Interview with Philip Reed

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I offered to include links to his books, but then Philip Reed reminded me that he wouldn’t see a penny of the money from the sale anyway and told me it wasn’t necessary. So here’s a link to his blog instead: Noiseless Chatter.

ES: What initially made you decide to publish with iUniverse?

I ran into a friend of mine, with whom I hadn’t spoken for years.  She was a poet and I had been writing fiction for about as long as I’d been alive, and she had just had a book of her work published through iUniverse.  I didn’t then know what a subsidy publisher was (which I think was how they were marketing themselves at the time, though I could be wrong) and I’m not sure she did either.  We were young and I think she thought she was being legitimately published.  When she presented it to me as an option, I then also thought of it as legitimate publishing.  Word of mouth worked very well in their favor in this regard, but it didn’t do much for us getting the right information.  It wasn’t until I had already started submitting my own manuscript that I got a copy of her book, and found it to be full of errors…both grammatical errors and printing errors.  That should have tipped me off then, and I feel rather foolish that it didn’t.

ES: You published two books with them, so there must have been something you liked that drew you back to the company for the second book?

That’s a good question, and a fair assumption.  But I wouldn’t really say that there was something I liked about it – apart from, maybe, the speed and ease of publishing – so much as I convinced myself that I could have a better experience than the first time.  With my first book, it was full of errors.  It looked awful and cheap.  And while I’ll certainly allow that most of the errors – read on for why I don’t say “all” – were my own, even the basic packaging and presentation of the book were subpar.  It was cheaply made with smeared ink and bleeding colors.  While I know it’s unfair to blame the publisher for the content of the book, I don’t think it’s unfair to blame them for the shoddy approach to their basic printing duties.

So why did I go back?  It’s almost embarrassing to admit this, but I went back because I HAD to have a better experience the second time.  In most businesses if you are treated poorly, you can choose not to return.  That’s the end.  But with publishing, your name is out there.  It’s on a book.  People can find that book easily.  And if it’s a book you’re not proud of, it never goes away.

I needed a second book out there that could be found instead, one that wouldn’t reflect quite so horribly on me.  So I deliberately published something shorter and less complicated, which would hopefully then be subject to fewer mistakes.  I was right…I’m much more happy with how the second one turned out.  But it doesn’t change the fact that it was a reactionary approach meant to bury the mistakes of the first.

I actually pulled the first book out of production a few years ago, but every so often I search for it and find that it’s still available for purchase.  It’s hard not to draw unsavory conclusions from that, but, hey, what do I know.

ES: What part of the process turned you off?

A few things turned me off, but I only realized them later.  With my first book, for instance, I know that a lot of the errors are mine.  I corrected as much as I could – or thought I did – before submitting.  Then I got the proofs back and went over them carefully…only to find that they were absolutely riddled with errors.  At the time, I thought I just did a horrible job proofreading it, but, hey, I still had another chance here to correct it.

So I spent days correcting everything, and I sent it back.  At the time, this was part of the basic process, and didn’t cost more money.  By the time of my second book, any changes made to the proofs WOULD cost money.

Due to the nature of the proofing process, however, this just created more mistakes.  You had to describe changes, rather than make them yourself.  For instance, if you had a sentence reading “He chased the bus,” but it was supposed to read “She chased the bus,” you couldn’t just add an S.  You had to fill out a form explaining where in the manuscript the error was.  In other words page number, line number, sentence…something to that effect.  I can’t remember for sure, except that it was more clinical and less intuitive than one might think.

So you’d fill out a form specifying that there was an error on page 219, paragraph 7, line 3, word 1.  The error is that it says “He” but should say “She.”  That’s it.  No context.  Which means that you’d better be damned sure the people making the changes are interpreting your instructions correctly.  If they misread a number or miscount something, the wrong word will get changed.

Sure enough, the wrong word got changed a LOT in my corrections.  From there, you were allowed to specify 50 changes for free, and any more than that would cost more money.  I genuinely think this was something of a racket, as for every change I specified, not only was the original typo still there, but now they created another one.  I specified my 50 changes (though it needed a lot more that I couldn’t afford at the time), which were also then made incorrectly, and was stuck with a novel in which my original errors had multiplied like cockroaches.

