The State of Print on Demand Publishing
Patrick Swenson
Muffy Morrigan
M. Todd Gallowglass
Duane Wilkins
  • Even traditional publishers going to print on demand
  • The Oxford Dictionary is going to POD
  • POD: books never go out of print, so your backlist generate value.
  • You have the ability to quickly fix errors that are found.
  • Two major groups: Lightning Source (Ingrim) vs Createspace (Amazon)
  • They differ in whether they charge for changes. It costs you to make changes for Lightning Source.
  • ISBNs
    • If you take a POD-house ISBN, the publisher shows up as Createspace.
    • If you do your own ISBN, you can be the publisher.
    • Each edition needs its own ISBN: e.g. mass market paperback vs. trade paperback.
  • Pagecount and trim size affect cost of book
  • deviant art: 
    • hundreds of artists
    • easy way to find independent artists for doing cover art.
    • (make sure you have permission for any models/buildings/etc that are visible.)
  • iStockPhoto
    • reasons photos and art, royalty free
    • if you find an artist you like there, go to their website, because they may have other work not on iStockPhoto.
  • Be aware there are commercial and private fonts: you need to make sure you have the correct rights for commercial use.
  • Some cover artists do the entire cover including titles, etc, some only do the art.
  • Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal. Need 3-4 month lead time for ARCs to get reviews.
  • Your cover art should look good even icon sized: because most people are shopping online. 
  • Some small presses will still allow you to keep your e-book rights. If so, it’s a great deal, because you can sell a kindle book and keep 70%. 
  • Q: 
    • I’m self-publishing, trade paperback, and I want to keep the price under $10. So I have a pretty slim POD margin, less than my kindle version. And it’s worse even it it’s sold through a bookstore other than Amazon: then I get about 5 cents.
    • Any tips on how to get the cost down, or conversely, is there a cross-over point at which it makes sense to do a limited print run to get the cost down?

I was lucky enough to see Melissa Hart speak at Willamette Writers‘s monthly meeting. Here are my notes from the meeting. (Melissa’s a fast speaker, so my notes are spotty, but still worthwhile.) I felt like I learned a ton of useful information even though I currently write fiction.

