Holding a Book in Your Hand: Print on Demand

Ashes and Light - coverThe chance to hold your book in your hand in published, bound format is a treat each would-be author dreams of. I know published authors, with reputable e-publishers, who struggle to accept themselves as published authors because the book isn’t available in hard copy. For those authors who are either venturing into publication on their own, or who have started their own publishing company, there are avenues to satisfy this craving. They are known as Print on Demand (POD).

POD generally comes in two forms, one which I am going to call Traditional POD and the other I’ll call True POD. In Traditional POD, the author works with a printer and orders a print run of so many hundred or thousand copies of the book. The printer prints the books (at a cost to the author) and then either warehouses the books (also at a cost to the author) or ships the books to the author so that the author can warehouse them. Downsides of this model are the high, upfront, printing costs, and the ongoing cost of warehousing and shipping books when (if) they are ordered. Also a downside is the fact that, unless the author has a means (a platform) to sell these books, the author might end up holding onto them forever. So downsides of traditional POD include high up front costs, ongoing costs and/or the storage space the author must pay for.

On the other hand, I know of motivational speakers with platform who have used this printing method with complete satisfaction. They know when they are going to give a series of lectures, can have the right number of books printed to meet their expected demand, and store the books for a short period of time while they sell them at their lectures. It works for them.

For the rest of us, however, having to either store or pay for the storage of books, and the upfront costs make this rather prohibitive.

Enter True POD. In a nutshell, this model of self publishing allows you to have the book ready for sale through a distributor and, when someone wants to purchase the book, that individual book is printed. It does away with the need for storage, but allows quality books to be printed.

There are three main companies for True POD:

1. Lightning Source

2. Lulu

3. Createspace

Lightning Source differs from the other two because it is basically a printing company, while the other two could be called ‘author service companies’ with mostly-free options. Lightning Source focuses on providing printing services, and printing services alone. They expects you to know how to format your book both inside and the cover. The company does provide templates and instructions, but does not expect to deal with author/publishers who don’t know their business.

To Lightning Source’s credit, it offers extensive book formats, including hard cover and full color. The company also has the most extensive distribution in both the US and UK and allows the author to control discounts to distribution points (stores).

Costs, however, are higher, with Lightning Source charging between $117 and $150 per title, depending on whether you are doing hard or soft cover. Other downsides include the requirement that you have your own ISBNs and that their website is not the most easy to use. I’m told, however, that once you figure it out, it’s no more difficult to use than the two author service companies.

Lulu – The first of the author service companies presented here, Lulu offers a full range of services including author packages like “The best selling publishing package”. While this package comes at a charge of $629.00, it doesn’t offer anymore than an author/self publisher can do themselves. Lulu offers pre-publishing, marketing and publicity packages, but again, the author can do most of this themselves.

On the plus side, Lulu publishes in the US and UK and offers many more trim sizes including everything from pocket books to hard covers with dust jackets, similar to Lightning Source. Distribution through Lulu on a free basis is through Lulu.com, and, if you choose Lulu as publisher, through Amazon. If you want yourself listed as publisher it will cost you $99.00. Lulu also offers a good template for cover creation.

Createspace (my current choice) also offers author publishing packages, but the author creation of a book on Createspace is relatively intuitive. Packages include the $758.00 Total Design Freedom Standard that has ‘professionals’ work with you to get your book ready to publish. Again, you don’t need this unless you have money to throw at the project.

Createspace basically has two ‘plans’ for publication, basic and pro-plan. The basic plan allows your book to sell at the Createspace e-store and Amazon for only a share of the royalties, while the pro-plan (at a charge of $39.00) makes you eligible for the Expanded Distribution Channels that can get your book into libraries and bookstores (theoretically). In the pro-plan, you also pay less per copy when you order your own book. Royalty rates are also higher in the Pro-plan in comparison to Lulu.

So for my money, Createspace seems to win as a low-cost option for POD.

While these three companies seem to be the front runners for POD, there are any number of other author service companies who will, for a price, provide book formatting, editorial services, cover production, and marketing advice and services. Let me emphasize this: FOR A PRICE.

These companies aren’t cheap and for the most part any author can learn to produce reasonable POD books on their own or through finding freelance services, or friends (to trade services with).

