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

It’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, you don’t have to take my word for it; Author Solutions gets crappy reviews everywhere.

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

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.”

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

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

Author Solutions adds hacking to its lineup. It’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.”

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

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 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,, 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,, 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.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Author Solutions Complaints: Interview with iUniverse Author Kathryn Maughan

Sometimes it doesn’t bother me at all that iUniverse and Author Solutions (and now Penguin Books) have one-sided conversations with the world about how great they are, because there are plenty of customers willing to step up and talk about what it’s really like to work with companies that habitually overcharge, under-deliver and make harassing sales calls. But let’s get to the interview with iUniverse Author Kathryn Maughan.

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

Today, I’m glad to welcome Kathryn Maughan, author of Did I Expect Angels? to talk about her experiences working with iUniverse.

Maughan’s story is interesting because she started working iUniverse just before the company was sold to Author Solutions. This ties in nicely with what we’ve heard from other writers who talk about the “good” and “bad” iUniverse, referring to their feelings about the company before and after it was purchased by Author Solutions. (Or, as I usually think of it — “before Kevin Weiss” and “during Kevin Weiss.”)

Maughan doesn’t really hold too much against iUniverse until she talks about a pushy marketing salesperson named Gracie. At that point in the story, we see the iUniverse many of us have come to know and hate.

Q: Please tell us about your initial search for a publisher and what led you to contact iUniverse.

I wrote a book in 2002 and began an agent search, getting about 40 rejections. I thought I had the tolerance to see it through, but then I began grad school in 2003 (dramatic writing, NYU), and that took pretty much everything out of me. After I graduated, in 2006, my dad suggested I self-publish the book I had written years earlier. I had always thought of self-publishing as the kiss of death, but at that point, I thought, “Well, it’s dead already. Why not?” And yes, that’s about as much thought as I gave it. So I did an internet search. I liked the idea of publish-on-demand because I had visions of a thousand copies of my book mouldering in my parents’ basement. (I live in NY, so they wouldn’t be mouldering in my apartment…no room.) I also liked the fact that they had an affiliation with Barnes & Noble. My book did in fact get into a B&N for a while.

Q: What was the deal you originally made with iUniverse to publish your book? Did you buy a specific publishing package?

I bought the bells-and-whistles package. I knew it included an editorial review, cover art (which I didn’t use), possibility for Editors’ Choice etc. I believe it included more than that, but it’s been years….

Q: What problems did you have with iUniverse, and how did they attempt to resolve your complaints? Were you happy with the result?

This is the thing…I published with them in 2006. Well, I started the process in 2006, and then I hired an editor (yes, through iUniverse) and after that I did an *extensive* rewrite that lasted nearly a full year, so it was published in 2007. iUniverse was not part of Author Solutions at this point. I was actually happy with the results and the responsiveness of those with whom I worked.

I sent in my own cover art (commissioned by a professional book cover artist), so I can’t comment on that. But their development edit was very thorough and it genuinely helped me make the book better. It cost more than some other professionals with whom I’ve since consulted (I’m on my 2nd book now…and no, I don’t plan to self-publish this one), but then I’ve heard other friends talk about freelance editors who charge double what iUniverse did.

Honestly, iUniverse did what they said they would do. I went into it with my eyes open. I was given Editors’ Choice, Publishers’ Choice and Star status, but they never marketed it…nor did they say they would (unless I purchased marketing). They did one copy edit after I turned in the final manuscript. (I have a frenemy who is very, very nit-picky about this kind of thing, who informed me that she had found ONE copy error in the final product. Hey, at least she bought it.) After an initial evaluation, they did say that in order to be considered for EC I’d have to do a rewrite. However…many years later, I know that the book in its initial state wasn’t great. I wrote it initially in 2001/2002, and I rewrote it in 2006/2007 after going to grad school (in writing, no less). I never tried to get an agent with the rewritten book, because I was already under contract with iUniverse when I rewrote it. I view the whole thing as a learning experience.

One problem I had: the book is written with two narrators. One is an educated woman, the other a Costa Rican immigrant. Their voices couldn’t be more different. iUniverse, however, insisted that I put Henry’s story into italics. I thought that was a strange idea, because if you get one sentence in, you know who’s speaking. But Editor’s Choice was on the line (the keys to the kingdom, it seemed), so I did it. And a lot of reviewers said that the italics were hard to read.

The biggest issue I have with them now is their attempt at marketing. I’ll address that next.

Q: How was your book publicized? Did you do it all yourself? Pay for them to help you market the finished product?

