Old Writing Stuff · Self-Publishing

Sure You Don’t Want to Name it Simon & Schyster?

Simon and Schuster Logo MashupOkay, so here’s what happened in Publishing Land today:  Simon & Schuster announced that they jumped into bed with Author Solutions, forming yet another imprint run by Kevin Weiss et al. They’re calling it Archway Publishing.

So, to clarify: Pearson who owns Penguin who merged with Random House and owns Author Solutions Inc. is now working with their competitor, Simon & Schuster. Yes, for real. The New York Times adds:

“One odd twist of the deal is that Author Solutions was purchased by the British publishing giant Pearson in July. Pearson has made Author Solutions part of Penguin, a Simon & Schuster competitor. But since Simon & Schuster was already far along in the planning with Author Solutions for the new brand, they decided to go forward anyway, [Adam] Rothberg said.”

The Times also reports that Simon & Schuster wants to “distinguish Archway as a premium service, at a premium cost to the authors.”

Distinguish it from what, I wonder? Perhaps from all of Author Solutions’ other already overpriced brands and partnerships—names like Author House, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, Palibrio, Publish in the USA, Abbott Press, Balboa, WestBow, Inspiring Voices, Legacy Keepers, FuseFrame, Pitchfest, Author Learning Center, WordClay, BookTango and AuthorHive?

By charging $1,599 to $24,999 for packages, Simon & Schuster’s Archway may well succeed in distinguishing themselves as the most laughably overpriced self-publishing option available. But I can’t imagine the words “premium service” becoming the hallmark of this hookup. You see, S&S is taking a hands-off approach to the whole thing. Again, quoting from the Times:

“While the venture promises to access the expertise of a major publishing house, it will be completely operated and staffed by Author Solutions. With no Simon & Schuster personnel involved, and without the Simon & Schuster name attached in any way to the final product, Archway’s prices – significantly higher than even the most expensive competition – could be a hard sell.” [emphasis mine]

And we all know about Author Solutions’ reputation for great customer service and quality, right? I mean, are these people for real? Let’s run down the litany of complaints against ASI one more time to make sure we’re all on the same page. From an earlier post:

“The short list of recurring issues includes: making formerly out-of-print works available for sale without the author’s consent, improperly reporting royalty information, non-payment of royalties, breech of contract, predatory and harassing sales calls, excessive markups on review and advertising services, failure to deliver marketing services as promised, telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars, ignoring customer complaints, shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories, and calling at least one customer a ‘fucking asshole.’

Anywho…

I admit I scratched my head over the Pearson/Penguin buyout of Author Solutions this summer. But with this S&S deal, I think I’ve carved an inch-long notch out of my skull with my fingernail. They’re effectively letting their competition run their self-publishing show. And all they have to say about it is that they were so far along in the branding process they didn’t want to turn back?

Add that to the list of things I won’t be buying from Archway Publishing.

Old Writing Stuff · Self-Publishing · Writing & Freelance

Real-Life Horror: Author Solutions’ Book-to-Screen Prices

author solutions book to screenOn Monday, I noticed Author Solutions started touting its 2007 Trafford title, The Foreign Pawn written by Lee Yagel. Seems the book was optioned by Anarchy Management (what? seems legit to me), so Author Solutions, never wasting an opportunity to push an overpriced yet mostly useless marketing service, wrote a press release about it bragging that:

“The Cold-War period novel, written by Lee Yagel and published by Trafford, resulted from adding Author Solutions’ Book-to-Screen coverage services to his publishing package.”

(Dare you to diagram that sentence in your free time, by the way. It doesn’t say what I think Author Solutions intended it to say.)

Anyway, I imagine having a book optioned is pretty exciting for an author. Even though it’s no guarantee your novel will ever make it to the big screen, it does mean that someone wants the right to purchase the screenplay at some point down the road. And that’s cool.

The full truth about book options—something you won’t likely get from an Author Solutions employee—would probably temper the average writer’s enthusiasm, though.

Someone out there correct me if I’m wrong, but I think most options last between 1 and 3 years and option payments are nothing close to a windfall. Nope, odds are you won’t be paying off that 30-year mortgage. Also, plenty of book options just die. Nothing ever comes of them, and the rights just anticlimatically revert back to the author when the term of the option expires.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and no one really gets hurt, unless you’re delusional enough to pay Author Solutions $859 to $16,299 for the privilege of such disappointment.

The Price of Trafford’s Book-to-Screen Marketing Services

Just in case you think I’m making up those ridonkulous numbers, here are the prices for all Book-to-Screen services taken directly from the Trafford website today. (iUniverse, AuthorHouse and other Author Solutions imprints have similar services.)

