Authorship on Demand


Kathy Boccella in the Philadelphia Inquirer offers a quick update of the Publishing On Demand scene, where authors can get a book published for a lot less money (about $500, more if you want, like, proofreading) than they could under the old vanity-press rules.

iUniverse, one of three major "personal publishers" (just want one copy printed? No problem!) has now published 17,000 titles, 84 of which have sold 500 copies or more. Xlibris, another such publisher, has had 40 of its 10,000 titles picked up by traditional publishers. One author has sold 20,000 copies of a book she did for her nieces (Natasha Munson's Life Lessons for My Black Girls), and there have even been some movie deals (including Legally Blonde). Best of all, all the authors reporter Boccella talked to seemed pleased.

Thanks to ArtsJournal

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  1. I’ve been looking for someone to publish Shultz’s Laws of Social Dynamics for a long time now. Thank you Hit & Run.

    I never thought about making it into a movie. Shultz should be played by Bradd Pitt.

  2. I’m lovin’ it.
    Cyrano has a nice comment on those who publish their own works, but he couldn’t afford a computer.

  3. lots of well-respected and even legendary authors have published their own works.

    everyone has to start somewhere, tardbunny.

  4. IMHO another effect of POD publishing is the appearance and expansion of presses who will take a chance on a book that doesn’t fit the mold.

    I’ve been trying to find either a publisher or agent for my politically incorrect novel for more than a decade. I finally figured out what the publishers all want in a book: A new concept with a proven track record.

    Now there are houses that will at least not blow me off, and The Mark of Abel is scheduled for 2005.

    All I kept getting from the “experts” in New York City and California was, “You have a main female character who competes in shooting competitions. In the real world women don’t do that.” Pointing out that the book could be advertised in the three magazines published for those non-existent women who shoot didn’t seem to make as much of a dent as finding a publisher based in Texas.

  5. I wondered what the story of Legally Blonde was when I came across a stack of copies gathering dust in my local bookstore. The jacket copy clearly indicated that it had been printed after the movie, but the copyright info made no chronological sense and the publisher info seemed hinky too. My guess was that an agent had been shopping the book around in some kind of outline (or even complete) form, and managed to sell it to Hollywood before finding a publisher–then whatever media conglobulate made the movie had dumped the book on the market to try and rake in a few more rubles. This last part didn’t make sense though, because although the (very underwhelming) cover mentioned the movie, it didn’t have a pic of Reese Witherspoon and lacked any large-type come-on that might have caught the attention of fans. In fact, it seemed vaguely shy about acknowledging there’d been a movie at all.

    Now I’m even more confused, because the article says the book was self-published before being picked up by “Plume Publishing” (which sounds like a vanity press itself) and a movie studio. So was I looking at the self-published version or the Plume version? If it was the Plume version, Amanda Brown should go back to self-publishing, because they really did a crappy job of packaging her book.

  6. “tardbunny”, dhex?
    I am wounded.
    Maybe you should actually read Cyrano de Bergerac, then post an infantile response.

  7. Tim Cavanaugh:

    Maybe you can find what you’re looking for in this article:

  8. A comment on “rigorous editorial process”: there are a ton of books out there that have supposedly been through this REP and still look like crap. A week ago I was leafing through a copy of Katherine Newman’s Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, and I came across a sentence that read something like “He picked up the gun and cocked the firing pin.” So here we have a “professional” book with an obvious factual/terminological error that somehow made it past the author and her assistants, the editor(s) and proofreaders, etc. (For anyone who doesn’t know – of whom I suspect there are few here – it’s a nonsensical statement along the lines of saying “he shifted the speedometer into fourth gear”.) For another semi-famous example, Google for “bullschildt.” And what about the well-known Arming America? Forgive me for not putting too much faith in the efforts of professional editors and their rigorous process – it smells way too much like established interests spreading FUD about new competition.

  9. critic: sorry, trying to be cute. the only traditional instrument i play is djembe (passably at best) and some keyboards, barely. most of what i do is with samplers, with some synths and the usual assortment of fx, filters and circuit bent toys. been doing lots of minimal/weirdo techno lately, mostly live gigs around nyc. some of my traditional musician aquaintances kind of hate me since i don’t play “real” instruments. which is fine, and i see their point, sort of, but calling myself a fake musician doesn’t seem to make them feel any better.

    frankly, i’d be doing much more well off if i dj’d at all, but i just can’t bear to part with the time and money involved.

    JD: amen.

  10. I suppose we’ll know that self-publishing in the modern era has really advanced when web sites selling term papers for plagerizers start to sell papers for books that were recently self-published. Just look at Virginia Postrel’s blog ( to see the importance of plagerism in establishing someone or something as truly significant.

  11. Self-publishing strikes me as free markets at their grandest. If you’ve got a hula-hoop to sell and no distributor wants to buy it, you stand out on the corner and hawk it to pedestrians. Eventually, somebody will pay money to swing their hips.

