Saturday, June 2, 2012
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT SELF-PUBLISHING WITH XLIBRIS...The author must have nerves of steel...
What I learned about self-publishing with Xlibris:
The author must have nerves of steel
People write for many reasons, and some take the next step and publish what they have written. I like to write children’s stories, and those close to me convinced me to publish them. It is nice to hold a printed book and see vibrant illustrations. The characters finally come to life!
All authors have the desire that readers will like their book and hold the hope that they will fly off bookshelves like hotcakes. I am not that naïve; I know the limits of self-publishing.
Self-publishing companies come to the rescue of authors who want to see their work published. They promise to publish books in a few months, and it sounds realistic and believable. After all, how long could it possibly take to make a decent children’s book with a dozen illustrations? Not that long, I was told when I originally researched self-publishing companies.
I read some negative reviews too. I thought these bad reviews were written by disgruntled people, authors who didn’t want to be involved in their projects. Publishers are not mind readers, and the authors must tell them how they envision their book. Little did I know that I would become one of those people—an author who would write an article, this article, because of a bad experience with a self-publishing company.
I’ve never considered myself a complainer, nor am I a quitter. I thought I could handle anything, until I started working with Xlibris’ representatives.
In January 2011, I decided to publish some of my stories, and after researching self-publishing companies, I contacted Xlibris. Their representative, who was a very good salesperson, convinced me to try Xlibris. Everything he said sounded promising, and after more research, I agreed and submitted my two manuscripts.
The first representative spoke with knowledge and confidence. I asked him to read my stories and give me an idea which package would be the most helpful. They were my first books, and as a beginner in the book business, I needed all the help I could get. In my wildest dreams, I would never have believed a self-publishing company could cause such nightmares and leave such a bad taste about publishing that I must share my experience with the public.
All my life I’ve run businesses, including my own, and for many years I’ve worked with the public. I am all business when it comes to making a good product. I think any self-respecting businessman or woman would do the same. The rules are the same—you give your customers satisfactory service and they come back for more. Business is business, and no matter what kind of customers you serve, you want the same result: to keep your customers happy. If you are lucky, they will spread the word about the quality services you provide, and with that comes success and recognition. It is as simple as that.
I am not sure if Xlibris’ representative read my stories, but he advised me to buy one of their most expensive packages, which he said would cover all my needs. I took his advice under consideration, and in January 2011 I purchased their Executive package for two children’s books of 44 pages each, including illustrations and marketing services, for $ 9,300.00.
In the beginning I felt broke but relieved. I naively thought the publishing process would be taken care of. I was dealing with professionals! That was when I learned that money does not buy happiness. The Executive package was to cover all services: editing my manuscript, creating illustrations, then marketing would kick in, and everything would run smoothly and peacefully. At that time, it sounded promising and encouraging. I could take off my shoes, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
By nature, I am a businessperson. I always take care of things and oversee the products I make. I pay attention to details that are important to customers and me, especially when it comes to children. I would never cheat little customers. My final product must look like one I would buy for myself. If I am not attracted to my product, then why should anyone else buy it?
Shortly thereafter, my manuscripts were edited. When I received the manuscripts back, I found notes with a few corrections and a release form attached.
“A few commas, a few wrong words, and so few suggestions. Not bad for a foreigner,” I thought proudly. English is one of the few languages I speak, and I relied heavily on the professional team to help me with editing.
“That’s how a manuscript should look?” I asked my representative.
“We have the best people in the publishing field. If you sign a release form, the manuscript will be ready for the next stage, and we will quickly move to layout,” he replied.
One day my daughter, who is a math teacher, read my edited manuscripts and found many grammar mistakes that had been missed. I quickly realized how poorly my manuscript had been edited and how many mistakes had been overlooked.
“A math teacher against a professional team? Unfair! Not an even battle,” I thought. I wrote a complaint, and their representative promised me they would correct the grammar mistakes that their editor had missed.
I honestly believed they would correct their errors, and I concentrated on the illustrations. Things became progressively worse when I received the first sketches for the characters in my book. They were done horribly, as if a small child had drawn them. I kindly explained to the representative that they should come up with better choices for illustrations. They did, but they still looked immature, and none of them presented my story accurately.
I rolled up my sleeves and went on the Internet. For weeks, I searched for art samples and pictures, spending many hours emailing, describing how I envisioned the mouse that was the main character of my book. I sent many instructions on how to draw his face, his clothes, his whiskers, but the artists still missed his whiskers on a few illustrations.
