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Publishing It Yourself: Experiences with PoD

Magazine article Online

Publishing It Yourself: Experiences with PoD

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Does it make sense to "publish it yourself"--produce your new book using PoD? As one who's done it more than once, and also published a dozen books traditionally, I can unequivocally say yes. And no. And maybe.

To my mind, PoD stands for two things, related but not identical:

* Print on Demand: Services and systems that produce books in single quantities or very short runs on an as-ordered basis or to have small quantities in stock. Many publishers use PoD services such as BookSurge (part of Amazon) or Lightning Source (part of Ingram) to keep backlist books in print.

* Publish on Demand: the process of publishing a book entirely through print-on-demand fulfillment.

I don't think there's much to say about print on demand. Well-made PoD paperbacks are first-rate trade paperback quality and should be archival quality, since they're typically laser print on acid-free paper.

This column is about publish on demand.

VARIETIES OF POD COMPANIES

A wide range of companies produce PoD books--but with very different approaches. Most PoD companies charge significant set-up sums before the first perfect-bound copy of a book emerges. I wouldn't be surprised if a few, particularly some of those calling themselves publishers, make more money from upfront sums than they do (or than the author will ever recover) by selling books.

There are exceptions: companies that are essentially service agencies, not publishers. Two of those companies charge nothing up front to make a book available.

I've published three books through Lulu.com, probably the best known of the no-up-front-cost PoD services. By the time this appears, it's likely that I'll have at least one more out. I've also published two of those three through CreateSpace (www.createspace.com), an Amazon company that produces CDs and DVDs on an on-demand basis and recently added books--also with no up-front charge.

Note that I can publish the same book through Lulu and CreateSpace--without telling either of them. Both companies make it clear that the author owns the copyright and that the publishing arrangements are nonexclusive.

THE POD PEOPLE

In January 2002, the first Crawford Files column appeared in American Libraries: The title of that column was "Brace Yourselves--It's The Attack of the PoD People!" Roughly a year later, in the February 2003 issue, I wrote a followup: "PoD People Revisited: You Thought I Was Joking?"

My point in the columns was that PoD might encourage all those people who "have a book in them" to publish those books--and for public libraries that collect local authors, that could be a problem.

The followup noted a survey showing that, indeed, "almost everyone" does think they should write a book: 81% of Americans! Six million of them have done so--although that's only 2% of the population.

Fact is, PoD books look good--if you've done your work right. There's something about holding that slick, wellprinted paperback with your name on it that can inspire you to write another one. And another. And ...

WHY PUBLISH ON DEMAND STINKS

Many authors and publishers say Publish on Demand is stupid. In many cases, they're right. Consider the reasons to avoid Publish on Demand:

* Lulu and CreateSpace charge much more to produce a book than a traditional printer would. A 200-page paperback (black-and-white interior) costs $8.53 to produce at Lulu ($18 casebound), $7.15 at CreateSpace (casebound not available). Those are absurdly high prices by traditional standards.

* You don't get professional editing or indexing.

* You don't get the cachet, promotion, advertising, or bookstore distribution a publisher can provide.

* You'll have to learn something about layout and typography, since you'll have to design your own book and cover.

Pretty stupid, right? That depends. …

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