Justin Nutt is the author of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truth, a Kansas City resident, and a counselor who specializes in relationship and identity issues. Judging by his website, he’s also an all-around nice guy. Take for instance this quote from his bio, “All proceeds from sales of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truth as well as other products or services made through this website will be used to fund the domestic violence work of Acts of Random Kindness.”
Sadly, Justin is one more author who’s had the misfortune of working with Author Solutions, Inc. imprint iUniverse. Read his interview to find out why he’s working to organize a class action lawsuit against Author Solutions for inaccurate royalty reports and payments, issues which breach the iUniverse contract. For more information, contact Justin.
ES: Can you tell us about your initial search for a publisher and what led you to contact iUniverse?
JN: I actually did a lot of research into traditional publishers, wanting to avoid self-publishing. But I found that it was a much harder road between query letters and agents. I then did huge research into self-publishing companies. iUniverse and other Author Solutions companies came up time and time again, and I chose to publish with iUniverse. (Little did I realize that they were in fact paying for sites and creating sites that showed them as top-ranked to show higher in search results.)
ES: What was the deal you originally made with iUniverse to publish your book? Did you buy a specific publishing package?
JN: I talked with them several times about packages, and I decided on the Premier Package. I added Cover Copy Polish and Book Buyers Preview, though Cover Copy Polish was a joke. They took what I wrote and didn’t even type it in correctly. I had to correct the bio for them.
Several times they suggested going with a more expensive package, but I knew what services I needed and didn’t allow them to talk me into extras like paying to be a “Rising Star.” (Yes, this award was actually offered to me if I paid more.)
I was told several things would be part of the package such as copyrighting help with creating interior images and proofreading and editing—all were appealing to me. I was so happy with what the sales person promised that I even bought a second package for another book that I had finished writing just a few days earlier. I was excited to hear that the second package was only $1, how great is that? Needless to say the idea of finally being a published author was a hugely exciting thing.
ES: What problems did you have with iUniverse, and how did they attempt to resolve your complaints? Were you happy with the result?
JN: The excitement was very, VERY short lived. I had a great deal of issues with iUniverse starting shortly after I submitted the manuscript to them. It took them far longer to edit the book than they stated it would take, and when I got it back there were numerous items which made little to no sense to change. Some of the edits changed the entire meaning of what was being said. Because the book was a self-help book on relationships, changing what something meant could not only prevent a person from being helped, but do the polar opposite and cause more damage.
iUniverse also suggested that I use line editing which would’ve cost an exorbitant amount, more than a private editor. I had someone else do the editing for me and turned them in to get back a proof. The proof contained mistakes that were a result of formatting. None of the mistakes had been in the manuscript previously, so I had to do yet another round of edits. Due to there being new items that needed to be changed along with some that had been missed by the editor, they attempted to charge me several hundred dollars. I complained, so they only charged me $100, which I thought was a great thing. It made me think maybe they were a good company.
After all the edits had been made, I asked my check-in coordinator about the “custom designed images” they stated they would create free of charge. I was told that if I gave them a description of what I wanted they would “try to find a stock image that we (they) felt would work.” This wasn’t acceptable to me, because I had specific images in mind for the book. I had a friend create the images and I sent these to them.
What I then heard was that the images were not formatted correctly and would have to be fixed. My friend changed the images to the DPI they wanted, and they were sent to iUniverse. I was told they would look perfect. What appeared in the book when I received the proof copy, however, was distorted. In one case an image was cut off on one side. When I contacted them about this, I was told that if I wished to change it I would have to pay to have it fixed — they said it would be cheaper to start from scratch than to fix one image. I was also told that I couldn’t use the second package (the additional package I’d purchased for $1) for this, but would have to buy a new package. It was only one image, though, and I was not willing to spend another $1,500 to do this. These were all minor things I was able to move past with the excitement of being published, doing radio interviews and friends telling me they couldn’t wait to read the book. The real issues started when the book was released and sales numbers were not available on their site.
I contacted them about this and they stated that it was a glitch that had recently popped up due to new software and that it would soon be fixed. I called again and complained about it and was told that they couldn’t give me any numbers. So I started doing more research, and a friend who had read something about iUniverse sent me a link. I saw that a number of others had the same issues I had. I commented on this and even wrote my own post about a concern, and the next day I received a call from an iUniverse representative, Desiree Acousta. She asked what my concerns were, and I explained what I already had to the other iUniverse employee. She pulled up that they showed only one sale from their website, and this was something that I found of great concern.
My own website had not yet been set up, so I had been referring people to the iUniverse bookstore and had been receiving emails on the book’s Facebook page that people had bought the book and that they loved it. They mentioned very specific things about the book, and I loved that the things I was worried would be seen as silly were the things that had helped individuals to engage in the process of change.
I addressed these things with Desiree Acousta, and she stated that it was most likely due to the fact that sales figures took 60 days to post after the end of the quarter. She also stated that iUniverse sends free copies of author’s books to news outlets that request them, and that might account for some of the emails as well. I dropped the subject, briefly.
