Print On Demand: A Conversation with Patricia Harrington
by Lorraine Bartlett
This article is taken from two interviews with Patricia Harrington, author of
Death Stalks the Khmer. The first took place in April 2001; the second was
six months after publication, in October 2001.
Lorraine Bartlett: Why did you choose a Print On Demand publisher?
Patricia Harrington: I sent out queries to a couple big publishers,
including Avon Twilight, was rejected by both with a nice handwritten note on
one of them. I thought that my best chance with a first mystery novel,
unagented, was to look at small, independent presses.
The other factor motivating me was that my book had a certain timeliness
need. The plot centers on the Cambodian refugee community and the lingering
trauma they still have as a result of the horrors they experienced
under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime. The United Nations and the Cambodian
government were discussing how to convene war crimes trials for former Khmer
Rouge leaders. I wanted to have the book published by the time the trials
were held so that the related name recognition for "Khmer"would have some
spill over marketing benefit for my book.
LB: What should one look for in a POD publisher?
PH: One critical factor is track record. Write to authors who've published
with the company you're interested in to find out their experiences. Ask
questions about communication and how well the company follows through in a
timely fashion on their commitments. My sense is that many POD companies are
finding that they are understaffed and overestimating their capacity to
deliver as quickly or as well as they anticipated. This doesn't mean that the
companies are unethical. It means that they are startup enterprises in a
production and marketplace that's going through rapid change. I think most POD
publishers are having "new startup" problems that they didn't anticipate.
There is a high author demand to be published and only so much time that
staff and printers have to produce the volume of books coming through the
LB: Did you change anything in your contract?
PH: I did not, it's pretty standard. I checked it against other contracts
posted on the web. The publisher tends to have the author over the barrel
unless you have such a hot property that you can negotiate something better.
But in that case there usually are several publishers vying for your book.
LB: At the time of our first interview, you were pleased with your choice of
AmErica House as publisher. Do you still feel the same?
PH: I do. I think it's important to note that when I signed with the
publisher, I did so with few illusions. Perhaps better said is the fact that
I knew I would have to do the work of promoting and marketing my book.
My editor was very good and sent some lovely comments along with my page
proofs for editing. I know that PA has improved some of their communications
which were spotty in the early days. On the other hand, I know that some
authors are unhappy with PA.
For me, I accomplished what I wanted, which was to have my book accepted
and published in a timely manner. I didn't pay anything to have the book
published, and it is listed in Ingram's, Baker & Taylor, etc., the primary
book distributors in the U.S. One of the biggest barriers to sales is the
price of the book, which is high for a trade paperback. However, readers who
might be interested in the title and my book, don't seem to flinch at the
price. But the casual browser probably would.
FD: Have you seen trade paperback size as a problem? (Cost, availability,
PH: My book is $21.95, and that's a high price for a "paperback." Trade
paperbacks don't "fit" into the supermarket racks. Usually Safeways, etc.,
will have one tier of racks that can accommodate about five tradeback size
books, and those tend to be "Oprah's Choices."
One of the things that I think new authors and hopeful ones should keep
in mind about POD book publishing is that, by definition, they are printed or
run off the presses as demand comes in. It takes a while to fill orders
unless there is some excess of books already printed and in the pipeline. So
it may take several weeks for the books to be printed and sent to a
bookstore. Most chain bookstores don't stock unknown POD books, primarily
because most POD publishers won't do returns. The big houses often will
"sell" large quantities, only to later have them returned to the warehouse
and finally remainder for a buck a piece, etc. So sales numbers that you read
about can be misleading because they often show initial sales--not the number
months later that had the returned books deducted from the figure. The
reality is that the author will probably order, pay for, and carry a supply
of books to have for bookstores that won't order from a POD publisher because
of corporate policy, or because the booksigning event or presentation
opportunity comes about too quickly to order.
Having said that, I'm not discouraged. The larger tradeback size, with a
good cover, is arresting, eye catching. But writing the book is hard work.
Finding a publisher is hard work. Getting the book finally to printed form is
hard work. Promoting and marketing is hard work. And all on the author's
part, I might add.
LB: Have you seen a Royalty statement?
