No, it’s not Invasion of the Body Snatchers!  POD stands for “print on demand.”  It is e-publishing without the “e” and on paper.  POD has been around longer than e-publishing also and was a trigger for e-publishing.  With POD, the publisher has your manuscript in digital form.  Instead of the publisher sending off a printer-ready galley to a printer that then prints a minimum of 2000 copies on paper to bind and ship to bookstores, the POD publisher takes orders for the book, prints out from the digital file and binds the number of books for the order and ships them to the person who ordered them.  The book never goes out of print.  There are no returns or remainders.  Sounds great, huh?  Maybe too good to be true….? 

How does POD differ from e-publishing?  They both utilize digitization.  POD produces regular books on paper, but e-publishing produces books to download onto your computer or e-reader, no paper involved.  POD, however, is done by POD companies that are essentially printers.   E-publishing is done by publishers, Amazon.com and most recently, B&N.com. (I think B&N has gotten into e-publishing).  All this sounds like more money in a writer’s pockets, right?  Not necessarily.  If a writer decides to go the POD route and essentially self-publish, he or she will be paying the POD company initially, as with any self-publishing project.  The difference between old style self-publishing and POD is that the POD company will handle orders and take a cut of the sale price to pay for printing the book, whereas with old style, the printer prints 2000 copies (or whatever the printer’s minimum run is) of the book and ships them to the author to sell.  And, while at least one POD company I’ve researched offers writers “additional services” for additional fees including help with design and layout, cover art, and copy editing, most do not.  So, the writer essentially needs to find, at the minimum, an editor, copy editor, book designer, and cover designer (if the book designer won’t do this) and pay them for their work.  The outlay could be substantial, depending on the needs of the manuscript. 

In comparison, a regular publisher provides an editor, copy editor (although this could be debated), book and cover designers, publicity, printing and distribution, and pays the writer.  My impression today about editorial by publishers leans toward the belief that editors don’t edit like they used to, and it’s really in a writer’s best interests to hire a professional freelance editor (preferably one that’s worked at a publisher or been editing for a long time) even before shopping it to literary agents and publishers.  Some literary agents will recommend an editor that they work with on a regular basis (be careful about this, however.  If the agent hasn’t agreed to represent you before sending you off to a freelance editor, there’s no guarantee the agent will take you on after you’ve paid the editor who could be in cahoots with the agent and kick back a percentage of the editorial fee to him or her.).   I prefer to work with editors that are local and have been recommended to me by either The Loft or another writer I trust.

So, what’s a POD book like?  I’ve been very curious to see for myself the finished product and have bought a couple POD books, one nonfiction and one fiction.  Both are paperbacks, which seems to be standard for POD.  When the nonfiction book arrived, I was dismayed to see on the front cover that the author’s name hadn’t printed out completely, leaving blanks between letters.  This is unacceptable.  I have yet to read the nonfiction book.

The fiction book’s cover was fine and suitably intriguing.  Nice design.  Inside, the front pages were well done and the layout of the body of the book looked just fine.  The font is easy to read.  So far, so good.  I started reading and on the first page found typos, grammar issues, run-on sentences and inconsistencies in the content.  Uh-oh.  I continued to read, only to encounter much the same issues in subsequent pages.  This book badly needed a really good editor and then a really good copy editor. 

I know that when I’m writing a story or novel, I am too close to the material to serve as an editor of my own work.  Which is not to say that I don’t edit because I do.  I line edit with as much ruthlessness as I can muster.  With Perceval, after the line edit, I hired a professional freelance editor to read it and provide feedback as well as suggestions to make it better.   It was money well spent.  The editor asked me questions that helped me to see holes in the story or places that needed to be cut or a character that needed more fleshing out.  She pointed out grammar issues, although by the time she read the manuscript, there weren’t many. 

Would I ever go the POD route?  I’ve seriously thought about it, researched several POD companies.  It’s one way for a writer to maintain complete control over the production process, and also sales and distribution, marketing, and publicity that needs to be done also by the writer.  I decided that this was not what I wanted, really.  And I cringe inside to think of all the people out there who may have written what they believe is a great book, take it to a POD company, and have it printed without paying attention to the design and editing part of book production…..


4 responses to “POD

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve always wondered about the quality of POD books.

    To my friends who are considering self-publishing and who don’t want to spend money on an editor, I have recommended the AutoCrit Editing Wizard.

    It designed for fiction writers and finds a ton of different manuscript problems. It really helps me tidy up my manuscript

    • Thanks for your comment, Jay Tee. I know nothing about the AutoCrit Editing Wizard — cost? Is it software? I could see software as a place to start with the editing process, but just as with spellcheck, I’m skeptical of it being able to catch problems with character development, a writer’s intent and meaning, and so on. So, I’d suggest trying both — software and a real person editor — to see which is the most cost effective in the long run. Also, with a person, I’ve benefitted greatly from discussions about the feedback and being able to ask questions. That was so worth the money!

  2. tangentially related to editing books:

    I presented my research at a scientific conference last month in a poster session. My professor – the only person who knew exactly what I had been doing & had already seen my data – got called out of town on an emergency. Running to the deadline for printing my poster, I asked another professor to look at it. I figured I would get some style comments at the very least.

    As expected, since he had no idea what I had been doing, he started off with the question: So tell me about this (pointing at a pair of graphs).

    I found the process of explaining my research to be highly beneficial. Discussing it with someone brought out style/content issues that I might not have found with my professor. It forces me to actively explain *why* I made some of my choices. If I ever do this again, I will make a point of having a non-involved person do this for me. The adviser is a co-author (literally, his name is on the poster next to mine); so I suppose he also is too ‘close’ to the work to see it completely objectively.

    If I was going to publish something like a book, I would definitely hire an editor before it went to a publisher. Or at least have someone critically read it for me to provide the same service. I think some might see an editor as a proofreader and therefore replaceable by Spell-Check. I’m personally capable of proofreading something for grammar & continuity/consistency; but, as you pointed out, this is not all there is to the process.

    • Exactly! When I worked with an editor, the best part was not her written comments but sitting down with her and talking through them with her. She had the opportunity to explain, I had the opportunity to ask questions, and we discussed ways to resolve issues. For something as important as a book, I’d think that any writer would welcome the opportunity to work with an editor. Some are expensive, but others are reasonably priced. They know they need to be reasonable in order to get the business….. Writers tend not to be wealthy people!

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