They’ve screwed up all our words.

March 30, 2011

I’m in a mood. I just came back from reading someone’s blog where the word “Indie Publishing” was mentioned. Oh, thinks me, do we have a new small trade press on sidewalk? No. She was talking about self publishing – as in DIY.

Blink. Blink.

How and when did “indie publishing” become the definition for doing it yourself, and why did I not get the memo? Indie publishing used to mean a small trade press who was independent – that they weren’t part of a conglomerate. They acted just like their big brothers in New York, assuming all costs of production, marketing, promotion, and distribution – but their balance sheets lacked the same number of zeros.

But there are no clear-cut definitions anymore, and it’s all up for grabs as to what means what. And that puts me in a mood.

Much has changed and gotten more confusing since the time I wrote my Definitions post a year and a half ago, and it makes for some puzzling conversations.

Vanity/POD/Self/Indie Publishing

Take the lunch conversation I had with a very lovely author. Over a tasteless lunch (but wonderful company), my friend told me how she’d pubbed her first book with a POD company.

Um, no you didn’t, sez I.

Yah, I did, sez she.

No, you pubbed through a vanity press…AuthorHouse. They’re a vanity press. You paid them money to publish your book.

It was her turn to blink. But they called themselves a Print On Demand sez she.

Heh, sure they did. It sounds a lot better than calling themselves what they are: vanity. Perhaps a more polite term is “subsidy press.” But the term was originally coined because the author pays for all the production costs, which is far from free – thus the company is appealing to the author’s “vanity.”

They are not Print on Demand, which is a whole other business model, and you’ll find the definition here.

But wait, it gets even better. While at a writer’s conference, an author told me she was published by an indie press. Ooo, I know lots of them…which one? Poisoned Pen? Tyrus Books? No, she said, iUniverse.

Blink. Blink.

Um, didn’t you have to pay to get your book published? Sure, she replied.

This is when I pinch the bridge of my nose and count to ten.

It wasn’t until I got back to my room and glugged back a glass of wine that I wondered, if iUniverse is an indie press, then what the hell am I? The idea of being classified with the likes of iUniverse or AuthorHouse is as attractive as having my eyebrows singed with a flamethrower loaded on crack.

But hold on – the Gods of Insanity weren’t done with me. At that same conference, an author told me she’d self published her book. Wow, sez I, gutsy move. What’s the name of your publishing company? AuthorHouse.

Blink. Blink.

Cue pinching of nose and counting to ten.

All I can say is that the vanity/subsidy presses have been hard at work retooling their PR strategy. And why not, they certainly have the money for it. So now the word is that they are one of the following: POD, Self-Publishing, or Indie Publishing.

There…doesn’t that sound nicer? Cleaner? More attractive?

It’s like the old saying, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.” Except in this case, the axiom is, “We do care what you call us and we want to show you that we’re really nice guys as we stick our hands into your wallet.”

I have no problem with vanity/subsidy presses, per se. But I do have a problem with purposefully fooling the public in order to look gentler, kinder, benevolent. It’s like politicians calling for “revenue enhancements.” Puhleeze. Does anyone not realize it’s simply gentler word for TAX? Why do you think those blockheads changed the terminology? To make it more palatable, to fool us.

And this is exactly what the vanity presses do. “Let’s call ourselves something else so we sound better.” And it makes for very confusing conversations because there are so many authors who are genuinely flummoxed about the manner in which they published their book.

Eh, so what’s in a definition, Pricey? Well, glad you asked. If you make writers believe you are an “indie press,” then the writers have expectations about what you’ll do for them. They see their books as being on equal footing as, say, our books. And this is where disillusionment and anger sets in.

I know because I see it all the time at writer’s conferences. Doe-eyed authors come up after my seminars and ask if their iUniverse books will be nationally distributed because they said they are an “indie press” and, gee, you said in your seminar that you’re an indie press, too.

Cue the nose pinching and counting to ten again.

No. iUniverse isn’t on the same footing as we are. Not by a long shot.

But it doesn’t stop with vanity/subsidy. Print On Demand companies have done a lovely job of calling themselves “indie presses” as well. They aren’t. Not by a long shot. If you haven’t already, go check out my post on Definitions, where you’ll see what a POD company is.

