Sunday, November 22, 2009

Publishing: Anyone Can Play, Part 2

By Pat Browning

Debbi Mack is no neophyte when it comes to writing. She’s the owner of Mack Research and Writing, providing articles, reports, case studies, white papers and otherwise assisting businesses and organizations with communications needs. She has also done research for legal and reference publishers and attorneys.

Debbi is also a mystery author, whose published work includes a novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, a hardboiled mystery featuring lawyer/sleuth Stephanie Ann "Sam" McRae, and a short story in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES I, an anthology written and edited by members of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

IDENTITY CRISIS is in its second life. First published by Quiet Storm in 2004, then Quiet Storm went out of business. This year Debbi decided to resurrect it, and published it through Lulu. Being computer savvy she was able to set it up herself, so it didn’t cost her any money.

But her ups and downs with Lulu took patience and a sense of humor. For anyone who wants to know how it works, here are a couple of e-mails from Debbi explaining the whole thing. In her own words:

The experience with Lulu . . . hmmm . . . well, it took me a while to get through the process, because (first) I got sidetracked for a bit thinking I might go with CreateSpace instead. But for technical reasons, they didn't work out, so I went back to Lulu.

And maybe it's just me, but I was confused about how parts of the process worked. So I held off on buying a distribution package, because I didn't want to make a mistake. And anytime I had a question, it always had to be sent by email. (Because they don't do phone. Period.) And sometimes the answer wasn't terribly helpful, so I'd have to email and try for clarification. Which usually made things somewhat clear, but not entirely.

Then there was a cover issue I didn't spot until right before I published the book. They don't put ISBNs on one-piece covers. (If I'd only known . . .) The process wasn't exactly transparent. Or idiot-proof (as this idiot can attest to). At that point, the cover had to be broken down into two pieces. So some of the time lag was due to trying to navigate Lulu's process and dealing with the graphic artist who did the cover. He was in school a lot of the time, so it took him a while to get things done. I kept telling myself, patience, patience . . . you've waited this long, what's another few weeks or even months . . .

At some point, I finally uploaded the cover (months after the content had been uploaded) and bought the distribution package. And that was it. Except for one thing. The cover has "ISBN:" in the upper-left corner, but no number. I'd like it taken off. You can pay Lulu for these revisions.

I'm perfectly willing to do this, but . . . when I follow the online directions that are supposed to lead to a button that says "Purchase Revisions," guess what? It's not there. So . . . if it's the last thing I do, I'm getting on the phone with someone from Lulu to straighten this out. (I finally found their number! Ha! You can run, but you can't hide, Lulu.)

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Well, otherwise, not so bad really, considering it cost me nothing, plus Lulu took care of the ISBN and handles the distribution. I'd use Lulu again, now that I know what the heck I'm doing (mostly).

… there have been a few new developments, since I wrote that. I found out that Lulu couldn't change the cover. So--that part isn't accurate.

Another thing: I've been having difficulty getting my book into the distribution system (I bought the expanded package a couple of weeks after the book was published and there were some formatting issues to work out, which I did). After repeated inquiries, the head of distribution said I hadn't bought the expanded distribution package.

When I corrected her, she acknowledged her mistake, then mentioned the formatting issues, noting that I'd corrected them, but said I needed to buy a copy and approve it before it could be distributed. I forwarded her a copy of an order I'd placed for 100 copies (after the formatting revisions) and asked if *that* was enough to indicate my approval. :) That was today. Hopefully, we can straighten this out soon.

Also, I never did reach anyone there by phone. Basically, I went on Twitter and said, "Does ANYONE know how to reach a human at Lulu?" Lulu tweeted me back and I've been in touch with actual employees (someone other than the usual online support staff, that is) by email since then.

FWIW, I don't think my experience with Lulu is typical. I know others who've had no problem at all with them. (Lucky me. :))

Available in print from and online from Amazon

So … Debbi has it under control but Amazon is still struggling with it. Tonight I checked Amazon and found the old 2004 Quiet Storm edition still listed – for $56.98. The new edition is listed on Kindle for $1.59, with the old cover and a mix of old and new reviews. A happy note: Debbi says Kindle sales have been good.

Richard Hicks’ take on self-publishing is short and sweet. He has published several novels with Xlibris. But then Richard steers his own course, so to speak. He lives at Cardiff-by-the-Sea, thirty miles north of San Diego, and a sea breeze wafts through his fiction.

Here’s his bio from his web site at

I practiced law for twenty-six years, the last seventeen as the head of the business litigation department of a Los Angles law firm. I’d probably still be there if my wife hadn’t announced she was going to walk across the United States for nine months with an ecological group and that I could either come with her, or we’d “visit” each other. Three pair of shoes later I began. . .

