cost would be:

$5000 set-up package
$22800 book printing costs
minus $11400 profit

Which means you're losing $16400.

Let's use a best case scenario and say you bought a lesser set-up package from Happy Press and had a 75% sell through (which is impossible, but let's dream big.)

$2000 package
$22800 to print 4000 books
$34200 profit for selling 3000.

So if you sell 3000 books out of 4000 printed you'll earn a profit of $9400.

But shipping books will cost a minimum of $1 each, so subtract $4000.

Now you're in the black $5400. Not bad. But not enough to live on for a year.

And don't forget---how did these bookstores hear about your book? You had to write them, call them, or visit them, to get them to stock you. Phone calls, mail, and gasoline all come out of your profit.

If you allow returns, you'll need a distributor, who will take an extra 15% ($5130) of the cut, plus set-up fees. And you'll still need to hustle to get the stores to carry your books.

Now let's have a reality check. Bookstores are not going to carry you. You won't get reviews. And customers won't want to buy a $19 paperback.

The only way you'll sell your books is by begging bookstores to let you do signings there and then spending several hours on your feet handselling them.

In all of my hustling, I've only handsold about 3000 copies of my books in two years. And I do a lot of hustling.

If selling your books were your full time job, and you visited a bookstore every day of the year, and sold ten books at each visit (a reasonable number) you would only sell 3650 books. Not a bad number, but for all that work, you'll be lucky to break even, let alone make enough money to compensate you for your time and effort.

My advice: Stay away from POD vanity presses.

If you want to use POD as a technology to self-publish, make sure you're hiring a printer, not a publisher. You need to keep the rights to your book.

You'll still have problems getting your books into stores and getting reviewed, but your cover price will be lower, your overall costs will be lower, and your profit margin better.

Or you can continue to improve your craft, find a good agent, and sell your book to a traditional publisher.

53 comments:

Mark Terry said...

I think anyone considering POD should print this out and frame it and hang it over their desks. Nice breakdown.

I went this route for my first book, Catfish Guru, but for other reasons. You can read all about it on my own blog if you're really interested. Everything Joe says here is true. What you can expect to sell is 100 or 200 books but it gets much harder after the first 100.

For me, at the time, Mystery Writers of America had a 6-month trial period where it was free with iUniverse, so there were no upfront costs. Still, you can't get them into bookstores.

Here's my basic feeling on it. It depends on what you want. If all you want is a book on your shelf that you can say you wrote that you're going to sell or give to friends and relatives, then this is a viable option.

If it's any kind of a career decision, if you want to make a living as a writer, if you want to make money period, don't consider POD.

Also a note. I think Catfish Guru is good, I think it stands up. But I didn't use it as an advertising point with agents or editors. They don't give a shit. They are unimpressed with POD (unless you somehow sold 25,000, then they'll come looking for you) publications and it means exactly zero and could possibly be detrimental to a writing career.

In the case of Catfish Guru, I already had a book contract for another book and wrote the first of the 2 novellas to be serialized on my website as a marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, Write Way, the publisher, went bankrupt around month 6. That's the short version of why I went with POD. I had a novella with no market, so I wrote a second novella and POD'ed it.

Would I do it again? It's not inconceivable, but if I do, it'll be just because I want the manuscripts in book form to sit on my shelf. It's hellishly difficult to build a readership when you're published through normal channels. Doing it on your own is like starting a marathon two miles behind the starting line.

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

POD also works if you're a millionaire with tons of power and publicity possibilities, or a celebrity.

Amy Fisher pubbed with iUniverse and sold a hefty amount of copies... but then again, she is Amy Fisher.

And then there was Michael Stadther's A Treasure's Trove... but he self-pubbed that with a publishing company he bought strictly for the book...

I'll go the traditional route, I guess... even if it's rife with heartache and such.

Chris Howard said...

What about lulu.com? Is it a reasonable way to self publish?

Anonymous said...

As a Virtualbookworm POD author I cannot disagree with one thing you said.

