The Bookseller Hires Author Solutions Exec To Spout Propaganda

futurebookAuthor Solutions is like a Bizarro version of King Midas. Everything they touch turns to shit.

One frustrating aspect of this is their history of co-opting supposedly independent organizations, which then silence critical voices.

This week, The Bookseller went one step further, and has hired a former Author Solutions executive called Tim Davies to write for their digital offshoot FutureBook.

Davies used his debut FutureBook post to vomit up some Author Solutions PR, interspersed with gushing praise for his former boss, who he breathlessly describes as “the effortlessly charming and driven Kevin Weiss.”

Of course, you only find out that Tim Davies is a former Author Solutions executive in the final paragraph of that post – something which should be disclosed up top (with a lot more detail too).

But that’s not the most troubling part. In keeping with the standard editorial line of The Bookseller since Author Solutions was purchased by Penguin for $116m, no mention is made of Author Solutions being a scammy vanity press which is slated by every watchdog in the business. There is a throwaway line about “Author Solutions’ occasionally less than pristine PR” – but that’s it.

Indeed, comments critical of Author Solutions are being censored from that post, as they have been from other articles in The Bookseller recently.

If you aren’t familiar with Author Solutions (and you might not be as they have flooded the market with identikit vanity imprints like AuthorHouse, Trafford, Xlibris, iUniverse and plenty more), I urge you to read my previous posts on the company (herehereherehere, and here).

Regular company-watcher Emily Suess summarizes the issues:

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, breach 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.’

You can get an exhaustive list of Emily Suess’ posts on the topic here for more detail on those issues. In addition, leading watchdog group Writer Beware - which has received more complaints about Author Solutions than any other company – has a compendium of their posts here (where you will also find details of the class action suit against Author Solutions for deceptive business practices).

Ardent free marketeers might wonder how the company stays in business with such a terrible record of overcharging, high pressure upselling, staggering underperformance, and voluminous customer complaints, while being slated by every watchdog in the business.

It’s a multi-pronged strategy:

1. Author Solutions runs a multitude of faux-informational websites purporting to provide independent advice to inexperienced writers. After filling out a questionnaire, these sites then present a selection of publishing “options” – all subsidiaries owned by Author Solutions, all terrible. Author Solutions spends a lot of time and money to ensure that these sites appear at the top of Google’s search results for any generic terms that a publisher-hunting newbie would use (I’m not linking to these sites as that will help their SEO, but you can Google anything like “I need a publisher” to see what I mean. Running variations of those searches will bring up more than 20 different fake sites, all operated by Author Solutions).

2. Author Solutions operates fake social media profiles of “independent publishing consultants” which are manned by Author Solutions staff, target the most inexperienced writers, and only recommend Author Solutions companies.

3. Author Solutions pressures customers into writing positive testimonials before releasing their books for publication. I received one such complaint the last time I posted about Author Solutions, from an AuthorHouse UK customer who said that they wouldn’t publish the book she had already paid for until she wrote the testimonial here (second from top).

4. Author Solutions partners with supposedly legitimate and independent organizations to give a veneer of respectability to their scammy operations (like Hay House, Writers Digest, Simon & Schuster, Lulu, HarperCollins, the Authors Guild, Harlequin, and various writers conferences).

The Bookseller is, by far, the most popular publishing industry news source in the UK. There’s nobody really competing with them for that title. Like Publishers Weekly in the US, if you work in the trade in the UK, you read The Bookseller.

FutureBook, an offshoot of The Bookseller, is “a website dedicated to discussing how the digital revolution will re-shape publishing in the 21st Century.”

FutureBook likes to think of itself as the forward-thinking, digital-friendly face of the industry – which I suppose it is, as long as you don’t consider authors as being part of the industry.

While I regularly read both The Bookseller and FutureBook, I’ve had plenty of issues with their editorial line, particularly with regard to their policy of never printing anything critical about Author Solutions – or, at least, not since they were purchased by Penguin.

In the last few months, this policy has extended to censoring comments critical of Author Solutions on their blogs, a policy they now share with Digital Book World - whose parent company has its own Author Solutions-powered vanity press.

Both of these companies depend on income from advertising and running conferences, and it appears they don’t want to be critical of a huge player like Author Solutions’ owner Penguin – especially with their impending merger with Random House, which will create the largest (by far) trade publisher in the world.

This week, The Bookseller and FutureBook sank to a new low, hiring an ex-Author Solutions executive and handing him their significant platform to spout the same, disingenuous company propaganda that has led to innumerable writers being swindled.

I’m appalled.

NOTE: My use of the word “hires” might imply that Tim Davies received payment for his FutureBook piece. As far as I know, that’s not the case and I think contributors aren’t paid for their posts. His Twitter feed would seem to suggest that some arrangement has been made for him to contribute to FutureBook on an ongoing basis, which is why I chose that word, but I don’t think it’s important either way.

UPDATE (Thurs eve): The comments on FutureBook’s Author Solutions piece have finally been posted – 24 hours late. While I’m happy that the comments are posted, I’m not happy that it took this long. Unsurprisingly, all the comments that were “stuck” in moderation for 24 hours were extremely negative. Feel free to add your own thoughts.

UPDATE 2 (Fri morn): Tim Davies, the ex-Author Solutions executive mentioned above (who was shilling for his old bosses in FutureBook), runs his own crappy vanity press called Swift Publishing. It seems he was taking notes while working for Author Solutions as they have some of the worst terms I’ve seen.

Publishing packages with Swift Publishing start at $2300 and that doesn’t even include editing. Oh, and they pay 17.6% royalties on e-books (versus 70% if you go direct yourself).

In an interesting twist, Swift Publishing uses Faber Factory (owned by Faber and Faber UK) to distribute e-books to retailers. Faber Factory itself uses Constellation, a distribution platform run by Perseus Books, owners of the awful Argo Navis service I blogged about in April (which itself uses the Constellation platform).

This means the problems with using a company like Swift Publishing don’t end with overcharging for basic services and dipping their hand in your wallet a second time by taking such a huge cut of your royalties.

I really can’t understand why FutureBook gave Tim Davies this platform, and why, at the very least, his own interests weren’t declared at the very top of his piece. I guess “Disclosure: I used to work for the world’s largest vanity press and now I run my own crappy vanity press” would have been a bit of a turn-off for readers.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is a 34-year old Irish writer, living in London, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He is the author of the South American historical adventure "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" and the short stories "If You Go Into The Woods" and "Transfection" as well as the popular self-publishing guide "Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should."
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46 Responses to The Bookseller Hires Author Solutions Exec To Spout Propaganda

  1. Yep, saw it earlier on The passive Guy and followed the link to FutureBook’s site. Only one comment was there. Then later you posted a notice that you left a comment, but you doubted they would publish it. Seems you were right. I waited, and waited, and waited, and only that one little comment remained there. No other comments were added. Now don’t tell me no one else had an opinion on that piece. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending not to hear doesn’t make the noise disappear. It only makes it louder and more insistent.

  2. Don Odom says:

    Your blog is indispensible, David. Keep up the GREAT work!

  3. I left a comment yesterday on Tim Davies’ Bookseller post, saying:

    “Author Solutions ‘the world’s biggest self-publishing company’? Surely you mean the world’s biggest vanity press?”

    My comment hasn’t shown up.

  4. Below the article it says: ‘By posting on this website you agree to the Bookseller Comments Policy. Comments go live immediately, please be relevant, brief and definitely not abusive.’

    Then, after you leave a comment: ‘Your comment has been queued for moderation by site administrators and will be published after approval.’

    Did they bring comment moderation in just for Tim Davies, knowing he’d need it?

  5. acflory says:

    There is such a surreal, Clockwork Orange feel about this whole Authors Solution mess. Why is no-one shouting this on Twitter? Or starting a campaign on FB. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting in a nice, safe life-boat watching the Titanic sink.

  6. Hmmm… very informative and unsettling. Thanks a lot for this, David. We need people like you out there keeping an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse… or a third eye on cyber space.

  7. Tara West says:

    I can’t believe Penguin bought a bunch of vomit and shit for 116M. That money could have been spent on much more honest venues, like investing in their current authors. They’ve got to recoup that money somehow, even if it means scamming hapless authors.

    • S. Miletus says:

      I presumed at the time of the purchase that it was a mistake, & once someone with a clue & some clout had a good look at Author Services it would either be completely reorganized or liquidated.

      Now I find I was wrong. I’m flailing for an analogy here, but comparing Penguin buying ASI to a sex counseling clinic hiring a team of pimps might be inflammatory yet captures my current opinion of the matter.

    • I suspect they see more profit from AS than from investing in current authors.

    • Scamming hapless authors seems to have been the point of the whole exercise. The numbers Tim Davies quotes in his article are staggering. There’s hundreds of millions in them thar hills, as long as you’re willing to sell your soul.

  8. Pingback: Author Solutions Continues to Move Toward World Domination - Girl None

  9. Thank you for this, David.

  10. kingmidget says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    I want to focus on positive solutions for self-publishers, but I also think it’s important that we keep in mind that there are some less than stellar opportunities for authors. I have been hearing horrible things about Author Solutions and its many offshoots for years. Here’s as good a summary as I’ve seen.

  11. No sign of our comment either, which was careful to stick to facts — that we at the Alliance of Independent Authors receive regular and repeated complaints about ASI; that in our recent book — Choosing A Self-Publishing Service 2013 — ASI imprints were rated 1 or at best 2 out of ten and that most of their imprints offer the most expensive services and the poorest terms and conditions, making it virtually impossible for a self-publishing author to make a profit. I do understand the trickiness of legal/libel issues while a class action is underway (certain comments could even be used against the authors if ASI lawyers decided to play it that way) but nothing we wrote in our comment could be interpreted as defamatory and all is verifiable. Disappointed with Futurebook and the Bookseller and the blanket of silence in the trade press on this issue — and other questions of importance to author-publishers, who are now part of the trade.

  12. It’s a disheartening trend but it makes you wary of trusting anyone who offers such services and more determined to go the hard route of teaching yourself. Mind you its virtually impossible to be a all things to all people so you need to seek out experts you can truly trust. Thanks for the warning

    • Nancy Back says:

      So true, Diana. It hasn’t been easy to learn how to do it all myself (esp. since I’m not exactly a spring chicken ;-)), but it’s been worth it for me. And fun (at times)! Trying to get my mind around page layout software has been the absolute hardest because it’s not at all intuitive, but I’m making headway.

      Have you taken a look at Dean Wesley Smith’s and Kris Rusch’s blogs? I feel the advice they offer is spot on; same with David here. One company that Dean has talked about that provides a menu of services – you pick and choose what you want with no one pressuring you to buy anything – is Lucky Bat Books.

      And as you said, you need to seek out experts you can trust. Some of the people on Kindle Boards (or maybe I should say K Boards now) seem to be on the up-and-up.

      This almost makes me long for the day when Publish America was main vanity publisher to loathe and revile. Almost.

  13. Pingback: The Bookseller Hires Author Solutions Exec To Spout Propaganda | Yvonne Hertzberger

  14. As one of those ardent free marketeers, I can’t stress enough the importance of Caveat Emptor.

  15. D.L. Shutter says:

    Well, Penguin said they were going out wide with their “service.” Here’s their first salvo.

    Funny thing though, where’s all the anti-suck-puppet crusaders in all this? Shouldn’t prominent web figures and publishing journalists be mob-lynching all parties involved in this scammery?

    I mean, disingenuous online publishing claims and reporting IS the single most dangerous thing in the book world, right?

  16. UPDATE: The comments on FutureBook’s Author Solutions piece have finally been posted – 24 hours late. While I’m happy that the comments are posted, I’m not happy that it took this long. Unsurprisingly, all the comments that were “stuck” in moderation for 24 hours were extremely negative. Feel free to add your own thoughts.
    http://www.futurebook.net/content/author-solutions-and-penguin-random-house-real-deal

  17. Jim Self says:

    Just as I feared, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better at the Big Publishers. Authors who haven’t already cleared out of the way are going to be run through the grinder.

  18. Pingback: The Bookseller Hires Author Solutions Exec To S...

  19. UPDATE 2 (Fri morn): Tim Davies, the ex-Author Solutions executive mentioned above (who was shilling for his old bosses in FutureBook), runs his own crappy vanity press called Swift Publishing. http://www.swiftpublishing.co.uk It seems he was taking notes while working for Author Solutions as they have some of the worst terms I’ve seen.

    Publishing packages with Swift Publishing start at $2300 and that doesn’t even include editing. Oh, and they pay 17.6% royalties on e-books (versus 70% if you go direct yourself). http://www.swiftpublishing.co.uk/content.php?id=14

    In an interesting twist, Swift Publishing uses Faber Factory (owned by Faber and Faber UK) to distribute e-books to retailers. Faber Factory itself uses Constellation, a distribution platform run by Perseus Books, owners of the awful Argo Navis service I blogged about in April (which itself uses the Constellation platform). http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/lazy-literary-agents-in-self-publishing-money-grab-via-argo-navis/

    This means the problems with using a company like Swift Publishing don’t end with overcharging for basic services and dipping their hand in your wallet a second time by taking such a huge cut of your royalties.

    I really can’t understand why FutureBook gave Tim Davies this platform, and why, at the very least, his own interests weren’t declared at the very top of his piece. I guess “Disclosure: I used to work for the world’s largest vanity press and now I run my own crappy vanity press” would have been a bit of a turn-off for readers.

  20. Shameful… but not surprising.

  21. Great post, David. Author Solutions should just make Snidely Whiplash their official corporate logo. If they were any more evil, they’d be tying authors to railroad tracks while cackling maniacally and twirling their black mustaches. Random Penguin should be ashamed.

    BTW, I absolutely LOVE your new book LET’S GET VISIBLE. I’ve been recommending it to all my indie friends. Will be posting a 5-star review as soon as I finish it!

  22. Pingback: Ether for Authors: Are Publishing Firefights Hurting the Mission? | Publishing Perspectives

  23. Melanie says:

    Author Solutions was present at an AARP convention in Los Vegas this past weekend selling their services to retired folks.
    Their sales pitch was that everyone who bought their services could be published and make boatloads of cash.
    Targeting retired individuals on fixed incomes and spewing lies. Shameful. Awful.

  24. Melanie,

    It’s easy to do if you have no scruples, morals,or ethics. What has cracked me up is the naive belief on the part of some that Random Penguin, having purchased ASI, would clean up its act. Hogwash! They paid over $100M for it because it’s a cash cow. Why would they gut or kill a golden goose that’s working? ASI isn’t going to change its stripes. And other BPH’s are joining the vanity press bandwagon, usually subcontracting out their VP “imprints” to ASI.

    • Melanie says:

      Yeah, James, you’re right. They were giving away promotional material like candy. My friend came back with all of it. I warned her about them and told her to read these kind of blogs etc. But still, it’s such a gross way to do business. Random house never ceases to shock me. Being in the kid lit world I’ve seen several deals go through them and I’m always surprised by what they throw money at. Big money, stupid money, on books that are terribly written, meanwhile beautifully written, quiet stories go by the wayside.

      • Melanie,
        Yeah, kinda like most movies today. The focus is on what attracts the Clearasil Crowd: CGI special effects, “hot” young actors and actresses, moronic or missing plots, meager character development, and 200 dB megabass sound tracks. Makes me sad and mad, since I was a film student back in the 70s, when the Golden Age of American Cinema was in full bloom. That all changed with Star Wars. The big studios went with “big” films they thought would reap megamillions and even billions. There are still great small films out there (like “Winter’s Bone” that deservedly made Jennifer Lawrence a star), and occasional break-outs like “The Artist,” so all is not lost. But such films tend to have short, small runs in the theaters. TG for DVDs! And TG for self-publishing that permits writers to write what they want and reach readers worldwide.

  25. Pingback: Writer Wednesday | creative barbwire (or the many lives of a creator)

  26. It’s really depressing to see how many people end up falling for these types of scams, though I guess it isn’t all that surprising. Thank you for posting this.

  27. wordwan says:

    Well, I guess i’m starting to understand why Amazon can do the things they do that people have told me about. I’ve heard about people being blocked or banned from forums on Amazon for speaking out. Hm…

    They’re learning from all these kinds of publishers. And people just ignore any view they don’t agreed with. Deny, deny, deny. Hm….

    Great. Small world. Getting smaller. Every moment.

    Thanks for posting.

    Heather
    wordwan

  28. Reblogged this on Хамгийн сайхан зүйл бол!!! and commented:
    David Gaughran wrote about Propaganda

  29. Pingback: Penguin Random House Merger Helps Author Solutions Exploit Writers | David Gaughran

  30. Lene says:

    “Author Solutions is like a Bizarro version of King Midas. Everything they touch turns to shit.” Best first line of anything I’ve seen in a long time!

    Thanks for continuing to bring these issues to the forefront. You’re saving loads of indie authors some major pain.

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