April 22, 2009
POD BEST PRACTICES - Part IV of IV | printable version
This is the final installment of this series. However, we will be happy to add more items at your request at anytime in the future! Email your recommendations to:
angela - at - writersweekly.com.
There are lots of snakes in the Print on Demand (POD) industry. While most companies charge too much, way too much, there are a few that offer good services at reasonable prices. Some of those even offer reasonable customer service!
But, first, I need to rant. Being a POD publisher myself, I hear from authors who have been ripped off by other POD publishers on almost a daily basis. Some of their stories make me sick. From elderly authors who were convinced to give more and more and more of their retirement money to the POD publisher (who knew all along that person's memoirs would likely never sell more than a few copies to family members), to authors who paid thousands when they could have paid hundreds to a better POD publisher, to authors who were forced to pay hundreds to fix the POD publisher's own mistakes, to authors who gave up rights to their current and future books to a company that pretended to be a "traditional publisher" but who was just another form of vanity publisher, preying on authors and hoping they would buy more and more and more books.
The reason so many large POD publishers have bad reputations, and the reason they rarely respond to public criticism, is because they don't care. They really don't. Their business model is to cram as many authors through their doors as they can, and to squeeze as much money out of each author as they can. That's it. If this was not the truth, they would screen submissions, they would reject bad manuscripts, and they would teach authors how to market their own books for free (instead of selling them garbage that doesn't sell books). If they get a share of the selling price of each book (they do!), they would benefit from all marketing activities. So, they should offer these products/services for free, right? They know that most authors will spend more on their marketing products and services than they'll earn on book sales resulting from those products and services. So, it's to that POD publisher's financial best interest to squeeze the author for even more money than to help them market their books for free.
The worst POD publishers DO NOT CARE if you sell any books on your own. They do care about books you buy yourself...but they don't care if you ever sell those books because they've already made THEIR money on the sale - when you bought the books from THEM! Some large POD publishers openly admit the majority of their revenues come from selling services to authors, not from selling books.
At Booklocker.com, we reject most manuscripts. Honestly, you would not believe some of the stuff we see. And, when we reject a manuscript, the author almost without fail will have their book published by another POD publisher, one that obviously doesn't care if the book is poorly written, has countless errors, contains libel, teaches somebody how to do something illegal or harmful to self or others, or has virtually no market outside of the author's family.
So, when shopping for a POD publisher, what should you look for to avoid the worst ones?
POD BEST PRACTICES
POD PUBLISHERS SHOULD:
1. Charge a fair price for publishing a POD book, including cover design (not to exceed $750)
2. Publish a book within 6 weeks without charging extra to do so
3. Have a homepage that sells their authors' BOOKS, not publishing services
4. Credit authors 100% when a book order has an error (not force authors to keep books that aren't acceptable)
5. Charge reasonable shipping/handling fees (not double the actual charges!)
6. Pay print book royalties of at least 30%, ebook royalties of at least 50%, and wholesale/distributor royalties of at least 15%
7. Pay royalties at least quarterly; monthly is desired
8. Provide authors with 24-hour online access to their royalties
9. Post royalties instantly for sales made through their own website (If they're only paying royalties monthly or quarterly anyway, there is no reason at all to "hold" or delay posting these transactions.)
10. Provide authors with trackable sales numbers in their royalty report for sales made through the publisher's website so authors can see which royalty line-item corresponds to a receipt for a purchase by a friend or relative (It is very important for authors to be able to verify the accuracy of the POD publisher's royalty system using copies of receipts from real book buyers!)
11. Give authors real expectations about sales! Authors are primarily responsible for marketing their own books (this is almost universally true for traditionally published authors now as well). Marketing should be considered at least a part-time job. Authors who don't market their books don't sell books. It's that simple. POD publishers that lure authors in with grandiose verbiage about having a "bestseller", or "getting rich", or being "famous" are deceiving potential customers (authors). Sure, some have done it - but they worked VERY hard to get where they are. Implying anything less is, in our opinion, deceptive advertising.
POD PUBLISHERS SHOULD *NOT*:
1. Take any rights from authors (If the author paid you to publish their book, you don't deserve to own any rights!)
2. Lie to authors, or use deceptive language on their website
3. Lock authors into a long-term contract (Since they paid YOU, authors should be able to terminate same-day, not weeks or months later.)
