POD Lets Authors Resolve The Catch-22 of Publishing

Many thanks to Joe Shaw, Executive Editor, for allowing me to excerpt the following article from The East Hampton Press and The Southampton Press. The article was written by Tom Clavin and published on December 8, 2009.

The Cure For Jet Lag by Lynne W. Scanlon and Charles F. Ehret, Ph.D., was published more than a quarter-century ago. Yet it could well represent the future of book publishing.

A Springs trio teamed up this year to issue an updated version of the book using the print on demand—or POD—process. Indeed, with a growing number of writers making use of the POD method, Publishers Row may be moving from Manhattan to the East End, which for many years has already seen its share of writers, editors, and agents.

“This area is a hothouse of creative types, from writers to artists who can benefit from print on demand books,” stated Lynne Scanlon, the co-author of The Cure For Jet Lag.

“These folks will gravitate to POD not only because it is the most expedient way to produce a book, but because literary agents and editors could care less about un-established writers these days.”

But don’t the authors of books published in non-traditional ways risk acquiring a sort of stigma as not really being professional writers, thus giving agents a reason to steer clear? “Good luck finding an agent if you don’t already have one,” Ms. Scanlon said. “That’s the Catch-22 of publishing.”

Her career in publishing has included being a marketing executive with Barnes & Noble and a book publishing consultant in addition to an author. In 1983, she collaborated with Charles F. Ehret, Ph. D.,  who had been conducting research underwritten by the U.S. government to reduce the problems associated with long-distance air travel. The original goal was to make the U.S. Army’s rapid deployment forces more effective.

Dr. Ehret himself served in the Army’s 87th Infantry Division and won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the Battle of the Bulge. With Ms. Scanlon doing the writing for lay readers of the results of Dr. Ehret’s research, Overcoming Jet Lag (the original title) was published.

It was a success when issued by the Berkley Publishing Group, selling more than 200,000 copies worldwide and remaining in print for more than 20 years. Sales eventually faded, but problems with jet lag did not. Last year, Ms. Scanlon wanted to release an updated edition of the book, but did not want to wait the 18 months or more it would take a traditional publisher to have new books on shelves. There was also a financial incentive: After publishers and agents and book wholesalers get their slices of the pie from a $20 book, the author’s slice may be as thin as $3.00.

Ms. Scanlon worked out an arrangement with with Dr. Ehret’s estate and founded Back2Press Books, which specializes in republishing titles that have sold in excess of 100,000 copies. Naturally, The Cure for Jet Lag would be the company’s first effort. There would be no long editing and production process nor any danger of printing thousands of copies that might not sell. The new edition would be printed on demand and be readily available on the internet (www.thecureforjetlag.com) as well as at the major chain bookstores and selected shops.

What is POD, other than the dreaded form of the infestation in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers?” The plain language answer is that it is a digital printing technology that allows a complete book to be printed and bound in minutes. This makes it easy and cost-effective to produce books in small lots rather than in large print runs. What has long bedeviled traditional book publishers is the practice of “guestimating” how much a title will sell: if the prediction is wrong, a publisher has to warehouse or even destroy tens of thousands of already-printed books.

Companies providing POD services are proliferating. This makes book publishing more democratic, in that almost anyone can publish a book. But, just as any person with access to the internet can produce content, there is an emerging Wild West atmosphere, thanks to POD, in which . . .  well, almost anyone can publish a book. Services range from a bare-bones outfit like lulu.com, which provides free online templates that allow an author to upload and format a book, to more expensive packages that include editing, cover design, marketing, and other extras.

Ms. Scanlon already had the know-how and a proven product, so she put together her own team. After she completed her rewrite, Rob Anthony, who is also a Springs EMT, did the search engine optimization and Web site development through his company East Hampton Web Services, Bob Anderson, Sr., handled proofreading, then the book was handed to another local, Kris Warrenburg, who runs Cyan Design and who has designed more than 60 books in San Francisco and for the last 11 years in East Hampton. A major task was a new cover, and it didn’t matter that the majority of the sales of The Cure for Jet Lag would be on the internet.

“The cover is always crucial, no matter where it is marketed,” Ms. Warrenburg said. “Just as with products you buy at a department store or grocery store, the packaging can have a great effect on the buyer. Attractive, compelling, well-designed book covers can win a sale over plain or uninteresting ones.”

For the rest of this very smart article, please click over to The East Hampton Press.

Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing: I’ve been very busy working on the promotion and marketing for The Cure for Jet Lag and haven’t posted much over here at The Publishing Contrarian. Sorry! It’s been a hectic six months. And as I have often written: without marketing your magnum opus goes nowhere!

16 Responses to “POD Lets Authors Resolve The Catch-22 of Publishing”

  1. Celia Hayes Says:

    (deep, knowing chuckle) Welcome to the world of the Pod people, WWP! (ha-ha-ha-hah!) We knew you would come over to our side!

