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Interview by Tina Morgan
Author's Note: After doing some research, you have decided you would like to self-publish your book. Which company should you choose? Below is an interview with Julie Duffy, writer, journalist and former Director of Author Services at Xlibris Corp. Julie has the unique perspective of having been on the inside at the start of this self-publishing pioneer. I would like to thank Julie for taking the time to answer my questions.
Fiction Factor: - How did you find working for a pioneering company like Xlibris?
Julie Duffy: - I loved it. I was the first employee and saw it grow to over 100 employees and 4000 titles. We were building something new and everything we did was for the good of the author - we could have given them less in the way of royalties because no-one else was doing anything like what we were doing when we started, but it just seemed right to share the profits equally, rather than taking a standard cut.
Eventually people like Random House(see their recent decision to share epublishing royalties 50-50 with authors), Ingram and Barnes and Noble were talking to us and launching ventures of their own. The thing I liked the most though, was that every decision was made in the framework of 'is it in the best interest of the authors?' and 'can we do it better than anyone else?'. If we couldn't we would not hesitate to tell the authors who could.
It was all about building good will.
FF: - What type of writer would you feel is a good candidate for self-publishing?
J.D.: - Someone with a book that might have a small or niche audience. Poetry, niche non-fiction etc. Anyone who wants to 'test-market' a work and see how it sells before going on to bigger and better things.
Someone who can face the thought of marketing their book and themselves - relentlessly - and would probably do a better job at it than an apathetic associate at a publishing firm.
FF: - What common mistakes do authors make when deciding on a Print On Demand publishing company?
J.D.: - They think the POD company is going to be their publisher. The author is the publisher, the POD is their printing/fulfillment/back office.
Authors often think the POD company can do a lot more for them than they can. Also, many authors don't read the small print. They sign agreements that take exclusive rights for years etc., or get annoyed when they find out later that the books are non-returnable (although you could infer that from the 'on-demand' part).
FF: - What are some of the bigger mistakes you have seen from authors when submitting a book for POD?
J.D.: - You name it! Seriously though, most people really don't understand how to use a word-processor. This means that when the text is exported from their 8.5" x 11" formatted pages and imported into a 5.5" x 8.5" layout, all kinds of funky things happen to it.
I've had manuscripts submitted with hard returns at the end of every line, as if the author was using a typewriter. If the author doesn't understand how to use the rulers and style functions, footnoting and other tools, they should consider having a professional read the submission guidelines and prepare the text.
I would encourage every author to have their work professionally edited. It'll cost a bit, but it could make all the difference when a reviewer looks at it.
Every POD company has different requirements for formatting the text and authors should read and obey them. This is surprisingly rare.
FF: - When would you advise against self-publishing?
J.D.: - Er, if they really want to be traditionally published, I think. If they think they can sell a million copies. If you really can sell that many copies, a trad publisher will be happy to help you with the editing, production and promotion.
If they are not good at self-promotion. The moment the book is finished, you stop being a writer and become a marketer. If you just want to write, don't self-publish.
If they don't have a clear sense of who their audience is and how they might find them.
If they don't want to make this a business (of course, with the POD firms offering low start-up costs and perpetual in-print status, it becomes economically feasible to treat your published book as more of a hobby without losing out).
FF: - What forms of self-promotion would you suggest a new author should take?
J.D.: - Yikes, you could write four hundred articles and never be done with this one. They should get a copy of John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Promote Your Book for starters, and a copy of Marilyn and Tom Ross's Jump Start Your Book Sales.
They should add their book's URL to their email signature. They should contact everyone they ever knew and tell them about it, that includes their alumni association, their local weekly newspaper, their local library, their local gossip.
They should think about all the topics that are covered in their book and then contact every organization that is associated with that topic (yes, even for fiction).
FF: - Do you have any tips on how a POD author can get their book reviewed?
J.D.: - Start small and use each success to approach a bigger outlet or goal. Big reviewers are starting to recognize the names of the big POD firms now and may associate them with vanity publishing - because so many of the authors do not polish their books properly. If you can show them reviews from other sources, that might convince them.
Don't send your book to the NYT reviewer. He can't open his office door for all the mail, as it is.
FF: - What lists, besides Amazon would you recommend to a self-published author? I understand the pros/cons you gave for listing with Amazon. (see Julie's site for full article)
J.D.: - List with Ingram if possible because their listings are shared with 100's of online booksellers and that will save you the trouble of tracking them all down.
