My Thoughts on iUniverse

On Saturday I reviewed a book titled Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit, published by iUniverse.

There’s no need to read the original review unless you just want to. I can sum it up for you by saying this: my overall opinion of the work, though completely honest, wasn’t exactly flattering.

A smattering of people commented on the post, but I wouldn’t say it attracted much feedback. That’s generally the case with these types of self-pub reviews, I’ve noticed. However, when commenter Grizzbabe rightly pointed out that the book’s cover couldn’t be any cheesier, I lamented in my reply to her that “you don’t get professional editing services, and you sure as heck don’t get real graphic designers” from a place like iUniverse.

An iUniverse representative was good enough to stop by and leave the following comment in the company’s defense. I wanted to draw some attention to it for two reasons: first, because I think it’s important to hear from other people on the subject of self-publishing, and second, because I just couldn’t let it stand there without providing additional commentary.

Here is Kevin Gray’s comment, unedited:

Actually, Emily professional editing services are available through iUniverse; and we storngly recommend every author utlize the services of a professional editor — either through iUniverse — or from another source. Because iUniverse is an indie publishing company, authors are free to disregard this advice and push forward without an editor.

Authors are also encouraged to take great care in working with iUniverse in designing their covers. Many authors provide their own artwork or commission the services of a professional illustrator — either through iUniverse or again from an external source. Authors have final signoff on the entire book, including the cover, before the book is put into distribution.

The fact is fewer and fewer “non-superstar” authors are receiving advances from publishers, making indie publishing providers like iUniverse more and more popular. Whether an author chooses to publish through iUniverse, or to utilize another publishing option, we encourage all authors to seek out the assistance of professionals to ensure their books are the best they can be.

Regards,
Kevin A. Gray
iUniverse
kevin.gray @iuniverse.com

First, I don’t dispute that iUniverse sells editing and design services to its customers. But, were Mr. Gray and I to compare notes on what qualifies as a “professional” designer or editor, I fear we might find some real discrepancies. At any rate, I can’t adequately judge the editing capabilities of iUniverse’s editing professionals, because I don’t know which authors chose iUniverse editors and which chose to do their own thing.

Regardless, throwing the blame back on the author—because they have the final say, after all—is to deny (or at the very least minimize) iUniverse’s role in polluting the market with utter crap. (Now, I’m not saying everything that comes from iUniverse is crap, because I haven’t read everything from iUniverse. But I know for a fact that some of what comes from iUniverse is crap, because I’ve had the misfortune of reading it.)

Actually, did I refer to iUniverse as a publisher earlier? Because I didn’t mean to. iUniverse and companies like it are more like printers than publishers. And, dear authors, if you don’t get that, you need only consider which direction the money is flowing.

Maybe operations like these do have a place in the free market, particularly if Mr. Gray’s argument—that traditional publishers are mostly just signing the superstars these days—holds water. However, people shouldn’t be deluded about what’s really going on here.

Writers, I’d just like to close by saying this: if seeing your novel in print is on your bucket list and traditional publishers have rejected your work, why not pay iUniverse to print it and slap it on Amazon.com? I’m all about people dying fulfilled and junk.

If you’ve used iUniverse or a similar service, please share your experience with me in the comments.

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0 thoughts on “My Thoughts on iUniverse

  1. I loved the original review, and I love how you’ve addressed this response. I agree with the poster on the original review that suggested it sounds more like something to come out of a writing workshop than a novel I’d pay $10 to read, even if I were interested in a mystery that focuses on car racing.

    • I’ve read some really entertaining and well-written novels for 99 cents. To charge $10 for Maximum Speed is ridiculous. Unfortunately, I think high prices on self-pub books are a direct result of authors needing desperately to recover the money they shelled out to have it printed in the first place.

  2. I originally published my book with iUniverse. I was royally screwed by them: they took my rights, did not edit my books as they said they would, did not format correctly, and did not provide ANY graphic art even though I paid for it. I tried to get in touch with their people and all I got were automated messages. Finally, I had the legals contact them. I got my rights back with an apology but no refund. Their pricing structure is immovable and their staff is horrid. I discourage everyone from using their services.

  3. My recommendation is to stay clear of all vanity houses, whatever the name.

    Self-publishing, like any self-employment, is a serious business. No kidding 🙂 Those who don’t have a superior product, a clear go-to-market strategy, and a marketing budget won’t make it. Also, you generally need some common sense. Why seek a critical review – by Emily, no less – before taking the book through a professional editor?

    The good news is that there’s a generation of quality-oriented indie writers coming up. I can’t catch up reading excellent, well-edited indie novels. 

    One thing uniting the good indie books I read is that none were “published” by the vanity presses; behind each stands a determined, truly independent professional 🙂

  4. Kevin Gray says:

    Emily,
    I haven’t read the iUniverse title in question, so I can’t judge the quality of this book; but I find it troubling that you would judge a publisher’s entire library based on one or even a small selection of titles. Using this logic would mean that Simon & Schuster puts out books of questionable quality because one of its imprints, Gallery, published Snooki Polizzi’s book.
    Your remark: “Regardless, throwing the blame back on the author—because they have the final say, after all—is to deny (or at the very least minimize) iUniverse’s role in polluting the market with utter crap,” is also puzzling to me. Are all iUniverse titles “utter crap” because they don’t receive the blessings of a gatekeeper?
    If so, by this logic, all blogs would be “utter crap,” and WordPress would be polluting the Internet because unlike content produced by news organizations, blogs aren’t scrutinized by a gatekeeper. Readers judge if a blog is worth reading, and that determines its level of success.
    I would be happy to send a sample of quality iUniverse titles for you to read. Please let me know your preferred genre and how I can get them to you. Thanks for providing this forum for dialog.

