Saturday, October 20, 2007

Q & A #3: Print on Demand

Q: Print on Demand is a technology, not another name for "vanity press." So why do some agents recommend not mentioning a POD book in your query letter as a publishing credit?

A: You want to be a professional author with your book published by one of the big publishing houses, but your rejection pile is growing larger and your options are becoming slim. You're tired of all this waiting. You see an ad for a company that promises to publish your book promptly and even let you control a lot of the publishing process. It sounds tempting, but are alternatives to traditional publishing worth the risk?

Print on demand (POD) is a digital printing technology that allows a complete book to be printed and bound in a matter of minutes for a decent cost. This technology may be a great way to get a small number of books published for certain uses, but be careful when considering POD publishers as a way to print your "break out" book that you think will make you famous. I highly recommend reading the Writer Beware--Print on Demand article. First, keep in mind that most companies offering POD services aren't offering true self-publishing. Second, don't expect to make big sales on your book even if you work hard at selling it. According to the Writer Beware article:

POD services' own statistics support these low sales figures. The most recent online Fact Sheet for AuthorHouse reported 27,000 titles in print in 2004, with total book sales of over 3 million. It sounds like a lot, but averages out to around 111 sales per title. iUniverse's most recent Facts and Figures sheet reports that the company published 22,265 titles through 2005, with sales of 3.7 million: an average of 166 sales per title. (Obviously some titles can boast better sales--but not many. According to an article in Publishers Weekly, only 83 iUniverse titles had sold more than 500 copies as of 2004). A 2004 Wall Street Journal article revealed similar stats for Xlibris: 85% of its books had sold fewer than 200 copies, and only around 3%--or 352 in all--had sold more than 500 copies.

Sales numbers like these don't impress agents or editors. Unless it's a niche book with sales in the thousands, most agents say that they view a POD book credit as indicating that you don't have the patience to deal with the slow pace of the publishing business. They say it's probably better to write a new novel and submit it rather than spend all your time and money trying to sale your POD book. If you have a POD book, agents generally recommend not mentioning it. If they find out about it, then just tell them that you learned from the experience and want to do it right this time.

Yes, some valid independent publishers--one that rigorously screen submissions and professionally edit, design, and market books--use POD technology. If you have a book published by one of these publishers, understand that you're still fighting the POD stigma. I haven't seen any agent answers on how to deal with this situation in a query letter, but mentioning the name of the publisher and the sales figures might help let the POD book mention work in your favor.

Hope this helped.

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