I give a seminar that breaks down all the different types of publishers, what they can and can’t do for you (based on my chapter from The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box). I also include the proper terminology so we can establish who is what. When I got to the Print On Demand section of my seminar, a woman in the audience got very red-faced and stormed out of the room. Yikes. I was fearful I’d hit a nerve.

Later that night, she bought me a glass of wine and apologized for bursting out of the room. She was recently published by a well-known POD press – except they don’t call themselves POD, but rather, “independent publisher.” Because of that, she thought she was going to be nationally distributed in bookstores, along with marketing and promotion. Yes, yes, she’d been told they use the Print On Demand for their books, but big deal…so does every other publisher. And as far as distribution is concerned? Bah, no worries, sez they. We have the same distribution as Random House – Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

Based on that, she’d signed her contract.

Only until she heard my seminar did she realize she’d been duped. And this makes me so cranky. POD publishers – the skanky ones – stay in business by fooling people. They water down the definitions and play loosey goosey with the truth in order to make themselves palatable. Why? To make money, of course.

Print On Demand printing isn’t the right term. It’s called Digital Printing, and yes, everyone uses it. It’s a cost effective way of doing a short run, say, for Advance Reader Copies (ARCS), or backlist titles. But less-than-honest POD publishers are very savvy at the art of dilution, and they water down the facts to make themselves appear to be our equal.

The long and short of it is this:  if authors never bought any of their books, the POD publisher would fold up their tent and go home because their primary marketplace is selling to their authors, not the bookstores.They are hindered by the fact that they don’t have distribution (Ingram and B&T are warehouse distributors – a different animal) , so they can’t sell enough books to keep themselves afloat.

I have written many posts on POD publishers because of the confusion they’ve created:

Print on Demand Series
POD and Readership
Series #1
Series #2
Series #3
Series #4

Series #5

Series #6

Series #7

Print on a Dime

I hope you take the time to read them because there is a lot of good information in there.

At any rate, all of this editing of definitions of vanity, indie press, POD, self publishing has made for some strange conversations because I first have to figure out what they mean by “self-pubbed.” Vanity is not self-pubbed. Check the copyright page. Does it have your name there? Nope. Did you set the retail price? Nope. Your publisher did.

You. Are. Not. Self. Pubbed.

Self publishing is when you are the publisher and you assume all aspects of production, marketing, promotion, distribution, and order fulfillment. You set the retail price, and it’s your name on the copyright page. It’s hideously expensive and time consuming, and not for anyone with weak intestinal fortitude.

What this screwing with our definitions has achieved is general confusion. And this is great for the wanna-bes. But I have to admit that it drives me buggy. A couple years ago I had a writer ask me what I charge to publish books.

Blink. Blink.

Where did you get the idea I charge? Oh, sez she, I read your bio the conference website, and it said you are an indie press.

Gah. Since then, I’ve changed our bio to say that we are a mainstream publisher. I don’t think the vanity and POD guys can stake that claim for themselves, so I’m safe.

For now.

I think.

Finally, someone admits what the Print on Demand business model really is

September 4, 2010

I know, I know, I’ve talked about the POD business model a thousand times, but there are few times when a Print on Demand publisher will actually admit exactly who he’s in business for. This is a comment made on the forum by Dave Rozansky, publisher for Flying Pen Press.

If we purchase rights to a book that does not sell well, we are not out much money at all.

If I were one of his authors, does anyone think I’d care a gnat’s hairy bum whether he wasn’t out “much money”? Heck no. I’d be screaming about why he didn’t spend some money on marketing and promotion so that my book had a snowball’s chance in Hades of selling.  He’s telling anyone who reads this that he spends as little as he can because he can’t afford the risk.

Now, I wouldn’t normally waste much more than an eyeroll on an ignorant statement like this, but Mr. Rozanksy has some seriously inane opinions that can be read here, which Seriously Smart Blog Mistress Jane Smith has decided to tackle. Since Jane is addressing those issues, I won’t rehash. Go read Jane – her analysis is deliciously brilliant.

Instead, I want to concentrate on Mr. Rozansky’s brief sashay with clarity because he is the first to finally come clean about the truth of the POD business model.

