Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Non-traditional publishing

I thought I'd explore self-publishing a bit, for those interested in it. It is a much bigger topic than traditional publishing. With traditional publishing all you need to do is write well and snag an agent. Many of the contracts don't allow competition, so you don't even have to figure out marketing.

I divide self-publishing into two areas. One is where the writer pays a company to publish their works. The fee can be from $500 and up, up a lot. We use slang and call these POD companies. For the most part, they have replaced what was called vanity publishing. Vanity publishing is now considered a derogatory term.

The term POD refers to Print On Demand which is actually the print method, the technology used, and not technically the correct way to refer to these company, but we do it as industry slang. (Be prepared to be corrected by purists.) Some companies call themselves author assisted publishing, but since POD is easier to write, that term gets used in a broad fashion.

Basically the writer pays the set-up fee and sends their ms in a digital file. The company puts it into book format, which is different from ms format. Usually cover art is included. The ISBN belongs to the publisher (of course). Most of the time, the interior or text belongs to the writer - but in America, you have to file for the copyright registration. (With traditional publishing, the publisher holds the copyright for the duration of the contract to the extent the rights have been given. I'll do a post on rights in a few weeks - remind me if I don't remember.)

These companies then sell packages of add-on services that vary in quality from one POD company to the next. The only way to know anything about the quality is to ask around on forums because most of their websites say pretty much the same thing. I recommend buying a book from their online store before you shell out lots of money. That way you can at least examine the workmanship.

Still, there is no way to know for sure the quality of their editorial staff because you won't know whether the writer bought that package or not for the book you bought - or if you'd get the same editor. The lack of editing is what gave what I call indie writers a bad name. It is one place people cut corners by not buying the package or hiring their own proof reader (line editor). It is the exact place not to cut.

That is one reason that libraries and bookstores usually do NOT shelf indie books. They can't possibly vet every book and it just makes sense to avoid the mess all together. So if you have a really good quality indie book, it gets painted with the same brush as the really bad ones.

The cover price is set by the number of pages in the book. With some companies there is a provision to set the price higher, which is usually done on non-fiction more often than fiction. You really need to research the market before increasing the cover price.

The writer usually can purchase books at a discount (plus shipping). The world wide distribution mentioned on these company's websites is to make the books available on book retailer's websites. There isn't any active marketing to distributed the books.

They sell marketing packages which can include everything, but the kitchen sink. One example is to include listing with Baker and Taylor. B&T supplies books to libraries and some retailers. Refer to above about what I said about libraries. Don't think your self-published book is going to get the same treatment as one by one of the six (or is it now five?) major New York City publishers and their many, many imprints. The packages usually include such things as post cards, book marks, posters, and the kitchen sink. Most people I know haven't used the materials because they come with the publisher's advert on them.

There are sites where the writer can upload their ms for free and print out their book. The best known of these is Lulu.com. The free 'package' didn't used to include an ISBN. Nor was the book made available anywhere, but Lulu. That works great for people who will take the time to learn a bit about book formatting - for example, most people don't think about the fact that the copyright page is on the left side. The more you pay attention to details, the better results you get. The workmanship on their books is pretty good and their packaging for shipping always amazes me. Read their website for updated info. I haven't read it for over a year. They send out update notices, I just don't remember what all they are. Besides, you'll learn more if I don't spoon feed you.

Another of these free companies is Amazon's CreateSpace. With Amazon there is also the availability of Kendle. But the books are not available anywhere else, other than the writer's website.

All the POD companies pay royalties like the traditional publishers. The percent varies so look at several and do the math if you are interested in this form of publishing.

Some traditional publishers use POD technology printing (they don't use the 'POD companies' to do it). In my mind, it is perfect to print short runs of galleys. Galley books are not the same as a proof book - remind me, that is another post too.

There are actually (in my mind) legitimate reasons to go this route with a book. One of the biggest is when a ms doesn't fit the model for a traditional publisher. For example, books like mine don't have a huge audience; or a town may print a book suitable for local gift shops, but it isn't a major tourist destination that a large publisher would have a market for; a company might sell a book on their website that complements their product line, but is not their main product - again, a niche market - but they need total control over the content.

I know a fairly well known US writer who went this route when the rights to her book reverted to her. There was still a small demand for the book, the marketing had been done by the big traditional publisher and with other books coming from that publisher and her latest picked up for a Lifetime Movie, she wanted to have her out-of-print book available again without learning all the ins and outs of self-publishing.

Sure there are some 'losers' who couldn't write their own name, much less a novel, who use POD for their works. But it is important not to be an elitists and look down on every book published in a non-traditional means.

Please ask questions in the comment section. This is a huge topic and the post was getting a bit long to cover everything. I'll write on the second self-publishing area tomorrow.


  1. >>The term POD refers to Print On Demand which is actually the print method, the technology used, and not technically the correct way to refer to these company, but we do it as industry slang. (Be prepared to be corrected by purists.) Some companies call themselves author assisted publishing, but since POD is easier to write, that term gets used in a broad fashion.<<

    Why encourage inaccuracy and add to confusion? People in the business of using words _should_ be purists.