That said, however, there is a significant learning curve required for POD. Assuming your cover design is reasonable enough to be used in POD, there is still the matter of being able to write suitable back cover copy, and to format an entire cover (front, back and spine). You also have to be able to produce a print ready interior of the book. This requires the author to develop other skills in self-publishing, and to learn new programs like Adobe Photoshop and In Design, or Microsoft Publisher—something that took a lot of hours for me to accomplish. But if you are determined to have a print copy of your book, and if you are prepared to do the work, there is nothing like the mailman delivering your first proof.

Electronic Market Options for the New Writer/Publisher

I recently self-published a short story called The Wife’s Tail. Like with a novel, the first decision I had to make once the story was completed was what to do with the manuscript to get it out into the world. While this isn’t marketing to readers, it will determine some of the marketing steps you take afterwards.

In the old days (like a two years ago), the first choice (for me) would have always to been to send the manuscript to traditional New York publishing houses appropriate for a short Fantasy story. Now, however, the world has changed—not the 2012 Mayan calendar change, but just about. Over the last twelve months the world seems to have shifted and more long-time published authors are saying that self publishing may be the way to go.


Primarily for financial reasons and the personal control a self-publishing author retains. For example, for novels a writer can earn a higher percentage royalty for self publishing, retain all copyright, and can maintain the book (or short story) in print far longer than a manuscript published through New York. (For more information on the e-book revolution see Here and Here, and for information on the current massive changes in publishing see Here.) Self publishing allows authors to get books into print without going through the convoluted games of agents and publishers. So if you have a good product, and if you are prepared to work with your manuscript beyond packaging it up and mailing it, self publishing may be the option for you.

Having made the decision to self-publish there are basically two options to consider:

1. Electronic (e-book) format, and

2. Print of demand (POD).

A third option of audio books is also out there, but for this post I am going to focus on electronic publication options.

With the overwhelming acceptance of e-readers as an alternative to hardcopy books, we are truly entering the heyday of self-publishing. Amazon Kindle, the Nook, the i-Pad, and a profusion of mobile reading platforms have all contributed to this revolution, and all provide the author with avenues for self-publishing and marketing. A March 2011 article in FutureBook quoted Bertelsmann’s executives as saying that e-book sales were up 250% and that, for some US titles published by their New York branch, as much as 50% of the first two week sales are in e-book format. Other on-line resources state that E-book readership is expected to top 30 million globally by 2013. That’s a lot of potential readers.

For the self publisher to take advantage of this phenomena, there are self-publishing platforms available, most notably:

1. Amazon KDP

2. Pubit (Barnes and Noble), and

3. Smashwords.

Amazon KDP is the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and allows you to easily upload a formatted manuscript to be sold to Kindle users on Amazon.com. Preparing a manuscript for KDP publishing is relatively painless (less than an hour), but involves removing typical manuscript formatting like headers and page numbers and any tabs, and changing underlined words to italics, etc. so your manuscript is formatted for electronic publication. Table of contents are also added so that readers have a chance to return to places in the manuscript. Amazon provides instructions on formatting on their website. Along with the manuscript formatting, you will also need a cover for the book or story. I’ll talk more about covers in a later post.

The fortunate thing about Kindle is that this publishing avenue is available to writers all over the world. As a writer from outside the US, it allows me to get paid for novel sales into the US market as long as I have sorted out the Income Tax issues with US Internal Revenue Service. Canadian and other english readers can access the books through their Kindle and now, with the advent of Kindle UK and Kindle DE, readers in the United Kingdom and Germany can also access these books.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing pays the writer either 35% or 70% royalties (depending on the book price) which is a far cry above the standard 25% offered by New York publishing for e-rights.

Pubit is the in-house program for Barnes and Noble and apparently is an excellent publishing option. It pays 65% royalties on Pubit purchases, which again is far better than the traditional publishing option. The one problem with the program is that it is only user friendly for authors having addresses in the United States. Frankly, their website is misleading as, when they first opened, they contacted me to offer publication, but then threw up enough road blocks I haven’t used them to this day.

First it was the requirement for a US bank account. Then, after I had obtained the bank account, they required a mailing address in the United States. While it would have been possible for me to accomplish this by renting a mailbox, from a business perspective, the potential revenue wasn’t worth the outlay and the only advantage to me would have been slightly faster payment. A last negative comment on Pubit is that they required more personal information than any of the other e-publishing sites. As a result, I have reached Pubit readers through Smashwords.

