Beware of...
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POD Articles
Balancing a Promotional Budget
Beware of...
Beware, Treacherous Clauses Ahead
Do's and Don't's 101
Fee or Free?
From the Press to the Reader
Great Expectations
Is POD for Me?
Library of Congress 101
Measuring a Publisher's Health
Publish or Self-Publish?
Royalties, the R-word
Sales Rankings
Should You Accept Returns?
What Is POD?
A few notes concerning the 2011 update
Title: Beware of...
Author: Clea Saal
Summary: A list of things that may be trouble when it comes to choosing a POD publisher.

This is a list of pitfalls you may want to keep an eye on when you choose a publisher. Unlike the other articles in this site this one does not have a "final" form. New warnings may be added at any given time.

Beware of wannabe publishers

One side-effect of the growing popularity of POD is the increasing number of wannabe publishers. While a small publisher may be a good idea there are now a number of self-published authors out there trying to make some extra money by presenting themselves as publishers. Not all of these are necessarily a bad idea, in fact some may eventually grow to become great options but you should exercise some caution when dealing with them and you should be aware that they may fold with little or no warning.

Here you have a list of tell-tale signs that can be used to identify a wannabe publisher that may be bad news (though not all of these will be present in all cases):

  • An extremely new company with less than ten titles published, all or most by the same author who also happens to own said company.
  • Limited understanding of how the publishing industry operates (this is quite different from a publisher understanding that POD has to operate based on a business model that differs from the one used by traditional publishers).
  • A poorly designed website.

On a positive note some of these micro-publishing companies may be owned by fairly established authors who know what they are doing. These are a few things you may want to look for when considering one of these companies:

  • An author who does not try to disguise the nature of the company.
  • An author who describes his/her credentials clearly (you must check those credentials thoroughly though).
  • A site that is clear, informative and reflects a deep understanding of both traditional publishing and POD.

As a whole I would say that these companies --at least the good ones-- may be an interesting alternative for experienced POD published authors who are well aware of what they are getting into and which questions to ask but they are a major risk for newcomers.

Beware of publishers changing their names... well, sometimes

This is not necessarily an indicator of major trouble but it is something that can be seen as a sort of yellow flag, signaling a situation that must be analyzed more carefully: If a publisher has changed its name recently you may want to look into their reason for doing so before you sign that contract, no matter what they promise. There are a number of legitimate reasons why a publisher may choose to switch names. It may be something as simple as having an old name that was too similar to that of a different publisher --especially if that other publisher has a less than stellar reputation-- or it may have to do with a restructuring within a parent company (though you should keep in mind that few parent companies would change the name of a division that's doing fine just because they are restructuring). Unfortunately there may be less noble reasons for such a change, the most common of these has to do with a company looking for a quick fix for a deservedly shoddy reputation. As I said, not necessarily a problem but rather a warning sign. A way to tell apart those publishers that change their names for legitimate reasons from those that are trying to leave behind a questionable reputation may be whether or not there is some sort of acknowledgment of this change (do they even mention their old name in their website?If you visit their old URL is there an explanation there or are you simply forwarded to the new site with no notice whatsoever?)

Beware of basing your expectations on someone else's experience

Some questions I keep hearing time and time again are the following:

  • Has your experience with POD been positive?
  • How many books have you sold?
  • How long did it take for you to break even?

While I understand their relevance I usually avoid giving a direct answer (except perhaps when it comes to the first question). The reason for this is simple: There are too many factors in this equation that make it all but impossible to use one person's experience as the basis for someone else's expectations. Issues such as the author's marketing experience, the book's target audience and even the author's location all play a huge role in the success or failure of any given project.

On the other hand I definitely advise writers to contact the author of at least one book released by the publisher they are considering (as well as ordering one or two titles). While personal experiences after publication are likely to differ too much to be considered a reliable reference when it comes to a comparison, the experience of the publishing process itself --as well as all those aspects in which the publisher is directly involved-- can usually be compared.

Beware of pushy publishers

There are a lot of publishers out there so beware of anyone trying to push you to make a decision before you are ready. Choosing a publisher is an important decision and as such it should be carefully considered. If a publisher tries to tell you that you absolutely must sign up within a certain time-frame, or if a company's attemtps at marketing its services come too close to crossing the spam-line, then look for a different option. It may be an abundance of caution but I believe that in most instances someone who tries to keep you from making a truly informed decision has something to hide.

Make sure POD is the best option for your book

The simple fact is that POD is not for everyone. Don't let anyone pressure you into signing if you are not absolutely sure that this is what you want to do. Unfortunately a number of authors are disappointed by their POD experience but all too often this is due at least partly to their own unrealistic expectations (though some of these expectations are clearly encouraged by publishers eager to collect a setup fee).

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