Self-publishers beware

In 1996, the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) introduced in a short article, my manuscript, an autobiography of childhood abuse. I received over 400 requests from adults abused in childhood to read my manuscript, but none from publishers. Touched by the personal letters, I sent out copies all over the world. Encouraged by the letters I received, I followed my original idea to publish the cruel truth.

After 128 rejections from American and German publishers, I gave up and decided to self-publish. I found Newcomb and Newcomb in Grass Valley in California. The non-fiction, Duane Newcomb, evaluated my manuscript for $75 and called it “a good story that should be edited and published.”

I agreed and paid $3500 for editing, with $2000 as a down payment. In the coming six months I had to drive from Sacramento to Grass Valley many times because he had lost the edited work of my book in the computer and could not find it. After pushing to finish my manuscript, he finally finished the editing in July.

Meanwhile, I had formed and registered a self-publishing company to comply with the demands of the law, paid for a website design to promote my book and designed the book cover. Excitedly, I drove to pick up my edited book and paid the remaining $1500. I was told by Karen Newcomb that there was a good printing company in Nevada City that was able to deliver a printed book in 5 working days. Everything seemed to go well and I set the introduction date for late August because I thought, now I can go into print, – I was wrong.

I was told that now I had to make the manuscript “print ready”. Not knowing anything about the process of self-publishing, I was introduced to the expert in this field, his wife Karen. Her offer was to format the manuscript for print, walk me all the way through the complete process of self-publishing to the finished product. Since I had no knowledge, I believed the so-called expert who charged me an additional $4500. Before she began her work, she asked for $2000 in advance. About two weeks later, I learned that I had to pay the copyright and barcode myself. A month later, she introduced me to the Lectra Media printing company and I learned that 500 copies of my book would cost another $4348.

I followed the advice of these “experts”, since I was the one who had no knowledge.

The day of my book introduction was now set for Sept 30. Karen was supposed to have the manuscript formatted in PageMaker print to be ready by Sept. 15. Again I faced delays and only after further pressure from my side and the new final day set for introduction for Oct. 29, she worked. On Oct. 11, she called me saying the book was finished and on a Zip file. She demanded the remaining payment of $2000 before she would release the final product to me. I had to make another 65 mile trip to Grass Valley from Sacramento… Karen handed me the Zip file informing me that I had to deliver the file to the printer myself. She informed me that she would send them a print-out later. I delivered the Zip file to Lectra Media and with it a check of the first payment of $2000. This was required by the printing company before they started their work. Time was getting short. Constantly interrupted by unexpected trips and unplanned work, I fell back in making the arrangements and doing Public Relations work for the upcoming book release.

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, I was called by the printing company to review the layout. Another 75 miles, one way, drive from Sacramento to Nevada City to take care of all these unexpected obstacles. I found out that my editor had suddenly abandoned the project after she had cashed my check. My many emails and phone calls to her remained unanswered and I was forced to review the first layout of my book. The main reason I hired these editors is that English is my second language. What I found was more than upsetting. Besides over 100 typing errors, wrong or misspelled names, vital scenes were chopped down, reduced, and moved to unrelated chapters. Some scenes were taken out entirely. The content and sequence of my autobiography had lost its authenticity and credibility as a autobiography. Facing the reality that she would not finish her contracted work and under pressure to meet the deadline, I had to fix as much as I was able to by myself. Besides correcting her errors, pictures needed to be selected and added in and the captions written. Karen Newcomb informed the printer that she could not add in the pictures in PageMaker, because she had no knowledge of how to do it. After two days of intense work I signed and initialed all the changes, I returned to my neglected preparations, sending out the remaining 100 invitations to the book release, sending extensive PR and renting the local hall for the event.

On the morning of October 27, two days before the final day, my book was finished and waiting for me to pick up copies at Lectra Media. I was told that it could not be delivered to me; I must pick up the 500 printed books myself. I did, but misfortune had more surprises for me. 25 miles before Nevada City our van broke down, -transmission problem. Until help and a rental car arrived, the printing company closed its doors for the weekend. Only after intense pleading with the owner, she arranged for an employee to be there on Saturday morning. We drove all the way back to Sacramento, and then back again the next morning to pick up the books.

