POD and Self-Publish Disconnect
I’m involved in a couple of online writing groups and no matter how many times you say it, there seems to be a broad misconception about self-publishing and POD publishing (means POD or print on demand). These books simply don’t appear in the bookstores.
Please don’t misunderstand me. These self-published and POD books have their place in the market—particularly if you have a means to sell the books to individuals or companies. For example if you speak often and would like to have a book to sell in the back of the room, you can easily get a self-published book or POD book to use in these situations. Just don’t expect to sell your book to bookstores.
Last week a well-meaning author celebrated his first printed book, which was POD. He was holding it in his hand—always exciting. He was plotting a strategy to get his book in as many bookstores as possible and asking for help from other authors in the group. If you are going down this path, it shows a clear disconnect with the realities of the market.
Here’s a bit of what I told him (edited for this entry). I hope include it in hopes it will help some others outside of that group:
Congratulations on your POD book release and I celebrate with you--but after more than twenty years in this business and over 60 books in print--and working as an acquisitions editor over the last four years--I am going to have to give you a bit of a reality check. You will struggle and find it almost impossible for bookstores to stock your POD or self-published book. It's one of those messages that the POD companies and self-publishing places don't tell you (they want to get your cash and get your book in their system). Yes, your book is listed on Amazon.com (easy for anyone to do--even with a POD book) but getting it into the bookstores is a completely different story. I’ve been telling writers for years about the ease of getting a book printed—now getting it into the bookstores and ultimately into the hands of consumers, that’s a different story.
Retailers dislike POD and self-published books. Every retailer that I've talked with about this issue (and I've invested the time to talk with them) have countless stories about the difficulties of these books. They have re-stocking problems and problems with the quality of the products (typos, editing, etc.).
Here's the real test for you: go to your local bookstores and ask them if they are carrying any POD or self-published title on their shelves. Go to the big box stores like Borders as well as your mom and pop smaller independent stores. You will be surprised with the answer. I will be surprised if you find a single copy among any of the thousands of books. Several months ago, I wrote about this topic in this entry about the writing life. Scan down and make sure you see these statistics from iUniverse (one of the largest self-publishers) and the information which appeared in Publisher's Weekly earlier this year--about the number of bookstores that carry their product--and the sales statistics.
We can't say it often enough--the bookstore market is a closed system--that deals with distributors and large and small publishers. It's why we work hard to get our books into the traditional publishing marketplace. It’s why you go through the effort and hard work to create an excellent book proposal or book manuscript or novel, then sell that idea to a publisher. Then your book is available in any bookstore--and can have the possibility of sitting on those bookshelves. It's a free country and you can feel free to expend the effort and energy to market to bookstores and try and place your book. From my experience and others, it will be frustrating and likely not sell many books. I believe your marketing efforts are better served in other markets (outside the bookstore).