And, honestly, part of me wonders if some of those original errors weren’t inserted on the publisher’s part, to juice me for the correction fees.  That’s admittedly just me being suspicious, but nothing I’ve heard about them – or experienced with them – would lead me to believe that they wouldn’t do that.

ES: Why have you decided to give up on this method of publishing?

As I mentioned, my second attempt went much better.  I provided a thoroughly vetted manuscript as free of error as was humanly possible, and did not specify any corrections to be made.  (I learned that lesson.)  I was happy with it, but it was a comparative happiness, compared to the trainwreck of my first experience.

Soon afterward, and I mean probably days afterward, I attended a reading by Jeffrey Eugenides, who was then promoting his brilliant novel Middlesex.  I met with him both before and after the reading – I was fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with him without realizing who he was! – and we talked about fiction for a long time, and even exchanged book recommendations.  He was – and is – a humble and excellent man.

Toward the end of the night I told him that I had just self-published my second book, and he took me by the arm and said, “I don’t want to detract from what you’ve done.  Finishing any kind of project on that scale is impressive.  But I will tell you now, because it sounds like nobody else has told you:  stop self-publishing.”

And I was done.

ES: Is there anything else about your experience you want to share with others considering using iUniverse?

Sure, I’ll share that they hound me to this day.  It’s been many years since I’ve so much as logged into their site or worked with them, but I can count on a phone call from an unfamiliar number or an email from somebody I’ve never heard of before, telling me they want to update my information, or confirm what they have on file.  I don’t know how they manage to track me down every time – I’m several states and phone numbers away from where I was when I worked with them! – but it gets annoying.  It’s particularly telling, I think, that it’s a different person contacting me every time, always introducing themselves as the account liaison (or some such thing) for my books, so I guess they have a pretty high turnover rate.  I’ve asked them not to contact me anymore, but, in fairness to them, the people I ask keep getting replaced with new people so I guess they don’t know that.

Also, I’d be surprised if I made $300 profit, total.  That’s nothing to do with iUniverse, but it’s something I feel compelled to mention, lest anyone out there think that self-publishing might be a shortcut to success.

I regret self-publishing, and I’m currently seeking a literary agent to represent my much better manuscript.   It may take me years to find one, but that’s okay.  It’s worth the effort, because the manuscript is great.  If it weren’t great it wouldn’t be worth the effort, which should probably tell me something about how unnecessary self-publishing really is.  Regardless, I’m doing it the right way from now on.

The only way.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

How to Self-Publish: An Interview with Hans V. von Maltzahn

Before we discuss how to self-publish today, I need to say thanks to Paul Little for putting me in touch with today’s author and thanks to Hans for agreeing to answer my questions.

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The interview you are about to read is a detailed account of how how one man self-published his book for real, without wasting money on a vanity press like iUniverse or Author House. Although some of the specifics of his story deal with self-publishing in Canada, everyone will benefit from the author’s advice. He’s also graciously allowed me to publish his PowerPoint on the subject, which you’ll find at the end of the interview.

Hans V. von Maltzahn is author of THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale. You can buy his book on Amazon and Smashwords.

ES: Can you explain the self-publishing process you used?

von Maltzahn: Essentially, I began the self-publishing process by writing a novel the usual way, one chapter at a time. When the novel was finished after the fifth year and after another year searching for a “legitimate” publisher or literary agent to take the manuscript with no luck, I decided enough-was-enough, I would publish the book myself.

Editing

I edit each chapter approximately four or five times before moving on to the next chapter. Each chapter starts out on paper, written in pencil and eventually ends up on the computer. (I can’t look at a blank computer screen, so the paper is like my sketch pad where the computer is my canvas.)

After a good many chapters are completed I do what I call a draft, i.e. a full re-edit of the manuscript as finished to that point, line-by-line. (I read line-by-line from the beginning of Chapter 1 to the end of the chapter that I have just finished). I guesstimate that I read THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale approximately 900 times over six years.

Cover Design

I looked for photos on the internet that I could combine and redesign on a good photo-software program, and then experimented with a variety of looks before choosing one that suited the flavour of my book. In truth, my wife checked out the choices and said that the simplest was the best and she was proved right – everyone loves the cover.

