The Print-On-Demand Molehill

One of the best things about being part of a community is that the whole has the potential for being self-correcting. It’s not a sure thing, as any example of mob rule or cultural intolerance can attest, but there is at least the potential for a group to help individuals overcome blind spots or obstacles.

Individuals who do not belong to a group, or who do not have access to collective wisdom, may be doomed to reinvent the wheel or to repeatedly fail because of their own tendencies and shortcomings.

I’m not a big joiner. I just threw Facebook in the junk pile because the price of belonging to that group is self-deception, and like Sam Spade I’m not willing to be somebody’s sap.* More than wearing a team blazer or adopting a popular philosophy or expressing loyalty to a particular trendy brand, I value belonging to a community of ideas. This has always led to involvement with smaller groups of people who share my interests, but the benefit to me is that these more issue-oriented groups can both augment and check my own thoughts.

I order to derive such benefits, however, it’s not simply enough to belong to a group. Approaching someone to suggest that they may be incorrect about something is fraught with risk, and presumes that the individual is open to such communications. As we all learn at a very young age, this is usually not the case. Most people would rather feel right than be right, even at the expense of their own well being. There is also a tendency for people to be more interested in telling others how wrong than they are in hearing the same thing themselves, and this tendency is often (if not commonly) greater in people who are ignorant or uninformed than it is in people who are knowledgeable. As a result, even if we are open to hearing about our mistakes, the number of reliable advisers that anyone might hope to hear from is usually small.  

To expand on the thesis above, if the size of any group interested in ideas is generally small, the size of a group of people who are interested in ideas above ego is exponentially smaller. I tend to form and hold firm opinions. I do this not as an aspect of ego, but as an extension of the process by which I analyze issues and form conclusions. I try to be rigorous and I try to drill down to bedrock, and I’m seldom if ever interested in fleeting trends. As a result, it is particularly important that others catch me when I get something wrong because I am used to trusting my own conclusions.

I mention all this because last week I wrote a post expressing frustration about the print-on-demand (POD) options available to me for The Year of the Elm, a collection of short stories I recently published on Smashwords. My main complaint was that the cost of printing a physical copy of my book seemed prohibitive, and that the potential providers of such services seemed determined to fleece me.

In subsequent comments to that post, and in private messages on the subject, I was pointed to more information, offered assistance, and encouraged to take another look at the question. And I can’t tell you how happy I was to have that kind of response and support. In that post my conclusions were hasty and I allowed my frustrations (and general fatigue) to get the better of me. Rather than simply ignore my post, however, people took the time to help me get my bearings, and that’s exactly the kind of group to which I want (and need) to belong.

After another week of reading and studying the POD question, I think I see a way to move forward with my collection. Lulu is clearly a mess, and as far as I am concerned it’s out of the running in almost every way.

LightningSource seems to have a solid set of services and options, but it also seems to be geared to people who want to pursue the production of books on a larger scale — even if that’s only 100 books at a time. As noted previously, I’m not interested in becoming my own brick-and-mortar publisher, or in trying to move quantities of books around myself. I’m trying to find a way to give readers the option of ordering a physical copy of any content I publish, and I prefer to have as little to do with the production, shipping and handling of that copy as possible.

Taking another look at CreateSpace has provided me with the answers I’ve been looking for. The sole remaining sticking point for me is the degree to which shipping costs seem both inflated and obscured, but that kind of deception is as old as the hills. The company does have the pared-back services I’m looking for, it seems healthy and focused, and in fairly short order I was able to answer most of my questions using either the site’s own FAQ or posts from community members.

I still have a lot to learn about POD. I still need to focus my goals. I still need to talk with others who are doing the same thing. Along those lines, Catherine, Caffeinated has an excellent and current CS timeline. Joel Friedlander pointed to a great post about publishing costs for self-published writers. And for a comparison of Lulu and CreateSpace that still resonates (and has proven quite prescient), see this post by April L. Hamilton. (Also see this post by April before you decide to pull the trigger on any publishing order.)

What I’m most thankful for, however, is that people simply took the time to urge me to take another look at the issue, and in so doing offered me their support. There’s no better feeling than knowing that someone has your back, even when you’re making an idiot out of yourself. That’s what a real community is supposed to be about. There will always be large social circles in which everyone validates everyone else as a means of ensuring their own validation, but I have never had an interest in that kind of society. I’m looking for people who are interested in working through ideas even at the expense of their own ego, and in living up to that standard myself.

* There are valid reasons for remaining active on Facebook even as Facebook clearly intends to profit from disclosing and selling your content and user data. Each user will have to make a value judgment, including risk over time, in order to know if Facebook is worth using. What is not in dispute, however, is that Facebook is lying to all of its users in order to increase the likelihood that users will make such judgments in Facebook’s favor.

This is a reprint from Mark Barrett‘s Ditchwalk.