iUniverse is a 'Difficult' and 'Unworthy' Publisher

lawson brooks III

Lawson Brooks III is the author of From the Waist Up.

You’ve probably heard this story before, but you haven’t heard it from Lawson Brooks III, author of From the Waist Up. Like the other authors I’ve interviewed, he published with iUniverse and is left with nothing positive to say about the company.

In his own words:

“I had a book published by iUniverse that I’m going to relaunch in the fall for my own publishing company.  iUniverse has been a difficult and unworthy partner from the outset.

First, once your manuscript is submitted, rather than being able to access the PDF document to make changes, I had to by blocks of 25 edits for $100 to make changes.  And if a mistake was made by a staff member, I didn’t get any refunds or additional edits.

Secondly, from the time I signed the initial contract which was the [least expensive package], the up-selling was on.  I got calls and emails telling me that for x number of dollars they could do wonders with my book, although I knew the marketing person had not read it.  More over, with my book costing $16.99, the best discount that I got to buy my book was at 55%, and then I had to by such a volume that the costs were prohibitive.

Finally, as I stated, after staying low key for the required 18 months*, I’m going to re-launch my book under my own company.  Now iUniverse wants me to buy both my PDF and Cover for a fee although I paid for these services up front.”

*Lawson is referring to Schedule A, Section 9 of the contract, which says that production files will be given back to the author for a fee of $750 before 18 months have elapsed and $150 after 18 months have elapsed. So, basically, they rob you to make the files by charging exorbitant prices, and then—if you want to take your book and go home—they rob you again by making you pay for a PDF they already created. (This is the crux of Joan Moran’s iUniverse complaint.)

Not surprisingly, they provided for themselves Section 18, which states: “upon giving thirty (30) days advance written notice, PUBLISHER may terminate publication of the WORK without cause, at which point the rights to the WORK immediately revert to AUTHOR (emphasis mine).”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Author Solutions, Inc. Employee Cries ‘Scam’
iUniverse ‘Trifecta’ Book Review Services a Huge Ripoff
iUniverse Complaints: Interview with Philip J. Reed
5 Ways Author Solutions, Inc. Limits Writers & Authors
Even Employees Don’t Like iUniverse & Author Solutions 

Is iUniverse a Reputable Publisher?*

The short answer to the question above is no. The longer, more descriptive answer is hell no.

In the last five days, search traffic on my blog has pretty much been all iUniverse all the time. There are, of course, a few instances of people searching for images of Keith Ogorek or people searching for iUniverse’s parent company, Author Solutions. But for the most part people are looking for the dirt on iUniverse. And I guess that makes sense; everything I’ve read points to that name having the most brand recognition and the most unhappy customers.

iuniverse complaints search

A sampling of search results leading readers to my series on Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints. (Click to enlarge)

I compiled a few screen shots of the stats for this blog in the image you see on the left. I’ve taken out locations, IP addresses and Host Names here and there. They aren’t relevant for one, but I also don’t want to risk giving away anything that would be an identifier for someone who just wants to browse the web in peace.

It’s not a complete list of search terms, and they’re not all in order. (Sorry, I got a little lazy with the cutting and pasting.) But I think it’s a representative sampling of what goes on in the minds of iUniverse customers. And, if you happen to be someone considering giving iUniverse your money, I think it gives you more than a little perspective. I think it tells you just about everything you need to know.

The following headers are actual search terms that lead people here to Suess’s Pieces. I’ve added a few notes (and links where appropriate) for those wanting more information.

Breach of Contract iUniverse

Earlier, we discussed the fact that parent company Author Solutions was not reporting royalties according to the terms of its contracts. Reports are repeatedly published late, and we have proof that royalty checks were backdated in an attempt to cover up that they were not disbursed on time. This is a breach of the iUniverse contract.

Who Can I Contact at iUniverse to Complain?

No one. You can call and talk to a different person every time, or you can email employees until your fingers fall off, but you’ll get no answer. Here’s the thing: the people of Author Solutions will tell you anything you want to hear on the phone, but they won’t stand by it. So odds are you’ll get fed up and switch to emailing them in order to resolve your issue. However, they’ll stop communicating with you when you do, because they don’t want you to have anything in writing.

When they tell you that you need to speak to Eugene Hopkins about your problem? That’s the kiss of death. That pretty much means you’ve been blacklisted as a customer and you’ll never hear a peep out of anyone again. Oh, he might make a half-hearted attempt to contact you, but he’ll pretend he doesn’t know anything about your situation. Still if you just want some email addresses, here you go:

kweiss@authorsolutions.com (Kevin Weiss, President and CEO)
kogorek@authorsolutions.com (Keith Ogorek, Marketing VP)
ehopkins@authorsolutions.com (Eugene Hopkins, Client Services Manager)

If you’re looking for more information about customer service at iUniverse and Author Solutions, I suggest reading all of the interviews on the Author Solutions & iUniverse Index page.