“To heck with whiskers,” I thought. “Children wouldn’t notice them anyway.” I tossed in bed night after night. I could not sleep for months.
“A mouse without whiskers? Insane!” I changed my mind.
In the end, Carlo the mouse came out really cute … after many sleepless nights, after searching for samples, pictures, drawings, sketches, and after switching illustrators and representatives. I finally complained to customer service and threatened to withdraw my projects.
When illustrator Juli Hasegawa came in to the picture and saved my illustrations, she was by far the best illustrator I’d worked with and came closest to what I had envisioned for my book.
My first book, Carlo the Mouse on Vacation, slowly moved ahead. The illustrations were colored and the book went to the production stage. As I mentioned previously, I am a foreigner, and I heavily relied on the competence of Xlibris’ professional team. That was why I bought a complete package. Correcting English grammar is not my cup of tea.
After Xlibris sent me a galley to look at and approve, I found that the production team had made more mistakes than I could imagine. After layout, their correction team did not bother to check pages or text. Illustrations were cut on each side, and words were smashed or ran into each other. I made note of the corrections and sent them back to Xlibris, but in the process of their corrections on the galley, they made more mistakes. The galley went back and forth for months, but the correction team apparently never reread what they corrected and sent the galley back with additional mistakes.
After months of struggling to get a clean, corrected galley, I wrote another complaint, but there was no answer. Customer service at Xlibris never took the time to call or had the courtesy to answer my concerns. I wrote a letter to the CEO, Kevin Weiss, but it seems he ignored my problems as well.
In the fall, we eventually reached the final galley stage, but after a math teacher had found so many mistakes in the galley, I did not trust Xlibris with grammar, and asked to check the manuscript once more time. They said they would.
Before I signed the release form, I noticed additional mistakes they had made, ones which I had previously directed them to correct. I asked the production team to be sure there would be no grammar mistakes in the galley and to be certain they used the final galley for printing. The representative promised there would be no problem with the galley.
After reading my story so many times, I had it memorized and could see it in my dreams. At that point, I should have given up, but I was determined to finish this project. Xlibris would not break my will and cause me to quit. I was almost there. I could smell my printed book. I wanted the adorable Carlo the mouse to see the world. I had created that funny mouse and I wanted children to meet him. Let the children judge and decide whether Carlo would live or not. I signed the release form and got congratulations from my Xlibris representative.
Finally, my first book was going to see the world. My picture was printed on the back of the book, just as I had dreamed. Great! I’m officially an author! Who would have believed it? I wrote the book in English! Carlo the mouse will meet the kids!
The holidays arrived … too soon. Santa wasn’t ready. Holding my first book, I suddenly noticed sticky tape on each corner. I quickly flipped through the book and found that the production team never took off the tape that held the pages. They printed my first book with tape on each page corner.
Angry, I wrote another book about Carlo the mouse struggling to survive a publishing company. This time the tape marks fit, because the poor animals had to create the book themselves after their struggles with Xlibris. Maybe Xlibris would be interested in publishing this book for free, but for now I decided to concentrate on my first two books and let them finish my projects.
All my pride and glory vanished when I saw that the illustrations were cut on each side again and appeared too large. Someone in the design department had messed up the size of the book, which should have been 8.5 by 11 inches. The pages were uneven and not centered. I was stunned at how sloppily the book was printed, fuzzy and unclear. The grammar mistakes that they had promised to fix had not been corrected. The design team had messed up the galley and let it go to printing without additional checking. After complaining, I received an explanation from my representative: “You owe us money to fix the tape marks.”
I stopped breathing and turned blue! Previously, many times on the phone, I had reminded the Xlibris representative to remove these tape marks.
“We would never print the book with the tape marks,” they reassured me.
If I could cry, I would, but I was in such a state of shock that I had forgotten how to do so. I wanted to howl like a wolf during the full moon…
“Did I place them there?” I asked.
“You signed a release form,” was their answer.
Once again, Carlo the mouse was in jeopardy. I happened to like my adventurous mouse and did not want him to disappear forever. I swallowed my pride and wrote another complaint. Carlo the Mouse on Vacation was my first book. I had worked so hard to give life to this funny, adorable mouse.
I contacted top management and the book was sent back to the production team, but I had lost my trust in Xlibris and hired my own editor, who did a great job by editing a new galley. Xlibris removed the tape and did a new layout for an additional $300.00.
