Intro to Xlibris and Backstory
and other unethical/author unfriendly companies do an outstanding job of luring people in with their publishing deals and their seemingly friendly approaches to even the wariest author; I speak for myself. They can be very convincing when you ask questions. They rank high on search engines when you plug in “self publishing” so they come up above some of the more reputable companies and they camp out in author portals so they are very easy to find for the obvious reasons. In their websites and publishing brochures they act like they are your friends and understand the challenges of being an author and the publishing industry. Once you go in so far in there is no going back. There is a point of no return, and that is after you sign off on your physical proof. I can tell you this because I have been here. They make sure you get there with a seemingly smooth publishing experience with as few bumps as possible. I had problems here as well, but it pales in comparison to what I will write about. The marketing phase is where everything comes apart, and they show their true colors, and the good experience nosedives into a nightmare full of misery. There are thousands of other stories like this out there, but differing from person to person. This is the purpose of this article: to tell my story.
The Worst Marketing Consultant Ever
Here enter the Marketing Consultant from hell, Miguel Guzman. I hear from him after my marketing services from my package are ready to launch and after my book is ready to be released. My mother gets a message from him for me to call him because I am at work and I left my home number for the publisher to call. She gives him my cell number, and we chat as I am travelling in rush hour traffic because I had a long hard day in the lab that day. I still took most of my calls at their house and not giving out my cell number. Our first chat was pretty pleasant, and I told him I need advice on marketing because I didn’t know anything, and I was a bad salesman. I also said I have a tight budget to work with so I need services to fit it. “I’ll be glad to help,” he said, and little did I know I just opened myself up for punishment. I thought he would be honest and helpful and follow my budget wishes; I felt that people who are in the publishing industry are professionals. I could not have been more wrong.
The next day he calls me and has all this “awesome” information after scoping out my book’s electronic proof. He was talking about it being Hollywood movie material, and I should do a Hollywood movie trailer, author video on location, and on and on while I was having a very busy day at work, and I was trying to pay attention to what I was doing more than what he was talking about. I needed more time to process it properly. I was doubtful because I am freshly published, unknown, and my book wasn’t even out yet. Wouldn’t a book need to be widely accepted and raved by the public to be a movie? Every book to movie example I could think of was the case, and I didn’t think it was so easy. I did have thoughts of my books being a movie run across my mind as teen and young adult–a daydream. That’s a child’s dream and extremely unlikely to happen. I need to be realistic; I need readers first! Time for a reality check!
He was insinuating he could help me get it into a movie if I followed his advice and my original thoughts of how movies were made were not so. I didn’t tell him about my kid fantasies of seeing my characters on the silver screen. I was wary; there ain’t no way it’s as easy as 1-2-3. I told him I was at work and could we talk later since I was really busy. I was excited, but I couldn’t do this right now—let people read my book first, and let them tell me what they think. He wouldn’t let me off the phone.
I asked about the prices for some of this stuff. When I started hearing these prices of these services: $20K…$5K…I start saying whoa, whoa, whoa! My meager budget can’t support this! Can we do something else first? I bought the executive package so I didn’t have to have any marketing services for a while, and I mean for the first 6 months or year. Show me that we can sell books. If we sell books, then the royalty money can pay for this. Until then, I can’t do it.
He also talked about me as an artist as well as being an amazing writer on this same conversation, and still keeping me on the phone. I said I had another book on board too. After hearing how young I was, he was comparing me to the person who wrote The Informant!, Eragon (Christopher Paolini), and even J.K. Rowling—no way! You can’t compare me to Rowling because I have no wizards or wizarding world, and my book is a lot different than either Eragon or The Informant!. I felt like he was hooking up a bellows to my ego and trying to pump it up, it worked—sort of. I began to think regular people must also think those thoughts—the books must be reader tested, reader approved—not Miguel approved. One person’s thoughts aren’t going to cut it!
I had to back up a minute and make sure I examined myself before I did something dumb. He seemed to be lying on the sweet-talk very thick, and I was waiting for a side swipe, but it didn’t happen just yet. I knew it was going to happen eventually, and I was ready for it—call it intuition. Was he showering me with praise to inflate my ego so he could slip something in? I asked, “How I can be sure that you don’t say that to every author you talk to?” He had something slick to say, but I can’t remember what it was, but I still was a little wary. I also think that when he found out young I was that I was supposed to be stupid. So he automatically thinks young + college grad =stupid. I may be young and inexperienced, but I am not stupid! I am here to learn and gain my experience.