Today, when not writing, my typical week looks like this: Helping victims of domestic violence get restraining orders (Monday), jamming on my ukulele with a hundred or so other obsessed members of the Moonlight Beach Ukulele Strummers (Wednesday), and sailing with my buddies in San Diego bay. (Thursdays). Oh, yes, since my wife quit cooking seventeen years ago, I cook.

Twice a year I charter sailboats (40 to 50 foot monohulls and catamarans) and sail in some exotic locations -- The Caribbean, South Pacific and Mediterranean. My love of the water and passion for sailing has inspired some scenes in my novels, and will continue to do so.

Xlibris is one of the early self-publishing companies. Since Richard continues to use them, I asked about his experience. His reply was to the point.

And while I've been happy with Xlibris as a POD publisher (they do a decent job, at a fair price, in a reasonable time frame), I think that all the POD publishers raise very unreasonable expectations for their customers, and are now trying to sell them very expensive marketing programs and materials.

I can't comment on non-fiction -- that's a different market -- but there is simply no way that any self-published fiction writer is going to sell more than a handful of books to the people on their holiday list.

I could go on an on … and in fact have given talks on this subject. I write because I love the process. I've had agents (one in NYC, one in Boston and one in Beverly Hills), and for whatever reason they haven't been able to get my books published by a traditional publishing house.

I'm not distraught about this. I love the process of writing fiction, and POD offers a way to at least get the manuscript out of my drawer and into print where it can be read by a small group of fans. That's probably enough fame (and no fortune) for me in this my second career.

Richard’s earlier novels are standalones but he has started a series of Enneagram mysteries. I just read the first one, MURDER BY THE NUMBERS: THE RIGHTEOUS ONE. I enjoyed it very much. It’s well written, and it’s so clean I thought he must have hired an independent editor. When I asked, he said:

“All of my novels have been line-edited by Dave King, a professional editor. I started working with him in 2000 and I've really learned a lot from him. The place where my novels sometimes need help is in copyediting. I've used a friend to help me with this, since I had already spent my editing budget on Dave King.”

MURDER BY THE NUMBERS is available in both hardcover and trade paperback. When I heard from Richard earlier this week he was on Chapter 35 of the second in the series.

Every author has a unique story when it comes to writing and publishing. Many, many thanks to Tom Sawyer, Debbi Mack and Richard Hicks for sharing theirs.


Debbi said...

Hey, Richard!

Always happy to see another lawyer-turned-fiction author navigating the stormy publishing seas. :)

Good luck with your book and your other writing!


Anonymous said...

Hi, Debbi:

Glad you stopped by. I just put a different kind of post on my personal blog. A line in Richard's book yanked me back about 40 years to my first trip to Europe and gave me a laugh.

Check it out on my blog, Morning's At Noon, at

I'm just getting ready to put a link to Murderous Musings on Facebook.

Good luck with Lulu, Amazon and your book!

Pat Browning

Patty G. Henderson said...

Hi Debbi,

I've been using Lulu now for several of my books and have been very pleased. My latest book, XIMORA, the fourth Brenda Strange mystery, was finally finished, Global Distribution package purchased and sealed on October 22nd. I expected to wait at least 6-8 weeks before it appeared on Amazon....Well, lo and behold, 4 weeks later, there it is on Amazon already!

If you need any help with your cover art or any other technical stuff with, I will be more than happy to help you out. It has been a very positive experience with Lulu, which is more than I can say with some author friends who are using CreateSpace. Much easier on Lulu!

Have fun and keep writing.

jenny milchman said...

These stories are authentic, in the trenches reports from the brave new world of publishing, and I thank the authors for sharing. I'm a fan of Debbi's work and looking forward to the second book in the series! I wanted to relay the story of a good friend of mine, Maryann McFadden, who after years of rejection, self-pubbed her novel, THE RICHEST SEASON. She went to every book club that would have her, some indie booksellers got behind her, and after selling 3000 + copies she landed an agent and her book sold at auction to Hyperion. She's writing her third now. What do I take from this? Try every angle, POD, and otherwise to get your work into readers' hands. Magic can happen!

Barb Schlichting said...

I love your sense of humor and wisdom into not getting down from all the troubles. I hope it doesn't happen to me!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hey, Debbi. I followed you over from the SinC links.

Like Patty, I've been pleased with the service I've gotten from Lulu. Maybe it wouldn't have been so smooth without the Tour Manager to do his thing for me, but overall, we've been pleased.

Sorry you've had a rough trip.