John S. Meade

Mary R said...

I have a friend who got five printed paperbacks (+1 for the graphic designer who did the cover to use as a sample) through lulu.com to give out as reading copies to get feedback before submitting to publishers. It worked out well, she got more people to read than might otherwise. I'll probably do the same.

The people I know who have been happy with POD, all have had some sort of real-world business experience and set realistic goals for themselves. Each also had a niche market for their book already picked out. One was a WWII memoir, another a romance set against a local historical event (sold in the visitor's center gift shop). POD books just aren't bought by people without some connection to you or your topic.

A rule of thumb someone gave me about indie filmmaking probably fits POD publishing as well - unless you are finding people in the business who seriously love your work, but don't think they can market it - it isn't at the quality level for you to bother trying to make the film yourself.

jamie ford said...

Nice breakdown. POD has more in common with Amway than book publishing.

And what about all those hideous, 3rd rate cover designs...

Stacey Cochran said...

Your numbers are way off.

And you cannot put a pricetag on learning about distribution, how bookstores order books, how radio stations program interviews, how chain stores differ from indies, how to get on a panel at conventions, how to work with newspapers to get articles of you and your book in them, how to print up flyers and put them on car windows at bookstores all over a major metropolitan area (weekly), how to get your first few library events, how to send out postcards (in terms of just printing and mailing and compiling mailing label lists), how to get over shyness and ask people to buy your book, how to put a T-shirt contest together on your website that draws in readers from around the world (and thus builds an email distribution list of people who have come to you, so that you can have a quarterly newsletter). And all of this with no pressure to earn back an advance for a publisher.

If you treat it as a learning experience, realistically knowing that you're not going to make a lot of money and with a constant eye on getting to the next level (agented and traditionally published), I think it's worth it.

Plus, if you've got like ten novels that have just been sitting on your computer anyways, you might as well do something with a couple of them.

Where I'm from, you teach a kid to fish with a cane pole before you put him on a deep sea fishing boat in the Atlantic.

Stacey

JA Konrath said...

I'm not familiar with Lulu.com. Lookign at the website, it seems as if you keep the rights, and pay for their services as a printer/binder.

You'll still have the problem of getting the book into bookstores, getting reviewed, and the higher price for a paperback copy.

Stacey Cochran said...

Lulu.com is the way to go, if you're going to POD (which, as Joe says, is loaded with obstacles).

But if you're gonna do it, start by checking out Lulu.

There's a very good community there, and it costs nothing to learn. And you keep all rights.

Stacey

Other things I've learned: how to record your own audiobook (see podiobooks.com), how to market your books with Amazon.com's Buy X Get Y program, and how to use online retailers in general like B&N online and Amazon.com to get cover images uploaded, descriptive content uploaded, reviews written, how to get onboard with Amazon Connect... stuff like that.

Doolols said...

You've hit the button again, Joe.

PoD (Print on Demand, as opposed to Publish on Demand) if you really need to get a book in your sweaty hands. But, for the moment, trad publishing has to be the ultimate goal.

And the fishing analogy doesn't work either. Or maybe it does. If the boy doesn't have any luck with the pole, will he be bothered to try the deep sea fishing? Or will he go home, crack open a beer, and watch the football (soccer) on the TV?

PJ Parrish said...

Mark writes: I think anyone considering POD should print this out and frame it and hang it over their desks.

Forget that. Staple it to your forehead. The resulting headache will be less than the one created by going POD.

POD is a viable route for a very limited number of books, mainly nonfiction with a niche market. For fiction, especially fiction in the highly competitive crime genres, it is almost always a deadend. Not a detour, a deadend.

As for POD being an outlet for all those great stories laying dormant in the C drive...well, there are usually good reasons why these stories don't see the light of your local B&N. They aren't good enough. (Believe me, I have SEVERAL on disk and their little buddies, rejection slips). Most writers would be better off focusing on their one BEST story and reworking it, rewriting it, reshaping it and refocusing it until it sparkles so brightly a traditional publisher can't ignore it.