Why Does iUniverse Change Its Staff?

For an answer to this question, I point you to two articles: Author Solutions, Inc. Employee Cries ‘Scam’ and Even Employees Don’t Like iUniverse & Author Solutions. This gist of it is that turnover rates are always high at places where people don’t want to work. But it’s probably about more than just sheer turnover rate if you can’t get in touch with the same contact twice. iUniverse and Author Solutions toss you from one person to the next by design in the hopes you’ll get so confused and so frustrated you just give up.

Is Author Solutions Going Out of Business?

author solutions bloomington indiana

This picture was taken in May 2012 at ASI headquarters in Bloomington, IN. You can still see where the AuthorHouse name and logo had once been.

Not soon enough, in my opinion. Though I have a feeling companies like these don’t ever die, they just change their name(s) and start over. Just to be safe, I’d steer clear of anything associated with Bertram Capital (ASI’s holding company) and Kevin Weiss.

Others have suggested that the big guys running iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, et al. don’t know what their minions are up to. That people like Kevin Weiss, Keith Ogorek and Eugene Hopkins can only be guilty of hiring the incompetent.

Whatever. These people aren’t chancing the company’s future by unwittingly hiring college students that may or may not run the entire business into the ground. They know exactly who they’re using.

*For the sake of clarity: I am not and never will be an iUniverse customer. All information I have collected comes from continued research and the first-hand accounts of actual iUniverse customers. 

One More Reason to Stay the Hell Away From iUniverse

iuniverse hate mailI know! Like you needed more, right?

What you’ll find below is my first iUniverse-related hate mail. For the record, I have no way of verifying that this email, sent via my contact submission form, was indeed written by the author. After all, I know of at least two times Author Solutions people came to my blog and left comments pretending to be authors.

That said, I think it is genuine. And at any rate, with even a 1% chance that it was written by the actual author, I removed the contents of the review. What iUniverse did to her was way worse than what they did to me.

For what it’s worth, my opinion of the work hasn’t changed. I am sorry the review hurt the author, but it was and is my opinion as a reader. I say this to ALL authors, not just the one in question: If you can’t handle reviews, don’t ask for them. If you didn’t want reviews in the first place, fire the people requesting them for you.

If you care to know more about my response to her accusations, it’s already in this blog. The story hasn’t changed. Happy reading … if you’ve got the time.

I would like to draw special attention to one thing she writes for the benefit of any other author considering using iUniverse (or any of the scads of other Author Solutions brands):

“yes I was set up and I didn’t know you were approached to review my book”

If you need more reasons to avoid these companies, I recommend reading through the full list of iUniverse complaints.

Name: [redacted]

Email: xxxxxx@xxxxxxxx.com

Comments: Emily, I waited a year to let you know how cruel and vicious you are and your pathetic apology about your ex-husband setting you you up with reviewing iUniverse authors is also a half-baked attempt of clearing your conscience. I don’t know where to begin maybe it was your your pre-prejudiced crucifixion of my book…before you even read it, then getting your syncophants to agree with you is even more reprehensible I hope you find some typos so you can feel morally superior … I published through a traditional publsher a very popular interior design book several years ago. I taught brain damaged deaf children for ten years and even had my hero in [title redacted] overcome a stutter but no you just focused on the length of my book…and by the way there are a lot of classic books that are of the same length as mine, and the inconsistent Boston accent of a character. When did you ever publish a book? You get off by tearing down people to make yourself feel superior. How you decimated your relationship with [She uses the full name of my asshat ex-husband here. If you want to know what it is, email me.] on your blog for over two years is pretty disgusting but it did get you a faithful following of malcontents ..misery loves company. I digress yes I was set up and I didn’t know you were approached to review my book. Kf I had known I would never have given my permission since I wouldn’t have been impressed with your credentials in being a self-annointed book reviewer and then you having the audacity to charge people money* for your condescending insults. It’s one thing to offer constructive criticism but shame on you to voice your toxic opinions and to declare my book as polluting the the universe is utterly reprehensible and hate filled aside from being libelus. You don’t even deserve this e-mail and I can already hear your mind at work on how to get even with me when it is you who should apologize and even retract my review which I know you’ll never do because you are never wrong. Here’s to you and your lack of conscience. Instead of wondering what the consequences are to your actions and what your toxicity does to people maybe you should think about what if your church members knew how you mistreat people all in the name of Emily Suess’s sanctimonious and holier than thou attitude. You should be ashamed of yourself and take a long hard look at your actions and philosophy of life.

