Anyone can be a publisher these days, they really can. If you have a tad of computer skills and can read a primer on preparing a manuscript for upload to an online “printer,” then you too can be a small press owner. Isn’t technology wonderful?
Well, sometimes. But like everything else, with ease of use often comes abuse. And with the proliferation of cheap opportunities often comes the proliferation of cheap byproducts.
First, the terms.
The POD I’m referring to stands for Print On Demand and is a very different animal than Publish On Demand (unfortunately, also called POD). The latter is a fancy way of saying “vanity” or “subsidy” publishing/press where the author pays for the end product: basically a pay-to-publish-your-book scenario.
With the former, the printing process is the issue, not the publishing process – that is, the system of digitally printing a book as it is ordered by a customer instead of using “short run” orders from offset printers of anywhere from 500 or more copies of a book which are then warehoused until a middle-man distributor tries to sell the books to bookstore chains and local bookstores, etc. Those which are returned or unused are often destroyed, i.e., burned.
With Print On Demand, most sales happen online, on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, on the author’s or publisher’s websites, etc.
Second, the POD small presses. With the technology available to us today, anyone with a few bucks to spend on the upload fees (if there are any) can grab an LLC (or not), come up with a decent-sounding name, and call themselves a “small press.” For those who use places like CreateSpace, the popular spot for many self-pubbers, no fee is required at all. Even the ISBN and book cover are free. You can be in business in a matter of a few hours.
This is a far cry away from the days of the small press dependent on both short runs printed on offset printing machines and good sales numbers. This process required an investment of money to pay for those books, usually 500-1000 or more, then the warehousing fee and a distributor to take them around to bookstores. Today, one can become a small press owner for simply buying a block of ISBN’s, and at times, registering their “business” with the state: a rather meager investment. Their books can sell 10 copies each and they lose nothing.
Is this a bad or wrong scenario? Not necessarily. Port Yonder Press started out exactly this way, though we also incurred the expense of incorporation, an attorney to monitor our contracts, and other continuing expenses including advertising fees, award contest submissions, royalties, a few paid (among many unpaid) consultants, etc.
Technology continues to develop and the proliferation of small presses and self-publishers continues to blossom.
My advice? Read at least a book or two from a little-known small press, or an upstart small press, and see if you like what they do. Ask yourself:
Is this press Print on Demand or Publish on Demand?
Has the editing been thorough?
Is the story engaging?
Is the formatting attractive?
Do they submit their books to contests for their authors?
Have their books won substantial awards?
Are their book covers professional-looking?
Are their authors well-known?
Have their authors been published elsewhere?
Is this primarily a small press set up to publish the owner’s own works or those of a small circle of friends?
Do they have industry-wide recognition or endorsements?
I love the small press scene and all it stands for. With the thousands of small presses out there today, do be wise in your choices.
I’m curious. What experience have you had with small presses?