Meanwhile, the marketing team lunched press and newswire releases, but the book was not available for sale. What was the point of advertising something that wasn’t available for sale? What a waste of money and time. The website wasn’t created either, and links that had been advertised went nowhere. Oh, Xlibris!
The marketing team had little knowledge of how the technical side of the Internet works. I hired my own website expert to deal with the Xlibris Internet marketing team, and for months, he directed them how to create a simple website, while he was working on my own website.
I don’t blame the representative. I didn’t know much about the Internet myself. The difference is that I don’t work for Xlibris! That’s why I bought an Executive package for almost $10,000.00. What is Xlibris’ excuse? They claim to be professionals, but have so little to offer. It took over two months and many emails to get a new galley redone.
After more than a year of working with Xlibris on my book Carlo the Mouse on Vacation, my adventure with Xlibris is finally over. The end of my suffering … Carlo the mouse will live! Now I can celebrate my first published book, Carlo the Mouse on Vacation, which by the way looks amazing, bursting with color and fun. My nieces and nephews love Carlo! They inspired me to write a series of ten adventures of Carlo the mouse inside the hospital.
The first version of Carlo the Mouse on Vacation is available in print on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and on most e-devices. I did not trust Xlibris with the e-book, which they had promised to convert for free, and had it done by EbookIt, which turned out to be an excellent company.
Hooray for Carlo the Mouse on Vacation! I hope my little readers will like this tricky little mouse. One thing I can promise Xlibris: Carlo the mouse will live and travel the world. I will make sure, because he deserves to be heard and seen.
After a year of fighting for cute Carlo the mouse, I have grown a very thick skin and have fought hard for my second book, The Trees Have Hearts, which has a special place in my heart. While working on TheTrees Have Hearts, I oversaw every word and every stroke in each illustration. No more mistakes!
For many months, I worked hard, but Xlibris was the best school I have ever attended. The experience I had with Xlibris taught me a great lesson: I learned how to make good books.
Now Xlibris has finally published my second book, The Trees Have Hearts, which looks amazing, bursting with vibrant colors and printed on quality paper. Once again, special thanks to Juli Hasegawa, a talented Filipina artist, who saved my two books.
I have been more than patient over the last year, but after struggling with Xlibris, I had no other option than to write this blog post and explain everything that has happened in my interactions with this company. If I can help at least one author to avoid my mistakes, it was well worth it to write this post. I am right here, one e-mail away.
Although I was exasperated, I would not give up before my project was completed to my satisfaction. I am not a nightmare—I do not go away.
What have I learned about the publishing process with Xlibris?
1. I wrote another children’s book.
2. Xlibris taught me how to make my own book.
3. Xlibris can hire me as a consultant if they wish.
4. Now I know what not to do and can help others.
Authors are not mean people. They write books, and most of the time they are harmless and depend too much on self-publishing companies, which promise to help and to create a good product. Authors pay them for their services and have the right to expect professionals who care.
I would like the folks at Xlibris to open their eyes and see what’s happening. They can compete with other book publishing companies if they are willing to pay attention, listen to customers, and learn from their mistakes. They produced two great books for me, Carlo the Mouse on Vacation and The Trees Have Hearts, which can easily compete with any publishing house. Our names are written next to each other, and now we can both be proud of the product we created. I am not a complainer, or God forbid, a quitter. I just like to write children’s stories and quality books.
Here is what I learned after working with Xlibris for almost a year:
1) Xlibris could be a capable company if its teams learn how to communicate with each other and the writer.
2) Xlibris could do much better if it hired qualified, well-trained, caring professional workers.
3) Xlibris has talented people, but they are lost between representatives and authors.
4) Xlibris could provide a higher quality product if it did not use cheap labor.
5) Xlibris could print vibrant books if it used good printing subcontractors.
6) Xlibris could stand up to any publisher if it provided the services it promises.
7) Xlibris must learn to provide help for the author, not the other way around.
8) Xlibris must take an interest in selling books and have a better marketing department.
9) Xlibris must learn how to direct authors, not make them do all the work for their representatives.
10) Xlibris could produce the best books if it reads its bad reviews and learns from them.
Authors, take note! Never give up, do your homework, and don’t be afraid to stand up to your publisher. Remember, they work for you. You pay them your hard-earned money. I am a beginning author, but I am not a beginner in business. People shop with their eyes. The product that looks the best sells the best, and both parties benefit.