This is depressing on many levels

The Writer Beware page on print-on-demand publishing links to here to a woman's account of trying--and failing--to use POD publishing "to achieve my true goals: getting an agent and getting a real publisher."

It's depressing, yet I suppose instructive, on multiple levels. For starters, it might as well be titled "Ingram Distribution Brutally Crushes Life Out of Promising New Writer." If you're wondering how committed the publishing industry is to fostering the world of letters, well, there's your answer for you. (The instructive bit is, yes, pay attention to distribution.)

The most minor depressing bit is that she thinks shiny paper is high-class. Oh, honey, no.

But the larger picture, which is also depressing, is that she's not understanding what she's doing wrong from a commercial point of view: It's not engaging in POD publishing; it's writing nonfiction books about folklore in the first place. There's often this belief that small presses and academic presses are kind of like farm teams, and that large commercial houses are the major leagues--you start out on the farm team, and then you work your way up. That's not true. Some (actually, most) books simply don't have enough commercial potential to be of interest to a big house--and again, it's mostly about genre, not the quality of the work. If her werewolf book, which sold 1,000 copies, had been picked up by a small or academic press and rescued from Ingram's dedicated efforts to KILL ALL POD BOOKS, it might have sold 5,000 copies, or even 10,000 copies. And she still in all likelihood wouldn't have an agent or a contract with a major publishing house.

If your goal, really and truly, is to break into commercial publishing, you have to write commercial books. Romance. Cookbooks. Mystery thrillers that slavishly copy Dan Brown. Please, I know more freaking romance writers--and many of them have comically little interest in the genre, it's just the easy way to get published. Being POD is irrelevant--one of the big self-publishing success stories is What Color Is Your Parachute? but the important thing to remember about that book is not that it was self-published but that it's a career guide, which is a very, very commercial kind of book. If, like me, you're just not willing to do that--your passion is folklore, or poetry, or cheesy sci-fi novels with a wimpy hero, lots of cussing, building action, and opportunistic homosexuality--then you need to acknowledge that about yourself and stop trying to figure out what you're doing "wrong."

But you can blame Ingram some. Seriously. What assholes.

ETA: I finally got over my depression enough to read the link to Jeremy Robinson's story, which was far less of a bummer. Robinson did eventually get an agent and a traditional publisher, but at the time of the interview, he had only the agent. It's interesting because Robinson's expectations are just so much more realistic (he's got a lot more experience in the industry). Unlike Jamie Hall, he fundamentally understands that his book is a tough sell: He's not expecting to hit the 10K mark in sales, he's shocked that it has sold as well as it has, and even with an agent, he's not taking it for granted that he'll find a U.S. publisher. I think that if his book had sold only 1,000 copies, he wouldn't be pulling it off the market entirely (because THAT will help sales) and deciding that it's all POD publishing's fault.

He's also a lot less whiny about doing layouts than I am.