11.29.2006

POD is not Vanity is not Self Publish

POD is a technology. It's a way to print books. It's quite useful for printing small quantities, particularly if there is intermittent demand. LOTS of publishers who are not vanity houses or scam mills use POD technology. University presses spring to mind, as do very small limited runs of very tightly focused books. POD is not evil.

Vanity presses can use POD technology OR they can use webfeed technology. Vanity presses are essentially printers with some support staff. They'll help you print up nice editions of whatever you want. You pay for this. It's called vanity because they don't acquire the book. Acquire means there is an editorial staff choosing particular books to publish. Vanity houses do not maintain lists, issue catalogs or sell books in bookstores. Vanity presses are not evil

Self publishers can use POD technology or webfeed technology. Self publishers are not vanity presses in the everyday sense of the word. They are "vanity" in the sense that there isn't an acquisition but the two phrases are used to mean different things in publishing. Lots of people self publish for a lot of reasons. Self publishing is not evil.

POD/scam mills are companies set up to persuade you, the author, that printing your book with their company is the equivalent to having it acquired by a publisher. They charge you money. Unlike a respectable vanity press, they don't copy edit or produce high quality products. They are out to make money on volume. They prey on author's insecurities and lack of knowledge. POD/scam mills are the scum of the earth.

Whether a company is the scum of the earth depends on how they run their business, not how they print their books.

There are several POD companies that do not try to persuade you that you have but to print up books with them to be on your way to fame and glory. Lulu and CafePress come to mind. There are others I'm sure.


There will be a quiz.

15 comments:

Linda Adams said...

The thing that always gets me when I read newspaper articles praising the value of vanity or POD is who they target. They make it sound like it's the instant fix to publishing FICTION and cite NON-FICTION successes. All of the successful non-fiction writers who get cited do workshops and seminars where they are selling books. It ends up being very misleading because the novelists expect the same success, and it simply isn't the same. For the novelist, they're starting from a standstill trying to pedal up a very steep hill.

Tess Gerritsen has also had several blog entries on the evils of POD and makes some really good points: http://www.tessgerritsen.com/blog/

cudd said...

I've used Lulu twice now for printing what's essentially collections of writing/artwork to use as gifts for friends and family at Christmas.

Excellent quality both times, and the technical support was not only very helpful but also very forgiving.

I purchased a sample book to check formatting before doing a bulk order, and when I confused my poor formatting with a printing error, the technical support not only kindly walked me through how to correct my current version, but also offered to send a copy of the corrected sample book so I wouldn't have to waste more money on checking formatting before ordering the bulk. It struck me as uncommonly generous and kind of them.

Kat said...

Excellent post. Must stop writing my own anti-scam rants and just link to yours.

I predict, given past experience in this area, that someone will now pop up and say Publish America is not a scam because they don't charge you money. However, PA *does* make claims it can't back up (most famously its claim that its staff read and "carefully select" the novels it publishes -- see "Atlanta Nights"). And Publish America charges such ludicrously high prices for its books (try $30 for a paperback!) that no one but the author and a few of the author's friends are likely to buy the book... then leans heavily on the author to supply lists of friends and buy tons of copies for themselves -- in some cases, authors are bludgeoned into buying 500 copies or more. At that point, an upfront fee starts looking downright attractive.

Add to that PA's ridiculous seven-year contract and what can most politely be called their atrocious business practices, and the smell of scam becomes nigh-overwhelming.

Go with your nose. If it looks like a scam, and smells like a scam, it's probably a scam, whether it fits the exact model or not.

Kim said...

A few weeks ago, Ann blogged on Writer Beware about something she'd read on one of PA's message boards. It seemes one of PA's authors sent a copy of her book to her favorite author, asking said author for feedback on it. Needless to say, the response wasn't positive at all. Apparently her feedback mentioned those dirty little words "self published."

Being curious (well, okay, NOSY) I popped over to the PA message board to see for myself, and I just sat at my keyboard, shaking my head at the other PA cultists telling this woman it wasn't her, that she wasn't self-published, etc. Nope - it was just that traditionally published authors are terribly, terribly threatened by PA, yadda, yadda, yadda...

Anyhow, to make a long story short, and because I was still curious (aw, hell, NOSIER) I went to Amazon to look up this woman's book and I nearly fell out of my chair. I think it was a suspense-type book - but what got me was that it wasn't even 100 pages! I totalled out the words at about 24,000. And it retailed for $15! It was almost sad - but then again, there is enough information out there, if authors choose to accept the truth. Those PA authors were all us-against-the-world and trying to convince this woman that it wasn't her, it was the author, it is everyone else who feels so threatened and all that. Oy.