Sorry if I sound crabby, but I just hate the way these companies prey on peoples' dreams.

Preach on, brother Joseph.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

There are those who defend POD and self-publishing by pointing to the two or three people who have had success in the field.

Those people are the exceptions, folks. Few and far between.

That fact shouldn't stop you, of course. There's always the chance that you'll be successful, too.

But why settle for success in a field that is tainted by its perceived (and probably rightfully so) lack of legitimacy?

Why not put all of your energy into success with a REAL publishing house, where -- IF you truly have any talent -- your chances are much better?

Scott said...

I have to agree with Joe here. PODing is a niche market venture. I concidered LuLu.com for my first story (you know, the one that got trashed on the other blog topic ;) and i was a breath away from doing it was more weakness than anything. Now that i've started a new book, i just see it as a learning curve.

Parrish is right. If your story isnt getting published or represented in the industry, dont get pissy with THEM, take a look at yourself or the work.

JA Konrath said...

"If your story isnt getting published or represented in the industry, dont get pissy with THEM, take a look at yourself or the work."

It took me six books to learn that.

Stacey Cochran said...

Here's my pattern.

1) Write one novel per six months.

2) Edit that novel for 12-24 months.

3) After editing for 12-24 months, query every literary agent in the business.

a) if you get an agent, let agent query every publisher (top down) until she runs out of steam (or sells novel, in which case everything else that follows is moot) and does not want to send it out anymore.

b) If agent runs out of steam and does not want to send out manuscript anymore, query publishers on your own - starting with the big guns (HarperCollins, Peguin/Putnam, Warner, Simon & Schuster) on down to the next level (St. Martin's, Thomas Dunne, Dutton) on down to the next level (Houghton Mifflin, Forge, Kensington, Leisure Books) on down to the next level, on down to university presses. Query every editor in the business that is right for your manuscript.

4) If you reach this point and still have no editor or publisher, self-publish via Lulu and market and promote novel as well as you can.

*Once you've queried every agent and every editor in the business, the only options you have are to a) Not publish your novel at all [bad choice] b) self-publish, learn from the experience, and move on.

5) Keep repeating steps 1-4 until you break through.

Be relentless, polite, positive, and confident.

Stacey
www.staceycochran.com

Anonymous said...

Joe,

Took me one book, three years, and some wisdom from kind folks like yourself to put my ass in gear.

Stacey, 12-24 months on an edit? Man i think i'd shoot myself. Really though is that the norm?

Scott

Stacey Cochran said...

Stacey, 12-24 months on an edit? Man i think i'd shoot myself. Really though is that the norm?

I'm eight novels into this, five years of fulltime writing without a sale (12 years writing total), and that is the norm.

Keep in mind, though, that while a manuscript is in edit mode, the two-three novels ahead of it in the rotation are at their various respective stages in the submission cycle.

Anonymous said...

Stacey,

What genres are you writing in?

Scott

Stacey Cochran said...

Here's the answer I gave in an interview (my first) a few days ago here:

authortrek.com/stacey_cochran_interview.html


What kind of things do you write?

Stacey Cochran: I’ve written a little bit of everything really. I got my start writing literary fiction in college. Then, I moved toward writing science fiction and fantasy. That merged into crime and mystery fiction, which then gave way to action-suspense fiction. And finally, I think I’m now at a place career-wise where I’m focusing on suspense fiction. Of course, all of the genres interweave, but in terms of where would I like to see my next few novels shelved in a bookstore: on the adult suspense fiction shelf.

I feel like -- at conferences at least -- that I fit in with Crime, Mystery and Suspense writers the most. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t really fit in anywhere. Never have.

Jude Hardin said...

Stacey,

I admire your tenacity, and envy the fact that you're able to write full time even though you haven't sold anything yet.

One question about Lulu: How do you go about getting the cover art done? The novel on your site looks pretty good from the photos.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

*sigh* My MIL, trying to be helpful, clipped an article about a guy who helped his neighbor get published and sent it to me. She was very excited and just knew this was something I could do.

