A Little Background
Ever since I first made the decision that writing was something I wanted to pursue, my main goal has been to write and complete a novel. Further, I wanted to have that novel published by a traditional publisher. To be clear here, the goal was to accomplish writing a novel that I am proud of. To have it published, an amazing bonus.
Over several years, I have watched the publishing industry drastically change. Traditional publishers have down-sized, down-scaled, and self-publishing (or, Independent publishing) has undergone a huge transformation. It is much more common-place than it was when I set myself that goal. I found myself wondering if self-publishing would be a better route for my completed-in-the-future novel, and so began to research and read up on the subject.
Besides writing my novel, I have over the last few years worked on a few different writing projects. I have a bank of poetry and short stories on my computer, and – curious to learn more about self-publishing first-hand – in 2013, I decided to try it for myself. I’d watched a few writer friends self-publish their novels and short stories, they all seemed to have enjoyed the process and received good results. I collected together a group of my poems, and set about reworking them with the intention of creating a small poetry book. I worked really hard on getting each poem just right, making sure they were all properly formatted and presented. I wrote new poems, and edited existing ones. I spent a long time trying to decide on the correct order they should be presented in, and eventually found a layout I liked. I sought objective feedback, continually improved, researched available and suitable self-publishing companies, created a cover I was happy with, and – eventually – had my own really awesome little book of poems.
In October 2013, I published Rhythmythical on Amazon for Kindle. I spent a long time familiarising myself with the self-publishing process, and learning a lot about marketing and promotion techniques for self-published authors. In January 2015, I followed it up with a print-version via CreateSpace – taking advantage of the business partnership that Amazon and CreateSpace had formed.
Eager to begin properly building my ‘brand’, I ordered a small bulk-order of books and made preparations to host stalls at local fairs and events. I also intended to make contact with some local shops where I had hoped I might stock a handful of copies of my book, and identified a long list of online areas I wanted to get in touch with in relation to reviews, giveaways, etc.
My Recent Experience
The books arrived surprisingly quickly, and I happily opened the HUGE box to see my work. I’ll be honest: the packing was extremely poor. As you can see from the pictures, there was no internal packaging or support for the books. The box was clearly far too large, and the books were just left loose and unprotected inside – free to float around and scratch during transport. I do believe this resulted in a few scuffs, scratches, and general creasing to a few of the copies … although, it’s possible they were already in that condition before they were packed.
But there was more! On further inspection of the books, a number of other issues became instantly apparent:
The book covers (front and back) were different colours from copy to copy. The colour of the inside pages were different from copy to copy. The books were different heights, and they were different widths. The alignment of the cover images (front and back covers) were not only all different, but also not straight. The cutting, and general finish of the books was extremely poor. The borders on the front, and back, covers were all mismatched – and, again, different: some borders were quite thick, others less so, very thin on some, and in some cases they were missing altogether. Sometimes this applied to all of the borders on a cover (all edges), other times it would only apply to one or two sides.
You can see in the picture below how the borders on the book covers were all different to each other, poorly aligned, and poorly finished. The colours are also all in different shades, though it’s not so easy to tell from this picture.
In the picture above, you can see that the books are of different heights. There are scuffs to the spines, the page colours are all different, and the staples are all in different places.
Below, a couple of pictures of the different heights and colours (etc) from different angles. You can also see that the top-side borders are all different here as well. Could you imagine if I showed up to a local fair or book event with these? Or sent them out – direct – for review? It’s just not professional.
Below, the general standard of the cutting and trimming. Here, the edge is in further need of trimming to remove this excess material, and the general line is left scuffed and rough. The overall finish of all of the books really was very poor.
I have so many more photos, but you get the general idea. I looked through to see how many of the copies I could salvage, with an eye to returning only the ones that needed it – and amazingly, I managed to find absolutely nothing that was of a good enough standard to keep. Disappointed, I quickly contacted Amazon to explain the problem. I decided it was a one-time thing, and arranged to return the books in exchange for a replacement. Arrangements were made for the package to be collected from my home, and I was promised a “high quality” replacement. I eagerly awaited arrival of the replacements. I knew it could take a little while for them to be properly printed and then delivered, but I wasn’t in a hurry. I was just after a good overall standard that I could use with/at/for the various arrangements and plans I had made. And I was looking forward to seeing a little job-lot of my books.
The replacements arrived barely a-day-and-a-half to two days later, this time in an even larger box.
And they certainly were not “high quality” – they exhibited the same issues as the first 36 copies: different heights, different widths, different cover colours, different inside page colours, different border sizes, poor cutting, poor alignment, poor packaging, scuffs and creases, …
I was so gutted. I want to make it clear that despite, at this point, having received 72 different copies of my title – I was unable to find a single copy amongst them that was of a good enough quality for me to keep. It was extremely disappointing.
