Indie publishers Shawna Kenney (left) and Cara Bruce (right) on why "print on demand" is not a dirty phrase.
Writing is one thing. Publishing is a different animal altogether. Both of us have both been published by major and independent presses, we have separate agent representation for our individual writing projects, but we started our own indie press as a natural extension of things we were working on together—teaching online writing courses and booking literary events. We had an idea for a line of themed nonfiction anthologies, true stories of people struggling with a question from various angles. Our first anthology, Robot Hearts: True and Twisted Tales of Seeking Love in the Digital Age
(May 2010), was born of a love for stories, particularly stories about technology and relationships. It was technology that brought us together (Cara reviewed Shawna’s first book, I Was a Teenage Dominatrix
, in 2000); Facebook reunited us in 2009; now we are using Createspace (Amazon.com’s “self-publishing” arm) to publish the work of others on our own imprint name.
Both of us come from punk rock’s DIY culture, so we realize that it might seem strange to use a corporate entity in an indie publishing venture, but we see “print on demand” as a valuable alternative, not the dirty phrase that some in the literary world have made it out to be. Sure, Amazon gets a cut for having our book on the site and printing it, but like any other small press, we maintain control over the quality of work accepted into our books, we choose the cover art, and hire our own book designers. We also purchase our own International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) so we own all of the rights, and we can let our authors keep the rights to their stories. And at the end of the day, we don’t have hundreds of books sitting in our homes, waiting to be sold, because they are printed at the time they’re ordered. It’s an economically sound environmentally-friendly way of doing business.
Using print on demand lets us make quality books for less money. Anyone who has ever tried to make a living off of writing books understands the reality. When you work with a major publisher you may get an advance and you may get royalties. Typical royalties usually come out to anywhere from 50 cents to two dollars a book, payable only after you repay the advance. With print on demand, we have the potential to earn more money per book. We do have to put up the original printing costs and marketing costs, but whatever happens—book sales, licensing agreements, or anything else—is a direct result of our hard work and we get to reap the benefits.
Createspace’s Expanded Distribution Channel gives us access to major distributors, so our book can be ordered by any bookstore. Of course, like other small presses, we don’t have the budget to advertise our books to them at the big conventions or to the public in airports, malls, bus-stops, etc. But we do have the Internet—this free, glorious tool that can be used to reach media outlets anywhere in the world—and word-of-mouth. The struggle for any writer is to have his or her voice heard. We’ve known authors on major publishers to pout about how little the house did to promote their work. The truth is that every author must market themselves, whether on an indie or a major. It takes creativity, hard work and a strong belief in what you’re doing to get your work out into the world. No one will ever care about your book as much as you do.