Great Expectations
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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: Great Expectations
Author: Clea Saal
Summary: A few warnings about unrealistic expectations and misleading advertisement relating to POD. If you are looking for a positive outlook, you won't find it here, but it may save you a disappointment.

Before going any further, please allow me to warn you that this article is all about scaring you away. This is not done because I believe that POD is a bad idea or lacks potential, but rather because one of the most common problems are great expectations that cannot be fulfilled, and the fact is that some publishers add to these false expectations. Unfortunately this situation also leads to a number of writers feeling betrayed and disappointed. So let's try to set some guidelines that will lead us to more realistic expectations.

We believe because we WANT it to be true

All advertisement is based upon a very simple principle: we believe because we WANT to it to be true, even when we should know better. This is true of exercise equipment, detergents and POD publishers.

In the case of your book, you want to believe that it has best seller potential, POD publishers know this and they will use this knowledge to lure you in. It is simple and it works.

Publishers' sites are often full of misleading information. It's all about how you frame the truth to make it look just like you want it to. So here you have a few examples that will hopefully help you spot these manipulations more easily.

Reading between the lines of big numbers

One of the things you will find in some publishers' sites (particularly in those that belong to big publishers) are large figures that look very promising. Things like "10,000 titles published", and "over $1,000,000.00 in royalties paid to the authors". Now that represents an awful lot of published titles, and quite a chunk of change paid to the authors, right? The answer to the first question is undoubtedly yes, 10,000 titles represent a large catalogue for any publisher, but how much is $1,000,000.00 in royalties? Well, if we were to do the most basic math we would find that 1,000,000.00/10,000=100... Suddenly that figure is telling us something else entirely.

A publisher that has 10,000 titles and has paid $1,000,000.00 in royalties has paid on average $100.00 in royalties per title, with most publishers that is not nearly enough for authors to break even, let alone turn a profit. And you should probably assume that the relatives and friends of each one of those authors have bought a few copies of their books, so that drives the number of "real" sales even lower.

The fact that someone can do something doesn't mean he will do it

Another bit of misleading advertisement that is fairly widespread has to do with book distribution. A number of publishers emphasize the fact that your book will be listed in the catalogues of some of the biggest distributors, and that through those listings, your book will be made available to tens of thousands of bookstores. That sounds really great, and it is sort of true, but the fact is that, just because your book is listed in a distributor's catalogue, it does not mean that bookstores will order it. Yes, bookstores CAN order your book, but there are literally millions of titles out there and brick and mortar bookstores have limited shelf space, and that means that each POD book they keep in stock is one copy less of the current best seller that they can have available for their customers. In fact many brick and mortar bookstores won't even order a POD published book when they have a paying customer standing there and asking for it.

Online retailers are a different matter altogether. They routinely list POD books. These are virtual bookstores, they don't have to worry about running out of shelf space, or having to choose between keeping a best seller or a POD published book in stock, and they take pride on the fact that they can have a catalogue as big and complete as they want. In fact they really like POD, it enables them to say that their catalogue includes millions of titles.

If you want to test a publisher's claims when it comes to distribution, it is quite simple: choose a couple of titles at random from the publisher's catalogue and then go to a few local bookstores. Ask for those books. Are they available? Are they willing to order them for you? At least now you have a real life answer concerning one particular publisher.

Chances are your book won't be a best seller

Please, be realistic. You may love your book but it is up against the offerings of media conglomerates that have a multi-million advertisement budget. It is up against a marketing structure that was not designed for POD publishing. It is probably up against the fact that its imprint is widely known as a vanity press. It is up against the fact that "serious reviewers and publications" simply will not touch a POD published book.

In other words, no matter how good your book is, the odds are stacked heavily against it. That certainly doesn't mean that the odds can't be beaten, but it won't help you to pretend that those odds aren't there.

If you want to make a quick fortune you should probably head for the nearest racetrack, your odds would be a lot better. Yes, if you work hard you may end up selling a few hundred copies (maybe even a couple of thousand), but when you think of how long it takes you to write a book, and how many hours you would have to spend promoting it, chances are your returns will be way below the minimum wage, if they exist at all (and also remember that the money you've spent promoting should be subtracted from your royalties, before you can say you are turning a profit).

Inflated royalties

This one is not too wide spread, but it is out there so it is worth mentioning. Some publishers misrepresent their royalties by using examples that are based upon a retail price that is not realistic. This becomes a problem you should watch out for only with those publishers that allow the author to set his/her own retail price.

One example that comes to mind was built around a book with 128 pages that had a retail price of $20.00, of course, they didn't just say the book was 128 pages, they simply mentioned a printing cost, and elsewhere they provided a formula to figure out the printing cost of your book, by putting the two together and remembering something back from algebra (not a pleasant memory to begin with) you'd come up with a little less than 128 pages... Sure the numbers were handled properly, and the use of this example is fair, because an author could choose to set such a price, but the fact is that, if we are talking about a work of fiction, that price would have a very significant impact on the author's sales.

In other words, look carefully at how that royalty figure was obtained, before assuming that it is an accurate or realistic example.

Redefining roles

Another thing that often leads to disappointment, but that unlike most of the other examples presented here is mostly the authors' fault, is the fact that some authors forget that POD requires the roles to be somewhat redefined. When you choose to publish a book using POD you have to understand that some tasks that were traditionally the publisher's responsibility have been transferred to the author.

The most obvious example of this is the fact that in the past promoting the book was the publisher's responsibility, or it was a joint venture. When you decide to publish using POD, this becomes the author's responsibility. It is true that some publishers allow you to hire them to promote your book for an additional fee, but that is no different from hiring an independent marketing firm. It is usually a separate service that is provided, for the sake of convenience, by the same company that publishes the book. You may or may not hire such a service and, in most instances, this has absolutely no effect on book production and distribution.

Even when you hire someone to help you out when it comes to marketing (and especially if that someone also happens to be your publisher), you will be forced to do a lot of the work yourself.

A number of authors are disappointed, when their book doesn't sell, but they forget that they are the ones that have to get out there and sell it.

Credit where credit is due

Having said all that, the fact is that some POD published books may eventually make it big, and a few will probably be picked up by traditional publishers. In fact this has already happened a couple of times. When this happens, POD publishers are quick to claim the credit, but the fact is that, if the publisher doesn't screen manuscripts, and both content and marketing are entirely up to the author, then I would be reluctant to give much credit to the publisher for a book's success, and I wouldn't think of these previous "successes" as a major consideration when choosing a publisher.

If a publisher has a catalogue of 10,000 titles, and of those ten are picked up by traditional publishers and one becomes a big hit... should we think in terms of the publisher's merit, or should we think in terms of a statistical probability?

I'm not saying that the publishers have no merit, nor do I want to imply in any way that this is a dishonest practice, but I do believe that, when a POD published book becomes a success story most, if not all, the credit should go to the one person who truly deserves it: the author.

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