Wanna buy a book? It’s a virgin.

September 19, 2008

Hey! Meester! Over here! Wanna buy a Rolex? It’s real. No? How about Gucci sunglasses? Louis Vuitton? Juicy? Chanel? No? How about my seester? She’s a virgin. Or my mother. She’s a virgin too.

In an effort to explore all possible means to put Brown Girls back into circulation, I attend an evening seminar in Napier conducted by PublishMe (publishme.co.nz). I arrive at the advertised venue one minute before the designated start time. A posted notice informs me the meeting place has been changed. Crap!

I manage to locate the Quality Inn on my first attempt. I park. I scurry. Not a good look. A conference room. Chairs for 30. There are six of us. Two are seniors. One other is a fidgety teenage girl who insists on making pointless, inane comments. Crap is now squared!

A hyped-up fellow named Ocean is shucking and jiving the benefits of PublishMe. His delivery is fervent. It’s filled with passion and optimism. He is preaching to the wide-eyed and the hopeful. And then there is me.

My initial thoughts:

1) If he fathered nearly a dozen children, would his brood be called Ocean’s 11?

2) He is displaying the religious zeal of someone who is selling something he is very, VERY keen on. Because it works, or because it doesn’t involve him forking out any cash?

We are told the usual horror stories about how many writers are actually accepted by mainstream publishers, how the defining factor is not actually talent but rather the balance sheet. Bean counters have taken over the publishing world and, DAMMIT!, it’s time to take it back from those sweaty bastards.

PublishMe was started to make its owners rich . . . I mean, to help poor, struggling writers finally have their precious words printed and bound and on a shelf in their shed, er, local bookstore.

This company is not, we are told, a VANITY PRESS. Ocean spits out these words in disgust, as if someone has just blown chunks in his mouth. This is a legit company, we are told, with all manner of support available for its clients. But, well, yes, it IS a POD (Print on Demand) publisher. Just to be perfectly clear on that.

So, what’s the catch? I ask myself. And by catch, I mean cost.

I’ve been here before, or at least in the same neighbourhood. PublishAmerica, which initially produced Brown Girls, is also a POD publisher. The difference (and it is a HUGE difference) is they make their money, not from charging the writer a publishing fee, but by not doing any marketing per se. That lack of effort pretty much forces the author to buy their book in bulk and then sell copies to family and friends, or risk not earning one bloody red cent for all their hard work.

And so I bought in bulk. I sold my own book. And I made some money. Not a lot, mind you, and not nearly enough to make up for the nine months it took me to write the book and the 10 months it took PublishAmerica to get around to printing the darn thing. But I MADE money. And it cost me exactly ZERO to have it published.

I could have walked away with my two free author’s copies, put them on display under a spotlight and gone to my grave as a “published writer.”

The fact that people I wasn’t related to, nor had any vested interest in blowing smoke up my ass simply to get into my will, actually came up to me and explained how much they enjoyed reading Brown Girls was just a nice little bonus.

At one point in his presentation, Ocean mentioned something about $15 per printed copy, but it was a vague answer to a vague question. And so I went away wondering if, while I was still on Hastings Street, I had somehow missed the “money shot” in the introduction. That the shoe had dropped within the first three minutes and I was not there to hear the thud.

I went away still wanting to know this: How much is PublishMe going to charge Me to be Published?

I e-mailed that question to Ocean, explaining that I would be blogging about his seminar as part of my journey to return Brown Girls to the Land of Readers/Buyers/Walking ATMs. I was not surprised by a lack of response. Mention “blog” to someone and the silence is deafening. My good and kind mentor, Jeff Buick, has somehow managed to lose the ability to click the Reply tab for more than a week now, ever since, in fact, I asked for an update on his progress reviewing my manuscript so I could record it IN MY BLOG.

So I phoned PublishMe this morning. Talked to a nice lady who told me Ocean was dealing with some kind of family emergency. Fair enough. I then asked her my questions about cost.

She told me this: the writer pays for a minimum of 30 printed copies. You can then take those away and sell them on your own, or PublishMe will charge a warehousing fee, try to sell your book via its own website and then pay the writer a royalty for each book sold.

So I PAY to have my book printed. Like it was a poster or a flier or a brochure or a newsletter or a business card. And what about that does not scream VANITY PRESS!!! to you?

I did the math: using Ocean’s pulled-from-his-ass cost of $15 per book, it would cost $450 for that 30-book run. Charge $20 per book (and that is cheap as chips in this Land of Overpriced Everything) for a $5 per book profit, and you would have to sell 90 books just to break even.

Tally up the effort needed to market your product (website, media interviews, sweet-talking bookstore owners) and that’s a lot of work to JUST BREAK EVEN.

In this life, there are no free rides and no free lunches. And, apparently, no free books either.

I’m sorry, but comparing a POD publisher to a mainstream publisher (comparing a printing service to a publishing house) is like comparing masturbation to sex. The end result may be the same, but it all gets a bit messy and no one wants to see what you’ve got in your hand.

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