On my wanderings through the many writer sites, I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme; readership. Boy, for the debut author, this is vital because without it, chances are slim you’ll get a second bite at the publishing apple. What concerns me about these discussions is that many authors believe the Print on Demand business plan [for further explanation, see the POD Series #1; #2 ; #3; #4; #5; #6; #7; Print on a Dime ]will help them gain that oh-so important readership. After they have a following, they plan on going the mainstream publishing route. My problem with this logic is, how are you gonna get them?
Breakdown of gaining a readership
Gaining a following of readers means that your book reached a wide audience. That means your book was bought by the publisher for its marketable content, it was edited by an experienced editing team, was widely pitched by sales teams to the genre buyers, it was marketed and promoted on a national basis, it was distributed and placed on store shelves, hundreds of ARCs and free final copies were sent to media and reviewers, maybe you got a great trade magazine review.
With the Print on Demand business plan, none of these things happened.
Since Print on Demand business plans don’t have store placement, how do they stay in business? They rely on their authors to buy books. This is why many PODs have a ton of authors and accept every genre – it’s to balance the ratio of those authors who don’t buy their own books.
Since these publishers don’t have much money, they don’t do any marketing and promotion on a national level [and in most cases, not at all]. If the POD author shoulders the burden of marketing, promoting, and selling his/her books, how wide of an audience can they realistically reach?
I’ll hire a publicist
The problem with this idea is that the good publicists won’t take on a POD book because of the inadequate print runs. POD business plan means that the publisher prints off books only where there are physical orders. This reduces their financial risk. [Note: I am NOT talking about digital print runs, where it's financially conducive to printing smaller runs. All publishers use the digital technology for printing ARCs and backlist titles]
You hire a publicist because they can open media doors that you can’t. If you have dreams of being on a major morning show – don’t say Oprah, don’t say it, Lynn, don’t, don’t, don’t – then you need a mainsteam publisher behind you who can meet that potential demand.
Case in point; I had a friend who signed with a POD and, on her own, struck a deal with a major sporting goods store. She took the contract to the POD, and they turned her down. Why? Because not only would they have to print up 10,000 units, but they faced the possibility of returns. It’s too much risk. As a consolation, they suggested she BUY the 10,000 units at a 50% discount. Then she could do whatever she wanted. Needless to say, that wasn’t an option. Now this author had a perfect chance to widen her readership by thousands, but her publisher squirreled the deal.
A publicist knows this and that’s why they won’t work with POD books. What would happen if they got a Fox News Channel interview with the ever-ascerbic Glenn Beck? Demand might go through the roof. But the problem is the book isn’t available in stores, nor are there enough printed books. Result; pissed off buyers and egg on the publicist’s and Beck’s faces. Beck, I’m certain can handle that. The publicist won’t fare so well because his credibility is shot.
What are the POD author’s options?
Options are few since the publicity comes down to what kind of footprint the author can make on her own. This costs time and money. Of course there are Cinderella stories all over the place, but keep in mind that they are the exception; not the rule.
POD as a publishing credit
The thing to keep in mind is that after everything is said and done, mainstream publishers and agents don’t consider a POD book as a publishing credit. So you’ve pubbed your first book with a POD, and chances are you sold maybe a hundred or so copies. You then query mainstream agents and editors with your second book and proudly list your POD credit.
This is where the needle goes scritchy scratchy across the record. Unless you sold a couple, three thousand units – that we can verify through Bookscan – no one will care about that book. As I always suggest to authors – don’t list a POD book at all in your query.
In short, when authors talk about going the POD route to gain a readership, I’ve come to think of this as shorthand for, “I’m not good enough.” Whether they are or not remains to be seen. But I can guarantee one thing; if every POD author didn’t buy their own books, PODs would go out of business. This isn’t opinion, but fact.