Bay Area Book Festival Defends Author Solutions Sponsorship

BABFASI discovered yesterday that Author Solutions was sponsoring the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival – something at odds with the breathless verbiage on the event’s site:

A new kind of book fair… the largest, most innovative, and most inclusive… [we will] create the nation’s leading book festival.

The event doesn’t take place until June, so I thought it was a good time to try and stage an intervention.

After I sent that tweet I felt a little bad.

Maybe the organizers didn’t know the full history of Author Solutions. Maybe they weren’t aware of the specific scam that Author Solutions runs at events like this. Deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt, I emailed the Executive Director of the festival, Cherilyn Parsons.

According to her bio, Cherilyn Parsons has “visited book festivals around the world to bring best practices to the Bay Area Book Festival.” Great, I thought. Surely those “best practices” don’t involve accepting sponsorship from a known scammer. Right?

I sent Parsons an email giving her the full background. I explained how Author Solutions was universally reviled in the writing community, why every major writers’ organization and watchdog group warned authors against using the company, and that Author Solutions was facing a class action for deceptive practices.

I also detailed the way Author Solutions uses its presence at events like this to ensnare new customers and milk existing ones – a common ploy being to sell off one-hour book signing slots for prices up to $4,000 (or up to $10,000 via Archway).

And it was a complete waste of my time.

In their response, The Bay Area Book Festival explained the “logic” behind accepting Author Solutions as a sponsor. The reasons presented were threefold: Continue reading

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Barnes & Noble’s Dirty Little Secret: Author Solutions and Nook Press

NookPressAuthorSolutionsNook Press – Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing platform – launched a selection of author services last October including editing, cover design, and (limited) print-on-demand.

Immediate speculation surrounded who exactly was providing these services, with many – including Nate Hoffelder, Passive Guy, and myself – speculating it could be Author Solutions. However, there was no proof.

Until now.

A source at Penguin Random House has provided me with a document which shows that Author Solutions is secretly operating Nook Press Author Services. The following screenshot is taken from the agreement between Barnes & Noble and writers using the service.

NookPressAuthorServicesBloomingtonopt

You will see that the postal address highlighted above for physical submission of manuscripts is “Nook Press Author Services, 1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, Indiana.”

Author Solutions, Bloomington, Indiana. Image courtesy of Wikimedia, uploaded by Vmenkov, CC BY-SA 3.0

Author Solutions, Bloomington, IN. Image from Wikimedia, by Vmenkov, CC BY-SA 3.0

There’s something else located at that address: Author Solutions US headquarters in Bloomington, Indiana (pictured right).

Barnes & Noble has never disclosed that Author Solutions is providing these services, either in the press release announcing same, the communications to Nook Press users, or on the site itself.

Indeed, Barnes & Noble refused to respond to three separate requests last November for information on same from Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader (now renamed Inks, Bits & Pixels).

Also, Barnes & Noble fails to disclose Author Solutions’ involvement to authors purchasing these services. The Nook Press Author Services site goes into great detail about these services but never once mentions that Author Solutions is fulfilling them. In fact, the way the FAQs on the site are worded makes it sound like Barnes & Noble/Nook Press carries out the work itself – which is extremely misleading.

Finally, authors who use Nook Press Author Services are not informed that their personal details are shared with Author Solutions, along with explicit permission to use those personal details to upsell Author Solutions’ infamous marketing packages. Continue reading

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How To Win Sales And Influence Algorithms

Matt Iden & Nick Stephenson

Matt Iden & Nick Stephenson two crime/thriller writers who have been working together to increase their promotion and marketing range since June 2014

I’m hosting a discussion today between two authors who are using creative ways to share audiences, something which has the happy side-effect of increasing their respective sales.

As I said on Thursday, I think creative forms of collaboration – especially in terms of marketing strategies – are going to be big this year.

Traditionally published authors may have to compete with each other ways that may not be relevant/important to self-publishers – like agents, deals, grants, prizes, or co-op. But self-publishers have nothing to fear from cooperating with authors they are nominally competing with, and everything to gain.

The market is so large that no writer will ever reach all the readers out there, and the odds of getting noticed can improve greatly with the right kind of cooperation – as many authors with box sets saw last year.

If you are still skeptical, consider this: Amazon’s recommendation engine can drive sales like nothing else. The Also Boughts (the strip of other titles under your book on its Amazon page) are central to that recommendation engine in ways that we only partly understand. What we do know is that they are key influences on all those emails which are sent to Amazon customers.