Smashwords offers another entry point for e-books, but unlike Kindle and Pubit, it is not limited to one digital platform. Smashwords-published books can be read on a variety of devices including, Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, Kobo, and IPad, and are also available as HTML, RTF and PDF. Smashwords pays between 38% and 85% royalty depending upon the book price, whether Smashwords or an affiliate (Kobo, Sony etc.) sold the book, and what currency the book was purchased in (and taxes in the Purchaser’s country). Again, this rate is significantly higher than New York publishing’s.

While initially self-publishing on Smashwords seemed daunting because of the fairly rigorous formatting requirements, Smashwords provides a complete instruction manual that, when followed, usually leads to a successful upload. Instructions include such details as requirements for front-matter (copyright statements) and instructions about adding in table of contents. Having completed preparation of a manuscript for one digital platform (whether you do Amazon Kindle or Smashwords first), it really takes very little time to prepare the manuscript for the other platform.

I’m sure you’re asking, then why bother with Kindle and Pubit at all, if Smashwords publication will reach those platforms, too. The answer is in the royalty rates. Selling on Kindle or Pubit directly will usually reap you the 65% or 70% for a novel. Selling via a Smashwords affiliate will reap you less, depending on where the novel is purchased. So if you have decided to sell your e-book on Smashwords and Kindle/Pubit, it is important for the self-published writer to TURN OFF the Smashwords sales to those two channels.

To do this, the writer/self-publisher should go to their Smashwords ‘Dashboard’ and click on Distribution Channel Manager in the left hand column. Then you should scroll down to the specific novel/story title and check ‘opt out’ for the Kindle or Pubit channel. Again, this should only be done for books you have already published on the other platform and is done to avoid having two listings on Amazon and Pubit that pay you different royalty rates.

And that is all it takes. Be prepared for some frustrations the first time through, but for the next book you’ll know what to do and the time commitment will be shorter.

Next post I’ll talk about POD, because let’s face it: e-books might be nice, but we authors like to hold something physical with a cover.

Marketing: What I Learned From Peruvian Markets

Traveling in Peru, I visited many local markets, from the large mercados of Miraflores and Cusco, to tourist markets of Pisac, to the small village markets of Chivay and Ollantaytambo. I love the sights and smells and how they tell you a lot about the culture you are travelling in. But now that I’m home and starting to focus on the business of writing, I realized that there are marketing lessons for writers and indie publishers to be learned from the markets of Peru.

Before I list the five general lessons, I just want to comment on writers versus independent publishers. It used to be that independent publishers, were exactly that – small publishing houses as differentiated from the large houses of New York. Today, however, though the traditional independent publishers still exist (thank goodness), the self-publishing writer has a choice: they can either publish as authors, or they can create independent presses that publish their work. Either way, it’s the writer doing the work, but there are benefits to having a publishing house, that self-publishing as a writer doesn’t have – namely that an indie publishing house can get its books into bookstores more easily than a writer can.

The following five lessons apply to both independent publishing houses and writers publishing on their own.

1) Product must get to market – In Peru’s cities trucks unload crates of fruit and vegetables. In Chivay, the produce comes to town wrapped in colorful mantas (blankets) on women’s backs. They brought in everything from tomatoes, apples, and animal fodder. Sheep were tied upside down to the back of a moto-taxi on the way to market. So however, they did it, the bottom line was that items for sale had to get to market.

Papas (potatoes) on their way to market (2011) photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Papas (potatoes) on their way to market (2011) photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

For the writer/indie publisher, this is perhaps the largest issue. Yes, writers have the traditional methods of getting manuscripts to traditional publishers, but now they have the choice of whether to publish into the electronic market or POD – both of which are now extremely acceptable ways of selling.

2) You must have a regular place to sell – In Peru I purchased my snack food – oranges, apples or bananas – at the local markets. When I can get them, died fruit and nuts are a staple. When I found a merchant that sold produce I liked, I always went back to them. Thankfully, mercado and street vendors have ‘their’ spots so you can always find the same apple vendor in the same spot.

Women with their 'spot' picked out. Ollantaytambo (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Women with their 'spot' picked out. Ollantaytambo (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

For writers this means having a website – or two. At the very least you should have an author’s website (or possibly more than one if you are writing under more than one pseudonym) that includes in it a list of your books with links to where they can be purchased.