Layout

So that my book would have the look of a traditionally book, I studied and copied the styles I liked for my book.

Other things to consider after your manuscript is finished are obtaining an ISBN number, Catalogue In Publication (CIP) and Copyright registrations for your manuscript. Include the ISBN number on your copyright page of your finished manuscript. You’ll need a different ISBN number for each incarnation of your book (i.e. in physical book, eBook, graphic novel, or audio book format). ALSO, you need an ISBN for each eBook distributor that you use. I have one ISBN for my Amazon.com eBook listing and a different ISBN for my Smashwords.com listing; not to mention the third ISBN for the physical copy of The Black Sun.

I would suggest that you keep a copy of your finished manuscript in both Word and Adobe Acrobat (PDF) formats. This way you will have both formats available to you when you settle on one of the many FREE ePublishers out there, and will be able to upload the appropriate format of your manuscript into their system.

Printing

For printing the physical copy of my book, I decided on a local printer who specializes in printing books. The proximity of the printer enabled me to meet regularly with my contacts at the company and see the progress of the book’s publication. I also had direct contact with their layout person, and we both got together regularly to see samples of my book and discuss the final layout. It’s nice to be able to talk face-to-face with someone rather than have to play phone tag or email tag, which can lead to costly mistakes.

When it came to ePublishing, I followed a friend’s advice and listed with Amazon.com (for sheer size and brand awareness), and Smashwords.com for their distributor network worldwide. BOTH ePublishing companies list your book for FREE. If you are paying someone to list your book as an eBook, then you’re using the wrong people!

With Amazon.com I was listed and selling my eBook within approximately twenty minutes of filling out the online paperwork and up-loading a PDF copy of my book. Smashwords.com was more involved and took one-and-a-half months to be accepted into their premium catalogue that allows for worldwide distribution. With Smashwords, because they need to reformat your manuscript into every conceivable eBook format, you need to fully strip your manuscript of all unnecessary formatting and send it to them. They have a Style Guide that you can follow that is comprehensive in its explanations, but the process is frustrating. The resulting worldwide sales exposure, however, is well worth the month or more of reworking the manuscript.

ES: How much did it cost you to self-publish?

von Maltzahn: There should be no cost to upload your book to an ePublisher. I didn’t pay anything to Amazon.com or Smashwords.com to take my book, and they are listing it for only a percentage of the royalty. Their royalties usually stay within 15% to 20% of each of your book’s sales, and the terms are clearly laid out in the agreement section of their respective websites. The royalties are deducted from the returns on sales of the book.

I paid about $15.00 per book to print the physical copy of my book and ordered only 200 soft cover copies, because I wanted only a limited edition printing. The printer could have given me a discount for one thousand books or more, but what would I do with one thousand books sitting in my home?

I told the printer that I wanted “the look and feel of a hard cover for my soft cover” and so we went with higher quality paper and a stiffer cover board with inner flaps for a book synopsis and rear cover bio. I love the quality of the resulting book and so do those who have obtained copies from me.

ES: How do earnings (royalties) work on the books you sell?

von Maltzahn: For the physical copy of The Black Sun, I get 100% of the sale price ($20.00 CDN) since I paid to get it printed. I market it and distribute it myself.

The royalties for me from Amazon.com and Smashwords.com, as mentioned above, are usually between 75% and 80% per sale of each eBook. This is much better than going with a traditional or vanity publisher where the royalties, as I understand it, are much lower because they say they will help market your book.

ES: What was the most difficult part of the self-publishing process for you and why?

von Maltzahn: Editing the manuscript was the hardest, most tedious process for me, as it is for most authors. I also hired an editor for the sixth draft of The Black Sun. However, polishing The Black Sun took more of my time than writing it!

The other difficulty was preparing the manuscript for Smashwords. I literally had to produce a twelfth draft (line-by-line edit for all seventeen chapters) before I was accepted into their premium catalogue for worldwide sales.

ES: For authors with a manuscript who feel overwhelmed trying to get their book out there, what advice would you give?

von Maltzahn: Self-publish! Look to get your book on the internet and sold in as many eBook formats as possible and through as many distributors such as Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, Kobo, etc.

