I'm a writer. There, I've admitted it. I wonder if there's a 12-Step program for folks like me...

Most of this blog will be about writing for a living. Or maybe about trying to earn a living as a writer. Or maybe about trying to have a life while you write.

And maybe I'll be able to avoid the driving temptation to write about politics. But I'm not very good around temptation, so all I can promise is that I'll try to avoid writing about politics.

But I will write about the software I use, and the software I try out, and what I think about it. I actually spent lots of years in software testing - as a tester and as a manager of testing departments. I actually started work in software development in 1971, so I have a bit of experience with computers to back up what I have to say on this subject.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More on XLibris Publishing

This is a short post, but important. I got a call a few days ago from a woman in XLibris’ Customer Service Department. She told me she’d been out of town when my first email arrived (two weeks ago) and that work had not moved on it as it should have, for which she apologized. We then discussed my primary issues – cost-per-unit to order copies, missing LLC# and the reduced font size in the body of the text.

She said she’d get back to me Thursday night, but only called today, around 1:15. With an offer I chose not to refuse. An offer good enough for me to agree to. My cost-per-unit is now reduced to less than half of the original, my royalties increased and the LLC# and font size issues will be corrected.

Since it would cost me another $1500.00 to move to another publisher and “Twisted Key” would not be available to purchase for several months, I chose to remain with XLibris Publishing. Right decision, or wrong? Time will tell. But now I know that this company is capable of correcting issues for its authors, and I find that encouraging.

But in all cases, fellow authors, do your homework and research thoroughly before signing anything with anyone. The new deal with XLibris is not ideal, but it is good enough to satisfy me, and keep my novel in their list.

I learned a lot in this ordeal; a lot of stuff I thought I had down pat. Guess I didn’t. But I do now.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Meeting Harsh Reality Head-on

Or, a Self-publishing nightmare come to Life.

If you are a self-published author, or hope to one day be self-published, or even just a fan of mine, you might find this both interesting and educational.

My first two novels, “The Big Bend” and “Hog Valley”, were published by Createspace, and I must say they did a truly professional job of it. My third novel, and the one I hoped to put me over the top in sales and see me well on the way to making an honest living as an author, is a chromatically variant equine (that’s a horse of a different color), indeed.

I have been desperately short of cash for most of this year, due to health issues and a depressingly small income. So, when “Twisted Key” was finally ready for the publisher, my finances were not. I couldn’t afford to go with CreateSpace, and did not want to lose the income I could generate from the Fall selling season.

So I started to look around for options, and thought I found a rather good one. Silly me. Silly, overly optimistic, desperately-short-of-cash-grabbing-at-straws me. I went with XLibris Book Publishing (http://www2.xlibris.com/bw_custom.html).

During my on-line searches for a POD publisher I came across their site and began to fill my contact info. I did NOT complete the form, or click the Submit button. I continued to search for other web sites, instead. But a few days later I received a phone call from one of their publishing consultants. Since he was on the phone I decided to speak with him and told him of my circumstances and what I needed from a publisher, including a cost-per-unit to me of around $5 – 6.00 before shipping. I even told him that CreateSpace charged me between $4.80 and $5.50 per copy for my first two novels in orders of 10 – 20 copies, and that I wholesale to indie stores at $10.00 and retail for $15.00 direct to customers, and that I expected to pay close to that with any publisher I signed with for “Twisted Key” He assured me that XLibris could meet all of my needs in interior formatting, provide both ISBN and LLC #’s and that he could arrange for me to make 3 payments to cover the fee.

We spoke a few times before I signed any agreements and during each conversation I asked about the cost-per-unit fee. He assured me it would be reasonable and that I could receive discounts for any size volume purchase to reduce the fee, and so on, but until they had the files for the interior and cover art and knew what their setup and productions costs would be he could not give me a cost per unit.

That made sense, so I signed the agreement and set up the financing plan. As you will see in the letter below, things didn’t work out quite the way I expected. Their work was good, in that the  interior was formatted (sort of) as I ordered and the cover art was more than acceptable; it was wonderful, in fact.

But the cost-per-unit was not. After the final payment was made I was told the cost-per-unit would be $13.00, not including shipping.  When I 9quite rightly) expressed my outrage, I was told that was their “Standard” fee.

As you will learn from reading the letter below, that is not the only disappointment I have had with XLibris Book Publishing. On 27 September, I sent a letter to their Customer Service department and requested a reply within 10 days. To date, I have not received anything in return.

Needless to say I will NOT be purchasing any copies of my third novel from XLibris. I cannot hope to make a living selling this novel for $12.00 wholesale or $15.00 retail when my cost-per-unit is $14.00 including shipping.

