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Book Update: Self Published Versus POD

As most of you already know, I’m in the process of publishing a book in which I interview 40 very prominent bloggers. The project started in the winter of 2007 and we’re now near the end of the summer of 2008. I expected to have the book out by spring of this year, and summer at the latest. However most things don’t go as planned.

I initially decided to go the POD (Print on Demand) route, using iUniverse as my POD of choice. They had great reviews, a good book (Get Published!), and they seemed very knowledgeable on the phone. Again, things never quite work out as planned. iUniverse merged with AuthorHouse and Amazon has decided to change the rules for all POD publishers.

Not only that, my experience with iUniverse wasn’t all that rosy. Yes I expected some issues, but having seen them listed often as the better POD choice, I expected more from them (but then again I probably didn’t have the correct expectations). Having started the process just before the merge certainly didn’t help, especially with issues they had moving some of the staff. If memory serves me right, I went through two account managers before finally staying with Rosalie, who incidentally turned out to be the best of the three. The first account manager disappeared and it wasn’t until I called and pressed the issue that something was done. I don’t remember what happened to the second account manager, I think she decided not to move in the merger. Whatever the reasons, it took three tries which definitely delayed things.

Another issue that really irritated me was that my book was accidentally put on hold for a month. For some reason it wasn’t pushed through the next phase and it just sat there. It wasn’t until I contacted them and pushed to see what was going on that they realized the issue. Scary to think how long it could’ve been before they realized something was amiss!

On the positive side, the professional editing they provided was very good. I really believed it improved the quality of the book, so I’m pretty happy with that. However getting the editing costs all figured out was somewhat of a challenge, which I won’t go into today. Needless to say, it cost me about $1000 to get the book edited. Remember it’s an interview book so the interviews aren’t edited like a normal book (the bulk of the content), only the preface, introduction, epilogue, etc. are edited.

The downside to the editing service is that you don’t really get to communicate with the person proofreading and editing. They send you the revised document with their comments. They also include a document which adds additional comments, which by the way is filled with up-sell services (not a bad thing in of itself, but somewhat frustrating since you don’t get to actively communicate with the person). In addition, you only get one pass. And you don’t get to choose the person you’ll be working with, to see if they have the same style as you. But I got lucky and hit a good editor. Plus the amount of content was pretty small, so it wasn’t too difficult to work with.

On the negative side again, some other things started to really annoy me. For example getting the book’s cover copy (the back) took a bit more than a month. And I have to admit I wasn’t impressed with what I got back from them. Firstly, the copy was mainly an exert from one of the interviews. To me this is very weak, especially for taking a month. Anyone can just flip through a book to look at it. And if you’re shopping online you can page through a book using Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature. In their defense, they did include more than just an exert, just not much more. And it didn’t really work for me.

This led me to contact Peter Bowerman, author of The Well Fed Self-Publisher (an excellent book which I’ll discuss in more detail shortly). Through emails with Peter I decided to use his mentoring services, and am I glad I did! Although in his book he talks about self publishing versus POD, I still had to talk to him before doing a 180 degree turn and going the self publishing route. Thank you Peter! That was probably the best money I ever spent on consulting services. I don’t know that I will ever be able to beat the ROI from that one phone call!

Why did I change my mind? For a number of reasons, including those which I’ve already mentioned. But it’s more than that, and chapter 12 of Peter’s book (“Print-on-Demand (POD): Dream or Disappointment) expresses much better than I ever can. So if you’re considering either route, I strongly suggest buying his book and reading at least that chapter. It alone is worth the price of the book. And don’t get me started on Appendix C! I can’t tell you how valuable that section of the book is!

For me personally, what I didn’t like about POD is that you have no controls over timelines. There aren’t really any with POD. I could never get a good answer as to when the book would be ready, and if I did get an answer it was generally too optimistic. Plus, it was impossible to work on anything in parallel to speed up the publication of the book. For example, work couldn’t be done on the books copy and cover couldn’t be done in parallel (and each seemed to take much longer than I thought necessary – which turned out to be true). Although I didn’t agree, I accepted the sequential process at the time (mostly because I didn’t really know any better).

The catalyst though is that I couldn’t get a good idea of when the book would be ready. For the copy they said 4-5 weeks, but based on what I saw, that should have been 1-2 days. Yes they might be busy, but 4-5 weeks seems excessive. Once we agree on it, we get to move on to the cover, which I suspect will take as long if not more.

