Print On-Demand publishing offers relief from handling all the orders and sales transactions that you would have to handle if you printed 5000 copies of your book, stored them in your garage and handled all the order fulfillment yourself. Print on-demand companies usually arrange for the book to be listed with bookstores and databases under their name. When someone orders the book, the order goes to the POD company. The company processes the check or credit card, prints the book and fulfills it.
Many marketing books suggest that each ad or promotional piece you do should contain a code somewhere, that allows you to track which campaign your customer responded to. This helps you to track your marketing efforts, select the most effective, and build on it. This only works, however, if you are taking every order for your product. If your POD company is receiving orders it is unlikely that they will collect this kind of information for you. This means that your ability to track the effectiveness of your marketing is limited. You can, of course, still check the dates of a sale and, in some cases, the geographical location. This helps you to see that the talk you gave in Poughkeepsie in January, was probably the reason that 12 people from Upstate New York ordered your book at the start of the year.
One of the most powerful ways to encourage people to buy a product is to offer them a discount and to put a time limit on it. (‘Save 20%, this weekend only!’). Self-publishers often offer discounts at book signings and events, or if someone buys more than one copy. It is important to remember that, with books printed on-demand, the profit margin is usually smaller than with volume-printed books. This means that you have less room for offering discounts. You may be buying author copies at a 20-40% discount off the retail price. If you sell the book at even a 10% discount, you will cut into your earnings significantly.
In addition, any discounts you offer will be valid only for books the reader buys directly from you. Just as you cannot force a bookseller to offer the book at a lower price, you cannot force your POD company to keep track of this month’s promotional offer on your book and the 10,000 other titles they produce. (With technological advances this may be possible in time, but for now the POD companies are simply not sophisticated enough to do this).
You may add value by inviting people to come to a web-page with more information about the book – free to purchasers. You may invite them to request a free booklet or workbook associated with your book.
Do you long to see your book on the shelves in bookstores? Why?
Print on-demand book, by their very nature, are not printed in large quantities, warehoused or displayed in bookstores. They are printed when they are ordered. You are unlikely to ship large quantities of a print on-demand book to bookstores for display. It is important to remember, however, that bookstores are not a promotional vehicle for books, they are simply somewhere people go to buy books. Most readers buy books that they have read something about or have had recommended to them, or that seem to be on a subject they are interested in. It is also important to remember that most books do not stay on bookstore shelves for more than 6-18 months, unless they are consistently good sellers.
It is certainly a nice boost to the ego to see your book on a bookstore shelf, but it does not necessarily boost sales. In addition, bookstores take a 40% discount, cutting into your profits, dramatically.
It may help to think of your book as a mail-order product and market it accordingly. Identify your audience and ways that you can communicate with them. Direct targeted mailings at them. Encourage them to order your book directly from the POD provider (and yes, they can do that by mail, with a check).
Placing a book on a bookstore shelf is a very passive, very ineffective method of marketing your book. With the advent of online stores, readers are increasingly accustomed to ordering a book and waiting a few days for it to arrive. Take advantage of this.
You must be willing to promote your book everywhere you go. Without the power of a publishing house behind you, you are responsible for all the marketing and promotion. If you hope to sell any books you must be willing to tell people about your book. You must also – and here’s the hard part – be willing to tell people how good the book is. If you can use other people’s comments, so much the better, but you will have to swallow your modesty at some point and stand behind your product.
Are you willing to:
- Carry business cards with information about your book?
- Talk about your book with the stranger sitting next to you on the plane?
- Carry order forms for your book?
- Tell people that you have created a great product which they would really enjoy?
- Think about where to find your audience?
- Invest time and money promoting the book – possibly forever?
- Learn about the Internet?
- Learn about marketing and promotion techniques?
If not, do not expect to sell many self-published books.
It is important to have realistic sales goals. Do not expect to earn money from this venture. Expect to break even, at best.
This statement holds true for almost all kinds of publishing, traditional, self-publishing, vanity, or print on-demand. Most books in traditional publishing do not earn out their advance. This means that the publisher has calculated how many copies it thinks the book can sell, and paid the author an advance equal to the royalties on that number of books. Most books do not reach their projected goals, do not go into a second print-run and do not earn the author any further royalties. And these are books with the power of a major publishing house behind them.
But this is not all bad news. Chances are you are not writing to get rich – if you were, you’d be writing dull financial documentation for a bank. You are writing because you have to, because you want to be read, or because you want to build a reputation as an expert in your field. In this case, the more books you can get out into the world, the better, whether or not you make a profit in the long run. Remember this when deciding how much money to invest in setting up your POD book and promoting it.
If you are wildly successful you may make a profit, but remember: only an estimated 6% of all writers earn their living solely from their writings. Writing, especially fiction writing, is an avocation, not an occupation. Print on-demand offers an inexpensive way for you to share those writings, in book form, with a wider audience. If this is your main goal, print on-demand may offer the best solution and the least risk, and a safe way to test the waters of self-publishing.
In this article I have attempted to cover a lot of ground, quickly, and have not tried to give all the answers thoroughly. If I have raised questions and you want a more thorough answer, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to clarify, expand on any point in this article, or address new questions.