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Ten Questions to Ask Before You Sign that Print-on-Demand Contract...

by Sue Fagalde Lick

The new "baby" is here, but I am reluctant to show her off for fear the neighbors will find something wrong with her because she was conceived in a test tube and delivered by cesarean section. At least, that's how it feels with my book Azorean Dreams, published by a popular print-on-demand company. The book is beautiful, with a stunning cover, elegant type and the heft of serious literature.

My writer friends can't wait to publish their own books via print-on-demand dot.coms. The prices are so low anybody can publish, without suffering through years of rejections. We can finally take charge of our publishing lives, right? Well, yes and no. Before you follow me into POD publication, please consider the following:

1) Research the company. How long has it been in business? Does it appear stable enough to still be around printing your books for years to come or will it go out of business, leaving you where you started? "Print on demand" means the company only prints a book when somebody orders one. If they go out of business, there are no more books.

2) What books has this company published and how have they fared on the market? Buy or borrow copies of a few titles. Do they have all the facets of a regular book, i.e., copyright notices, page numbers, ISBN number, author's name, readable type? Are the covers merely titles printed on generic backgrounds, or has a designer created covers specifically for these books? Would you be proud to sell them if they were yours? If not, move on.

3) Study the contract. Do you keep the rights to your book or sell them to the publisher? How long does the contract last, and is there a way out of it if the company does not meet its obligations, or if a mainstream publisher wants to pick up your book? Where will people be able to buy your book? Since not everyone is comfortable shopping online, can they get it through their local bookstores?

4) Double-check the financial provisions. Does this publisher pay royalties? How much and how often? Do they supply free or discounted author copies? Many companies charge little or nothing to publish, but require extra money for proofs, artwork, marketing kits, and other items.

5) How much control do you have over cover design, typefaces, inside art and other facets of the book? Is there anything you can do if you hate what they come up with?

6) How do you submit your book? My publisher's computerized manuscript template proved to be confusing and frustrating. My Windows 95 browser was too slow for the company's system, so I wound up borrowing a computer to send my manuscript. The publisher promptly lost it, and I had to resubmit. I was also required to send my cover art "suggestions only" on a disk, and I had trouble getting my slides properly formatted. If computer technology boggles your mind, think twice before getting into print-on-demand.

7) What are the provisions for proofing your manuscript? Will the company provide a hard copy? How many free corrections are allowed? What happens if you go over that number? In my case, I exceeded the permitted 25 corrections by a few and wound up starting the whole process over again, including paying another $99.

8) How well has your book been edited? Your mother may think it's the best book she ever read, but be aware that POD companies simply take your computer files and print them. They do not edit or proofread your book. Most POD companies recommend that authors hire a professional editor to smooth out the rough edges. Do it. Once the book is printed, every flaw will become another blot on your reputation.

9) Do you know where and how you will sell this book? If you are not certain there is a market for it, don't go ahead with print-on-demand. Unlike traditional self-publishing, you will not wind up with a garage full of unsold books. But you will spend time, money and heartache for nothing unless you can sell the finished book. Do you have a ready-made connection through your business or special interest groups? Have you already put together a mailing list from previous publishing ventures? Read about marketing in self-publishing manuals such as the ones by Dan Poynter and Marilyn and Tom Ross. Are you up to it? Be honest.

10) Are you aware that print-on-demand books are tainted in the eyes of most reviewers and many bookstore owners? If anyone can publish anything, what guarantee is there that these books are any good or that they will sell? Publishing insiders know that traditional bestsellers have survived the winnowing process though agents, editors and marketing directors. Some books published on demand are garbage, which casts a negative light on the good ones, like yours and mine. Bookstores are also reluctant to take POD books because they tend to be priced higher than mass-produced books and cannot be returned if they don't sell. With the proliferation of computer publishing outlets, the image may be changing, but today in some markets, your book will not be considered on the same level as traditionally published books.

All forms of publishing are more complicated than they appear on the surface. If you believe in your book and are ready for it to be born, if you want to take your career into your own hands, if you are up for the challenge, by all means consider print-on-demand publishing. The possibilities are amazing. After all, a book in the hand is worth 10 manuscripts stored in boxes under your desk.

Related Articles:

To POD or Not to POD: Some Pros and Cons, by Moira Allen
http://www.writing-world.com/publish/PODstats.shtml

The POD Quandary: How to Decide if Print-on-Demand Publishing is Right for You, by Brenda Rollins
http://www.writing-world.com/publish/POD.shtml

The Price of Vanity, by Moira Allen
http://www.writing-world.com/publish/vanity.shtml

Subsidy Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: What's the Difference? by Moira Allen
http://www.writing-world.com/publish/subsidy.shtml

For more information:

The Self-Publishing Manual, How to Write, Print & Sell Your Own Book, by Dan Poynter
http://www.parapublishing.com/

The Complete Guide to Self Publishing, by Tom and Marilyn Ross

Copyright © 2001 Sue Fagalde Lick
This article originally appeared in The Willamette Writers Newsletter.

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Sue Fagalde Lick is the author of Freelancing for Newspapers, published by Quill Driver Books. In addition to many years as a staff reporter and editor, she has published countless freelance articles and three books on Portuguese Americans, including Stories Grandma Never Told. Her articles, short stories and poetry have appeared in many magazines and newspapers, as well as two Cup of Comfort anthologies. She lives with her dog Annie on the Oregon Coast. Visit her website at http://www.suelick.com.

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