I got more and more emails. People called in to shows talking about how they loved the book, and I even ran into people when I was out that had read the book and recognized me from my picture on the back cover. (Yes, that happens when you always wear the same cowboy hat.) I called Desiree again and was eventually referred to Eugene Hopkins. That’s when the real issues started. He seemed very nice during the first call, listening and stating he understood where I was coming from. He wanted to help and would pull up all the sales reports for everything to that day and call me back. It was during this call that I addressed for the first time that I had been contacted by well over 100 people told me they bought the book. He said, “They were probably just being nice and didn’t want to tell you (me) they didn’t care.” I then explained these weren’t people I was trying to sell the book to they were people who went out of their way to contact me, to which he stated that there are a number of reasons people would lie.
When he did eventually call me back days later he said there were no sales through their website, even though Desiree had previously said there were, and he told me there were no domestic sales at all–only sales in the UK. I asked about the sales that had been shown on Amazon, and he said that it was probably only a place keeper (not the term he used but what he meant by his long drawn out statement).He further stated that the only sales, other than copies I had received, were 14 that had sold in the UK. He promised to email me copies of all the sales reports he had in front of him.
A week elapsed without receiving the email sales reports, so I called him four different times and he finally sent me a spread sheet that had my copies printed with US and UK sales on it. I emailed him back asking about the actual sales reports he promised, and he never answered the email. I sent another email reminding him of the demands I had previously set out and informing him that I was in the process of organizing a class action suit. What I received back was a settlement offer of $1.00, the refund of the second package I had purchased.
I called him five more times before he would return my call. One of the first things he said was an almost attack on me saying he needed proof and wanted me to contact those people who said they had bought copies of the books and provide a batch and order number. “Proof isn’t copies of pictures sent by your (my) friends,” he said. He further stated that there were 14 lines on the “sales report” and so that maybe where my confusion was. Of course what is lacking from this “sales report” are the free copies that Desiree mentioned they sent to people at news outlets, which is odd since my copies were on this report. I explained the various issues I had and that I was pulling the book and expected to be compensated for the sales I had made as well as get a refund.
Each time I would make a specific point Eugene Hopkins would shift to a previous point or give some unrelated answer which had nothing to do with the topic at hand at all. Great example: I was asking about the “sales report” he sent me, and he started talking about how the book had been pulled from their website.
After this occurred several times I called him on it, and at that point he became very angry and aggressive, stating “I am telling you what is going to happen, got it!?” To which I replied that I was telling him what was going to happen, meaning a class action suit if he didn’t cooperate with me and the other authors I had been in contact with. It was at this point he got even angrier and told me “I don’t care, and I have a meeting to go to” followed by “f***ing a**hole” as he was hanging up the phone.
ES: How was your book publicized? Did you do it all yourself? Pay for iUniverse to help you market the finished product?
JN: While I received many calls about buying a PR package for $4,000 and their willingness to let me make payments, I never paid for that service. I did all the publicity myself. Before the book was ever published, I had created a blog and a Facebook page to promote it. I contacted a number of radio shows and did interviews with them. One interview led to an hour-long international talk that was done on the internet to several thousand individuals and is still available on the organization’s website.
After creating a program based off of the book, I have actually been contacted by several domestic violence shelters who have heard about the program and have read the book or know someone who has, and they are interested in implementing the program. I have also been contacted by some churches in the area who wish to use the program as well–which is great since I would get to actually teach the group rather than just train people to facilitate the group.
ES: Is there anything else you want to add?
JN: I would love to mention two reviews that a friend found on Barnes & Noble from those who state they have bought the book. There are typos, but I’m leaving them so they are exactly as they were written.
“No clue how a cute cowboy could understand a girls POV so well, but this one does. I bought the book after hearing a talk he gave online awhile back and have to say that it is nice to finally find a self-help book written by someone who has been through all of this andwho also doesnt try to say stuff in a way that makes others feel dumb. The book is great at not doing that and the analogies are great my fave is the cartoon snowball, trust me when you read it you will know hwat i mean. Color me a happy girl and please write more books you are awsome and easy on the eyes. ;-)”
The snowball analogy, how would anyone know that was in the book, or the conversational style I used when writing the book if they were lying about buying the book, as Eugene suggests?
“i think this book is great i bought it a month ago and has changed my life so much so that three of my friends also bought it and we sit around and discuss it. if you have problems with love how i did this is a must read to find your good guy. didn’t buy ours through b&n but glad to see they are selling them now. thanks so much mr. nutt!!! muah!”
This shows four sales alone, which would account for half of the sales that iUniverse says have been made. Add in the above sale and another review from April 6th on Barnes & Noble’s website, and that means only two other books were sold.
Still with us? It’s Emily again. Just wanted to add a few of my own thoughts. After hearing Justin’s account and other stories, I can say without hesitation that Eugene Hopkins is a miserable client services manager. I understand that he probably gets tired of dealing with this kind of stuff all the time. But it’s time to find a new vocation when you call customers fucking assholes, insist that their friends are lying to them about buying books, and then rationalize that theory by explaining how you lie to Girl Scouts about buying cookies elsewhere. Maybe his job wouldn’t be so miserable if he was actually empowered to correct these problems? Regardless, I ask all writers with manuscripts to avoid the Author Solutions vanity presses listed in this post unless you think dealing with ol’ Gene sounds like fun.