Call the Weather! See If Hell Has Frozen Over— Endorses POD


If you ever listened to the WBJB Radio series of podcasts conducted by Ron Pramschufer, founder of, you know how he feels about Print on Demand. If you haven’t heard his interviews with representatives from Xlibris, iUniverse, AuthorHouse et al., I’ll sum it up for you: he thinks most POD houses are little more than vanity presses out to beggar unsuspecting authors, and even at best the POD printing process produces an inferior product.

So you can imagine my surprise—and that, I suspect, of most other readers of the Publishing Basics newsletter—when I got an e-mail message from Ron with the subject header “New!!! Direct to POD from”

What accounts for this change of heart?

To quote Ron,

I’m a bit of a hard headed German so I have resisted altering my approach to self-publishing because I know it works. But I’m finally starting to realize that “me” knowing it works, and “you” going to a pay-to-be-published publisher defeats the whole purpose.

(Anyone who can give me a semantically valid reason for putting “me” and “you” in quotation marks in that sentence gets extra pedant points.)

Ron goes on to describe the Direct to POD program this way:

Direct to POD is a program developed by for individual authors who prefer to choose a guided Publishing “Package” to the traditional a-la-carte method of Unlike the “Pay-to-be-Published” publishers, like Author House and iUniverse, we do not have inflated a-la-carte prices just so we can make it look like we’re giving you a big discount if you buy one of our packages. If you don’t mind the extra work, our a-la-carte self-guided services will always be the most economical way to self-publish your book. Whether you chose the guided or self-directed approach, YOU will:

  • Always be the publisher
  • Always own the ISBN to your title
  • Always own your printing files after your initial printing
  • Always earn ALL the publisher profit

The Direct to POD approach concentrates on helping the author get to the point that printed copies can be ordered. The old saying printers use: “The first book costs a lot but they get pretty cheap after that.” The packages offered are all based on the cost of the first book. Once the author/publisher has received that first copy, they will be free to order 100, 1000 or 1,000,000. Remember…as with all programs… you’re the boss.

The $995 package includes:

  • Dedicated book coach to see you through the process
  • ISBN
  • Layout of text and cover (5X8 or 6X9 fiction)
  • 1 Paperback copy
  • EBook EPub and Mobi Kindle file
  • Inclusion in the Thor POD distribution program
  • 5% discount on first primary print run as well as any additional upgrades or services.

The $1495 package includes

  • Dedicated book coach to see you through the process
  • ISBN
  • Layout of text and cover for paperback and hardcover book
  • 1 Paperback copy
  • 1 Hardcover copy
  • EBook EPub and Mobi Kindle file
  • Inclusion in Thor POD distribution program
  • 5% discount on first primary print run as well as any additional upgrades or services.

By “book coach” I presume he means “publishing coach,” someone familiar with the various steps involved in publishing a book, rather than a writing coach.

But the thing is, if is providing all these services, where exactly is the motivation—for them—in tying it to POD? Because they could just as easily create a similar package for offset printing, with a primary print run of as few as 100 copies for one-color books and 25 copies of full-color books. (And, uh, isn’t “first primary print run” redundant?) With the lower per-book price of offset, the customer would get a comparable deal, even if storage and fulfillment services might add a bit to the package cost.

After all, if the main reason people are paying for POD services (some of which are a rip-off) is because they’re easier than managing the different aspects of publishing oneself, then making offset book printing easy would seem to be the obvious counter tactic. If you can provide an attractive package, you should be able to compete with the AuthorHouses of the world.

Yet, despite the still-visible differences between digital and offset printing (a narrowing gap, less perceptible in text than in, say, business cards), it wasn’t the technology of Print on Demand that really had Pramschufer up in arms. It was the predatory pricing practices of certain companies that used that technology and produce poor-quality, unsalable books for unjustifiable sums of money. Those are certainly practices worth condemning.

The Direct to POD program seems like decent value, but I’m not sure it’s unique  enough to distinguish itself from its increasingly numerous competitors. Since the days of that podcast series, we’ve seen the advent of, Amazon’s CreateSpace, and, in the e-book space, SmashWords, Scrib’d, and Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. And even though I believe (knowing what the cost of a book designer is, and of an ISBN, and so forth) that there are no outrageous markups in these packages, the creation of Direct to POD still looks more like a belated attempt to cash in on a trend than an attempt to protect authors from vanity presses in disguise.

Blog + Book = Opportunity

Blame blogger Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine for adding “blook” to the proliferation of Internet-related neologisms.

So what the heck is a blook and why would you want to write one? A blook is one of two things: a blog (short for “Weblog”) created by serializing a book, or a book created from, or at least based on, a blog.

Jarvis coined the word “blook” in November of 2002 to describe the book of blog posts which Tony Pierce was preparing to self-publish. Pierce was sufficiently taken with the word to use it for the title, and is now the author of three blooks.

The Blooker Prize

It’s this kind of blook which has recently attracted media attention on account of’s 2006 “Blooker Prize.” Lulu produces and sells print-on-demand books and no doubt hopes to attract new business by means of this contest, which will award $1000 first prizes to winners in each of three categories: fiction, non-fiction, and comics or graphic novels. Entrants must submit three printed and bound blooks for the three judges (all well-known bloggers and authors). Non-Lulu blooks are welcome. (Tony Pierce published his two most recent blooks, which will not be competing, through CafePress.)