Hollywood Gatekeeper: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$859[/typography]

Hollywood Audition: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$2,149[/typography]

Hollywood Storyteller: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$3,749[/typography]

Hollywood Topliner: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$16,299[/typography]

Book-to-Screen PitchFest New York 2012 and Book-to-Screen PitchFest New York 2012 with Video through Trafford cost $1,999 and $3,499 respectively.

The Screenplay Treatments

One of the the things the Hollywood Storyteller package will get you is a treatment. According to Trafford, a treatment:

“is a thoroughly developed guide that outlines how a screenwriter would adapt your book into a fully-developed screenplay.”

Coincidentally, someone claiming to be a former freelancer with ASI, left a comment on the post, “Author Solutions & Jared Silverstone: Now With 99% More Bullshit”, explaining that these treatments are used to sell overpriced adaptations for screen. Well, here, just read for yourself:

Gawd — these guys. I had a pretty surreal experience freelancing for their ‘book-to-screen’ program. They had me adapting self-published manuscripts into treatments, which they apparently would then use to try and upsell their clients on exorbitantly overpriced screenplay adaptations. The whole thing reeked of selling snake-oil to people who didn’t realize that spec screenplays, regardless of quality, almost never get past the dreaded ‘intern readers,’ much less optioned, much less produced — whereas ASI assured that these adaptations would ‘most likely’ get produced, and with A-list Hollywood stars to boot.

Also keep in mind, the majority of these authors would insist upon one-to-one adaptations of their manuscripts (most of which had clearly never been edited), which typically yielded sprawling, 3-hour scripts that would be line-budgeted for 100+ million bucks.

What nonsense. Even better, ASI’s in-house ‘editors’ would inevitably return my treatments with a list of corrections that, at best, were arbitrary and, at worst, would themselves be rife with grammatical and syntactical errors. A few were riddled with spelling errors. Corresponding with editors who can’t spell does not exactly inspire professional confidence.

But I had to quit because I was continually corresponding with poor folks who seemed honestly to believe that this was their ‘big break’ into Hollywood. It seems ASI even set up their own production company so they could claim that ‘other companies’ have a ‘first look’ deal with their screenplays. Shady.

Now might be a good time to plug that self-publishing services directory I launched during Writers’ Week, you know, in case you’re looking for some alternatives to Author Solutions.

Old Writing Stuff · Self-Publishing · Writing & Freelance

Author Solutions & Jared Silverstone: Now With 99% More Bullshit

jared silverstone author solutionsIn case you missed it, the PR Lesson from Author Solutions & Chick-Fil-A post went kind of viral on Friday. And I have to say, it was a lot of fun. Not only was the news of Fake Jared picked up by GalleyCat, Writer Beware and The Atlantic Wire, but the link to my blog was shared on Google+ by Guy Kawasaki. Friday afternoon I spoke to Guy about self-publishing and his upcoming book on that subject!

But the thing that brought me the most joy? Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI) had to explain themselves to the publishing community. GalleyCat’s Jason Boog got this official statement from ASI:

“At Author Solutions we take our social media activities very seriously, and we are committed to following industry best practices. The manner in which the accounts were set up is not supported by our company-wide social media policy, and in no way is condoned by our company. We are taking appropriate action and we are in the process of removing the content from social media accounts.”

Of course, just like the company’s press releases, this official statement reeks of bullshit. If Jared Silverstone wasn’t sanctioned by the Author Solutions social media and PR teams, why was Jared found lurking on all the major social networks? Why was the Jared Silverstone account on Google+ still actively following people? And why had he posted a link to his blog, Indie Book Stalker, as recently as August 2, 2012?

Like the statement suggests, Jared’s Indie Book Stalker blog was removed along with his social media profiles, but you can still see the cached version of his solitary blog post if you’re curious. No surprise that the site contains one blog post, not even 250 words, and no less than three links back to the Xlibris bookstore, as Xlibris is one of the many publishing brands owned by Author Solutions.

indie books to screen screenshotThen there’s the blog Indie Books to Screen which I stumbled across while writing this follow-up post. If you look at it live now, it appears to be written by someone at Xlibris named Gio Ruiz. However, take a look back at the cached version of the site, and who do you see? You guessed it! Fake Jared. You see, Author Solutions doesn’t want to give up all of their precious backlinks, so they’re just changing the blog author names when it’s convenient.

Someone tell me again this whole thing wasn’t condoned by Author Solutions. G’head.

I’ll cut them a little slack on the deleting part though, as it must have been pretty late on Thursday night when the Author Solutions PR brain trust cobbled together that official statement. Clearly where it says they’re in the “process of removing the content from social media accounts,” they meant to write the qualifier “some” instead of the definite article “the.”

Right?

