Authors weigh in on POD and self-publishing

Printing press 16th C engravingMy posts about print-on-demand and self-publishing have inspired many thought-provoking comments. Today I’m going to feature a few of the responses. First, the question I promised to answer in today’s post: 

With so little quality control in the POD field, how do you convince people your work is worth reading, let alone buying?

The answer, in a word: marketing. Bob Sanchez makes some excellent points:  

How do you convince people to buy your POD book? Some entities, such as the big chain bookstores, may be unconvinceable. But if you are asking about convincing individuals, it’s been my experience that no one cares whether your book is POD, and most people don’t even know or care what POD is. At a book signing you talk to the potential customer about your work, and either she is interested or she isn’t. I have never, ever heard someone say she wouldn’t buy my book because it’s POD. Never. In fact, many people are impressed and delighted to meet an author in person.

Specifically, I suggest that you collect reviews and reprint snippets from the best ones. It can even be an Amazon review. The biggest reviewing outfit, Kirkus, won’t review POD except for a fee, but you know what? The average reader neither knows nor cares who Kirkus is. So forget them and go for free reviews on Midwest Book Review, Rebecca’s Reads, Amazon, Kaye Trout’s Book Reviews, or any of a number of book-reviewing blogs. All your potential buyer wants is a little third-party reassurance that your book is worth the money.

On CrimeSpace, an excellent social networking site for mystery writers and readers, I asked how much stigma is attached to publishing with a print-on-demand press. Debbi Mack replied:

My book was originally with a small press that used POD to print its books. Now I’ve reissued it through Lulu, which will publish whatever you give it. Technically, I’m not self-published (bear with me here) because Lulu obtained the ISBN and has non-exclusive rights to publish the work, with Lulu listed in the bibliographic info as publisher. I just reissued my only published novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, through Lulu and I almost feel duty-bound to explain to people that it was once published by a small press, just so they know someone actually chose to publish it and it was edited before its release. 

While some people and certain entities which I won’t name continue to turn up their noses at people who go this route, I think a lot of former disbelievers are warming up to it more. It takes determination and relentless promotion and I just released my book through Lulu this month. I found the publishing process a bit less than transparent at times, but maybe it was just me blundering through the process. Anyway, the book’s in their system, so now I’m just promoting and marketing like crazy.

I heard about Lulu because my SinC chapter reissued its anthology CHESAPEAKE CRIMES (in which I have a story) through Lulu after the publisher went under (the publisher who originally released my book). . . if you write a great story and manage to build a following, it is entirely possible to land a traditional publishing contract. If nothing else, the experience will make you better prepared for doing even more of the same once you land that contract. Because, in reality, most authors don’t get the big promo $$ from their publishers.

Check out Debbi’s web site and her blog

Kris Neri says:

. . . two of my three publishers use POD technology. All are advance/royalty paying traditional publishers. And yet when I recently updated my Sisters in Crime Books in Print page, I had to beg the SinC board to include those PODs in the printed BinP version because one of their criteria of professionalism is that that the publisher print at least 1000 books. A POD from a traditional publisher is still being treated, in some quarters at least, like a self-pub.

There are pluses and minuses to PODs. . . . The publisher of my Tracy Eaton mysteries is putting the first chapter of the next book at the end of each of the titles. When he reprinted DEM BONES’ REVENGE, my forthcoming title, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE, hadn’t yet been edited. The editor then suggested a new first chapter before the existing one. Since I liked the idea, I asked the publisher how that could work, since he’d already included the old first chapter in his publication of DBR. He said he’d simply change it after I revised it, and some copies of DBR would be printed out with the old first chapter, while some would have the new first chapter. That provides great flexibility.

 I answered that I hadn’t realized Sisters in Crime had this particular requirement for 1,000 copies in print, but they did hassle me about being included in their printed Books in Print. I used to be there, but now I’m only on their web site. That requirement is really antiquated, not to mention environmentally heedless! When both my mysteries came out on Virtualbookworm, I ordered 100 copies for myself, and I’ve ordered more as needed. People have ordered them directly from Amazon and from Virtualbookworm, and nobody’s complained about the time lag. There’s no longer a need for warehousing thousands of books (except for the top sellers).

Granted a time lag might be problematic in some circumstances, but that can happen with “traditional” publishers too, or with small presses masquerading as traditional. I have a friend who published with a small press who promised books in time for Malice Domestic, where she was on a panel. They didn’t come through, and lately they haven’t been paying royalties or returning phone calls. Now she’s struggling to get her rights back. So in these changing times, it’s “buyer beware.” I heard someone on a panel somewhere say that with the ease of the new technology, small presses spring up like mushrooms in the lawn after a rainy spell, and disappear just as quickly.

There’s much more to say on this topic, and I welcome your comments. On Friday, I’ll address Jeff Herman’s questions:

Can self-publishers sell their books to conventional publishers? Should they want to?


