How to get your self-published book printed

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For 16 middle schoolers in Haltom City, Texas, the expected publication of their debut book in May 2010 was certain to be one of the biggest thrills of their lives.

These sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders planned for their novel, Locker Letters, to be unveiled at a signing party in late May at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at North East Mall.

Dave Lieber exposes a self-publishing scam

The book was to be the debut project of the Birdville school district’s new Rising Authors program. Teachers, parents, students and school staffers invested more than $2,000 to print it and buy promotional materials and first editions. But something went terribly wrong.

They paid Four Star Publishing in Anderson, Indiana. George Grant promised that the books would be delivered in time. But they never arrived.

Weeks later, they still aren’t here.

Here’s a letter the company sent the teacher:

From: []
Sent: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 10:13 AM
To: Hedgecock, Carolyn
Subject: Book Release

Thank you for approving your book.

You’ve successfully completed your part of the Publishing process.

Here’s what happens now:

Your book information will be sent to Bowker’s Books In Print. Once they approve it, we’ll upload your title to our distribution network. If there are any problems at this stage, you’ll get an e-mail from us within 2-3 weeks. Otherwise, it should be smooth sailing.

Then, you wait, as patiently as possible. In about 8 weeks, you can go to, search on the ISBN assigned to your book, and see if you’re in the system yet.

So for now, sit back and bask in the glow of your approved book.

Congratulations, you’re now a published author.

Your five free copies will be shipped to you in a few days; you’ll get an e-mail from us when your books are shipped.

Thank you,

The Staff at Four Star Publishing

Dave Lieber exposes a self-publishing scam

A police detective in Anderson told me that he fears that the students may be crime victims.

Carolyn Hedgecock, a North Oaks Middle School English teacher who spearheaded the project, told me the experience has been a horror for her. Hurting children is the worst, she said.

Dave Lieber exposes a self-publishing scam

The school's logo

Throughout the weeks-long ordeal, Grant promised that everything was fine. “Congratulations,” said one company e-mail to the school. “You’re now a published author.”

Grant said he bought an international standard book number for the book, but Hedgecock said she learned that he never properly registered it.

Grant insisted in e-mails that he printed the book and shipped copies to the school, so Hedgecock asked him for the postal tracking number. He changed the number several times, she said.

Police Detective Mitchell Carroll told me that he made two visits to the company’s office, at a mobile home park.

He knocked on the door of what he described as a “ramshackle trailer” and found Grant, who said he knew nothing about a shipping problem.

“He said he was going to check his records,” Carroll said. “But he doesn’t look like a guy in that business.”

“The scope of the investigation is getting larger,” he said. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Indianapolis intends to speak with Grant, too.”

My e-mails and phone calls to the company were never returned.

Its website is no longer up, but I found an archived version that made this promise: “We strive to publish the highest quality book available, and we go the extra mile to give our authors the best opportunity to succeed and gain recognition as a published author.”

Hedgecock said she spent $1,300 of her own money to publish the book. School officials spent $770. Parents ordered more copies through Four Star.

Fortunately, most of the money was paid through Pay Pal. Oftentimes, it can refund money to buyers when wrongdoing is found.

Last week, Grant or someone else using the e-mail address told Hedgecock that she could not use the ISBN or the planned book cover because they were property of Four Star.

“We will sue you and the school for copyright and ISBN infringement,” the e-mail said. “You have 10 days to comply.”

Hedgecock sent me a copy of the e-mail with a note: “This is unbelievable!”

Carroll wrote to Hedgecock that such Internet cases are difficult for municipal police departments to investigate: “Historically, law enforcement has hedged to take on these cases as they pose monumental problems. First, the sheer number of cases is mind-boggling. Secondly, there are jurisdictional problems. Would you, your students and their families be willing to travel here to Anderson for depositions, and later for a criminal trial? All costs would be incumbent on you.

“Lastly, our prosecutor (as most) rarely agrees to take on these cases. Internet retail has grown so quickly that law enforcement has been unable to keep pace. Accordingly, those transactions are guided by caveat emptor.”

However, because children are involved, the detective added in his note, “My chief concern is getting your money back.”

Jerry D. Simmons, a self-publishing expert in Arizona who writes the Tips for Writers from the Publishing Insider newsletter, said in an interview that such situations happen all the time to new authors who want to self-publish through small companies.

Publishers get novice authors to pay several hundred dollars to start the process, he said. Later, authors learn of costs that were not previously disclosed.

“Once they get you for thousands of dollars, you can’t leave them,” Simmons said. “You’ve already invested that money.”

Dave Lieber exposes a self-publishing scam

Jerry D. Simmons

Barnes & Noble held the book signing party anyway. Hedgecock distributed compact discs of Locker Letters to the 50 or so people who attended.

Store officials gave all the students gift certificates as a consolation and promised to hold another book signing if the book arrives, Georgette Radford, store community relations manager, told me.

