Tag Archives: POD

CreateSpace ruins the day!

Up until now my experience with Createspace had been a fairly positive one. Now I have to report an extremely unpleasant experience: I was in Mexico, and I needed some copies of my books in a hurry, so I placed an order and paid for priority shipping, which was ridiculously expensive (as in 150% of the cost of the books themselves!). I was told that the books would be there within a week. That felt a bit too long in light of what I was being charged, but seeing how I had ten days, I figured I could live with it. The order was placed on March 11, the books were ready to ship by the 13… and there they sat, neglected until the 17, when I finally got a notice letting me know that my order had shipped… and would arrive by the 23 (and that 23 has now been changed to a 24). That’s thirteen days for priority shipping, and long after the time those books will do me any good. I wrote back to them to ask what was going on, and I had my shipping fee refunded.

That was something, though there was nothing remotely resembling an explanation, and the truth is that it didn’t really do me one lick of good, as what I needed were the books, not the refund, that was why I had paid that outrageous shipping rate in the first place… and then I began poking around. It was then that I realized that they had sent an international shipment that had been billed as priority, and for which they had charged the same rate they would have charged if they had been sending the books all the way down to Argentina (there’s a flat rate for Latin America), using UPS’s Standard service, which the company itself lists as “economical ground delivery for your less-urgent shipments”.

Ground delivery? On an international shipment? And how do they reconcile the word ‘priority’ (as in priority shipping) with UPS’s   ‘less-urgent’ wording? Quick, someone get these folks a dictionary.

In short, buyer beware, when it comes to international orders CreateSpace’s ‘priority shipping’ is a mess, one that can leave you looking like a fool if you dare rely upon it, and no refund is ever going to fix that.

UPDATE: Okay, so the books won’t be here on time, there’s nothing anyone can do to change that, but I just got a call from a representative from CreateSpace, acknowledging their mistake in shipping via UPS Standard, and doing his best to find a way to make things right. Unfortunately there were some elements of this particular mess that made finding a real solution impossible, but I realize that those are not CreateSpace’s fault. Yes, they screwed up, but they owned up to their mistake, and I definitely appreciate it.

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E-publishing and the race to the bottom

As I prepare to release another book I find myself grappling once more with the question of what to do about e-books, a question that becomes more relevant with each and every passing day, as more and more readers eschew the printed world altogether to switch to electronic versions instead. The thing is that while a part of me would love to join this trend, there is another one that can’t help but to hesitate.

To begin with there is the fact of just how fragmented this market happens to be. You can choose a publisher, have your book printed and distributed by signing a single contract in such a way that you know what you are getting, but when it comes to e-books each bookstore requires what amounts to a different agreement, with most outlets claiming for themselves the right to modify the terms of the agreement. This creates a maze of shifting legalese few self-published authors can realistically hope to untangle, or even keep track of, where the possibility that the evolving contracts would at some point collide with each other cannot be entirely ruled out… and the more distribution options you seek, the higher that risk becomes. Continue reading E-publishing and the race to the bottom

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Free to write whatever I want

Is it odd that I find the fact that my books aren’t selling oddly liberating? That was a thought that hit me as I worked on the third book of the Citlalli series, and I found myself confronted with the need to make some hard choices when it came to a few critical aspects of the plot. It is a choice I have known I was going to have to face at some point pretty much from day one, and that was one of the main reasons I switched from Virtual Bookworm to CreateSpace in the first place, but still I know that, if the book had been selling, I would have found myself wondering which plotline would play better with my readers… I would have found myself trying to play it safe. That is human nature, but as things stand I am free to make my choice with no external influences. In fact if the books had been released by a traditional publisher I might well have found myself deprived of the right to make that choice at all. More often than not, that freedom is one of the first things authors working on a series have to give up when they sign on that dotted line.

Oh, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like it if my books were a source of income. Like everyone else I have to eat, but the bottom line is that at the end of the day I have a roof over my head, I am reasonably happy, I can publish what I want, when I want, and my dogs are fed, so I have no reason to complain.  It is a matter of perspective, of keeping my priorities straight, and figuring out what matters to me… and of feeling grateful for the fact that I am in a position to follow my dreams, to write and publish my books on my terms, and to live my life more or less like I want to.

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Heads I win, tails you lose

Contests are one of the best vehicles for aspiring authors out there… or at least so goes the conventional wisdom, and there is no denying that  in some instances they can be a wonderful opportunity. The only problem is that there are also a whole bunch of other instances.

Now, I’m not knocking all contests, but one of the first things you have to do before you enter one is… to make sure that you can turn the prize down. Why would you want to do that? Well, let’s face it, the main draw of some of these contests is that they offer you a way into the walled garden of paid authors without having to go through those dreaded gatekeepers, known as ‘the agents’. That’s good, except for the fact that you don’t really know the terms you are agreeing to. Granted, in the real world a new author doesn’t really have that much bargaining power either, but at least you get to read the contract before you sign on the dotted line, and if there is a clause in there that you really can’t live with, well, you can always choose to walk away. Beware of the fact that by entering a contest you may be giving up that particular right.

Another thing I find hilarious is that the people arguing contests are an unknown author’s best friends are all too often the same people who argue against self-publishing and reading fees. Money should always flow towards the author, they say… but they make an exception for contest entry fees. Okay, I understand that organizing a contest does entail some expenses, but let’s look at the deal those organizers are getting out of this: they get hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions plus fees that more than allow them to recoup any expenses they may have incurred in in the process, and they also get their pick of hundreds/thousands of works… with the added benefit that authors don’t even have a right to see what kind of terms they are agreeing to. Oh, and while they are at it they also often claim exclusive rights to the entry while the contest is underway (something that can translate into more than six months), meaning that the authors are effectively frozen in place until they deign to come down with a verdict. That is ridiculous.

Is self-publishing ideal? No, nowhere near it, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. It is hard work, and chances are that your book will languish in obscurity for all times no matter what you do, but the thing is that right now authors can have their book published with some pretty favorable terms for less than what it would cost them to enter a single contest… and the sad fact remains that writing contests, just like publishing and self-publishing, is a field that is rife with scam artists. You may not be getting much out of self-publishing, but at least what you get out of it is a known quantity.

It’s a tough world for authors out there, and the bottom line is that whether you are looking to enter a contest, publish your book, trying to find an agent, or trying to determine what your best option for self-publishing happens to be, you have to be very, very careful… that, and to keep typing.

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The attack of the renewal fees

Yesterday I received two e-mails from authors complaining about the newly instituted renewal/storage fees that some POD publishers are charging, and some of these fees seem to be as high as $50.00 a year per version, so what’s going on here?

Well, as far as I know Lightning Source, the printing company used by most publishers, does charge a $14.00 a year fee, and while a number of publishers have a clause in their contracts enabling them to recoup that fee, they may have chosen not to enforce it  up until now to avoid alienating their customers (VBW, for instance, has such a clause). What I suspect may be happening here is that some of these publishers have reached a tipping point where they can no longer afford to absorb this loss. $14.00 may not look like much on its own, but for a publisher that has one thousand titles in its catalog that would translate into a yearly expense of $14,000.00. The fact that some publishers may have decided to start passing this fee on to their authors may not be a pleasant development, but it is an understandable one. On the other hand a $50.00 fee (that one was reported for Aventine Press) is excessive no matter how you look at it, and to me it hints at desperation. That one makes me think of a company that used to rely on setup fees rather than book sales for its bread and butter that has suddenly found itself in a position where new authors just aren’t biting like they used to, so it has decided to go back to milk its captive audience instead. If I had to guess, I would probably chalk that particular development up to the rise of epublishing and of the  juggernaut commonly known as CreatSpace, two developments that have made it very difficult for the little guys to compete.

The thing is that I see the advent of these fees as a sign of a shift in the industry, one that I suspect will see a number of small publishers going out of business over the course of the next few years. That may not be a bad thing (if the scam is no longer working like it used to, maybe some of the scammers will decide to cut their losses and run, leaving us with a cleaner field), but it does mean that betting on a small publisher may come back to bite you if that publisher winds up being among the ones that go belly up.

As for the fees themselves: I would describe a fee of up to $15.00 as a legitimate operating expense (for the print version, there is no reason it should apply to ebooks), but the higher above that threshold the fee is, the more troubling it becomes… and if you are looking for a publisher, and you don’t want to go the DIY route, my advise remains the same it has always been: look for a publisher that offers a full service package where your setup fee doesn’t exceed the royalties you would get for external sales of two or three hundred copies, make sure the contract is non-exclusive, that it has a nice termination clause, and that the rights revert to you should they go out of business, otherwise you may wind up losing a lot more than your setup fee if the company does go under.

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CreateSpace, an update

Almost a year ago, as I was getting ready to release Soulless, Laira, and Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind, I wrote a post in which I tried to explain my decision to switch from Vitrual Bookworm to CreateSpace.  I admit that at the time I was somewhat worried about how that one was going to turn out. Now, as I prepare to release the next batch of titles, I am happy to say that for the most part my experience with CreateSpace has been a positive one.

Yes, I still feel that if you don’t know what you are getting into, have never had anything to do with the publishing business before, and you want to have the comfort of knowing that there is someone in charge you can talk to, who will listen to your concerns, know your name, take care of the details, and who will actually be in a position to help you out if you run into trouble,  you may well be better off with a well-established, small to mid sized publisher that charges a reasonable fee, even if the they can’t match what CreateSpace  has to offer in terms of royalties. Of course, the key words in that statement are ‘well-established’ and ‘reasonable fee’ because this is one field in which there are way too many scam artists. In fact I would go so far as to say that this is one instance in which the belief that ‘you get what you pay for’ will probably come back to bite you. Remember that if your setup fee is more than five hundred times your royalties per copy sold via external channels chances are seriously against you ever breaking even.

Anyway, and getting back to the subject of CreateSpace,  I have to say that, in addition to the fact that you don’t get as much support as you would with a (good) smaller outfit,  I also remain convinced that the issues with CreateSpace‘s TOS (namely the fact that they reserve the right to make any changes they see fit) are a problem. In spite of that, at least for experienced authors who can supply their own cover and their own interior layout (and who are not above playing a round or two of contractual Russian roulette), they offer what is by far the best deal out there. They provide a very efficient service, and a finished product that has a reasonable quality (thought there may be some minor issues with curling covers under certain condition, and with the printing of interior images).  I can also say that, for the most part, the system works as advertised.

BTW, while I mentioned above that a personalized customer support is one of the big advantages of a more traditional publisher, that doesn’t mean that you have no recourse when dealing with CreateSpace. Their customer support is pretty reliable (for the most part), and they will (usually) do their best to help you if you run into trouble, so you are not entirely on your own. It’s just that you don’t have a specific contact you can address your concerns to, and that precisely because they have a such a large staff, you never know what you are going to get.

And finally, in the comparison I gave CreateSpace three stars out of four, but that was based on how they compared to other the other publishers, and it did include their layout and cover design packages, which may have distorted things a bit. If I were to evaluate CreateSpace based only the company’s own merits, without the design extras, and using a one to five scale, I would probably give it four stars for experienced authors, and three for newbies who are at least somewhat familiar with the basics of the publishing business.

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Overwhelmed

The past twelve months have been fairly productive ones –in fact they were great in that regard, so I’m most definitely no complaining about that– but today is one of those days in which I feel like I am being pulled in a dozen different directions. Right now I’m trying to put the finishing touches on last year’s projects. There are four of them. There is the sequel to Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind, a fully revised version of Scales at a Glance, and two translations (Laira and Scales… are about to be released in Spanish). Anyway, each one of these four books must be proof-read one last time, formatted (and believe me when I say that that is not and easy task when it comes to the two versions of Scales, which feature about a gazillion figures each) and then there is the whole cover design thing. Oh, and if that weren’t enough there is also a blog that has to be updated, not to mention that I’m already working on two new projects and those too demand their share of time (those would be the third part of Citlalli and a sort of history book). I know this is just the final push and that it will be over in a couple of weeks, but I freely admit that at times the balancing act gets to be a little too much for me… I mean, right now I feel like I could really use a twenty-eight hour day! That wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t because today I got so overwhelmed that I would up getting distracted and didn’t even do the things I was supposed to do. That is one of my problems. As soon as I realize that there’s no way I’m going to get everything done I tend to get disorganized.

Well, there are worse things in this world. Here’s hoping that tomorrow things will work out a little better!

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At what price quality?

Hi guys, okay a fair warning, I am going to be asking a rather heretical question here, but first a little background: for over ten years now I have been maintaining a comparison of POD publishers and this past week I had a rather nasty argument with the owner of a particular outfit. In a nutshell, he claims that authors are better off paying him more than £3,500.00 to set up a book because he produces books that are of above average quality when compared to other POD outfits (and keep in mind that I only have his word when it comes to that particular claim). Anyway, seeing how you can have a book published via CreateSpace by paying something like $35.00, and that’s including both expanded distribution and one or two rounds of proof copies depending on your book’s length, I found myself wondering how much does quality really matter.

