Saturday, June 18, 2005

Blurred Line: The POD Journey

"Gone Away" made a comment to the effect that he wanted to learn all about this new e-publishing/POD trend. Well, this might not be exactly what you're looking for, but I thought it might be interesting to detail how I found out about POD and how I came to publish my book and start my own POD publishing company. Consider yourself warned: This is a long, boring post.

February 2004: I believe I was about midway through writing Blurred Line and I was rather excited about it. It was, after all, the best thing I'd written at that point in my life, but I was realistic enough to realize that it probably wasn't good enough to catch on with a major publisher. So, I turned to Google to make my fated search for book publishers, which, as pretty much all POD publishers utilize Google's AdWords, turned up a number of subsidy publishers. The ones with the most aggressive advertising campaigns, namely PublishAmerica, AuthorHouse (then called 1stBooks) and iUniverse were the first to come to my attention and I devoured all the information I could find on them. I was blown away by the idea that I could have my book published for roughly $500 while earning great royalties.

Later, I turned to POD e-groups to find out more about the various companies. Of course, that's where I heard the unending horror stories coming out of AuthorHouse and PublishAmerica, so they were quickly crossed off my list. I also learned a good deal about the fact that POD books just didn't sell and were mostly by writers who seemed to display little to no ability. Indeed, I spent hours typing the titles of POD novels into Amazon to check their sales ranks and browsing through online excerpts.

July 2004: I finished writing Blurred Line in early July. By this time the veneer had come off both POD publishing and my novel. Mind you, I still believed my novel was decent and had some redeeming qualities (my opinions have since been buoyed by positive reviews). POD, however, wasn't to be redeemed in the same fashion. The further I looked into the industry, the more horror stories I found. It seemed that, at one time or another, every company had bilked an author out of their money. However, I was undeterred. For me, it wasn't really about making money. Most POD novels never sell 100 copies and I was aware that I probably wouldn't either (and I haven't, for those who are interested). It became more about simply seeing what might happen. I wanted to see where my novel would go and, more importantly, what people would think of it. Although I've lost nearly all of my original investment, I still look at self-publishing my book as a positive experience; the book has found its way into the hands of people it never would have otherwise and the reviews people have given me have, more than anything else, inspired me to continue improving my craft.

August 2004: But, back to the journey. I selected PageFree as my publisher, namely because they charged a low price ($299 US) for books under 70,000 words. Also, they let me select my own retail price and bookseller discount. Of all the companies I'd encountered, PageFree seemed to have one of the best reputations. My experience with them was mostly positive, save for a one month delay in book production caused by a filing mixup of some sort.

What struck me most about the experience, though, was the lack of customer service. I don't mean this as a slight to PageFree - after all, they have a ton of clients to deal with and (apparently) only two people minding the shop. However, this was a big deal for me. I was publishing a book. To some extent, I wanted my hand held throughout the process. Going weeks, or months, without hearing how work on my book was going, was not a very pleasant situation for me. About this time, the notion came into my head that if I were running a POD company, I'd make sure to be in contact with the authors as often as possible.

November 2004: Blurred Line is released. I quickly became a habitual Amazon rank-checker and was disappointed to see that, for the most part, it went nowhere but down. The idea that POD books didn't sell, for me a theory before this point, became a reality. I'd been convinced that I could hit that 100 mark if I sent out a few review copies, paid for a widely-distributed press release and set up a nice website. I did all of those things but, outside of friends and family, few people bought a copy of the book.

December 2004: Those first ideas of "what I'd do if..." start percolating into some concepts of a POD company. I envisioned a small POD company that publishes one genre (science fiction, of course) so as to maintain a small stable of authors that I can be in relatively close contact with. I'd also been surprised by the lack of POD companies that screened manuscripts for quality. Print-on-demand technology, it seemed to me, had loads of potential, but companies that published anything that was sent their way were destined to be nothing but money-making schemes that received no respect from the literary world. So, this was my idea; a one-genre POD company that screened manuscripts.

March 2005: Apodis Publishing is incorporated and I started work on all the specifics of the company. Blurred Line, meanwhile, had begun to show up in all sorts of interesting places: Korean and Italian bookstores, book forums in Bahrain, a British SF&F site, Yahoo news, among others. Unfortunately, it had no impact on sales. However, if the book never sold another copy, I was already satisfied with what I'd accomplished. Of course, if the book did sell, I'd be ecstatic. So, I made the decision to republish the book with Apodis. I'd be able to set a lower list price and make more in royalties from each copy sold. It also enabled me to offer the book as a free PDF download.

