The future is here with books-on-demand through the Internet

September 12, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Finally, Tom Sylvester's new book is now in print - or will be as soon as you order it.

Tom, you may remember, came to Sacramento Reads a few years ago to talk about his first book "The Descent," the tale of a commuter plane crash, and to plug his second manuscript, "The Hohmann Transfer."

You can still buy copies of his first novel, "The Descent" (hurry, fewer than 50 copies are left), and now you can read his latest, too.

Tom lives in North Carolina but is a commercial airline pilot (he's a 1982 graduate of the Air Force Academy) so he can easily show up at a book festival several thousand miles from his home. I read an early version of "The Hohmann Transfer" shortly after meeting him and was convinced that it would be published. That day has come.

"The Hohmann Transfer" will grab anyone interested in the space program, astronauts, the military, sabotage in space, or competition between the former Soviet Union and the United States. The main character, the astronaut, is a talented, beautiful woman who has her own near-crippling doubts about whether she has the right stuff for a risky assignment. It helps that she's a brainy math whiz.

Tom has even managed to stump the experts with this astronaut caper. A manager at the Johnson Space Center (where the book is based) was given the manuscript through a mutual acquaintance.

"He later asked what office I was in, thinking no outsider could possibly know that much about the inner workings of JSC," said Tom.

If you want to read this new suspense novel, you may order it through or from our link at the bottom of the page.

Yes, Tom decided to jump into the middle of the on-line book frenzy. He went with Universal Publishing, a business that publishes on demand, primarily from Internet orders. The book is expensive at $25.95 but it is immediately available. However, if you don't want to pay $26, you can download the entire book via the Internet for just $6.

"I would be thrilled if you choose to read it, regardless of the medium," said Tom, who tired of waiting for traditional publishing firms to give him the nod when he's found the alternative to be quick, easy and cost-effective.

"It's very inexpensive to get a book into print," he said. "Universal Publishing's only drawback is the standard book price, which is $25.95. I knew I would lose sales due to the steep price because there would be no impulse purchases. That means I had to use other methods to get people to buy it, i.e., ask them to trot the ISBN number down to their library, where the masses could pay for it. Universal Publishing originally published dissertations, then got into textbook pubs, so it knows small quantities and has a mindset that everyone will buy an expensive book, even fiction.

"But that's where my complaining ends," he added. "They have always kept their promises. The quality of the book is superb, they deliver promptly, and they track every nickel closely. Royalties are paid out once a quarter after the first three books are sold, and are based on the standard 40 percent if sold directly from and 20 percent if sold through someone like or a bookstore. They are's principal supplier of on-demand books and apparently have quite an operation going. Anyone can download my manuscript for $6 (of which I get 40 percent) into a .PDF file for an immediate read.

" I paid them $395 to establish the account, set up the book for publication, assign an ISBN, and link to The math was easy: Forty-one books sold to break even. I have forty-one friends who would buy chickenwire from me if they thought that knowing a chickenwire maker was chic. They have a 90-day cancellation policy, meaning if I find a large publisher, I must give them 90 days notice, which seems reasonable. "

Tom says sales are going well. After the first month, he's well into profitability. His worries about lost sales due to high prices have been countered by sales to libraries.

"Other than their price-setting, I'm very pleased with Universal Publishing (," he added. "They make a fine book on high quality paper. My dad is a commercial printer, so I notice paper grades. They're very professional, organized, and responsive. They are automation artists: I get an automated email each day, detailing the day's sales, broken down by royalty type (direct sale by uPublish, or sales through bookstores, libraries, and other online booksellers).

This may be the way for other writers to go, too. It didn't seem like a very attractive option at first, but Tom makes it sound like a good idea. Check it out.

[ To Purchase this Book (1st Edition) ]

Tom Sylvester standing by his plane Tom Sylvester is the author of
the Techno-Thrillers
"Descent" and
"The Hohmann Transfer"
(First Edition now in print).

Elisabeth Sherwin interviews Tom Sylvester in
"Keep an eye on this pilot/novelist, wannabe astronaut,"
the July 13, 1997 Printed Matter column.

Photo -- Courtesy

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