26 Feb 2009
There has been an explosion in Print On Demand (POD) services vying for the wannabe writer dollar. They offer a baffling array of options and packages. How do you choose which is right for you?
I'm still a believer in the traditional publishing model, which involves agents and mainstream publishers. That's the route I'm taking with my current project. Lady Caine is an earlier work. It was basically sitting around doing nothing and I thought, "well, this makes me laugh, so someone else is going to enjoy this". I decided to self-publish it as an experiment, to learn something about the process (and share what I've learned here).
Some of the self-publishing services out there are horribly expensive. Wheatmark, for example, has a 'basic' service starting at $1,299. You'll need to sell a considerable number of books to make that back, let alone turn a profit. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that most books published through them never do see a profit (although Wheatmark undoubtedly does). That's the old vanity publishing model.
Lulu demands no up-front fees. You can publish for nothing, Lulu simply taking its cut of the cover price whenever you make a sale. That's an attractive proposition for something that is essentially an experiment.
Many of the expensive services come bundled with options that are either of dubious value or which I simply don't need.
For example, some of them include so-called 'distribution' services of various kinds. You need to parse the language very carefully here. You may note that most actually do little more than make your book 'available', usually by placing it on some form of industry database.
Let's be clear about this: no book is going to sell without marketing. Simply being available - so that bookshops and online retailers can order it - is not the same as being stocked by those resellers. It means they can order copies if someone requests the book. To make that happen, you need to generate awareness. None of these services I've looked at actually do that: they may 'help' you write a press release or marketing blurb, but it's still up to you to do the work.
So I'm deeply suspicious of many of these distribution deals. For my purposes, I want to use the POD service simply as the fulfilment part of my own operation - to print and deliver the book. We've set up our own virtual imprint, WebVivant Press, and as far as I'm concerned, it's up to us to handle all the marketing and sales.
It is useful to have an ISBN number for the book, and Lulu offers this (the 'Published by You' service). But that's the only optional service we've bought.
Other common services simply aren't relevant to me. I don't want a proofreader, thanks. I started in journalism (28 years ago) as a sub-editor and much of my working life has been spent subbing or proofing pages. As an experienced copywriter, I know how to put together a press release and marketing blurb. Nor do I want someone to design my book cover. I'm a professional photographer with excellent Photoshop and page layout skills and a library of stock images to plunder.
Another of my reasons for choosing Lulu is that it's well known. When people buy the book through our Outside Lomcovak Club site, or the WebVivant Press pages, they're going to be bounced to Lulu for the actual transaction. That can be disconcerting, so it's helpful if they are taken to a site that they are quite likely to recognise.
I have to confess that, at the point of choosing Lulu, I hadn't even heard of CreateSpace, which is part of Amazon.com.
like Lulu, allows you to publish for free. While going through the Lulu
publishing process, I checked out CreateSpace in case I wanted to make
a last-minute change. But then I found that CreateSpace insists that
non-US residents go through the rigmarole of obtaining a US Internal
Revenue Service tax number (which we will be covering soon in this blog). I
temporarily gave up: but when I found that obtaining an ITIN, as it's
known, would be useful anyway, I've since taken another look at
CreateSpace - and that's the service I'm using to publish a US edition
of Lady Caine. More on that soon.
The quality of the printed book is clearly a concern. WebVivant Press will be producing photo books in the near future, and even with text-only works such as Lady Caine it's important that the quality is right.
I did some asking around, including quizzing fellow professional photographers. The gist of the responses was that Lulu is great for text-based books, but that the quality of its photo books has declined. We'll be considering Blurb.com for those, even though they don't seem to offer ISBNs.
I recently received my first proof copy of Lady Caine from Lulu and I'm generally very happy. The print (using Times New Roman 10.5pt) is crisp on good quality paper. The front cover illustration has reproduced sharply with good colours (I supplied a 300dpi max-quality JPEG in Adobe RGB colour space). The text on the back (for which I also supplied a JPEG) isn't quite as crisp as I'd like. Next time I'll use a slightly larger font.
I'll be blogging in the near future about my experience of working with Lulu and CreateSpace - about preparing and uploading files, for example. Stay tuned...