    Seriously, there are some damned good boutique-press/POD books out there, and writers who take it all very seriously, who have a great book, and who DO get their books edited, and have a professional-grade cover and get it all properly formatted – and then get out there and hustle-hustle-hustle to market it.

    Celia Hayes

    I think what has been happening WRT getting books into the hands of readers, is that the ‘gatekeepers’ are no longer agents, and those who rake through the slush-pile. The gatekeepers are the readers themselves, if new indy writers have done their homework and gotten their book out there. If your book sells, has fans, keeps on selling – and you get another one out there, and another, and all those keep selling … well, the purpose of an agent is?… and you should keep on trying to throw your MS over the high walls of the traditional publishing castle because?…. Frankly, unless you already have an agent, and are published by a major house already, the odds of getting an agent/contract are somewhat worse than that of winning the lottery.

    Frankly, it’s almost more fun to do it yourself.

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Hi, Celia! Welcome back. It’s been a wild ride getting The Cure for Jet Lag updated, reformatted, and repositioned in the travel industry. Exhilarating, but backbreaking work! The payoff began from the moment I launched my “rough” Web site and backorders poured in. Heartening, to say the least. I see you’ve been VERY busy over at your Web site. [Celia is located in San Antonio, Texas.]

  2. Katy Gurley Says:

    Congratulations Lynne for your hard work in marketing your book the new-fashioned POD way. It’s great to see a blogger who heeds her own advice about the importance of creative ways to market your book! I hope readers will check out East Hampton Web Services (see link in article) and find out how quality SEO work can make a big difference to a self-publisher.

    Katy Gurley

    Comment from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Nice to hear from you, Katy. Yes, the search engine optimization has been crucial to the success of The Cure for Jet Lag. Rob Anthony helped me select the most important “key” words to populate my Web site so I could drive traffic directly to my Web site. I’m right up there in the top ten and often #1 with the search engines. Thanks, Rob! [Katy was the news editor at InfoWorld and the executive editor at Micro MarketWorld. She has her own company called Catherine Gurley Editorial Services, located in East Hampton, New York. She works with Rob.]

  3. Brother René Says:

    Take away the illuminated calligraphy and who really wants to read the medieval manuscript. Well that may be a slight stretch, but as a senescent liturgical artist and sometime ecclesiastical book designer, I find many, if not most, of the self-published POD books that I come across lacking in both typographic know-how and competent page and cover design judgment. A very worthy and perhaps even exceptional manuscript when presented poorly is unfortunately doomed from the start.

    Conversely, in the more traditional publishing houses, inferior content presented beautifully and marketed cleverly often does quite well in the marketplace.

    Generally, people do not read a book before purchasing it. Therefore, the initial graphic presentation whether on Amazon or at the bookstore can make or break an otherwise very deserving title.

    The moral to this story is, when in doubt of your own talent, hire the most capable design consultant you can afford for those tasks that can make or break your title.

    Brother René

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): I know you have made a vow of poverty, Brother Rene, but I must say: “You are right on the money.” You probably read the reference in The East Hampton Press article to another book that was POD’d by a local author. I read that book as a courtesy. The lurid prologue was personally off-putting, but I could get past that. The bigger turn-off was the lack of professional editing and proofreading, and the do-it-yourself book design. I never made it past the first twenty pages. Too bad. Some literary judge slogged past the beginning pages and found the storyline sound enough to give the book an award.

  4. Brother René Says:

    Poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. Three out of four isn’t bad, or is it? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. You sure seem to bring out the devil in me Lynne. Off to the refectory for a little evening crapula.

  5. Robert Anthony Says:

    Lynne,

    I must admit I was a bit surprised at the speed with which the site progressed in SERPS (Search Engine Ranking Placement). I would normally advise a client to not expect results for at least 3 to 6 months but TCFJL seemed to scream up the ladder. It’s much easier when I design a site as I did yours because designing with optimization in mind is much more inclined to bear results than is optimizing a site that is already on line.

  6. Lynne W. Scanlon Says:

    Well, “award winning author of sci fi and fantasy,” Louise Marley, isn’t happy with me!

    “I think Scanlon’s statements are, at the least, self-serving, and at worst, deliberately untrue.”

    – from Red Room — Where the Writers Are: The Publishing Contrarian Sells Out

  7. Anonymous Says:

    In the newspaper article linked to her blog, I think that Ms. Scanlon was particularly addressing authors who are unable to interest any reputable agent or established publisher in their work. These unpublished writers outnumber the professionals ten thousand to one. And yet, every once in a while one of the novices gets lucky and is discovered.

  8. Robert Anthony Says:

    Well of course they are ‘self-serving’. Isn’t that what publicity is all about?