PH: The publisher releases royalty statements twice a year in February and
August. My book was released in April, so I have seen one statement only.
LB: Do you have a rough estimate of the amount of books you've sold so far?
PH: I do from the publisher, and I have found for me that ordering a
quantity through my publicist, who is also a registered wholesaler with
Waldenbooks, is more beneficial to me. Ultimately, I make more money per
book, given that I can purchase or anyone can purchase 100 books or more at a
50% discount. From my discussions with other authors, those who are with POD
or who are midlist authors (not the celeb or big name ones), carry a stash of
books in the trunk of their cars. That tends to be a pretty standard
practice. I read somewhere that Grishem did that with his first book. Selling
your books yourself is not unusual. You're not eliminating the brick and
mortor or online bookstores for selling the books, but a combination of
venues and ways is needed particularly for the author starting out. BTW, my
publicist who is well known and respected in mysterydom is Patti Nunn of PJN
LB: What degree of promotion did you expect to see from you publisher?
PH: I didn't expect any, though I suppose I had some vague hope that he
thought my book was the "best thing since sliced bread." However, the
publisher has several hundred different books already printed and a
relatively small staff. So with a clear eye, I soon realized that it was up
to me to market Death Stalks the Khmer. My naiveté is gone and I'm getting a
priceless education on what works, what doesn't, where to expend my time and
how to husband my energy because I still need and want to write first, market
second. Having said that, I haven't put the lessons into practice. But I'm
LB: Did you get the support you anticipated from your publisher?
PH: I would have liked more, but I realize that the number of editors at
publishing houses that will hold their authors' hands as in olden days, or
who have a "caring" promotions person in an author's corner, are rare. Based
on the comments I see on lists such as Murder Must Advertise, Wicked Company,
SPAN and MJRose's Wired column, even the Big Five publishers are providing
very little support and promotion for their mid-list authors.
LB: Did you send out your own press releases to local bookstores, newspapers, etc.?
PH: Early on, in making key connections with people through the web, I
started talking with Patti Nunn of PJN Associates and BreakThrough
Productions, a publicist in the mystery genre field and very good at her
work. I've contracted with her and I do much on my own. My background is in
grant writing and I was an associate editor in the public information office
of the University of Puget Sound. I did many press releases as part of my job
LB: Did your publisher offer you a discount price so you could buy copies in
bulk to resell at signings, to libraries, for review/promotion, etc.
PH: I'm able to get a 40% discount on bulk purchases of my book.
LB: Is your book available from Amazon/B&N websites?
PH: Yes. One thing I've found is that it takes several weeks to get into
their databases. The process is that they depend upon Ingram and/or Baker and
Taylor, two of the three biggest distributors. Ingram's has to have your book
in its database before booksellers can track down the title. With the
proliferation of POD titles, and the concept that books are printed as there
is demand, the booksellers often show a four- to six-week delivery schedule,
and sometimes even show the book as out of print but that the bookseller
will order it for you.
LB: You had intended to target a certain audience. Did that pay off in terms
of sales? Have you expanded your search for an audience?
PH: I had hoped that more Khmer people might be interested in the book, at
least among the college-aged members of the community. This turned out to not
be the case. I did think that readers who liked to be both entertained and
enlightened or learn something would enjoy the book. That has been the case.
My sleuth has a Norwegian Elkhound companion/pet. Narvik helped Bridg, my
sleuth, through some tough times. Well, Elkhound owners have discovered Bridg
and Narvik, and these dog owners (who lovingly call their dogs "moose dog")
are now my biggest fans and readers. They have a network around the world,
and I've had Elkhound owners from England and South Africa order my book
based on the word spreading about it on their various lists. (This is an
example of viral marketing, by the way.) If you go to my website, you'll see
that I'm now a member of the Norwegian Elkhound webring among others! I've
done a presentation and booksigning at the Puget Sound Norwegian Elkhound Dog
Show, too. What fun, and what nice people. Now, I've got to have a way to
have a Norwegian Elkhound in my third book, which takes place in Ireland.