I can hear the howls now: “But, Pricey, you’re taking his comment out of context!”

Excuse me, but what context would that be? As I have explained many times before (read my POD series – you’ll find it in the Classic Posts section to the right of my blog), the Print on Demand business model exists because it allows the owners to operate on a shoestring operating budget.

Here’s a tattoo for your forehead: If someone has little money, they can’t afford risk. And this is what Mr. Rozansky readily admits.

My question is this: If one can’t afford risk, then what’s the point? How far can one go if risks lurk around every literary corner?

He makes another statement on the AW thread:

As to HS’s claim that we are avoiding cash outlays, I can’t deny it. This is good business practice, and makes Flying Pen Press more nimble in the marketplace against our very large competitors.

First off, he’s dead wrong because it flies in the face of logic. Books don’t become successful if you eat all your peas at dinner. Face it – being successful takes money. Marketing and promotion take serious money, and publishers commit to that cash outlay in order to create demand, to let readers know their books exist.

I don’t understand how NOT spending money makes one more nimble than their “large competitors.” I’ve always believed that being a small publisher makes one more nimble because there aren’t the multi-layers  of administration to wade through before a decision can be rendered. But to suggest that not spending money = nimble? Not on this planet.

He goes on with the same tired rhetoric that all POD and vanity publishers invoke at some point – authors can call them anytime, day or night – even at home (shudder), authors get a say in their cover design, they treat their authors more intimately than those nasty conglomerates.

Personally, I’d rather know that my book would actually have distribution, marketing, and promotion rather than making sure I felt good about myself. Will the fact that I can call my publisher at home get me readers? Will it get my books on the shelves? I think not. Mr. Rozansky is trying to advocate a disconnect with smoke and mirrors. And this makes me cranky because I know of too many authors who fell for this gibberish.

I know I’m picking on Mr. Rozansky, but he’s made his case for me. Print on Demand publishing model = assuming as little risk as possible and spending as little money as possible.

So here’s a little message from me to you, Mr. Rozansky. When you become a commercial publisher and actually understand how the commercial publishing industry works, then you can attack our fatal horribleness to your heart’s content. Otherwise, you’re just another loud voice parroting the same weary lines and deluding a lot of good people. And sadly, there will be many who follow you because you spew the perfect illogical justification for taking implausible short cuts. I’m all for short cuts, but in publishing there aren’t any.

Hey, don’t take my word for it. Read it from the horse’s mouth.

The truth of it is this: You simply have to write a book that a lot of people want to buy AND be with a publisher who can create and meet that demand.

POD websites – gotcha!

April 21, 2010

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!”

This is how the sleazoids do it

March 10, 2010

As I’ve mentioned any number of times, POD and vanity presses will stop an nothing to get you to buy your own books. Why? Because YOU are their source of income. You are the golden goose. These folks aren’t open to bookstores and exist solely to make your book available to you in print format.

The options are limitless, but there is one sleazoid who does it better than most:

[Vanity masquerading as a POD] will send your book to Oscar winner Sandra Bullock!

Sunday night’s Best Actress won the award for her role in The Blind Side, a movie based on a book that she read before she agreed to play the role. We will now submit your book to Sandra Bullock and ask her to read it.

Here’s how we do it for authors who choose to have a few extra books on hand: Go to [sleazoid’s website], find your book, click on it, then add to cart, indicate quantity, and use this coupon: SandraBullock25. Then click Recalculate and finish the transaction. Minimum volume is only 6 copies.

You will receive your books at a 25 pct discount, and we will print an extra copy that we will send to Sandra Bullock at no cost to you, or more if she requests more, also at no cost to you.

In the Ordering Instructions field, you may write a note for Sandra if you want. We will include your note when we ship your book to her.

Note that [sleazoid publisher] will keep your note confidential, and that Sandra Bullock may treat your book and your personal note in any way she chooses.

Full-color and hardcovers excluded. Offer expires this weekend on Sunday night.

What’s particularly sickening is that they make these mahvelous offers on a regular basis. The unwary, uninitiated, and just plain gullible fall for this stuff all the time.

Show them the money!