And though they’re gone now, we still have an ungodly number of distribution articles written by the Author Solutions employee formerly known as Jared Silverstone to take into account. GalleyCat uncovered a dozen articles attributed to Fake Jared on EzineArticles.com. And I’ve found several more articles on Goarticles.com, Easy Articles, and Articlesbase. These are the remnants of ASI’s “industry best practices.”

It seems odd to me that they’d try to spin this as if some rogue employee acted foolishly and without approval, considering Fake Jared’s been polluting the web with crap accounts since at least March. Either Author Solutions approved of these Silverstone tactics or they only discovered it was going on because I wrote about it. Neither scenario makes them look good.

Perhaps next time the BIG BOSS should line dance on the Cebu beach after the employees’ work has been inspected?

 

Old Writing Stuff · Self-Publishing · Writing & Freelance

A PR Lesson from Author Solutions & Chick-Fil-A

author solutions jared silverstone

While going through the list of people who recently circled me on Google+ today, I came across a guy named Jared Silverstone from Bloomington, Indiana.

Bloomington rings bells for me, not just because it’s a couple of counties south, but because it has the rather distinct misfortune of being the home of Author Solutions (ASI) headquarters.

Sure enough, when I clicked through I discovered that “Awesome Publishing Consultant” Jared Silverstone is an ASI employee.

Huge eye roll. Being followed by these scum bags is nothing new. They’ve followed me (and dozens of friends) on Twitter too. I once thought this was dubious on their part, but it happened with such frequency that I’m now of the opinion they auto-follow accounts. Someone mentions a certain user or keyword and BAM!

By the way, in case any of you are wondering, that’s NOT in the best practices manual for social media relations. It’s the cheap, lazy, show-me-the-numbers way to use social media.

So back to Jared. Aside from the fact that he’s posted only a handful of ASI-centric posts since March 2012, Jared looks just a little too hipster to be hipster, doesn’t he?

the real jared

That’s because—surprise!—Jared Silverstone isn’t real. Click through a few pages of istockphoto.com  search results for “mustache,” and you’ll find our precious Jared, sans the green filter makeover and the slightly off center crop job. Before Author Solutions paid for his likeness, Jared looked a little something like (okay, maybe EXACTLY like) the watermarked guy on the right.

You’ve seen something like this before, haven’t you? That’s right. Remember that whole Abby Farle – Chick-Fil-A – Facebook debacle?

This is shitty, hack PR. And not only does this kind of sideways promotion not sit right with real consumers who demand honesty and transparency in business and in social media, but it makes all Author Solutions employees look bad (again). It also makes the company’s new parents, Pearson and Penguin, look bad (again).

And I have to point something else out: because Indianapolis’ Bohslen PR is the firm of record for Author Solutions, Bohlsen Group looks bad too.

Did ASI really just give their PR firm bad PR? Or was this a group effort?

If anyone from Author Solutions, Pearson, Penguin or Bohlsen wants to comment for the record, you know where to find me.

UPDATE 11:32: Apparently Jared’s on Facebook too. Why don’t you friend him up?
UPDATE 11:39: And Twitter @JaredSilverston (although, that one seems to have fizzled early)
UPDATE 8/31/12: GalleyCat picked up the news and reported on the story yesterday. Author Solutions later issued a statement to GalleyCat.

[box border=”full”]Don’t miss the complete list of complaints against Author Solutions and its imprints.[/box]

Old Writing Stuff · Self-Publishing · Writing & Freelance

You Decide: Is This Author Solutions Review Legit?

Author Solutions Review

There’s another Author Solutions employee review up on GlassDoor.com. And I don’t really know what to say about it, except that it’s weird. It’s written like the person moved on to greener pastures, but then the reviewer describes him/herself as a “Current Anonymous Employee in Indianapolis, IN.”

My favorite line is this:

“Wish the upper management would’ve been more personable, with the exception of the CEO.”

Based on the rest of the review, I assume the writer meant that Kevin Weiss was perfectly personable and his behavior required no modification. But what comes out is a little ambiguous, leaving room for the suggestion that maybe Kev was a little too personable. If you know what I mean. Wink, wink.

With this review and rating, Author Solutions rises to 2.1 stars out 5 for employee satisfaction, and Kevin Weiss’s approval rating jumps to a whopping 36%.

I’m on the fence about the legitimacy of this review, though. So I leave you with a weekend poll.

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”][poll id=”6″][/box]

 

Old Writing Stuff · Self-Publishing · Writing & Freelance

Author Solutions Gets Not-So-Rave Reviews from Industry Pros

author solutionsIt’s been a month since the announcement of the big sale of Author Solutions. To commemorate Penguin’s refusal to respond to questions about how Author Solutions does business, I thought I’d round up a few of the web’s best critiques on the subject.

In every case, the entire article is worth a read. Don’t just browse the little excerpts I’ve posted here, click through and then put on your critical thinking caps. Digest everything these bloggers are saying, particularly if you or someone you know has an interest in self-publishing.

