Publishing a Book in the New Millennium

The Print On Demand Publishing Model: An Introduction

I’m a publisher. I publish business books, mainly on topics written to enhance an author’s reputation or to educate his or her market niche. When I tell people what I do, their eyes light up and they get this, “Wow! What a neat job!” look in their eyes. Then, they ask that all important question: “How does someone get a book published?”

I use a print on demand (also known as POD) model – which means we only print a book when someone buys it. For instance, on our website, if you click on a book title and decide to buy, you fill out an order form, we receive an email, and we tell our printer to print and mail the book. No stocking of books. No returns. No warehousing of books. Only books that have been paid for get printed and mailed.

The POD Model vs. Traditional Publishing Model

Traditional publishing uses offset presses that require complicated setup and print-runs of several thousand copies to keep unit costs down. They generally insist on altering the content, cover design, and even titles of the books they choose to publish. They also keep most of the profits, usually paying authors royalties of less than 10% of retail. And they require authors to sign over most, if not all, copyright privileges to their work.

Using digital printing technology, the POD model allows fast production of high quality books in very small quantities. It leaves control of the content and pricing with the author. There is no need to print thousands of copies – a model that always ends up in returns. Truth is, traditional publishers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on warehousing returned or unsold books.

The POD model enables printing the books as they are sold. After production costs, the POD author ends up with royalties ranging from 20% to 50%, depending on retail pricing and the retail sales channel (for example, Amazon.com takes its 55% commission vs. sales at the POD publisher’s website).

Why Doesn’t Everyone Use POD?

Many authors want that recognition that comes with saying, “Random House is my publisher” or whatever ‘traditional publisher’ of your choice. They think it gives them status. Truth is, readers do not check to see who published the book before they buy. If it’s a professional publication, if it’s a story they want to read, they buy it. The operative phrase is “professional publication” – a small percentage of POD publishers do not do what the industry considers a professional job. They bring the reputation of others down, but they are in the minority.

Many authors also want that “upfront advance.” They hope they’ll get a Stephen King amount (in the hundreds of thousands). Reality is, most published authors get less than $10,000 for an advance. And they have to then SELL enough books to cover that cost before they can start collecting on the 5-7% royalty they have contracted to receive.

Yes, with POD, authors do pay the publisher. In many cases, the POD publisher will offer coaching, editing, design, page layout, proofing, and even provide galleys for each author. Not all POD publishers offer these services, mind you. Some, like Lulu, merely print what the author sends. The other services are à la carte. Marketing the book is also extra, except for some posters or announcements, which are usually added to the initial project cost. Each POD publisher is different and approaches the process from a different mindset, so it pays to explore several of them before you finally select the one that suits you.

Bear in mind that writing a book is an investment — it takes time, talent, and energy, regardless of which publishing model you choose. And that’s just to get the book in print!

I’ll talk more about all the ins and outs of POD in future articles here on Beneath the Cover. For now, understand that it’s an valuable option. It’s a faster way to market – POD publishers can turn a book around in several months, compared to years at a traditional publishing house. And it’s more personal. For many authors today, having the chance to make personal decisions about their book –having a say in cover design, choosing the title and page layout, not signing over all their copyright privileges, and getting to market faster — is worth the cost.

In subsequent articles, I’ll discuss some of the finer points of using POD or digital presses to publish your book. If you have questions, I’d be happy to take a stab at answering them for you.

Author: Yvonne DiVita