Monday, 9 January 2012


Self-Publishing Experiences: Over Streams and Squirrel Woods - Alys Williams


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It's quite a while since we had a post from our self-publishing successes/experiences series. So, today, Alys Williams (pseudonym of author Jenny Thomas) describes her not so good experience with AuthorHouse, and her eventual publication of her beautiful book, Over Streams and Squirrel Woods, a chronicle and memoir of her relationship with her mother during her years of dementia. - [Editor]


I tried twenty-two small publishers and four agents. Some of them were interested, but then got cold feet in the ‘currently difficult climate.’ I decided after a couple of years to get the book into print, onto the Kindle, and off my desk. I sent for three books on self-publishing, read magazine articles and scoured the internet for help, and I also spoke to everyone I knew who might have a view.

I tried to compare prices and what one gets for the money between Crowdspring, CreateSpace, Lightning Source and a myriad of companies who do the cover design, book layout and distribution, but it took weeks of research. I eventually decided that I was not technically capable of doing the whole thing, and with recommendations for AuthorHouse from creative writing teachers and other authors, an offer of 40% off the basic package, as well as a ‘you will retain the rights so you’re not tied down to any strings’ and ‘you will get a non-exclusive or open ended contract’ and ‘you can price the book at £7.30’ and ‘YES the book will be available on Kindle’ and ‘we never charge for any additional printing costs, administrative fees, or retailer discounts’ ringing in my ears, I paid the £453.15.

A day later, my check in co-ordinator phoned and sent me an e-mail with some instructions. So I electronically sent off my paginated book layout, a photo for the cover, and book description for the back cover. I entered a password and my e-mail address into the Authorcentre and waited. When I logged into the Authorcentre a few days later I saw that although I had formatted my book to be 6x9 and had asked for the text to be kept in Times New Roman as the italicised sections looked too curly in their usual font of Garamond – these details had been entered wrongly. My co-ordinator replied to my third e-mail saying she had altered the details and, YES, I could have ‘all profits from this book go to the Alzheimer’s Society’ on the copy line. After this, I could not get into the Authorcentre to check. Eventually I was given another password and the changes had been made.

The proofs came back from my design consultant for me to view. In the first round I was allowed 25 interior corrections, though any number of their mistakes could be changed. The cover was very strange. My photograph had been cut into three pieces and attached to a tree. It was very imaginative, but not what I had asked for, and did not fit the book’s content (which of course they don’t read) and the cover image way too dark.

Completing the Cover Modification and Galley Modification Forms was a difficult process. The forms had minds of their own and trying to put the typos in the ‘Incorrect’ column was tedious as they were immediately changed to being correct – so they looked the same as the ‘Correct’ column. I spent two days ensuring that I had made every detail as clear as possible and included explanatory text to back up the changes.

There was a three week delay, during which time I saw the retail price for the book had gone up to £11.92! I e-mailed my AuthorHouse representative – got no reply – and then I could no longer get into the ‘Authorcentre’ again.

The cover proof was returned with no bark included, but suddenly there was too much blue sky covered with clouds and it was a wrap around cover, so the writing was squashed into a thin column – it was just no good for my older target audience. I sent more explanations of what I wanted in an e-mail. A week later I phoned and it was as if I had never written to them – my design consultant typed what I was saying as I spoke. I confirmed the points again with another e-mail to back up my four points.

The galley modifications were returned, but not one of the twenty-five author corrections had been done and only seven of the twenty-seven AuthorHouse corrections. They had taken out the different font I used for my quotes and double-spaced some and run others into my text, so in many cases the quotes merged with my opinions. I had sent them a perfectly laid out file in the first place! Why had it been so messed up? I had spent so much time trying to make each necessary alteration crystal clear on the Modification forms – what was going on? We spoke again and I asked for the fourth time where ‘all profits to Alzheimers Society’ was on the copy line and why there were two spare pages at the beginning of the book. I backed this up with another e-mail repeating all the points.

Meanwhile I had been reading more and more complaint reviews on the internet. About how Lightning Source prints the books for between £2.90 and £3.70 and then AuthorHouse marks them up to more than double the print cost. Why do they have to make such a huge publishing profit when the author has paid for the cover and text?

My thought to put the book onto Kindle and charge £2.99 and get a printer to print me two hundred copies from their electronic files suddenly evaporated when I read a furious reviewer who said that I don’t own the rights to the designed and formatted version of my book, so I couldn’t republish or have the book production files to work from – they are owned by AuthorHouse! Where does it say that? I poured over everything on their site, every e-mail they sent me – but nowhere was this said. I thought I’d purchased a design package which became mine. I’d neither seen nor signed a contract.