Time was pressuring me and when we arrived at the printing company, I opened only one box to inspect the book. Everything seemed fine at a quick glance and I paid the final amount. In a hurry we drove back, and delivered the books directly to the rented hall to display them in the morning, since last minute preparations had to be made.

I discovered another disaster after I had unpacked the books in the morning. Over 80 percent of the book covers were unevenly cut. Because of insufficient time, I searched for the best-printed covers to display before the doors opened.

From over 200 invitations 13 people came and only 10 books were sold.

The next morning I sent out 30 of the remaining good books to newspapers and magazines, kindly requesting a review. The New York Times told me after 3 months that they don’t do book reviews for self-published books. I had to find out later that no major newspapers do accept self-published work.

Meanwhile, some of the sold books were returned because the binding of the book was so bad that the book fell apart after turning a few pages. Friends called me, asking if I had read the final version and I admitted that I had not. It was very traumatizing for me to write the manuscript in the first place, and later to edit it many times over. One person sent my book back with edited marks made throughout the whole book. Now I was forced to read my book again. After the first pages I found out that Lectra Media had printed the unedited, instead of the edited version!

In an attempt to save my book, to retrieve the money I had spent, I contacted the printing company who did not admit to making a mistake but said they understood that I was unhappy with the product, refunded my money and picked up the remaining books.

When I approached Karen Newcomb with the disaster she had created, she wrote me a very nasty and insulting email, blaming me for everything. “I am not your editor; your editor was Duane,” she said. In retrospect her work was no more than moving the already edited manuscript by her husband, provided as a Word doc to a PageMaker format. I demanded then an explanation from her that would justify the price of $4500. I never received an answer, and she ignored my phone calls.

Now I had so far invested $18,000 of borrowed money and I still have no book, and no more money to hire an attorney to file a suit.

A lesson learned, I thought.

In a phone call in January 2002, from Duane Newcomb, he told me that he had separated professionally from his wife and works now by himself. He explained that he didn’t like the way she was treating clients, and convinced me that he would help me to find large publishing company for my book. Quickly he told me that he had time now, since he lost a his main client and would write a proposal and send it with a cover letter to at least 30 publishers, and all this for $800, as a favor. He agreed to four payments and began, so he said, to immediately write the proposal. Again, several phone calls were necessary before I finally saw one page of a first draft in May 2002, the beginning of a proposal. This came only after I told him that I would not send the last payment if I could not see some results. The first finished first draft came in July, which I had to correct extensively since he seems to mix up places, dates and names.

Again, time went by and in many emails I requested an answer about my proposal. One excuse fallowed the other. Finally, in Dec. 2002, I received an answer saying that he is almost finished with the list of publishers and will begin writing the cover letter to send it out with the proposal. In January, I asked for the addresses of all the publishers he has sent the proposal to, a copy of the proposal and the cover letter. After I did not receive an answer, I demanded in a certified letter, the return of my $800. I quickly received a letter with a poorly written proposal included, saying he had send me my proposal in July of 2002 via email, and sending it out to publishers was not a part of the $800.

My advice for any writer who attempts to write non-fiction book with a personal, traumatic content is:

  • If you find and trust your editor, request all your agreements in writing.
  • Interview extensively many editors to determine whether they are not only qualified to edit but also if he/she is an aware person, able to understand “Emotional Writing” and can guide you in a professional way.

As I had to find out in a personal, painful ordeal and to my financial loss, not all editors, understand “written pain”. They are either being affected by the content or dismiss the parts they do not understand, or they are in denial.

In my experience, truth and reality have many readers, a very large potential audience and will sell as a book, but it is a sleeper and not an overnight Harry Potter.

The unfortunate part of writing such a book is that the author will be triggered into many memories and consequently, partially re-traumatized in the process of writing. Emotional writing is mainly a right hemisphere process. The logical side of the brain does not function very well and the author needs good support from an editor. Writing about childhood abuse or other traumas leaves the author vulnerable, psychologically defenseless, and easy prey for people with no integrity.

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