On a later and different conversation he started getting flirtatious when he saw my author photo. He looked it up so he could see what I looked like and talked about some of my other interesting background. I was quick to say I’m married—but wait for it—he side swipes me about this “targeted” email marketing campaign for $10K to build me up so I can buy the big stuff, and this is his big crescendo to get me to Hollywood. I said I can’t afford it; it was multiple times outside the budget. He also made a comment that I should be getting ready to spend lots of money to have a successful campaign. But, what if I can’t? Am I going to fail? The dummy email did look cool and everything, but I didn’t think it was worth the price. $10K to create and send out emails? I asked him, “What’s the difference between this and the other campaign I got?”
He gets all cocky and miffed about my question. By the tone of his voice it told me, “You moron! It’s so simple. LOOK at it, stupid!” He actually says, “You wanna know the difference?! I’ll SHOW you the difference.” When he spoke to me with that tone I was taken aback, and I did the angry cat’s meow in my head. He attempts to ‘show me’, but there wasn’t that much of a difference to justify the purchase for that much money, which I couldn’t do anyway and didn’t want to if I could. I wasn’t very convinced. He acted this way other times I had asked a simple question—just plain rude. You’re the professional here (or supposed to be). I am asking the questions because I don’t know, and aren’t you supposed to answer them with PROFESSIONAL and educated answers? I want intelligent answers not to be treated like an idiot who has no capacity to think for herself. Other times he flat out lied about stuff and treated me like I should have graduated from the special ed class and not be a biology honor graduate. Sometimes I visualized a mean and cranky Bill Engvall (Bill is not this way in his comedy act) saying “Here’s your sign!” and throwing it at me for a response to a seemingly intelligent and thought out question.
The Harrassment Begins…
He calls me again one night when we had guests over at my parents’. This was on a Friday night. Miguel called me so many times that night during their visit and interrupting the evening. I told him don’t call; I have company. I thought he would have respected my privacy and would have called back later. Any normal human being would have done so and so would any normal business professional. Then he called back five minutes later after I had specifically told him not to. He kept trying sound cordial and the “sorry to bother you” hype, but then call back after hanging up. This happened like three more times. I was thinking “Are you serious?” I felt like this was on the verge of harassment, and this is the beginning of the harassment I endured. I finally had to cut the phone off so I could enjoy my guests. After they leave, I check the phone later he leaves a voice mail. OMG!
He called me back the next day on Saturday morning because I had told him to. He comes up with this “great” deal where I could get 20M email campaign featuring both books, and I get the author video for “free” but it will still cost me $10K. I said I couldn’t afford it, but he kept pressuring me and acted like he didn’t hear a word I just said. After five minutes of repeatedly saying “I can’t afford it”, he says some other things that were off color and unprofessional that also made me feel VERY uncomfortable. That threw up a big red flag in my mind. I also felt like I was dealing with a bill collector who was trying to collect money on a bill I didn’t owe. The tactics were exactly the same! It was a combination of that with a bad used car salesman. Other heated verbal exchanges were made during this conversation, but not very important to mention.
After getting off the phone—FINALLY—I was thinking: the reason why I published my book was because I wanted to and because I had money set aside for this, and it was my time. I felt that this was MY marketing campaign and not his, so who was he to tell me what my budget is, what to spend, and what I should do? Whose name is on this book? Whose money are we spending here? He acted like he was running the show like he was my agent. It’s his way or no way, and the highway is not an option—with a machismo (narcissistic) attitude. I had a budget for marketing, and I was sticking to it—no if, ands, or buts. I thought all his only purpose was to offer me advice and I take it or leave it, or to tell me about the services and answer questions and help me buy the service that I want and set it up. He shouldn’t be harassing me about something I don’t want and acting like a bill collector. Why is he trying to force me to buy something I don’t want?!
Other confrontations after this last one looked like this: after 10 to 15 firm no’s, he would hang up and call back five minutes later…and again…and again, and this went on for a while. It didn’t take me too long to learn his game, and I felt like I was being harassed nonstop. I start talking to people for advice because something doesn’t seem right, and I was becoming a very stressed out. I normally don’t stress out too much. Everyone had some raised eyebrows and warned me to be careful. They tell me something is not right from a business standpoint, and my dad was one of them because he has been in management. Good business practices don’t include harassing people, and it doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out.