Let’s say that just 100 gullible authors [mind you, these folks have authors in the thousands] take up sleazoid publisher’s offer. Think they’re really going to send ol’ Sandy 100 books? Not without facing a call from Sandy’s bank of lawyers telling them to shove off in all sorts of colorful ways.

So while you forked over a minimum order of six copies for your overpriced book – and really, who can stop at just six? – they’re raking it in hand over fist because they fooled hundreds of their paying customers to do just the same thing. WoOt! Cha-ching!

What a steaming pile of yak droppings. Don’t be fooled.

POD/vanity – confusion still reigns

August 26, 2009

While in Alaska, I sat on a panel with my learned colleagues and did a Q&A at the local Barnes and Nobel. Great crowd, great questions [and the cutest darned dog that I was dying to pet, but he was “working”]. The question came up regarding vanity and POD presses, and this is where the confusion arose because one of the panel members created the impression that they are the same – that PODs charge money just like vanity presses. They don’t. Since I was the only editor on the panel, I felt more informed about the particulars on the differences between these two entities, and I immediately disagreed with my panel member – a respected agent.

It got sort of silly at that point because my colleague – as much as I adore him – isn’t given to accepting opinions other than his own. It’s ok, he’s very good at what he does. I wouldn’t have belabored the point so hard except the authors in the crowd seemed truly confused as to how one tells a vanity from a POD. My panel member lumped them both into the same pay up front mold, and this made me wince because I evisioned all kinds of authors getting caught in the POD trap without knowing the facts.

Vanity Fact: Vanity presses such as AuthorHouse, iUniverse, etc. are pay to play. They charge up-front package fees to publish a manuscript. There is no thought about editing or clever cover design – even if you add that a la carte feature to your package. They do nothing about stocking in stores, except with order fulfillment, and authors do all the promotion and advertising. Vanity is simply a very, very expensive printer and fulfillment center. This means that authors always buy their own books to sell out of the trunks of their cars. It’s the only real way these books sell.

Vanity Fact: I just found out over the weekend that AuthorHouse and probably other vanity presses have an added $600 fee that will make a book “returnable.” Problem is, no bookstore will order these books, “returnable” or not, because they know vanity books have no litmus test for quality or any set standards other than the size of the writer’s checkbook. This “return policy” made my blood pressure spike a few points because it’s an outrageous scam that skirts along the lines of legality but fails miserably on the propriety scale.

POD Fact: To disagree with my colleague – PRINT ON DEMAND PUBLISHERS ARE NOT THE SAME AS VANITY. PODs don’t charge up front fees. This is an important distinction that authors MUST be aware of because they can get caught in the POD web without their realizing it. That’s usually the way PODs want it.

POD publishing is a completely different beast altogether even though there are similarities to vanity. Like vanity, PODs confine their printing to the digital technology [cost effective at small runs] – hence the name Print on Demand publishing. Print runs may be anywhere from five to ten books up to a hundred. Rarely more unless there is demand [orders].

But unlike vanity, POD publishers operate on a smaller budget, and this impacts their ability to compete in the marketplace. They don’t have distribution because they don’t have any promotion or advertising, or print in large enough numbers to make it worth a sales team’s time to push the books. Their editing and cover design is usually lacking because they can’t afford quality experienced editors or cover designers.

Most PODs do have a return policy, but since they have less operating cash, they can ill afford returns from bookstores. Remember, PODs have zero promotion and advertising, so it’s dicey for PODs to sell to the bookstores. All promotion and advertising is on the author’s shoulders, and this means few readers are even aware of the book’s existence. A book that no one knows about will sit on a store shelf for six weeks and be sent back to the publisher. Meanwhile, the publisher still has to pay for the print run. A returned book costs the POD publisher big bucks, so it’s easier to rely on their authors to promote and sell their books. This means the POD makes the bulk of their money selling books to their own authors. There is no risk in this. Bookstores = huge risk.

Regardless of a POD’s motivations, these are the facts. Their standards for acceptance are usually more relaxed because they need a large lineup of authors in order to offset those who don’t buy their own books.

POD Truth: If every author refused to buy their own books, that company would be out of business within months. A vanity press gets their money up front, so they’ll be around as long as there are writers willing to fork over their hard-earned bucks for an inferior result. POD is much more insidious in this case because they cloak themselves as “indie publishers,” and the writer doesn’t find out the truth until it’s too late.

