Writing and Publishing News for October 20th through October 21st

Here’s what I’ve tagged for October 20th through October 21st:

Do Self-Publishing and eBooks Demonstrate Viability?

Yesterday morning Donna Papacosta interviewed me about ghostwriting for her Trafcom News Podcast. (I’ll post a link directly to the show when it goes up.) Before we recorded, she asked her Twitter followers whether they had any questions for me. This question came in from MJ McConnell just after we finished recording:

Here is my question for Sallie: does she recommend that a first-time author self-publish or produce an eBook to establish themselves as viable (assuming the expertise comes from field work/client case studies)?

It depends.

Okay, yes, that is the standard consultant’s cop-out answer. But it’s true.

If you produce a sloppy, unprofessional eBook and it doesn’t sell—or you can’t even give it away to large numbers of people—that’s going to demonstrate the opposite of viability to publishers you might approach with your next project. The same goes double for a self-published print book. (You can get away with fairly minimal formatting and design if you produce a Kindle version of a text-only eBook, though the book still needs to have good structure, flow, audience-appropriate material, an engaging style, and of course be grammatically correct with correct spelling and punctuation.)

What’s going to establish your viability as an author is selling books. That means having the things that publishers look for in their authors: both a willingness to market and an existing audience to market to. Do you have a mailing list (online or off)? How about blog subscribers? Podcast listeners? Twitter followers? Facebook fans? LinkedIn connections? Do you do regular speaking? What about corporate clients who could buy the book in bulk? If you don’t have any of these things, then just self-publishing a book, even a quality book that you’ve taken time over and hired professionals to help you with, won’t automatically generate readers and buyers.

Producing an eBook rather than a paper book (sometimes known as a pBook or even a “tree book”) may give you an edge in sales, because you can set a low price point and encourage impulse buyers. Your royalty may still be equal or greater to what you get on the print book because of lower production costs. (Note that there are still production costs for eBooks, though it’s comparatively easy to make a readable EPUB or Kindle version of a book that’s just text, and much harder to do illustrations, diagrams, equations, etc.) Thriller writer J.A. Konrath is an expert at this, but he had built up a substantial fan base before he made his big push into low-priced Kindle books.

So first, you need a platform—that existing fan base you can market to. Once you have that, you need to decide what your goal is and whether you’re in a position to hire the editor, book designer, cover artist, proofreader, and other staff to create a professional book, then arrange for your printing and distribution, and then fire up your marketing machine. (And you do need a good cover for an eBook, even if you don’t always need quite as much interior design work.) If you aren’t, then you’re going to be better off crafting a good book proposal and approaching agents and publishers.

Selling will still be your job, but at least with a publisher the production end will get taken care of.

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


If you ever listened to the WBJB Radio series of podcasts conducted by Ron Pramschufer, founder of SelfPublishing.com, 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 SelfPublishing.com.”

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 SelfPublishing.com for individual authors who prefer to choose a guided Publishing “Package” to the traditional a-la-carte method of SelfPublishing.com. 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 SelfPublishing.com 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 Selfpublishing.com 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 Lulu.com, 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.

Writing and Publishing News for May 11th through June 14th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for May 11th through June 14th:

Writing and Publishing News for April 19th through April 27th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for April 19th through April 27th:

Writing and Publishing News for April 2nd through April 14th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for April 2nd through April 14th:

Writing and Publishing News for December 20th through December 26th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for December 20th through December 26th: