POD (print on demand) technology has led to an amazing number of print on demand companies, sometimes also known as author services companies or publishing services companies. You see their names all over the web-iUniverse, Xlibres, Author House and BookSurge (an Amazon.com owned company) are among the best known.
Although their ads often don’t make it clear, they are much more service bureaus than publishing houses. That is, most of them contract for the printing and binding through the Ingram’s Lightning Source, and yes, you can go directly to Lightning Source under certain circumstances (if you’re publishing a single book they will send you to a POD company, but they have a selection on their site: https://www.lightningsource.com).
Up Front Self-Publishing Fees
Generally, POD companies charge an upfront fee which may be as high as several thousand dollars or as low as under $500. The difference is all in the service. Unlike many industries, however, paying more doesn’t always get you more-a better way to say that is that paying more will often get you things you don’t need. Many of the better known author services companies are masters of the up sell.
I had one client leave me when he was assured by a large POD company they would market his book if he paid them several thousand dollars. They also wanted a complete rewrite of his book – he was to be charged extra for that as well. I saw the criticism they sent him and felt they were changing his voice and information from a certain down-home approach to much more like academia. Of course, that’s just my opinion. He bit on the more expensive package.
It’s been almost two years now and I just checked and as near as I can tell he’s never gotten the book produced. If he had gone with the POD company I suggested he’d have been making at least small amounts of money from back-of-the-room sales when he gives talks and from his website. I don’t know for sure, but I think he just became overwhelmed by the ever increasing cost and the constant attempt to change his book through up selling.
What You Need To Know
Does this mean all POD companies are rip-off artists? Not by a long shot. Here’s what you want to be sure you get:
- Real clarity on the price – exactly what are you getting and how much are you paying for it?
- You own and continue to own all the rights to your work. (At least one of the majors has a history of taking your rights, then if you want to cancel, selling them back to you. There ought to be a law!)
- Ease of getting out of the contract – 24 hours is ideal, anything more than a week is intolerable. You should also be able to cancel by email.
- The company’s logo should not be on your book! Not unless you get a huge discount, and even then I don’t like it.
- The ability to provide an ISBN or to use yours – a choice, in other words.
- Distribution though Ingram (this is simply a must-have since they service almost everyone else), Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, etc. Make sure you understand how distribution will be handled and if it will cost you additional money. *
This is a minimal list. There are other things you might want, like cover design, page layout, the ability to consistently reach someone by phone and or email, etc. etc. etc.
Make sure you read Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living before you make any decisions. Get copies of the contracts from any author services company you’re considering. If there’s a single word of the contract you don’t understand, ask until you do or you determine you’re not going to. If you can’t get an explanation you understand, move on.
POD Companies and Royalties
As you look at the offerings from POD companies you’ll find royalties ranging from 35 percent to maybe as much as 100 percent. You’ve got to read and understand the contracts if you don’t want to get ripped off.
First of all, a royalty is just a commission, a percentage paid to you on the sale of each of your books. The royalty will be figured on either the net sale price or the list sale price of your book. Net means after expenses. List means the price that you’ve agreed to sell your book for. (Okay, there is also a bookstore discount, but stick with me.)
Let’s work out a simple example and pretend your book is going to sell for $10 even. Your list price is $10.00. So if an author services company tells you you’re going to earn 35 percent of list that means you’ll get $3.50 for every book that’s sold.
If you go with a POD company that offers to pay you 50 percent of the net cost of your book, that sounds better, but it often isn’t. It isn’t because they get to decide what their costs are. They could, for example, claim it costs them $8 to produce every book. If you are to get 50 percent of the net, that’s a single dollar for you. Since you don’t have any control over their costs, you’re in a poor position when it comes to profits.
Some POD company’s like Lulu.com and BookLocker.com will tell you right up front, before you even register, what it will cost to produce your book. They’ve already added their profit, so if it costs you $5 and you price your book at $10, you’ll get the full $5 on each book sold. The difference is you know exactly what the deal is going in.
I strongly urge you, if you self-publish, to go with a company that either tells you exactly what they will charge you per book or with a company that promises a percentage based on list price not net.
About those bookstore discounts. Retailers, wholesalers and distributors charge for their services. You need to know what you’re paying here as well. It’s easier to figure out what’s going on if you’re dealing with an author services company that pays on the list price and states the wholesale percentage they offer up front or that lets you know exactly what your cost will be.
Once you’ve got your self-publishing company, you’ll need to follow their instructions about how to move from manuscript to finished book.
There’s plenty more to be done, but that’s for another article or several.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu
* This list is adapted from an article by Angela Hoy, creator and owner of Booklocker.com. The article is at: http://publishing.booklocker.com/secret.php Yes, I’ve used her services and may well again. I also like Lulu.com.