Writers believe that since their “publisher” didn’t charge them anything up front, they must be a “traditional” publisher – as they often (wrongly) describe themselves. And this is where my esteemed bud and colleague is mistaken. Thar be a HUGE difference between vanity and POD, and I only wish we’d had the time to pursue this discussion, as I feared seeing many getting caught in a sticky web that usually brings about a ton of disappointment.

Things that should make you say “hmmm”

June 4, 2009

We believe that writing is a cathartic process and that you deserve to have a voice and express exactly how you feel about your life and/or your writing.

All good points, but authors still need to be edited. Our words don’t come directly from the hand of the Great Cosmic Muffin. And I’m of a mind that if there is a Mrs. Great Cosmic Muffin, she edits him as well. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

All of our book covers are black with a central image and white writing. We do this for branding purposes; people who see our books associate with our company. This makes your book more visually appealing and desirable.

Horse manure. This is drop and drag cover design that requires no talent, no forethought, and no ingenuity. It’s one-stop design that the beagle could pull off after a pitcher of margaritas. This isn’t branding. It’s lazy, cheap, K-Mart stuff. They are trying to compare this to say Harlequin or other niche publishers whose covers have a set tone. But at that, those covers are all unique. That’s what sells books. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

We are looking for the first time author because yours is a voice that is fighting to be heard.

This is double speak for “I really hope you’re too flipping stupid to see through this ruse.” You are nothing more than a profit center for these types. You make them rich by buying your own books by the truckload. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

We are distributed by Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

This is shorthand for “we don’t have national distribution, and you won’t find our books in bookstores unless an author was able to talk a nice store manager into taking a few copies.” Publishers get their books distributed by one of several ways; they hire their own sales teams who establish relationships with the genre buyers, indie buyers, librarians, and national accounts. They may sign with an independent distributor whose sales teams perform these tasks. Or they may sign with a larger publisher and have them distribute their catalog.

But saying that they are distributed by Ingram and B&T is a throwaway sentence that says nothing. It’s like saying you listed your bike for sale in the L.A. Times. You hope someone will come along and want to buy your bike, but you have no way of making buyers aware of its existence because you’re not out there pitching it to prospective buyers. Only way you’ll sell that bike is if a buyer stumbles across the ad. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

Why bother with an agent when you can submit directly to us?
Those big guys aren’t looking for fresh voices.
Publishing is broken.

They usually go on about how those greedy rat bastard agents steal a percentage of your earnings, and they’re really the root of all evil. While they, on the other hand, are the paragons of truth, justice, and the Writerly Way. I can almost hear the angels singing.

This is called salesmanship, and PODs and vanity presses do it better than anyone else. Why? Because commercial publishers don’t target authors. They sell to book buyers. That’s how the beagle keeps her running inventory of designer chew toys and tequila.  Since PODs and vanities don’t have distribution or bookstore presence, they get their money from authors, and that is where they aim their sales pitch. They put up outright lies as the ones I pulled from various POD sites, hoping the author believes it. If you see these kinds of statements on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

“They are so nice!”

If I had a dime for every time an author told me this, you all would bowing at my feet calling me Madame Editor Who Rocks All. Of course these folks are nice. But compared to what? How many editors have most authors spoken to? In spite of my snarkitude here, I can really be quite charming. Even friendly. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I drank an author’s blood just for kicks.

In truth, we really are nice, polite people. I have to be decent, or my mother would kill me. And so would every other editor’s mother. So the nice thing doesn’t hold water. Having a nice personality doesn’t equate to a quality book and sell through, yet I see many authors fall into this trap. Only too late do they see that Mr. Nice Editor really has green drippy fangs and a bad temper if you don’t get your butt out there and market and promote your book. You may find yourself the recipient of nastygrams if you aren’t selling many books because you are their unpaid sales force, and you need to keep feeding the monster. If you find yourself saying this, you should say “hmmm.”

We’ll get your book published way faster than the big guys.

This is true. A POD or vanity press can crank out your book in a matter of a month or two – faster if they skip the editing. So if speed lights up your personal flashlight, by all means go for it. But keep in mind that the quality will mirror the amount of time it took to print it up. Also bear in mind that your book won’t be seen by any of the trade reviewers.

