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Check Before Self-Publishing

Q. I was bored after I retired from business so I wrote a memoir but decided it might embarrass friends and family so I turned it into a fiction novel with all different names. The first publisher rejected it, and told me to rewrite it with an editor so I hired one and after four years, when I went back to that publisher he told me to self-publish it. I found a place online and signed a contract to have them publish the book for $2,500 (a discount that day from the usual $5,000) and giving them three years rights to the book. They wanted to charge me $500 to have a professional designer change the stock cover they provided that had just my name and the printed book title. I got to choose the color. Instead I went to Kinko and had a guy there design a cover with stock parts from online, for only $40 and I sent it to them. It actually looks pretty good. It's 400 pages and they gave me only 20 copies but I can buy more copies as needed from them. Instead of the usual $17.50 each, they give me a 40 percent discount when I buy 50 at a time. I'm frustrated because there is no one person to talk to when I call. Instead I get people from the Phillipines and India or free lancers in America. They all want to sell me additional services for marketing, or e-book protion. There seems to be no real brick and mortar headquarters. I guess I have to wait three years to change publishers but wonder if this is what usually happens. Don't tell me I should have gone to a lawyer because I actually have a law degree too and there was nothing illegal in that contract.You may have guessed I'm 80 years old.

Ans. Regardless of your age you were "taken" as are so many aspiring novelists. You did a wonderful thing by writing a novel and if it mirrors your real life, so much the better for your descendents who will want to know about you. Hopefully your story will alert some of the many others who get into that situation. In the beginning everyone should call people they know in the publishing business for suggestions. That includes writers, marketers, publishers who are rapidly incorporating this work into their companies. There is so much information online you can contact several and compare methods and prices. Also, never sign any contract until you've let an attorney or agent in that industry examine it and make sure you hear comparative offers.  There are many small publishers with all work done in the U.S. who have integrity and are equipped to handle projects like yours, from small memoirs for the family to books for national audiences. They act as the "parent" and guide the work from writer to editors, to copyeditors, to designers, and finally to printers, guaranteeing you will have a finished product you may be proud of. Most of these also cost much less than those prices you quoted and offer more than 20 books with a first printing.

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