These days: Blurred Line hasn't moved a copy from Amazon in months. I've sold some copies personally, thanks to an article in a local paper, a book reading and I've also sold a few through the two physical bookstores it has been stocked in.

The moral of the story: If you're thinking of going into POD publishing to make money, chances are you're deluded. This isn't to say, however, that it hasn't happened. A number of books (mostly non-fiction) have made their way from POD success to traditional publishing contracts. Some POD novelists I've come into contact with have done relatively well for themselves; Janet Elaine Smith has published twelve (if I'm not mistaken) POD novels and has them stocked in Barnes & Noble stores across the country. Apparently, she's also managed to outsell Harry Potter in her hometown store. Diane Newton has taken home a number of awards and I've also heard that one of her books is being looked at by a film studio. So, success is definitely a possibility, but to get there you have to have a top-quality product and the drive to market relentlessly.

Cavan's advice: If you're going to go the POD route, make damn sure you've done the following things...
  1. You've checked out the Books and Tales website. The detailed descriptions of many POD publishers here will help you make a good choice in selecting a publisher.
  2. You've edited your story to perfection. Lots of people will take potshots at POD, saying that most books are poorly written and contain a ton of typos and errors. Make sure you can say, "Not mine."
  3. You've grown some thick skin. People will tell you you're nothing but a worthless hack who degrades "real" authors.
  4. You've got a solid marketing plan. If you want to sell books, this is a must.

Well, that's the story up until now, though I'm positive that I've left some things out. Questions? Comments?


Dave2 said...

Publishing is a wicked game to play. I had once written a movie treatment that was based on a comic book I was working on. My agent said comic movies were "hot" at the time, and insisted on the film treatment... even though the comic hadn't been completed. The treatment was eventually optioned to an independent studio, and I thought I had hit the big time. But after months of wasted time and trips to L.A., the project was eventually dropped.

A year later, another studio was interested in buying out the rights, but since comic book movies were "in decline," it was decided that I should novelize the material. Not willing to quite give up on the dream, I started in on the writing, and received positive feedback on my first chapters. After a couple of months, I was sent a packet explaining how thousands of dollars would be required to get my book published, and I would be responsible for most of it! Not willing to take such a financial risk (I'm not that great of writer anyway), I bowed out of the project.

Now, even more years later, I watch the POD phenomena with interest. I can't help but thinking about finishing my book now that the cost is almost reasonable. It's not so much that I have delusions of being a best-selling author or anything, it's just something I'd like to try once.

The problem is that I don't have the time. Unlike truly gifted authors, the writing is a never-ending battle for me that takes months of struggle, sometimes with very little progress. :-(

I have downloaded your book though, and hope to at least find time to read that!

2:42 PM  
Ali Al Saeed said...

an insightful and interesting account. I had some similar motives and experinces with my own POD book.

But you sound like you've done more research than I have. I Must admit I went POD on an impulse, having known about it for a while. I decided iUniverse was my best option because they were the biggest in the business and did not have many bad nugets on their shoulders!

POD can be the answer to many problems in the publishing industry, but it is far from perfected. It has some way to go. But it'll get there.

4:40 PM  
Gone Away said...

Thanks for that, Cavan. It confirms much of what I've learned about POD so far and shows that there is no easy route to book publishing, especially if you want to sell a few! I'll keep looking amongst the traditonal publishing houses for the moment...

8:56 PM  
Frances Nash said...

Get an agent and go for it--the right way.

5:06 PM  
Scott said...

I've been marketing my dad's book, which he had published thru PublishAmerica. While I can't exactly sing their praises, we have managed to sell a few books (all by our own efforts, of course).

Anyone interested can visit to see some of the marketing strategies we've used. They won't be useful to everyone, but you may get some ideas of your own!

1:42 PM  
JanetElaineSmith said...

Hi! I was delighted to run across this in my googling this morning. If you are still interested in seeing your book sell (and what author isn't), please drop by my website at
I might be able to help. My books are still selling well. The secret? Other than what you will find at my website, the other key ingredient is good old fashioned bust-your-butt work!

9:31 AM  

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