This, to date, remains one of the biggest surprises of the POD/vanity author. Well, that and finding out their books won’t be in the stores. New authors don’t realize that there is a set of criteria that results in a book being eligible for review, and one of them is that reveiwers need at least four months lead time before the book is published. If your book is hot off the presses within a month, you can be assured that you won’t be reviewed.

Trade reviewers require an ARC (advanced reading copy), and PODs and vanity presses don’t produce these because it costs money that they will never recoup. They are very stingy about sending freebie copies to anyone because it’s a loss. Where we may send out 300 freebie copies of a single title, they may send out five – after some grousing. This is because the general reading public isn’t their target market. You, the author, are. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

“We are late paying royalties because our distributor is late paying us.”

I have seen this statement from both POD and commercial presses. For PODs, this isn’t surprising that they can’t (or won’t) pay up if their vendors (PODs don’t have distribution) are late paying because they don’t often have enough cash reserves. Even if they do, it’s more advantageous to make the authors wait. I’ve seen PODs who are busy buying imprints, yet they are consistently late paying their authors’ royalties.

For commercial presses, the notion that the distributor is late paying the publisher is bunk – yet I have seen this happen as well. This kind of statement should tell the author one thing; the publisher is hurting for cash. I don’t know of a single reputable distributor where publishers can’t get their current sales status online, so they always know how much money is coming to them. If you get an email with this kind of news, you should say “hmmm.”

There are a million other things that should make you say “hmmm,” but these are the main offenders I see time and time again that result in authors being confused or cranky. Remember what your mama told you. If something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is.

Be safe out there, and never be afraid to take a step back and say “hmmm.”

POD – are you going to pay me my royalties or not?

June 3, 2009

I hear this a lot from authors who are with Print On Demand publishers – among all the other issues I discuss regarding this particular entity. For any newcomers – I’m not talking about the digital printing process, but rather the business plan. Thar be a difference.

POD business plan, in a nutshell, operates on little money, and that means they don’t do large enough print runs to make them distribution worthy, they don’t have sales teams, marketing, promotion, reviews by the large trade magazines, or shelf space in the bookstores. Since they can’t get into the bookstores, they need to make their money somewhere, and that income stream usually comes from their own authors, who need to buy their own books in order to make sales or bring stock to signing events.

Because not every author buys their own books, POD publishers have an usually high acceptance rate – far higher than commercial trade presses. They need those numbers to maintain that income stream.

The long and short of this is that PODs are always one step shy of running out of money, and this can be seen in paying out their royalties. Is your POD paying out their royalties later and later? Is the payment schedule constantly being pushed back? Are they consistently missing deadlines? Have they sent out emails telling you royalties are going to be late because their vendors are late paying them?

This is deep-fried crap on a hot dog stick.

And this heightens my main beef with the POD business plan. PODs cannot run a company on a shoe string budget and expect to maintain any kind of viability in the long term. You are always one step away from disaster because you have zero control over your destiny. Will my authors buy enough books for me to keep the lights on? Will those online outlets pay me for sales over the past quarter? You lack the funds to sit in the driver’s seat, and virtually everything depends on outside influences. Whatever production costs the POD does have, they aren’t going to wait just because some online e-book site or database is late sending out their payments.

PODs don’t have cash reserves to weather the tough times. And when times get tough, it’s not unusual to see the “get out and market!” emails begin floating around. They need capital, and they need it fast. So guess who bites it? The author. It’s always the author. You are the first casualty in the POD plan because you are the most patient and expendable. You are the first to be blamed if your book tanks, and the last to be paid when the well runs dry. If you cause too much of a ruckus or ask too many questions, you’re dumped and branded a troublemaker.

PODs don’t normally stand behind their authors because they can’t afford to. It’s not about the book and the strength of the story, because they don’t have a wide audience to begin with, so it comes down to the author’s ability to bring home the bacon. And it’s not just the author who needs to bring home the bacon. The publisher’s vendors do, too.

For the thousands of you who I know are wondering if your late royalty checks will come in, you have my sympathies. At least you have a better understanding as to why it’s happening and that you will always be the last one considered when things get tough.

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