*To date no one has paid me a cent to review a book, certainly not iUniverse or any author. If iUniverse charged you a fee for my review, I recommend you sue them and then tell the whole world about it.

Vagina: Say It With Me Now!

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Post or a schedule a tweet for tomorrow, June 16, 2012 at 12:00 noon Eastern. Use the hashtag #vagina and mention @MIHouseGOP. Organizers are pushing to send one million tweets.[/box]

I’d just like to take a little time on this beautiful Friday to say vagina.

Vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina.

Because that’s what it’s called. And it’s 2012. And it’s always okay to talk about the parts of me some penis-having Troglodyte wants to legislate.

Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield).

Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield)

We’re reaching this point where every political story to come out of this country reads like something from The Onion, and frankly, I find it terrifying. The most recent story to invoke my outrage is the one where Michigan Republicans are barring two elected female representatives from speaking in the state House because one dared to be anatomically correct and the other—to illustrate her legislative point—dared to suggest state regulation of vasectomies.

When I first read the story, all I could think was, Really, America?

But then I remembered some things, and this creepy reality that is 21st Century America actually started to make sense in my mind.

***

In 1997, I was a junior in high school, and I took an American history class taught by a man we called Mr. Lackey. (Because that was his name.) Mr. Lackey gave off this 95%-of-you-teenagers-are-idiots vibe that seemed somehow unsuitable for a person in his position. However, a great deal of his students were idiots and never really caught on.

Anyway, Mr. Lackey was always testing us with what I considered to be these random, obtuse exercises. At the time, I thought it was to see if any of us had a lick of common sense.  One morning, for one particular exercise, he informed us that we’d go around the room one at a time and each of us would recite all or part of a famous quote. My seat was in the middle of the room, so upon hearing this, I became a little nervous that all of the famous quotes I could conjure from the recesses of my memory would be used up by the time my turn came around.

The first student started with “Four score and seven years ago.” The next came up with, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The third wavered for a while but finally came up with, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Student four was out. Just gave up. And then for two more rows, the students dropped like flies.

Mr. Lackey decided to prod the girl in front of me for a bit, just to make her sweat. “Really?” he said. “You can’t think of even three or four words of a famous quote.”

“No,” she kept replying. “I just don’t know.” She shook her head and looked down at her arms folded in her lap. Total defeat.

Mr. Lackey looked at me, and I said, “I have a dream…” And all the students who had previously given up without a fight exhaled together a collective “D’oh!”

***

A few weeks later, Mr. Lackey posited the following question to us: What would it take to make all abortion illegal?

You see, it’s common practice in the state of Indiana—and it has been for some time—for a great majority of citizens to elect politicians based solely on their stance on abortion. I know our fine state is not alone on that count.

At any rate, Mr. Lackey presented us with that question. I knew the answer immediately, but I always hated speaking out in class and decided to wait for someone else to raise a hand. Only no one did. There was only silence and the disapproving, hopeless look on Mr. Lackey’s face.

I couldn’t take it anymore, so I raised a hand. Mr. Lackey told me to go ahead.

“Well,” I said. “You’d have to get the Supreme Court to reverse their decision. And that would probably take some new justices. But the odds of them rehashing something like that in the first place…” I felt the eyes of my classmates on me, so I stopped talking.

Mr. Lackey smiled. He picked up where I left off, discussing the idea and all of its complexities.

***

Back then, I just thought of myself as smarter than most of my classmates, but that’s not really what was going on (much as I wish it were true). The thing is that I was just willing to use my brain in a different way than the rest of my peers. They were used to being spoon-fed information and then regurgitating it for a test. They lived their whole lives like that, actually.

Q: Who loves you?
A. Jesus.

Q: What does Jesus also love?
A: Fetuses.

Q: So who should you vote for?
A: Republicans.

So when Mr. Lackey asked us to recite a quote or explain how to overturn Roe v. Wade, it’s no wonder his questions were frequently met with quiet drooling and blank stares. And here I am at 32, my peers and their parents are running stuff nowadays, and so many of them still have their heads filled with the Right Answers™ that they’ve forgotten how to think about questions.

So when these political parrots reach into their memory banks for the correct response to the word “vagina” being uttered in the House, they come up with nothing. Inside their heads a red light flashes and an alarm sounds. That must be one of the words we are not allowed to say. Profanity! Profanity!

***

In my mind’s eye, I can see Mr. Lackey standing in front of a room of high school juniors asking, “Can anyone tell me what the medical term for a hoochie is?”