Oh, I’m not talking here about not having a nice cover design or a good interior layout (I do realize that those things are important), I am talking about the quality of the materials that go into making the physical object we know as a book. I mean when I think back to all the books I have ever read what I remember first and foremost is the plot, that is followed by the quality of the writing as such and maybe the cover. The interior layout only comes into play if there is a problem with it, but the manufacture and the quality of the paper? The truth is that that’s not something I, as a reader, have ever given much thought to (not as long as the thing doesn’t fall apart in my hands the first time I open it, and sometimes not even then)… and yet as an author at times I can’t help but to worry about it. Anyway the question I wanted to ask is this: would you pay more than £3,500.00 to have a book that’s a little nicer (and to be fair, that fee does include all design services and a few extras which you would have to supply on your own via CreateSpace), or would you prefer to either save your money or to have the freedom to allocate it as you see fit?

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You get what you pay for and other canards

Today, for the first time, I deliberately deleted an active publisher from the comparison. Seeing how the company in question is based in the UK, and that the comparison focuses mostly on US based ones, it is one that wouldn’t even have been included if they hadn’t asked to be featured in it in the first place… in fact they asked to be included repeatedly. The problem is that dealing with the man behind this particular outfit turned out to be more trouble than it was worth, as he insisted on trying to dictate what my personal opinion should be… and seeing how this company operated in a completely different market to begin with it, its being there didn’t really make much sense.

Anyway, in case you were wondering, the fact that this company was deleted is the reason why the three trashcans sit neglected on an empty row, looking rather dejected (yes, I realize that reassigning that rating would have been the natural thing to do, but to do it would also have required a fairly substantial update. I will probably fix that in six months or so).

As for the decision to delete this particular company, I have to admit that it I am rather conflicted about that one.

On the one hand I feel that, by deleting that review, I am giving in to a bully and I hate that. On the other I feel that I have better things to do with my life that to try to explain myself to someone who is determined not to listen, and that seeing how I had only included the company in question because this person had asked me to, I felt that keeping it there just to spite him was rather childish (not to mention that I don’t need the aggravation of actually having to deal with this particular character).

In the end I think letting it go was right choice, especially because it was one of those publishers whose fees are so outrageously expensive (north of £3,500.00, to be accurate) that they will only be considered by someone who has already swallowed the whole ‘you get what you pay for’ canard… and those people are unlikely to be swayed by the fact that there are more affordable (as in costing a lot less than 1% of what this guy is charging), and in my opinion far better, options out there. These are people who ‘want the best’ and are convinced that they have to pay through the nose to get it.

Now, I know that may sound a little dismissive, and will even go so far as to admit that there are instances in which the most expensive option is actually the best one,  but what too many people don’t seem to realize is that there is a limit as to how far you can take that attitude when dealing with POD.

Yes, our books are our babies and we want them to be handled carefully –believe me, as a writer I most definitely get that– but the truth is that when your break-even point is above the thousand copies mark you have come to what is likely to be a losing proposition… or at best a less than advantageous one. Simply put, publishing is a business, money matters, and considering the differences in terms of quality and cost per copy, if your break-even point is above one thousand copies you may want to start looking into the possibility of an offset print run instead as the use of POD itself ceases to be cost-effective.

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Speaking for myself

Hey, I have a voice!

Ever since I first started the comparison of POD publishers I have had no choice but to try to remain impartial… and that meant that there was a lot going on behind the scenes that I could say nothing about, now I can. Oh, I realize that e-mail is supposed to be private, so I’m not going to be quoting from my inbox here, nor am I going to be naming names, but if something annoys me, at least I will be able to get it off my chest.

In fact I had an incident along these lines the other day when one of my ‘favorite’ pushy publishers wrote to me to whine that there was a ‘mistake’ in the comparison. After a back and forth that caused me to waste the better part of an afternoon, said publisher went back to his/her site, made a change to correct the problem s/he had been arguing did not exist, and then continued to insist that it had been my mistake all along. For the sake of accuracy I did modify the comparison to reflect this change, but the truth is that the whole thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Yes, I realize that publishers have a reputation they are eager to maintain, and in that regard I understand why some of them may not be too happy about how they come across in the comparison, but the bottom line is that when someone goes back to correct a problem they have stubbornly been refusing to acknowledge, and then insist that it was the other’s mistake all along, that does not paint a very pretty picture of their sense of ethics, and that most certainly qualifies as a red flag.

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