    The word ‘DUH’ comes to mind.

  9. Gina Burgess Says:

    Here! Here! Robert. Well said.

    Good job, Lynne! Congratulations, I guess POD isn’t such a bad word after all :D

    Gina Burgess

    I have been a book reviewer for the past 5 or so years. The kinds of bilge that is printed out these days is so very depressing. I jump with joy when I find a book that is truly worth reading and placing carefully on the book shelf to be enjoyed again next year or the year after. Some of them I cannot get past the 1/2 way mark and since I must review it, I skip to the last couple of pages. What astounds me are these authors which have 20 or more published works in bookstores, yet the editing is atrocious, the research is apalling, the storyline has holes, and the characters should go on strike for lack of development. Why?

    Has the publishing world become so complacent? Has our language deteriorated to the point that we don’t use real words any more? Does the blame belong to the editors or the agent or the acquisitions person who believed the agent who gets paid for selling the piece? Or does the blame rightfully belong to the readers and buyers who believe the blurbs on the back cover and buy the things, get disappointed when they read them and do nothing about letting the acquisitions editor and/or publisher know they were disappointed?

    Please forgive me, Lynne, for going off on this rant. I am very delighted for you!

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Isn’t it the truth, Gina? There’s such dreck out there being self-published and traditionally published. One of the reasons I like my Kindle is that I can download a sample of the book before purchase. I reject about 25% of the sample downloads. [Gina is a grant writer, author and graphic designer located in Picayune, Mississippi.]

  10. Peter L. Winkler Says:

    Irrespective of the merits of The Cure for Jet Lag, this article is the same kind of uncritical boosterism for self-publishing and POD printing that pops up with depressing regularity, usually in community newspapers. It ignores the realities of self-publishing.

    The average self-published book sells somewhere between 50-150 copies, depending on the sources I’ve consulted. Most of those copies are purchased by the author. I recently looked at self-publishing advocate Angela Hoy’s list of the POD services and their set-up fees. Even the cheapest costs about $500.

    It is close to impossible to get a self-published book reviewed or shelved in brick and mortar stores.

    It may be possible for an excepional salesman with a niche nonfiction book to succeed through selling their book at seminars or conferences. Most people, writers included, have neither the platform, expertise or resources to do this.

    It is dishonest to promote self-publishing by contrasting it to the worst case scenario for traditional publishing, especially the old saw about how no first time writer can’t get an agent, how you don’t end up with any money after the agent and publisher take their share, etc. Not mentioned is the fact that you get an advance of at least about $5,000 (and perhaps more) and the publisher does the heavy lifting of design, typesetting, and printing. Finally your book will be distributed to bookstores and has a chance at being reviewed and noticed.

    Self-publishing is not a worthwhile alternative for most writers. It’s an expensive treadmill to oblivion and by suggesting otherwise, this article is a cruel deception.

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Peter, I scoff at a $5000 advance. Traditional publishers scoff at a $5000 advance. A paltry $5000 advance is an indication that no one has much faith in your book. Self-publishing is often the ONLY alternative for most people, some of whom are actually “writers and authors,” most of whom are deluding themselves. (I drive a car; ergo, I am a race car driver.) Those people are wasting their time and their money if they think they will hit the bestseller lists or even get a decent ROI, but, hey that’s their prerogative. POD books make great holiday gifts (seriously) for family and friends, and maybe even, colleagues. For a writer who knows what he or she is doing and/or has the wherewithal ($) to hire people with the requisite skills to package a book, POD can and does work. Check out my new testimonials. I didn’t waste even one promo copy to get them. I’ve been marketing nonstop for months. That’s what it takes whether you POD or you have a traditional publishing company doing the “heavy lifting” up to the point of marketing (which is where they invariably drop the ball.) No time to market? No marketing skills? No money to hire anyone to market for you? Peter, you are right: resign yourself to ordering your 150 copies and accept reality.

  11. Nathan Shorty Says:

    I think that publishing has become a monster of its own self importance. I appreciate great writers who deserve great egos, but what of poor publishers and agents who take great credit for most of the work that writers put into their great works. And what of all the prospective readers and future authors who are turned off by this great arrogance? Is this why books and reading in general have become the mainstay of only a tiny few in this modern age of communication?

    It is a sad state of affairs; but the problems here could very well be said to be related across the whole economic platform. That the progression of business culture of the 60s and 70s has been grind to a halt because of the perpetuation of the culture that seeks to retain their own personal power in the publishing world- rather than promote the creation of new writers and even newer works meant for a new day and age.

    It is true that getting your work published is damned hard; it is easier to get to near space or win the lottery, than to have your work published, let alone read by people who are supposedly there to support the industry. And what of the thirsty reader?

