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Independent Publishing

Ben Jonjak on POD
Traditonal Publishing editors aren’t looking for anything new or radical, they’re looking for something familiar...

There is an attitude within the print media that frankly makes no logical sense. An attitude that seems to be contrary to the very foundations of the ethical principals of print journalism. A misplaced egotistical presumption from trash productions that dare to presume they are above anything. After all, aren’t we constantly bombarded with news stories of such striking banality that it would make you recoil in disgust if you weren’t so desensitized to it? Do we have to hear another story about some greedy fool who is suing some major fast-food chain because they were a stupid idiot and spilled scalding hot coffee on themselves? Yet, while the pages of major publications are lined with this printed garbage, editors continue to sneer at the suggestion of using any of their precious page space to discuss any independently published novel. God forbid they would venture into the arena that produced James Joyce, Henry David Thoreau, or Walt Whitman.

We live in an exciting age. An age when the science fiction dream of print on demand novels has stepped from the minds and pages of the works of fantasy, and taken its first shaky steps into the material world.

Already there are several major POD novel manufacturing companies with more on the way. POD novels can be of equal quality to traditional novels in appearance and durability and are sold at a competitive price. Their great advantage is that there is virtually no set up cost. This is a staggering development for it means that it is possible for writers to quickly reach huge audiences with radical ideas and topics that conventional publishers wouldn’t touch.

The most common complaint from the true connoisseurs of any form of modern art is its inevitable predictability. Traditional publishing is first and foremost a business, and editors are generally unwilling to put their careers and businesses on the line for a work that has the potential to be either a groundbreaking masterpiece or a spectacular flop.

Editors aren’t looking for anything new or radical, they’re looking for something familiar, something they can sell. They have to. Traditional publishing requires a huge set-up fee, and publishers need an assurance that they will be able to recuperate their investment through their sales. Therefore traditional publishers have too much to lose by publishing a book, even a great book, that isn’t the pre-packaged standard plot and structure that their readers have grown accustomed to. While this makes for good business, it is strangling literature.

Enter POD. Inexpensive set up, easy distribution and the problems have disappeared. You now have a way to test-market a daring new work of art with minimal risk. Unfortunately there is a major block in the road for any POD novel’s success, the print media.
There is an attitude among the print media that is groundless and absurd but which has taken root and will therefore be difficult to extract. The belief is that POD novels are of inferior quality and thus do not deserve to be reviewed or discussed in any publication that has any significant audience. While it is true that, just like traditional publishing, there are many POD novels that are complete garbage, it has already been proven that there are many diamonds in the rough. There have already been several success stories of writers who started their career with POD before building a name for themselves and moving on to a more cost-effective (for large print runs) traditional form of publication. There are currently many good writers who are working through POD, writers who are taking care of families, or holding down jobs and don’t have the time to go groveling at the doors of high-profile editors or agents. These writers have merely passively placed their work into the market where it is waiting peacefully, waiting to be discovered. However, nobody is really looking.

The truth is, there is just too much in the ocean of POD publications for one person to sort through. It is time for the media to start using this resource rather than scoff at it. Time and time again people complain that there are no dynamic voices working in traditional publishing, but at the same time these voices fail to explore where these voices are hiding because of their own pre-conceived notions.
Why is it so unthinkable that editors of major publications can’t designate a small fraction of their time to evaluating POD novels? Is it really so important to have one more article about spilled coffee? Can’t we shorten the best dressed article by half a page and give some attention to a struggling but bold new voice? POD is a nearly limitless supply of great new features. If editors truly believe that POD novels are inferior that should only encourage inclusion of their reviews. Great reviews can be inspiring but lousy reviews can be hilarious.

Additionally POD writers would probably be willing to pay a small fee to have their work evaluated. This is a win/win situation. Why is there such a reluctance to take advantage of it?

Perhaps POD works do not deserve the attention given to traditional works. They are likely to be poorly edited and many are of truly inferior quality. But unlike traditional publishing, with POD you never know what you’re going to get. POD means complete creative control and that is by far the most important factor in any creative venture. Currently the philosophy is to ignore POD entirely, but that is undeniably a truly unfortunate attitude. Even a short section that mocks a POD release would be a better solution than absolute disassociation.
They have only to pick up the torch and start running.
It is undeniable that there are great works of literature to be found within print on demand publications. It would be a shame if these works were never exposed to a large audience simply because the print media was too lazy and egotistical to even look for them.

© Ben Jonjak November 2002

About the Author:
Ben Jonjak holds a degree in literature from the University of Wisconsin. His writing has appeared in various print and electronic publications. He has written six novels; Glorious Failure, Thief, Small Time World, School Shooting, Freedom of the Mind, and Snapshots. After graduating in 2001, he moved to Lima, Peru where it is inexpensive to live and writing in English is candy for the mind. You can learn more about his adventures in Lima in his books and at the following URL: http://www.pageonelit.com/interviews/BJonjak.html

Update from Ben 17.11.02 on POD Publishers

I´ve published with both www.iuniverse.com and www.1stbooks.com with positive results. The markets are going to be small, but the product is of pretty good quality. Both of these companies provide links to amazon.com as well as other on-line retailers. The major difficulty with POD publishing is that it is entirely up to the author to do the marketing and advertising. I prefer iuniverse to 1stbooks for several reasons.
One iuniverse is much cheaper.
They offer three options the most inexpensive of which is 160$. This includes no advertising or press releases, but I´ve found that the press releases these companies come up with aren´t worth the price. You´re better off just writing one for yourself and finding an internet service to promote it. I believe the price for 1stbooks is two or three times more.
Iuniverse allows you one opportunity to review your proofs free of charge. You can do things like change the font or the basic layout of the book if you would like. You also have one opportunity to submit your own cover and make adjustments to it. It is pretty important that you have everything well thought out before you submit but if you are prepared. Iuniverse provides a good and inexpensive product.

For a reading fee, Mr. Jonjak offers the service of reviewing any POD publication and distributing his review to the few POD friendly publications he has painstakingly discovered. He can be contacted at:
gloriousfailure@yahoo.com

Editors Note: having had two POD novels published and seen the appalling mess they made of the text, distribution, cover design and making proofs available it would be useful to compile a list of POD publishers who have some sort of code and honour and proven track record. Top of the list of people to avoid are Domham Books in New York - Do Not Go Near Them!
If you have such a list let Ben Jonjak know, hopefully he will let us know as well.


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