Melissa Hart
Writing Memoirs
  • “I got started at age 16 writing bad cat poetry. Would you like to hear some?”
  • The Assault of Laughter
  • Gringa
    • In 1979, my mother came out as a lesbian, and (as was common at the time) lost custody of her children as a result.
  • Short memoir in magazines: love this genre.
  • Contrary to what lots of people are saying, memoir is not dying: People want to read about other people’s lives. 
  • Ariel Gore: “A memoir is to journalistic autobiography as a movie based on real-life events is to a documentary”.
  • Memoir has narrative arc: rising action, climax, falling actions.
  • Form: Essay, social or political commentary, slice of life vignettes (look up Orion magazine Brian Doyle: amazing page long memoir that will knock your socks off).
  • It must teach us something. Offer the reader a gift. Examples:
    • 21st century foraging: giving us adventure tales of learning to eat what is outside our house.
    • another way the river has: the gift of traveling down the columbia river in a handmade boat.
    • growing up rich
    • growing up in poverty
    • relationship to candy
  • “90% of the submissions he receives are too personal. it’s too bad your grandmother died, but what are you going to tell the thousands of readers who grandmother’s die every day?” you need to teach the reader something.
  • you must tell readers how to think about a given subject. 
  • a.j. jacobs: immersion journalism. 
    • “my year of living bibically.”
      • his year of living literally as close as possible to the bible
  • natalie goldberg: wrote: old friend from far away.
    • memoir doesn’t have to be a “one time” thing. you can write about your relationship to coffee, or to the men in your life.
  • you don’t have to be old to write a memoir. you have what you need by the time you’re 12.
  • example:
    • candy freak
    • one man’s owl: biologist writes about an owl he adopted that 
  • exercises to do:
    • what’s one thing that makes you unique: (my teen years were something like Lindsay Weir: a mix of math team and stoners.)
    • what’s one thing about which you are passionate about: (freedom to pursue my dreams.) 
  • a glut of memoir right now about: cancer, alzhemiers, moms dying.
  • surprise is what grabs an editor. fill your writing with surprise, whether it is long, short, or just the query letter. 
  • memoir must start in the midst of conflict. you can always flashback. or you can ignore the past.
    • first page, first paragraph, first sentence
  • setting: you must tell us about the session, the tree that fell on the roof, the dust on the wall.
  • the cure for depression: immerse yourself in the sensory details of the present moment: what do I see, what do I smell, what do I feel, what do I hear?
  • this must be in your writing. 
    • make a table with five columns, one for each sense, and one row for each chapter.
    • make sure that each chapter engages every sense of the reader.
  • fun, fun, fun: you must have characters and dialogue.
    • don’t make people up.
    • but you create the people: your mom, your dog, your friend.
    • what are these people like? what is their body language like? what is their way of speaking? what do they do when they get nervous? how do they dress? (this stuff all engages the reader, and it’s fun.)
    • “what my hair style means to me.”
  • dialogue
    • no one wants to read 300 pages of narration.
    • but you can’t remember what your uncle said 40 years ago before he went to vietnam.
    • you have to have dialogue.
    • the dialogue has to be true to the person, as much as possible.
    • dialogue reveals character. and it’s important for moments of revelation.
  • surprise
    • do the following exercise: what’s one surprising thing about your life: (I blew up a car.)
  • give us scenes / anecdotes.
    • give us scenes with character, dialogues, and setting.
    • but it can’t just be scene after scene: then you might as well write fiction.
    • the reflection is what makes it a memoir.
    • and we need theme
      • the theme is usually:
        • my family is crazy and i survived
        • my dog is crazy and i survived
        • sickness is crazy and i survived
      • the theme must be throughout the work
  • simile and metaphor is OK
  • but hyperbole: a little is OK if you are writing humor.
  • there should be narrative arc on every page, in every chapter, and for the book as a whole.
  • writing process
    • free writing
    • shitty first draft (annie lamott)
    • make yourself uncomfortable: wear a too tight dress, and write until your piece is done, being desperate to take it off.
  • after you’ve finished your rough draft, ask yourself:
    • what’s at stake for my narrator and other characters?
    • where is the victim in my work and how can i delete?
      • (no one wants to read about victims. we want to read about empowered people.)
  • how do you get published?
    • for short length: look for submission guidelines. read them. they are what the publisher likes. and exactly how they want you to submit (hardcopy, electronic, etc.)
    • for book length: pitch at writing conference. it could be portland, or you could go anywhere in the world.
    • most editors and agents want to see the full manuscript.
    • look for interview on website about self-publishing
  • questions
    • what are the legal ramifications about writing about living people?
      • they should not be able to be identified. change names, regional information, etc.
      • volunteered from audience “give the character a small penis” – they’ll never own up to it.
    • but won’t your parents be identified?
      • your parents will certainly know. but you don’t want to hate on them, even if estranged. i legally changed my last name so that my father couldn’t be identified.
    • but what about vernacular?
      • use a particular syntax up front a few times to establish them, and then let it go.
      • a choice word here and there.
      • a few sentences up front, and then let it go. otherwise you exhaust readers.

Wow, I went camping for five days. In that time:

1) Avogadro Corp won the Gold award for Science Fiction Book of the Year from Foreword Reviews.

2) My article on How To Predict the Future went live and was syndicated across dozens of sites and tweeted about almost two hundred times.

3) Brad Feld wrote a review of A.I. Apocalypse, saying “Suarez and Hertling are geniuses at what I call “near-term science fiction” and required reading for any entrepreneur or innovator around computers, software, or Internet. And everyone else, if you want to have a sense of what the future with our machines is going to be like.” 

It was fun to watch all the hubbub at the far end of a very thin data connection through a smartphone. I should go camping more often!

(Massive shout out to Brad Feld and the fine folks at Foreword Reviews.)

A great article by Dean Wesley Smith on The Secret Myth of Traditional Publishing.

An excerpt from his section on the “well known myths”:

– Traditionally published books get better promotion. Well, not really, unless your advance is way, way above six figures, and even then you are going to be doing a ton of it yourself. These days a midlist book out of a traditional publisher gets NO promotion. You do it either way.