Did you ever have an unexplained bump in sales that couldn’t be tracked to a mention somewhere? There’s a reasonable chance you started appearing in the Also Boughts of a popular title in your genre, and then your book suddenly got recommended by email to a bunch of new readers in your target audience. Also, this phenomenon in reverse is often behind an inexplicable drop in sales (and is more comfortable than tin foil!).

Savvy authors are now pooling audiences in an attempt to influence their Also Boughts and get Amazon’s system to recommend their books to each other’s audiences. I noticed crime/thriller writers Matt Iden and Nick Stephenson doing this in interesting ways over the last few months, and invited them to spill the beans.

Here’s Matt & Nick with more:

Continue reading

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Round Up: Audiobook Release, BookBub in Canada & Amazon Launches Ad Service

digitalaudioOPTI have finally returned to work after an extended period back in Ireland over Christmas – which was wonderful – and then a spell with a virus which was considerably less so. I was mostly unplugged from the internet over the last while, but I hope it’s not too late to wish you all the best for 2015.

This is a quick catch-up post on some recent bits and bobs. Normal blogging service will resume tomorrow with a very useful guest post from two authors exploring some alternative marketing strategies with excellent results.

***

First up is the release of the audiobook edition of Let’s Get Digital. This is the new, updated version of Digital which has been narrated by Simon Whistler – who you may know as the host of the excellent Rocking Self-Publishing podcast. Simon is an author himself, as well as an experienced narrator, so it was great to get him on board for this project.

The audiobook version is unabridged – jam-packed with all the advice, tips, and how-to guides that went into the new, updated version of Digital – and you can pick it up from:

Amazon US | Amazon UK | iTunes | Audible US | Audible UK

Prices vary at the different retailers, but easily the best deal is the massively discounted Whispersync price if you already have the e-book (90% off list price!).

I’ve already sent complimentary copies to those on my mailing list who expressed interest in reviewing the audiobook, but I have some left. Reviews on Amazon and iTunes are welcome, but I’m specifically looking for reviews on Audible itself.

If you are able to review there reasonably quickly, let me know in the comments (or email me) and I’ll get in touch with you directly over the next few days with a complimentary copy. (Note: If you are in the UK, please mention that as you will need a different code.)

***

The latest Author Earnings quarterly report is out with some attention-grabbing findings, such as this:

  • 33% of all paid ebook unit sales on Amazon.com are indie self-published ebooks.

Read the rest here.

***

mercenaryOPTMercenary – my historical novel set in early 20th century New Orleans and Honduras – is now free on all retailers and you can grab it for the price of a click from:

Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google

It will be free for the foreseeable future and I’ll be explaining why in an upcoming post.

(Although, if you download the book, or Look Inside on Amazon, you can figure it out. I better get cracking on that new series!)

*** Continue reading

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How Jessica Mitford Exposed A $48m Scam From America’s Literary Establishment

Cerf1Jessica Mitford took on the American funeral industry, the California Department of Corrections, and the Ku Klux Klan, but it was her 1970 exposé of The Famous Writers School which led to Time calling her “The Queen of the Muckrakers.” And if a courageous editor hadn’t reversed his decision to kill her story, it might never have happened.

Mitford had been aware of The Famous Writers School’s existence for some time. Anyone who was a frequent reader of newspapers, books or magazines would have seen its ever-present advertisements, inviting aspiring writers to cut out and apply for the free aptitude test. While Mitford was suspicious, she didn’t have anything concrete until her lawyer husband took on a new client.

Bob Treuhaft was approached by a 72-year old widow, living on Social Security, who had cleaned out her bank account to make a down-payment to The Famous Writers School. On the same day Mitford heard the widow’s sorry tale from her husband, she received a book in the mail for review: Writing Rackets by Robert Byrne, which also mentioned the school.

Mitford had lunch with Bill Abrahams not long afterwards – then the West Coast editor of The Atlantic. She shared tales from Byrne’s book on literary frauds and the story of the cheated widow, and Abrahams asked her to write a short piece for The Atlantic covering both.

A still of Rod Serling from a Famous Writers School television ad (view here).

A still of Rod Serling taken from a Famous Writers School television ad (view here).

The following day Abrahams called to say that the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, Robert Manning, had decided not to run the piece after all. While Manning agreed that the bold claims made in The Famous Writers School’s advertising were “probably unethical,” he pointed out that The Atlantic had made “many thousands of dollars” from those self-same ads and felt it would be equally unethical to run a piece criticizing the school.

Mitford was aghast and asked Abrahams if he would kill a piece on lung cancer on the grounds that The Atlantic took ads from tobacco companies. He accepted her point and said that he would try again with Manning, and that if anything changed he would get in touch.