I never even looked at iUniverse marketing. I don’t remember if they didn’t offer it then, or I already had other plans. I hired a marketing firm, and they turned out to be a big dud, even though they came highly recommended. The marketing that turned out well was what I did myself, contacting lots and lots of book bloggers. I got some really good reviews, actually…and not from my mother. 🙂

A few years later, after iUniverse was purchased by Author Solutions, they began calling me every so often to try to get me to buy more packages, marketing packages. The first time, Gracie asked me if I would like to get the book into bookstores, for $750. (keep in mind, it’s not guaranteed, it’s just taking a step to the POSSIBILITY of getting it in bookstores.) I said no. Or maybe she didn’t say anything about the $750, and I asked? I don’t remember. I said no. The next time she phoned, she said, “I’m calling to talk about getting your book into bookstores.” I said, “For $750?” She paused and then tried to talk around it, and I said, “For $750?” Finally she said, yes, that’s what it cost.

I explained that I had spent all the money I was going to spend on this book, and they tried really hard to put on the pressure. I’m a midwestern, polite-to-the-point-of-death person (you could be stabbing me and I would ask you to please stop), and I ended up shouting over this woman, “Gracie! Gracie! Gracie! I am not buying any more services!” She was going on about how iUniverse was the number one self-publishing company. I said, yes, I have already published my book with them, and I’m not doing any more for it. In a very accusatory manner, she said, “So what do you expect me to do with your book?” I said, “Nothing. Let it go.” “You want me to ignore your book?” She seemed very angry. It was truly strange. Later I kept getting messages on my machine, about one every three months: this is iUniverse and we want to talk to you about a marketing plan for your book. I wouldn’t call them back. After a while I f igured out a trick: go to your profile and change your phone number to 000-0000. They haven’t called since.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add?

I honestly wonder if their practices have changed since they were purchased by AuthorSolutions. I felt that I got what I asked for when I self-published. It was the marketing that felt shady to me.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Author Solutions Rep Plants Comment, Lies About Credentials

Over the weekend an Author Solutions representative, attempting to comment incognito, left a response to my post “Calling Bullshit.” Initially, my plan was to ignore the comment. After all, it’s not my style to pander to trolls or idiots. But after sitting on the information over the weekend, I concluded that letting this kind of deception slide does a disservice to the writers I’ve been trying to help the past couple of months.

So here’s one more item to add to the litany of iniquities committed by Author Solutions: its employees leave supposedly anonymous comments on blog posts and lie about their credentials in half-assed attempts to defend the company’s business model.

At first glance, you might think Julsbug2k is just some anonymous commenter with a soft-hearted view of the company and ludicrous notions about what “self-publishing” means. However, Julsbug2k is actually AN EMPLOYEE of Author Solutions. And not only does he not disclose this information, he also claims to be “a business journalist who follows, among other things, acquisitions.” There isn’t even the tiniest speck of truth in that statement. The author of the comment is an outright liar.

So, I’m asking everyone to read the comment again, this time with the knowledge that it was written by an ASI employee:

This is truly and interesting post. Corporations that manage a portfolio of brands is nothing new. For example, GM does this. Each brand is targeted to a specific demographic. As a business journalist who follows, among other things, acquisitions — will Author Solution’s roll its imprints into one over times. No. That wouldn’t make good business sense. I would bet each imprint, like GM’s brands, target a different group of people. Contrary to your assessment, this approach brings more choice to the market.

You also misunderstand self-publishing as an industry. I would argue that not even independent artists are truly independent because they rely on supplies from other manufacturing firms. Paint from the paint makers, canvas from the canvas makers, etc. Musicians are the same, they rely on audio equipment from audio manufacturing firms, etc.

So publishing independently is really assisted publishing. Companies like Author Solutions, LuLu and dozens of smaller publishing houses bring together services that authors can use to bring their work to print. Just like a mechanic brings together parts from other vendors to repair your car, or a builder brings together building materials from vendors to build a house. Or, how independent musicians use equipment not of their making to record, distribution and market their work to the public.

Following the announcement of the sale, I offered Penguin an opportunity to make an official comment, and they chose not to respond. I think it was a stupid call, but it was their stupid call to make. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll stand by while one of their newly purchased twits pretends to have credentials as a business journalist and tries to con my readers into believing that the Penguin and Author Solutions so-many-imprints-you-can’t-keep-track-of-which-ones-we-own business model “brings more choice to the market.”

If someone at Penguin or Author Solutions has the intestinal fortitude to answer my questions for real, you know where to find me.



Calling Bullshit: A Closer Look at the Author Solutions Press Release

While I was earning my English degree in 2006, I started working part-time for The Saturday Evening Post. One of my jobs as an editorial assistant was to wade through the stacks and stacks of media kits and press releases sent to us by public relations firms and in-house departments. Next to researching copyright inquiries, it was my least favorite part of the job. That’s because 98% of every press release just reeked of bullshit. The percentage might be higher for an Author Solutions press release.