    Lightning Source is the dominant POD printer, and could certainly be called a POD company.

    It makes no sense to apply the same label to vanity presses like Outskirts Press that are _customers_ of Lightning Source.

    Similarly, General Motors is undeniably a car company, but no one would call its customer -- a local Chevy dealer -- a car company.

    Calling the vanity presses POD companies is additionally inaccurate because they can use offset printing to produce 1,000 books if requested to. Also, the major traditional publishers often print on demand, but no one would call Random House a POD company because they sometimes use POD.

    POD is definitely the wrong term for the companies you are discussing. If you don't want to use the pejorative term "vanity publisher" you can use the slightly-less-pejorative "pay-to-publish" company, or the neutral "author services company."

    Most vanity publishers now call themselves "self-publishing" companies -- which is inaccurate and dishonest.

    You said, "I divide self-publishing into two areas. One is where the writer pays a company to publish their works." Unfortunately, your classification is helping dishonest companies to deceive ignorant writers.

    You are making a fundamental error. There is no such thing as a self-publishing company, other than a little book business establishied by a self-publishing author.

    When an author pays a publisher to get a book in print, the author is engaging in "vanity publishing," not "self-publishing."

    A real self-publisher is a person who tries to make money by selling books to readers.

    Vanity publishers are companies that make most of their money by selling services to naive writers, not by selling books to readers. The books are often ugly, error-filled and overpriced -- and very few copies are rviewed or sold.

    Just as no one can eat lunch for you, no other person or company can self-publish for you. The words just don't make sense.

    And just as no one can "self-educate" you or "self-immolate" you, no one can self-publish you.

    OTOH, a "real" self-publisher establishes a business, hires editors and designers, purchases photography, owns ISBNS, obtains LCCNs and copyrights, chooses a printer, and promotes the books.

    That's very different from paying for the services of a vanity publisher.

    Michael N. Marcus

    -- president of the Independent Self-Publishers Alliance, http://www.independentselfpublishers.org
    -- author of "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press," http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742
    -- author of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," coming 4/1/10. http://www.silversandsbooks.com/storiesbookino.html
    -- http://BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    -- http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com

  2. Hello Michael, thanks for stopping by my First Draft. Yes, it is hard to take such a vast subject and cram it into one blog post at 1:30 in the morning when it could be volumes of books - what was I thinking?

    For those wanting more information, as you should if you aren't going the traditions publishing route and having an agent shepherd you, there are really good books on the subject - probably Michael's, at least I'd start there (considering his comments).

    Vanity publishing began with paying printers (with off set presses) to print books, and this has gone on for well over a hundred years and was done by some well known and respected writers. However, the name suffered by the way it was used in more recent years. Frankly, it doesn't matter to me what anyone calls anything I do, but I did want to point out its current use.

    I totally forgot about Lightning Source (LSI). I don't think of them when I think of other "POD Companies" because of both their position in the industry and because of their fee structure. Many of the so-called POD companies actually outsource their printing and distribution to LSI. They are certainly one of the most respected companies in the industry.

    You make good points on the confusion of the terminology in this segment of the industry, which was my point. This is not something to jump into without due diligent research. Some of these companies are a total rip-off and some can help a well informed writer achieve their goals. I know one company calls themselves "Author Assisted Publishing." Of the terms, "Pay to Publish" might be the closest to the point, but still...one pays LSI to publish.

    I totally agree that most of these companies exist to make money on the sale of 'services' to writers, unsuspecting writers. The reason there is little, if any, concern about the sell the books is they are in business to sell their printing service and many of their customers sell less than 200 books. I don't get quite the same feel for LSI as these companies. LSI probably belongs in its own category.

    I'm pretty sure I did mention that large publishers use POD printing for certain occasions and listed one.

    I am clearly not an official voice for anything in this industry - and I don't think anyone ever thought I was. My desire is to give enough information to get people to do their own research and learn for themselves about all the aspects of the industry, regardless of where they land in it.

    If anything, I don't think writers should draw up sides and war with each other because of the way their book was printed. Yes, printed.

    Thanks, Michael, you nearly wrote tomorrow's blog, but I would have used Ford Motor Company, being a Mustang girl and all. Cheers. Please come again.

  3. I want to clearly mention that it is possible to spend thousands of dollars with some of these companies BEFORE you have a book in your hands. Books cost extra. Be very careful and read more than their website. Not all of these companies are equal in service or quality of end product.

    Learn about all the facets of this fascinating industry regardless how your book comes into print.

