POD Publishing Standards & Recent Blog Comments

Some recent comments left on my blog over the past few weeks have prompted me to write this particular posting. It has made me examine more closely the reasons I set up the blogsite.

Let me begin by saying that I started this blog because I wanted to chronicle my own experience of having my next novel published through the medium of POD publishing. Naturally, I set out to research the whole area using reference books, libraries, internet writer forums and trade magazines. I last published eight years ago, having become disillusioned with the traditional publishing paths. There are other postings to this blog which look at my views on traditional publishing more closely. Like many people who marry and raise a family, I found day-to-day family life did not leave much time for writing, let alone the intensity and rigours of self-publishing, the energy and effort, the commitment, the phone calls to printers, retailers, planning marketing strategies etc. For a time, I even stopped writing altogether. However, time and circumstance change, very young kids grow older, and suddenly, they become young people with their own independence, thoughts and opinions. They step back more from their parents and try to glide across the icy pond of life. You watch them closely on the thin ice of life, meaning all the time to let them know you are still watching over them, but as Beckett would say, they are ‘upon their way.’ Some might feel that putting your written work forward to POD publishers, large and small, and so many have emerged over the past few years, is also like cautiously gliding on that icy pond. You constantly ask yourself – ‘Am I too heavy, or is the ice just too thin.’ And so, about four years ago, I returned passionately to writing. I had a renewed hope in my heart and the writing came a lot easier. It seemed more accessible, less dark, more precise and tangible. My writing took on a spiritual belief and I sensed I was no longer alone. I felt guided and no longer artistically adrift. Like my kids, I am also still growing older and starting to know who I am. For this, I am gracious and thankful to whatever divine purpose has taken me on this path.

I am not so far off finishing my novel ‘Trees’. It’s about a boy growing into adulthood on the island of Cyprus. It is about a young boy’s challenges and his journey on the road to Damascus. If I’m honest, I should be writing more of it instead of this blog posting!

And so, last October, I began my research on POD publishing. First, I visited every site I could possibly find on POD, from sheer Vanity publishers like Dorrance and Vantage, to a multitude of subsidy publishers and even traditional publishers who had set up a sister subsidy wing, as an example of this: Discovered/Undiscovered Authors. I critiqued and recorded all the information I could find. Let me also add, I read a number of books on self-publishing, including those by Mark Levine and Dan Poynter among others. I also found various writing forums which were immensely informative. My approach with the forums, if possible, was to observe as a guest for a period of time, and then register at a later date. Several on yahoo, I could not be bothered with. They are either too little frequented or full of spammers. One of the better forums is called Christianwriters. It is on my favoured links. I do regularly visit this forum but have never posted to it. That’s not because it is not an excellent forum, but if I’m honest, I simply do not think it digs deeply enough into the publishing business, rather it discusses the same issues, and yet, even then, barely scratches the surface. The two forums I think best suited to an author considering POD publishing are Absolutewrite and Books&Tales.

We have reached the core of what this post is about. You’ll forgive me if I have taken some time to place some context on things. Perhaps, viewers of this blog might have more of an understanding of where I am coming from. This blog was set up, as I said earlier, to chronicle my own experience in the POD publishing world as well as touching on some other areas which interest me. However, like my kids, my writing takes on a life of its own, and dictates the path ahead. As I am still completing my novel at the moment, some of the postings on this site have also reflected my research on POD publishers, the developing links I have seen with the music industry, and also the experiences of writers commenting on this blogsite. I’ll go wherever this blogsite chooses to take me.

Anyone who has viewed POD/Publishing forums on the internet over the past year cannot be unaware of the on-going dispute between a number of authors (17 as of now are believed to have registered legal action in the British courts) against Diggory Press in the uk. I have not seen evidence of this suit, though I have no reason to doubt this action. If there is any author considering POD/Publishing who is not aware of the above, or at the very least, the existence of the above forum thread exchanges between the parties involved, then, I would strongly suggest that these perspective authors have not done some basic research and should seriously consider whether they know enough about this form of publishing. POD publishing is not for the faint hearted. Even now, I am still staggered by the lack of knowledge by writers posting in forums on the subject.