You can guess what it was about. The guy helped his neighbor POD her book. He researched it, acted as go between, marketed it when they got it back, etc.

Sometimes, it's that little bit of disappointment you hear from friends and family when they ask the question for the millionth time--did you sell that book yet?--that sends people over the edge (I think).

I explained to my MIL that the wheels of publishing grind slowly, that I wasn't giving up yet, and that one day I'd sell a novel. She hasn't asked since. :)

Millenia Black said...

Great breakdown - but - I wouldn't knock POD as a means to getting an ISBN on your work without having to go through the pride-shredding search for agent and publishing house.

If your work is good, i.e. several objective eyes have read and opined on it, not just friends and family - I say go for it. Don't sit around waiting for someone else to make things happen for you.

I went POD with The Great Pretender. An agent called ME. I had Penguin's offer within a couple months of finding my agent.

I didn't have the temperment for the querying/rejection shlick. And couldn't be bothered setting up my own publishing business, so POD was perfect for me. The amount of the royalties wasn't important, and I was sure to choose an outfit that WOULD NOT take my rights. I was able to cancel the pub. agreement with 30 days notice to them. My cover price was high - $16.95 - but TGP still sold well (and I'm SO not the peddle-from-the-trunk-of-your-car type, so certainly didn't do that) and it was extremely well-reviewed. That's what counts.

My biggest advice?

Whether you set up your own pub or go POD (1)make sure your book doesn't look self-published (2)get a professional cover design (3)have it professionally edited (4)make absolutely sure the ISBN gets listed with Ingram. That's key.

Lee Goldberg said...

I'd like to see WRITERS DIGEST publish this terrific post as is. Will they do it? I would be interested to see what happens if you were to submit it to them... and, if they did accept it, what editorial changes they would make.

Stacey Cochran said...

Jude Hardin said...

Stacey,

I admire your tenacity, and envy the fact that you're able to write full time even though you haven't sold anything yet.

One question about Lulu: How do you go about getting the cover art done? The novel on your site looks pretty good from the photos.


Thanks!

There are several options. You can use a standard Lulu template. You can design your own cover. You can work with a cover artist.

The first option is the easiest.

However, on Amber Page and the Legend of the Coral Stone I worked with a comics artist. She did the initial sketch, and then I designed the cover around her sketch. It took about two-three months, dozens and dozens of drafts, etc.

There's a thorough explanation (with sketches from different stages) under "Amber in Art: From Concept to Cover" here:

http://amberpage.com/_wsn/page4.html

Hope that helps...

R.J. Baker said...

I'm with Lee. You should submit this to Writer's Digest. They have a puff piece on POD's this month and it looks like 90% of their big ad money comes from POD.

If you want a book in your hand or to sell. Hire a good editor, a graphic artist for a good cover, and go to a book printer and have it printed.

Check out www.morrispublishing.com. I have looked into possible publishing of a non-fiction book; a trade paperback print run of 5000 books will cost about $5k-$6k.

That leaves the author to do ALL of the marketing, selling, etc. Which if you read Joe's blog regularly he allot anyway... Check out this months Forbes, ther's a really good article on Joe.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks stacey!

I'll check your site. I'm pretty good at self editing, but one of my main concerns if I decide to self-publish is making the product look and feel like a traditionally published book. Were you happy with the results?

Barbara W. Klaser said...

I went with POD, and later self-published, and neither was a satisfying process. I can see some types of books might be better to take the POD route, but not fiction. Yes, I learned a lot, but nothing I couldn't have learned from reading books on self-publishing and marketing.

There are a few types of books that POD might suit. Reprints of out-of-print books. Maybe poetry chapbooks. Some nonfiction. For instance, I met a woman through work who wrote a book about a specialized software product and gave classes on using the software. She sold her book directly to students. That book had a very narrow market, and she likely would've been best off to cut out the middleman and publish it herself. So I wouldn't say POD is always a bad choice. But for fiction I think it's usually not the best choice, unless it's a noncommercial book that you love, don't want to make more commercial, and can't find a publisher for. If that's what you have and you're happy with it not being seen except at Amazon or on your website, then at least choose an honest POD printer who lets you retain all rights, and get your own ISBN. (Watch the printing quality, too.) You don't need to sign your rights away to sell your own book on your website.

