Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You down with POD?

As the de facto literary critic of The News-Herald, I receive a lot of self-published and print-on-demand books from local authors. I never crack the cover on most of them.

At the best of times, I can review maybe three or four books a month. When life gets busier, that number drops to zero. Consequently, I’m picky about what books I review. If I have two books — one from an author that has already survived the rigorous query/agent/publisher gauntlet, and the second from an unknown who sent their text to iUniverse or PublishAmerica — I’ll always pick the former.

Anyone — I repeat, anyone — can get published by these POD companies. There is no guaranteed quality control. I’ve received POD books with typos that could make a sixth-grade English teacher cry. I’m not saying everything sent by a major publisher is automatically better than any self-published text, but books from publishers have already been endorsed by someone besides the author.

I’m pretty sure 98 percent of the literate population has wanted to write a book at some point. POD publishers allow anyone to fulfill this dream, for the right price.

My biggest concern with POD publishers is not the lack of quality control. If people want to hold a copy of their dream, I see no problem with that, as long as they don’t expect me to review it for The News-Herald.

I think POD publishers are parasitic. They make their profit from authors, so they have no interest in selling their books. If a POD author makes a profit, and most of them do not, it is because of the tenacity and marketing savvy of the author.

Ideally, authors and publishers should work symbiotically. Both have something invested in the final product, so both promote it however they can.

Plenty of scams await the inexperienced author. Fake agents will try to bilk you for money. “Expert” editors may charge exorbitant fees to tighten text. Writers need to research anyone they work with and make certain their editors or agents are on the level.

And while I wouldn’t qualify POD publishers as a scam — they provide exactly what they promise, which is, your book at a price — I think they are diluting bookshelves and even hurting authors with potential. Writers need to suffer some rejection. The first thing Hemingway wrote was probably crap. Same with Chuck Palahniuk. Same with anyone. Writers improve by persistence and criticism.

If an author gets frustrated because nobody likes their manuscript, they may use a POD instead or rewriting or pursuing a new, better idea. PODs are easy, and easier rarely means better when it comes to art.

Once again, I am not saying there are no good POD books. But it is very difficult to discern them from the masses. First-time authors especially get lost in the morass. I understand why writers get frustrated and go the POD route. But it takes diligence to stand out from the pack.

Jason Lea,

P.S. I have written a story about PODs and self-publishing for this Sunday’s Progress section in The News-Herald, which precipitated this post. The two authors with whom I spoke, Deanna Adams and Ruth Fawcett, did a good job of laying out the strengths and weaknesses of self-publishing and print-on-demand publishers.

Adams — who has worked with major publishers but used a POD for her latest book, “Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl,” — said it better than I can:

I still plan on publishing with traditional publishers in the future. Credibility is still of upmost importance to serious authors, and there are still those in the media, as we spoke about, who frown on self-pub authors and in some cases, rightfully so! So until that world changes, I’ll still be using traditional publishers.

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Blogger Amanda D. said...

I've been holding on to this little gem in my inbox for a few months now:
I didn't have the heart to delete it. I find it always good for a laugh. Looks like the image for the cover is gone, but it's easy enough to find on Amazon. ~Mentor's Reader

February 25, 2009 at 8:11 PM 

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