– You get more respect if you sell your book to a traditional publisher.  Well, maybe in your own head, but real readers never care if Bantam or Bongo Books published the book they love. If it looks professional and is clean and easy to read, they will never notice the publisher. This one is only a concern to insecure writers who need professional help. Or authors who care nothing of writing, but only want to be published to brag and sit on panels at conferences or join writer’s organizations. They are not writers, they are authors.

Read the whole article here.

Playing B-Ball with Obama: 6 Steps to Crossing Anything Off Your Bucket List is an inspirational post on Tim Ferriss’s about how to achieve anything you dream of, from playing basketball with President Obama to helping someone find a kidney.

It’s about the experiences of The Buried Life group, four friends who made a list of 100 things they wanted to do before they die. They also made a commitment that, for each item they accomplished, they’d help one stranger achieve a life goal.

The post is great, and they now have a #1 NYT best-seller: What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

The six steps (explained at length in the original post):

  1. Stop and think about it. Really think about it. (Most people don’t do this until they have a crisis in their life. Don’t wait for a crisis.)
  2. Write it down. (Amazing things happen as soon as you write something down.)
  3. Talk about it. (Everyone knows someone, and someone can help you.)
  4. Be persistent. (Most people give up before they reach their goal. “No” just means “not now”.)
  5. Be ballsy. (“The level of competition is highest for realistic goals because most people don’t set high enough goals for themselves.”)
  6. Help others.
What are your goals?

One of my goals is to see my third book, The Last Firewall, made into a movie.