Just adding your book to a database, like just putting your book on a shelf, won't make anyone buy it, although it will make it easier to find once they're interested.
FF: - In your experience with Xlibris, which of their printing packages is the best for the money? Granted this will vary with each author's level of talent and the number of books they have the potential of selling.
J.D.: - Hmmm, I think you answered your own question there. There are so many variables. Do you want hardback? Do you need to control the design? Can you do the copyrighting yourself? Can you work within the templates? I really think very few people should need the Premium Service - it's more a case of 'want' - 'I want to control everything'.
If you remember that your book is information and the information will enter someone's head roughly the same whether or not you have five photos on your cover, then only the really picky author should chose Premium.
FF: - In your opinion, does Xlibris have any strong points as a company? And on the revers of that question, what would you consider the weak points to be?
Strong: everything revolves around the authors. The company was founded and is still run by a guy who loves to write and is honest and ethical.
Weak: an ability to communicate proactively with authors about what's going on with their book.
Often things are going on behind the scenes but it doesn't seem like it to the author because they're not updated about the four steps that have happened this week. However, every author has a single contact they can call/email and a web page where they can get updates.
FF: - Does Xlibris keep any rights to the work they publish?
J.D.: - No, no, no! This is very important and one of the things, along with the equitable royalties, of which I am most proud. This was unheard of before Xlibris. Now it is common.
Why should a service that is simply a service you pay for, get to keep rights to your intellectual property? That would be like the Post Office getting to keep rights just because you used it to mail your manuscript to someone.
FF: - Have you personally used POD services, and were you satisfied enough to consider it as a personla option for your own work?
J.D.: - I have a couple of stories in an anthology my online writers' group put out (it was an online writers group when there were only a handful). I was very pleased with it, but I knew I would be - I'd helped design the templates and approve the quality of the Xlibris printed copies!
I would absolutely use the service. I hope to complete books on Trailing Spouse Syndrome, and on the New Publishing Revoultion (which is timely and will date quickly, so I wouldn't want to go with a trad publisher). I know what I'm getting into though. I know my book won't be in bookstores and I'm formulating a marketing plan that is more like a traditional mail-order plan.
I know I have to market and that excites me. I also know I'll have a book that looks like any other book. Not a photocopy with a paper cover and comb binding.
FF: - There have been questions raised as to the quality of paper and binding with some POD publishers. Do you feel Xlibris has a problem with those areas?
J.D.: - Xlibris spent a lot of time working with printers to get books to a quality we liked (we were booklovers as well as writers). We exerted a lot of pressure (because we were promising them big, regular business) and spent many guilty afternoons trying to destroy the samples they sent us.
We learned a lot about paper grain early on, because early samples were wavy along the spine edge, but we solved that. Cover curl was a problem in some samples (and always will be to some extent because of humidity, but that's not limited to POD books), but we played with cover stock and lamination weights to solve that too.
Xlibris went chose the paper weight based to make it opaque, like a quality hardback, but also not too stiff at the binding. The initial samples in 1997 were stiff and the pages would fall out if you creased the spine (like a mass market paperback) so that wasn't acceptable. The off-white paper was chosen because it's easier on the eyes. When Xlibris recently started using LSi for printing(a division of Ingram) Xlibris spent a long time comparing notes and making demands, to make sure that the quality of the books would not suffer. LSi offers great fulfillment and its relationship with Ingram means books get into the bookselling channels much more easily now, but we were sure that wouldn't be enough for our authors if the books started to look cheap.
I think the books look great - better than many self-published books that are printed on the cheaper white paper, with non-professional layouts; the equal of any other trade paperback out there. Xlibris even offers a cloth-bound hardback. I was so familiar with them that when I finally started buying traditionally published hardback books, I was horrified to find that they were card with cloth only at the spine. Cheapo!
They are not heavily customized and the paper weight might not be heavy enough if you are planning to include a lot of photos, but you simply can't offer different paper weights or form factors and still get the economies of scale that allow the POD companies to offer these books at bookstore prices. Not yet. An individual author would have a hard time getting a realistic per-copy price but the POD companies aggregate titles, promise the printer easy, manageable runs, and then start bargaining the price down.
That's why they exist. Xlibris was founded to give authors access to technologies they would not otherwise be able to access. That's what happens when you have a digital printing expert/author looking around for a venture to start!
I hope Julie's answers give you some insight on how to proceed with your POD publishing ventures. I appreciate the time she took to answer all of my questions. You can see more of Julie's work at http://www.jdwrite.com
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