Hedgecock says there will be a book. She is now working with North Texans to produce it again. She hopes it will be ready when school resumes in August.

# # #

Writer Dave Lieber created his own publishing company in 2003 and shows other authors how to produce their own books. After many requests, he created a how-to self publishing manual that many authors have used to create their own publishing companies and live their writer’s dream. You can learn more about the manual here.

Dave Lieber's self-publishing guide shows authors how to do it yourselves, save money, make money and avoid getting scammed.

Dave Lieber's self-publishing guide shows authors how to do it yourselves, save money, make money and avoid getting scammed.

# # #

Self Publishing Tips

* Reputable publishing companies have a website that lists detailed information about company officials, their background and publishing experience.

*  Check and other book-selling websites to see if books claimed to be published by a company are actually for sale.

* Check to make sure contact information for a company is real before making a purchase.

* Check references with other authors who used the company.

Source: Jerry D. Simmons. Learn more at his wonderful website at and sign up for his Tips for Writers here.

# # #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber's new award-winning book helps American save time and money.

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  1. Carolyn Hedgecock says:

    You did an excellent job on giving accurate detailed information. I changed our website tonight to a different cover that my son designed so I don't have to stress over Four Star's possible lawsuit. Janet Long is helping me get the cover and book ready for print and hopefully it will be out by the first of August if not before. Thank you for all your help. It has been invaluable!
    Carolyn Hedgecock

  2. Marilyn Smith says:

    It's a shame that this happened to those students. Researching a company and their history seems more important today than it ever has. Especially with all of these online companies popping up. If you are really interested in publishing students' writing you should definitely check out Studentreasures Publishing. They have been publishing students' writing since 1994. The great thing about their programs is that you can receive free books by participating in them. Definitely worth looking in to. Their website is

  3. There are multiple misspellings/typos on the book jacket. wirte = write? hurorous = humorous?

  4. Janet Long says:

    Dave, thank you so much for bringing this situation to everyone's attention. It makes me sick that there are so many scam artists out there just waiting like a spider in a web. Carolyn Hedgecock was trying to make dreams come true for these students. I guess this is a case of "no good deed goes unpunished."

  5. The teacher in this story, Carolyn Hedgecock, read comments on the website that were critical of her background work before hiring this company. Her comments are important, and I was unable to give the details of this in the full story because of space. But I am copying her note to me so you can see more details … dave

    From: Hedgecock, Carolyn
    Sent: Monday, June 21, 2010 12:13 AM
    To: Dave Lieber
    Subject: RE: my sunday column

    I looked at the comments from the column and tried to log in but for some reason I couldn't. It seems most people think I'm pretty incompetent. We decided to go with Four Star Pubishing because we received some books by a teen author named Taylor Joseph. I spent numerous hours corresponding with Taylor who is also published by Four Star Publishing. She has published 3 books with a 4th one coming out soon. She has traveled to 16 different states and sold I believe like 30,000 copies of her books. Since she is only 16 and had so much success I wanted to go with her publisher and asked her if she would recommend Four Star Publishing. She directed me to her blog and gave me publishing tips and showed me all her success stories. I assumed the publisher I was dealing with was her publisher because they told me they were and all her books cite Four Star Publishing as her publisher. It wasn't until the day before our book signing that I found out her Four Star Publishing Co. was not the same one as ours. I would have never gone with them if I knew ahead of time they were two entirely different companies.
    I choose Four Star Publishing because her books were top quality and almost every time I spoke to Four Star Publishing in Indiana, I'd ask about Taylor and how she was doing; George knew all about her and always answered my questions. He shared with me her "trade" secrets for success. Over 1000 hours were invested in trying to get the kids published and I couldn't have invested any more time, energy, or caring. Trust me, no one feels as bad about it as I do., and no one has lost more than me. I put up my money, and time outside of school hours because I believed so much in the book and the project. I sitll believe in it and I will not stop until we have a finished book.

  6. Mike,
    You are right. There are errors on the cover, but let me tell you the rest of the story. The teacher says she kept correcting errors, and someone at the company kept putting in new errors that she would find. It was a vicious cycle … of delay. Quite a tactic, if you ask me. That cover that I posted was far from the final cover because the teacher never actually got to officially sign off on a finished product before (non) printing. Dave

  7. i am taking tutorial about self-publishing because it is also a good way of making money.,~'

  8. outrigger vacation club(tulsa ok) only way 2 go travel (plymouth ma) (fantasia travel) methuen ma. these guys are real scammers, they change their business name and move around the country,if you see them stay clear, if you have other people complaining about these guys and want the story feel free to email me,but please dont sign anything

  9. One terrific way to learn about self-publishing is through my manual and tape. A woman is creating a publishing company right now using my simple methods.

  10. hey, really enjoyed this blog! Great topic. Will come back.

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