The Phone Wars
I was beginning to wonder if this is what book marketing and the publishing experience is like, and was this another reason why I was reluctant to publish aside from not getting in the gate at a traditional publisher? If so, then I need to toughen my skin or something before I go mad. I had no idea that publishers were pushy people, and I don’t like pushy people, so now am I supposed to deal with them and stuff like this to go on with my publishing career?
A few days after another powwow, he calls me again about this stupid combo with the campaign and video, but this time I was at work and very busy, but he wouldn’t let me off the phone no matter how hard I tried. I said I would get in trouble, which may happen, but I kind of stretched the truth a bit so he would leave me alone. I had to tell him to hold on because my supervisor had something to tell me. We are allowed to talk on the phone at work, but I didn’t want to abuse this privilege. Just to make him shut up and get off, I went along with his scheme, but I had a plan.
I had already planned to go back and cancel it or once he forwarded me to the collection department, I would say I just changed my mind and I get off…no—didn’t work. She wouldn’t let me off till I did a transaction. What is with these people? Why can’t I get off the phone with them when I want/need to? Don’t they know I have a life? I apologize to my supervisor and she was cool about it, and she had overheard me trying so hard to get off. I had never been hung on the phone before. I am usually able to get off the phone when I want to with normal people and people aren’t forcing me to stay on. I usually am never on the phone at the job even though it was allowed, so they knew I had legitimate reasons for being on the phone. I almost hung up on him so I could get off, but I thought that might be unprofessional.
I call Miguel back to cancel the service a couple hours later, and it seems like the services were cancelled because he said it they were, but I had a gut feeling they weren’t. I check back and it’s not cancelled. I am mad—I’m not mad—I’m ticked off! I couldn’t believe he lied to me straight up! After a few phone wars, the services are still not cancelled. It’s getting close for another payment. I try to go around him to cancel it, but I don’t succeed. I write him an angry email to cancel the service right now and not to call me at work. He’s lucky I didn’t pepper it with cuss words because I wanted to so bad, and this is saying something because I normally don’t cuss people out. I do have after I blow up, and I was just about there. The services still don’t get cancelled!
A day later I call and try to nail him at work because he was dodging me, and I knew it. This lasted for almost a week. I also find out they have caller ID there, so he would see my number come up and not answer the phone. I leave voice mails without any response. I call and try to find out when he’s there or is coming in. I called him a lot and gave him a taste of his own medicine, but then he turned my email around on me saying that is why he didn’t call me back. That was a load of bull; he didn’t fool me. Somewhere around this time I dubbed him the “Email Nazi” because he was always trying to shove this email campaign down my throat with a crowbar. My parents had a sarcastic comment saying “It’s your buddy” when he would call which I didn’t find very funny at all.
When “Xlibris” showed up on my caller ID, I didn’t want to answer the phone if I didn’t have the strength to deal with him. He would leave a message, and I would have to deal with him sooner or later. After a phone war I would feel worn out, nervous, irritable, and seething, and it seemed like my nerves were exposed and raw. I usually had to find something to hit or kick—I made sure it wasn’t the dog, cat, or my sister. Sometimes I almost threw my cell phone across the room or crushed it in my hands with an angry growl because I was so angry after hanging up. If we didn’t live in a subdivision, I would have stepped out side and screamed at the top of my lungs.
There is one night he calls and tells me he finds out that I had been checking up on him and he scolds me for it. He’s also wondering why I want to cancel the services, insinuated that I was off my rocker for wanting to cancel them. He said everything comes back to him; so in other words, he indirectly told me he was the source of the problem why my services are not cancelled when I want them cancelled. He talked down to me like I was 4 and not 29! He indirectly insulted my intelligence and my age for the fifth time since we had met. I am a young author, but I am not stupid or two years old! I am an adult! “I can’t afford it! How many times do I have to tell you that!” I say nearly screaming and gnashing my teeth. He even told me that need to go to the shooting range to cool down after I said that last hot sentence.