You also get very limited input in the process. For example, since I’ve gone the self-publishing route I’ve hired George Foster, one of the best book cover designers in the industry (did you know that a book is generally judged by it’s cover?). Working with George (and Peter) we came up with a general theme. Then we tweaked it several times until it was just right. This flexibility just simply isn’t available with a POD service. You don’t even get to choose the artist you’ll be working with!

The other thing that irks me is that if I’m going to pay to have someone help me with the copy (I can write web copy, but I don’t really know what sells for books) and the cover, then why am I using their service? Why do I have to wait? I’m basically paying for something I don’t want.

Something to note though about POD versus self-published, POD is significantly less expensive and less time consuming than self publishing. Self publishing is basically not for people who just want to try to write a book, it’s a full endeavor! You get what you pay for, but it’s also not cheap. So only go the self published route if you really think you have a hit on your hands (or you have a lot of money to burn). Self published is not a hobby, or a sideline like POD can be. The difference in price is from $1000-$3000 for POD to at least $10,000-$15,000 for self publishing. And this doesn’t include any time or marketing costs, this is just to get the book to out there. I’ve personally spent over $15,000 as of right now on just to get the book published. Wait until I include my marketing costs!

Before I continue, let me just say that iUniverse has its place and time. It’s just not for me. However if you plan to sell a limited number of copies, you have very limited funds, you have no timeline to get published, you don’t need creative control, or you just want to try publishing a book as a hobby, then it might be the solution for you. But for me it was no longer the right choice.

Getting back to our discussion, there are some other perks going the self published route. You own the ISBN number, not the publisher. The book is registered under your publishing company (we’ve created the entity Levac Publishing House for this first book). Plus once you get the book done, you own it. With a POD they own the finished product. For example you own the text but not the typesetting. Which means if you ever do strike out on your own, you’ll have to absorb that cost again.

But more importantly, some of the economies start to favor you with the self published model. With POD the best discount you can get for promo books is about 50% of retail, and this is only if you order in quantities of 500 or more. So if you have a $20 book, that means $5000. If you want smaller amounts, then expect only to get a 20-30% discounts. Not a small sum of money, especially if you plan to market and promote it on a commercial level. On a hobby level, you probably won’t ever need 500 promo copies. Again it depends on what you want to do.

With self publishing, you can get that cost down to $2.00 + shipping & handling (assuming an initial printing run of at least several thousand books). So assuming 500 promo books, that’s $750. Wow! What a difference from $5000! I didn’t include shipping since both options would incur this same cost. Anyways, it again comes down to your business model for the book. Is it a vanity book or are you planning on the book being a business unto itself?

Obviously you know which model I picked. I personally expect to go through more than 500 promo books in the first few months alone! I’ve already promised each interviewee a book which brings it up to 40 copies the first day.

Why is the pricing so different between the POD and self published? With POD they always charge you 50%-80% of the cost for promo books. With self publishing, once you’ve incurred the large initial upfront costs, the reproduction costs become small in comparison. In other words, you don’t make a profit for the first x books (and x isn’t a hobby number, we’re talking in the thousands of books), but once you pass that threshold (your break even number) it becomes financially viable. The statistics however show that most authors never get to the break even point. Of course for this book, we’re going to blow past the break even point!

But there’s still more. By going self published I can guarantee the quality of printing. Apparently there’s quite a few horror stories floating online about the print quality of Amazon’s new POD vendor. I’d hate to experience that.

But it doesn’t end there, there’s more. Another aspect I really like about self publishing is your ability to price your book. With POD the books generally have to sell for more because of the higher overhead. With self publishing you can generally bring your price down a bit. Not much, but about 10%-20% less. It might not seem like much, but if you’re comparing two books side by side, it might be enough to influence your decision. And more than that, the POD vendors generally set the price based on the number of pages, not the quality of the book.

So to make a long story even longer, the book’s production path has been significantly adjusted this week. A lot has changed. The title is no longer “Interview the Pros”, it’s “Blog Blazers”. It’s no longer going to be a POD book, it’s going to be a self published book. I’ve also hired an amazing team to get this book done. I’ve hired a cover artist, a book mentor, a typesetter, an indexer, and so on. Although I don’t like to promise timelines, I’m hoping to get everything to the printers by the end of next week if everything goes according to plan. From here I’ve been informed it takes about 5 weeks to print the books (a proof copy needs to be approved – with time for shipping – and then the first full run is printed and warehoused).

