Wading through the sea of Print-on-Demand titles, one overpriced paperback at a time--and giving you the buried treasure.
Friday, June 10, 2005
MORE on the most self-serving POD release of our time
But first . . . a bright note. Here is a little update on Nicole Hunter's award-winning (that's right, award-winning) novel, WAITING FOR THE WORLD TO END. Ms. Hunter pulled in the Silver Award for religious fiction at Foreword Magazine's Annual Book of the Year Awards. Winners were announced at BEA this past week. That, along with her IPPY nomination (and all the other good press), has generated quite a bit of attention.
And rightfully so.
So much in fact, that Ms. Hunter is now represented by one of the leading agents in New York (let's just say that BEA launched a big week for her.) Don't be surprised to hear or read about a book deal for her in Publisher's Lunch. She's on her way. Deservedly.
Now, where was I?
Oh, yeah . . . I know everyone is sick of hearing about PublishAmerica. Me, too. In fact, I had no real issue with them until this crazy take-advantage-of-your-authors marathon got underway.
A kind PA author sent me a copy of the "solicitation" sent by PA corporate to its stable of authors regarding the breakout smash, HOW TO UPSET A GOLIATH BOOK BIZ, and here it is. We'll pause so you can open some windows to increase ventilation.
You are changing an entire industry.
The last time we sent you an announcement was when our ranks had surpassed ten thousand authors. Today we can inform you that three thousand more authors have become your PublishAmerica peers. Each day, more than 130 new authors who have heard or read about your successes, want us to review their manuscripts. Because they saw what you have achieved, and they want it, too.
A force of almost 13,000 strong, you are changing an industry that was once dominated by an elite. What PublishAmerica's authors are accomplishing has never been seen in the history of publishing. To say that this has not gone unnoticed, is an understatement.
Therefore we proudly announce to you the upcoming release of How to Upset a Goliath Book Biz, subtitled PublishAmerica, the Inside Story of an Underdog with a Bite.
Written by PublishAmerica CEO Willem Meiners, with an introduction by company president Larry Clopper, the book
*gives you a unique behind-the-scenes look at PublishAmerica, *is illustrated with photos of our office and staff, *exposes the fading role of bookstores, *explains why PublishAmerica's success was inevitable and unstoppable, *shares numerous anecdotes about, and quotes from, PublishAmerica authors.
But there is more! To celebrate your successes, we are offering bookstores a special discount deal that we also extend to any individual who needs books on hand: This offer covers all of our titles except full-color picture books:
*between 25-50 books: 40 pct discount *between 51-100 books: 45 pct discount + a copy of How to Upset a Goliath Book Biz for free! *between 101-200 books: 50 pct discount + a copy of How to Upset a Goliath Book Biz for free! *201 or more books: 55 pct discount + a copy of How to Upset a Goliath Book Biz for free!
The offer expires June 10. Orders by phone only, at 301-695-1707.
Thank you, and have a great Summer! PublishAmerica, Author Support Team
Wow. What a great deal. Nothing like asking you to buy a $25 book/promo kit for the company, and hey, while you're at it, buy some of your own books so we can make more money!
Here's how PublishAmerica can make this right: Send a copy of this book to any PublishAmerica author who wants one--for free, including postage. Next, stop changing the costs for your authors to buy their own freaking product; get them as low as you can allow and leave them there (a hint--they should be lower than your "promo" prices above.) Lastly, take a lesson from Susan Driscoll and be honest with your future authors about what your company can and cannot (mostly cannot) do for them; do not pretend to be Random House anymore.
Oh, and uh, Mr. Meiners and Mr. Clopper: if you have a hard time selling your book, here is a great idea: make a list of 100 friends, acquaintances and family members you could market it to and submit the list to yourselves.
Who is Susan Driscoll? To quote: She has more than 20 years of publishing industry experience, including roles as Chief Operating Officer and President with publishers under the Holtzbrinck Publishers group, as well as executive roles with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., and Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
She is now the CEO of iUniverse.
Susan was gracious enough to answer my fairly pointed questions about the state of POD, a sort of industry-level encirclement to our Agent & Editor Q&A series. Like me, you will not only find her answers cogent and honest, but advisory.
Please note the text in this interview that has been bolded. Please read it twice, three times if you haven't yet had your coffee.
Without further adieu . . . Girl: You've got quite the publishing pedigree. You've played a serious role with everyone from Holt to HarperCollins. What made you decide to move to iUniverse? I mean, c'mon, was it the money? A deep-seated love for those Lincoln, Nebraska winters?
Susan: Publishing, like many cultural institutions, is slow to change. I, on the other hand, am the kind of person who revels in change. So, throughout my publishing career I’ve always gravitated to the new and the different. In the early 90’s I was very involved with CD-ROM development. Later, I became involved with e-books. Through those experiences, I came to the conclusion that print books are reliable, comfortable and in most cases, preferable—but that POD has the potential to profoundly change the industry. Plus, as a Director of Operations I spent quite a bit of time in my company’s returns warehouse. Seeing all those unsold books—in a special warehouse built for the singular purpose of dealing with them—I came to believe that there had to be a better way. Change agent that I am, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run iUniverse.
Girl: Most people know from my blog that I feel POD technology will save the publishing universe, specifically with the eventual elimination of returns. How will companies like iUniverse play a role?
Susan: Traditional publishers follow what I call a “Distribution, then Demand” model. Publishers do a great job of pushing books into the retail channel, and then try to ensure “sell through” through marketing and publicity. (The latter, by the way, is the biggest reason that a publisher looks for an author with a “platform”. The more customers that an author can bring to the party, the more attractive that author is to the publisher—and the less marketing and publicity the publisher will be required to do.) If the sell-through doesn’t occur (that is, if demand isn’t generated) then books are returned. Returns are a big problem for every publisher, large and small.
iUniverse published Amy Fisher’s memoir to test a “Demand First” publishing model. Amy was scheduled to appear on Oprah and all the big talk shows, so we knew there would be some demand, but we didn’t know how much. We did do advance distribution for that title but were very careful not to push too many copies into stores. Beginning with the Oprah appearance, we tracked sales every day to determine whether we had enough inventory or whether we needed to reprint. Because we were utilizing POD at that point, we could print just enough copies each day to fill new orders and didn’t have to make a big reprint decision. (We’d also made arrangements with offset printers just in case book sales had a big spike.)
Because offset reprints take several weeks, publishers have to guess how many copies to print and gamble that there will still be demand when the reprint actually ships. Actually, it’s that “curse of the final printing” that really plagues publishers; too often the book stops selling before the reprint is complete. We will have returns of Amy’s book, but through POD we avoided printing too many copies in anticipation of customer demand.
Publishing houses have highly efficient operations and procedures and aren’t likely to test new models. If companies like iUniverse can develop and test new distribution models that work then other houses may, over time, adopt them.
Girl: Help me understand this: why do books go out of print with the existence of POD? Is it that expensive to set-up a book via POD that it is not worthwhile to the traditional publisher?
Susan: With POD there is no reason that a book should go out of print, and many publishers are now using POD for their backlist or slower selling titles. However, switching from warehousing books to POD distribution requires changes to a publisher’s warehousing and inventory systems. Plus, printing a book POD is more expensive than offset printing, and publisher’s list prices are based on an offset model. Publishers who aren’t utilizing POD have likely decided that the return in book sales isn’t worth the required investment or the lower profit potential.
Girl: Not to harp, but seriously--how can you possibly stand the winters in Nebraska?
Susan: Are you kidding? I was raised in Michigan (think lake effect snow) and I spent many a winter in New York braving the wind-chill while walking to and from work. Now, think drive-through Starbucks on a below-zero winter morning and you’ll begin to understand the advantages of living in Nebraska.
Girl: The Star program, in my opinion, is one of the great ideas in the world of POD and, frankly, I'm surprised the other POD biggies have not tried to mimic the idea. Finding a way to cull through the massive list of titles for the best releases and promote them is a super idea. However--I have visited four B&N's in my area (Washington DC) and only one carries any Star titles; the other three had no idea what I was talking about. What's the deal?
Susan: Barnes & Noble (and all the big chains) have national buyers who receive and review the Star titles. Those buyers have sophisticated store data—a buyer knows exactly which stores and which regions of the country are likely to sell a certain type of book. So, when we published a Star title on the Boston Red Sox, that book was stocked in the Boston area and in stores around the country with strong “baseball book” sales. If the books are stocked in stores where there isn’t likely to be customer demand, the books will just sit on the shelves…and ultimately contribute to that pesky returns problem. The Star titles are stocked in bookstores where they’re likely to sell through.
I think it’s important to understand that just getting a book on a store shelf doesn’t mean that the book will sell. In the end, it’s all about generating customer demand for the title. The Star program is great because it shows that authors who work hard and who have quality books can achieve success outside the bookstore. And yes, we do invest to help the author take the book to the next level.
Girl: I think a lot of folks are motivated to use iUniverse because they feel they will see their books in Barnes & Noble (the same way some folks thought Random House would snatch up their book if they went through Xlibris.) Just how much interplay is there with B&N?
Susan: We have a great relationship with B&N. Steve Riggio is an active board member and Barnes & Noble recently decided to take a stocking position on every new iUniverse title (in the Distribution Center, not the stores—but having books in the Distribution Center makes it faster for stores to get the books and allows for 24 hour turnaround on bn.com.)
Here, though, are the sobering statistics that all authors need to understand: the average new B&N store stocks 100,000 titles. About 75% of those titles are backlist. That means that only 25,000 frontlist titles are stocked in the store at a given time. There were 170,000 new titles published in 2003 and 23,000 of those were published by the five largest companies. The big publishers have enormous distribution muscle (by “distribution” I mean the ability to push books into bookstores and to garner reviews.) One has to assume that the big publishers get their books stocked in stores, which means there are only 2,000 spots left for the other 150,000 titles published. If an author isn’t traditionally published then his/her title is not likely to get stocked nationally on bookstore shelves. Anyone who tells an author otherwise isn’t telling the truth.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that authors who are willing and able to market (to generate customer demand) are much more likely to be of interest to bookstore managers and to traditional publishers. That’s what the all-important “author platform” is all about. iUniverse gives authors a way to quickly and affordably publish a book so that the author can test market the book and can determine whether he/she likes doing the marketing. Those that succeed will get picked up by bookstores and perhaps by traditional publishers.
Girl: So, what’s an author to do?
Susan: First authors need to change their thinking a bit. Getting a book into bookstores doesn’t sell books for the author; rather, the author who shows he/she can sell books is much more likely to get into the bookstore. Second—and this is my greatest wish—authors can and should support each other. You’ve featured a number of really good books on your web site, but I wonder how many POD authors have actually gone out to purchase even one of those books. If 170,000 new authors each year start buying more books it could, over time, have a pretty significant effect on the industry.
Girl: Amy Fisher. We all know she could have landed a traditional book deal. Just the mention of getting on Oprah is enough to get a call straight through to Jonathan Karp or those goofballs at William Morris. So how did iUniverse end up publishing her? Do you see this as a possible trend, for established authors/icons to self-publish this way?
Susan: Amy wanted complete control over every publishing decision and no traditional publisher would have given her that. She and her co-author, Robbie Woliver, chose iUniverse because we have in-house publishing expertise. We were able to advise them all along the way but still give them ultimate control. Is this a trend? I’d be happy to publish other works by established authors but my guess is that most authors are happy with and well cared-for by their traditional publishers.
Girl: Do people ever call you Suzie Q around the office? That seems like a Lincoln, Nebraska kind of thing to do.
Susan: My theory is that people get nicer as one moves from the coasts to the center of the country. Lincoln, Nebraska is literally right in the center and there just can’t be a nicer group of people. And because they’re so nice, they wouldn’t dream of calling me Suzie Q. Girl: How many people does it take to keep iUniverse running? Do the folks that work there ever bring a book to you and say, "hey, I just read/edited/pdf'd this book and it really is outstanding"?
Susan: We have a staff of about 85 people. We do employ freelancers (from traditional publishing) for our editorial services and we have a pretty impressive technology infrastructure that allows us to produce and publish books so quickly. And yes—we really love books and authors. My associates often come to me to tell me about a book or an author, and I watch weekly sales reports and often order and read the books that are selling. After all, we’re a publisher, not just a POD printer.
Girl: Is there ever a case where you would not publish a book?
Susan: Yes. We have a content review board and don’t publish books with content that violates ethical standards.
Girl: Here is the $64,000 question: Since authors can break out and sell their POD title(s) to New York, how do you guys make any prolonged money since your bestsellers all leave? Susan: There are six million manuscripts written every year. The more books we place with traditional publishers, the more attractive we’ll be as an alternative for those six million authors. So, we make money from the bestsellers before they move on, and we’ll continue to make money by attracting more quality authors who want to use iUniverse services as a stepping-stone to traditional publishing.
Girl: Speaking of . . . what is considered a bestseller at iUniverse? How many copies have your top five titles sold?
Susan: Our best selling titles sell between 10,000-20,000 copies. Any book that sells at that level is very, very attractive to a traditional publisher and those authors almost always land bigger, better deals.
Girl: The biggest complaint that I hear about POD is, surprisingly, not the cost of getting a book published, but rather the price at which the book must sell. Is there any hope for bringing the prices back in line with traditional publishing?
Susan: The book prices are a reflection of the print technology. Printing a book one copy at a time costs significantly more than printing 2000 copies at a time, and big books (over 400 pages) can be quite expensive. The print technology is constantly evolving and I’m a sure book prices will decrease over time. However, POD will never be as cost-effective as offset printing. The technology is great for “early market” publishing (building a platform); for “late market” publishing (back in print) and for niche market publishing.
Girl: What's next for iUniverse? How are you guys going to take over the POD world?
Susan: We know more about publishing in all its different forms than any other company. Our goal is to help authors understand the publishing landscape so that they can make intelligent choices. I hope that authors will come to iUniverse because they can trust the information and education we provide. Once they find us, we’re committed to providing realistic advice and high-quality, affordable services that mirror the services offered by traditional publishers. And, every author has a chance to reach Star status-we offer a fully democratic approach to publishing success.
We hope to take over the POD world one happy, successful author at a time.
Thanks, Susan--first for this generous interview, and second for delivering some great texts to the world, including many listed on this blog.
Of course, readers, you can find more information on iUniverse and research the company for yourself. And stay tuned as always for more treasure and further insight into this changing, frustrating industry of book publishing.
I called my POD sisters and when I told them about this book, we became hysterical. Some of our favorite highlights:
"The book offers a unique behind-the-scenes look at PublishAmerica" to which we respond: Well, Simon & Schuster sure ain't gonna offer it!
"It is illustrated with photos of our office and staff" to which we respond: Wait, you mean actual photos of the PublishAmerica brain trust? That's reason alone to buy it.
"It shares numerous anecdotes about, and quotes from, many PublishAmerica authors" to which we respond: Wait, does that include Carl Hiaasen?
"PublishAmerica leveled the playing field for book writers almost overnight" to which we respond: No you didn't--you took the original 100 yards and added a couple thousand miles. Thanks for nothing.
"It describes how the book publishing business will never be the same" to which we respond: Of course it won't--you've screwed it up enough already. Please stop. "How much of a help is a bookstore anyway these days?" to which we answer: Tons. We have bought (collectively) 17 titles in the last three months that were hand-sold to us by respected and knowledgeable folks at varying bookstores. I can't begin to enumerate how many fantastic books I've read that would never had made it into my living room were it not for the "help of a [salesperson from a] bookstore."
"Book front covers get [a shopper's] attention for eight seconds" to which we respond: True, except PublishAmerica book covers have raised the bar with a record-breaking 0.25 seconds. How obvious it is you guys feel this way. We here at POD-dy Mouth imagine you take 0.25 seconds designing the covers, too.
And greatest of all . . . "Authors who have always been refused and denied the opportunity to see their book in print unless they paid for it now have an equal opportunity to be in the exact same league as the elite, and they will, by their sheer number, bring an end to the elite's existence" to which we respond: *short of breath from laughter* Uh, not a chance. Diluting the market only further hurts POD authors. The elite will always be the elite, and if there is any value to POD (other than backlist functionality) it is to help an author gain sales in an effort to joining the elite. To that we say: you want to get published for free? Then do it right with Lulu or CafePress.
But how cool is it that the book has an introduction from Larry Clopper. Who is Larry Clopper? Why, he is the PublishAmerica Company President! That must have been a tough foreword to get.
I can't believe that Random House didn't scoop this book up for six figures. Everyone has been waiting for the inside PublishAmerica story. It is sure to be a bestseller!
Actually, if they can get their 12,000 authors to buy one copy each . . .
I was never sure of the angst most folks have for PublishAmerica, though I am starting to get the gist. They want people to buy a book for $25 (on sale for $9.95!) that is nothing more than a sales brochure for the company.
On days like today I have to admit: maybe POD should just die a painful death; it might be doing more harm than good.
Okay, so I'm a day late (or a week) and a dollar short on blogging this wonderful war story on or about Memorial Day. Lately, I'm lucky if remember to shower.
That said, I'll assume you are still in holiday-mode and looking for a good military read.
Imagine it is December 1, 1969 (the day the first military draft took place since back in World War II) and you wait silently/patiently for the delivery of birthdates determining who will and will not be sent overseas to fight for their country. This is the start of Gerald Strand's RED CADUCEUS. (Personal note: I almost discarded this book for fear it was science fiction; foolish me: I never knew the name for that winged staff with the two serpents twined around it, the symbol for the medical profession. I should get out more.)
CADUCEUS takes the reader into a painful/brave journey into Southeast Asia and is dispensed via the split between two friends from that fateful December night. It is an excellent, thought-provoking novel that touches on the inner battles of courage and conviction as well as carefully dealing with the usual drama: the rights and wrongs of war.
This little gem was passed on to me from one of my POD sisters and I admit I was pleasantly surprised. I am fickle when it comes to military fiction; the tendency is to become preachy or bloody, neither of which encourages me to turn pages. Though it may be done here to some extent, it is carefully placed and the book is well-worth the time.
I am an author and instructor, in that order (for now.) My debut novel (which debuted in the midlist) was released by Penguin Putnam in 2004 and my second novel was released early 2006.
As for this blog, it has been profiled in many online magazines, blogs and news stories, including the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, the LA Times and Publishers Lunch.
To answer the deluge of questions I have been receiving from publicists: I'll review pretty much anything that is good--but it better be good, or I'll never look at another one of your books again. Then I'll hunt you down. Fiction preferred (no fantasy or young adult, go easy on the science fiction.) Non-fiction should be memoir, humor, self-help. Definite no-nos: cookbooks, textbooks, porn, books without verbs. And it must be POD (no small presses.) Otherwise, email with pitch first.