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

If a press release was a person, it would be a husband leaving a voicemail just before his wife gets off work. He knows she won’t be able to answer, but that’s perfect. Because he wants to be able to feed her a few lines without having to answer any follow-up questions.

“Going to be home late tonight,” the husband explains. “Tutoring someone from my comm class. Don’t wait up!”

This involuntary revulsion for the press release made it hard for me to enjoy the press release vetting part of my job. I was charged with finding one or two that were newsworthy and getting the rest out of sight. My confession here? I wanted to toss them all. No, I wanted to burn them all, and then dance around the blazing trashcan wearing war paint.

But an activist’s critique of journalism isn’t complete without also taking a stab at a journalist or two. If the press release is a slimy husband, the lazy journalist is the wife who ignores all the signs. When the message ends, she doesn’t immediately try to call her husband to get more information. The next morning, she doesn’t look at the receipt he left on the nightstand after emptying his pockets the night before. She doesn’t ask if he meant to keep that old bank account open after two years.

The wife just goes on folding the laundry.

The journalist just retypes a lede.

And, with a few exceptions, that’s pretty much what happened on the internet yesterday with the Pearson-Penguin announcement. Author Solutions and Penguin put out a press release, and then a lot of reporters decided thinking critically was just too much work. Or maybe they had too much on their plate already. Or maybe they figured no one really cared.

Whatever the case, by and large mainstreamers considered a 500-word press release and a press conference call with Penguin CEO John Makinson the whole story. (By the way, still can’t believe I didn’t get an invite to the press conference call yesterday!)

There were some notable exceptions to the thoughtless regurgitation of information, some brilliant critiques; however, they didn’t come from mainstream sources. They came from concerned publishing bloggers, online watchdog communities, and haters like me.

Speaking of me… Last night I wrote a little bit about the spin in the official press release announcing Pearson’s acquiring of Author Solutions, lamenting how they want us all to think that most of Author Solutions’ employees work in the U.S. I also voiced my disapproval of the non-response response I got from Erica Glass. But I didn’t say much about any of the rest of the Penguin turds rising to the water’s surface after the release of that document.

Well, that’s what today is for.

Let’s start by taking this beaut from the official press release attributed to Penguin CEO Makinson:

“No-one has captured this opportunity as successfully as Author Solutions, which has rapidly built a position of world leadership on a platform of outstanding customer support and tailor-made publishing services.”

Oh yes he did just use “Author Solutions” and “outstanding customer support” in the same sentence. I’ve already collected an encyclopedia of complaints against this company and it’s imprints in just the last couple of months. 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.”

Oh, if only I were talking about one bad experience. I am not. Author Solutions is not an isolated blemish on an otherwise clear-skinned face. This vanity press and its numerous imprints are the full-blown cystic acne of the publishing world. CEO Kevin Weiss is a painful boil. Marketing VP Keith Ogorek is the sticky pus. And the executives at Pearson and Penguin are on course to establish themselves as the oozing pustules of the book industry unless they turn things around.

Sound mean? Good. My issue with these guys isn’t that they have unhappy customers, it’s that they ignore them. My problem isn’t that the Author Solutions royalty system is a joke, it’s that they refuse to fix or even acknowledge that it’s a problem. It’s not the amount of money the execs take home, it’s how they get it. It’s not that they have no respect for writers, it’s…no, wait. It’s definitely that they have no respect for writers.

Next there’s that laughable bit where Author Solutions and Penguin people refer to themselves as self-publishers. Yet mainstream reports not only don’t call them out on it, they don’t even question it.

“Formed in 2007, ASI is now the world’s leading provider of professional self-publishing services.” 

We’ve talked about this already. The model that Author Solutions uses is a vanity press model where books are published entirely at the author’s expense and only a small portion of the royalties go back to the author following a sale.

People! For the love of God! Self-publishers—individuals who piecemeal parts of the process like cover design and editing to individual professionals—don’t give up 80% of their royalties in addition to paying thousands of dollars for a multi-million dollar corporation to do the legwork. (Don’t even get me started on what Author Solutions does or, more likely, doesn’t do for those exorbitant fees.)

Self-publishers are independent writers and artists. Say it with me: in-de-pen-dent. Sure, they pay for someone to print their book or they pay a web service to make their title available, but they don’t share their profits. They keep them. Not 20% of them, not 50% of them—all of them.

In a WSJ article, Kevin Weiss is quoted as saying, “We have seen a rapid change. When I got here four and a half years ago, we were still labelled as vanity publishing and we were somewhat the scourge of the industry.”

Oh, Kevvy. Aren’t you precious.

