Today I’m publicizing the story of Jodi Foster, author of Forgotten Burial: A Restless Spirit’s Plea for Justice. When we first started talking, Jodi informed me that iUniverse had asked her to stop airing her complaints and contacting other authors.
Ha!That’s when I knew I just had to publish her story here on Suess’s Pieces.
Today’s interview is yet another call for iUniverse and other Author Solutions companies to be held accountable for their actions.
Like Jodi told me a couple of weeks ago, “We as authors and consumers need to ban together and stand up for our rights as artists. We should not be bullied by iUniverse or be afraid.”
Jodi names names in her account. In most cases I have used only the first initial of the employee’s last name; for Eugene Hopkins I’ve made an exception. His name is already all over the internet and is suggested as a contact by former employees.
ES: At what point did you realize you’d been scammed?
Foster: iUniverse has some real good sales people that could sell ice water to an Eskimo. After writing my book and having it professionally edited by Meredith Cooper, Managing editor for Chico News and Review, I was ready for self-publishing. I researched and saw that iUniverse was number one in self-publishing on a Google search. However, after more research I realized that Xlibris, the other company I was looking at, was part of Author Solutions, the parent company that owned both publishers. Since iUniverse was number one, I chose to go with them. I am really sorry I did.
Kathy W. sold me on the Bookstore Premier Pro package, which I purchased for $1,499. This program qualified me for Rising Star and Editor’s Choice, supposedly two prestigious writing awards offered through iUniverse. I thought the amount of money she was asking for seemed pricey. I told Kathy I was a low-income single mom with two kids, and it was going to be a stretch for me to pay this amount of money, but she was a convincing sales woman. I knew I had a great book on my hands that had been read and reviewed and edited by a newspaper editor, an elementary teacher, and a college professor. My book, Forgotten Burial: A Restless Spirit’s Plea for Justice, was even connected to a New York Times best seller, published by Random House. I asked Kathy if there would be any other future costs and she said no. I went ahead and took my savings, and bought the package. Well guess what…iUniverse lied, I soon found out that there were other hidden costs.
After I sent the money I uploaded my manuscript to iUniverse. Two weeks later I got an e-mail that said they loved my book and it would qualify for their Editors Choice program; however, my manuscript needed a developmental edit. I said to Kathy, “My book has been professionally edited already and proofread three times.” Apparently I was going to have to spend more money to have iUniverse do it again.
She said, “If you want to reach the Editor’s Choice, which I am sure you will, and have iUniverse get behind you to market your book, you will I have to buy a developmental edit for, $4196.26.
I said, “Are you kidding me? I already had my manuscript professionally edited.” She convinced me it was not good enough for these prestigious awards, and I soon found myself on a payment plan.
Stupid, naive me. This is when I realized I was being scammed.
After paying, I did receive these awards. I was promised my book was going to be promoted by iUniverse due to the fabulous content, nature and the remarkable writing.
Hummmm, weird, I thought because not much in the developmental edit had changed. My story was still the same, with only a few minor adjustments. I was mad that I had to spend so much money for such minor changes, but Kathy again and again promised me Marketing! Marketing! Marketing! And, now that I received Rising Star, iUniverse would be promoting and pitching my book to bigger publishing houses. This sounded good at first. However, once again I was misled.
Yes, I was given a marketing consultant, Brian H. He told me iUniverse has a bi-yearly magazine that features all the Rising Star Authors and that they would be pitching my book to agents who produced movies and TV shows. I was excited at first but, unfortunately, the only thing I actually got from Brian H. was another sales pitch to buy a marketing package for $3,999.
Grrr…. anger is a kind word for what I was feeling. Misled again.
I told Kathy W. there was already a lot of information out there regarding my story. If I had received Rising Star and Editor’s Choice, why did I have to pay more money for marketing? She said that her job with me was over and that it was no longer her job. My book was now in the hands of Brian H. Well, Brian H. did absolutely nothing for me except try and sell me more unneeded BS.
All iUniverse did was print my book, give me a hard time, and exploit me for money. And if this wasn’t painful enough? After printing, I received the cost for each book. I was not expecting to sell as many books as I did. So I questioned iUniverse’s customer service about their prices and asked where all my money was being spent. Basically, an author only receives $1.60 per book, a topic not discussed when you are purchasing your POD package. This is what I received from Sherry T., who apparently works under Pamela H., for costumer relations at iUniverse:
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I am providing you this information so that you’ll be aware about how you can earn and maximize the full potential of your book. I’ll be sending you an email as well that contains the Guide to Smart Self Promotion and please take time to read through it.
Here’s your copy of your Author Volume Discount.
Soft Cover retail price: $17.95:
Copies Discount Price Per Book 1-24
Hard Cover retail price: $27.95
Copies Discount Price Per Book 1-24
Here’s why YOU need to purchase copies of your book with us:
1) You get the highest margin when you sell books directly.
Bookstores take 40% of your revenue when you sell through them, your royalty is always higher on direct sales (remember, the discount you get translates directly into a higher percentage of the sale in your pocket) than on Web sales. Web royalties are fixed. Direct sales profit grows the more books you order.