I was too naive.

I e-mailed a friend who had worked in the publishing industry. My friend advised me to coolly work my way through the nexus of technicalities and focus on exactly what I signed up for, and to get complete clarity and then see if I could negotiate. If not, perhaps threaten legal action. I think that is a step too far, but I vowed that I would tell them that I am writing an article about my experience...

My marketing consultant rang up to introduce himself and to ask me what my goals were. I said it was to market the book at the prices agreed in my e-mail communication with the person who had signed me up. I said that I was writing an article about my experiences with AuthorHouse, and if they reneged on our agreements I wanted my money back. He said that the introductory person would be ringing me…they never did!

I argued with them for two months about how much the book would be on their site – I had a friend whose book was the same number of pages and was able to insist that the same price was set – she had already battled endlessly with them.

A friend designed the cover for me, as nothing they produced was worth having, and out of frustration I put the book onto Kindle myself – a month before they would have done so.

I cannot emphasise how hard I have had to fight and how many e-mails I’ve written and phone calls I have made - dozens and dozens - they do not reply and all the call staff I was dealing with were in the Philippines, the cultural understanding and style they produced was not my taste and somehow there was a big gap in understanding one another. [AuthorHouse no longer have a physical presence in the UK since early 2010 - Editor]

Eventually, because my friends book had been published before mine, I knocked them down from £7.50 to £5.60 for one hundred books, but the £94 postage charge was prohibitive, so I re-edited it, used the same cover, removed the ISBN number and had a printer in Norfolk do one hundred copies for me for £5.42 per book with no postage – so I saved £1.23. I could have done that in the first place and saved the £453 and not had five months of frustration!

In the promises that AuthorHouse send to punters it says:

Your book will be available to buy from the largest book distributors worldwide. These are;

• Gardners Books• Bertrams Books• Nielson Books• Ingram Books• Baker & Taylor and• Andrews Bookstores in Australia.

Yet two months after the book had gone live on Amazon, Over Streams and Squirrel Woods is still not registered with Nielsen Book Data and Bibliographic Data Services – and until this happens all the distributors above will not stock it and all the libraries I and friends have contacted, cannot order it! It’s quite shocking.

The sales on the internet are good and I have worked hard at contacting alzheimers local branches, putting details on dementia websites, sending details to newspapers, magazines and libraries and contacting everyone I have e-mail addresses for. My friend has had massive sales because she does book signings in book shops and is very persuasive. As my book is more specialized, I don’t see myself doing that, but seem to be having steady sales on Amazon with regular cheques in the post to me.

It is £8.82 on Amazon, plus £2.70 postage, as an e book for £4.58 or £7.99 directly from me plus the £2.30 postage. If I make any profit, it will go to the Alzheimers Society. I wish I'd had a book like mine when I was struggling to make life and treatment better for my Mum.

Why did I write it? Anger at the 'system', catharsis and because I want to believe that the human brain can still be creative and powerful even when it is damaged by plaques and tangles, so I tried to imagine how it felt if you knew that it was happening to you and wrote alternate chapters from my Mum’s point of view based on what she said to me and from what I observed.

In the other chapters I have described factually and honestly the journey we took together. Recording my experience of her illness, treatment and life in two nursing homes made me question what constitutes identity, self and the soul and be appalled by the way we treat our elderly, corralling and containing them and our lack of effort to communicate with those with dementia is particularly shocking.

Would either I or my friend use Authorhouse again? Well, no, but neither would I pay huge amounts to any self publishing company – it’s money wasted - do it yourself if you can’t find a publisher will be my maxim in future.

What is it like to watch a loved one deteriorate with the onset of dementia? How does it feel to know that it is happening to you?

A daughter’s honest and insightful account of her mother’s slow slide into Dementia with Lewy bodies and the mother’s thoughts as her internal journey gradually becomes her new reality.
Over Streams and Squirrel Woods explores what can happen when reality becomes too painful, and the disconnection between people when they see and hear differently from one another. It is about boundless love, frustration, guilt and the inexorable inevitability of aging.

Alys records her experience of Catrin’s illness, treatment and life in two nursing homes, provoking her to question what constitutes identity, self and the soul. In startling parallel is Catrin’s stream of consciousness, the clarity of which suggests that there is still power and creativity in the human mind and gives us hope that the descent is transformed not into pain and darkness, but into another life.

It is not only an intriguing read for all of us who have had or might have to deal with those who suffer from dementia but also leads us to consider our own futures.

“This is a valuable addition to the dementia literature, rewriting our expectation of what those with dementia can think.” John Suchet.
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