If you are serious about indie publishing, you should also have a website for your publishing house that includes all of your books (see examples, here and here and here), and presents all the books by all your writing personas. This allows people to find you and your books.

Shaman's stall, Cusco market (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Shaman's stall, Cusco market (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

3) You must have product – The markets of Peru are filled with produce. There are fruit and vegetables, meat, breads and cakes, fresh cheese, nuts, dried fruit, jugos (fresh mixed juice that is the most sublime treat – ever), shaman supplies, clothing, tourist weavings and so on. Most markets provide a wonderful place for browsing.

For the writer, this means that although self-publishing a single short story or novel is fine, to be serious about indie publishing you must have more product. Dean Wesley Smith talks about having a minimum ten novels. What this means for the writer, is that the focus HAS to be on writing more product, so that you aren’t dependent on just selling oranges in a world where oranges might fall out of favor.

4) Product must look good – I couldn’t tell you how many vendors I walked past looking for the perfect orange or apple. Imagine how much time I spent in front of the kiosk where the vendor had avocados the size of green footballs. Good looking fruit is a lot more likely to sell than produce that looks like it’s had a hard ride on a bucking donkey.

Fruit display, Miraflores market (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Fruit display, Miraflores market (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

For the writer this means that your produce needs to both look good and BE good – or at least as good as you can make it. As a writer you are responsible for the quality of your work both in terms of story and editing. Covers are the responsibility of the writer/indie publisher and are your calling card. Good covers, as Joe Konrath frequently talks abouton his blog (here), are critical to sales.

5) Product must be positioned – Peruvian vendors always took advantage of their location to show their wares. Some, near the doors, laid out attractive displays to catch the sunlight. Independent vendors crowded around the main doors to get attention. Others located themselves by side doors where they might not get as much traffic, but they might get more attention from those who DID pass through the doors.

Positioned for the light, Cusco maket (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Positioned for the light, Cusco maket (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

As a self-publishing writer, or an indie publisher, you also need to make choices about how to get the attention of booksellers and readers. This can be either as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Examples of means to get attention for product include:

• Social marketing on twitter, facebook, etc.

• Social marketing on reader and writer groups

• Providing free fiction as loss leaders

• Advertising at conferences

• Advertising to booksellers

Choosing the methods that are right for you is the trick.

Given marketing is as foreign as a Peruvian market to me, I’ve planned a series of blogs that will explore marketing and provide information from authors who have gone farther down this road. So don’t consider me an expert, but look at this as a place to pull together ideas. Over the coming weeks I’ll explore each area in more depth and include interviews and examples. And please, if you have experiences in marketing as an author or indie publisher, share them here. After all, the last lesson I learned in Peruvian markets is that vendors help each other.

Working together to sell pork rinds outside Cusco mercado (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Working together to sell pork rinds outside Cusco mercado (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Peruvian time

Women in the moment of Cusco Parade(2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Women in the moment of Cusco Parade(2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Coming home from another continent affords lots of time to sit in airports and to reflect (as you cross time zones) on the nature of time, and timing, and how we experience it. Coming from North America we are so driven by the clock – to be punctual, to punch the clock, and to resent those who don’t bow to the ticking moments in the same way the rest of us do. I speak from experience. I lost a very good friend because she refused to honor my time as I honored hers. She always kept me waiting for at least an hour every time I was to meet her for a social engagement and when I pressed her on the issue she decided my friendship wasn’t worth trying to change her time sense. So we parted ways.

In Peru I ran into a similar phenomena. There I was, sitting in the train station at Aguas Caliente, going home from Machu Picchu, and the train before mine arrived. They called the train’s arrival. They called boarding and the foreign tourists crowded around to load. They called last call and a few Peruvians came running. They called last call again (I guess they didn’t mean it the first time). More Peruvians came running. They called last call again and an entire tour group (Peruvian) came trotting up. They closed the gate and announced the train was leaving.

Time worn ripples in the stone of Sacsaywaman (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Time worn ripples in the stone of Sacsaywaman (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

About 5 minutes later another entire Peruvian tour group arrived and were a tad put out that the train had left without them.

