Indie Publishing #3: The joys of print-on-demand (POD)

One of the most difficult things I did in this foray into indie publishing was to set up for print-on-demand.

First things first, what is print-on-demand?

The quick answer is: exactly what it says. You want a book. You order it. The book is printed. Simple.

What it means for indie publishers is you no longer have to purchase a garage-full of books in order to get a reasonable quote for printing. While there are some discounts for larger quantities, you can order 50 and pay not much more per book than you would for 10. The difference for smaller quantities is the base cost of freight.

Here are my tips for print-on-demand, based on recent experience.

Plan A: Pick a company and go with what they want.

I stumbled upon an American company that offered lots of info and great templates for the dumb beginner. Exactly what I needed, so I signed up.

Bad move. After sinking a full day into formatting to their template, I hit a wall with the business end of the deal. First, I needed to quote an IRS number (American tax number). Weeks ago I applied for one but haven’t heard back.

Second, I needed an American bank account to receive author royalties. They didn’t do Australian banks or Paypal. The only alternative was to get a cheque in the mail. My last experience with an international cheque involved a woeful exchange rate and big bank fees. It was scarcely worth the effort.

Third, although they advertised broad coverage for POD services, they didn’t distribute to Australia. Getting hard copies of my novel was the very reason I wanted to go this route.

Strike three, you’re out.

Plan B: Ask writer-friends about companies with a local presence.

There were two companies that came with strong writer-friend recommendations. Both are American print-on-demand (POD) companies that cater for Australian authors.

Be warned, you’ll need to get an ABN (Australian Business Number). If it suits your financial situation, you can register as a sole trader for taxation purposes and you can register a business name with ASIC for a small fee.

Setting up an email account in your business name is also worth a thought. Certainly it makes you look more professional than if you use a social media type email address such as sweetlips@hotmail (unless you write erotica).

If you want to go the whole hog, you can get a domain name and have your own website.

Your POD company will ask you for an ISBN (the international number that identifies your book). ISBNs can be purchased from Thorpe-Bowker (they’re cheaper by the 10). Register each book title against its unique ISBN. You’ll need a separate ISBN for each ‘version’, for example the paperback version will need one ISBN, and the epub version will need another.

Finally there’s the formatting. Oh, the formatting! Setting up your manuscript for print is completely different from an ebook. For an ebook, you strip out the formatting. For a hard copy, you have to put all the formatting in, including page numbers, headers and footers, margins that allow a gutter for the binding and a curious phenomenon called ‘bleed’.

My tip is to start a brand new Word file. Set your ‘styles’ first. Copy your manuscript into the new file. Then spend the next several days checking and rechecking it. Look for formatting errors, check the visual appearance especially of chapter beginnings and endings. Make sure you don’t have ‘widows’ (single lines that flip over onto a new page).

Before you can even get a quote from the POD company, you need to state with certainty the number of pages. But every time you change the font type, font size, spacing, or margins, it changes the number of pages. The number of pages also dictates the thickness of the spine. The thickness of the spine and weight of the book affects the cost to post.

It sounds like an easy question: how many pages? But for me, this was the most time consuming, frustrating part of the entire process and the most difficult to get right.

When you’re done, submit two PDF files: one of your cover image and one of the interior of the book. A few days later you should receive a ‘proof’, which may be electronic or hard copy. Check again for errors, and give the go-ahead when you’re satisfied.

There, how hard was that?

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About Debbie Terranova

Debbie Terranova is an Australian author of contemporary and historical fiction. 'The Scarlet Key' published in 2016 is the second Seth VerBeek mystery. The crime-busting reporter is back with a new cast of unforgettable characters and a new puzzle to solve. It's about live, love, death, and tattoos, with a touch of the mystical. 'Baby Farm', her debut novel, is a cozy crime mystery about forced adoptions of the 1970s, and a surrogacy and baby trafficking racket. It is the first of the Seth VerBeek series. Debbie Terranova is a prizewinning author of short stories: 'Mowbray Brothers' about growing up in East Brisbane in the 1920s; and 'Mischief' about reinventing yourself and in the process falling in love ... with an adorable but mischievous cat.
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