Today’s Great Falls Tribune features a story about a young woman named Jessica Wyatt who has published a book via Print On Demand with AuthorHouse. Jessica is twenty and her book, called "EXODUS," is a fictional modern holocaust account 557 pages long. It cost her $2,000. So far 80 copies have sold with one or two dollars in royalties coming back to her for each one.
What Jessica’s money bought breaks down this way:
A base price of around $700 includes
1. Custom layout of cover and interior
2. The ISBN that allows the book to enter the regular bookstore distribution system
3. 10 free copies
4. High quality paper with 80 pound cover stock
1. Copyrighting (actually books are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are published, so this must mean the registering of the copyright with Washington, D.C.)
2. Copy and content editing
3. Marketing (I suspect this means mostly listing in pages like those in Bloomsbury Review -- a photo of the cover and a squib about content, ten to a page for four pages)
4. The “book return program,” which costs $699 for one year and gives retailers the option to return books that don’t sell. This is one of the real anchors hanging around the necks of publishers, who can think they have sold an entire printing of a book, only to have them nearly all returned at tax time to avoid inventory taxes. It is one of the practices that Print On Demand may end. But AuthorHouse claims that no bookstores will order books they can’t return.
Wyatt didn’t opt for copy editing, though she is operating with a G.E.D., and says she still finds many errors. She made some changes during proofing that cost hundreds of dollars. She is a television watcher, doing much of her writing during commercials, and was finally motivated into writing her book when her viewing was interrupted by 9/11. What she REALLY wants to do is produce a movie. In the meantime she works at Quizno’s Pizza.
One can separate the stages of book-making this way:
1. Someone writes or compiles it. This is the most poorly paid part and yet the authors come crowding!
2. Someone (usually someone else, often someone with a lot more experience) edits in one or both of the following ways:
A. Reorganizing, trimming, asking for more writing in a specific way, focusing, and in general improving -- one hopes.
B. Line-editing, which means correcting for spelling, grammar and so on
There might also be fact-checking or a legal review. Lately it has seemed necessary for publishers to make sure people are who they say they are.
3. When the text is in order, photos or other art might be added. Then someone does the layout, which means arranging things on the page. When it is done with a computer program, expertise with software counts heavily. Few do old-fashioned paste-up boards anymore. Layout might be contracted out.
4. The book is actually printed and assembled. This is done by a contractor.
5. The book is distributed to points of sale. The revolution has been that this point might be on the Internet or at a website. Authors are less and less enamored of going to a bookstore and signing autographs to bring in the customers. Behind all the bookstores is a wholesale warehouse called Ingrams. When you ask whether a book can be ordered at a bookstore, they go look at the Ingrams microfiches. If it isn't there, they say no. On the Internet one is not limited to Ingrams.
6. Promotion is supposed to be done by publishers through their catalogues and contacts with critics. So many publishing houses do so little that some authors pay a business that does this specifically. Whoever got Wyatt into the GF Tribune was doing a very good job of promoting. There’s a color photo with her kitty and a cover of the book, plus price and suggested sources.
7. Criticism could be considered a kind of promotion, but might more usefully do some sorting, setting up categories and criteria, comparing, searching for meanings and explicating methods. The Bloomsbury Review" is an instrument of criticism.
The September/October 2006 issue has six pages of color advertising from AuthorHouse, each showing the front of an AuthorHouse printed book alongside a squib about the authors, which range from Buddy Ebsen’s script for “Barnaby Jones” to “Baby Alligator Comes to Play” which is meant to help little kids face the dark at bedtime. That is, there is no characteristic editorial framing of the mission of the press -- just one-book-after-another with no pattern that I can see. I believe I recall a court case where an author sued, claiming that the press was not promoting his or her book though they had promised that service. These pages would defend the press against those charges.
I don’t think I’ve ever noticed an actual review of an AuthorHouse book in the Bloomsbury Review.
Bloomsbury Review is valuable because they are based in Denver so not dominated by a Manhattan view of the world. Therefore, many of the Western university presses take full page ads. The University of Nebraska Press has the back page, which lists eleven of their books, five of which have covers shown. The University of New Mexico Press, which has the first inside page, lists eight books with no covers shown. The University of Arizona Press has one column, seven and a half inches tall. None of the university presses can afford color. The thing to do is to call and get on the list for the catalogues, which often contain drastically slashed prices for excellent remaindered books they can no longer afford to keep in warehouses where they are taxed.
List servs exist for academics focussed on one subject, like Western history or Western literature. I rarely hear them discuss the books in Bloomsbury Review, either the university press ones or the AuthorHouse ones. They don’t read reviews: they ask each other.
What Print-On-Demand operations do is to move the existence of books to cyberspace before they are printed, rather than waiting for something like the Great Google Project of photocopying whole libraries. Books today are often only printed to exist temporarily in the hands of someone who is very likely to resell the paper copy through the Internet used-book websites like Alibris.com or Abebooks.com or even Amazon, which now has become a kind of “books in print” headquarters where one can sell one’s own books, like eBay. The stripping of books from libraries -- in order to make room for computers -- has been a bonanza for many of us with a taste for a kind of book no longer written. This is hard on contemporary writers.