Blogs as Writing Tools

Time was, if you wanted to write a book you’d sit down with a pen and a piece of paper. (I wrote three never-published novels that way when I was an undergraduate.) Then word-processing came along, making it much easier to move and change the material in your book.

Many people think of blogs as “online diaries” or associate them primarily with political commentary, but blogs are really low-cost, easy-to-use content management systems. This is “content” as in “digital information.” If you’re a writer, your content will probably be in the form of text.

While blogs are not sophisticated word-processors, much less typesetting/layout programs like Quark or PageMaker, they allow authors to create, arrange, and publish all in the same place. The informal nature of blogging helps non-writers to get their ideas out there and create a first draft and let it evolve organically, then collect related materials together by means of the “category” function.

Getting from Blog to Book

Suppose you’re a blogger and you want to take your own shot at the Blooker Prize. Can you just export your blog into Word and send it off to a publisher? Well, no, it’s not quite as easy as that.

Blogs appear in reverse chronological order, with the most recent post first. Even if you sort your posts by category, the most recent will appear on the top of the page. If you want readers to start reading where you started writing, you’re going to have to reorganize the material before you send it off to the printer.

There are companies like working on creating software and services which will automatically import the contents of blogs and convert them into books. If you enroll in Denise Wakeman and Patsi Krakoff’s self-paced, open enrollment Blog to Book course, you get to beta-test Blurb, which is not yet available to the public.

Or you can hire a company like The Friday Project, a British publishing house which specializes in turning blogs and websites into books.

Manual Blook Creation

If you want to design and format your own blook, you’ll need to spend some time cutting and pasting. How long this will take depends on the amount of material you have. As of this writing, my FileSlinger™ Backup Blog has some 136 posts, mostly fairly long (600-1200 words), for a total of about 65,000 words. It took me about two hours to copy and paste the contents from the blog pages into the Word template I’d adapted from Dan Poynter’s New Book Model example, and another couple of hours to tweak the formatting to something more appropriate for a 6″ x 9″ book. Because the blog is based on a weekly column, I’ll have at least 9 more entries of that length before I finish at the end of December, so I can expect the final blook to be about 75,000 words, a respectable length for a business book.

What Makes Blooks Distinctive?

If you want your blook to retain the look and feel of your blog, you’ll have to put some effort into page design, or hire a designer who can create an appropriate layout and choose fonts and visual elements. You might prefer a square or landscape format book to mimic the layout on a computer screen, rather than a standard 6″ x 9″ business book. You might even want to produce the whole thing in color, particularly if photos are an important part of your blog, though that could result in an expensive blook if it runs more than 100 pages.

It’s a good idea for blook authors to reread their material carefully in order to correct mistakes and remove redundancies, even if they choose not to make any substantive changes. You may also need to get permission before reprinting comments left by readers, unless you already have a statement on the blog to the effect that anyone posting a comment is granting such permission.

Blooks vs. Books

In discussing the Blooker Prize, journalists have pointed out with some reason that a book which exactly duplicates a blog rather than reworking the blog’s content into a tighter structure could prove tedious reading. But this depends enormously on the nature of the blog, the blogger, and the blogger’s material.

The informality and the chronological arrangement may be part of a blook’s attraction. Replacing chapters with journal entries has proven effective both for fiction and nonfiction works of various kinds, and a blook of short entries can be ideal for reading during coffee breaks—or as a bathroom book, for that matter. If the blogger writes well and has something interesting to say, blooks will be just as enjoyable to read as traditional books, and possibly more so.

When Is a Blog-Based Book Not a Blook?

If you’re using your blog primarily as a way to generate a first draft or collect raw material for your book, the final book which results from your blogging efforts will bear about as much resemblance to the blog as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel does to the charcoal sketches Michelangelo made before painting it. You probably don’t want to produce a blook at all if you’re after, not the $1,000 Blooker Prize, but the bigger prize of a sale to a major publishing house and a substantial advance. Even the “A-list” bloggers who’ve been approached by publishers have created books which are more than just a compilation of blog posts.

Why Publish a Blook?

Though the $1000 Blooker Prize is more than many POD authors make from book sales, money isn’t necessarily the best reason for bloggers to create blooks. The real value of a blook is much the same as that of any business book: it’s what one of my clients calls “The thud factor.” A blook is a demonstration that your blog has added up to something substantive. It also gives you a chance to show people your blog when you’re away from computers. If you’re a professional blogger, a blook helps give your prospective clients an idea of what a blog can do for them. (Professional bloggers might want to create several full-color blooks.)

In other words, a blook is a blogger’s portfolio. And who knows? People might even want to buy it for its own sake.

Links and References:

Jeff Jarvis coins “Blook” in his BuzzMachine Blog

Tony Pierce’s History of Blooks (Busblog)

The Blooker Prize

Lulu Print On Demand


The Blog to Book Course (currently operating in stealth mode; e-mail [email protected] for more information)

The Friday Project

Dan Poynter&rquo;s Book Layout Template

Blog Hosting Services