The lack of selectivity is the prime cause of self-publishing’s bad reputation. Even though traditional publishers make many bad decisions, their selectivity and financial commitment provide a powerful endorsement for the writers and books they choose to accept.
Self-publishing companies try to evoke an image of quality and service.
Xlibris says, "you can count on Xlibris' extensive experience to provide dependable, long-term, individualized support through the publishing process and in the years that follow." The company boasts about its "proficient team of publishing professionals" and says it has a "comprehensive range of publishing, editorial, add-on and marketing services."
Xlibris is one of several former competitors including iUniverse, Wordclay and Trafford which were absorbed by Author Solutions, Inc. "ASI" is also the private-label service provider for some traditional publishers such as Thomas Nelson. ASI says it publishes "one of every 15 book titles published in the US every year."
At last year's Self-Publishing Book Expo, marketing director Joe Bayern told me that ASI's best editors work on Xlibris titles.
Xlibris says, "One of our founding principles, dating back to when we were newly incorporated and making books out of a basement office, is that authors should have control over their work. This principle still stands today as we help hundreds of authors every month publish their work in the manner and form that they envision," and "When you publish with Xlibris, you completely control the book design."
That's not necessarily a good thing. If an author has bad ideas for a book's design, or is simply a bad writer, crap gets published. The "proficient team" and "best editors" don't control the quality of what gets published with an Xlibris label on it.
One of the best examples (i.e., one of the worst books) that shows the failure of Xlibris is the awkwardly named, physically ugly, poorly written and unedited The Truth and the Corruption of the American System. The 95-page hardcover sells for (OMG!) $24.99. There are also paperback ($15.99) and e-book ($9.99) editions.
The author has some important things to say (more later), but her message is diluted and distorted by bad presentation, and lack of help from Xlibris. The company wanted to collect money for the publishing package they sold her, but made no effort to improve the book.
Sales are probably infinitesimal. Did I buy the only copy?
After more than two years, there is not even one review on Amazon.com or the Barnes & Noble website.
Author Eunice Owusu tells us on the back cover, and inside the book, and on multiple websites: "I was born in Ghana and came to America about twenty-five years ago. I was married for twenty years and now separated with one child, who is seventeen years old. He lives with me in Houston, Texas. I attended Northern Virginia Community College and graduated in the year 2002 with Associate Degree in Legal Assisting. I transferred to George Mason University in Virginia, Texas Southern University in Texas, and now I am in my final year at the University of Houston in Texas, major in Political Science and eventually transfer to Law School."
- Does any of this provide a reason to buy a book about what's wrong with America?
- Do we care about her bad marriage?
- Do we care about her bad writing?
- Are we impressed by Northern Virginia Community College?
- Do we care about the age of the author's son?
- Do we know or care how old he is now, or that at one point he lived in Houston?
- Should we have to do research to determine if the author graduated from the University of Houston and went to law school?
Five of the packages do not include editing, but the company says that "Writing that is worth publishing is worth a careful edit. Your message deserves it, and so do your readers. It is what distinguishes a professional book from an amateur one."
- That's very true. Xlibris knows what's right, but lets its author customers do what's wrong.
The book badly needs copyediting. Problems include lots of improper punctuation, non-sentences, wrong tenses, wrong words (e.g., "having ends meet" instead of "making ends meet"), missing words, misspelling, missing possessives, improper uppercasing, inconsistent uppercasing, inconsistent time designations (e.g., "6:30" and "six-thirty" in successive sentences, "seven sixteen" and "7:20" in the same paragraph), repeated words ("do do" and "on on"), singular nouns that should be plurals, plural verbs that should be singular, sentences that should be two sentences, paragraphs that should be three paragraphs, unattributed quotations, numbers stuck in the middle of paragraphs for no discernible reason, unnecessary italics, etc.
There is lots of just plain crappy writing, such as:
- "The state Capitol is in Washington D.C. where Congress and Senates meet."