Once you’ve had enough of what the press release does say, it’s time to address what it doesn’t say. Around 2007, just when most people were starting to think you couldn’t find anything in the publishing world worse than a typical vanity press, Author Solutions proved us all wrong.

The company started buying up once independent presses, building “informational” websites as a ruse to funnel traffic to their companies, and launching new marketing service brands just about every other week. The press release doesn’t mention all of these subsidiaries:  Author House, iUniverse, XLibris, Trafford, Palibrio, Publish in the USA, FuseFrame, Pitchfest, Author Learning Center, WordClay, BookTango and AuthorHive. Because that would destroy the illusion of choice Penguin so graciously offers writers.

For the record, the following are questions I sent Erica Glass of Penguin, followed by the response I received:

Author Solutions has a number of imprints that critics believe are kept in place to limit choice in the market and deceive consumers who “shop around.” Does Penguin take a position on this?

Penguin offered no comment.

Are there plans to consolidate iUniverse, Trafford, WordClay, AuthorHouse, Palibrio, Publish in the USA, et al. to a single brand?

Penguin offered no comment.

Sources inside Author Solutions explain that the royalty system is a shambles. Reports and payments are habitually late, which breaches the publishing contract. Does Penguin have a plan in place to address this issue, either by upgrading the system that tracks this information or through some other means?

Penguin offered no comment.

Author Solutions has been accused by Indiana residents and its own employees of “cramming cubicles” to receive tax cuts from the state on the basis of job creation, only to fire those hires a short time later and rehire in the Philippines. Does Penguin plan to continue with Author Solutions’ outsourcing model?

 Penguin offered no comment.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Penguin Books USA Briefly Acknowledges Blogger's Existence

After I initially reached out to the folks at Pearson and Penguin Books USA for comment on their recent acquisition of Author Solutions, I received a very short non-response from Erica Glass, the Media Relations Manager at Penguin.

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

“What questions are you looking to have answered?” she wrote.

It’s not the open and welcoming reply you hope to get from a company’s media relations department. Clearly, I am being screened. Otherwise it would have been, “Let me put you in touch with…” or “Sure, what can we tell you?” Even if they needed time to prepare statements, I’d expect something along the lines of, “We are working to get you answers to your questions and will be in touch.” However, so far it’s been total silence on their part.

Public reaction to the sale has been mixed. Some who watch the publishing industry closely are confused, wondering why any company with a decent reputation would willingly take on Author Solutions. Some are excited, hoping the purchase will give self-publishing* the legitimacy it lacks. Others are taking the news like they’ve just received word their grandmother willingly contracted an STD.

.@EmilySuess This is lunacy of the highest order. What idiot took this deal? Bertram must have known they were unloading a dud…

— Claire Ryan (@rayntweets) July 19, 2012

To me, the most disturbing part of this story isn’t that Pearson and Penguin would chance marring their reputations by taking on Author Solutions; it’s their insistence that nothing will change. It’s like they believe the world will find the same ol’, same ol’ reassuring rather than appalling. That somehow keeping Kevin Weiss as CEO and giving him a seat on Penguin Group’s board will make us all sigh in relief. “Neither company will be laying off employees or executives,” writes Jeremy Greenfield, reporting for Digital Book World.

There are other things that bother me. In the official press release, the company states: “[Author Solutions] has approximately 1,600 employees, located primarily in Bloomington, Indiana and Cebu City, the Philippines.” Most people will read that and conclude that the majority of Author Solutions employees work in Bloomington, Indiana because it’s given first billing and comes immediately after the word “primarily.” Not so.

PR people are good at penning fuzzy sentences that are technically true when a linguist parses them, but ultimately deceptive when the public reads them. As an employee has already explained, there are now approximately 1,200 employees in the Philippines, comprising as much as two-thirds of Author Solutions’ entire workforce. Call Author Solutions or Penguin out on this fact, and they’re likely to show you their palms and shrug. But we said the majority were in Bloomington AND Cebu, you know—collectively.

So then the media cut and paste a line or two from the press release and—perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not—perpetuate the deception of Author Solutions as this American, nee Hoosier, company with a smattering of employees overseas. (For the record, Author Solutions has been registered as a For-Profit Foreign Corporation** with the Indiana Secretary of State since February 2, 2007, incorporating in Delaware and taking tax cuts from Indiana.)

So, yeah, there are definitely some questions I want Penguin to answer.

*You can put lipstick on a penguin… Author Solutions (and now Penguin) have established themselves as being the leader in “self-publishing.” As media reports of the sale have made their way around the internet, it’s clear to see reporters are buying this too. Author Solutions imprints are vanity presses.

**Not at all unusual for a corporation, but let’s not pretend they’ve been devoted to creating Hoosier jobs. It’s always about the money they don’t have to pay.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

Pin It on Pinterest