The Changing World of Book Publishing Offers Varied Options for Authors

Posted by on Jun 13, 2015 in Perry's Blog | 0 comments

Over the course of the past two years, I have been deeply involved in the writing and publication of two books, one on leadership and the other on heroism. There are some valuable lessons that can be drawn from these experiences and not just for those who would like to publish a book. Everyone in the business world can gain insights from business models which radically change in a short period of time.

My first experience in book publishing was a disaster in two areas. First, my book, a critical analysis of Air Force planning, made a number of senior officers quite angry. The second setback with this book was the lack of sales. Despite being favorably reviewed in the Washington Post, The Air Force Plans for Peace sold less than a thousand copies. My third and last royalty check was for 57 cents!

The lessons I learned with this book were 1. If you publish, be ready for criticism. 2. The vast majority of published books fail in the marketplace. 3. Most book publishers take a very long time getting a manuscript into print. These fundamental truths about traditional publishers have not changed.

However, what has changed in the field of book publishing is fascinating. Thanks to the creativity of various people new approaches have emerged—especially eBooks (to be analyzed next month in the Chronicle) and “Publish On Demand “(POD).

The best of the POD companies are agile, flexible, quick and responsive to the author. Since they publish books only after they have received an order, they do not keep books in stock. Hence, they do not have warehouses—a huge saving. Technology allows these companies to make a profit on a book even if they never get a large order. The top rated Print On Demand publishers are, Createspace, Author House, Outskirts and Iuniverse.

In the case of the leadership book, co-authored by Jeff Foley and me, (Rules and Tools for Leaders), a traditional publishing house (Penguin) was used. The process from a manuscript to a published book took more than nine months. The editor scrambled many of our sentences, injected both misspelled words and bad syntax into our manuscript. Also, getting in touch with a senior executive at Penguin often took weeks.

In the case of my most recent book, Courage, Compassion, Marine: The Unique Story of Jimmie Dyess, the POD process was much easier. It took three months; my wife, Connor, served as my editor and problems, with one exception, were minimal.

The biggest disadvantages with some of the POD publishers are as follows:
1. Add-on costs (such as cover design and editing) can rapidly accumulate.
2. Many of the key staff members live and work in the Philippines (accents can be very heavy)
3. Some POD publishers mandate the retail price for books (sometimes setting the price too high).
4. The author must make an upfront payment.

The biggest advantages of print on demand publishers:
1. A book can be produced quite fast.
2. Royalty rates are better than with traditional publishing houses.
3. Expert help, much at no additional cost to you, is readily available.
4. Deep discounts are offered if you make large orders; shipping costs are often waived with very large orders.

Having published books with traditional publishing houses, the Government Printing Office, a university press and a Print On Demand company, I feel that the best choice today is the POD model.

Local authors Mike Ryan (The Last Freedom: A Novel on the Real Life Adventure of Viktor Frankl) and Bowdre Mays (Is Living Well Still the Best Revenge?: Vignettes of Old Georgia: The Presence of the Past in Athens, Atlanta, and Augusta) have both been quite satisfied with the POD system.

A recent example of success using the POD approach is Turner Simkins. His marvelous book, Possibilities has had an impressive start. At the two months mark, there are 35 highly favorable reviews on, more than 3000 copies have been sold, and Turner has been featured on national television (Fox and Friends).

On Wednesday, 17 June, from 4:30 to 6 at the Augusta Museum of History Turner Simkins and I will host a book signing session. If requested, we will personalize our books. We will each make a short presentation on our books at 5 PM. Rules and Tools for Leaders, will also be available for purchase.

A major portion of the profits from these books will be allocated to good causes. In the case of Possibilities, funds will go to the Press On Foundation. In the case of my books , funds will go to the Augusta Museum of History to support the annual Jimmie Dyess Symposium.

Major General Perry Smith US Air Force (ret.) lives in Augusta. His email address is Web site: genpsmith

[This guest column was published in the Augusta Chronicle on June 13, 2015.]

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