POD Let Authors Resolve The Catch-22 of Publishing - 27 East

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POD Let Authors Resolve The Catch-22 of Publishing

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author on Dec 8, 2009

“The Cure For Jet Lag” was published more than a quarter-century ago. Yet it could well represent the future of book publishing.

A Springs trio teamed up this year to issue an updated version of the book using the print on demand—or POD—process. Indeed, with a growing number of writers making use of the POD method, Publishers Row may be moving from Manhattan to the East End, which for many years has already seen its share of writers, editors, and agents.

“This area is a hothouse of creative types, from writers to artists who can benefit from print on demand books,” stated Lynne Scanlon, the co-author of “The Cure For Jet Lag.”

“These folks will gravitate to POD not only because it is the most expedient way to produce a book, but because literary agents and editors could care less about un-established writers these days.”

But don’t the authors of books published in non-traditional ways risk acquiring a sort of stigma as not really being professional writers, thus giving agents a reason to steer clear? “Good luck finding an agent if you don’t already have one,” Ms. Scanlon said. “That’s the Catch-22 of publishing.”

Her career in publishing has included being a marketing executive with Barnes & Noble and a book publishing consultant in addition to an author. In 1983, she collaborated with Charles Ehret, who had been conducting research underwritten by the U.S. government to reduce the problems associated with long-distance air travel. The original goal was to make the U.S. Army’s rapid deployment forces more effective.

Dr. Ehret himself served in the Army’s 87th Infantry Division and won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the Battle of the Bulge. With Ms. Scanlon doing the writing for lay readers of the results of Dr. Ehret’s research, “Overcoming Jet Lag” (the original title) was published.

It was a success when issued by the Berkley Publishing Group, selling more than 200,000 copies worldwide and remaining in print for more than 20 years. Sales eventually faded, but problems with jet lag did not. Last year, Ms. Scanlon wanted to release an updated edition of the book but did not want to wait the 18 months or more it would take a traditional publisher to have new books on shelves. There was also a financial incentive: After publishers and agents and book wholesalers get their slices of the pie from a $20 book, the author’s slice may be as thin as $3.

Ms. Scanlon worked out an arrangement with Dr. Ehret’s estate and founded Back2Press Books, which specializes in republishing titles that have sold in excess of 100,000 copies. Naturally, “The Cure for Jet Lag” would be the company’s first effort. There would be no long editing and production process nor any danger of printing thousands of copies that might not sell. The new edition would be printed on demand and be readily available on the internet (www.thecureforjetlag.com) as well as at the major chain bookstores and selected shops.

What is POD, other than the dreaded form of the infestation in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”? The plain language answer is that it is a digital printing technology that allows a complete book to be printed and bound in minutes. This makes it easy and cost-effective to produce books in small lots rather than in large print runs. What has long bedeviled traditional book publishers is the practice of “guestimating” how much a title will sell: if the prediction is wrong, a publisher has to warehouse or even destroy tens of thousands of already-printed books.

Companies providing POD services are proliferating. This makes book publishing more democratic, in that almost anyone can publish a book. But, just as any person with access to the internet can produce content, there is an emerging Wild West atmosphere, thanks to POD, in which ... well, almost anyone can publish a book. Services range from a bare-bones outfit like lulu.com, which provides free online templates that allow an author to upload and format a book, to more expensive packages that include editing, cover design, marketing, and other extras.

Ms. Scanlon already had the know-how and a proven product, so she put together her own team. After she completed her rewrite, Rob Anthony, who is also a Springs EMT, did the proofreading, then the book was handed to another local, Kris Warrenburg, who runs Cyan Design and who has designed more than 60 books in San Francisco and for the last 11 years in East Hampton. A major task was a new cover, and it didn’t matter that the majority of the sales of “The Cure for Jet Lag” would be on the internet.

“The cover is always crucial, no matter where it is marketed,” Ms. Warrenburg said. “Just as with products you buy at a department store or grocery store, the packaging can have a great effect on the buyer. Attractive, compelling, well-designed book covers can win a sale over plain or uninteresting ones.”

Ms. Scanlon pointed out another reason why the East End can be fertile ground for POD authors—the large community of artists. “A book always lends credibility and prestige to an artist and it looks great on the artist’s website, where the action is nowadays for artists,” she said. “If an artist can work within the given trim sizes, he or she can have an instant book to sell or use as a promo piece. An East Hampton artist I know is doing just that, using a POD company to produce a coffee table-size book for $15 apiece. She plans on ordering 25 to start.”

It can start to look like a David vs. Goliath scenario, with individual authors as publishers versus Simon and Schuster, Random House, and other companies that offer myriad services and the personnel to do them. But, Ms. Scanlon said, “Everything a publisher provides can be done by you or you can hire people to do it if you don’t have the skills. You need to wear the hats of writer, editor, book and jacket designer, marketer, distributor, and bookkeeper. Here, you can find plenty of local talent. But be prepared to work at it. If it’s not a labor of love, don’t do it at all.”

Her motivation to undertake this labor was “control of everything from the physical book to the promotion and marketing,” Ms. Scanlon said. “‘Overcoming Jet Lag’ should have sold millions of copies, not hundreds of thousands, given the huge international audience of millions of jet travelers that went untapped by the original publisher. I’m not going to let that happen again. I’ve already gotten rave reviews for the new edition.”

Consumers are being confronted by an increasing number of POD books, perhaps more than they realize. They have been more of a presence at the annual “Authors Night” fund-raiser for the East Hampton Library, which had more than 80 writers participating last August.

The front page of the Arts & Living section of The Southampton Press and The East Hampton Press on April 16 included a feature story on a new POD book by a local author. Last year, Phil Keith, a Press columnist, published “Animus,” which was a finalist in the Amazon First Novel competition. And now there is “The Cure for Jet Lag.”

So, should we begin to feel sorry for traditional book publishers, which may be going the way of the dodo. Not yet, because the industry is taking an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. As Ms. Scanlon pointed out, “Even the traditional publishers are beginning to use POD now for their mid-list books. Books have been brought back from the dead by POD.”

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