- "Something I did not understand about John McCain, when he was running for president, he run in favor of veterans."
- "Excuses are not accepted as there will also be an excuse."
- "I belief there are many homeless..."
- "What can kind of normal person will eat and drink from trashes..."
- "I make complain to..."
- "...he was asked to do sports physical done."
- "...doctor run a series of tests."
- "...this was her respond."
- "I had to taken all my problems to bed..."
- "It has to start from home, yes, and to schools."
- "Third ward in Houston don't even have head start."
- "...here me out."
- "...unplanned pregnancies that want to have an abortion."
- "Who will want to put their selve in..."
The book contains a lot of criticism of American schools. Eunice attended at least four colleges in the United States and intended to become a lawyer.
- Didn't any of her instructors or professors notice her bad writing? How did she get her diplomas?
Somehow, this book of social and political commentary is classified as "JUVENILE FICTION / Social Issues / Emotions & Feelings" and the reading level is "Ages 9-12."
There are many other things wrong with Xlibris which should keep potential customers away. For example:
- Xlibris charges $99 for a Library of Congress Control number. You can get one yourself in a few minutes -- for free!
- Xlibris charges $249 for a copyright registration. You can easily register a book yourself for $35.
- Xlibris charges $99 for a CD-ROM of you book's interior and cover files. The disk is worth about 25 cents and the file copying is done with a few mouse clicks.
- Xlibris says, "When you publish with Xlibris, you are essentially self-publishing in the most efficient way possible." Grossly overpaying is not efficient.
- Xlibris has a very strange system for pricing books. A book with 108 pages sells for $4 more than one with 107 pages. Page #108 must be very special. However, if you want to determine the price of your own book, you'll pay Xlibris $249 for the freedom of choice.
Xlibris says, "you will be treated with professionalism and courtesy and provided with all the self-publishing help you need." That's simply not true. Eunice Owusu was not treated with professionalism, and Xlibris did not provide all of the help she needed.
As an immigrant and a single mother, Eunice Owusu has a special perspective. She has seen aspects of America that many Americans are unaware of -- or care little about. Her outrage at shortcomings and inequalities is justified. She has important things to say. She deserves to be heard. She has experience and passion and provides needed recommendations. She may be a powerful public speaker, but she is not ready to write a book by herself. Maybe she needed a ghostwriter or a co-author. At a minimum, she needed editing, but she got none from Xlibris.
That is a tragedy, and Xlibris and its parent, Bertram Capital Management, should be embarrassed by the terrible book they published for Eunice Owusu.
- Self-publishing companies have to stop behaving like crack whores who will provide service to anyone who can pay the price.
- Xlibris's press releases start out with "Xlibris Publishes Book About . . ." The Xlibris website says, "Xlibris is a book publishing company," but it also says, "Xlibris is not a publisher. We are a publishing services provider." Authors and readers would be better served if Xlibris would decide exactly what it is, and acted more like a publisher, not just a provider.
- Xlibris says, "At Xlibris, the writer is the publisher." It also says it will "assign an ISBN number." If the writer is the publisher, the writer -- not Xlibris -- would assign the ISBN.
- Self-publishing companies need to develop some pride, and to grow some balls. They need to be able to say, "I'm sorry, but your manuscript is just not good enough to be published unless it gets professional editing." Some manuscripts are beyond help.
- There is no solution if Xlibris and AuthorHouse reject books, and the penurious or egomaniacal author then goes to Outskirts Press or Lulu and they don't enforce editorial standards.
- Until and unless ALL of the self-publishing companies develop and insist on high standards, readers will be buried in crap and writers' dreams will never come true.
- It's time for self-publishing companies to develop some pride in their products. Lulu boss Bob Young told Publishers Weekly that "We publish a huge number of really bad books." Did Bob make Xlibris boss Kevin Weiss jealous? Are the companies competing to publish the greatest number of really bad books?