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8 reasons why POD worked for me

Writers Forum, February 2007

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(This article also appears in the December 2007 edition of the Write From Home e-zine.)

The repeated warnings about print-on-demand publishing are perfectly valid. Those hoping to make a comfortable living, achieve credibility in the literary world, or prove conventional publishing agents wrong are likely to be sorely disappointed.

But in very specific circumstances, POD publishing can work. In November of last year I published Turning The Tables: The Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling through a POD publishing company. There are eight main reasons why this proved to be an appropriate method for me.

1) I had a valid reason for not pursuing the conventional publishing route.

My book filled a gap in the market: while the pro wrestling book market had boomed, nobody had yet produced a book on the cult Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) organisation. Soon after beginning work on the project, I discovered two similar books were also in the early stages of production, both by conventional publishers, with 2006 publication dates. One was scheduled to be produced by World Wrestling Entertainment, meaning it would be directly marketed to around five million television viewers upon publication. Had I gone through the conventional publishing route, my book would have been published at the same time as these books, or even later, meaning it was very likely to be swamped in the marketplace. By using the POD process I was able to have my book on sale almost four months before its nearest rival.

2) My audience was an easily-identifiable niche market.

Unlike fiction, or general non-fiction, Turning The Tables had a well-defined potential readership: fans of ECW. As well as making the job of marketing much easier, this also meant potential readers were familiar with the subject and would be far more likely to buy a book without having the opportunity to flick through it in a bookstore.

3) The audience was evenly split between North American and the UK.

While true self-publishing through off-set printing has clear benefits, it is most appropriate for authors selling a book that appeals to a local market. As a British author, using off-set printing for a book that would be sold in the US was simply not practical. POD allowed me to serve both markets with equal ease, and meant I could have a simultaneous worldwide launch that allowed me to streamline my marketing.

4) The audience was comfortable with on-line purchasing

My target audience was primarily made up of 16-34 year old males, most of whom are regular internet users. (ECW was aimed at the type of ‘hardcore’ wrestling fan who spends a fair amount of leisure time visiting websites that feature insider news and backstage gossip.) POD publishing would not have been as suitable for a book where likely readers were not well-used to buying from sites such as Amazon.

5) I found a POD package that met my needs.

Diggory Press, a self-publishing wing of a Christian books publisher, is a small company based in Britain. They have a much more flexible set of services than many larger POD companies that only offer complete packages. I was able to purchase the services I needed (set-up, ISBN, entry into relevant catalogues, fulfilment of orders through Ingrams) for $175 with no requirement to buy any services (editing, marketing, production) that I did not need. I was also able to set my own price and trade discount. As I was happy for it to be sold almost entirely online, I was able to set the discount at the minimum 25%. This meant I was able to sell the book at a reasonably marketable recommended price of $15.99, from which I earned $5.87 per copy, perhaps five times the royalties a conventional publisher would pay.

6) My book was concisely written but still marketable

Turning The Tables is 196 pages. Had it been much longer, the economics of POD mean it would have been unlikely to be sellable at a marketable price. As I have a reputation for a concise, fact-heavy writing style, I was able to justify the slimness of the book to potential buyers.

7) I was able to do my own production

From my previous work as a journalist and press officer, I have experience in typesetting and design, and am familiar with the software involved. This meant I was able to supply a print-ready PDF of the body and cover that did not require any further work. While my cover would not meet professional bookstore standards, it was passable for a book mainly sold on-line. I also had suitable industry contacts to have the book independently proof-read and edited for a reasonable rate.

8) I was happy to do my own marketing

From my previous work as a press officer, I was comfortable with the idea that I would be entirely responsible for the marketing. I have used many techniques to market the book, such as:

• targeted and effective press releases to appropriate publications and websites;

• internet message board postings;

• ‘expert articles’ that relate to the book and establish my credibility;

• radio interviews on both internet and over-the-air broadcasts aimed at wrestling fans;

• direct marketing through leaflets at live events;

• well-targeted review copies;

• a relevant and effective website;

• barter agreements to exchange books for publicity through mailing lists from wrestling merchandise sellers, and a wrestling satellite TV channel;

• supplying competition prizes to a national newspaper website;

• economically effective deals to supply bulk copies to third party resellers.

So how did this translate to success?

In the first six months of publication, Turning The Tables sold 858 copies. As a conventionally published book, this would have been far from a success. By the standards of a niche-market POD book, it is reasonably successful.

Taking account of all costs involved, my net profits in the first six months were $3,855. It is, of course, possible a conventional publisher would have paid more as an advance. However, the book would have had to sell something in the region of 3,500 copies to have earned the same level of royalties through a conventional publishing deal, let alone earn out its advance. Whether wider availability through bookstores would have made such sales figures possible is open to debate.

To me, the real level of success will come if and when I have sold 1,200 copies. At this point my profits will be enough that I have effectively earned the same hourly rate writing the book as I made at my previous full-time job. To make the same money doing something you love and working under your own control is arguably the ultimate success for a writer.

This article is not intended to be an unqualified endorsement of POD publishing. For many (and perhaps most) writers, it is not a viable way of achieving their goals. But if you are realistic about your targets, and you meet the 8 requirements I have listed, success through POD is not impossible.

John Lister (www.johnlisterwriting.com) is a freelance writer from Manchester, England, specialising in two subjects: clear communications and the professional wrestling industry. He previously ran Plain English Campaign’s press office for six years. He is the author of two books, Slamthology and Turning The Tables: The Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling.