The 'Nuts and Bolts' of POD
Maybe you know what you want to write. You may even know how to write it, or at least know how you want to write what you want to write. But getting into print is another matter—not just because it involves finding a place to get your book published, but learning to use whatever system that publishing firm offers.
This article is based on my own experience of publishing four books (two of them large, over 450 pages and 190,000 words each) and guiding them into print and getting them ‘out there’ in the digital world as e-books.
Now, I’m not the only person to have done this, of course, and I’m far less technically qualified to comment on the mechanics of the POD process than many others, but I do think it helps to hear from the “average joe” sometimes and learn what’s worked for that writer . . . and what hasn’t.
So here are my thoughts on the ‘nuts and bolts’ aspects of self-publishing, now that I’ve been down that road a few times. I hope you, the reader, find helpful what I have to say.
First, research the field of self-publishing. One of the very best resources I came across is The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier (F+W Media, Inc., 2010). It’s a large paperback book that costs about $16, but is worth its ‘weight in gold’ as they say. [After I devoured it’s contents for a year, I donated the book to a public library and took the gift as a tax deduction.] Ross and Collier deal with every aspect of self-publishing—from designing your own cover to buying your own ISBN numbers, to various companies and approaches, to outsourcing almost everything.
After I’d read and re-read that book and taken copious notes on it, I set out to research a dozen or so companies that are in the business of helping authors get their work into print. I also exchanged phone calls and e-mails with friends of mine who’ve done a half-dozen books with several different POD outfits in order to learn from their experiences, good and bad.
Then I interviewed two local authors who live in our same area, each of whom has one book in print with different publishing sources producing them. The first person is proud of his product and hawks it at every opportunity, but when I asked him about the mechanics of getting it into print he said, “I just paid them to do it all. I’m not much into computers and all that stuff.” The other author wrote a very different kind of book, using one of the largest and oldest POD outfits around. He said the process was agonizing, but that eventually they asked permission to professionally redesign his book and put it out on their preferred list. He “paid a lot” to get his book in print and then purchased a marketing service for another $500. That got him dozens of radio interviews, a bunch of flyers, and a 2-line entry in a national book listing, along with hundreds of other titles, all of which “produced absolutely no sales.”
With all this in mind, I spent the first two months of 2013 in a dither, vacillating between ‘I don’t want to do this,’ and ‘I ought to take the plunge.’ I also used that time to make phone calls again to several leading POD companies and ask lots of questions. As a result, I put up with frequent follow-up e-mails from them and pushy phone calls from a representative of one company who assured me they could guarantee me sales and a discount, provided I sign up within the next ten days. Each new call offered me a different deadline and another discount, and each time I hung up I was more convinced than ever not to put my books into print . . . at least not with that firm.
At long last my wife stepped in with a suggestion: why not take a chance on the company that felt most comfortable and start with my smallest book? So I made one more phone call and spoke with a nice person who asked some basic questions about my book and inquired as to my interest in getting it published. Afterward he said, “Listen. I’m going to suggest that you talk with __________ in our sales department. He’ll explain our packages and costs.” Well, I thought, ‘here we go again, high pressure sales job,’ but I agreed to at least talk. “Fine,” the person who took my call said. “Now, ______ works only by appointment, but he has time tomorrow morning. When would you like him to call you, at 9 a.m. or 9:30?” I chose 9:30 and hung up.
At precisely 9:29 the next morning my cell phone rang and the promised sales rep began our conversation by listening to me as I recapped my interest in writing and shared the basics about my small book. When finished I said, “I’ve reviewed the various packages your company offers, and I have a few questions about the basic level.” [It had the lowest price, around $300; the advanced packages cost a lot more.]
There was silence at the other end of the line for a few seconds, and then this nice man said, “Well, actually, that basic package isn’t really available any more. I don’t know why we even list it now on our web site. It should be taken off.” Then he continued: “Here’s what I’d suggest instead. It sounds to me as if you’re fairly computer literate and have already done solid editing on your book, so I’d suggest you use our . . .” and then he described an on-line function that would handle the interior pages of my book and another user-friendly tool for producing the cover.
When he was through, I asked him the obvious question: “How much would this cost me?”
“Nothing,” came the reply.
I was stunned. When I repeated his answer, he said, “That's right. Why would you want to pay for something when you can do it for free?” I was sold right there. Four books later and I’m still thrilled with my decision to work with that company. They only make money when books sell.
Now, I’m tempted to tell you which POD publishing outfit I chose, but I don’t want to suggest that their service will work as well for everyone and I don’t want to risk being sued for libel by all the other firms I decided not to use. So let’s just take this space to say my decision was creative, and leave it at that.
With this as prologue, let’s get to the details of getting a book into print. Here are five distinct observations that may make your publishing ‘trek’ a little easier.
#1 – Research lots of companies, and ask lots of questions. I’m the kind of person who wants to memorize the instruction manual (if one even comes with new equipment any more) before I unpack the latest gadget. But I’ve learned over time to admit I don’t know things and ask others who do. As you can tell from this and from my comments in the first half of this article, questions are very important.
#2 – Whatever company you choose, use their templates set to the appropriate ‘trim size.’ I’ve written all my books using Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac and then copied those files and pasted them into the proper basic template. Afterward, you need to re-format each paragraph and page until everything looks exactly the way you want it. If you just use a blank document set to the correct page size, however, and try to upload it when you’re finished, it won’t work well. A PDF copy works best as an upload.
The use of templates is also important for a book’s cover. The company I use offers 30 different cover templates and each cover choice includes 5 distinct possible font styles. There’s also a color chart with 60 options that work for both text and background, so their preset designs offer lots of flexibility—much more so than you might expect, certainly more than I imagined when I set out to get my first book printed.
#3 – Follow directions exactly, and have fun! I love seeing one of my books as a digital proof, and love even more holding a hard copy proof in my hand. Always order a print version, by the way, in order to be sure your photos and color choices on the covers print well, and review the entire work carefully for even the smallest of mistakes. I found only one error in my first print proof, halfway through it on page 55. Fixing that small error meant taking out a single word, uploading a new interior file and waiting 24 hours to have it processed, but later--when people bought Room 219 I knew it would be perfect . . . even though others might not have noticed the earlier goof if I’d let it go. Still later, despite literally hundreds of read-throughs proofing Apple of Gold, Settings of Silver (my fourth and newest novel), I came across five misspelled words (out of 192,000!). Once again, that meant uploading a corrected version, but it was worth it. Beleive me, the end product is worth all the tedium and detailed work that goes on beforehand.
The most fun I’ve had, however, comes in designing book covers. It’s magic, seeing the background color change or seeing my chosen photo on various cover styles. All I need to do is select a different version of the cover or click on a new square in the color chart, hit the button to process the change and . . . voila! There it is. And if I don’t like it, I just click to go back to the original formal. By the way, literally millions of photos are available for purchase on the internet from companies like Fotolia and Dreamstime (another tip I picked up from the book on self-publishing mentioned earlier).
#4 - When in doubt, call or e-mail the company with your problem. In my case, I either e-mail a question and have it answered within 24 hours, or click on the tab that says “call me” and chose whether I want a phone call ‘now’ or ‘within 5 minutes.’ If I say ‘now,’ my cell phone rings an instant later . . . and I do mean right away. It’s a computer-generated voice on the other end, but I’ve never waited more than a minute more to talk with a person—and if they can’t help me, they transfer me immediately to someone who can. (The system’s never failed me yet!)
#5 – Pay for wider distribution and e-book conversions, unless you’re a real geek and know all about formatting and “curly” quotes and page breaks, and when to use the tab key and when not to. (A hint I picked up from someone else: set your tab at .3 instead of the preset of .5 to save print space in longer works). I pay $25 to have my books listed by all the major on-line sellers and another $79 to have an e-book version up and running. Both services are well worth the price. (I know, after three miserable tries at formatting my first work as an e-book!)
#6 – Make use of all the free, helpful articles on publishing and formatting POD publishers list on their website. Some of those articles are invaluable. Less valuable (to me) are blog-type answers to FAQ’s; sometimes people who write responses to questions know what they’re talking about, sometimes not.
There you have it, six tips and a lot of descriptive narrative concerning my journey into self-publishing. A large number of other articles are out there, either as hubs or elsewhere on the internet, so don’t stop with this one article. Do your homework, and then get back to writing. Someday your work can be in print!