Today we’re talking to Mark Thornton—one of iUniverse’s early customers—about his experience publishing The Souls of Dumah with the company. His story suggests iUniverse maintains a long-running reputation for customer dissatisfaction.
For those who don’t know, iUniverse was purchased by Author Solutions, Inc. in 2007, but the only thing iUniverse has to show after more than a decade in business is an 846% increase in prices since the days when Mark first published his book.
Here’s Mark’s story:
ES: Tell us about how you started working with iUniverse.
Thornton: I was one of the first authors to publish with iUniverse back in 2000. They published my novel The Souls of Dumah for $95.
For that price I did all of the editing. However, they allowed me one free rewrite or subedit before it went to print, which was tedious. It had to be done line-by-line filling out a form and detailing what I needed to correct. (page 234, line three etc.)
They sent me about ten sample copies when the book was published, and the first thing I noticed was that they had printed two chapters twice in two different places. They did correct it for free.
As promised, soon my book was available to order (Print on Demand) at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon in paperback or hardcover.
ES: Were you happy with the results?
Thornton: I was pleased with the way my book looked and how people could read the first chapter online. As all new authors, I bought several copies and friends bought copies—at least fifty books were sold that I know of.
It was fun to walk into Barnes & Noble in NYC and order a copy of my book. (It only took a week to get it, which I thought was pretty quick). Then, after a year I got my first commission check, it was less than $3.00!
Now 12 years later, my book is somehow available all over the Internet on many websites all over the world. I have even found it for sale in obscure bookshops in Europe, and now it’s available as an e-book for Kindle or Nook. But following that $3.00 check, I have seen only one other royalty check, and it was for less than $5.00.
ES: Besides minimal royalties, have you had any problems with iUniverse?
Thornton: Yes, the first edition of my book (the one with the misprinted chapters) is for sale on eBay. I can tell it’s the erroneous book because at the time the correction was made, I also changed the cover from white to black. It’s easy to spot the copies with misprinted chapters. They should have been destroyed.
ES: What kind of response did you get from the people at iUniverse?
Thornton: I have had several conversations with iUniverse and it’s always the same story: “Barnes & Noble or (insert bookseller) must not have sent in their sales reports (for the past 12 years!)” It’s the same with all the other websites and bookstores. They admit that they have sold copies of my book, but they tell me that they don’t pay the author until the website or bookstore sells a copy and reports the sale back to them. Even though iUniverse has already been paid in full before the books were shipped!
At least that’s my understanding from a thirty-minute conversation with some customer service rep who was nice but clueless. It was like trying to talk to a parrot.
ES: Do you feel that iUniverse provides a legitimate and useful service for authors?
Thornton: Over the years I have had many sales calls from reps at iUniverse trying to sell me marketing plans. The most recent – a guy from India [Editor’s Note: At present, Author Solutions, the parent company, has offices in Bloomington, IN and the Philippines] – told me my book would make a great movie, and for only $995 he could get it in the hands of movie producers in Hollywood.
After asking a couple of questions, it was obvious that he had not read one word of my novel. He knew nothing about it.
ES: What advice do you have for writers considering Author Solutions imprints, including iUniverse?
Thornton: If you just want your book “out there”—online available to order at Barnes & Noble or Amazon—iUniverse will deliver. But it’s my understanding that now they charge authors thousands of dollars. [Editor’s note: The cheapest iUniverse package is now $899; the most expensive is $4,449*. That’s before add-ons.]
But if you want to make money on your hard work, avoid iUniverse. They will sell your book and pay you nothing. I’ve had two commission statements from them in 12 years and made less than $10.00.
*Amounts correct according to the company’s website on 5/10/2012.