    Books were a cutting edge forum over four hundred years ago, and now they are the behemoth on the back of the floundering swimmer (independent writers). There will always been good and bad to both arguments, and the debate focused on POD will not be any different. But the fact is, that this mode offers a technological opportunity to those true and hidden authors who can not get past the lobbies of the palaces of modern and greedy publishing.

    Benjamin Franklin, even in his youth took it upon himself to self publish, and this is the way it should be. POD can help new and old authors continue to grow in an age where the status quo is focused on those most obvious money makers. “People tend not to change an established behavior unless the incentive to change is compelling.” In this debate, we can now say that people are seeing the light, and hopefully we will be ushering a new age of publishing, that to the empowerment of authors who live to write, will have avenues to self publish in the grand tradition trail blazed by the likes of Silence Dogood.

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing(TM): At last, someone who “gets it.”

  12. Peter L. Winkler Says:

    Lynne:

    You essentially confirmed my argument. Without a significant investment in editing, design and marketing, a self-published book is an exercise in failure. Even with those investments, most self-published books will fail.

    You can print a book with POD or even skip that step and publish an ebook, but getting people to notice it and buy it is anoher matter entirely.

    You may scoff at a $5,000 advance, but advances in he 5-10K range are very typical for first time authors.

    Most writers don’t have the money or expertise to duplicate the effors of a major trade publisher or even a reputable small press.

    Furthermore, most self-pubished books aren’t worth publishing. They’re the slush pile. I’ve read enough samples of self-published books to know that. I’ve actually purchased two nonfiction books published by iUniverse and Xlibris, Hooray for Holly-what? and The Next James Dean. The first cost $20 for a less than 100 page paperback. It was basically an expanded magazine article. The second book has some virtues but needed a tough editor.

    Few writers are experienced publishing insiders such as yourself. You have also republished a book that already proved its success. To extrapolate from your case and suggest that this is possible for most writers is specious reasoning.

  13. Therese Fowler Says:

    This issue need not be an either-or proposition. Someone in your position, Lynne, is well-served by POD. Someone who began where I did (not a single publication to my name prior to my first book deal, no $ or time to market aggressively) is not. Novelists as a group are rarely well-served by going solo.

    The trick is to recognize where you fall on the spectrum, based on your resources and what you hope to accomplish with your book(s).

    Therese Fowler Book Jacket

    Even with no publication record and no connections in the publishing industry, I got representation from a top literary agent, who sold my debut novel to a major US publisher for six figures, as well as to nine major foreign publishers (to date). I’m presently finishing my third contracted novel, and my fourth is under contract as well. It can be done.

    As Peter says, most self-published/POD books are “the slush pile.” Most authors who choose that route are the ones whose work isn’t ready, or simply isn’t good, yet their eagerness to be published and the often-misleading lore of self-pubbed successes persuades them to waste their time and money trying to be the next big success.

    Traditional publishing has its problems, sure, but it remains the most viable route to professional success for writers who want to have a career as *writers,* rather than one-man-band book producers/distributors/marketers/sellers.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing(TM): I’ll bet you submitted a fabulous query package ultimately to the “right” agent AND had a great manuscript to boot. That six-figure advance ensured that you would get decent marketing, too. You found the right agent and a smart agent. Yes, it can be done. [Therese’s novels are published internationally in nine languages and more than twenty-eight countries, to date.] (Photo: Elena Seibert)

  14. Daniel Wolfe Says:

    Folks,

    The problem with a $5,000 advance is that the publishing house has a lottery ticket. There is no incentive for them to market the book or spend the money needed to get it meaningful exposure in the chain stores. If it sells, they win. If it doesn’t, very little is lost. Authors need to recognize this.

    I think that POD is similar to what is happening in the music business. And while successful artists have been VERY successful “self-publishing” their music (Radiohead being the best example), other artists are now working to find ways to use non-traditional avenues of distribution for their works. The web is a fantastic ally in these efforts.

    Like any entrepreneur, the trick is to put in the work to create a great product and to work your tail off getting that fine work expsosure.

    BTW, as a frequent traveler, I can tell you that Lynne’s book is fabulous. You’ll find it in the seat pocket in front of me every trip!

  15. James Chan Says:

    I don’t consider myself a writer, even though I have one book in print. But I know a number of writers and I live with one. People who want to write is no different from entrepreneurs who want to run their own businesses.

    James Chan
    The life of a writer is mostly “torture.” I have deep respect and compassion for people who write despite bleakness.

    James

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing(TM): James lives in Philadelphia. In this book, Tom and his coauthor document the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of forty men and women including themselves who–after years of working for companies–decided to start and run businesses on their own.

  16. RBJ JR Says:

    You’ve got to give that girl [Therese Fowler] credit! Age thirty, single parent, put herself through college, novels published in nine languages. Some story…..

Leave a Reply




Bad Behavior has blocked 2326 access attempts in the last 7 days.