In addition, the authors should do their homework: research eBook distributors on the internet, talk to others who have published their books online, and be willing to learn about the process of getting your book into an eBook format. As you’ll notice from my PowerPoint presentation, the bulk of the work is producing a finished, polished manuscript and only the last bit is bringing it to the ePublisher.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Vanity Presses & Self-Publishing

With all this talk about vanity presses and self-publishing we sometimes talk about them like they’re the same thing. And though I’ve been very careful to point out the differences between traditional publishers and vanity publishers, I’ve been less careful about the differences between self-publishing and vanity publishing.

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It can be difficult to keep it all straight. Particularly with vanity presses like iUniverse trying to reposition their services as “self-publishing” and “assisted self-publishing” services to avoid the stigma of being labeled a vanity press.

I asked Erin Lale to help me set the record straight, because I think people are getting tired of hearing me yap about it.

Let me introduce you to Erin:

Erin’s writing and publishing career began in 1985. She wrote for The Sonoma Index-Tribune, published a whole lot of disparate stuff, was the Editor and Publisher of the quarterly magazine Berserkrgangr in the print era, owned The Science Fiction Store in Las Vegas. She’s the author of 16 books, the Editor and Publisher of the Time Yarns anthologies in the shared world Time Yarns Universe, and the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books.

In short, she knows a little bit about publishing and self-publishing.

The Definition of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing means the author contracts book designers and artists, buys her own ISBN blocks and edits the story. In short she’s a one-woman professional publishing company. Self publishing means the author does it herself, and it means she owns the press that publishes the work.

The Definition of a Vanity Press

Vanity presses are companies that you pay to publish your work.

The Definition of Assisted Self-Publishing

“Assisted self-publishing” is to self-publishing as “assisted living” is to home ownership. It means paying for an institution to do what you can’t do for yourself. There is a place for vanity publishing. Grandmothers who want to create a book of memoirs to give as a gift to each of their grandchildren, businessmen who want to carry a few copies of “their” book on the topic of their business to professional lectures, charities that want to sell recipe books to raise money, poets and religious scholars and other people who have a book that has no commercial potential might do just as well with a vanity press as with true self publishing, if the goal is simply to get the words between covers and not to try to make a living as an author.

Understanding the differences in these publishing methods is crucial if you’re goal is to make a profit from the sale of your books and traditional publishing is not in your future. As Erin says, “If you plan to make significant money from your book, you’re better off with true self-publishing because the unit costs are lower once you reach a certain sales threshold.”

So there you have it. Feel free to discuss.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Even Employees Don’t Like iUniverse & Author Solutions

If employee reviews of iUniverse & Author Solutions, Inc. are any indication, the company and it’s many self-publishing imprints face an uncertain future.

According to anonymous reviews on Glassdoor.com, an online community providing information about jobs and companies, the approval rating of Author Solutions CEO Kevin Weiss is a staggering 12%, and the overall company rating is 1.3, which translates to “very dissatisfied” according to the Glassdoor.com rubric.

Of course it’s likely that only the most disgruntled employees are taking the time to vent. But with such horrible ratings, one has to wonder where the loyal employees are hiding, if, in fact, there are any loyal employees to be found.

The review headlines for a majority of the anonymous responses are cringe-worthy, particularly when you take into account that  majority owner Bertram Capital would like to unload Author Solutions in the near future.

A March 7, 2012 Publishers Weekly article states:

“Coming off of a year with sales of $99.8 million and net income of $4.2 million, representatives for Author Solutions Inc. are looking for a buyer for the self-publishing giant. According to the offering memorandum, majority owner Bertram Capital, which made its first investment in ASI in 2007,  is interesting (sic) in ‘pursuing a liquidity event as part of the normal investment cycle.'”

Maybe a sale could shake things up enough to change some of these review headlines:

  • Disappointing
  • Poor leadership
  • Just not worth it
  • Awful first job
  • Poorly run and slightly delusional
  • Poor upper management
  • Great idea…pathetic, greedy implementation

Poor Leadership

Employees’ stories have several recurring themes: poor leadership, constant fear of outsourcing, and dishonest business practices. In fact, one reviewer wrote of the leadership at Author Solutions, “Senior management … spends bulk of their time watching Hulu and playing on Facebook.”

