In the early 80s, I owned a contract writing company. We had the very first (as far as I know) computer that showed the page exactly as it would print from the time we typed the very first word (wysiwyg). When a book was finished, we took it on computer tape to a laser-printing company that used a giant variation on a Xerox machine to print and collate the book. Our customers handled binding on their own.
A conventional printer at the time used a good deal of paper just making sure everything was correct. Typesetting, corrections and pre-press costs made short print runs very, very expensive. Our customers saved thousands because the typesetting was done as the book was written, and because there were no pre-press costs. They did sacrifice some quality, which an expert could detect, but the ordinary reader would not notice.
That was the beginning of print-on-demand, since our customers could order any number of books at virtually the same per-book price. You’ll find many companies advertising print-on-demand (POD) services nowadays. Some companies are reputable, some are not.
- Make sure you retain control of your book.
Only the publisher can get an ISBN number, and it is the publisher who owns and controls the book. Always get and use your own ISBN number—it’s cheap and easy. I’ve written an instruction sheet I’d be happy to forward to you.
- Watch out for royalty agreements.
“Royalty” is a technical term for the amount the publisher pays the author. As an independently publishing author, you are both. An agreement for royalties may sign away your ownership of your book.
- Be aware of timelines, and be sure you have an escape clause.
I’ve heard horror stories of print-on-demand publishers who take many months to get a book into print. Be sure you have deadlines, with refunds if they aren’t met.
- Compare quality as well as price.
Ask for samples, and be sure your contract specifies that your book will be of the same or better quality as the samples.
- Make sure any “marketing” offer is worth the money.
You can list your book in Bowker’s catalog free. You can submit your book to the major booksellers yourself, free. POD publishers that sell your book on their own website take a major bite of your profits. And, though they may have some success stories, most authors do not sell a lot of books in that way.
Print-on-demand is a good solution if you will only sell a few books. When you are successful, though, you’ll want the economy of scale that a regular publisher can give you. I’m still searching for a company that can print one book at a time for a reasonable price. Right now, if you really need short-runs, we work with Sentinel Printing, which can print a hundred books for right around four dollars apiece using their digital printer. They can print larger orders when you are ready.
If you still have questions about POD, add it to the comments and I’ll answer you!
Nicki Harper, PhD