Me? I don't want to be a publisher. I'm a writer. I'd rather spend the time and energy improving my craft, finding an agent, getting someone else to publish my book.

M.J. said...

Great great post, Joe.

POD is excellent for niche market non fiction. The guy who speaks at 20 conferences a year and sells boosk from the back and has a newsletter that goes to 20,000 people but his subject is just too narrow for publishers to touch. He's a natural.

Fiction - well it's just so damn hard even if you are published traditionally to break out.

Having been there done that here are some stats that might put this all in perspective.

in 1996 there were 4500 novels traditionally published a year and 3000 indy bookstores. In total there were about 50,000 books traditonally pubbed a year.

And there was no POD. Some people were self pubbing the old fashioned way but they were typically niche market books or the really creepy vanity press books. A few dozen novelists self pubbed - incluing folks like Evans who wrote the Christmas Box - but it was quite an anomoly.

In 2006 there will be about 11,000 traditionally published novles and there are less than 1200 indy bookstores.

And there will be 100,000 books in total traditionally published.

And there will be 100,000 POD books printed.

That's titles not copies!

When you talk to the POD folk and put them on the spot you find out stats like this:

One very big POD house claims to have sold 1 million copies of their titles. To whom? I asked.

Well it turns out after a lot of hemming and hawing 99% of all POD books are sold - in quanities of 10 copies or less in total - to the author.

Meaning everyone who PODs a book typically buys 10 copies of his/her own book. And no more.

That said. About twenty self pubbed authors a year now get picked up by traditonal houses who see unusual self pubbed success as sort of test marketing situtation. (This was true for me in 1998. But it took me 6 months of 6 days a week 6 hours a day marketing and I had an advertising background and I already had an agent and the kind of rejections that made it clear people loved the book but were confused with how to market such a hybrid.)

No one can tell anyone else what to do. But before you self pub you have to be clear about what your goal is. If it has anything to do with money and you are a novelist. Don't do it.

If it's holding the book in your hand. Giving a copy to your Mom who always knew you'd write. Do it.

If it's a pathway to getting trationally publsihed - only do it if you plan to spend months working your ass off marketing it AND you already have those rave rejections. Do not judge your own work as being ready or take you mom's word. Before you spend all that time and money, get real feedback from agents.

I think for fiction writers it should be your very very last resort. Hard truth - but the field is very overcrowded right now making it so ver impossible to break out.

And as much as we'd like it to the independent film vs pod book analogy doesn't work. I know - I tried using it for years. But the problem is there is a market for indy films - its considered an art form - it even has it s own award show. But it even an indy film maker rarely is working on his/her own. And there are methods in place to get noticed - hundreds of film festivals to submit to. There's access to audience.

There's nothing like that for indy or self pubbed books. There are no venues. No exposure. And the numbers are so different.

There are well under 1000 movies made a year vs those 200,000 books if you total up all the trads and the self pubbed.

Naomi said...

"But those would all have to be online sales (through Amazon mostly.)"

And don't forget that Amazon will only give you 45% of the retail price AND you will have to pony up the cost of shipping to Amazon's warehouse. (At least that's how it is for some small presses. I don't know if POD companies have special deals.) If your intention is to make money, this is not the way to do it.

Stacey Cochran said...

Jude Hardin said...

I'll check your site. I'm pretty good at self editing, but one of my main concerns if I decide to self-publish is making the product look and feel like a traditionally published book. Were you happy with the results?


My goal with Amber Page (my third book with Lulu) was to produce a book that looked as good as, if not better, than traditionally published YA books. That was my goal.