Visualize a mushroom cloud going off behind me like that from Hiroshima at that very second. Can you believe that!? I was like—are you kidding me? Can you say things like that to a customer? If I did that at my job at Chick-fil-a or Publix I would have gotten fired! This and everything else he had done went against everything I had learned about customer service at any job anywhere. I am smoldering after that, and you could have fried eggs on me I was so hot and furious. I thought to myself, “Alright, that’s it—I wouldn’t have to go unload some lead or arrows on a target if you weren’t doing this to me!” He knew I liked shooting and archery from the small bit of small talk and from my author bio. You could imagine what I would have liked to do when I went to the range. I also wished I had a punching bag. I was so stressed out, and I was also sick from a stomach virus about this time. That was it; I’ve had enough. This means war. I was in war mode now.
I call the front office and ask for his supervisor’s name and contact info. I also file a complaint against him. It takes forever for me to get in touch with his supervisor. The supervisor still talks me into that stupid video, but I am able to get out of the original engagement…FINALLY. I also demand a new marketing consultant who wasn’t rude and overbearing. After this I didn’t hear from Miguel again so that was a big relief.
Doubts About My Publisher and Publishing Experience
I do the video and it was okay, but I had second thoughts about it, and none of the other services were selling books either. All the books I sold were direct sales, but my other channels were still zip. I try to set up some stuff on my own, like book signings, but I got nowhere. I almost had a book signing one time, but when I said who my publisher was that’s when it fell through. I knew I had a problem. I also had trouble selling to family and friends. I was not the problem nor was the book; the publisher was the problem. I had to either get out or find some outside help for marketing because this isn’t working.
At this time I do some distribution research to widen my channels. I run across Mill City Press who offers traditional channels to self published authors. I go by and check them out and while thumbing through their website, I discover they offer a free phone consultation for marketing help to outside authors. I fill out the questionnaire and set up a talk with Rosey Cashman the Marketing Coordinator for MCP at the time. She gave me some tips and told me about their website exposure and Amazon exposure programs. She even told me about the book trailer service that they were working on then. The prices of the services were much lower than what I was used to seeing at Xlibris by about 10x. After talking with her, I read more about their Expanded Program and while I look for it I find a valuable piece of treasure and a bombshell that I will talk about in the next post “Looking for an Out”.
Guess Who’s Back and More Doubts
One day out of the blue, Miguel calls me. This was sometime during the time I was investigating marketing, Mill City Press, and other publishers at the time. It had been months since our last powwow. I am surprised to hear from him because I thought we were through. He acts surprised that I cancelled out all these services, and he acted like he knew nothing about it. He tried one more time to pitch that stupid 10M Email Campaign at me again and this time for $2500 with his old tricks and a ‘guarantee’ to boot.
This guarantee stated that I would get my money back, if I didn’t sell any books which I thought may be unlikely. The opt-in campaign was a failure, so why would this be any better? Everything in general was a failure at this point. He says my prior cancellation was a ‘blessing in disguise’. “Humph, yeah…whatever,” I say in my head. I tell him no and put my foot down firmly. He lets me off easy this time. I thought I would have a different marketing consultant at this time, so why is it him again? Did that supervisor not hear me? I almost hoped Miguel had gotten fired by treating people the way he did, but no dice.
He calls again a few days later and tries again, and he wouldn’t even give me room to think without the bill collector/used car sales tactics, haranguing, and begging. I put him off for 24 hours. He had the nerve to call back one time and pressure me some more. I am getting ticked off, and I’m about tell him to stick it where the sun don’t shine if he keeps roughhousing me. I get off, and he calls again at about five minutes later on the dot, and my parents say it’s Xlibris. I say, “I’m not answering it…it’s just Miguel playing his old phone game again. If you answer it, then just say I’m busy, or I just left.” He has the nerve to leave a message with the exact same message as the last live talk like I am that absent minded. We talk the next day, and I cave in because it is much cheaper than $10K, and I was mentally exhausted with deductive reasoning, so I second guessed my reasoning. I ask a few questions before caving in, but he lies to me and gives me some more ‘here’s your sign’ treatment and ‘Duh!’ responses. I began having second thoughts and at this point I have had it and begin looking for a way out.
This right here is what broke the camel’s back and leaves this part of the story. The next story marks the turning point from here and the road to my new publisher Mill City Press. I will also share the bombshell I find in the MCP website.
Next post: “Looking For an Out”