Discoverability and the New World of Book PR
Cal Reid @CalReid
Senior News Editor
Publishers Weekly
Barbara Henricks
@Barbara Henricks
President, Cave Henricks Communications
Hollis Heimbouch
Vp, Publisher, Harper Business
Rusty Shelton
President Shelton Interactive
  • There are at least 300,000 new titles. It’s not possible to promote or even report on books in the same way.
    • Anything with a screen is a now a chance to read a book
    • Seemingly inexhaustible supply of book content.
  • We’re inundated with opportunities to discover new talent. 
    • The effect of finding authors much earlier in their career, means there is much more work to develop the author. It’s the same work, just more emphasis.
  • In the age of digital retail, are there clear strategies for helping readers find their books
    • Many journalists get 100 books a day, 800 emails a day.
    • Challenge: cutting through the noise.
    • Where once you sent out hundreds of books, now…
    • Really dig in and find an audience of 50 people that are really relevant, and send them really customized pitches.
  • Most exciting time to be an author.
    • At intersection of three industries that are all rapidly transforming: book publishing, journalists, and PR.
    • In 2008, 1 in 4 media jobs evaporated.
    • And that was before the recession. Now maybe it’s 1 in 2.
    • So journalists have far less time to cover anything.
    • Journalists: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
    • When a journalist is looking for someone in your speciality area, making sure that you can be found when they are looking for an expert. Google is your friend. Instead of pushing info out to journalists, be interesting enough online that you’re the obvious answer when the journalist is going out.
  • Really use online reviews and interviews to build the swell and momentum. 
  • Authors must have this relationship with journalists long before they submit their final manuscript.
  • An author should start building their audience the minute they conceive of their book
  • Instead of going directly to a huge audience, go to the influencers who already have that audience, and build relationships with them. 
  • We’re in a bookstore 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
    • Several years ago: 59% of people who went into a bookstore knew exactly what book they were going to buy before they went in.
    • But now we’re in a bookstore all the time. 
    • And there is infinite supply
  • There are 11,000 business books published each year.
    • The NYT is cutting their number of reviews of business books from 24 a year to 12 a year.
    • It’s not a viable strategy to pursue a NYT review.
    • You have to pursue non-traditional media, and you need to create as many opportunities as possible.
  • Start the viral effort on your own.
    • If people ask how they can help: a review on Amazon, a blog post, here’s five questions I could answer for you.
  • Good PR helps bad books fail faster.
    • Ten years ago it took a long time for people to discover when a book was bad.
  • Give people an action item, an interactive campaign, that encourages people to extend the campaign: You want something more than just “it’s a great book” (although that is good).
    • A Thousand Gifts: great book in which author talks about a thousand gifts in her life. It naturally encouraged readers to do the same, which meant that it wasn’t just a single mention of the book (“it’s great”), but a thousand mentions of the book, as readers publicly articulated a 1,000 gifts for themselves. 
    • You want to build a movement
      • (Note to self: Is there a movement around artificial intelligence and robots?)
  • As authors, it’s particularly important, especially for 1st and 2nd book: there’s a real finite time when there will be publicity around the book. it’s the first 60 to 90s.
    • if you go on the air to give an interview: you want to mention the book, but you also want to encourage people to connect with you online.
    • Not just “go to my website”, but some kind of offer:
      • an assessment
      • an online test
      • free material online
    • When you think about website and social media presence, you want to grow an audience in your topic area, even if they aren’t ready to buy a book today.
  • If you don’t take social media presence seriously, you will need to rebuild from scratch for each book that comes out, because you’ll have lost interest in between.
  • How does the rise of reading on mobile devices help or hinder?
  • Questions
    • Q: How about a limited budget for online advertisements?
      • Rusty Shelton: Facebook advertising. You can get people to like the page, creating long term relationship. You can target very specific interests.
      • Hollis: Facebook. On a limited budget, it’s not possible to establish enough impressions with traditional media.
    • Q: Are book videos helpful?
      • Most effective is an interview that’s been broadcast somewhere. It’s short, it shows people.
      • For a very compelling author, a book trailer. It can lead to national exposure.
      • Not helpful: long speeches. The media doesn’t have the attention span for something more than 3 minutes.
    • Q: What about social networks besides Facebook and Twitter?
      • Pinterest: coming up with creative ways to reach your audience: young females is a great reader audience. Pinterest is like a visual twitter. If you give people a way to extend the book with quotes or action items.
      • Many people using Pinterest toolbar, which pulls the images to the front: As author, you need to examine what happens, what the images are, if they are helpful.
      • Google Plus: Have authorship attached to your profile. Google’s search pulling in Plus profile data to display next to articles in search results. Read up on the code needed to ensure that this happens.
    • Q: What about authors that don’t want to do all this work?
      • Most authors that don’t have social media presence come in with bias against it. But within a couple of weeks, these people are striking up relationships.
      • Don’t pull people kicking and screaming to it. 
      • “Will you commit to give an hour a week?”
      • Then work to make that as valuable an hour as possible.
      • If they won’t do any social media, do things that feel traditional:
        • podcasts
        • webinars
    • Q: I use Pinterest for wedding pictures and parties. 
      • That’s hard to connect a book readership to.
      • But you can do: quotes that inspire them. more text based.
    • Q: What would drive, someone who didn’t create a book, to promote that book? What truly inspired them to promote a book?
      • It’s passion: When you are inspired by a book, then you want to promote that book.
    • Q: ? (something around what’s coming and how to prepare)
      • Publishers who are signing up for books now, don’t even know what capabilities they will have in 12 months when that book comes out.
      • Perhaps in the future: it will be more like a subscription to someone’s knowledge: that they’ll keep updating and providing more/newer information.
    • Q: If I’ve got an interview with an author, how should I best use that time?
      • It’s rare to have an interviewer who read the book, and very rare to have 15 minutes.
      • It’s tough to get into the plot, because most people will not be familiar with the plot.
      • People want to know what the author is like.
      • They want to know how the book relates to current news.
      • The more opportunities there are out there, the more it stands out that someone like you is taking the time to read the book. They will make them very
    • Q: As an editor, we used to cut lots of stuff from the book during development. Now we save that content to use, as supplemental content.
    • Q: DRM limits discoverability – with a paper book I can lend it to a friend. 
      • I think there are other ways to accomplish what you’re talking about without tackling DRM. Sampling and content syndication. Give people free chapters online. Give people a chance to read for free. That’s easier than trying to tackle DRM.
    • Q: Why should we expect authors to be great marketers?
      • We don’t expect them to be great marketers. We do expect them to be great storytellers and to create really interesting, smart content. And the publisher and marketing team can figure out the best way to get those stories out there.
      • We expect an author to not only write a book, but to continue to create awesome related content to build the communication.
      • People write books because they want to have an audience, they want to be heard and to be seen as an artist/idea person. If you want to call that marketing, you can.