I have some background in publishing and learned a great deal in grad school editing an academic journal, and so knew how to format a novel in terms of layout, headers, footers, widows, orphans, copyright page, praise page, font, size, line spacing, page numbering -- on out to the cover where, to do it well, you have to understand proportion and color, how to generate a 300 dpi image, how to commission and work with a cover artist, how to generate a cover that targets a specific audience, etc.

It takes a lot of work, patience, and dedication to craft, but if you look at Amber Page on a YA bookshelfit holds its own with traditionally published covers.

For example, I snapped a photo (currently on my blog at staceycochran.com) of it on a YA shelf in a bookstore in Arizona, and it actually stands out more clearly and cohesively than the sixth Harry Potter book. The HP book's cover was laid out in purple and dark green (an interesting choice), and the colors prevent a reader from being able to read it from more than about ten feet away. And think about the budget they're doing that on.

That's another thing with covers. You want something that stands out on a shelf in an interesting (and hopefully appealing) way.

Let me know if you need any help. I've got a "contact" page on the staceycochran.com website.

Good luck!

SC

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Stacey!

Patrick said...

Excellent work, John. I'm not a fan of self-publishing because I've heard too many writers who AREN'T ready get swept up in the marketing: "The traditional publishers are only out to make money."

I suppose these people think that the self-publishers are charities?

A former co-worker of mine got burned big time when she was forced to shell out a few thousand dollars to self-publish her book. The end product contained error after error, depsite a "professional edit" that was another $500 or more. The saddest part is, until she really sits down and crunches the numbers, she still doesn't even realize her losses.

I'd honestly rather stay unpublished as a novelist than get taken by people trying to capitalize on my desire to see my name on a bookshelf.

(That's not to say that all self-publishing is bad or that all self-published writers aren't "good enough." There are valid reasons to go that route. But I've seen what I've seen, and it has convinced me to be very suspicious of self-published titles.)

Patrick
A Stop At Willoughby

Jim Michael Hansen said...

Joe: While I totally agree with your POD analysis, some commentors have expanded the discussion to knock self-publishing as well. I self-published Night Laws and, quite frankly, it was a piece of cake. ANY size publisher, new or old, can get an account with Baker & Taylor to distribute a book. This makes the book available to bookstores at a 40% discount and retunable, if they choose to buy it. The big chains all have book departments that review books on their own merits, regardless of the publisher who submits them. If you have a book that readers will likely buy, and bookstores can purchase it through establihed venues such as Baker & Taylor, they will buy it. For example, Night Laws has been picked up by Borders, Barnes & Noble, and many independent bookstores. It comes out 3/1/06 and I have already scheduled approximately 25 author signings. While some may argue this type of self-pub success is the exception, I really don't believe it is. It's just a matter of hard work. Plus it's a ton of fun. I talk about this more in my recent interview with Russel McLean at Crime Scene Scotland.

In any event, your comments on POD are right on the money. The economics are negative and bookstores won't buy them because they're not returnable.

Anonymous said...

Could someone say more about the difference between POD and self-publishing? As I've been following this discussion, I think I might have conflated the two, and I'm not sure I understand the distinctions between them.

JA Konrath said...

POD is print on demand. POD vanity publishers take your money, print your books, and pay you a royalty rate for each one that sells.

Self publishing involves you hiring a printer (not a publisher) and keeping all the rights (not giving them to the publisher who pays you royalties.) Self publishers can use POD technology or offset printing.

Jude Hardin said...

From reading the website (and believe me, I'm a hard sell), it sounds like Lulu is a viable way to get your work on the market without having to spend a bunch of money.

So what's the problem with this?

Anonymous said...

Jude,

When i researched LuLu (dont take this for gospel) the alluring factor was that the services are virtually free. With that said, you also have to design layouts of covers, formatting of the manuscript, and other book-begetting goodies. Again, i'm not an expert but you're getting a better deal money wise with LuLu because you invest more sweat equity than just dishing out of your pocket. They basically print what you send to them, exactly how you send it to them.
Hope this helps.

Scott Bowen

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks Scott.