And none of them question the PA business model. None of them have any problem signing that ridiculous contract. Egads... it left me almost speechless...

Maya Reynolds said...

One of the most persistent myths that the vanity presses foster is that "traditional" publishers won't do anything to help a newbie author get started--won't provide any publicity or travel expenses--so why not self-publish.

The insidious thing is that they are focusing on the wrong stuff. A traditional publisher will give you access to the two biggest markets: bookstores and libraries.

Up until very recently you couldn't get either market to buy a vanity press book (unless you were a local author and they were accommodating you out of courtesy). Lately, the vanity presses are signing agreements with small bookchains (or chains that are subsidiaries of the presses' parent company) to place books on the shelf. However, the author PAYS for this service.

Bottom line: holding a bound book in your hands is NOT the goal. The goal is for your book to get bookstores and libraries to stock it. Being listed on Amazon or eBay won't do any good if there isn't a mechanism in place to drive traffic to your listing.

Anonymous said...

I also used LuLu and am very satisfied. The quality is impeccable and it is very easy and actually FREE! You only pay for what you order.

I created an anthology of all my writings (poetry and short stories) and ordered hard copies for my wife and kids. I hid them away where they will most likely only be found after I've passed from this world. The hope is that they will find their copies, each with a special handwritten note from me, and have something to smile about and remember me by as they read the book and learn some things they didn't know about me even after a lifetime together.

Andrew W said...

Valuable distinctions, Miss Snark, especially since many in the business (Jason Epstein was the first to argue it loudly I think) think POD could become a major business model--the extreme version being bookstores' having ATM-like machines that print and bind the book of your choice. That'd be great for out-of-print books, but if likely o/p readers are the same folks turned off by the idea of POD, that would be trouble.

Mark said...

They have several things in common starting with pricing by page count. That's the way a POD produced book is charged. The higher the page count the higher the price. They are easy to spot because of the number on the cover and the back of the text so the machine can match them up. It doesn't always work.

They sure don't look and feel like any trade paperback I have on my shelf. They're more expensive and never found physically on shelves unless the author peddled them there on consignment. The every essence of POD is no shelf space and inventory so...Is that what a writer wants?

Maya Reynolds said...

No sooner had I posted that comment about a self-published writer needing a mechanism to drive traffic to his book than I read yesterday's "Book Standard."

BS reports that iUniverse has signed a contract with Indigo, Canada's largest retail book chain. Under the agreement, a Canadian author who pays for iUniverse's Premier Plus package and has received iUniverse's Publisher's Choice label will be featured in Indigo's, Cole's and Chapter's bookstores for 60 days.

iUniverse is an affiliate of Barnes & Noble and already has the same deal with them in the U.S.

The Premier Plus package sounds like a bargain at $1,200. It even includes ten free paperback copies of your book. Of course, you'll have to pay more for any additional copies printed for the bookchain. It will be interesting to find out what the minimum number of books you must pay to print to be included in this program.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Those looking for an amusing insider's account of the way vanity presses operate should seek out Edward Uhlan’s "The Rogue of Publisher's Row: Confessions of a Publisher," written by the president of the vanity publisher Exposition Press.

Anonymous said...

Actually erotica writers have found shelf space for their PODs. I saw several companies in my local Waldenbooks.

What confuses my little brain is the NY publishers getting into trade sized books. They look like POD and are priced like it. What's the difference besides the ability to get tamer books on the shelf?

Mark said...

The difference? Quality and offset printing. $1200 a bargain? See how many wind up in a store. Trade paperbacks have been around a lot longer than POD machines.

Maya Reynolds said...

Mark, darling: You need to learn to identify sarcasm. I wasn't being serious.

My guess is that iUniverse will require some outrageous number of books be printed under this arrangement.

Booker said...

Trade paperbacks are usually sold through bookstores and are often the same size as the hardcover. In fact, the same plates are often used for printing them.

Mass Market paperbacks are small and less expensive are are sold through department stores, drugstores, etc. These are usually done on a web offset press in runs of 10,000 to 50,000.

In America there are seven sizes of trade paperbacks ranging from a trim size of 13.7 cm x 20.32 cm to 21.6 cm x 27.94 cm.

The size depends on many things, including whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, if it's a non-fiction of minor importance, if there are illustrations, etc. Books that feature pictures that are as important as the text are usually printed in the larger trim size.

Source: Bookmaking, Lee, 3rd Ed.

Mark said...

And if they (trae paperbacks) don't come from a POD-based vanity press they're actually sold IN bookstores. That's the main point in all of this.

Yeah Maya that one slipped right past the radar.iUniverse used the same ploy with the so-called Star program. Except on Amy Fisher got in the stores.