4. Nickel and dime authors with hidden fees
5. Stun authors with outrageous and surprise list price increases
6. Upsell authors on items that are imperative for publication success (like an ISBN and distribution)
7. Upsell authors on products/services they can get themselves for less or for free
8. Let authors make embarrassing mistakes so YOU can charge them more later to fix them
9. Pull the old bait and switch - offer something for "free" and then upsell authors on expensive services later, after they realize how difficult the specs are
10. Spam author, book buyers, or the press
11. Claim to pay "100% royalties", which can mislead and confuse authors
12. Claim your service is "free" when imperative items (like an ISBN and distribution) cost money
13. Publish garbage - doing so makes the publisher AND their authors look bad
14. Use confusing / deceptive marketing terminology - like making it appear books will be "available" (stocked) at bookstores when they only mean books will be "available for special order" from bookstores
15. Offer "free" copies of a book as part of a package (Those "free" books are anything but free and, in fact, are sometimes priced higher than the usual author discount price.)
16. Charge extra for interior photos, graphics, charts, etc.
17. Charge authors hundreds of dollars to make their book returnable (If accepting returns really resulted in significant sales, POD publishers would offer this service for free.)
18. Claim ownership of and hold hostage cover and interior files authors paid you to produce (If an author pays you to create something, they should own it, free and clear.)
19. List books at prices that are beyond what the market will bear (Many POD publishers are in the business of selling services and then books to authors, not selling books to the public.)
20. Refuse to provide authors with their production files so they can choose where to have their bookmarks, posters, etc. printed
21. Charge an author extra to produce an ebook version of their book (It costs nothing to sell the final pdf file of a POD book as the ebook!)
22. Charge authors a monthly penalty if they don't deposit their royalty checks or if they don't realize they never received their royalty check until months later (Yes, at least one POD publisher that we know of actually does this!)
23. Tell blatant lies or make deceptive comments about competitors on your website or in email correspondence with potential authors (One POD publisher has done this for a long time and hasn't yet learned his lesson.)
24. Post false praise about yourself online under fake names, or post false criticism about your competitors online under fake names
25. Misuse your competitors' trademarked name in ad words in an attempt to lure potential customers (authors) to your site under false pretenses
26. Steal content from your competitors' websites and publish it as your own
27. Claim ownership of edited manuscripts that YOUR customers (authors) paid you to have edited
28. Call in fake orders to bookstores in an attempt to meet sales promises made to an author for your botched marketing programs - that the author paid you for (This is fraud!)
29. Pretend to be a legitimate literary agent...who then refers the author to a POD publisher (that is the same person/company)
30. Do business of any kind under a false name - or under two names, or three, or... (No, I'm not talking about authors using pen names. I'm talking about POD publishers who pose as others in their email correspondence. For example, their receptionist, bookkeeper, or even their "lawyer" are actually the same person - the POD publisher.)
31. Steal royalties from authors (fail to post sales real-time for direct sales to customers, or fail to pay all royalties due to authors under your contract terms)
32. Take the money and run (Many scammers, whether they had good intentions to begin with or not, have taken money from authors but never published their books. This is why authors should be very, very wary of sending hundreds or thousands to start-ups!)
33. Pretend to be a "traditional" publishing house when they are nothing of the sort
34. Convince authors to pay money to participate in co-op marketing...when the primary focus of the ad is for the POD publisher itself
35. Teach authors how to do anything deceptive or dishonest when marketing their book (like spamming, or placing false orders at bookstores, or participating in those so-called Amazon bestseller programs)
We will be happy to add more items to this list at your request anytime in the future! What would you like to see more of from POD publishers? What really angers you about POD publishers? Have you been lied to or ripped off by your POD publisher? Email your comments to angela - at - writersweekly.com.
Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing ezine for writers that features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is one of the top-rated POD publishers in the industry.
The FINE PRINT of Self-Publishing - Third Edition by attorney Mark Levine.
The Fine Print of Self-Publishing analyzes and critiques the contracts and services of the top forth-eight self-publishing companies. This book has been lauded by many experts as the Consumer Reports of the self-publishing industry, and has helped thousands of authors choose the right self-publishing company and avoid the ones with unfair contracts or low-quality services.