I would show the cover, but we’re still finalizing the last minute details. As soon as it’s ready I’ll post it up. Also the book’s website isn’t ready yet. I’m hoping to have that up very soon. I’ll keep updating you as the book is approaches the finish line.

Otherwise everthing else is progressing very fast now. I’m very excited about the results and can’t wait to see the finished and printed book!

Like this article?


  •     Jesse
    · August 28th, 2008  · 9:25 am  · Permalink

    Good luck Steph, I hope you can make the numbers work. Self-publishing always seemed tricky to me, considering you no longer have the marketing muscle of a known publisher helping out. But I’m sure you’ve given it a lot of thought and you know what you’re doing.

    I expect I’ll buy a copy, as I’ve just recently started up my company blog and I’ll be interested to get a lot of different viewpoints on blogging as the owner of a small business. I also enjoyed your website traffic ebook – thanks for that.

  •     Dee Ann
    · August 28th, 2008  · 9:28 am  · Permalink

    Hi Steph,
    I really enjoyed my experiences blogging for the past year and appreciate all your advice.
    I`d like to know what all the pros are doing in order to make my new website profitable so I can`t wait to read your new book. I`m sure it`ll be a best seller.
    All the best!!!

  •     Steph
    · August 29th, 2008  · 3:44 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Jesse,

    One of the common misconceptions of publishing houses is that they’ll provide you with a lot of marketing muscle. The reality is that unless you’re already a big name (a sure thing) like Stephen King, then they’ll barely help you out. You’ll end up doing 99% of the marketing, and you’ll have to spend your own money.

    A lot of people believe that once you’re done your book it’s over, and you let the publishing companies take over and market the book. This is far from the truth. And it’s not in the interest of the big publishing houses to correct this misconception 😉

    And thank you about the ebook. It’s great to hear you enjoyed it! If you liked it then you’ll definitely like this book as well. This is the advice of 40 great bloggers.

  •     Steph
    · August 29th, 2008  · 3:45 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Dee Ann,

    Thank you!

    You’ll find the book is loaded with great advice. I can’t say enough. Being a blogger for several years, and being quite involved in this world, I still learned a lot!

  •     FollowSteph.com - Blog Blazers Update
    · September 9th, 2008  · 11:34 pm  · Permalink

    […] As I’m sure some of you have noticed, I haven’t been posting much recently. That’s because I’m really pushing hard to get my upcoming book Blog Blazers (book cover above – this is the first time I’ve publicly shown it!) completed and to the printers ASAP. The publication date is November 1st, so to make it on time for that date I need to get it off to the printers now. The good news is that it’s almost ready to go, I’m just in the process of finishing up the last last details with our typesetter Shawn. It’s been quite a sprint to the finish line as well. Self publishing a book is no small feat! […]

  •     FollowSteph.com - How to Publish Your Own Book - Part 1
    · March 19th, 2009  · 8:57 am  · Permalink

    […] personally had experience with 3 of them: Blog Blazers which was initially POD but ended up being self published, and How to Generate Traffic to Your Website which is an ebook only book. The only reason I have […]

  •     RAD KHAN
    · January 17th, 2010  · 5:24 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Steph,

    Read your article with interest, but I am still a bit confused….between self publishing and POD. I had 2 books published by Xulon Press and I found their service to be good. They designed both the back and front cover, which was excellent. You can judge for yourself by checking out my books L-S-D & Mind-Field of Success or Defeat on Amazon.com or other online retailers.

  •     Steph
    · January 20th, 2010  · 1:04 pm  · Permalink

    It’s good to hear you got good service, and that the covers and backs may turn out nicely for you.

    The issue with covers, backs, etc. is that you’re limited to a template. You have almost no flexibility. Which means it’s very hard to get anything better than average. It also means you’re book is very unlikely to stand out from the crowd.

    Although most people don’t like to admit it, a book is generally judged by it’s cover. Which is why you should spend a significant amount of time on both the cover and the back of the book. Most buying decisions are made on these two pages. Once you achieve some success, then people will buy your book through word of mouth references and such, but initially you need to attract people to your book.

    As well, the other thing you have to remember is that the average POD book sells less than 300 copies (with 60% being purchased from the author) as measured by iUniverse. Why is that? I agree it’s not one single thing, but the cover is a big part.

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