(Originally written for IndiesUnlimited as guest post.)

My first book, Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears, came out in December. It was a great book launch, but after the holidays passed, as you might expect, sales slowed. 
The feedback I was receiving told me the book was good. One friend said she had nightmares after reading it (it’s a techno-thriller). Another reader sought out the coffee shop where several scenes were set and took photos of himself with the book. A local tech blog in Portland posted a very positive review. Amazon reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
So the real question was how to let more people know about Avogadro Corp.
I decided to experiment with Facebook ads. if you haven’t used Facebook ads before, here’s a quick overview:
  • Go to or click on the advertising link at the bottom of the main Facebook page.
  • Ads consist of an image, a title, a small amount of text, and a destination link.
  • You pay per click, so it only costs you when someone clicks on the advertisement. Ads can be targeted by age, sex, country, region, and interests. 
  • You can set spending limits so you’re in control of how much you spend. You can conduct a useful ad experiment with as little as twenty dollars.
I knew my own writing would appeal to fans of Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, and William Gibson. I write about similar subjects in a similar style. So I ran a series of Facebook ads specifically targeting fans of each of those authors. 
Here’s a typical ad:

Facebook’s advertising console tells me how much I’m paying per click. For example, in the last seven days, I had 96 clicks on my Charles Stross targeted ad, and paid $0.34 per click.
The advertising console also tells me the CTR (click through rate). For my author-specific ads, the CTR has been 0.2% and higher. That tells me that out of every 1,000 times the ad has been shown, it’s been clicked on 2 times. That might not sound very high, but compared to loosely targeted ads (e.g. people who like read, or people who live in a certain geography), it’s anywhere from 10 to 100 times higher than those more general ads.
The URL for a Facebook ad can be any page on the Internet or even your Facebook author page. I use which is the homepage for my book. I’m specifically trying to drive sales of the book, as opposed to getting people to follow me, or any other objective. You could also send people directly to an page for your book, but I prefer that the URL should in the ad also reflect my book’s brand.
I use to keep track of hits to I can see who referred visitors to my site, and the overwhelming majority are from Facebook, so I know it’s the ads accounting for most of the traffic.
The tricky part is determining exactly how many books you sell as a result of those visits. The standard industry term for this is conversion. By checking my site traffic through and my book sales through the Kindle Direct Publishing reports daily, over time I’ve found that about my book sales tend to be 10 to 15% of my website traffic. I can’t be sure that all of those sales are generated from my website, but by watching the correlation, I know that most of them are.
Here’s where we have to do a little math.
  1. Since 15% of my website visitors buy a book, then I need to send about 7 (100 / 15 = 7) visitors to my site for each book I want to sell.
  2. Since it costs me $0.20 each time someone clicks on my advertisement, then it costs me $1.40 ($0.20 * 7) in advertising to sell one book.
  3. I normally make about $3.00 on a book, so after advertising expenses, I still clear $1.60 per book.
As you can see the key variables to pay attention to are: cost per click, conversation rate, and profit per book.
If it costs you less in advertising than you make per book: congratulations! You can conduct a successful targeted advertising campaign. Now you can choose to spend more on ads to sell more books, always earning more than you spend.
If your conversion rate is low, you may need to better target your ads to find people who would be interested in the book, or you may need to redesign your website to make buying the book easier, more obvious, or more compelling.

Good luck!

I was recently asked “I’m writing my first draft of my novel, and I’m planning to self-publish in about six months. What should I be doing now that I might not know about?”

After some thought, I composed the following, which you may also find helpful:

After I finished my first draft, I several months editing. If this is your first novel, expect that you’ll be a better writer by the end, and you’ll probably want to go and rewrite quite a bit. I made ten complete passes through my book before I thought it was ready to be published.