Bridg's dog can't accompany her, of course, so I've asked the Elkhound
owners/fans for ideas, and they're plentiful. Bridg is not only going to be
looking up her Irish roots in Death Comes to Athenry, but she'll be looking
up Narvik's Irish roots, too. You see, my readers/helpers have informed me
that there was a British Champion Sire Norwegian Elkhound, whose name was
Narvik, and his offspring got around to Ireland and America.
LB: Tell us about your book signings? The bad and the good.
PH: Booksignings in mall bookstores work best if you've had prior local
publicity in a newspaper, weekly, radio spot. Walkersby will usually not
stop. I've learned to smile and chirp, have a basket of candy on the
minuscule table tucked in a corner by the front of the store. A friendly
smile, nod and hello, is usually greeted back. Kids stop with parents and I
chat with them. I also hand out recipes with info about me on the back and
that I'm available for talks, presentations to women's groups, service clubs,
etc. (My sleuth's sidekick, C.J. runs a small cafe, so I had a reason to have
recipes.) Most of all at booksignings, I'm getting my name out there, having
the book store managers feel good that I've brought people in. Even if the
shoppers don't buy one of my books, when they stop to chat and then go into
the store, the staff feel that I helped to bring them inside. The best book
signings are for groups such as my dog show people, and I'm doing
presentations at the U of W's Southeast Asian Studies Center and at a large
active retirement community where I feel confident I'll sell a fair number of
LB: Preproduction, what was the most positive experience you had with your
PH: Undoubtedly, receiving the acceptance letter. My reaction was pure joy
and euphoria. The other positive experience was receiving nice comments from
the editor who corrected my page proofs (galleys) for final editing. She
genuinely liked the book. That was a thrill. And finally, getting the final
copy of the book cover. It was better than I had expected, and I realized the
book was truly going to be a reality.
LB: Post publication, what was your most positive experience with your
PH: The publisher is being more timely in responses and in setting up a
mechanism to respond to FAQs on their website. Also, the better discount rate
on quantity orders is good.
LB: Post publication, what is the most negative experience you've had with
PH: I asked the publisher to enter my book in an independent press award
competition and my request was turned down. He indicated he wasn't sending in
any books for consideration in the competition.
LB: What advice can you give to members thinking of sending their work to a
PH: Have realistic expectations. You can have a wonderful learning
experience but it is not an easy one. With one or two books under your belt,
and the knowledge you've gained, you'll undoubtedly be able to negotiate better contracts and create more opportunities for yourself as an author.
You will have to do an inordinate amount of legwork regarding the
promotion and marketing of your book. Be prepared for setbacks, delays in
when the book will be actually out. And be prepared for a less than enthusiastic reception by the major booksellers concerning POD authors.
Along with the good, there have been many marginal POD works published. This
has left a bad taste in the mouths of some bookstore owners/sellers. Also,
because there is now a flood of POD authors, Borders and Barnes & Noble
corporate headquarters are telling their local stores not to do booksignings
with POD authors, although local stores will override that decision at their
own discretion. But from my awareness, they use that discretion judiciously.
These changes dictate that authors have their own market plan for their
books. And, yes, I have one in rough form that I'm refining with objectives,
benchmarks and timelines. Will I share that? After I get it completed, I just
Finally, fledging authors need to consider where they are in their
writing life and where they want to be in five years. I'm older in age and I
have no intention of spending five years trying to get published. I've been
in the business world and marketplace for a long time, so I felt confident
that I can promote my book and myself. (But I did underestimate the amount of
time, energy and dollars it takes to do so!)
What I'm trying to do now is to get several books published, making sure
that the quality of each book and my writing improves and shows growth. I
also am working on gaining exposure and a reputation as a credible mystery
author. This helps in publishing circles. I'm building writing credits
through short stories, articles, columns and such in the mystery genre and
finding and creating a niche among readers. All these things make me feel
that I'm on track. Most importantly for me, I'm doing what I love, and I'm
leaving a legacy for my loved ones and a few others--I hope--through my
published writing so when I toddle off into the sunset--a ways down the
road--I'll have no regrets.
Death Stalks the Khmer, ISBN # 1-58851-350-5
Visit Pat's website at: http://www.patriciaharrington.com/
© 2001 by Lorraine Bartlett
This article originally appeared in First Draft, Newsletter of the Sisters In Crime Special Interest Group, Guppies, May 2001