Another reviewer expressed concern about the executives’ lack of regard for customer satisfaction. “As I spoke with more and more customers and took it up the ladder, I realized that the company did not have its customers’ interests at heart.”

That reviewer was not alone. Another writes,

“AuthorHouse’s [an imprint of Author Solutions] management is the worst. Their entire focus is the bottom line with very little care for their employees or their customers…Middle Management at AuthorHouse is usually good, but Upper Management is out of touch with production or the realities of the processes they have installed. Most of the time it ends with customer dissatisfaction, unprofessional products, and shoddy workmanship.”

Threats of Outsourcing

Several employees report that they fear losing their positions to outsourcing citing a “culture of constant fear” and “fear of your job being outsourced.” This came as a result of operations and production responsibilities being shipped to the Philippines. An employee writes, “Pretty soon this company will be completely run out of Cebu. After I quit, my position was sent overseas rather than filled in the States.”

The reviews just get worse:

“The final blow was how they treat expansion. Make no mistake, Author Solutions is moving where the labor is cheap… And the employees that get replaced? They get taken into a room and fired with no warning, no notice. The boxes to clear your desk are piled by the door, and these meetings include 10-20 people at a time. Worst business ever.”

Customer Disservice

I feel for some of these Author Solutions employees, I really do. When you need a job, you take one. And it can be weeks or months before you realize what kind of outfit you’re actually working for.

To those current and past employees of Author Solutions, iUniverse, Author House, et al. who regret taking advantage of customers and being a part of this organization, take comfort in the fact that at the very least you haven’t lost your humanity yet.

If you ask me, any place getting these kinds of comments should do some serious soul-searching.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Want to See Me Do a Cartwheel?

When Joan Moran decided she’d had enough of iUniverse and their parent company Author Solutions, she told them she was taking her files and going home. Only they wouldn’t give her the files she paid them to create when she bought her publishing package…unless she paid them another $150. Want to see me do a cartwheel?

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Is iUniverse a Ripoff?

It would have cost her $700 to leave with her files, but she waited them out for 18 months to save the additional $550 they would have charged her for walking away earlier.

The iUniverse sales rep she talked to knew she planned to edit her work on her own and continue self-publishing without them. Still, that customer service rep sold her an un-editable PDF of her manuscript. He might as well have picked her pocket.

Friday, Joan tried once again to get her money back. This time she wrote Marketing Vice President Keith Ogorek:

“I was sent the PDF file of my book but found it totally useless because it was locked. I was purchasing a locked file. Why would I do that? When I asked if my PDF file would be what I needed to edit, I was told it was what I needed. A Word file would have sufficed and I had my original, but I was never told that because you obviously wanted to collect $150 on a file I had already paid for.”

Help Us Reach 500 Tweets Each

So far, no one at iUniverse is listening to Joan. So I’m making it easy for you to stand with her and spread the word about iUniverse’s predatory sales tactics. Pick one or all of the tweets below and click the retweet button to share. Share them as frequently as you want.

When each message reaches 500 retweets or Joan gets her refund, I’ll do a cartwheel and post the video of it to YouTube.

You know you want to see that.

Tell @iuniversebooks to stop ripping off authors ow.ly/b0Odl #amwriting

— Emily Suess (@EmilySuess) May 19, 2012

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“I tried to get my $150 back. I called so many people that I was just plain worn out.” ow.ly/b0ufj @authorsolutions @iuniverse — Emily Suess (@EmilySuess) May 19, 2012

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Here you go @iUniversebooks–thought u could use this: How to Diffuse an Angry Customer in 8 Steps bit.ly/J1PTRo cc: @AuthorSolutions — Emily Suess (@EmilySuess) May 17, 2012

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Guess how much iUniverse, Xlibris, Author House, Trafford mark up book reviews from Blueink, ForeWord & Kirkus ow.ly/b0wp6 #selfpub

— Emily Suess (@EmilySuess) May 18, 2012

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Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

The Search for iUniverse Complaints

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I don’t usually write posts about search terms for this blog, even though I’ve had some hilarious searches leading people to Suess’s Pieces over the years. However, in the past week or so, something significant has happened in regards to my search traffic. People wanting to learn more about iUniverse are stopping here to read my series on  iUniverse complaints.