I'm going to try every avenue possible to get a traditional publishing contract, but if nothing else works out I might actually give Lulu a shot. I might even sell the books for cost, no royalties, just to get my name out there. I have a huge market in mind, and if I sell enough books on my own perhaps that will lead to a publishing deal.

Any thoughts on that, Joe?

Mark said...

It's good advice Joe. I have two of these things and although I spent next to nothing and have two books "in print" the correct term is Print-no-demand. There won't ever be if I'm any measure. Of course mine are nonfiction, no "really" nonfiction memoirs, but we've seen what a fake one can do with Random House. Just keep trying to get a real book through. It's the only way.

Mark said...

Jude no one will see a lulu book either although it's better than the other pods as to cost, but you still have to buy an ISBN to list it at other stores online. There are no shelves with any of these methods.

Stacey Cochran said...

Lulu is basically a printing and distribution service. Not a publisher. You pay them nothing, and you retain all rights to your work.

In my opinion, it is good only as a) a last resort after you've tried every agent and every editor in the business; b) you don't care about becoming the next bestseller and you just want a few (inexpensive) copies of your book for family and friends; or c) you want to learn about some of the basics of how distribution, marketing and sales of books works.

I would not recommend using Lulu, if you want to make a lot of money.

One of the bestselling fiction novels at Lulu "The Didymus Contingency" by Jeremy Robinson (who gave me a nice blurb on Amber Page and the Legend of the Coral Stone) has only sold about 500 copies.

The fiction books that sell well at Lulu sell well because the authors have an established readership that helps create interest in their books via Amazon.com and B&N online, and they are meticulously edited, marketed, and have professional-caliber covers.

Stacey
staceycochran.com

JA Konrath said...

If I were to self-publish, I'd probably use Lulu.

And if I shot myself in the head, I'd probably use a Remington 870.

But I'd rather find a traditonal publisher and live a long life.

Ross Hugo-Vidal said...

OK, sure hope I am not breaching some sort of protocol, but folks, this is one of the best blogs going, by almost any definition, and I just noticed that the Gumshoe Awards are looking for a few good website/blog nominations.

May I suggest that a few of the faithful marshal their arguments (of which there are no shortage on this blog...)and march over to http://www.crimefictionblog.com/ and nominate A Newbie's Guide to Publishing for a Gumshoe award? Let's face it, JA has been performing a gigantic public service above and beyond the call of mere self-aggrandizement, and perhaps he has earned some recognition. Hurry, operators are waiting to take your call!

Stacey Cochran said...

Believe me, most days in the past year and half, those seem like the options: Remington or Lulu.

But you wake each day alive, and you've got to do something with the day.

Everybody's rejected your first five novels and every day that you stare at them on your computer and don't do something to move forward, the Remington option grows more palpable.

Until it's just a chorus echoing over and over in your head: Get it over with. Nobody cares about your writing. You're a fucking joke.

To stay alive, it's better to focus on the work and trust the integrity of the craft. Develop a process and stick to it.

Exercise helps. Sobriety helps. Your wife's faith in you helps. Writing each day helps.

It ain't all that bad.

Diana Castilleja said...

Just thought I'd put in my two cents, for the two cents they are worth.

I agree 100% POD is not a valid, money making publishing route. Note: I said money making. A few can be used just to see your name on a book, without costing an arm and a leg, which is not to belittle those who are happy with their publishing. (Lulu from what I've researched is one of the best)

If you are interested in being taken seriously, traditional publishing is really the only way to go.

Do your homework, know the agents, KNOW what the heck you are writing! That is the most important. Agents hate it and they remember when you badger them with the wrong information, wrong query or wrong submission requirements.

POD could be for those who don't expect to make thousands (Millionaire writers are more rare than two headed calves), but again, understand what you are wanting, versus what you will get. You are responsible for any disappointment if you don't.

Diana

www.freewebs.com/diana castilleja
A dedicated romance writer.

Schuyler Thorpe said...

