POD websites – gotcha!

It’s been a while since I blogged about how to sniff out a POD publisher by looking at their website, and I’ve had a few questions about it recently. Additionally, there is a great chapter in Tackle Box about the signs to look for and I have the whole POD Series you can read under the Classic Posts section off to the right of the screen.

In this day and age, it’s hard to figure out what a publisher is really about from their website unless you know what you’re looking for, so I thought I’d give a breakdown for easy digestion. Most of them are a template and this makes your job a lot easier. Here are some of the things you may see on the POD website:

  • POD websites are geared toward attracting authors, not readers. This is geared to excite the author out of their skivvies because they feel they have a chance at their dreams. Keep in mind that PODs make money off their unpaid sales force – their own authors – because their books aren’t in bookstores. They need a fresh meat supply at all times.
  • They may mention with great pride that 10o% of their authors are unagented. This is also meant to excite authors because most don’t have agents, so many believe they have a chance at their dreams. Sound repetitive? A commercial trade press will NEVER consider this a bragging point.
  • They may offer a higher percentage of royalties, but they may not say what those royalties consist of. Net? Retail? Net can be iffy. For example, paying on Net should mean that the author is  paid royalties on what the book actually sold for – the discounted price that the publisher sold to the bookstore. However, some POD publishers will extract their production and incidental costs, which are hard, if not impossible, to verify. This means the author is could be left with a few nickels to rub together.
  • They may state, “Professional covers and layout.” Puhleeze. This isn’t a selling feature. This is simply a part of doing business for the commercial trade publisher. It’s like having a car lot saying, “Oh heckititeetoot yes, we even include the tires with your car!” Well, gee, I hope so.
  • They may also say, “Our average lead time is less than six months from acceptance of the contract to books on the shelves.” This is a dead giveaway. There is no way I can accept a book and get it on the shelves within six months. For starters, my distributor needs a four to six month lead time just to get it into their catalog, which goes out to the genre buyers. We allow for three months to edit a book, design the cover, do the layout and interior design. Then we get the ARCs out to reviewers, who need a four month lead time. You see where I’m going with this, right? Anyone who hands out a short lead time like this more than likely isn’t a commercial trade publisher. Mind you, I’m talking US publishers.
  • “Tired of being turned down?” Commercial trade publishers don’t exist to ease the plight of the unpublished. They exist to buy great books and sell them to our lovely readers. It’s very common for PODs to use this type of verbiage in order to make them look like they’re the Great Savior to the downtrodden and defeated. Commercial trade publishers feel that if an author is rejected over and over again, it may not be suitable for publication.
  • “Give us a chance.” That is something you will never hear from a commercial trade publisher. We know who we are, so you either want to work with us and believe you have a book that will tickle our fancy, or you go elsewhere. We don’t beg to be given a chance. Instead, we have to prove ourselves by getting your book on store shelves and into readers’ hands.
  • There is no reading fee and we never ask authors to subsidize the publishing costs. Anyone who tells you this is someone who doth protesteth too much. I’m not saying they’ll do this because they probably won’t. But my point is that they even bother mentioning it. It’s pedestrian, and commercial trade presses don’t say these things because, like, um, why would we?
  • We want to be your publisher! Now this just makes me squidge because I want to ask, “how do you know you want to be my publisher? Do you have any standards, or is this just a general cattle call?” If I were to put up anything of this nature, it would be more akin to, “I am a snarly old bat with incredibly high standards who will bite your ears off if you send me junk!” The POD blurb gives the idea they’ll accept anyone as long as they have a constant pulse. We, OTOH, have an acceptance rate of 1%.
  • Genre. Most small trade presses limit the genres or niches they accept because they don’t have the editing staff to adequately edit Westerns, SF, Fantasy, Horror, Historical, etc. The POD press will accept just about any genre in existence. Be mindful of this. You want a properly edited book, and I guarantee that a POD press has very few editors on staff, and they can’t possibly do justice to every genre. No way, no how.

