The Rub With Paper: POD, Print Runs, Trade Discounts, and Returns

The Rub With Paper: POD, Print Runs, Trade Discounts, and Returns

We all have a dream of seeing our books in print, right? It’s an exciting time to be a writer, and you now have more options than ever before in publishing high-quality hardcovers or paperbacks. But with them comes an array of details you should be aware of prior to making any decisions!

POD

For many indie publishers, print-on-demand (POD) is a great option to have a professionally-printed book without having to pay thousands of dollars for an initial print run. While the cost of printing per book is higher than with standard offset printing, the money saved on both up-front printing and warehousing/distribution can be worth it. If you are on a budget but still want to have a printed book available, this is your best bet. Printing costs are taken off the front end of each sale, so there are no costs for you to pay out-of-pocket. The two major POD printers/distributors are Amazon’s CreateSpace and Ingram’s slightly more robust subsidiary, Lightning Source.

Pitfalls of POD and the Returns System

The biggest pitfall of POD is that making a book returnable to the warehouse, which is required for any major bookstore to stock a title, can bankrupt you. CreateSpace doesn’t allow for POD books to be returnable, but Lightning Source does. Say your Lightning Source book costs $7.00 to print on demand, and you’ve marked it as returnable. You’ve done a stellar job with marketing, and Barnes & Noble orders 3,000 copies for its stores. They end up selling only 1,000 of them, so they return the remaining 2,000 at your cost. Not only does Lightning Source shred these and simply print/ship you new copies, but they also charge you for the freight. Which means you would be out the cost not just of freight but also of printing. That’s freight + $7.00 x 2,000, or $14,000—a terrible loss. Thus, it would be a big mistake to make your POD book returnable. The downside is that most physical bookstores will never stock your book.

But POD Has Benefits! 

So, why consider POD at all? Because the costs are minimal, and your reach is global. Amazon’s CreateSpace, while having a more limited global reach for its free distribution, doesn’t charge a title setup fee. Lightning Source charges only a small title setup fee, an even smaller annual catalog fee, and $40 every time you upload a print file (either cover or interior). Even so, both options can make your book available anywhere in the world at the click of a button. Lightning Source, being a subsidiary of the behemoth distributor Ingram, ensures your book is listed as in-stock and available with retailers at all times. They can print within hours and ship overnight. Lightning Source also gives you multiple print options, including hardcovers with dust jackets and matte laminated covers.

Print Runs

If you don’t choose POD printing, you can also do a normal print run of your book, just as any other publisher would. You then would have the option of storing and selling the books yourself, or paying for warehousing and distribution, which could make it feasible for your book to be returnable (and thus stockable at bookstores). Keep in mind that warehouses charge for storage, freight, and return freight.

But Wait! You Can’t Forget About Trade Discounts

If all this wasn’t enough to make your head spin, you must also consider your book’s trade discount, which all major retailers require in order to list it for sale. All books sold through the usual retail channels, whether they’re POD or warehouse-distributed, will have a trade discount, usually 40% – 55%. Booksellers buy them at this discounted rate, then sell them for full price to make money.

As a self-publisher, you are responsible for your print costs. This combined with selling your books to retailers at a discount affects your bottom-line return. If you set your book’s cover price at $16.00, retailers might buy it for $8.00. If you choose POD, your book might cost $6.50 to print, and you would receive $1.50 per sale. If you choose offset printing and warehouse distribution, printing might cost $3.00 per book, and you would earn $5.00 per sale. Even so, the costs of freight, warehousing, and other peripheral services can eat into this profit. Discount rates can vary between POD and traditional printing, but it is essential that you are aware of them! For a long (but helpful) explanation, follow this link.

As You Can See…

There are pros and cons to each method of book printing. Figure out your priorities (Do you want to try selling in bookstores, or do you want to aim mostly for online sales?), and then make the leap!

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Self-Publishing Questionnaire/Checklist!

Here is my official checklist/questionnaire for self-publishers at any stage of the game. Don’t let it overwhelm you! You don’t have to consider all these things at once, and you can simply use this as a roadmap. Having been through this crazy experience, however, I know that I would have loved to have a “to-do” list upfront so that I could have avoided any nasty surprises or forgotten steps along the way! Even when I was working for an small indie publisher in Minneapolis, I came across authors who had not been informed about all these steps. So…for your sake…here we go!