I think POD vanity-press is perhaps one of the WORST ways a writer can quickly find their dreams crushed.

Believe me, I've considered the vanity-press route over the last several years. But with each passing year, I've found myself more and more disenchanted with the idea.

I've recently thought of the idea of true self-publishing by hiring a printer and coughing up a company name and business license just to see my book in print--though I know I'll have to hustle a bit to do most of the work and promotion.

However, this is still in the research phase. Presently, I'm still doing the traditional route, but only for a little while.

So until then, I'm simply writing, improving, and basically enjoying myself.

Mark said...

Just keep submitting Stacey. Remington is a last resort if your health fails like Hemingway faced. Lulu is not published though. It's only printed. As for Oracle, AZ that's where Ed Abbey lived. I lived in Apache Junction, but not as a professional wannabe writer. I just hiked and fished in the winter and tried to figure out how to live in LA, which I did. Still searching always the key to life.

Jeremy Robinson said...

Figured I'd jump in since my name came up (hi, Stacey). Quick correction. I'm now headed towards the 3000 mark in sales, not 500. Whoever said 300 would be hard to beat...I beat it in my first month.

A few other quick points. Publishing through POD (if you and your book is ready) is a viable option for getting noticed. For me, it has worked better than years of query letters. I now have a top agent (who contacted me only a month after publication) and my little POD is now being translated into multiple languages around the world (so it's not just a POD anymore). And I'm not a millionare or celeb...just a starving writer like everyone else.

If you're looking to learn the publishing business, inside and out, or if you can produce a book with identical quality to traditional publishers and want to get noticed, POD can work very well...and its cheap. As has been said, Lulu is the way to go for this...but you need to do everything yourself. If you can't produce a professional interior and exterior along with a good story, best to save your time.

I do realize my success is not the norm, but that's mainly because the temptation is to rush into these things. If you're not willing to produce a professional book, you shouldn't expect professional results.

OH, and just to help kill the stigma. Not every POD is a traditional publisher reject. My book, The Didymus Contingency was never sent to a traditional publisher. Some people enjoy the creative freedom offered by POD.

Just my teo cents.

-- Jeremy Robinson
www.jeremyrobinsononline.com

Jeremy Robinson said...

And I'm obviously just a lucky jerk! I can't even spell "two." E is right next to W at least.

JA Konrath said...

Jeremy also got a nice blurb from my buddy, James Rollins. Rollins is a NYT bestseller, so getting his endorsement for a POD title is no mean feat.

Staci Stallings said...

This is from someone who has been through the obstacle course of POD publishers before, so don't think I don't hear what you're saying with these figures. However, I do have to think that plane tickets to conferences, conference fees, query letters, editing help, time spent waiting (and waiting and waiting) on someone to reply just to tell you, "No thanks"--also cost SOMETHING.

My first two books, I went the POD publisher route. One was a total scam, but I did sell over 900 books. One did what they said they would do and then the publicist I had stole the money I made through them.

Now, I'm with lulu, and I couldn't be happier! For the first time, I'm making money on every copy I sell. I don't have to buy 1,000 copies to make a nice profit. I set the price, so they don't have to cost $19. (All of mine are within the $10-$16 range.) The marketing is up to me, but I've learned how to market on the 'net, through a newsletter and article-ads on other websites.

Plus, I can be here with my kids--not having to worry about which conference I can afford or how many letters I can send out.

Will I ever break into traditional publishing? Probably not, and frankly, that's great. I have a friend who DID break into traditional publishing. He spent every weekend--Friday through Sunday--on the road last year trying to get enough sold so the company would publish his second book. He's been on the road most of this year hawking that book, and you know what? He STILL has a 9 to 5 job!

Fortunately for me, I don't have to make a living at this. If I did, I think I would find a teaching position somewhere.

However, like Stacey, the things I have learned through this experience have been invaluable. Publication knowledge, marketing knowledge, editing, cover art, networking... To me, it's been worth it even if I never darken the doorstep of a traditional publisher. But then, that's just me...

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