If I were there, I hope I wouldn’t be too shy to shout, “VAGINA!”

iUniverse and Author Solutions AdWords Scam Discovered

The folks at iUniverse and Author Solutions are being called out again. Only this time playwright Ian Walker discovers that Google is involved in their shenanigans. iUniverse sends a 20-page excerpt of Walker’s work to Google Books, and a finger-pointing game ensues as Walker discovers an AdWords campaign for his book. Once again, someone is pocketing the author’s cash, but of course it isn’t the author.

If you have any interest at all in self-publishing, you should watch this video in its entirety. It’s well-articulated, it’s smart, and it’s just one more reason not to trust Bertram Capital, Author Solutions, Gene Hopkins or Kevin Weiss.

From the YouTube description:

“Back in 2010 I discovered that Google Books—in cahoots with my publisher Author Solutions / iUniverse—was raising revenue on one of my books in secret.”

Jean Rikhoff Takes iUniverse & Author Solutions Complaints to Indiana Attorney General

By now the complaints against iUniverse and its parent company, Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. In fact, you may be getting a little weary of reading them. But here’s the thing: ASI and it’s vanity presses are deceitful and predatory companies. I can’t in good conscience stop writing about them, because authors shopping for a way to publish need access to real stories like the ones Lawrence, Joan, Mark, Philip, and Jodie have agreed to tell.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller

Today Jean Rikhoff, author of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (iUniverse), has agreed to tell her story. Jean was born in 1928 and has also published two trilogies: the Timble Trilogy, made up of Dear Ones All, Voyage In, Voyage Out, and Rites of Passage, and the trilogy of the North Country, consisting of Buttes Landing, One of the Raymonds, and The Sweetwater.

Instead of the standard interview format I’ve used for previous authors, Jean has agreed to share correspondence with us. Her letters to the Indiana Attorney General are linked below. I’ve summarized and highlighted some of the details in those letters for you, but you can read the full-text PDFs by clicking on the links.

Complaint Against iUniverse of Bloomington, Indiana (December 10, 2011): Jean talks about the “good” iUniverse and the “bad” iUniverse, referring to the differences in the company’s practices before and after ASI became the owner of iUniverse. She has included email correspondence from representatives to support her statements. Some of Jean’s formal complaints include:

  • iUniverse assured her they could embed the pictures she wanted included in her book. They gave her a contract and took her money, but later told her their machines were not able to print her books as she had requested.
  • Once Jean was turned over to the editorial staff at iUniverse, she received numerous phone calls about services not covered under her initial package. They told her she would want to take them because she had been awarded Editor’s Choice, a tactic Jean charmingly refers to as a “buttering up for the skinning.”
  • Jean was sold copy editing services from iUniverse that she was told would cost close to $400. She agreed, and her credit card was charged $3,794.33. She disputed the charges with her credit card company.
  • She went over the “editing” iUniverse provided and found more than 100 errors.
  • Jean attempted to get resolution for her issues, but iUniverse employees stopped responding to her. She emailed at least four different employees. Finally someone named Joseph said he couldn’t help, but he’d try to get someone who could. Her original contact was gone, there was a “reorganization” within the company.
  • Jean eventually got a final proof that was riddled with formatting problems and copyediting errors, even though they’d charged her nearly $4,000 for editorial review. When she complained, the response from iUniverse was, “The designers do not go page by page looking at the formatting.”
  • Jean got a lawyer who spoke to Eugene Hopkins weekly and daily for a few weeks. He stopped talking to Jean’s lawyer until she threatened to take things to the next step. When he finally spoke to the attorney again, he pretended not to know anything about the lawyer, Jean, or her book.
  • Jean got one softcover and one hardcover book; she never received the remaining author copies she paid for as part of her initial publishing package.
  • They spelled her name wrong on the jacket, despite her correcting this on the proof numerous times.
  • Royalties were never paid.

iuniverse sucksLetter to Indiana Attorney General’s Office Re: December 10, 2011 iUniverse Complaint (January 27, 2012): Jean responds to communication from Fran Marburgh, a representative at Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office. It appears they misunderstood her complaint. Jean reiterates that since Author Solutions, Inc. took over iUniverse, she had not received royalty reports or payments on previously published works that the “good” iUniverse took over before the buyout.

Follow-up Letter to Indiana Attorney General’s Office Re: January 27, 2012 (February 22, 2012): Jean reminds Fran Marburgh that this is not a single case and that the attorney general’s responsibility is to investigate the claims of Author Solutions’ customers. Jean spells out her complaints again, including the following:

  • iUniverse admitted that the manuscript, when finished, was never checked by anyone.
  • iUniverse did not answer queries from either Jean or her lawyers for weeks at a time. Her lawyer had to phone them EVERY day to try to get answers.
  • Jean’s book was NOT listed on Amazon.com as iUniverse promised until Jean’s lawyer threatened to sue them.

Final Letter to Indiana Attorney General’s Office (March 4, 2012): Essentially, the Indiana Attorney General is treating Jean’s case as an isolated incident. However, we know that Author Solutions has violated the terms of their contract with authors by failing to report royalties on time and failing to make payments on time. Jean asks how many complaints are needed to move the inquiry from simple mediation to investigation.

As time permits, I will be attempting to help iUniverse authors submit their complaints formally to the Attorney General’s office. If you would like assistance with this process, please get in touch. If you want to submit a complaint electronically, use the Indiana Attorney General’s Online Complaint Form.

In the meantime, tell all your friends to avoid Author Solutions and all related companies. Here’s a list of associated brands for your convenience:

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]PARENT/HOLDING COMPANIES:
Bertram Capital
Author Solutions

BOOKS:
Author House
iUniverse
XLibris
Trafford
Palibrio
Publish in the USA
Abbott Press
Balboa  (Hay House-branded line)
WestBow  (Thomas Nelson-branded line)
Inspiring Voices  (Guideposts Magazine-branded line)
Legacy Keepers

MODERN MEDIA:
FuseFrame   (Previously Author Solutions Films)
Pitchfest   (Authors pay to come pitch their stories for film adaptations)
Author Learning Center  (Online learning tool hoping you’ll forget to cancel your credit card after the free trial ends)
WordClay  (Abandoned ebook imprint)
BookTango  (New ebook imprint)
AuthorHive (Book Marketing)

MISCELLANEOUS ASSOCIATIONS/PARTNERSHIPS:
Meredith Vieira Productions
Kirkus Reviews
Clarion ForeWord Reviews
BlueInk Reviews[/box]

Read the complete iUniverse Complaints Index

Open Letter to Author Solutions Veep Keith "Shiggles" Ogorek

keith ogorek author solutionsDear Keith,

Long time no see! Seems like only a month or so ago, you were eagerly dropping comments on this blog on behalf of everyone’s favorite vanity press, iUniverse. Where’d you go?

You’re not mad at me are you? Kevin told me you were sulking the whole weekend because I hadn’t Photoshopped your mug shot or written you a letter. Well, situation remedied, big boy! I hope you like the pic and find it was worth the wait. Honestly? I think it’s the best one, and you can tell Kev I said so. There’s just something about yours that screams “I was a childhood bully!”

I dig that about you, Shiggles.

Anyway, remember that one comment you left me here on Suess’s Pieces where you were all like, “In the interest of fairness and for the benefit of your readers, would you like to interview someone from iUniverse?” You volunteered yourself, saying you looked forward to the questions I might give you. But then I hastily said, “Let-me-think-about-that-no!”

Well, sometimes a girl makes mistakes, Shiggles. And I regret that decision now, because I do have a few questions for you. I hope you will answer them.

  • As Marketing VP at Author Solutions and an upstanding member of Pretty White Church, do you feel like Jesus has called you to laugh at your customer’s books or do you find it’s just easier to compartmentalize your everyday behavior and your religion?
  • Which book titles on your office shelf provide the heartiest guffaws?
  • Are you more satisfied when your employees coax the life savings out of single moms or retirees?
  • I see you’re a writer too, and apparently a pretty good one. Three whole books! (Plus, I assume you’re practically famous by now, what with the outstanding marketing services of Author Solutions, Inc. at your dispos…oh, wait.) Back to the books. Do you know that 100% of your Amazon.com reviews for your children’s book Eli the Stable Boy are five star reviews? Do you also know that 18% of those reviewers have the last name Ogorek? And do you know that of the 11 people that wrote a review for Eli, 73% never reviewed another thing on Amazon.com again, ever?
  • Since you’ve written a book for a men’s Bible study on worldview, I’d like to talk a little bit about your own worldview and how it has shaped your career. Would you say that a lifetime of Biblical misogynistic teaching is the reason why you gave Lawrence Fisher his money back while refusing to even return the emails of Joan Moran and Jodi Foster? If not, how would you explain the differences in treatment?

You can send me an email at emily at emilysuess dot com with your reply, or you can just put your interview responses in the comments here. Either way, I can’t wait to hear from you.

xoxox,

Emily

P.S. If a box of What Would Shiggles Do bracelets gets shipped to Author Solutions HQ, it wasn’t me. But please send one to my P.O. Box.