POD People

A new publishing method attracts first-time authors. Will it do the same for readers?

The POD publishers, writes skeptic Jason Epstein in The New York Review of Books, know that the best market for the books they produce is the author himself. Though they offer royalties that range from 20 to 45 percent on the net sales, their first 100 or so books are generally bought by the writer (who, in turn, attempts to resell them, use them as promotional copies or gifts to family and friends). If, for instance, a publisher has 10,000 writers ordering 100 copies of their own book, they're going to realize a profit in the millions while the authors aren't making enough to cover the gas to their next book signing.

Thomas hopes that if he can eventually sell 1,500 to 2,000 copies of Madre de Dios, he can attract the attention of a mainstream publisher for his next work. "It doesn't take a large spark to ignite a fire," he says.

Authorlink's Booth, who has heard the frustration of authors she's published in the last three years, says the greatest difficulty she's faced has been the unrealistic expectations of writers and their failure to fully understand the realities of the industry. For that reason, she has decided to ease out of the POD business and into more traditional publishing. "Still," she says, "I know the day is coming when print-on-demand is going to play a big role in publishing."

But not until a new industry mind-set emerges. "For now," she admits, "the taint attached to POD books is difficult to overcome -- for the publisher as well as the author. Too many bad books, unedited and poorly printed, are being poured into the marketplace. Only when the POD industry improves its overall quality and convinces the bookstore chains and book reviewers that they're doing something worthwhile will it gain a foothold."

Inroads, though still difficult to negotiate, have been made. Several major distributors have agreed to work with POD publishers, thus making their books available to stores that put in special orders at a customer's request. "In effect," Thomas says, "your book is available in thousands of bookstores across the country." It just isn't sitting on the shelf.

As fledgling writers pondered ways to get their works noticed, author Thomas was wrapping up a two-hour book signing in front of a B. Dalton outlet at the mall. He'd been hustling and hawking, handing out flyers and urging Saturday-afternoon shoppers to stop and let him tell them about his novel. He was tired at day's end, but pleased.

He'd sold seven books.

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