23 thoughts on “Authors weigh in on POD and self-publishing

    • I agree, Nancy. Your comment reminds me – I have a poem about a library book sale that’s relevant to this. Maybe I’ll post it tonight. (And speaking of books in print – I still haven’t mailed off the copy of Eldercide you won. My bad, but I’ll let you know as soon as I mail it!)

  1. Readers like covers, read the back of the book, turn to the first page and read it. If they like all of those, they’ll buy the book unless they really can’t afford it.

    If they can’t hold the book in their hands, it’s sometimes a problem, but more and more people can experience all of these things online and decide to buy online.

    The general public readers are not hungup on technalities such as publishers. Sometimes other authors are. Others have an open mind.

    Morgan Mandel

    • I agree, Morgan. Glad you stopped by here. I keep reading your posts elsewhere and trying to comment, but some technical jinx seems to keep stopping me (not the fault of your blog, just a cyberspace coincidence.)

  2. I’m a firm believer in POD – my first book, MURDER, MATHER AND MAYHEM was put out by Xlibris – the product was as quality as any big publishing house and it still sells well. Because MM&M was in my hands I was picked up at a conference by a mid-sized press who put out my next two books, DEATH OF A DUTCH UNCLE and DEATH OF A BAWDY BELLE. Unfortunately, the economy has hit many smaller presses and I’m looking for a publisher for my new book, DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER. I’m not worried because I know I can POD the book if I have to. Marilyn aka: M. E. Kemp

    • Thanks for posting here, Marilyn. I can vouch for the quality of your books. Readers, Marilyn’s web site is listed on my blog roll under Mystery Writers – go check it out!

      In fact, I’m indebted to Marilyn for being a major influence in my decision to try POD in the first place.

  3. This is all very interesting. I haven’t thought of it before Bob mentioned it, but it’s true – at book signings I’ve been asked a lot of questions, but not one has been about the publisher.

    • Thanks, Jane. I’ve had much the same experience – no one’s ever been turned off because the book’s POD. Most don’t ask, and when people do, it’s in the context of wanting to know how I got published because they, their friends or family want to publish a book.

      If they do find out it’s POD, they generally exclaim about the high quality of the book’s look and feel.

  4. This is an interesting article. Rather than going the route of POD I have decided to go with Kindle which can also be downloaded to the iphone and mobipocket which can be downloaded to a PDA or a PC. While still self published the books compete head to head with other major books out there. Additionally, all of my promotional work is on line which is also where my potential readers are.
    The Stacy McCray series of novellas is intended to run for a very long time. Since I plan on doing all of the promotional work I think the higher royalty should go to the author.

    Beth Gray

    • I’m interested in your reply about Kindle. This is a whole new area I plan to get into. Fortunately, my POD publisher can handle the Kindle stuff for me. But I thought Kindle was incompatible with iphones. It’s all so confusing . . .

  5. The problems aren’t with the readers, but in getting the books into the readers’ hands. If the bookstores won’t touch your book because it’s POD, how can the reader find you, look at the book, read the back cover and decide to buy it? There is Amazon, but that shouldn’t have to be our only avenue open for our books.

    Until we can get the system to realize that in today’s wasteful world, POD is the only way to print, it will be hard to get a POD book into bookstores. The organizations like MWA and SinC aren’t helping but hindering this process. I wonder why? Lobbying from the publishing industry, maybe? It’s all political. Even in publishing. With the potential power that POD brings to the hands of the people, the big publishing machine is fearful of giving up their own power.

    My Brenda Strange supernatural mysteries have been published by traditional small presses. Now, I have found freedom and self-publishing. I now have my own imprint, Black Car Publishing, using Lulu’s fantastic set up to self publish via creating your own company.

    I do believe POD is the wave of future and I’m quite content riding the wave ahead of everyone else. I see so many fellow authors sign on with small presses who are using POD in the same way an individual can do it on their own and getting nothing back yet giving away their rights. Why not do it yourself, retain all your rights and promote on your own?

    Thanks for this blog.

    • Thanks for your comments, Patti. I’m about to post about some of these issues today. I agree that it’s often wiser to bypass small presses and do it yourself – but the extent of the work you actually do can vary greatly.

      It’s my understanding that Lulu requires more technical savvy and involvement than some other POD printrs. As I recall, this is what turned me off Lulu when I was first researching my options.

  6. The 1000 printed books rule is very old-fashioned, not to mention snooty! Many traditional publishers use POD/digital technology and many books are E-Books. It’s wrong to exclude them.

    As quoted above, the definition of self-published being you own the ISBN is correct. If you use a service, you are not really self-published. And the publishing industry still views those authors as lower than dirt. So it’s a tough battle to fight.

    The average reader doesn’t know the difference – but it’s amazing how many have picked up on vanity presses and self-publishing! (And yes, I have been asked that question!) Vanity published books and self-published books outnumbered the traditionally published books last year, so the market is very flooded with such titles. People are beginning to notice.

