On Finding a Publisher: Advice from Experience

If you’ve just completed your opus magnum and are seeking a publisher, this cautionary tale may be of interest. We resume here the tale begun in my prior posting.

So…when I found myself unable to get an agent for Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, I realized that the only way the book would ever see publication was for me to do it myself. Knowing nothing but doing some internet searching, I settled on what I thought would be a solid publisher as the one to do the book for me.

At the time, the company, Xlibris, made much of its relationship with Random House, which was an investor and, as I recall, had a seat on the company’s board of directors. This lent it an air of respectability and made it a bit more than many other vanity press publishers, in that it offered more to the writer than just printing books. Besides its relationship with a mainstream publisher, included in its menu of available services were a variety of editing and marketing plans, all available according to a fairly steep pricing schedule. After some thought and a hard look at my budget, I took a basic publishing package for about $1000 which got the book into print and distributed a press release. I was fortunate in that my daughter Beth, a skilled artist among her many talents, created the cover for me, saving me a bundle on design.  I then had some advertising bookmarks made up and, before long, I held copies of my opus magnum in my greedy little hands.

Effective marketing is very expensive, easily running to many thousands of dollars, and I simply didn’t (and still don’t) have the budget to market as effectively as I wish I could. So, despite much excellent marketing advice from my other talented daughter Laura, the book has languished, with only occasional sales despite some modest ads and word-spreading I’ve undertaken since publication in 2004. As indicated in my initial posting (with links to sites), Spacebraid…  is currently available from all the major online booksellers and as an e-book on Kindle.

Over time, I’ve become significantly disenchanted with Xlibris and cannot recommend the company to others. What’s the problem? For starters, I recoil at their high pressure sales tactics executed by a staff with poor English skills. I’ve come to dread the periodic telephone calls I receive from these people, who push expensive marketing packages that simply don’t pay off in sales. How do I know they don’t work? Because initially I bought in and spent a fair amount of ill-afforded cash on company programs that didn’t even yield token sales – they yielded no sales.

Most recently, I got another call from the umpteenth poorly spoken sales hack I’ve heard from over the years since publication. This guy tried to sell me a package of 100 books plus e-mailings of a press release to 100 media outlets for…$1100 and change. Think about it. What he wanted me to do was to buy 100 books and he’d send out a distribution e-mail “for free”.  What I need isn’t 100 more books stacking up in my garage. Or an e-mail ending up in 100 outlets’ spam folders. What I need is effective marketing, and that ain’t it.

As for the English skills of the folks who keep calling me – and note that it’s a different person each time who proclaims himself or herself to be my personal representative – they’re abysmal. Trying to obtain any useful information or transact business with these folks is sheer torture (say, what time is it, anyway, in Bangladesh?), as their understanding of my questions requires endless explication, and their explanations of what they’re trying to sell are often impossible to follow. Further, their sales approach involves totally ignoring what I tell them. Example: I did want to order some books for a book signing recently. I told my “personal representative” that my budget was $500 as a maximum. He immediately quoted me a package for $800.  I reminded him of my stated budget and he came back at $650. After some considerable haggling, we finally settled at $511 for 40 books at a substantial discount off the “retail” price – sort of like bargaining for a car with the always bogus MSRP. Only after the books arrived did I realize that, under the usual arrangement with authors for book signings at my local independent bookstore, I’d lose $3 on every book I sold. (If you want an autographed one, let me know in a comment — I won’t publish your contact information. They’re going at the fire sale price of $12 per copy.)

Finally, and even more distressing, while these salespeople represent themselves as your special representatives, I’ve not yet encountered one of them who has read my book or even has any idea of what it’s about. Worse, they stumble on the title when they try to reference it. Apparently, “Spacebraid” and “Dystopian” are hard words, especially when simple English is hard enough to articulate. Personal representatives? Hah!

And so, we come to the bottom line, and it is be careful. Be very careful when you select your publisher. Do some research. Ask the publisher for references and, if you get them, actually contact them. If you can’t get references, there’s probably a reason.

I’m currently working with a different and very well recommended publisher for my second book, Zendoscopy, due in March. I’ll be reporting on how that’s going in a later posting. In the meantime, keep on writing if you’re writing, keep on reading if, well, you’re reading, and don’t jump into any publishing arrangement without thoroughly investigating your options and checking those references.

Today’s Annoyance:

Use of the word mitigates when what is meant is militates. Example of correct word usage: “The fact of his stupidity militates against his holding any position of responsibility.” With all due respect to William Faulkner, famous for  making the mistake (e.g., “Centaur in Brass”), the correct word in the example is seen to be militates, not mitigates. As the late, great Casey Stengel used to say (and as James Thurber titled his famous short story), “You Could Look It Up.”

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