  4. >>>A real self-publisher is a person who tries to make money by selling books to readers.<<<
    But doesn't that apply to all authors?
    Hi, Michael, nice to see you here.
    I fundamentally agree with most of what you said. As the book selling business keeps evolving, lots of new - and confusing - terms are cropping up. I am writer. I am also a publisher. I publish my own books - now. But I was also published by iUniverse - I guess that falls into the vanity press category. Then that book was published by a small independent publisher that used POD technology. We seem to be calling them Indies now. So, I went the "traditional" route there in that I had to be accepted by them.
    Then, when my second book was finished [with a co-author] I decided to do the whole thing myself and we formed our own publishing company. Again, using POD technology. Now, our company publishes other authors that we vet/screen first so we are Indie as well. Yet, my book as published by Chalet [my company] is still self-published. It's just masked by being under Chalet's imprint.
    To complicate matters even more, I have the rights back on my first book and formed a second company that will publish all my solo books. That company is gong to have a subsidiary imprint which will publish other authors but they will not be screened. What they send me, I will publish. So, I am back in the vanity press area. Full circle.
    I agree that authors need to be informed about what they are doing, what the impact can or may have on their book's saleability and what they really want. Do they want a book just for their family? Do they have aspirations for the NY Times Best Seller list? Two completely different goals and two different routes apply. No one size fits all answer. It's good and bad.
    Good to have options. Bad if you don't educate yourself.
    I'd love to see more discussion on this topic.
    Joy Collins

  5. Hello Joy,

    You certainly have direct experience with a variety of situations. You make the point I was after and might have missed, which is, the industry isn't clearly divided into traditional and 'other' because other is so complex. Hopefully you, Michael, and I have demonstrated this or at least began that dialogue.

    I took the prevailing non-industry language of traditional or self-published for the sake of the new comers to the industry. I believe it best to start where your audience is and move from there into the language of the industry.

    The truth is non-writers and non-industry professionals do call "self-published" anything that is not traditionally published. Hopefully, we are opening the door to look inside the non-traditional section of the industry and discovering the treasure trove of options.

    My worry is a beginning writer will write their first draft, editing as they go, feel they are finished and fall prey to a really black hole. Especially with all the monetizing of blogs and forums. One well placed ad can be very enticing, and that is the point of those ads.

    That isn't to say I will never monetize this blog, but that is the reason I don't do it now. Regardless of what it is called, every form of printing has its uses. Finding the best fit for each ms and writer is the important part. We should not play the schoolyard game of the in-crowd vs the shunned. We are writers and that is what binds us together, not the printing process or the print company.

    I hope you and Michael return and others join in this discussion. I do not censor the comments here unless they involve links to pron.

  6. I've been running in and out all day with non-writing errands. So this is truly "First Draft" comments on my part. I said earlier about LSI, not sure at all I would group them with anyone else. Mostly I consider them a printer (not so much as a publisher) and distributor. So ck all the bits out that all of us have mentioned. We loosely use terminology in our everyday thoughts that do not always fit by stricter definition. So in my first comment where I used LSI + publish, I meant "print."

    Just because these companies charge fees doesn't mean they are bad, but like anything, it is best to know what you're paying for minus all the marketing spin.

    I'm glad the discussion is occurring. Thanks guys.

  7. thank you, thank you for doing a positive post on self-publshing. i don't even remember which blog i surfed in from, but how nice to find you (this, spoken by someone who has her book published thru Lulu.) and, btw, i love the title of your blog and your reason for the title. first drafts are my favorite.

  8. and i didn't even notice you were in Az till now. so am i. small world.

  9. Hello Michelle,

    Thanks for dropping by. I have to say I am much happier with my books, and writing in general, now that I'm self-published. I just don't think I have the personality to do otherwise nor is contemporary women's lit a hot ticket - maybe I should have written Chick Lit. I was with a small press and not happy at all. I've done a POD company and have to say that I didn't spend much money, but they were great to work with and the end product was fantastic. But now, I'm self-published -- the kind Michael mentioned and I will blog about soon.

    I've used Lulu to test some software and such on items not made public. However I have purchased several friend's books from Lulu and was impressed with the quality.

    Now, this AZ business, I'm in the Phx metroplex. Email me and tell me where you are, maybe we can get together and talk shop. NadineLaman(at)aol.com - it is also on the contact page of my website and there is a link to my website on my blog sidebar.

    Thanks for following, and to the other new follower - "Mr. I like old time radio" (you know who you are). And for all the other followers who have come since the last time I said welcome and thank you. And please do comment. There is no way to embarrass yourself here any worse than I do. Join in, everyone is welcome.

  10. You know I hear of people who say the only way to be published is by a bona fide publisher. The POD, vanity way is not the way. I experienced Lulu and I didn't like it. TurnerMaxwell is okay. But you know you have a publisher when they crack the whip and edit and correct. My new novel has been back and forth and it is evolving into a well produced piece. It will be POD (I'm sure) but non-vanity simply because that is economically sound. But I stress not vanity. If you can produce a sound book, well edited with good English then there are sites out there who will produce it for nothing. The problem with those sites is the onus is totally on the author to edit the work. That is the only downside. I think minor authors accept they aren't about to make the best sellers list.

  11. Glyn, it is very easy to act elitist, but you have it totally right (though you might be my match for misusing terms). The truth is we can't all be number one in this gig, there has to be midlist writers, but that doesn't mean we can't do a crack job at that. We can also do well at selling a good book regardless of how it is printed and who publishes it.

    BTW, you crack me up with your comments (from time to time) about your publisher.

  12. BTW, I am not necessarily endorsing Michael's book. I haven't read it.

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