Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Demise of Print? Greatly Exaggerated

Not that long ago, if you wanted to see your book in print and you couldn't land a contract with one of the New York publishers, your primary option was to go with a vanity press. What's a vanity press? One where the author pays to have the book published. And this violates an unwritten rule in publishing: money should flow to the author, not the other way around.

Recently, I judged a contest for published authors. I was given four books to judge, and I noticed something different from entries I'd judged in previous years. All four of mine were from small presses, most of which I'd never heard of. Yet they're all legitimate, royalty-paying publishing houses, not vanity presses, even though they're not part of the "Big Six" New York publishers.


Most of these small presses rely on "Print on Demand" (POD) to create their product. Not that long ago, POD publishing was scoffed at, and lumped in with vanity presses. People didn't understand that the mechanism used to produce the book had nothing to do with the quality of the merchandise. "Oh, you're with a POD publisher" was a comment as belittling as, "Oh, you're with a vanity press."

However, POD is a technology, and is not connected with publishers. All it means is that if someone orders a book, instead of finding it on a warehouse shelf, it's printed virtually on the spot. This saves trees, and eliminates the stripped book returns from bookstores.

Indie authors can take advantage of POD technology as well. For example, my two indie published books, Danger in Deer Ridge and Deadly Secrets, are available in print as well as in digital formats. If you go to either Amazon.com or Create Space, you can order the book, and it'll be shipped to you, the same as any other traditionally published book.

Producing a print book through Create Space is virtually free. It requires a little patience, but it's not outside the scope of any author comfortable with Word. You'll have to brush up on headers (different for odd and even pages). I also found that by centering my page numbers in a footer avoided having to deal with yet more content in the headers.

Amazon has templates you can use based on the size you want your final product to be. It's almost as painless as copying and pasting the manuscript you used for your e-book into the template. You have more freedom with fonts in the print version, and can even use fancy wing-dings to mark scene and chapter breaks. When you're satisfied with the product, it's as simple as saving it as a PDF file to upload to Create Space. However, if you're intimidated by this, there are formatters who will do it for a nominal fee.

You'll also need a different cover, since print books have backs and spines. Again, Create Space provides a template, and thanks to my daughter who understands Photoshop much better than I do, I didn't have to pay anyone for that step.

Now, I'm a realist and I know bookstores aren't going to be ordering scads of my books, so I stuck with the free distribution channels. The only cost I incurred was paying for the proof copy, which I strongly recommend. Mistakes happen, and you'll want to catch them before people buy the book. But again, it's POD to the rescue, because if you do find mistakes (and I had a reader point out a few that both I and my editor missed), you can simply upload a new file, and all subsequent orders will be filled with the corrected books.

So, maybe as the Big Six are trying to figure out what's happening in the publishing world, the little guys are stepping in to fill the gaps. And not only do authors benefit, but readers can experience books that might not fit the confines of the Big Six.

And in closing, it's only right that I share my own experience, which is that I hardly sell any print versions of my book. In fact, I get more people asking me when my print book, Rooted in Danger, will be available for their e-readers. But, it's about choices, and why not make sure you have a product ready for those who insist that if they can't hold it in their hands and smell the ink, it's not a "real" book?

You can find Danger in Deer Ridge in print at Amazon.com

Deadly Secrets can be found in print at Amazon.com

All of Terry's titles can be found at her website, TerryOdell.com


Terry's short romances are published by The Wild Rose Press. You can find more about them HERE. She's also written two short mysteries, one of which is published by Highland Press in DECEPTION. You can find her at her Web site. If you've followed her blog (or want to start!), note that it's moved and is now HERE   You can follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

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  1. I use Createspace and Lulu.com. It's a worthwhile skill to learn, and I agree, spend the money for a proof copy. But once you find the errors in the proof, simply correct the file and upload it again.

  2. Terry, I agree that an author is wise to have their books available in all formats. Paper books are a long way from becoming extinct. Like you, I don't sell as many paper as I do e-books, but I am happy to be able to give those readers who prefer a "real" book the opportunity to buy in paper.

  3. POD still has a certain stigma attached to it, and it can invoke an increasingly nasty discussion between proponents and opponents. I know of at least one discussion group that forbids even the mention of POD because of the ensuing exchange of emotionally charged responses.

    On the flip side, I use POD for my own books and for those of authors I publish. The quality is very similar to those published "traditionally," and my authors have always been happy with the books they can hold in their hands. As for e-books, I still have to venture into that field -- yes, I know I'm way behind in doing this. But that's another story that's already been posted.

  4. I dreamed about getting picked up by a mainstream publisher ... I dreamed about hitting the lotto too (check out this week's post at http://essenceofperformance.blogspot.com/) A cold slap in the face and I realized that neither is going to happen. If I wanted my inner-author to see the light of day, I was going to have to POD. I did, and now I can take my lotto winnings ... and $2.50 ... to the coffee shop, drink a cup of java and read the only two copies of my books in existence. But it's cool ... I get to see my name listed on Amazon.

  5. Thanks for the distinction between vanity press and POD. I'm still learning all the terms!

  6. Louis - the easy of fixing is a boon. I had a reader point out a couple of glitches in one of my Create Space books, and it took virtually no time to correct them, and send the new file to Amazon. All future orders would be filled with the new file.

    Maryann - why cut your nose of to spite your face, as they say? Something for everyone broadens your reach.

    Linda - those people don't know the difference between technology and publishing, which is sad.

    Christopher - it's always nice to find ways to make your dreams come true!

    Stephsco - glad to help enlighten!

  7. POD has no stigma to the informed, Linda. Many publishers use that printing platform and, indeed, it makes perfect sense with the environmental challenges this world faces. I'll have an interview later in the month with Rana DiOrio at Little Pickle Press. She publishes children's books using a Canadian press and recycled papers with soy inks. And has a warehouse to store the print runs. However, I am researching POD publishers for her who can maintain the high quality she demands, because having a warehouse sale is just not a sustainable situation in the short-term future. Don't get me started on remaindering. The traditional publishing industry is nothing short of a crime! Old growth forests, toxic chemicals in the water systems of the world, and outrageous "book miles" getting offshore printing to our doorsteps? Not a good model for the future. Get me on a soapbox, why don't you? LOL.

  8. Dani - I hear you. I have cartons of When Danger Calls downstairs because I couldn't bear the idea of them ending up in landfill when the publisher remaindered them. (I sell them for next to nothing if anyone wants a hard cover edition!)

    Terry's Place

  9. Stigma? Huh. I always thought that what was on the pages was more important than who printed them. ;)

  10. Silfert -- one would think, right.

  11. Thank you Terry for pointing out the print book isn't dead. I don't have an ereader. If I read on Nook or Kindle it is on the computer. I can carry my laptop around as easily as a paperback or even a hardback book. Soo if you're one of the lucky people with an ereader then e books are great. I am old fashioned enough also to still enjoy a print book. Take it with me when I go to dinner alone. Heck I took them when hubby and I went to dinner alone if I was deep into the book. Nothing like a book when waiting in line or at the doctor.

  12. Kathy - as long as I have something to read, I don't care what format. If I'm totally without a book or my Nook, there's always my smartphone, although it's a last resort.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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