In the past week, iUniverse search strings have made up  7 of the top 10 search phrases on this blog. What’s more? For many of those iUniverse searches, I’m listing in the top 6 results for readers. For a few keywords, I have multiple first-page results.

Top iUniverse Search Terms

  • iuniverse not reporting all sales
  • iuniverse authors
  • iuniverse, review
  • iuniverse reviews 2012
  • iuniverse
  • critical reviews of iuniverse self publishing
  • iUniverse 2012

In terms of SEO strategy, these results are big news. It means that I’m pulling at least some traffic from iUniverse now, and they will likely see that as a threat both to their SEO efforts and to their online reputation management. I plan to use this momentum going forward and continue to fight them on the SEO front by strengthening my results for these keywords and adding more to the list.

You Can Help Hold iUniverse Accountable

iUniverse has already given back money to Lawrence Fisher. But what about Joan Moran? So far iUniverse and its representatives have completely ignored her and her calls for them to issue a refund.

Keith Ogorek, Senior VP of Marketing, wrote several comments to Lawrence, even going as far as asking Lawrence to approve comments on his blog so they were available for the public. He e-mailed Lawrence. He left comments here on Suess’s Pieces.

But Joan? It’s like she doesn’t even matter to iUniverse.

If you’d like to help us get the attention of Author Solutions you can…

Add one of the following links in your next blog post or just add a link to your sidebar and help us inform other indie authors about the facts before they fork over the money:

iUniverse complaints
iUniverse authors
iUniverse
self-publishing tips
Author Solutions complaints
iUniverse not reporting all sales

or

Tweet the following message:

Love indie authors? Tell @iuniversebooks @authorsolutions & @keithogorek you support #JoanMoran! http://ow.ly/aVMfc

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

iUniverse Author Lawrence Fisher Gets Full Refund

UPDATE 5/31/12: Lawrence Fisher has pulled his book from iUniverse. The new version of Kill Me Now  is available  for Kindle here.

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In case you haven’t heard, we’re pausing for a moment to celebrate a small victory in the campaign against Author Solutions and iUniverse. Lawrence Fisher has officially confirmed receipt of a full refund!

I originally ran Lawrence’s interview on May 2. In it, he discussed one of the publisher’s most common complaints from consumers: iUniverse not reporting all sales. In addition to royalty issues, iUniverse sales reps also pushed the author of Kill Me Now! to spend several thousand dollars more, even though he had explained that the initial package cost so much he was unable to pay rent for two months.

When Lawrence made this sacrifice for his dream, he expected that iUniverse would deliver on their promises. But what was he given in return? Well, let’s just say he certainly deserved to get his money back.

Read the full interview to learn how iUniverse provided shoddy cover art,  failed to distribute his press release as promised, and ripped his own material from the back cover to write the press release he’d paid for.

Lawrence originally acknowledged receiving a payment from iUniverse on May 15, though it was unclear at the time whether it was a full refund. This morning, he updated readers confirming he was repaid in full. According to Lawrence, the discrepancy in the amount paid, which spurred much doubt on my part, was due to currency exchange rates.

This marks the first success in my campaign against my ex-husband and his shady employer who used me to get free reviews for authors. But I am far from done fighting Author Solutions and its many, many imprints on behalf of indie authors. I will continue to put pressure on the company and the self-publishing brands under its umbrella until the authors they’ve wronged have been heard. In fact, I’m currently rallying with other supporters of indie authors to get a refund for Joan Moran.

These are my larger goals moving forward:

  • interview all customers* with a desire to tell their customer service horror story
  • publicize the requests of authors seeking refunds from iUniverse, et al.
  • publish spin-free information about pricing and services
  • force Author Solutions, Inc and its brands to stop their predatory sales tactics
  • continue investigating the company and its leaders

* I am extending interviews to customers of all Author Solutions associated brands including Xlibris, Trafford, iUniverse, BookTango, Author House, Palibrio, Abbott Press, Balboa, WestBow, Inspiring Voices, Legacy Keepers, FuseFrame, Pitchfest, Author Learning Center  and WordClay.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

iUniverse Complaints: Interview with Mark Thornton

Today we’re talking to Mark Thornton—one of iUniverse’s early customers—about his experience publishing The Souls of Dumah with the company. His story suggests iUniverse maintains a long-running reputation for customer dissatisfaction.