Here is the letter I sent to the XLibris Book Publishing company:


27 September, 2011

Gary Showalter

Orange Park, Fl

Sir, or Madam:

Regarding XLibris Book ID # 102560 (“Twisted Key”):

On the 5th or 6th of July of this year I entered into discussions with Genesis Dacua, a Publishing Consultant with XLibris regarding the publication of my third novel, titled “Twisted Key”. During these discussions, both verbal and through email, I explained the following:

I invest between 18 – 24 months researching, writing and editing each of my novels. “Twisted Key” is the third I have published, by the way. That is a major investment in time and materials by anyone’s estimate.

My first two novels were published by CreateSpace and used this format:

· Trade paper format (6 x 9)

· 14-point Garamond font for the body of the text

· I provide the body text and all additional text fully formatted other than page headings/numbering and the copyright page and ISBN/LLC info

· ISBN and LLC#’s

· I provide the cover art and approve the graphics work done on the cover.

We also discussed hardback and digital formats, and I told Mr. Dacua that I had digital versions for both Kindle and Nook already in the market at $5.00 and did not want another such, and that I saw no need for a hardback version since it would be priced well outside what my readers could pay for a book.

Genesis and I came to an agreement on the work to be done and the final price of 1,050.00. I made my first payment of $350.00 on 20 July, and the second on 20 August.

Near the end of August, Lorie Adams called and told me that everything was ready for publishing, and if I could make the final payment the files would be sent to the printer immediately.

My last payment of three at $350.00 was made on Friday, 02 September. I spoke with Seth Sisson on Monday of the following week and explained to him that I intended to launch the novel on 24 September at the Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine, FL and would need to have all of the materials (the 45 copies of the novel and the promotional materials), before that date.

This was in fact, done. The copies are in good condition (with the exceptions noted below), and the cover art and promotional materials are of good quality.

However, to get the materials on time I had to waive the inspection of the Author’s Copy (galley proof), since that would have required two weeks’ time we did not have to spare.

Sections #1 & 2 below could be blamed on my failure to wait for the Author’s Copy; however, both issues were included in the original written agreement with Mr. Dacua (attached) and the “Black &White Service Order Form” (also attached). XLibris’ failure to perform according to our agreement is responsible for these two issues.

After receiving my 45 ‘Free’ copies, I find myself with the following issues:

1. Incorrect font size in the body of the text.

a. I specified 14-point Garamond and you used 12-point

2. Missing LLC#.

a. As we have already discussed, my novels were to include an LLC # so they could be sold into libraries. That is a big market and without the LLC# I cannot get this novel into that market. This is going to cost me money.

3. Hardback and digital versions.

a. In discussions with Mr. Dacua I made it clear I did not want to pay for either the digital or hardback versions of my novel. Yet both were produced and were made available through the web site set up to market “Twisted Key”. The digital version was removed, but the hardback version is still available for sale. It was never to have been created, yet it was, as was the digital version.

4. Neither Lorie Adams, my Author Services Representative, nor Genesis Dacua nor Seth Sisson, a Senior Book Consultant, told me what my cost-per-unit was going to be, despite repeated requests by me for that information. Genesis stated that he had no idea what that price would be until after his people had completed the formatting. In my several conversations with the above named individuals I explained that I am a novelist and that I write for a living. I told all three of your employees that I sell my novels at retail for $15.00 and that is where my novel had to be sold. In response I was told that I could price my books however I wanted. That was a completely inadequate and disingenuous response. I was also told, several times, about how the number of copies I ordered would affect the discount I would receive on each copy. Again, very disingenuous and totally useless without knowing what the cost per unit was.

a. Only after XLibris received my final payment was I given the cost-per-unit price of $13.00 per copy. On top of that, I was told by Seth and by Genesis both that this is your “Standard” price. If they knew that after you had received my final payment, Genesis certainly knew this during our initial conversations. Had he been honest with me I could have made an informed decision about whether to proceed doing business with XLibris or to look elsewhere.

b. My first two novels, “The Big Bend” and “Hog Valley”, published by CreateSpace, cost me $4.80 for “The Big Bend” and $5.14 for “Hog Valley”. Per copy, in lots of 10.

c. “Twisted Key”, on the other hand, published by you, cost me $13.00 per unit.

5. I cannot purchase copies from XLibris at $13.00 each (plus shipping charges) and hope to sell them at $15.00 retail, much less $10.00 wholesale to book stores.

Nobody could, and hope to make a living doing so.

Therefore, and setting aside for the moment the issues identified in sections 1, 2, & 3 above, I find myself, after having paid $1,050.00 dollars for your services, that I cannot afford to purchase copies of my novel since I cannot sell them at a price that would allow me to recover my initial investment, never mind making a living.

I find that I have, without a doubt, wasted over $1000.00 I cannot hope to recover from selling copies of my novel.

Please respond within ten (10) business days with a solution to these issues.


Today I began to file complaints with a few online rip-off and scam sites, social media sites and a few authors networking sites to which I belong. Later today I will visit the BBB on-line site and file a complaint with them, as well.