I watched this and put the phenomena down to this being a tourist train and Peruvian tourists, but then I had to catch a plane to get from Cusco to Lima. There, I was, sitting in the departure lounge as LAN airlines boarded a flight. They announce last call. A couple of people come running. They announce last call again, and a few more people come. They announce that they were closing the gate and a western tourist who had been guarding the belongings of a Peruvian friend, finally tossed the friend’s belongings to the gate crew and boarded. His friend eventually showed up and was choked that the plane wasn’t waiting for her. They announced last call again and at that point – after Airport staff had been walking around for at least ten minutes paging missing passengers (by name) – someone pointed out to a group of businessmen in the waiting area that they were supposed to be on that plane. They dashed off, madly. So after about 4 last calls, personal pages and various and sundry announcements the gate was finally locked and the plane took off, but the whole thing got me thinking.

Village near Ollantaytambo (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Village near Ollantaytambo (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

What was it about Peruvians? Did they just not pay attention? Was the whole world to wait for them? Did they just not care that they were holding up an entire airport? Was there something called ‘Peruvian time’?

While waiting for another flight (this time in Canada), I had the chance to chat with a Peruvian woman who has lived in North America a long time. I ran my story past her and she laughed and said that the Peruvian psyche is not so Machiavellian. Instead the reason those passengers missed their trains and almost their planes was more likely because Peruvians are more ‘in the moment’. When they engage with friends they are totally ‘present’, and so they miss little things like the announcement for a train or last call for a plane. She told me that when friends get together for dinner they had best plan for people to arrive two hours late.

Which is interesting for a writer, because, from personal experience, our sense of timing is such a rich source of conflict.

Peruvian mountain woman (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Peruvian mountain woman (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

And now I’ve come home to Canada to find my mother in the hospital from a stroke and my family playing a waiting game. No longer is our focus on punctuality. Now we live in the moment and keep hoping for a few moments more – Peruvian time. Let the world pass us by for a long, long time.

The masses at the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The masses at the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Machu Picchu Redux

Machu Picchu caught in the coil of the coil of the Urubamba River (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Machu Picchu caught in the coil of the coil of the Urubamba River (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Okay, I guess I have a type A personality. If it isn’t right the first time I’ve been known to do something again and again and again, until I get it – if not right, at least closer to right. I’ve been known to go back to the same place again and again and again to get THE photo I want, when previous attempts didn’t yield what I wanted. With writing, I’ve been known to trash manuscripts 2 or 3 or 4 times before getting what I originally envisioned.

Terraces (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Terraces (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Given this, it shouldn’t surprise you that I decided to return to Machu Picchu after blowing out my legs on the Inca trail so that on my first visit to the site I was basically stationary. So up I got at 4:45 am on April 24, to catch the train to Aguas Caliente, an hour and a half train ride as the Andes unwound their scrub grass into jungle. Picture dawn light on magnificent glaciers, and then we slid into Aguas Caliente and I had to catch a bus up the mountain. And there I was. Again.

The Orchids of Machu Picchu (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The Orchids of Machu Picchu (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Not that my ankles were 100% yet. Nope. I was still using a walking stick and my left ankle was still swollen and sore, but darn it, I’d come all this way and I darn well was going to enjoy the view. So I set off uphill, up innumerable steps to the guardhouse that perched along the path between the Sungate and what was once the main gate to the city. There I sat on the edge of a terrace and overlooked the city, trying to believe I was really here. It was still incredibly busy with tourists, but this time I could move away, an take cover in the shade of bamboo farther up the terraces.

The Guardhouse, many steps above the city (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The Guardhouse, many steps above the city (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

I ambled (read limped) around the ruins and found the series of fountains the Inca had built. Now don’t think spraying water and dolphins or cherubs – these are a series of small pools fed by a single spring that still supplies the ruins with water from far up the mountain. The story goes that each small pool has its own voice. I think could almost make out the tonal differences out over the myriad loud tourists. So I focused on the liquid song and, on as hot a day as this was, and after seeing children crying because foolish parents forgot to bring drinks, I could believe that the Inca built this series of fountains as homage to the importance of water to life.

There were swallows soaring and song sparrows trilling and generally it was a glorious day – except for the tourists. The final straw for me was some children who were determined to separate a very young baby llama from its mother because they wanted to pet it. I mean where were those darn children’s parents? I was about to use my walking stick and not on the llamas! Thankfully another tourist intervened before I got myself arrested. But I did get some photos I’m happy with and so here you go.

Enjoy! Ciao, from Peru!

The last view of Machu Picchu (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The last view of Machu Picchu (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson