Regular readers of this blog will know all about Penguin’s purchase last July of the universally reviled Author Solutions – a company infamous for overcharging writers, doing a terrible job of publishing their books, and forcing ineffective and expensive marketing services upon those authors when their books (inevitably) fail to sell.
My posts on the topic have been leaning heavily on the tireless work of Emily Suess – a writer and blogger who has been documenting this racket for some years now.
At the time of the purchase, many in the publishing community expressed a hope that Penguin would clean up Author Solutions, or at least tone down some of their scammier tactics.
I was more than a little skeptical, and invited Emily Suess to give us an update. Here’s Emily:
One Racket to Rule Them All
Did you notice that skeevy self-pub racket, Author Solutions, is accumulating brands as quickly as it accumulates customer complaints these days?
It all started last July when Pearson bought Author Solutions, the parent company of dozens of self-publishing brands including iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Trafford and Palibrio as well as media companies FuseFrame, PitchFest, Author Learning Center and BookTango.
Then Pearson (who owns Penguin) merged with Random House after purchasing Author Solutions. Author Solutions, in addition to running its aforementioned arsenal of brands, was then charged with running a new self-publishing imprint: Archway.
Archway raised a few eyebrows across the industry because its services are operated by Author Solutions, but Pearson’s competitor, Simon & Schuster, owns Archway.
Then just days ago Penguin opened a new self-publishing brand in India and named it Partridge. Partridge is run by Author Solutions too.
Confused? I’m sure they’re counting on it.
You see, Author Solutions’ modus operandi is pretty despicable, and they’ve been badgering, swindling and confusing writers out of money—and lots of it—for years.
The deceit starts with the web of brands they’ve established. With so many imprints, Author Solutions has tricked authors into thinking they have dozens of choices. In reality, however, the parent company is just slapping up half a dozen different logos, renaming packages, and selling the same grossly overpriced services to all of their customers no matter which brand ends up on the cover.
On top of that, AS has been accused of launching supposedly unbiased, purely informational comparison websites to help customers pick the self-publishing company that’s right for them, except all clicks lead back to Author Solutions brands.
With AS overbearing sales reps are the norm. They’ve talked writers into purchasing publishing packages over the phone without so much as a written explanation of charges, let alone a formal publishing contract. And they’re all too eager to offer installment payments and accept credit card information over the phone.
They’ve pulled the ol’ price switcheroo on writers too. Jean Rikhoff, published Earth, Air, Fire and Water with iUniverse and was told by a sales rep that copyediting charges for her manuscript would run around $400. When she received her credit card bill, however, her charges totaled nearly $4,000.
Once you’ve signed on with one of their brands, it’s time for the upselling. They’ll sell review services marked up by nearly 160%, worthless book-to-screen marketing packages that cost over $15,000, and shoddy editing services that create more errors than they correct. They’ll even let customers buy their own recognition awards like Editor’s Choice (but they’ll tell them the money is to pay for the company’s superior editors to evaluate the work and ensure it’s worthy).
Oh, and good luck getting those sales reps to go away after publication. Phillip J. Reed said of iUniverse’s sales team:
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.
And the hard-sell complaints barely scratch the surface. Author Solutions is incapable of handling day-to-day operations for their current customers. Erroneous royalty reports and non-payment of royalties are frequent complaints given by authors. They’ve been cited for contract breaches and failure to deliver services. Customer service representatives give writers the runaround.
Knowing all of this, you have to wonder what attracts writers to Author Solutions brands in the first place. That’s where Leah comes in. She’s the author of an upcoming book titled Single Infertile Female who, up until a few days ago, was planning to publish with one of Author Solution’s brands, AuthorHouse.
Like many authors fearing the stigma of self-publishing, Leah originally wanted to publish her book traditionally. She believed self-publishing was just something people did when their books weren’t good enough for a traditional deal.
After pursuing the traditional route, however, she realized two things: querying agents for her niche audience could delay her efforts indefinitely, and more authors were self-publishing successfully these days.
So Leah began her self-pub research where most do: online. Although AuthorHouse wasn’t the first company she researched, it was soon at the top of her list. “Their services seemed the most all-inclusive to me,” she noted.
Leah also mentioned that she “felt like a writer and not much else,” meaning she assumed she lacked the business and technical savvy she needed to go it alone as a self-publisher. She thought she needed the long list of services and marketing add-ons companies like AuthorHouse were offering.
Here’s what she had to say about the AuthorHouse website and how it won her over:
I pretty much devoured their website…I thought it was very well put together, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to follow. I have now decided to go through Create Space, but Author House really has the leg up on them there—the initial customer experience is a great deal smoother. The packages they had to offer seemed the most thoughtfully put together to me as well. I thought the Hollywood Book-To-Screen packages were a bit silly…but the more traditional paperback and hardcover packages seemed to offer a lot of what I was looking for—the hand holding that part of me still really does crave.
Even though Leah sent AuthorHouse an email with some questions, she never heard back from them. By the time she would have followed up again with someone at the company, AuthorHouse’s reputation had preceded them. Leah gave up on AuthorHouse as soon as she heard the horror stories.
Time will tell how many more brands Author Solutions will manage, but one thing is for certain: it’s imperative that writers research so-called self-publishing companies before they fork over the cash. Because not everyone will be as lucky as Leah.
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A big thank you to Emily for writing this guest post.
I strongly urge you to check out her blog which is a rich source of information – not just on Author Solutions, but self-publishing in general, as well as all aspects of copywriting and freelancing (as an example, here’s a topic that gives most writers hives – writing effective blurbs).
I’d like to underline one of Emily’s points. It has become fashionable in publishing to talk about re-imagining the industry, placing the author at the center, and treating writers as “true partners.”
But talk is cheap.
Over 150,000 writers have suffered at the hands of Author Solutions, and that number grows every day – especially now that Penguin has legitimized these assholes.
And it’s not just them. Presumably Random House has no issue with Author Solutions, given that they are merging with Penguin, and operations are expanding.
That’s four of the “Big Six” involved with Author Solutions in some form or another – along with the biggest Romance publisher in the world.
Their defenders might try and claim that Penguin and the other large publishers aren’t aware of what Author Solutions get up to. Well, here’s Penguin CEO John Makinson:
“We spent time getting to know the people at Author Solutions and their sophisticated operation,” Makinson said. “They have skills that can help us at Penguin.”
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I don’t want to end on a downer, so let me give a shout-out to a self-publisher with a new book out.
Well, the third installment – Knifepoint – has just been released, and it’s available at the reduced price of 99c (price goes back up in a few days, so don’t wait).
To help push the newbie during launch week, Ed has the first two books in series at 99c too, and they’re excellent. If you don’t believe me, look at the crazy-good reviews. Or just download the free intro novella Outcome.