I have published a children’s book entitled The Old Blue Whale with a subsidy press which came out in March of this year and I wanted to share my experience in hopes that you will not make the same mistake I made.
I am a schoolteacher, and I don’t think that I consciously set out to write a book. I have always enjoyed writing, but I was always pressed for time. After teaching my students about whales, my story just started coming together. Then I began to think about the possibility of a real children’s book. I developed a vocabulary, a glossary, a true facts section for whales, an activity page, and lastly an original poem that I had written previously that matched the story’s theme. I felt that it was developing into a viable book, and I began to let colleagues read it. Everyone loved my book. I read it to some classes at school and got great responses. Then teachers began to suggest publishing. I sent the manuscript to some large publishing houses. I got every last letter back unopened. I soon discovered that large publishers did not accept unsolicited manuscripts. I knew of no other publishing houses.
Then someone mentioned publishing from the Internet. I was totally unprepared for this experience, but by this time I believed in my book and wanted to publish it so I started to look.
The first subsidy publishers that I discovered on the Internet were Authorhouse, IUniverse, XLibris, and Dog Ear Publishing. I had never heard of “subsidy publishing” or “vanity publishing”, and these sites are also very careful not to explain the true differences between themselves and traditional publishers. They attempt to hook an unsuspecting new author by promoting their “generous” royalties, stating how little money you make with traditional publishers, “owning your copyright” as compared to signing it over to a company, “owning your book”, stating that you will have your own “design consultant”, and anything else that will make it sound wonderful. They stress that because you are in control of everything, you will make more money.
My call to the POD press I selected was answered by a voice saying “stay on the line” and a “representative”, (notice carefully this person is not identified as a salesperson), will answer.” Your new “representative” asks you a series of questions, and works to put you at ease about their services. The “representatives” are actually commissioned salespeople, and once your contract is signed you are forgotten. Your representative doesn’t want to be bothered with you any longer, because your signature is on that contract. Your representative is on to the next “patsy”.
One of their biggest lies is about online booksellers. They make you believe that the book will be on dozens of sites. The truth: My book appears on Amazon, Borders (these two companies are one now), Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Ingram distributors, and a few others. Just recently on Amazon I discovered that other booksellers have placed links to their sites to sell my book at a discount. Someone is actually offering a used copy for a greater discount.
The sites on which my book do not appear is just as serious. My book is not listed on Books in Print. I feel that it would help me if the book was listed in their database. It is not listed on the American Library Association. I certainly think that my book should be listed there.
My personal opinion is that I am wasting time if I wait for someone online to order my book. The chance of someone ordering a book from an author they have never heard of is slim to none. I am in hopes that I can change that. To better my chances, I enrolled my book in their Search Inside program. I have to send them a book which I will do shortly. I have already been “skinned” so what’s a little more.
The company I selected had these issues with these items:
They offer copyediting, for a greatly inflated price. I passed on that one because as a teacher, I felt that I could correct my errors. I quickly discovered that correcting your own work is not an easy task, and I paid a minimum $25 correction fee, plus $2 for each correction of any type, and a $15 charge for each galley (the book) on CD. As a newcomer to the writing world I had to do this twice, and this came to about an additional $100.
The “design team”. When your complete book is submitted on Microsoft word, your “design team” arranges a teleconference time for you. When you submit the manuscript, you have already indicted where new pages begin, where picture are placed, and where your book sections are placed. Your “design session” is simply a question-answer conversation where you as author must make all the decisions. If you ask for guidance they just put it right back in your lap with, “Well, it’s your book. How do you want it? So the result was that I designed everything myself, except the font choice. I did prod them to tell me their idea for a suitable font.