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For those who don’t know, iUniverse was purchased by Author Solutions, Inc. in 2007, but the only thing iUniverse has to show after more than a decade in business is an 846% increase in prices since the days when Mark first published his book.

Here’s Mark’s story:

ES: Tell us about how you started working with iUniverse.

Thornton: I was one of the first authors to publish with iUniverse back in 2000. They published my novel The Souls of Dumah for $95.

For that price I did all of the editing. However, they allowed me one free rewrite or subedit before it went to print, which was tedious. It had to be done line-by-line filling out a form and detailing what I needed to correct. (page 234, line three etc.)

They sent me about ten sample copies when the book was published, and the first thing I noticed was that they had printed two chapters twice in two different places. They did correct it for free.

As promised, soon my book was available to order (Print on Demand) at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon in paperback or hardcover.

ES: Were you happy with the results?

Thornton: I was pleased with the way my book looked and how people could read the first chapter online. As all new authors, I bought several copies and friends bought copies—at least fifty books were sold that I know of.

It was fun to walk into Barnes & Noble in NYC and order a copy of my book. (It only took a week to get it, which I thought was pretty quick). Then, after a year I got my first commission check, it was less than $3.00!

Now 12 years later, my book is somehow available all over the Internet on many websites all over the world. I have even found it for sale in obscure bookshops in Europe, and now it’s available as an e-book for Kindle or Nook. But following that $3.00 check, I have seen only one other royalty check, and it was for less than $5.00.

ES: Besides minimal royalties, have you had any problems with iUniverse?

Thornton: Yes, the first edition of my book (the one with the misprinted chapters) is for sale on eBay. I can tell it’s the erroneous book because at the time the correction was made, I also changed the cover from white to black. It’s easy to spot the copies with misprinted chapters. They should have been destroyed.

ES: What kind of response did you get from the people at iUniverse?

Thornton: I have had several conversations with iUniverse and it’s always the same story: “Barnes & Noble or (insert bookseller) must not have sent in their sales reports (for the past 12 years!)” It’s the same with all the other websites and bookstores. They admit that they have sold copies of my book, but they tell me that they don’t pay the author until the website or bookstore sells a copy and reports the sale back to them. Even though iUniverse has already been paid in full before the books were shipped!

At least that’s my understanding from a thirty-minute conversation with some customer service rep who was nice but clueless. It was like trying to talk to a parrot.

ES: Do you feel that iUniverse provides a legitimate and useful service for authors?

Thornton: Over the years I have had many sales calls from reps at iUniverse trying to sell me marketing plans. The most recent – a guy from India [Editor’s Note: At present, Author Solutions, the parent company, has offices in Bloomington, IN and the Philippines] – told me my book would make a great movie, and for only $995 he could get it in the hands of movie producers in Hollywood.

After asking a couple of questions, it was obvious that he had not read one word of my novel. He knew nothing about it.

ES: What advice do you have for writers considering Author Solutions imprints, including iUniverse?

Thornton: If you just want your book “out there”—online available to order at Barnes & Noble or Amazon—iUniverse will deliver. But it’s my understanding that now they charge authors thousands of dollars. [Editor’s note: The cheapest iUniverse package is now $899; the most expensive is $4,449*. That’s before add-ons.]

But if you want to make money on your hard work, avoid iUniverse. They will sell your book and pay you nothing. I’ve had two commission statements from them in 12 years and made less than $10.00.

*Amounts correct according to the company’s website on 5/10/2012.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

iUniverse ‘Trifecta’ Book Review Services Huge Ripoff

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: iUniverse ‘Trifecta’ Book Review Services Huge Ripoff

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

In-mid April, Author Solutions—the company that owns iUniverse and several other vanity press imprints—announced that all book reviews conducted through their review partners between April and December 2012 would be “sent to Meredith Vieira Productions (MVP) as a means to evaluate the books for Film or TV development consideration.” (Read the full press release.)

So, essentially, the company is doing authors a huge solid…so long as they’re good little customers and they promise to pay for it…

…out the ass.

Book review packages through Author Solutions, Inc. are conducted by “partners” Kirkus Indie Reviews, ForeWord Clarion Reviews and BlueInk Reviews. The finished book reviews are then forwarded to MVP where they will be promptly discarded evaluated by one of MVP’s representatives.