    Regards,
    Kevin A. Gray
    kevin.gray @iuniverse.com

    • Kevin, that’s a good answer, and a good example with S&S. But may I offer a thought? 

      The book in question, critically reviewed by Emily, carries your brand name. As such, it’s a testimony to the quality of your offering. The example with blogs is irrelevant, since blogs are all branded by different individuals; there’s no content seller called “blog”.

      I wish you all the success in the world; maybe you should brand only the titles that have had your editing and design touch? Then you won’t have to engage into what book had which part of your service.

    • Paul Little says:

      Kevin, my blog is free. I don’t pay to publish it, and my readers don’t pay to read it. So it’s crap. Who cares? You charge your customers for your services, and they then try to charge for the resultant product. So it’s crap. Who cares?

      Well, the people who purchased Maximum Speed: Pushing The Limit might care when they lament the loss of the ten dollars they might otherwise have invested in Cold-FX shares. The author might care when he or she laments his or her inability to recoup even a small portion of his or her investment, because a good review can’t be found even from the website that advertises, “An Excellent Review Guaranteed,” because even they have some standards.

      The problem with vanity presses, like yours, is the fact that your business is not publishing books, it is selling printing and binding services. Your success in business depends on convincing each and every customer who approaches you that their book is good enough to garner an audience. Yet you risk nothing, because you make no investment in the authors themselves, only in your ability to take advantage of their inexperience and desire for publication. In my personal opinion, you and your ilk are no better than the guys on the street corner dealing three card monte.

  5. Cwashburn39 says:

    I have used iUniverse to publish my book recently.   I am satisfied that they fulfilled the terms of the publishing package I paid for.    It is very difficult for new authors to break into traditional publishing;   I tried about 10 or 11 times.   I recently read that the author of bestseller and recent movie release,  ‘The Help’ made 60 unsuccessful queries to agents and publishers before finding one.  

    It was suggested several times by the iUniverse rep that I purchase additional services but I made it clear from the beginning that I did not intend to do so and I wasn’t unduly pressured.   The people I dealt with responded to my e-mails and I found them to be professional.   I would have preferred having one contact ‘agent’ rather than a series.

    My book appears on websites for online bookstores around the world including Barnes and Noble and Amazon.   One factor that will probably keep me from using them again is cost.   It is difficult at the Royalty rate to even make back  my original cost.   I’m going to look for ways like CreateSpace to reduce the cost.   But for a first time author who is not so computer savvy and needs assistance iUniverse is a reasonable choice if you can afford it.   Just be prepared to edit, revise and edit some more so that the finished product is as error free and as compelling a read as you can make it.

    • “Just be prepared to edit, revise and edit some more so that the finished product is as error free and as compelling a read as you can make it.”

      If you ask me, that’s exactly where the problem lies. All the iUniverse titles I dared to read seem to have been written by authors who totally skipped this step. Thanks for sharing your experience about using iUniverse. I think it might be the most positive testimonial I’ve ever heard.

  6. Ruth says:

    There are ways to do POD that don’t charge you upfront. Use one of them, not these guys. Cover design? Please. When I worked with them they tried to put a disgustingly ugly cover on my book. I ended up with them slapping a word document I sent over as my cover.

  7. new2writing says:

    Wow. I was considering iUniverse as a possible first step in getting my book published. But after reading Mr. Gray’s original response to your comment about getting professional editing services or graphic designers, I sure hope he’s not one of the editors! Now, I know that the word usage etiquette is more relaxed in a blog (being conversational in nature), but there is no excuse for poor spelling or punctuation. Especially when your editorial integrity is in question!

  8. Marilyn Friesen says:

    I got two books done by iUniverse and I know, by the way people read my blogs, that the books must be interesting also. However, it was exTREMEly difficult for me to find catchy enough pictures for the covers that were appropriate for the topics. (Sigh.) But that isn’t all. I was totally overwhelmed by the editing of Two Mother’s, Twin Daughters. You know how it is; an author practically has his/her book memorized and they just CAN’T catch all the errors anymore. Finally I just sent it off because it would have gotten too expensive to make any more corrections. With Mary’s Diary: The Life of Jesus through His Mother’s Eyes, I had the fortune of having a friend as well as a former school teacher, going over it several times so there wasn’t all those glaring typos. I was relieved that Tate Publishers had offered to do a Second Edition of each book because it gave me an opportunity to whip Two Mothers, Twin Daughters into shape. Plus they came up with some very eye catching covers especially for the first one.. Now I understand that Tate might be shady, also??? P.S. I sure haven’t been pushing the books that iUniverse did for me. (Too ashamed especially of Two Mothers)
    I had a book done by a SMALL traditional publisher that sold 3000 copies in just a few short years but I doubt if we have received $70 in Royalties for both of the self-published books put together. Can they be that much worse? (ha ha) I did find the employees very pleasant to deal with, however.

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