At this point, I realised that any further replacements would also likely arrive in the same condition. I also became very concerned about the quality of any of these books that would be sent – direct – to other customers that had bought their own copy/ies. Despite all of my hard work in writing, collecting, researching, formatting, etc. – my books were clearly being sent out at this terrible, terrible level of quality. I felt sick. Even though I had no control whatsoever over the printing, packaging, or delivery, this was clearly something that could – and would – impact on, and reflect very badly on, my work.
This is also the reason I have decided to share my experience here. I am not normally the sort of person who likes to share issues such as this so publicly – I much prefer working directly with whoever else is involved to resolve any issues privately. However, in this case, I feel it is important for me to state publicly that the issues with these books are not okay. The level of quality is not something I am at all happy with, and they simply are not good enough. If you, or somebody you know, has ordered a copy of my book and it has arrived in a state such as these have – please do contact Amazon to replace/resolve the issue. The quality of the books I have received is unacceptably appalling.
I could never have imagined before this that a print-on-demand company, CreateSpace – whose business it is to print books, such as this one, would even be able to produce such a poor, awful level of quality. That they are all different is also a surprise. Surely, it makes more sense that they would all match? Even mis-aligned, poorly cut, etc, don’t printers usually print more than one copy at a time? Further, that I received exactly the same level of quality for the replacement books is even worse.
Contacting Amazon (again) to say that the promised “high quality” replacements had arrived with exactly the same issues as the first books, I was very underwhelmed at their apparently-standard level of customer service, and their reassurances once again that next time I would receive a better level of quality and service. I spoke to a representative via LiveChat to again explain the issue, and make it clear that I was not satisfied with my experience. I was also not satisfied with the quality of service from the representative and had to ask on at least five separate occasions to speak directly to a manager. I was on LiveChat with the representative, and then the manager/supervisor, for an hour and a half. The manager arranged for me to receive a refund, and for the replacement books to also be collected. Further, the quality of products I had received would be investigated – and I would receive an update once the investigation had concluded. Also, the removal of my book from the Amazon website – as a small, but appropriate gesture of goodwill – would be forwarded to the correct department, and they also would get back to me.
The courier collecting the replacement books managed to arrange for a second, alternative, collection date/time – despite actually collecting the parcel. The reason he listed for this was ‘package not ready’. I told him, to his face, that obviously it was ready – he was collecting it. He also “forgot to bring” the collection receipt he should have given me. I wrote my own receipt, got him to sign it, and then emailed Amazon to cancel the new collection. A second courier arrived to collect the package.
I have had to chase, and email, and contact, and push at every single stage. Now, eight months later, despite four or five months of back-and-forth emailing – I am still to receive an update from a single department. I have chased the investigations, and I have been in touch with so many different departments about removing my book from the Amazon website (so I can start over with it somewhere else) that it isn’t even funny. Not a single one of them has been able to give a straight answer, a helpful response, or even a real acknowledgement of the terrible level of quality of service that I have received.
One of the reasons I decided on self-publishing for this collection was that it allows for more creative control over the title. However, this experience has taught me that in using such online tools as websites and specific platforms designed to ‘help’ writers with self-publishing, you – as writer – lose more control than is initially obvious. Simple printing doesn’t seem like a big issue (what could go wrong?) until it actually does becomes a problem. Not only that, but you are also subject to any changes and amendments to terms or processes regardless of whether you agree with them or not. And, if there is an issue, changing to a new system is not so easy if you can’t extract your work. I wasn’t tied to any time-locked contract, no agreed exclusivity arrangement for a certain period, etc. They just wouldn’t acknowledge or respond to me wanting to leave.
This whole experience has been extremely stressful and upsetting. Since publication, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with these types of companies, and increasingly aware of various restrictions and limitations I had not been previously aware of. I accept this as part of my learning process, but with hindsight would now approach self-/Independent publishing very differently. As convenient as it may be to use the Amazon Kindle-Direct-Publishing platform, and CreateSpace tie-in, you sacrifice so much. And there’s no, or – at least – very little, fall-back from them if something goes wrong.
I don’t expect to hear back from Amazon now, and have drawn a line under this whole experience. I have taken direct action to remove, and reclaim, my work, and will be re-releasing it via a different method. I will not be returning to Amazon, or CreateSpace, and – with so much information available online about how instant and easy it is for would-be authors to publish via these companies – want to raise a flag to my experience.
I appeared on Sarah Banham’s Writer’s Block radio show on Saint FM on Thursday 3rd September, 2015, to talk about this experience. Tune in to Saint FM at 94.7 FM.
Have you self-published a book? What platform/method/services did you use? Are you happy with your experience? Let me know in the comments!