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  • Rachael Bell-Irving

Reflecting on the Past

Updated: Mar 12

I have learned a lot about indie publishing in a very short amount of time, and most of these lessons have been through trial by fire. Growing from total ignorance to feeling like I finally have my feet steady has been a tumultuous ride, and my hope moving forward is that other authors can learn from my mistakes.

I published my first book twice, and the biggest lessons I've learned so far are:

1. Do your research

2. Be forgiving and patient with yourself and the process

3. Make clear goals and objectives.

4. Find writing friends to support you

5. Be Brave

Here' the story...

I have dreamed of having one of my stories in book form since I first started writing. In September of 2017, I felt I had a story that I would be comfortable binding, even though I had no confidence in my own ability. It was around this time I discovered companies that serviced people who wanted to publish their book, and my mentality was I'll make a book, and if I sell a few copes from it, awesome.

I went ahead and hired what I call a "Full-Service Indie Publisher". I have another blog post about the difference between Full-Service publishers and the DIY approach, which you can read here. If you would like to discuss my experience with the company I used in more detail, feel free to reach out. I have both positive and negative things to say, but that's not the point of this story.

As I went through the process I started (finally) researching the industry and I (finally) began discovering what it meant to be an author, and how badly I wanted it. I realized that I never gave this book a fair chance, and by the time the first version of Demons at the Doorstep was released I didn't want to celebrate it. I barely told anyone about it, and this had a lot to do with my lack of confidence coupled with my budding understanding of what the book could have been.

Also shout out to my mom, who told me from the start I should slow down and do my research. As the saying goes: if at first you don't succeed, do it how mom told you to in the first place.

A few months later I got the critical feedback I needed to see this book for what it could have been. The more I understood writing as a craft and how the industry works, the more my confidence grew. My attitude changed from making a book would be cool - to - I want to be a professional author. So I requested the publisher take down Demons at the Doorstep, closed my account with them, and reinvested in the story to make it into the book I needed to move forward as an author. Even though my confidence is still growing and I still have a lot to learn, I am in a much better place than I was a year ago.

Sadly, in my ignorance, there were a few things that I missed or wasn't told about self-publishing when I worked with this Full-Service Publisher.

Firstly, records on Amazon are permanent. This means that the old version of Demons at the Doorstep still remains even after I closed distribution with the publisher.

Secondly, the companies that you pay to make your book don't care once it's made. Once you've paid them, you're done and there is no long term investment in your book. There is no mentorship, no guidance for making decisions, no guaranteed success, no matter what their sales rep tells you.

Thirdly, you may not have full ownership of your book once it is made. Be sure you read the fine print on the contract before signing.

And lastly, even if you do have ownership of the intellectual property, the company may have no control over the book once it is published.

In May of 2018, after much back and forth with the publisher, the book was listed as "out of stock" on most of the listings. This lasted until January 2020, when I started uploading the new version of the book onto Amazon myself and found the first edition was up for sale again. When I asked why the book was for sale again, I was told this:

"Retailers purchase and retain copies of a title and will continue to show availability as long as they have inventory available for sale for that title. Even if the retailer sells out of the inventory, the title may continue to be listed on their website, permanently. In the case of an online retailer such as Amazon.com, who allows third-party sellers to set up virtual "stores" on the Amazon site, this is nearly impossible. These sellers may have new or used copies of the book and will show availability as long as they have inventory. Once the on-hand inventory of a title is depleted, at least at the retailer level, the title should then appear as "title unavailable" on their website."

The only mention of these third-part retailers in the contract I signed, is that the publisher had the "right to store, use, transmit, and distribute electronic copies of the Book as required to facilitate the printing and distribution process. This grant includes [Publisher]’s vendors, distributors, and third-party retailers."

So even though I have closed distribution, apparently these retailers are still allowed to sell my book. In this case, it appears Amazon UK is the retailer in question.

My issue with this was that the book had gone back on sale after I had closed distribution. In response, under the advisement of three different Amazon representatives, I filed a copyright infringement form with Amazon. I also asked the publisher to address this dispute since, according to their explanation, this would mean that the retailers purchased extra copies after I had closed distribution. There are also no record of sales past September 2019, so if the retailer did indeed purchase the additional copies of the book I was not paid my royalties.

At the time of writing this, the publisher has followed up with Amazon, assured (aka reminded) me it's not their fault or in their control, and the book has been listed as out of stock on the retail sites again. I am happy with this solution, but it was a painful journey to get here and there's no guarantee it won't be a problem again in the future.

It's especially frustrating because the selling point of this publisher was that the sales operated on a print-by-order system so, while I knew that they could list the book, the possibility of third-party retailers retaining extra copies to sell was never mentioned. I imagine this publisher has never had anyone close distribution before, which made finding a resolution challenging especially with the lack of transparency, and the massive size of companies like Amazon. It's also hard to differentiate how much of the problem is caused by people/companies, versus their algorithms. It's possible that since I was actively searching for my book title again, their bots recognized that as public interest and put the book for sale again.

The moral of the story is that if you are considering self-publishing, do your research. There is a staggering community of readers and authors online that provide insight and resources to help you make a strong book and build your career as an author. Don't let fear and insecurity get the better of you, as I did when I first started out. And own your mistakes.

Today I look back at the first edition of Demons at the Doorstep with mixed feelings. I wish I could have stopped myself from hiring that first publisher, but had I not made that mistake I may never have realized just how badly I wanted to be an author and the amount of work that it takes. I'm also learning that no book is ever perfect. Some people really loved that initial edition, even though it makes me cringe. Probably every book I write will give me some kind of nausea in the future.

What drives me now is how excited I am to apply these lessons to my future stories, to keep improving and, hopefully, help someone who is in the same position I was.