I happen to believe that the issues raised by this dispute go to the very fundamentals of POD publishing and probably as much into any service we purchase as a consumer. One of the claimants in the above action is Stephen Manning of Checkpoint Press. Stephen has posted elsewhere in comments on this blog, including relevant links and case detail, as well as other input from viewers who have defended Diggory Press. There has been much posting and discussing about this matter on the internet and as of recently, PrivatEye magazine in the UK has also covered the action. (I have verified the article of 25.1.08 issue 1202 and have a purchased copy in my possession). I do not wish to launch a debate into the this dispute, as the comments and links elsewhere and in the listed forums cover this, as well as the matter now residing with Her Majesty’s Courts. However, I would like to deal more generally with the issues concerned and make some observations.

The following, in light of the above, is also valid for many of the POD publishers I have researched.

1. Communication
It seems that communication between POD publishers is predominantly defined by email as the primary link between author and publisher. There are a few who use telephone once a ‘bond of interest’ has been established between parties. I applaud those POD publishers. So much can be addressed more easily from one human to another. While I can understand traditional publishers using both the medium of author agents and email as the primary source of communication due to submission volumes, I cannot comprehend the practice with POD publishers. We authors are paying you publishers for a service! If my pipes at home start leaking, would I put up with my local plumber only doing email! Good, clear, concise and mannerly communication is the core of any service industry.

2. Distribution
Never have I seen the above term used in such a wishy-washy, downright deceptive and deliberately misleading way as some POD publishers. No POD book exists anywhere in the world until the first order is placed for it and the request is sent to Lightning Source, or whoever, and they dispatch the book directly to where it is meant to be going. “Available” doesn’t mean “in stock” or “I exist” on amazon or even on your POD publisher’s bookstore website. It means the printer’s got the files – we’ll get ye that book…eventually! If Confucious ran a POD publisher’s, we’d all be saying, “I’m available – therefore I’m a book!”

3. PDF Files

In POD publishing, an author pays for a service, anything which physically results from the service, the book, the book layout and cover files should, by right, belong to the author who pays for the service. In theory, a POD publisher should only be left with their copy of the publishing contract when the service has been executed. I applaud the few POD publishers who happily hand over all print files when the author/publisher terminates, or the contract reaches its period of cover.

4. Contracts
Both parties who sign a contract should be fully aware that a signed contract is a legally binding document. Both parties must fulfil their agreed assignments outlined to the best of their abilities and most importantly be aware what is, and, what is not expected. Any shortfall should be either re-negotiated or the lesser party be recompensed.

5. Marketing

The POD publisher’s philosophy dictates that the author not only knows best how to sell himself and his book, but, more often, the publisher has neither the understanding nor the where-with-all to actually carry out the task of marketing both author and book. If you went down to Quickprint and got your latest college thesis copied a few times, would you then ask the guy at the photocopier to sell your thesis to your college professor for your next PHD exam submission? I applaud the POD publisher’s who develop a relationship with their authors to the point where they understand them enough to actually even attempt to aid and help them market their own book. And, believe it or not, there are a few!

6. POD Publisher’s Websites
This is still another area that astonishes me. This is the POD publisher’s open doorway. This should be about the candle in the window, the lick of fresh paint every few years, a few books here or there. Yet, it’s sometimes the area of a POD publisher’s business which is the weakest. I have seen it all, bad links, gaudy colours, grammatical mistakes on their welcome page! Not a friggin’ book in sight! No updates on the site for months on end, doesn’t anything change in your world? What the hell are you guys trying to say to any perspective authors? I have to put my hand up here. This is the weakest point for my own publishers. It’s no wonder the traditional publishing world turns their noses up at all of you. Go have a look at Random House, Faber & Faber, Collins-Harville, Bloomsbury, Penguin…You may at least learn how to present a professional image!

The publishing world is a business and in all areas of business, there has to be a basic professionalism, a standard, and fair play for all, publisher as well as author. While an author might expect much of a publisher, the author must always be informed and not fall upon the sword of ignorance or naivety. Any publisher shown in anything but a fair and descent light is not good for them or the publishing business as a whole. We all have a right of reply, to be shown in a fair light, criticism accepted, but with balance. In being a business or offering a service, we also have a duty and obligation to strive for the highest standard we can in whatever field we choose to ply our service or trade.

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