 

Writing

  • Have you completed your book manuscript?
  • Have you written more than just one draft?
  • Have you sought out honest feedback from test readers, then revised?
  • Have you fixed up as many messy grammar and spelling mistakes as possible?
  • Have you compared your book to all the other books in history that you love, and does it give you the same sense of satisfaction?

 

Editing

  • Have you budgeted for an experienced copy editor?
  • Have you budgeted for an experienced proofreader?
  • Do your editors know the standard style guides typically used with your type of book?
  • Have you given honest consideration to their suggestions?
  • Have you done multiple rereads and absolutely finalized your content before sending it off to your designer and proofreader?
  • Have you scoured your book for typos (homonym errors in particular!) and continuity mistakes that made it past the editors? (This can happen even if you hire the best editors. Even Harry Potter had mistakes!)
  • Did you wait until your final, final version to convert to e-book format? (You don’t want to be correcting mistakes on two different versions of your book—I know this from experience!)

 

Production

  • Have you decided on publishing a print book, e-book, or both?
  • Have you reviewed the reality of publishing a print book (POD vs. a print run, returnable vs. non-returnable, warehousing and distribution, and trade discount percentage)?
  • Have you written your back cover/synopsis?
  • Have you written your author biography?
  • Have you purchased ISBNs from Bowker? (Buy a block of at least ten to save money! You will need one for each edition of your book.)
  • Have you registered for an PCN (Preassigned Control Number from the Library of Congress) and included it on your copyright page?
  • Have you sought out advance reviews/testimonials to quote on your book cover/marketing materials?
  • Have you set a release date after you knew for sure when your book will be available through all its distribution channels? (It can sometimes take time for your book to become available on sites like Amazon.com.)

 

Print Books

  • Do you decided between Print-on-Demand (POD) or a print run?
  • Have you figured out how wide you want your scope of distribution to be?
  • Have you decided on a size for your book? (8.5” x 5.25” or 8.5” x 5.5” are great for trade paperbacks; 6” x 9” or 6.14” x 9.21” are great for hardcovers.)
  • Have you decided on white vs. cream pages?
  • Have you budgeted for a cover design?
  • Have you budgeted for an interior design/typesetting?
  • Do you want to incorporate any special photos or graphics?
  • Has your designer justified your text?
  • …and made sure word hyphenation is clean/logical?
  • …and removed all widows/orphans?
  • …and made sure all drop caps, small caps, headers, footers, and other unique design choices are consistently placed?

 

E-Books

  • Do you want to publish just an e-book?
  • Do you have a professional, eye-catching cover that will look good as an internet thumbnail?
  • Does your e-book contain design elements of the print book for a consistent reader experience?
  • Is it free of coding/formatting errors (hard returns, font and type size inconsistencies, and images that run off the page?
  • Does it work smoothly on different e-reading devices and, if it’s in Epub format, pass the current Epub validations (which is required to upload to most e-book retailers)?
  • Have you considered working directly with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo? Have you considered further distribution though companies like Author Solutions or SmashWords?

 

Online Marketing

  • Have you created Author and Book pages for Facebook?
  • Have you signed up for Twitter?
  • Have you signed up for Goodreads and added your Author and Book pages?
  • Have you signed up for Amazon Author Central?
  • Have you signed up for the “Look Inside!” feature through Amazon Advantage so that potential buyers can preview your book?
  • Have you bought a domain (“www.________.com”) for your website? (BlueHost is a great place to buy and host with.)
  • Have you started a website and/or blog? (WordPress is a great option, and it integrates with BlueHost if you want to customize your theme.)
  • Have you considered creating a book trailer or video to promote your book?
  • Have considered a press release to announce/discuss your book, attract reviewers, and gain opportunities a blog tour or author interviews?
  • Have you considered a targeted “pay-per-click” ad campaign through Facebook, Goodreads, or another website that will reach your intended audience?
  • Have you signed up for Google Analytics and incorporated it into your website/blog?

 

Real-World Marketing

  • Have you printed business cards for your book (preferably with a QR code people can scan to reach your website)?
  • Have you reached out to potential reviewers personally and in a professional manner?
  • Have you sent free copies of your book to reviewers who ask for it?
  • Have you searched out and built relationships with local/indie bookstores and offered to do readings/signings?

 

So, there you have it! Check back sometime, as I may be adding a few more items I forgot this time around!

Find my books on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble or Kobo or on iTunes.
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