To the printer. Four months after submitting the manuscript, the book went to the printer at Lightning Source. Immediately there was a problem. I waited and waited and then I started calling the support service. I discovered that there was a problem with the casewrap. The book would not wrap correctly, so it was returned to correct the problem. When the book was returned to the printer, it went on the bottom of the stack to begin its wait all over again. I received my ‘complimentary copy’, reviewed it, and returned it with approval to print the 1st 100 copies. On March 3rd the books arrived, 5 months after submission of the manuscript.
The promotions department . The promotions department is fraught with problems. They promote press releases. They did write a very creative press release. I was required to write the release and a bio, and they did polish it up well. I think that part of the problem is that they did not have a particular person to address these releases to, and I am just now discovering how many were thrown out by the media that received them. Also, all releases are sent at one time. The author who must follow up on them cannot do so in a timely manner. The amount (500 releases) would take a full year for adequate follow-up (beginning authors have to work), and by then the media has forgotten you, if they ever paid attention the first time. The company tries to convince you to buy their press release promotion by stressing that the media can send for a free book. You, the unsuspecting new author, does not know that the media receives a glut of these daily. Their promotions are extremely overpriced.
Their promotion people are incompetent. My name and sometimes even the title of my book were misspelled on websites. When I complained, they stated they would fix the problem. Nothing was done and I complained again. Still nothing was done. I finally searched around on some of the sites and managed to fix part of the problems.
Other subsidy publishers are not the answer. For example, another very old subsidy publisher wants a person to submit their manuscript, and they will make the author a proposal. If a deal is struck, they want the author to sign over their book rights for two years. They will almost surely run the total book publishing cost up to around $3000. Yet unsuspecting people get caught in their web everyday. I visited another one day, and quickly decided they were not for me. I never found any prices listed. I searched their whole site. I couldn’t see any reason to investigate further. By this time I was a little wiser. All subsidy and or vanity publishers are going to be some version of each other. The name will be different, but the company goals will be the same. Make money off the author, not the sale of books. Don’t waste your time, and especially your hard-earned money on them. When you have to spend so much for publishing costs then you are locked into charging the consumer more for your book than you might feel is appropriate.
I want to say one positive statement about my experience. My book did come out looking very attractive. It is a quality paperback book. The cover is done in a spray laminate that looks great. The book folds out smoothly and all the text is readily visible. There is no text too near the binding. But I don’t know if I could make the book a large success. I think that the publishing and printing expense is part of the total problem.
What is the answer if you cannot contract with a traditional publisher right away? First, don’t despair and throw up your hands and quit. Who is better to believe in your work than you? Try your book out on people you have faith in and can value their opinion. If you believe your book is publishable, truly self publish your book. There are many companies servicing self publishers out there on the web. From my internet research I truly believe that self publishing.com owned by Ron Pramschufer, is the best way to go. His prices are clearly listed. He assists you step by step, again being open about the charges for each step. His site provides links to Bowker (for your ISBN numbers) and for copyrighting your book. His people are easily accessible by phone (a human voice!!) and by e-mail. I spoke to the book coach by phone, and he knew that I was not yet a customer. He advised me to the best of his ability, and did not rush to get me off the phone. I will publish my sequel to my children’s book with self publishing.com.
In closing I would like to warn unsuspecting people to beware of websites that offer poetry contests. They are only concerned with making money. Everyone wins an Editor’s Choice Award. Imagine my surprise when I saw one hanging up in daughter’s house. It is just a piece of paper, thin paper at that. From then on they bombard your mailbox. They want to put your poem in their poetry anthologies. They are certain you will buy a book to see your poem in print. Then they offer you a page for your short bio. Naturally, this cost more money. They want you to attend very expensive conferences at which you read your poem in person, buy an expensive commemorative silver bowl engraved with your name, and buy a membership to their society. I experienced this with poetry.com. Fortunately I caught on very quickly, and now I throw all their mail in the trash.
Human nature gives us the desire to be heard. For some of us that desire expresses itself with the written word. If you have been caught by one of these companies, don’t dwell on the situation. Just move on and make better choices the next time.