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and stay far away from XLibris Book Publishing.

I will post more on this issue next week.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On Descriptive Writing, Character Development and Other Stuff


I follow a few blogs, mostly those written by other authors whose opinions I trust. One of the finest I’ve come across lately is written by Sarah A. Hoyt (http://accordingtohoyt.com/author/accordingtohoyt/). She hits the proverbial nail square on its little head when it comes to the nitty-gritty of writing.  In her most recent post, she discussed the recurring problem of character description. I’ve seen several blog posts dealing with the same issue recently, and I’ve even written on this in a few of my own posts. But Sarah does have a way with words, and as I mentioned earlier, she’s spot on. Essentially, her message is ‘Don’t overdo it’.

Here’s my take on this subject: Give the reader just enough information to enable him (or her) to build an image of who that person is, what he is feeling and where he is at that time. Just enough information to get your message across. It is very easy to over-describe; to bog the reader down in paragraphs or even pages of who, what, when where and why. A picture really is much more valuable to a writer than a  thousand words can ever be. So give the reader a snapshot and get on with writing what really matters to the reader – what’s happening right then, who’s involved and where they are. 

Setting up a scene, dressing your characters, explaining relationships and so on is guaranteed to slow down the pace of your tale and bore your readers to tears. So don’t do that. “Show, don’t tell” is an axiom we should do well to burn into our little brains.  Descriptive writing can be problematic in many ways, so it’s best to keep it to a minimum.

Besides, the reader is at least as involved in writing your story (in his/her head) as you are, so let him carry some of the load for you. That gets him involved, and makes him feel some ownership of the tale you’re spinning.

People want to read about people. While the plot is central to the story, use it as a vehicle to show how your characters behave in the situations you dump them into. Show the reader how your characters change and adapt to their environment. How they grow over the course of the story.

I’ve got a few events coming up in the next month or so:

15 - 16 October - Orange Park Winter Festival, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, corner of Kingsley Rd. and Park Ave.  Orange Park, Fl

22 October - Calvary United Methodist Church Harvest Festival, 9:00 am - 3:00 pm, 112 Blanding Blvd, Orange Park, Fl.

5 November - Middleburg Historic Festival, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, 2102 Palmetto St, Middleburg, Fl

14 November, 10:00 am – WOCA-AM Radio interview to promote “Twisted Key”

19 November, Book signings at both “A Novel Idea” bookstores in Ocala, Fl:

Silver Springs Store - 12:00 - 2:00 pm
College Ave store - 4:00 - 6:00 pm

There area  few other events coming up, but I don’t have dates for them, yet.

My web site – www.garyshowalter.com will be undergoing a face-lift over the next few months. It really needs it…

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Work your fingers to the bone, and what do you get?


Boney fingers, of course. I do admire Jethro Tull. What a great American Philosopher (for a British Band, of course).

So that’s what I’ve been doing, lately, and why I have not posted recently. Very busy in a non-profitable sort of way, I mean.

The Florida heritage Book Festival was a great place to be, if you enjoy the company of other authors, and I do. But it was no place to be if your goal was to add to your bottom line. There was an absolute dearth (dearth, I say!) of buyers this year.

But there are other events coming up, and I am ever the optimist. It’s either be an optimist or go live under a bridge in a cardboard box.

I have spent a bit of time in my soon-to-be workshop, tuning up equipment, building jigs and figuring out how to build very nice stuff with little in the way of equipment capable of working to standards well beyond their design specs. But one does what one can with what one has, or one don’t do much at all, do one?

And that is all too true of Life in general. You can sit around and complain about how little you have to work with, or do the best you can with what you do have, and take some measure of pride in your accomplishments. Or just go live under that bridge and listen to your new neighbors complain about how rotten their lives are.

Me, I’d rather keep writing, and building stuff in my shop, and meet my readers and sell my books and know without a doubt that I am doing the best job I can with what I do have.

You see, I have at times been faced with living under that bridge; I have been homeless. But I have never quit on myself, nor will I ever.

I am a writer because I choose to be, and I am a builder because I choose to be. And I am not a quitter, because I choose not to be.

“Twisted Key”, my third novel, is out now in paperback, and despite the poor showing at the FHBF, it is selling well in paperback, Kindle and Nook formats.


A vengeful ex-wife, a psychopathic ex-husband with a murderous crew happy to do his bidding, a missing daughter off on a treasure hunt, and Florida. What more could you ask from a novel? Hamas? They’re involved, and so is the State Department. And Terry Rankin, the poor guy. And Spike, the six-toed cat with an attitude.

I am working on “Lonesome Cove”, my fourth novel, and hope to have the first draught completed by the end of December. The first three chapters are already available as a PDF on my web site, www.garyshowalter.com . Click on the Free Downloads button on the left side of the page and scroll down to the bottom. The PDF file will download and  automatically open for you. You can then SAVE it to your computer for later reading.