Self-Publishing #Fails

POSTED ON May 5, 2014

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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We all know there’s a huge amount of information about self-publishing out there, just the other end of a Google search.

Service providers, print on demand vendors, book and ebook distributors, and lots and lots of authors have been contributing to this vast pool of knowledge.

And almost everyone who adds something to the pool of knowledge does it to help other people navigate the sometimes rocky path that leads to publication.

As an author said to me last night, “This self-publishing is a lot of work, it’s hard.”

Hey, at least she has good advice and people to call on. It’s the other people I worry about, the ones who don’t know when they are poised to step right in something unpleasant, something that might require some real effort to get rid of.

Yes, it’s the Self-Publishing #Fails.

Look, we all have something to learn from others’ experience. It’s just that in these cases, you really don’t want to see yourself in their shoes.

If you’re squeamish, you might want to look away. If you can’t help but stare at traffic accidents you pass by chance, you’ll feel right at home. Let’s begin.

1. Formatting for beginners.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been handed 2 books by their authors that really made my heart sink. Why? In each case the author was a professional, highly educated, well-informed and determined to create a book worthy of commercial publication.

Problem? They had each found a “semi-pro” book formatter to create their nonfiction book interiors. How do I know they were “semi-pro”? Immediately I saw things like blank right-hand pages, running heads on blank pages, an entire book typeset with hyphenation set to “off,” inappropriate visual spacing, all the usual suspects.

To their credit, both responded immediately when they learned that their books were not ready for prime time, and corrected all the problems. But what if they hadn’t talked to me first?

It’s just so much harder to get traction for your book when you have unnecessary obstacles in addition to the real ones.

2. Formatting for the ages.

An author had booked a consulting appointment some time ago. I always like to look at the books we’re going to talk about, whether in manuscript or already laid out for printing, before consulting.

But in this case, even though there were weeks before our scheduled meeting, I never got the PDF of the book the author had promised.

When we finally got to the day, I asked the author where the book was.

“The formatter is still working on it,” he said.

“But hasn’t it been a few weeks now? Is there a problem?” I asked.

“Well, actually the formatter has had the book for almost 6 months,” came the reply. “She says she’s going to finish it right away, but that’s what she said last time, too.”

6 months? To format a fairly simple book? Huh?

Let’s be clear. Even a pretty complex nonfiction book can be formatted by a competent layout artist in a couple of weeks. Not months.

Obviously, this author was dealing with a real amateur, someone who seemed overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do about it. But the author had to take charge of the situation and not simply go along, month to month, feeling helpless and resentful.

3. Is That Cover Yours or Mine?

An author in the popular paranormal romance genre was just getting started in her career. She studied all the blogs that other writers in her peer group wrote, and learned how to put together a book for print on demand publishing.

She wanted a distinctive cover treatment, especially because she was launching a series, with the intent to publish a whole line of books with the same characters appearing in different settings and combinations.

So the whole representation of the story on the front cover of the first books was of a lot of concern.

She found an artist who specialized in illustrations for book covers, and the two had a great working relationship.

Together, they came up with a beautiful cover, attractive typography, and a custom illustration that truly represented the whole work.

Everyone was happy.

But then a funny thing happened. The book, and it’s sequel, started to get really popular, selling tens of thousands of copies.

When the author got back in touch with the illustrator for a new cover for the next book, she also got a shock.

The illustrator let the author know that she now owed more money for the first illustrations, and that the new illustrations were going to cost a lot more, like triple the original cost.

When I heard about the situation, I asked the author if she had signed a written agreement with the illustrator, because that surely would have spelled out the ownership and rights to the custom illustration.

Nope. Did she realize the illustrator still owned the artwork and all other rights to it?

Nope. That partnership ended soon thereafter, and there was quite a bit of work involved finding a new illustrator and new artwork to re-configure the series of books.

4. I’m the Editor, Who Wants to Know?

Last year I worked on a lovely historical novel. It was edited by one of our top developmental editors, and the cover was designed by an artist I know who worked for big trade publishers for many years.

I took care of the interior, and generally provided some guidance to the author, a highly educated man with a deep background but no experience with book publishing, and not that much with technology in general.

The book went through the typical publication process, was duly published and launched, and the author was happily making appearances, and sold hundreds of copies.

Not bad for an almost 600-page historical novel from an author no one had heard of. End of story, right?

No, the #fail was about to bite, big time. Apparently, the author had the feeling that the book needed one more edit to get rid of the remaining errors that were still in the book. He wanted it to be as good as it could be.

Somehow he came in contact with an editor who told him of the long experience she had with publishing companies, and that she would do that last edit for him.

By the time I found out about it, the edit was in full swing. There was only one problem.

The editor had requested—and the author had given her—the original Word file to work on, not a proof of the typeset book.

“But, but…” I spluttered when I heard this news, “doesn’t she realize we’ve already typeset the book? It’s already done!”

Oh, you thought that was bad, huh? Ignoring all the formatting (the book has over 100 chapter openers) and all the corrections in the book file, and going back to the manuscript?

It gets worse.

When the editor turned in the corrected manuscript, it turned out that she had no use for revision tracking, and “never uses it.”

So where were all the edits? What had been changed? Who knows? She had just edited the original file and handed it back to him with a bill.

I have to admit, that was a new one on me. Of course, we ended up completely reformatting the book, instead of just correcting it, and who knows how many mistakes there will be in there now to correct?

Don’t Let This Happen to You

In each of these cases normally intelligent, highly competent people hit an obstacle that they didn’t even know about.

We have to know enough to ask questions like these:

  • Hey, how come there’s no hyphenation in my book?
  • What do you mean, I won’t be able to accept or reject your suggestions?
  • Well, exactly when will my book be finished?
  • Does this purchase allow me unlimited use of your artwork?

But that’s the only way to avoid these kinds of failures.

So again, I say the most powerful thing you can do for your own publishing future is to make sure you’ve educated yourself on this new business, and then get advice from people who have published more than 1 book if you get stuck or if something you’re being told doesn’t sound right.

What about you? Any Self-Publishing #Fail stories to tell?


Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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