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Publishing on demand

© July 2006 Anthony Lawrence

More than a few people have asked if I might write a book. I constantly demur; it's too much work, the market would be small, I have better things to do.

There's more to it. I don't like editors or anyone else making decisions about my writing. Don't tell ME not to split an infinitive - I'll split it up into pieces so small you won't even know it's a sentence! Seriously, I've never had big problems with editors; their suggestions are almost always sensible and useful, but.. it's just the way I am. I'm used to making my own decisions and I'm confident enough to think that I generally can rely on my own instincts. That's the disadvantage of being an auto-didactic self made man: when you've pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps you look at an offer of a ladder as being completely silly. What do I need THAT for? I climbed up here without it, didn't I? Yes, I am bleeding and bruised, but so what? I don't need your ladder.

But before that there's getting approved by a publisher. Unless you are already well known, you start by contacting a publisher and submitting a tremendous amount of information that tries to explain why your book is going to be interesting to other people, why you are qualified to write it, what else has been written like it, why you think you have anything more to add, and so on. It's serious stuff and will take a fair amount of work by itself. If you are lucky, whoever reviews your submission will both understand what you are pitching and agree with your analysis. If not.. well, try another publisher.

Or you could go the vanity press route. That's for people who are convinced that their book is so good that it's worth paying up front to have it produced. Typically the fees paid include design and production costs for a few hundred copies, and some effort at promotion. The author pays up front, sits back, and waits for a miracle.

Technology has changed, and POD (Print on Demand) is now a third choice for the budding author. This is "vanity press", but the distinction is that everything is unbundled. You provide a ready-to-print manuscript, and the POD house will print and bind as many copies as you like - including one. The cost is amazingly cheap, and it's getting cheaper.

There are downsides. First, to keep costs down, you need to do a lot of work yourself. If you start paying for cover design, spell checking, editing review, promotion and so on, your costs can add up quickly. If you think that Amazon etc. will be interested, you may be rudely surprised: the cost per copy and the available profit margin is unlikely to be attractive to book resellers. That one copy you had printed for your desk may turn out to be the only physical copy ever made.

However, if you are the one doing the marketing, the picture changes entirely. Let's pretend I had a Unix/Linux book to sell. Obviously I'd market it here on my website. If I have enough visitors, and enough interest in the book, I could do reasonably well. The profit per book wouldn't be large, but it would be all mine.

People do exactly that right now. Books, PDF presentations on CD and DVD are all self marketed. Some of them might even do better with self marketing than they would trying to distribute a book through traditional channels.

One POD publisher I looked at recently is Lulu.com. I haven't investigated them deeply (and there is plenty to be wary of), but they do appear to be direct and honest. If you are interested in something like this, they may well be worth checking out.

I don't know that I'll ever write a book. If I do, POD is the most likely path I would take.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> Publishing on demand

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