Getting published has never been easy, and these days it’s the closest thing the non-gambling world has to a crapshoot. If you have something valuable to say, however, there are still a number of ways to get it out there.
POD is not a kind of publishing, it’s a publishing technology. Subsidy presses, self-publishers, and traditional/legacy publishers all use POD technology. It’s used extensively in the subsidy press arena, causing many to confuse the terms.
POD is a printing technology enabling a company or individual to print a copy of a book when it is ordered, as opposed to accumulating expensive inventory.
Many traditional small presses have replaced their traditional printing equipment with POD equipment, or contract their printing out to POD service providers. Many academic publishers, including university presses, use POD services to maintain a large backlist; some even use POD for all their publications..
They used to be called vanity presses; they take your money and in return publish your book for you. Anything can and is published (few require editing; some offer it at additional expense), meaning that the books published by subsidy presses vary wildly in quality. Contracts also vary: some provide all necessary services for a set fee, others are more à la carte; some copyright your book in their name, others allow the author to retain copyright. A subsidy publisher may also distribute books under its own imprint. However, it does not purchase manuscripts; instead, it asks authors to pay for the cost of publication.
Here you set up your own publishing company, and contract with printers, distributors, editors, graphics and design folks, cover artists, marketing professionals, and so on, to perform the tasks associated with publishing. Many self-publishers only publish their own books; others go on to take on other authors and eventually may become small independent presses.
The traditional publishing route is the one with which most people are familiar. In this model, a writer — or a literary agent representing the writer — sells a book to a publishing house. There may or may not be an advance offered against royalties. The publisher takes the risks associated with the book — i.e., editing, layout costs, cover art, working with distribution channels, printing, and marketing.
There are a number of hybrid presses out there, particularly in niche markets like poetry and some university/scholarly presses, in which the publisher and the author share the costs of publication.
Everything I said about the technology of print-on-demand goes the same with ebooks. It, too, is a technology. Again, here you can have traditional publishers producing them, or self-publishers producing them. Ebooks are exciting for a number of different reasons, the major one being the low cost involved. Since there are no production costs (printing, distribution, etc.), some traditional publishers have ebook lines where they’re more liable to accept first-time novelists or midlist authors than they would if they had to carry all associated costs.
Amazon is making it even easier for you to get your work out. Anyone can publish an ebook on the Kindle platform for free. Depending on the pricing you set for your book, the author may reap as much as 70% of the book’s price. Compare that to a meager 10–15% you’ll get from a traditional publisher, and you’ll see why this is such a big deal.
What’s the right route for me?
You want to select the proper tool for the proper application. If you’re a public speaker who goes around the country making personal appearances, you probably don’t want to go the ebook route: you want to have something that is physically “there” with you, so you can make the famous back-of-the-room sales.
If you have a website that’s part of how you market yourself, you may want to offer the ebook there, either as an incentive to hear you speak, as a followup after a lecture … or, indeed, just to show visitors you know what you’re talking about!
If you choose to stick with a paper book, and your subject is of general appeal, then my advice is to first try to get published the traditional way. Yes: it’s difficult—and getting more so—but names like St. Martin’s and Knopf and HarperCollins are still likely to carry more weight with your audience. People look for things they recognize in order to validate what they’re hearing or reading. But even small, niche publishers that don’t have the same name recognition at least ensure that there is a gatekeeping function being exercised.
The sad truth is there are fewer and fewer editors buying fewer and fewer books at traditional legacy publishing houses, and rejections do not necessarily reflect on the quality of your work. That makes it even more essential for you to present your best possible work to an acquisitions editor. To get your foot in the door if you don’t have a literary agent (and even if you do), you’ll need to write a book proposal. Have someone work with you on your proposal — as they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression!
A word of caution
I do want to caution you about the subsidy presses. Look at how they make their money: from you. They don’t care whether or not your book sells; they make their money by selling you things. And with a few exceptions, they will publish anything, which leaves readers in general with very little respect for them.
Always remember when you pay for publishing, you’re a consumer purchasing a service — not a writer submitting to a publisher.
If you choose to go either the subsidy of self-published route — in other words, if you are working with a publisher that doesn’t have an editorial staff — then hire an editor. I can’t say this often enough. Mistakes are forever, and we all make them.
Just as you did when you wrote your book, what you must do now is research, research, research. Getting published isn’t the easiest endeavor in the world, but perseverance and constantly improving your craft will pay off in the end.
Jeannette de Beauvoir works with authors to craft winning book proposals at her website.