Hire an editor and/or a proofreader if possible. I didn’t have the money for a professional, so I hired a creative writing major who had extensive writing experience and paid $10/hour. It took roughly 2 hours per 10,000 words.

If you can’t afford that, solicit friends for readers and divide them into two groups. Use half for an early draft, correct all the mistakes they find, and then use the other half to review the next draft. Be explicit to them about the kind of feedback you need: typos vs character feedback, etc.

Stop here: Are you interested in trying traditional publishing? If so, send it out to literary agents. Agents take simultaneous submissions, so you can send to 20 to 50 agents, and find out in a few weeks if anyone is interested. By comparison, publishers want non-simultaneous submissions, and take longer to respond, so sending to publishers takes years. After you’ve been rejected by everyone or if you decide to forego the pain of rejection, proceed. (I’m being flippant here, but personally I do solicit agents before self-publishing.)

You can work on your cover design in parallel. You should probably hire someone. Books are judged by their covers, and will be a major factor in whether people decide to buy it.

I made the choice to do a print version as well as an ebook version. Expect that the print version will take a lot of time if you choose to do it. Generating a 95% perfect epub version takes 2 to 3 hours. Generating a 95% perfect print version takes 2 to 3 WEEKS.

You will want to have a blog or website. Have a user-friendly URL to give people. Look at the websites of authors you like, and see what they are doing.

Have a user-friendly title for your book. I thought Avogadro Corp was a great name for my book because it gives great search results. Until the first time I tried to tell someone in a crowded room what the title of my book was. It turns out that it’s hard to verbally tell people “Avogadro Corp” and have them remember it. They usually think avocado. Not helpful. You want something that is meaningful, easy to remember, easy to spell, and will get good Google search results.

The very last page in your book after the story ends should be a call to action: If you enjoyed this book, take a minute to tell a friend or post an Amazon review.

When you launch, think about some of the following ways to promote your work:

  • Friends and family appeal: This is where you ask friends and family to buy your book via Facebook, email, and more. Even if you think that everyone is on Facebook, email more effective. It sits in front of people, in their inboxes, and causes far more action than just a Facebook post. Family and friends will be far more likely to buy print versions than ebooks. If you happen to launch near Christmas, remind people they can buy a book as a gift.
  • Facebook ads: If you are similar to other authors or your book will appeal to readers with a very specific interest, you may be able to reach them cost effectively through targeted Facebook advertisements. I wrote a blog post on targeted Facebook advertising:
  • Depending on where you live, particularly if you live in a smaller town, you may be able to get local media coverage. Send review copies to newspapers.
  • Send free review copies to friends who have blogs with any reasonable amount of traffic. (Buy them the kindle version or send them an epub or send them a print copy. They’ll almost always reciprocate with a blog post.)
  • Offer to do guest posts for other blogs.
  • Do book blog tours. (I don’t really get this one, so search it out.)

Any other ideas that you’d share with a new, unpublished writer who plans to self-publish?

William Hertling

I happened to notice a writer ask the question of “Why do literary agents reject so many good submissions?”

The answer is simple mathPhoto credit:

The answer is simple math.

A literary agent get anywhere from 25 to 100 submissions each and every day.

The agent themselves has to represent each work to publishers. Just as it takes the author time to send out their manuscript and cover letters, so too will it take the agent time to try to sell each work to publishers.

Maybe they can take on one or two new projects, if that, a week. If they get 200 submissions in a week, but they can only take two on to promote, that’s the simple answer: they must reject 198 submissions and they can accept two.

On a related note, a few words about pitches:

At first I was really bothered by this notion that I needed to be able to describe my book in less than twenty words to pitch it to an agent.

Then I heard an agent speak at Willamette Writers Con. The agent’s job is to take the book and pitch it to publishers. They have a minute or two on the phone with the publisher. They need to be able to describe it in just a few words, and then leave time for questions.

If the publisher wants it, they’ll need to pitch the book to distributors, book stores, and readers. If the publisher can’t put a twenty word blurb on the back that describes the book, then it won’t sell.

So if you, the author, can’t come up with a twenty word pitch, how can you expect the agent or the publisher to do it?

Once I realized all of that, my resistance to the short pitch evaporated.