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Writers Kick-start Career with Print-on-Demand

  • June Soh

On a recent Sunday afternoon, there was a steady stream of visitors to a house in Alexandria, Virginia, where John Saul signed copies of his first published book, "Candle in the Window."

“It is a collection of verse that I have compiled over the last 40 years," Saul says. "There are 66 selections in the book. They range from humor to children to love and romance, kind of [a] large range of things.”

When the local housing market collapsed a few years ago, the 64-year-old former construction manager felt the time was right to share his passion for writing with the world. Unfortunately for him, the traditional publishing industry didn't agree.

“After you get a dozen or so rejection letters from typical publishers, well-known publishers, print publishers, you get kind of frustrated," Saul says. "You wonder, 'Is this not worth doing?' You kind of question yourself.”

Last year, Saul tried a different approach; he self-published his collection online as an e-book.

“It is surprising, the reaction I have gotten from online, because people all over the world can look at it, and read it, and judge for themselves," he says. "The sales online have been tremendous.”

But not everyone likes electronic books.

"I got a lot of requests from people that wanted to read a book in their hand and not through an e-reader," Saul says. "So I kind of wanted to appease those people.”

Saul found a solution at a local book store, Politics and Prose, and its Espresso Book Machine, which allows customers to print their own paperback books, complete with full-color covers.

“They can either bring in their Word document and we can turn that into a PDF, help them with the formatting," says Bill Leggett, a consultant at the store. "Or if someone is capable, they can bring in the PDFs of the cover and the book, and we will just print it.”

No project is too big or too small. The price starts at $7 a book, plus two cents a page and it takes just a few minutes to create. Since the store introduced the Espresso Book Machine in November, it has printed about 6,000 books.

“People have printed memoirs, family histories, manuals, teaching aids,” says Leggett.

The self-published books are sold in the store and by the individual authors.

John Saul posted book signing flyers in gymnasiums, libraries and grocery stores. He also passed them out by hand in the community, which is how Phyllis Clover learned about "Candle in the Window."

“I haven’t sat down and read his book yet," Clover says, "but I do look forward to it.”

John Saul expects to be back at Politics and Prose at the end of the year - to print his next book.