  12. FYI: Plume is an imprint of the Penguin/New American Library/Viking/Putnam arm of Pearson, PLC.

    POD does several things: It keeps otherwise out-of-print books in print, it brings long Op books back in print, and it substitutes for traditional “vanity” presses. Some POD titles wind up on the stock lists of either or both of the U.S.’s biggest book distributors, so that even if few stores stock any copies, hundreds of potential readers who learn about a POD book can order one from their favorite 3-D or online shop.

    If a POD author can get interviewed or reviewed in media serving whatever niche would be interested in his story, he can sell some books. The trick, of course, as it is for trade publishers, is getting the media attention.

    The University of Chicago Press has invested in a sophisticated POD printing system, so they no longer have to warehouse infrequently-ordered books. If demand for hundreds or thousands of copies arises unexpectantly, they can just crank books out by the case lot. This sort of operation cuts down on waste and allows the press to keep some excellent books alive in their catalog.

    (getting out of bookselling after 25 years)

  13. I love the idea. There might be authors out there who’re good yet can’t sell to major publishing outlets – writers tend be lousy salesmen. POD outfits won’t make you the next Grisham if you ain’t one, but as a celebration of free markets they’re simply grand.

  14. dhex,

    Cool. I learned in a college course that the definition of music is “organized sound,” so I guess you’re entitled to call yourself a musician. I’m a traditional musician, but these days I’m more of an assembler, using Adobe Audition to create my own stuff. I’ll use almost anything, but I draw the line at sampling, unless it’s in the public domain or it’s royalty-free stuff. But you gotta love the freedom that technology has brought to the musical artist in the last few years. Got any MP3 samples of your work that you’d like to forward?

  15. critic: don’t be wounded. accept your tardbunny destiny.

    then take a look at the huge amount of legendary writers who self-published for various reasons throughout their careers. start with Cuala Press, the yeats family’s (YB, his brother jack and his sister) printing house, which basically started as a “vanity” press for their friends and yeats own work, in addition to doing commercial printing.

  16. dhex,

    You didn’t get the joke, but that’s ok.
    I’m wholly in favor of the market being flooded with self-published dreck. It can’t be much worse that what’s already out there, and there will certainly be a few gems in the pile, if we can only find them. The computer revolution has freed artists of all stripes from the “tyranny” of professional publishing houses, recording studios, etc. The “problem” is: now everyone is an artist. With just a little technical skill anyone can publish a book or record a CD. Ironically, it has never been easier to produce a work of art, while at the same time it has never been more difficult to get noticed. The marketplace of ideas has a curious tendency of leveling things out that way.

  17. i apologize for not getting the joke.

    the lack of attention tends to alleviate the rush to publish, eventually.

  18. Are you a musician of some sort, dhex?

  19. It’s funny, part of my job involves distance education video support, and one of the classes I’m tech director for is a graduate level library science class. Self publishing was the subject of about 30 minutes of conversation just last week. It’s amazing how many of the librarians had such disdain for such a great idea. I can see the need for the reader to be more critical of works that haven’t gone through a rigorous editorial process, but that doesn’t mean that every vanity or self published work out there is going to be useless. The larger publishing houses don’t always get it right, and sometimes it pays to listen to someone who has enough belief in their work to go through the DIY process when nobody else will listen.

  20. There’s lots of flashy, professional crap out there, Dave. Self-creating bares your soul to the world without the protective filtering of an intermediary. It’s dangerous and thrilling at the same time. And it leaves no room for the time-honored excuse: “Mt best bits were left on the cutting room floor.”

  21. “My” best bits…
    Mt best is in Colorado, I think.

  22. of some sort indeed, critic. 🙂

  23. What? What?

  24. What’s coolest about the POD revolution is that it can be used in a number of different ways. The Vanity Presses were for writers who needed their stuff in print, presumably to market themselves.

    Now, you can see your material published in a variety of formats, at different price points, for any reason you choose. Example: John Scalzi recently finished his second novel for Tor. (Connection note: He’s an e-friend. I’ve correspond with him and visit his blog, but have never met the man.). He wanted his wife to read what he wrote. Instead of handing her a sheaf of papers, he formatted the text, uploaded it to CafePress and bought a copy. Total cost: about twenty bucks.

    Or, you can take the case of a restaurant owner in South Carolina who published his memoirs through his own press, and sells them by mail, his Web site and his stores. You can’t even get ’em at He’s happy with that, and I’m happy for him, because his book’s very funny. Yes, I wrote a review of it when I worked for a newspaper down there.

    We’ll know that the POD market has matured when we start seeing mystery and romance novelists selling their works through their Web site, drawing an audience of devoted readers, without going through a publisher.

  25. critic: there’s a live cut up on that’s pretty cure but mail me at dhex AT sluntrec DOT com with an addy and i’ll mail you a cd.

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