Self-publishing books not without pitfalls

November 29, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Entertainers can catapult to fame by airing their work on the internet. Now, authors can do the same.

You might be surprised at how many famous authors published their own works, classic writers like James Joyce, Virginia Wolf and Mark Twain. Today, technology offers even more options for self-publishing, but as one father-daughter team found out, there are also many pitfalls.

Les Williams holds a small place in history. Williams is one of the legendary Tuskegee airmen of World War II, the first African Americans ever to serve as U.S. military pilots.

"Prejudice was rampant in everything, not just society, but the military," Williams said.

The airmen fought enemies abroad and bigotry at home. Now, at age 92, Les hopes to tell that story.

"A lot of times, they'll tell you there's not a big enough audience to publish a book about black people," Williams' daughter Penny Williams explained.

Penny helped Les write his memoir titled "Victory: Tales of a Tuskegee Airman," about battling prejudice after he'd risked his life for his country.

"I thought it was going to be easy," Penny said. "But it turned out not to be so easy."

Penny and Les decided to publish the memoir themselves instead of trying to find a willing publisher. It's a route chosen these days by a growing number of aspiring writers who use digital technology and online publishing to get their books into print. Penny paid $1,700 to a service called BookSurge.com to help edit, design and print the memoir.

"They never got a correct proof to me. There were some parts we just couldn't get straight with them," Penny recalled.

She says the proofs kept coming back with errors and often, she had to pay extra for corrections. To top it off, the final proof had the biggest blunder of all. In the middle of the memoir, there were about 100 pages from someone else's book.

"That's when I decided to cut it off with them," Penny said.

She canceled the deal and signed up with another service called I-Universe.com. Things were better, until the book went to print.

"I noticed they had changed something that made an inaccurate statement," Penny recalled.

I-Universe had changed the back cover to say the Tuskegee Airmen "made all Americans proud." Penny says her book claims just the opposite.

"Of course, that wasn't true. My dad tried to get a job with the airlines and he couldn't. They still faced the same discrimination they faced before going into the service," she said.

Penny admitted she let the book go to print without noticing the offending words, so she paid $225 to have it fixed, then ordered 100 copies for $800. However, when the books arrived, they still had the wrong words on them.

"I was ready to pull out my hair at that point, so I had to call," she said.

Penny contacted 7 On Your Side and we contacted I-Universe. The company said it did nothing wrong. It said Penny failed to give approval for the corrected wording so, the changes did not go through. A spokesperson said, "With thousands of titles, it's important for each author to make sure the manuscript they are approving is exactly the way they want the book to appear."

BookSurge, which is now called "CreateSpace," did not respond to 7 On Your Side's request for comment about its handling of the book.

"If you're self publishing, the responsibility rests with the author," says Cynthia Frank.

Frank, of Cypress House Press, says Penny's experience shows authors need to keep tight control when they are self publishing.

"Even the best authors who have published many, many books are grateful for the assistance of a good copy editor," she says. "You want to make sure you have a clean pair of eyes or two, or three, on those formatted pages, to make sure that nothing creeps through."

Les and Penny said it was frustrating, but in the end, their book does convey their message.

"I want them to remember that I was just one of hundreds of blacks that wanted to serve their country," Les said. "It never occurred to me that the requirements would be your skin color."

If you are thinking about publishing yourself, make sure you read the service contract carefully. Find out about your rights, what the fees will be, and your potential royalties.

Les and Penny's book "Victory: Tales of a Tuskegee Airman" is available for purchase on Amazon.com.


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