As I’ve said in the past, I hold a very tepid affection for POD companies because I’ve seen too many victims of those who made grand promises only to pull the literary rug out from underneath a lot of good people. PODs can be great for OP books or niche. But for the standard “I’m not ready for primetime publishing” PODs still make me growl. Or rather, the beagle growls, and I drink. I detest seeing authors get ripped off, and these guys do it either by design or sheer stupidity because they think they just invented the wheel.

Know what you’re getting into and know how to recognize the signs so you can say, “Ahhh, gotcha!”

8 Responses to POD websites – gotcha!

  1. POD (print on demand) is a method for publishing a book, NOT a synonym for a vanity press. POD is used by the major publishers for backlist, and university and small presses for front list.

    According to recent figures, a vast majority of the books printed in POD are back list and out-of-copyright classics, not vanity press.

    Also, some vanity presses don’t use POD, they use short runs so by your definition, some of these scum are legitimate publishers.

    If you don’t believe me, ask around in the trade, and you’ll discover I’m right.

  2. Print on Demand has two meanings. One is the digital printing technology and the other is the business plan. I’m not talking about the digital technology because, as you’ve stated, we all use this process for our ARCs and slower-selling backlist titles.

    You’re making the same mistake many people do by confusing the two terms. For that reason, I did a blog post on publishing terms – to avoid common confusion.

    I’m not calling any of these folks scum because there are some nice POD publishers out there who don’t try to hide who and what they are. These are great for niche books or OP books. But there is also the seamy underbelly of those who try to hide who and what they are. As a result, I’ve seen far too many authors be taken in by the POD business plan – which is run on a shoestring budget and no distribution – because they had no idea how to tell the difference between them and a commercial trade publisher. They learn all too late.

    This post is to answer all the questions I get about how to look for the signs.

    Lastly, I’ve been knocking around the industry for a while now, so I hardly need to “ask around.” I’ve lived it and seen the damage. No, I’m sorry, but you’re not right.

  3. Thanks for the list! It’s so hard to avoid the PODs when we don’t know what to watch for.

  4. Cat says:

    Lynn is there any chance at all there might be a rare exception to this? I am thinking of something which was done to raise money for charity recently. The company in question did it for a lower than usual rate and the authors (rather a lot of them) got nothing at all. Any profits went to a well regarded international charity. It is not a huge sum but it is a respectable donation.
    My point here? It would not have happened at all if it had not been done as POD. It is not the way I would want to go but, in the circumstances, I think it might have been the right way to do something. (Oh and there is an audio version and a translation into a second language coming up.)

  5. BubbleCow says:

    I always find it interesting that many POD companies mention nothing of ‘quality’ of finished product. When you get your POD book you will know why!

  6. Cat, when you say “lower rate than usual,” it sounds like you’re talking vanity press, not a POD business plan – which is the topic of my post. That they charged you a lower rate is admirable and yes, there are always exceptions to the rule.

    Just to prevent further confusion, vanity presses DO use the digital printing technology. But they are not a POD business model; they are a vanity business model, whereby the author pays to play.

    For the purposes of my post, however, I’m talking strictly about the POD business model whose websites are cleverly done in order to make the author believe they’re looking at a commercial trade press who has real distribution, store placement, and all the other goodies that come with being a commercial press.

    Bubble: I’ve seen plenty POD companies whose books looked great. They even had good page layout. For most, it’s not the quality of how the book looks, but what is done with that book upon release – which is nothing unless the author has some really good marketing ideas.

  7. Cat says:

    Sorry Lynn I did not make myself clear. No it was definitely NOT a vanity press deal – nobody paid any money to the company in question! What I meant was that they did not take the profits they would normally have taken from any other commercial deal. I suppose you could call it their contribution to the charity in question. It was a smallish concern but they assisted with the distribution and the advertising as well.

  8. Ah. Well, they are one of the very good guys! Bravo!

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