POD Series #4 – A Bedtime Horror Story

I’ve heard every kind of horror story imaginable about the Print On Demand paradigm – most are sad enough to bring tears to my hard-hearted eyes. I’m a writer, and I know what it’s like to pour my soul into a story morning, noon and night. I know what it’s like to agonize over character development and arc placement. I know what it’s like at the end of the day to have respected people in the business say, “Hey, Price, I think you really have something here.”

So does it seem right that all the hard work we pour into our writing is ultimately sent down a steaming pipe of oblivion? Of course not. But that’s exactly what happens with Print On Demand books.

Case in point; I got to know an author on a mutual writer’s board who was extremely proud of her book, and she should have been – it was fabulous. I knew nothing about her publisher, but I made the assumption (yeah, me…assume anything. Go figure) that it was an indie commercial press like ours. Some months later she became despondent and asked for my advice. Here’s what she told me:

The book was published, and she jumped into promotion with both feet. She’s a whiz at it and her subject matter was bursting with all sorts of different promotional paths. She hired a publicist and had visions of book signings dancing in her head.

It never happened. Stores looked up her title in their computers and saw that the book was non-returnable and the retail price was too high. Undaunted, she convinced several stores in her area to read the book and made them promise that if they liked what they saw, they’d agree to a signing. She’d provide the books.

They read it and loved it. Yahoo! They were so impressed that they ordered 25 copies for their stores. Her signings went off without a hitch, and she ended up outselling a well-known author whose signing was the same day.

But POD giveth and POD taketh away. The stores called the author and informed her they couldn’t shelve the books in their stores. Since the publisher hadn’t sent her title into the corporate buyers in NY her title wasn’t listed in their corporate database. The books remained in the boxes and were never unpacked, and she had to buy them back from the store.

And the publicist? She bolted after finding out that no matter what she did to promote her client, the books would never hit the stores.

It was the same scenario every time she had a book signing; she had to order all her own books and lug them to every signing.

Who made out? The publisher.
Because the author was the point of sale, not the bookstore. There was no risk to the publisher, and all the financial risk was placed on the author.

Broke and unable to obtain more signings, her choice was to hawk her book in other ways. In and of itself, this is fine. Many well-published authors do the very same thing. The difference is that these efforts are in conjunction with the publisher’s own marketing plans. Repeat this scenario a few more times and she was beaten before she ever got out of the shoot.

At that, none of this an arrestable offense. My hot button is that all too often the author NEVER KNOWS ABOUT ANY OF THIS UNTIL AFTER THE INK IS DRY ON THE CONTRACT.

After a year, she asked to be released from her contract, taking the tact that she wasn’t aware of any these problems before she signed the contract. The publisher refused. The author got a literary attorney with the intent of suing. The lawyer said she didn’t have a solid enough case that would hold up in court.

End of story.

End of dreams.

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