Is this a Publisher's Gimmick?

Recently, I received a glossy flyer from a publisher who has advertised to seek out authors seeking publishers. In this flyer, the publisher pitches to the positives of paying them a fee for “print on demand” publishing.

It seems they will publish your manuscript without all the traditional hassles, for a fee. In return, you will get a percent of every book and ebook sold. However, it sounds like you may have to do a lot of legwork to promote your own book just to make people want to “print on demand”.

Is this a gimmick? I am an aspiring writer diligently working to complete a manuscript. Is it a trade-off, and maybe not a bad route for an unknown author? Their argument is that many good authors go unnoticed since other publishers don’t have the time to give to all the manuscripts they receive AND known authors will be published over no-names…even if a no-name presents a better story!

What’s the straight dope on this? As a no-name, it is tempting…but is it foolish?

  • Jinx

Sound like vanity press (or was it vanity printing). Basically you get to do all the work. They just print the thing (you pay the print costs). You still have to get the bookstores to buy it, etc, etc.
So not really a recommended way to go.

There’s a difference between POD-vanity presses and self-publishing. The line is thin and clear. Vanity presses will publish your work, own the rights, and rip you off horribly. Avoid them. They prey on naive and desperate authors. Always remember that money flows towards the writer. You shouldn’t have to pay to have anything published. You shouldn’t have to pay to have it read. Also avoid agents who charge fees.

Money always flows to the author.

I know RealityChuck has some interesting things to say on the subject. I’m sure he’s much more knowledgable about these things than I am. But I’ve read enough to know that it is a bad idea, and oh yeah money always flows towards the author.

Also, check out

POD is beset with minefields. If you can identify a market that you can realistically market easily to, then it can be a reasonable way to go as long as you’re with a good firm who are not rip-off merchants.

But there’s a lot of rip-off merchants in the POD industry. You need to figure out whether it is a real POD firm or a vanity press pretending to do POD.

A recent NY Times article had an article on self-publishing and mentioned that, with a reputable POD printer, it can be worthwhile… but only for a small number of people who actually write stuff people want to read and are willing to work for self-advertisement.

There have been a few recent publishing hits that have come from self-publishers. But, there is always an initial out of pocket cost for the author (up to $500 was about average) to set up the printing costs. After that, the author gets back royalties if anything is actually sold.

This is different from the old vanity press where the author had to lay out large amounts of money for a large print run in advance, and, almost inevitably failed to sell anything.

Self-publishing is loosing the stigma of the vanity press. Although, selling your work through a publisher is almost always more beneficial for making money.

I hestitate to mention it, but there are rare success stories, and here is one I’m familiar with. Check out This site, which is an author who’s done everything right.

He self-published and has been successful at creating demand for his book. He visits schools and does an entertaining program about writing in which he tells enough of his story (a fantasy with a strong 12-year-old girl heroine) to get the kids hooked. That night he appears at the local bookstore, and is mobbed by kids dragging their parents in to buy the book and get it autographed. He did this in Seattle, with only his school visits for publicity, and drew 400 people to the bookstore.

In our little Oregon town of 10,000, he sold 150 copies in one night. Since November, he’s sold 5,000 copies. Bear in mind that the vast majority of published books don’t sell more than 10,000 copies.

Friday, he signed with Scholastic Books for a trilogy, with an advance his agent describes as “very comfortable,” which I understand to be in the six figure category. Scholastic thinks it has the potential to be another Harry Potter phenomenon. The first book, a slight re-editing of his self-published volume, will be issued in hardback fof Christmas, with the other two books to follow in 05 and 06.

This guy is not like your average author. In the first place, he has money to afford first class printing. Everything about the book (printed in “trade paperback” format) is top of the line in design, layout, quality of cover, pages, typography, etc. including professional cover art.

The guy is also an Entrepreneur, who has started, and sold, several companies.

He can also write. The book is nicely done with a lot of neat twists and it moves right along.

And he’s great with kids. They love him and love the book.

In short, it’s not a route avalable to a lot of us. But it’s nice to see happening

I’ve got a book out right now with POD.

I just put it up for sale a few months ago. Right now, all the sales I get are from my website. Sales are okay (I really have nothing to compare them to), but I was expecting less (low expectations are good sometimes) so I’m pleasantly surprised so far. I figure that I will probably do even better when I get the book up on (Fortunately, I have also been enlightened enough to get the book professionally copyedited! :))

I wrote a “how to” book related to the site. People liked the site and many wrote and said I should write a book. So I did. I don’t consider myself a real writer, but if I do write any more books, they’ll most likely be more how-to books.

The research I’ve done indicates that people who write non-fiction directed at a specific target audience (which I have, to a certain extent) can do well with self-publishing. I’m not expecting great success, but so far the sales I’ve made have been promising and I think that I should make enough money off of this thing to satisfy me (i.e., it won’t be a huge money hole).

I decided to self-publish because I wanted the book to come out now, and I wanted complete rights and control. I used Adobe’s InDesign (page layout software) and learned how to design and layout the book (not that I did a great job, but I think it’ll pass). I enjoyed designing the cover, too! (I am not half-bad in Photoshop.) So the whole project has been fun.

My next step is to buy a block of ISBN numbers and prepare the book for sale on I can join Amazon’s Advantage program and sell the book myself through them. A lot of other people have done it (including our own toadspittle), and it sounds like it could work.

