Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Xlibris is ruining self-publishing by not providing the help its authors need (rerun)

Self-publishing companies make most of their money by selling services to writers. If a self-publishing company rejects a book, the company makes no money. That's why self-publishing companies accept nearly every book submitted to them, except for books that appear to be obscene or libelous.

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?
Xlibris says it offers "seven comprehensive publishing packages, each with a unique combination of marketing, editorial and publishing services."  It appears that unless an author pays $3,299 for the "premium package," the unique editorial service is no editorial service.

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.
Xlibris would rather sell a package for $649 with no editing and publish a crappy book, than lose the sale because a writer won't pay $0.12 per word for editing. (The charge to copyedit the Owusu book would have been about $600.)

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:
  1. "The state Capitol is in Washington D.C. where Congress and Senates meet."
  2. "Something I did not understand about John McCain, when he was running for president, he run in favor of veterans."
  3. "Excuses are not accepted as there will also be an excuse."
  4. "I belief there are many homeless..."
  5. "What can kind of normal person will eat and drink from trashes..."
  6. "I make complain to..."
  7. "...he was asked to do sports physical done."
  8. "...doctor run a series of tests."
  9. "...this was her respond."
  10. "I had to taken all my problems to bed..."
  11. "It has to start from home, yes, and to schools."
  12. "Third ward in Houston don't even have head start."
  13. "...here me out."
  14. "...unplanned pregnancies that want to have an abortion."
  15. "Who will want to put their selve in..."
Eunice was born in Ghana and came to America as an adult. I know little about the schools in Ghana, but Ghana was a British colony until 1957 and the official language is English. Apparently, Eunice's English was good enough in her native country, but I am horrified to read what she writes now.

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?

The design and production work done by Xlibris is also substandard. Page margins are much too small. It's silly to have the author's bio in two places. The author's photo on the back cover is awful. The text on the back cover is nearly illegible. There is no title on the spine. (The spine is small, but has room for a title.)

The copyright page includes this absurd notice: "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental."
  • Oh, come on! Is this sentence fiction: "A fixed interest loan is a loan where the interest rate doesn't fluctuate during the fixed rate period of the loan." Did the author invent Houston or the State Department? Is it a mere coincidence that the author conceived of a presidential candidate named John McCain?
 
Didn't anyone at Xlibris read -- or even skim -- this book?
 
The promotional work for the book is confusing, inadequate and incompetent.
 
The author says: "Our leaders are so blind to the truth and instead of searching for the truth or the things that will bring peace and make America a better place to live, they go on, on a wild goose chase which brings nothing but destruction to our country. This book also deomonstrate [sic] how we can keep kids off [sic] jail and minimize the high school drop off [sic] rate. How we can provide shelter for our return [sic] soldiers and civilian homeless. How we can make our streets and our community safe."

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.
The New York Times said, “Xlibris charges no­thing for its basic service, but because of the fees it charges writers for things like galleys and copyediting, its chief executive, John Feldcamp, says the company will be profitable even if it never sells a book.” I believe him, because his company’s publishing packages can cost as much as $14,999!

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?

2 comments:

  1. In 1999 Dell published my book "Why Is This Job Killing Me?" coauthored with my wife, Mary Newman, PhD. After a few years it went out of print and last year we decided to reissue it as an ebook with Xlibris. What a mistake. We found out, $900 later, that we cannot get the book distributed to libraries through Xlibris and libraries are our biggest market. The folks at Xlibris verified that they did not sell directly to libraries, although we were not told that at the time we signed the contract. Plus, if you do an Internet search for our book, it never comes up at Xlibris!

    John Kachuba
    www.JohnKachuba.com

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  2. Xlibris provides a book publishing guide to writers and authors on how to publish a book through self publishing in Australia, and offers print on demand services.

    Phone Numbers
    Toll Free: 1-800-618-969
    Fax: (02) 8282-5055

    Mailing Address
    xlibris Corporation
    Suite 1A, Level 2
    802 Pacific Highway
    Gordon NSW
    2072

    Website:
    www.xlibris.com.au

    ReplyDelete