A recent article by my publisher, BookBaby, on warning potential self-publishers to be aware of unscrupulous publisher businesses, brought to mind a phone call I received several years ago.
It was from the manager of a local public library, and concerned a query made by an elderly lady on selling a memoir she had written. She was a retired nurse and had put together a lifetime of career experiences, which she felt would be of interest to family and friends. But was contemplating how she might sell it to a wider audience.
As it happens, my wife is also a retired nurse, and is currently working on writing a diary about events in her own life, but purely for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. The considered opinion being that one reclusive author in the family is enough to put up with!
However, back then, I agreed to meet the lady, and a few days later we met at the library. She proved to be a very pleasant, caring person; pretty much the type you would hope to find in her profession. We spent a little while getting to know each other, discussing books and what she hoped to do with her memoir.
We were sitting at a table, and at this point I was half-expecting her to produce a manuscript. Instead, she placed a book in front of me; a cover photo displayed a nurse in uniform. I can’t remember the title or her name now, but I assumed it to be her, which she confirmed when I asked if this was the memoir she hoped to sell.
I examined the front and back cover; skipping through the pages to discover a very poorly formatted book, which left me in no doubt there was a great deal more work to be done, before it would ever reach the bookshelves. Although, there might be a good story there to tell, the two cardinal rules on publishing a book had been ignored: professional cover design and editing.
I hadn’t the heart to tell her how bad it was, but there was worse to come when I asked her who had produced the copy on the table.
It transpired that through her own research online she had come across someone who described himself as a ‘ghost writer’. He would help her with the manuscript and arrange to have it published and distributed. The upshot of this ‘arrangement’, after months of chasing him for information on how her book was progressing, was the book sitting on the table in front of us.
The cost for this publishing deal? £4,000 plus goodness knows what other costs were involved in producing one book. It should be no surprise that the publisher who provided this dubious service, was no longer available when the lady tried to make further contact with him.
Unfortunately, as BookBaby pointed out, they hear every week about another indie author taken victim by a rip-off publishing artist. I can include myself here in a different category, when I dealt with a London agent who promised me a book deal, but delivered nothing except wasted time and an empty pocket. The catch here, was paying him up front to cover his office expenses! I learned, when only too late to do something about it, that this is a practice all authors should avoid. Agents earn their percentage only when they place the book with a publisher.
With the lady in question, I could only suggest that she seek advice on what to do next by visiting a reputable writers’ organisation such as www.allianceindependentauthors.org A non-profit group, providing advice and support on a wide range of writers’ issues.
Another very good group I have used for information is www.jerichowriters.com
As for independent publishers, I can recommend BookBaby, who offer a wealth of free advice on self-publishing. They can be found on my Home page at www.williamlongbooks.co.uk
The bottom line here is like most things in life: buyer beware. Watch out for the scammers, and be diligent in your research, before committing to any sort of contract.