When Leone Purdy of the Sale Write-ability writers group decided to self-publish her poetry book, not everything went to plan.
I was elated. My first book published – and it was lovely. I felt pride in myself; a feeling that was new to me. Was this beautiful, softcover, book of quirky, idiosyncratic poems really mine? Working with a publishing service had all seemed so easy. I’d paid them to edit and review my manuscript. Where once it had been a jumbled mash of incoherent, long-winded and unrhythmical verse, it was now a polished poetry book.
While the book was being edited the publisher had asked me to come to Melbourne for a chat about the book. I was busy and didn’t reply to his email. A few months later my book was ready for printing and distribution. My first shock was when I realized I had to pay extra for the printing. I had assumed the printing was part of the process, as I had bought a package deal. I had not thought to check if printing was included.
When I checked in about how many copies I’d need to have printed, I assumed the distributors would be able to advise. No such luck. “Our old distributor is no longer trading,” I was told. I would have to distribute the book myself.
The wind in my sails stormed out. Speechless and angry, I didn’t reply. Was this why he wanted to see me in Melbourne? If I’d known sooner maybe I would have had more options. Now, it was too late. I’d either have to commit to printing and take responsibility for distribution or forget about it altogether. “Go around libraries and do author talks”, the publisher wrote. “Tell your audience what led to the book and why you wrote it. Take a few books with you to sell. Start off small. Get on the Internet and Facebook and call the local paper”.
Seems simple, and by the way, why don’t I perform some magic tricks? I am not an out-there person, which is why I chose a publisher with a distributor to do it for me. I don’t like my privacy invaded and am wary of Facebook. I booked myself an event at a local library. The manager warned me “it’ll be a flop so don’t bother. Kids don’t read poetry and their parents will only bring them in because they’re shopping. No-one will buy a book”. In the end I cancelled it. However, the manager did buy a copy of the book for the library, so I won’t moan any more.
I approached the local paper but they weren’t interested -- another flop. I tried other libraries but was told I had to have a distributor for me to sell them a book.
I went back to the internet, searching for help in distributing and selling my book. An American company offered me a deal and I accepted. It was a lot of money but they told me that America was having a poetry festival in April and that Americans are mad on poetry. How can I fail to be noticed in this exciting climate? I thought to myself. I signed up and sent them a large amount of money for the first instalment.
A few days later, I realised the amount I had paid was excessive for one little poetry book. I would probably sell a few books, but, realistically, I felt I would not get the money back that I had paid. I had already spent enough money just publishing and printing my book, so I cancelled the contract.
When I rang the person in charge to get my refund, he yelled at me. Threats were made: he would make me wait for up to two months for my refund if I proceeded. Then he offered a new deal: in an instant the price dropped by 50%. I wondered how much the publishing package was really worth and still refused.
I kept chasing my refund. I was given the run around. Phone calls were put on hold and never put through; no-one knew anything; everyone was out of the office. It was unbelievable. Every time I rang up, it took forever.
Then a second instalment was taken from my bank account, even though I’d cancelled the contract 3 weeks before. My bank told me to wait 10 days, then they and the police would investigate. Informing the company took another agonizing ¾ hour late-night phone call. This was the final straw. I sent a letter to the American Consumer Protection Association.
The fact that my credit card was illegally accessed made my blood boil over. Yes, I did receive a refund before the 10 days finished, but they withheld $693.00 as a deposit. As no work was done in the 8 days they had my book, I’m angry they’ve taken this. A letter to the Consumer Association of America didn’t help either.
It’s not all bad. Back in Australia I paid a fair price to have a publishing expert help me get my book on Amazon. I have my book on display at the local post office and it sells there, however slowly. The local school supplies shop has sold around half a dozen books to primary and secondary schools and says it is quite popular. I am planning some readings at schools and looking forward to this. Markets are also on my radar, as there are many local markets where I live.
My advice on self-publishing a book of any description would be this:
- Google ‘book publishers to avoid’ and ‘publishing scams”
- Decide on what you want from the publishing firm
- Research your chosen firm thoroughly
- Ring and obtain quotes
- Understand the contract and everything in between –they are obscurely written.
- Before signing, make sure you are getting what you want without pressure
- Be sure your chosen publisher has a distributor if you want to go down this path
- Know before you sign how much money you will earn for each book you sell
Above all, be happy with what you have written.
For more information about making the most of self-publishing, Writers Victoria have produced a useful guide that you can access here.
The Wise Ink Blog have produced a handy summary of danger signs to look out for when researching publishing services online.