Well, today is a new day, and I am here to tell you about a discovery that is going to make a difference to gay people.
I was looking for a book (Henry James, Art of the Novel). I went back to Barnes & Noble and found a print-on-demand version of the book I wanted. Print on demand is a printing process that’s been around for at least twenty years, but I have never been in a position where the book I needed could be gotten only through print on demand. I could always get the book I wanted in epub for my iPad or in a print version. Now, here I was up against the need for a book that only came in print on demand. I was suspicious, but I bought it, about $25.00.
I had no great hopes this book was going to look and feel OK in my hands. But when it came, a week later, I was amazed. It was indistinguishable from an error-free full price new trade paperback. That day, I swam laps at the Y and then turned down Boylston to visit printers I knew. I dropped my James book on the counter and said to them, “What do you know about print on demand?”
One of them knew all about it. Print on demand involves a large machine (I have never seen one, but I imagine some cross between a large copier and the huge presses you see sometimes in movies which print newspapers.) The printer gave me the name of a company that was “the big dog” in that industry. I checked out the “big dog’s” website, liked it, registered for an account, read what was now required, and found out that everything that I had thought I was going to spend my days on for the next six months was now put on hold. I was going to be doing something entirely new (to me).
If you want to buy a print on demand book, you go to Amazon, or Barnes & Noble or your local seller, and buy the book through them, paying $15 or more (sometimes less). Here is the process you’re starting. The manufacturer gets a digital file which can be read by its machine, uploads the file to the computer driving the machine, and then prints that book on the machine. After the machine does what it does—prints, collates, trims, binds—way down at the other end of the machine, the exit end, there falls into the tray with a plop! a fully printed and paper-bound book. One copy. That’s what we need. We don’t need a financial structure that requires the sale of 10,000 copies to be economically feasible. You can have the book you want without having to get 10,000 other people to want the same book. Freedom.
The writer has a separate set of tasks. Google search print on demand. Choose one of the companies that make print-on-demand books. Find out how they want their files formatted. I have spent the last five days, working on files for my novel Race Point Light, preparing a file from which RPL can be printed. I am currently working on files for Winter Rain. My manufacturer wants a Word file so I bought a copy of Microsoft Office. I dislike Word, but I am willing to suffer for my art. I start with Word, convert into a format the manufacturer likes, upload the cover design and any pictures (I already have ISBN), and then click on the button that says, Make a file to print.
The result of all this is that my friend who lives in Oakland who likes print books and dislikes ebooks, will be able to get Race Point Light at a moderate price in a print edition. The larger point—and this is the reason that print on demand is going to be such a gift to LGBTQ people and to minorities generally—is that for the last twenty years the American publishing industry has been increasingly driven by money and the question, How many books will this novel sell? Every time my books were submitted to New York publishers, one of the reasons the publishers turned them down is that they were too intensely gay to be cross-over books. Or, they were not like all the other gay books out there. They weren’t going to appeal to straight people who live in little towns. The publishers have a complex formula by which they consider how many copies a particular book will sell, measured against the subject of the book and its size (mine were large, over 500 pages). And the question was, Will they sell enough copies to recoup for the publisher the cost of printing a book of that size? In a small community like the LGBTQ, there are not enough readers and book buyers to justify the sale and purchase of a particular book. Minorities—except for those few writers who had slipped through the net—have essentially lost access to the big publishing houses. Corporate ownership of publishers is bad for everybody but it is particularly bad for minorities—black people, LGBTQ people, Hispanics, others—who, under this scheme, don’t have the numbers to gain sufficient access to American publishing.
Print on demand changes all that. For several hundred dollars, I can get my file to the point of being able to print. A reader will be able to buy this printed, paper book at a moderate price even if she is the only person in the world to want to read that book. And, if the writer wants, the manufacturer of the print on demand edition of Race Point Light is capable of listing my book with the big online sales sites and is capable of being a portal for sales. At a rate of one book at a time. It’s a whole new financial model.
This is liberating for every gay writer and gay reader—and every other minority, too.