    In the question of should one publish via POD, (clarifying first that they mean POD PUBLISHER, not POD/digital PRINTER,) as I tell those who attend my seminars – in most cases, no. You are postitioning yourself behind the 8 ball from the very beginning – why add more battles? Research the industry and then either go traditional or publish completely on your own. You will earn more respect, more reviews, and make more sales. Bottom line.

    L. Diane Wolfe

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Diane, and glad to welcome you here. I could answer at length, but then I wouldn’t be writing today’s post!

  7. Thanks, Julie, for this nice round-up of the discussion on POD and self-publishing. If nothing else, these are certainly “interesting times” for the publishing industry (as the Chinese would say :)).

    The main catch from a selling point with POD is not the readers, but whether bookstores will carry them, since I don’t think POD publishers take returns, do they?

    But between Amazon, and other online retailers this may present less of a problem than in the past.

    And, if you get to know the book buyers at local stores, I suppose you can try to place books on consignment there.

    • Again, this is something I’ll be commenting on today.

      I have placed some of my books on consignment, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any $$$ come out of it – even when I revisit the store and find my books are gone. It’s a far better idea to get the store to buy your books outright. I’ve had some do it, even Border’s.

  8. Thanks for warning people about giving books to stores on consignment. I had some of my books at the bookstore at Harrod’s in London which was very prestigious but we never saw any of the money! Lots of time and effort wasted chasing them as well.

    Since self-publishing and cooperative publishing require a lot more creativity in marketing and promotion, I’d welcome your best ideas on how to compete in the crowded marketplace which is still dominated by the big guys with the big budgets.


    Mindy Gibbins-Klein
    The Book Midwife

    • Thanks for your comments, Mindy. Yes, leaving books on consignment takes a lot of follow-up. Once my books are in a store I tend to forget about them or to lack the motivation to follow up. As for how to compete in a crowded marketplace, I’m still feeling that one out!

      • FWIW, I’ve been taking note of who posts reviews on DorothyL and getting in touch with the frequent reviewers, asking if they’ll consider reviewing my novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, and posting a review on DL.

        So far, I’ve gotten several positive responses and one really awesome review out of the effort.

        You can read my blog post, in which I talk about using this approach. I call it my grassroots marketing effort. 🙂

        The post is at

        You have to get creative with marketing and put some time, money and effort into it. But it can be done. And approaching reviewers is just scratching the surface. Don’t even get me started. I could probably go on and on about how to market books. You’re only limited by your imagination.

        Now go think outside the box (hate that phrase, but it’s true) and market your book. 🙂

  9. Hi Debbi,
    I just visited your blog – it looks great, and brand-new. Glad to see you’re using WordPress – I love it.

    I subscribe to Dorothy L, but the digests go into their own folder where they build up until I delete them. Simply too much to read, and they’re against blatant self-promotion, so I usually don’t bother. The idea of contacting reviewers individually is a good one, though. I did get one excellent review from a woman I met on Dorothy L.

  10. Yes, I get DL in digest and scan the subject headings for posts of interest. And DL doesn’t object to some BSP, as long as you don’t make it excessive. I’ve seen authors talk about their reviews, interviews, book signings, etc. Plus a lot of DL readers post reviews there, so it seemed only natural to make a few requests. What was the worst that could happen? They’d say no or ignore me. Wouldn’t be the first time. 🙂

    I like WordPress, too. That particular template seemed suitable for the type of writing I do and seemed to reflect something about the relentlessness of writing and publishing pursuits. (Something about the tunnel image . . .)

    Anyway, back to work!

  11. Julie, thanks for this series on POD. I set up an account with Lightning Source a couple years ago and have published several books with them, including my memoir, Eight Miles of Muddy Road; mystery anthology, Best Served Cold-Revenge a la Carte; and an anthology for one of my writing groups. I’ve been very pleased. LS does require you, or someone you hire as my friend did, to do all the work yourself re formatting, etc. But the quality is great.

    With LS you have a choice of distribution options. You can do strictly Direct Publishing in that your book is available only through you, the author; or can opt into their Global Distribution network, your books listed with Ingrams, all major outlets-Amazon, B&N, etc.- for $12 per year per title.
    At first I only did Direct Publishing but am in process of setting up the Global Distribution.

    The SinC 1000 book requirement is a recent change, a throwback in my opinion, and I dropped out because of it.

  12. I did the same as Sylvia. I started using Lightning Source in 2006 after publishing traditional print runs of hard covers starting in 1999. LSI is an arm of Ingram which gets your titles into the Ingram catalog and also into the UK and EU markets. They also produce your books as eBooks for the US market. Although I get to dictate the price and discount of my titles, I knew going in I would take a hit on sales because I reduced the 55% discount to 50%. I felt it more important to keep the retail price in line with similar books. Amazon still orders my titles but the POD aren’t part of the Amazon/Advantage program because the terms dictate 55% with the Advantage program. I focus most of my marketing to libraries. They aren’t picky about POD or the dastardly self publisher.

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