How a Traditional Publisher Could Harm a Writer’s Career: Mark Coker of Smashwords writes, “Does Pearson think that Author Solutions represents the future of indie publishing?  Author Solutions is one of the companies that put the “V” in vanity.  Author Solutions earn 2/3 or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors’ books to readers.”

Penguin’s New Business Model: Exploiting Writers: At Indie Reader, David Gaughran writes, “Penguin isn’t purchasing a company which provides real value to writers. They are purchasing an operation skilled at milking writers.” Thinking about the stacks of complaints collected on this blog, I’d say Gaughran’s summary is on point. But read the whole article. Customers have outed Author Solutions brand iUniverse for published their e-books without permission.

Pearson Buys Author Solutions: It’s no secret that Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware has an opinion of Author Solutions, and it’s not a good one. Blogging about the sale of the company to Pearson/Penguin, she writes, “Despite ASI’s claims about customer satisfaction, the comments threads of my posts about ASI’s acquisition of Xlibris, Trafford, etc. … are replete with complaints from unhappy authors, and I receive many more via email.”

Old Writing Stuff · Self-Publishing · Writing & Freelance

Penguin’s New Baby, Author Solutions, Adds Hacking to Laundry List of Poorly Delivered Services

Penguin Author SolutionsIt’s Friday night July 27, and I’m dreaming:

Kevin Weiss is line dancing on a beach in the Philippines with his cheap Cebu City laborers when his cell phone rings. He looks at the caller ID and sees it’s his new boss. “Hey, Johnny!” he answers. “You should totes be here, man.”

Uninterested,  Penguin CEO John Makinson immediately changes the subject. “You need to solve this problem.” He removes his glasses and spits into the receiver, “I want this Suess girl to stop writing about Author Solutions. My picture hasn’t been Photoshopped yet, and I’d like to keep it that way.” Makinson pauses, and then the white-haired executive adds, “Make it go away.”

“But, boss….”

It’s too late. Makinson has already hung up. Weiss takes a swig of his San Miguel and turns to his employees, “Any of you guys know how to hack a website?” The music stops and the partygoers go silent. Weiss pulls a dollar bill from a condom-filled wallet and waves George Washington’s face at the crowd.

A 12-year-old boy wearing a Level 1 Hackx0r T-shirt steps forward.

“Hellzyeah!” Weiss puts his arm around the kid. “Let’s shut this bitch down!”

 ***

On Saturday morning, July 28, I turned on my laptop and checked my email. Waiting in my inbox were thousands of messages. The first one was from Twitter, informing me that they received a request to reset the password for my account. The next email was from my own WordPress blog. It said, “Someone requested that the password be reset for your account.”

The remaining 15,455 emails all came from someone named rtertdfg;lrtprot using the email address erteto@yahoo.com. The messages, submitted automatically via my Contact Form, contained nothing but random keystrokes.

Could it be? I wondered.

I loaded my traffic stats and laughed heartily. The first thing I noticed was that someone from Cebu City, Philippines (home of more than 1,200 Author Solutions employees) had attempted to access the login URL for my blog. The hacker didn’t guess the URL right the first time, so my stat software logged a 404-error for the misses. When he did eventually figure out the correct URL, he was probably irritated to find I had Login Lockdown installed.

So my cutsey-wootsey Hackx0r-wackx0r decided to scare me by clicking the “Lost your password?” link. And let me tell you, folks. Nothing says internet bully like a fucking password reset notification in your inbox. I mean, I couldn’t get to sleep until, like, 9:30 p.m. that night.

That same person, from the same IP, hit my Contact Page repeatedly that morning. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Author Solutions was involved in trying to take down my site, bury me in spam, and hijack my Twitter account.

Still, I decided to verify a few facts with my host, Name.com, just for fun. The great people at customer service wrote:

Hi Emily,

Thank you for your email today. I’ve done some pouring through logs and it looks like the first IP you advised, 112.207.186.80, was indeed hitting your contact form very hard. I see 19,835 entries for that IP address in the logs from this month. [emphasis mine]

Like a good little site owner, I changed my contact form, added a Captcha, and waited. As I had hoped, this little hack of a hacker was apparently so angered by my Author Solutions and iUniverse reporting that he came back today! Guess he thought I deserved another dozen manually submitted spam messages about Mitt Romney. My favorite one merely says “Mitt for president…..” a couple dozen times.

Oh, you guys!

It wasn’t long before the password reset notifications came pouring in again, both for WordPress and Twitter.

Seriously? Who made this call, and why does he still have a job? Who at Penguin or Author Solutions thought that harassing me was in the best interest of the company’s customers and stockholders?

Oops. There I go asking questions again.