2) You build word-of-mouth publicity and reader loyalty when you get in front of your target market.
Meeting your readers is the best way to get them involved and talking about your book. Appearing before a group will always generate more book sales than advertising, direct mail or publicity. You get a chance to have a meaningful interaction with your readers, and they remember this.
3) Events create opportunities for media exposure.
The media is event-driven. A book signing, public speaking engagement, creative event, or presentation is always a better draw for media attention than just a press release because it is an event.
Larger volumes create an even greater profit margin for YOU!!!
1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington IN 47403
P: 877.820.5395 ext 8243
ES: When did you realize they weren’t paying accurate royalties?
Foster: After all the initial hard work and heartache, I did all my promoting and marketing myself. I got my story in newspapers, radio and TV. I knew I had a great story and so did others. I received great book reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other web sites, and I have my own web site, http://jodifoster.net/. Due to all of my promotion, I was contacted by the Syfy channel to do a one-hour episode on my story. It will air in October 2012. The show is called “Paranormal Witness.”
What I find funny is that even with all the promotion I did, iUniverse tells me that I haven’t sold but a total of 49 books in the 3rd quarter (July, August, Sept, 2011) and 70 books in the 4th quarter (October, Nov, Dec 2011). I know this is a lie, and I have proof that I have sold more then was being reported through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
In fact, after I called customer service at least 50 times to no avail, I finally got a call from Pamela H. She was completely incompetent and downright mean. She said, “We will publish anyone’s book, we are not going to market and hold an author’s hand. That is the author’s job; we are simply a POD [print on demand] company.”
I got mad and reminded her that I hired her, and that IUniverse was working for me, not the other way around. iUniverse did not represent themselves as a simple POD when they were selling me their services. I insisted she send me proof of my sales and royalties and explain where their 80% was being spent. This is what she sent me:
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Your book now has the EC and RS icons with it on the iUniverse online bookstore. The book is also listed under the links for these recognition programs.
Royalties are figured as 20% of the net sale.
The equation always begins with the cover price minus the vendor discount. The resulting amount is the net sale, of which the author receives 20%.
Some of the expenses covered by the portion iUniverse receives are listed below.
Printing and binding costs using POD equipment
- Pay IT staff and system maintenance which runs the iUniverse online bookstore, the author’s myUniverse site, and accounting’s system. IT helps compile data from vendors for posting sales and royalties
- Pay accounting staff
- Cut, stuff, and mail royalty checks
- Pay Customer Support staff to be available 24/7 to assist with concerns and answer questions, and the expenses to maintain their system and equipment such as computers, phones, server, etc.
- Pay staff member to complete the procedure for reassigning royalties when authors want the royalties to go to a family member or a LLC company, or in the event of the death of the author
- Pay staff members who work with distributors and vendors to make certain quality standards are maintained and to make sure processes continue to flow smoothly
- Pay for staff members to work towards other opportunities for our authors such as the current negotiations for our eBooks to be carried by a distributor, which would allow libraries to carry eBooks much as they do printed books.
This is a sample of things which benefit authors, many of which are behind the scenes.
Customer Support Supervisor
1663 Liberty Drive Suite 200
Bloomington, IN 47403
1-800-authors, ext. 3
My hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm EST.
After all my calls to customer service and complaining, and becoming a part of a Facebook page of authors who were being screwed by iUniverse. I finally got a call from Mr. Eugene Hopkins who requested I show him my proof of my book sales.
Now, mind you, his request for proof came after his comment suggesting people lied to me about buying my book just to shut me up, and I quote the explanation given for such low sales numbers, from the lips of Eugene himself:
“I have lied to girl scouts in front of Wal-Mart and told them I already bought cookies just so I didn’t have to talk to them or purchase any cookies.”
Are you kidding me? This was his professional explanation for their discrepancy in book sales. I refused to give him the source of my proof. During this conversation, Mr. Hopkins asked me to stop contacting other authors from IUniverse about my issues. I didn’t keep my mouth shut. I knew I couldn’t have been the only one who experienced iUniverse’s deceit.
ES: Did you ever get a refund?
Foster: Yes, three days after our conversation I received a refund for the marketing package I purchased, but not for the initial publishing package.
Then I requested from Eugene Hopkins, Pamela H., and customer service paperwork detailing all sales and royalties of my book from all sources. Guess what? None of the reports I received from any of them added up. Their own internal reports didn’t even match.
When I asked customer service about accounting practices, they passed the buck and told me that there must be some kind of error in IT. All I can say is that iUniverse should be held accountable to all authors for their misrepresentation. There should be a class action lawsuit against them.
ES: What happens next for you?
Foster: The good news is, I continued to pursue other avenues and I got a real literary agent in New York who saw the potential of my book and recognized the writing and storytelling abilities I have. My story will appear on a number one Syfy show in October, and my dreams of being the author of a great book are becoming reality—without IUniverse.
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