I’ve currently got the book printed by an okay POD printer. I have a lot of graphics in this book and I haven’t been unhappy with the way that this printer handles them. I intend to switch to a bigger (and less expensive) POD printer (Lightning Source) and see how they do (I expect that they’ll be fine).

So far, so good. I am pretty happy with how things are going. However, I had low expectations going in (I don’t expect to make the big bucks) and this is simply something I always wanted to do anyway. I can’t promise that someone else, with more lofty expectations, would be as easily satisfied.

yosemitebabe has self-published her book and has done it right*. So did the author that Hometownboy has cited.

However, the ad you got (I’m guessing it was either Xlibris or iUniverse) is a POD vanity press, and I can’t stress enough that you should avoid them.

The difference is that yosemitebabe retains control over the book. With a POD press, you don’t.

There are major disadvantages to a vanity press. You need to do all the legwork yourself. However, you have to put additional money up front to put the books in bookstores (it is rare for people to buy books online from an unknown author – how many have you bought?). In addition, the POD vanity presses give bookstores poor discounts, and refuse to let them return books. Thus, bookstores don’t want to take them. To further add to this bleak picture, a lot of bookstores even refuse to special order POD books (someone got the bright idea of calling bookstores, asking them to order their POD book, and then not picking them up, with the idea that they’d put the book on their shelves and it’d sell. Only it didn’t sell, and the bookstore was stuck with a book they paid for.) In addition, POD books are more expensive than books published by traditional methods.

I could go on, but there’s a good discussion of the issues at Writers Beware.

Yup. That’s the usual lie. The second part is definitely false. As a matter of fact, a brand new author has an advantage over an author who’s trying to sell his second or third book, because a newbie has no track record. If your first book didn’t sell well, it’s very difficult to get people to buy your second.

The major reason that major publishers don’t publish a book is that it’s not good enough to be published. If you can write a book that is good enough, you will be able to find a regular royalty publisher. So your goal is to write the best damn book it can possibly be. If you do that, you will probably find a publisher for it. But you need to put all your effort into writing something the editor cannot put down.

*POD is just a method of printing the book, BTW. It’s no different from xeroxing it (though, of course, it gives a better product). What makes most POD publishers vanity presses are the practices toward authors, not the technology.


I did find one POD ( that didn’t charge too much and didn’t retain copyright (or much control, really) over your work. Now, I haven’t read the fine print in their contract but it appeared to me that they did not demand exclusivity and so they might not be too bad.

The reason I didn’t go with them was because I didn’t know if I’d have enough control. (That, and the idea of paying them to publish my book. I could use the money I’d be paying them to help afford my own block of 10 ISBN numbers, hire a copyeditor, and so forth!)

The reviews I read about them said that the book layout wasn’t always so hot. Hell, if I wanted mediocre book layout, I could do it myself. I don’t need to pay someone else to do it! :wink: Also, there was some question of how graphics would print. This was a big deal for me, because the book had a lot of graphics. I didn’t like the idea of paying a publisher all this money, only find out (too late) that they print graphics crappy. There would be nothing for me to do at that point other than suck it up since I’d already paid them. Also, I was concerned about cover art and layout. They said that I could provide the cover art myself, but I was unclear on whether they’d tweak my art afterwards or what. I was not very impressed with their generic book covers and didn’t want to find out after the fact that they’d messed up my book cover design.

However, for a while I didn’t know if I was able to handle the technicalities of getting the manuscript file ready myself. Then I realized that some self-publishers were just converting Word files into PDF (with fonts embedded) and I figured I could do that! (Mac OS X will do it automatically for you.) Then I dusted off that old copy of Adobe InDesign I’d got on eBay, bought an upgrade, and started to learn InDesign. InDesign is more suitable for book design and will make custom types of PDF files to fit printers’ specifications. So I went with that.

Exactly. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to see the difference between traditional offset printing and POD for most things. I was in a unique position because I wanted to do graphics, but most people won’t be using graphics. Almost any semi-reputable POD will be able to produce a decent all-text book.

I read the book The Self Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter and that gave me a lot of ideas. There isn’t as much of a stigma in self-publishing if you just become your own publisher. For certain kinds of books (non-fiction being one) it isn’t really a bad way to go. It’s not for everyone but if the idea interests you, it’s worth further investigation.

When I got into the business, 50,000 books a year published was the number everybody threw around.

The number I saw for last year was 170,000.

Admittedly, that’s everything, including textbooks, and governmental publications, and specialty scientific and medical books, and academic publications, and genealogies, and auto repair manuals, and a thousand others.

But still. Most of the 120,000 book increase has come from the ease of “publishing” a book. Distributing and marketing the book become ever more difficult and important in a system that allows anyone and everyone entry.

You might be able to get a self-published book into local book stores, but it is now next to impossible to get one into the chains distribution systems to give them wider availability. If you go that route, you need to be one of those “self-starters” that the ads for sales people always talk about. The entrepreneur mentioned is a perfect example. I could never be that person.

It is very much a trade-off, therefore. And not all the trades are equal.

Books on specialized subjects have an inherent advantage in that there should be a public seeking information that cannot be found elsewhere. More generic books - which, by definition include genre books like f&sf, mysteries, romances, etc. - are harder to sell because there is no compelling reason to seek them out over established authors’ titles.

I second the info previously posted. It can work. It has worked. It has also failed (or will) for at least 100,000 of those new titles that came out last year. Whether it’s right for you depends on your book and your personality. No one-size-fits-all here.