jar of coinsHave you ever made a purchase and you find that it’s not at all what the company promised?  Or, have to ever made a purchase where you wished you hadn’t? Makes a person almost wish they had asked “what’s the real deal?”

I have published a book, and up to this point I’ve never shared much of the journey about how it got published.  To say the experience was valuable is an understatement, but one I am not going to change for anything.

self-published book

I was a novice when it came to self-publishing companies.  I knew my book had potential to sell well on Amazon, but I also knew that the bigger publishing companies wouldn’t want my manuscript.  Not because it wasn’t good, but because it was written for a specific niche market: German Saxons of Transylvania in World War II.

Before this I had no writing experience, but I had a lot of experience with researching and fact finding, and I had worked in the field a while back.  Because of this, I was asked to take on the role of writing this book.

I knew I had to do my research on where I needed to go to have my book self-published, and at the time, being a person with little background knowledge about the time and effort it takes to get a good book to print, let alone a great book, I went to Google and typed in the search term “self-publishing companies.”  This was back in 2007, long before my book came out for people to buy it.  (In Search of The Lost Onesand was eventually published in 2011.)

I didn’t know about the fact that AuthorHouse, or iUniverse or Xlibris self-publishing companies were owned by a parent company.  I thought if the people who praised the work that they had done on their books, I would be okay.  I didn’t know about Amazon or its ranking system for books, and I didn’t understand the laws of averages about selling self-published books.  I did, however; spend a lot of time going between the three websites and comparing packages and getting advice for people I knew- or thought I knew about the publishing industry.

gold barsAfter some careful thought I decided to contact iUniverse, Xlibris and AuthorHouse.  These three companies said I could get my book listed on all the major online stores so people would buy my book.  I figured “it’s easy” because I didn’t need to worry about hiring another editor, or worrying about cover or interior design, which was something I was worried about as a first time author.  I wanted to have a successful book, and I wanted to have people feel they got their money’s worth when buying my newly published book.

Within a day of my emailing them a request for more information a lovely author sales representative contacted me from Xlibris.  I also received an email from iUniverse and AuthorHouse with a PDF on “what to expect when you’re publishing with iUniverse (or AuthorHouse.)”  Given that I was new to the self-publishing industry I didn’t have enough experience behind me to know the person on the phone from Xlibris was not interested in me or my book, but rather my money.  I willingly give them information about what I wanted for my book.  Namely, editorial services and design.

The person on the other end of the line was more than happy to make suggestions.  They asked questions about what sort of editing I needed, (a lot it turns out) what sort of marketing I wanted (I hadn’t planned on any) and how long would I take to send the manuscript in? (I had the first draft finished by this time)  When I told them it was all in the planning stage, I was told, not to worry, just send in the first draft.  At this point, an alarm bell began to ring.  I told them I would need to speak to some other companies, and I would get back to them.

I then began to search a bit deeper into some of the self-publishing companies.  One of the stops I made led me to a wonderful company (which is no longer in existence) and one particular lady took me by the hand and began to ask some very hard questions about my book.

1) Do you know your market?

2) Do you have a solid draft?

3) Do you have a blog or website where you can personally promote your book correctly?

4) Did you do your research on your options for publishing?

5) Did you get an editor, or a professional editor, for your work?

ink bottle and notebook
write a list

The list went on, and we spent a good hour talking on the phone.  Most of the questions I couldn’t answer her at the time.  The book was a first draft, and yes I knew it needed editing, but I also didn’t think it was all that bad, after I had re-written it, and sent it off to an editor. In my mind any editor would have done the job. I was wrong on that count too.

Other parts on the list were a resounding no, I didn’t have a blog up and running, and I did do some research on companies who might publish my book, but not as much as I needed to I realized.  There were a lot of choices out there, but the most common had some problems.

Around four days later, I received another call from the same representative from Xlibris.  Again, they were very cheerful and friendly.  They seemed willing to let me talk about my book plans, but, as I would later learn, they weren’t as pleased about it as before.  I declined to purchase a large package which would have been “perfect” for my needs.  I pointed out to them, I hadn’t seen a contract, and I would be interested to read one.  I asked for it, and was told I could read it, and they would send it to me via email. Which they did within 4 days (this should have been a warning, and a lesson, the contracts can be found on their website with some searching)

I read the contract, and re-read it.  It seemed all well and good, and had all the information about what to expect, but having a friend read it, they noticed a few loopholes.  I would be on my own once I signed off on each portion of the work.  If the work wasn’t right, I would pay for extra parts- such as re-edits.  It also didn’t allow for refunds once work had begun on my manuscript.  At this point more alarm bells were ringing, but I chose to ignore them for the moment.

Scroll and pen

After a month, I had to make a choice, and with some money in hand, I purchased the smallest package I could get that had  copy editing services in it.  I asked should I choose not to publish before I sent in anything would I receive a refund?  The answer was: of course, no worries. I didn’t ask for this specific part in writing, except for the contract and email confirmation of my purchase.

After a few more months of hard work on the book, I was able to send it off to the other company I had come into contact with.  That was an eye-opener for me, since what I believed was my best work was poorly written at best. The wonderful lady had taken the time to run some edits and show it to other people.  Lesson learned the hard way. Again, I had the privilege to talk to the same lady, and again she gently told me my writing needed a lot of work- as did my plan for just about anything to do with my book. Over the next few months, I had the privilege of working with her and learning from her.

What a let down.  Thankfully, what a let down.

Again around the same time, my blog was up and running, and doing okay, I commented to one of my now current editors about my book, and how it was going.  One of them offered their help, and pointed out in no uncertain terms what was wrong, which was a lot of things.  This would take a while to fix up.

I went back to Xlibris, and asked for a refund of my money.  At this point, I was told that I could put my money on the side and possibly get two smaller packages for my books, and when I was ready, in less than a year’s time, I could publish not one, but two books.  What a wonderful business opportunity for me.  I was such a creative talent.

I took issue with this offer since, I hadn’t submitted anything to them, and I had asked for my money back.  I had not asked for anything else, and I didn’t feel comfortable in having a book out in less than a year.

I had also had the chance to talk with a small press close to my home, and they were able to give me more advice on self-publishing.  With their help they suggested that they could do some of the work, but that they used a distributor for the rest.  This sounded like a better idea, and I was able to learn and ask a lot of questions in our first three hours.  We would met several more times over the course of the next year.

The end result was I once again contacted the self-publishing company, and asked for my money to be returned.  They wouldn’t.  Fortunately for me, the company I had first contacted helped out and within a few days a cheque was mailed to me.

I continued to deal with the person from the second company and the small press to have my book self-published.  I used the company’s ISBN, and they were able to work on the exterior and interior of the book for me, and allowed me to learn more about publishing.  With this knowledge, and help, my book was published through them, and without much marketing it still has people buying it.

money falling into handMy experiences with self-publishing companies was both good and bad.  The bad came from dealing with a large company and me not understanding the ways of publishing.  The good came from learning through others about what works and what doesn’t.

It is important to me that I find a way to get my book out there.  It is also important I share my experiences since this will allow other writers to go into their own journey knowing what to look for and what not to look for.  The best advice I can give is to ask “what’s the real deal?” when it comes to anything to do with the business of writing.