Author Solutions, Inc. claims this parntership will “provide authors with greater opportunities to have their books optioned for film and TV show consideration.” Hahaha. Sure it will.

Let me break this down for you all by taking a look at the numbers. The “Trifecta Review Service” is offered through at least four Author Solutions imprints: Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford and Author House. It includes three standard (as opposed to expedited) caveat emptor reviews from Kirkus, ForeWord and BlueInk, and Author Solutions sells the Trifecta package to writers for a whopping $3,000.

I’ll pause a moment to let you guys release your WTFs into the world, but don’t use them all up just yet—it gets waaaay better.

Kirkus Indie Reviews, ForeWord Clarion Reviews and BlueInk Reviews exist independently of iUniverse or Xlibris or any other Author Solutions vanity press imprint. That means that as an author with a published book, you can put your big girl panties on and approach these reviewers directly. The cost to purchase these book review services without the scammy middleman? Well, let’s have a look.

Yes, that chart says what you think it does. Author Solutions companies mark up the cost of reviews by nearly 160% and then dare to spin this as an “opportunity” for writers to be discovered and have their works optioned for film or TV. Look at that chart again, would you? If you wanted, you could even upgrade to expedited reviews from each of the review companies, and you’d still save $1,595!

The only question I have is how does someone like Meredith Vieira agree to let her name be uttered in the same sentence with Author Solutions? I reached out to MVP via the email on the company’s very limited website, but have so far received no response.

*All prices valid as of 5/10/2012. To my knowledge, ForeWord does not offer an expedited service. Standard price was used to calculate “Expedited” column total.

Suggested Reading

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Author Solutions, Inc. Employee Cries ‘Scam’

Author Solutions, Inc.’s customers—particularly those self-publishing under the iUniverse imprint—have been crying ‘scam’ for years now, but on Thursday an anonymous employee stepped forward here on Suess’s Pieces confirming that the company’s royalty system is “in meltdown” and calling the marketing services offered by the company “the big scam.”

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

Posting with the screen name Angry at ASI, the anonymous writer says, “You folks have no idea how deep the deceit runs at Author Solutions.” The comment came in response to a series of ongoing posts about the deceptive practices of iUniverse and its parent company, Author Solutions.

Author Solutions, which maintains offices in Bloomington, Indiana and the Philippines, has acquired a number of self-publishing imprints in recent years in addition to iUniverse including Author House, Xlibris and Trafford.

Considered to be vanity presses, these and other self-publishing companies offer print-on-demand publishing for writers who simply don’t want to publish traditionally or have not had success finding a traditional publisher.  According to Writer Beware®, a committee created by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, “The average printed book from a POD service sells fewer than 200 copies, mostly to ‘pocket’ markets surrounding the author–friends, family, local retailers who can be persuaded to place an order–and to the author him/herself.”

Angry at ASI confirms suspicions that aspiring writers are often pushed to buy overpriced publishing packages and add-on marketing services by the sales teams of Author House and iUniverse who work out of the same Indiana office. “Sales people brag about pushing customers to overextend themselves, promising them the world, laughing about how they’ll probably only sell a dozen copies,” the employee writes.

The whistleblower also calls out Kevin Weiss, President and Chief Executive Officer, and Keith Ogorek, Senior Vice President of Marketing, specifically for their lacking leadership. “Authors are regularly ridiculed for how bad the covers/content can be,” Angry at ASI writes, adding, “Keith Ogorek has a shelf of the ‘worst’ books in his office that he laughs about.”

These comments in particular lend credibility to earlier accusations that the folks at iUniverse don’t take customer complaints seriously. And Angry at ASI’s description of the workplace environment just might shed a little light on why customer service reps are accused of being rude to authors. “I’ve never seen such a demotivated, miserable office,” Angry writes, “probably because a lot of us feel terrible about what we’re doing.”

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Suggested Reading

iUniverse Complaints Draw Attention, Not Results
iUniverse Not Taking Customer Complaints Seriously
Author Solutions, Inc. Employee Cries ‘Scam’
iUniverse ‘Trifecta’ Book Review Services Huge Ripoff

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