Black Lawrence Press

Issue #102 — November 8, 2011

Print on Demand, Sales, and Marketing

Subscriber Q&A

In this week’s feature, an author considering signing a contract with a small press asks us a series of questions about print on demand (POD) technology, sales, marketing, distribution, and promotion, and Sapling responds. As these are questions and concerns likely shared by many authors publishing with a small press for the first (or even second or third!) time, we received permission from the author (who wished to remain anonymous) to share the questions and our responses with you.

Responses by Diane Goettel & Kit Frick

Small Press Author: Is using print on demand (POD) becoming a trend for small presses as a whole or is there a certain subset of small presses going this route?

Sapling: As with many fields, the various businesses under the small press umbrella have many different business models. In comparison to large publishers who regularly order print runs in the tens of thousands and higher, all small presses may look like print on demand operations. This is because it is common for small presses to order print runs in the 500 to 2,000 copy range. In most cases, additional print runs are ordered when stock starts to dwindle. However, a small press publishing a poetry chapbook, for example, might only sell 500 copies of such a title in the first 24 months of the book’s life. It does seem slightly more common for small presses to order smaller print runs more frequently. For example, a press might only print 50 copies of a book at a time and order additional print runs each time they get down to just a few copies or when they receive large orders. Some presses find this as a good way to control their budgets. However, the smaller the quantity, the more expensive it is to produce the books per copy, so presses that can afford to order large print runs will often do so in order to get a better deal in the long run.

SPA: POD still seems to have a stigma attached to it as an outlet for authors seeking to self-publish. Would working with a small press using POD put that same stigma on the author of a book published in this manner?

S: If the press is well-respected, it is doubtful that the press’s printing policies would reflect negatively on the author. Furthermore, unless a press advertises as being a POD operation and depending on their methods of satisfying orders, those in the community of readers may never even know whether or not the book is, in fact, a POD title.

SPA: How much is a small press limiting itself and its authors in terms of distribution, reviews, marketing, promotions and sales by using POD companies rather than traditional methods of printing and distribution?

S: This really depends on the press. If a press has a sound method of delivering on orders and is prepared to send out review copies, then being a POD press should not put many limitations on the scope of the book.

SPA: If a small press is risk averse/fiscally responsible using POD, is this indicative of the emphasis they may also have on other aspects of sales, marketing and author promotion? Is this an indication that the onus of sales and marketing will fall to the author? How much of this ground work of self-promotion will still fall to an author published by a small press not using POD?

S: Whether or not a press uses POD is not necessarily indicative of how much time the editors will put into promoting a given title. However, it is important to note that small presses simply don’t have marketing staffs to rival larger publishers. Anyone interested in publishing with a small press should be prepared to self-promote.

SPA: How can an author weigh the risks (lack of promotion and distribution, potential stigma of having a book printed via POD, potential quality problems with the printed books) versus rewards (publication, author promotion, reviewed work) of having a book published with a small press that uses POD?

S: Focusing on a press’s production methods is not the best way to choose the right press for your book. Instead, look at the whole picture. Look at titles from the press that have been in print for 18 months or more. Have they received reviews? Have the authors been promoted by the press? Are the books readily available from multiple sources (the press website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble)? Can your local bookstore get copies for you without having to jump through any unusual hoops? And, if you are offered a contract by a POD press, don’t be shy about contacting other poets or writers who have worked with them in the past. Ask about their experiences and find out whether or not working with a POD press was, in any way, a detriment.


Do you have questions about an aspect of small press publishing? If you’re interested in having your questions / concerns / curiosities addressed in a future issue of Sapling, please let us know! Email: and include “Sapling” in the subject line.