A week later, Mitford had no further response from The Atlantic but now had the bit between her teeth. She queried the articles editor at McCall’s who was extremely enthusiastic and wanted a full investigation of The Famous Writers School, commissioning a 7,000 word piece. Mitford was delighted and threw herself into exhaustive research.

The Famous Writers

Mitford soon realized that the well-known faces attached to The Famous Writers School’s advertisements played a very different role than suggested. She knew she was going up against some powerful individuals – some of the leading lights of America’s literary establishment.

The Guiding Faculty of The Famous Writers School consisted of people like Paul Engle (long-time director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop), Rod Serling (of Twilight Zone fame), mystery writer Mignon Eberhart, Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Catton, and romance author Faith Baldwin. Day-to-day operations were managed by Gordon Carroll (Reader’s Digest editor) and John Lawrence (former president of William Morrow publishers).

The biggest name of all was the man Mitford would later describe as “the ringleader” – Bennett Cerf, founder and president of Random House, and household name in America since his long-running stint on What’s My Line?

Knowing that Cerf could cause her problems, Mitford decided to interview him last. Continue reading

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Author Solutions Steps Up Global Expansion, Penguin Random House Integration

PRHGrupoASIPenguin Random House is speeding up the international expansion of its vanity press operations, while also seeking to integrate them more closely with the traditional side of the business – hoping to counteract flat growth for Author Solutions at a time when self-publishing is booming.

Author Solutions launches a new self-publishing service company for the Spanish market next Tuesday – MeGustaEscribir – which contains the usual mix of crappy publishing packages and ineffective, overpriced marketing services, as well as some extremely questionable practices such as reading fees (more on that below).

The way the Author Solutions scam typically operates is detailed exhaustively in this post, but here’s a brief summary.

How Author Solutions Squeezes Newbie Writers

Customers are captured through a variety of deceptive means – such as fake “independent” websites which purport to review all the self-publishing options available to writers (but only compare the various Author Solutions imprints); fake social media profiles pretending to be writers or “publishing consultants” (who only recommend Author Solutions companies); and, a “bounty” to various unscrupulous parties to deliver Author Solutions fresh blood.

Obviously, Author Solutions needs to use such deceptive measures because authors who have used its services aren’t recommending it to their fellow writers. Instead, they are warning them away.

Once Author Solutions has a writer’s contact details, it moves fast – endlessly harassing them by phone and email until they cave and purchase an overpriced publishing package. When the publishing process is almost complete, an Author Solutions sales rep then contacts the writer to let them know some exciting news: they have won a fake award – invented by Author Solutions. Continue reading

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Amazon Opens Dutch Kindle Store, B&N Moves Into Author Services

Amazon launched a Kindle Store in the Netherlands this morning, as anticipated by The Digital Reader yesterday.

Kindle devices are now on sale for prices ranging between €59 for the basic model, up to €189 for the Voyage, and the store has opened with over 3m titles. However, only 20,911 of these titles are in Dutch and only 1,221 of these e-books are by Dutch authors.

That may change now that KDP has launched a local portal for Dutch writers and small presses. The opening of the Dutch Kindle Store also means the abolition of the regressive and unpopular Whispernet Surcharge in the Netherlands which added $2 onto the price of many e-books.

For those already publishing via KDP, your book is on sale in the Dutch Kindle Store without any further action needed at your end. You will earn 70% on sales between €2.60 (~$3.24) and €9.70 (~$12.08) – matching the terms of the other Euro-based Kindle Stores, and reversing an unwelcome trend where 70% royalties were only available if that title was enrolled in KDP Select (as is the case for Kindle Stores in Brazil, Japan, Mexico and India).

Amazon is a little late to the party in the Netherlands. Competitors like Kobo, Apple & Google already have some presence, and there is a strong local competitor which is estimated to have 60% of the nascent e-book market (Bol.com, which partnered with Kobo as recently as September).

But Amazon has a track record of dramatically changing the digital markets it enters. For example, Amazon grabbed around half of the Italian e-book market within three months of opening its doors there. On the other hand, Amazon has had it tougher in markets like France and Germany where strong fixed book price laws have hindered its desire to ability to discount.

Whoever ends up on top, the opening of Amazon’s Dutch operation is a reminder that we are only at the very beginning of a long period of change, and that the real battle isn’t between authors and publishers, or even Amazon and publishers, but an international turf war between a small handful of tech giants. Next stop: Scandinavia and Russia. Continue reading

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