A PR Lesson from Author Solutions & Chick-Fil-A

author solutions jared silverstone

While going through the list of people who recently circled me on Google+ today, I came across a guy named Jared Silverstone from Bloomington, Indiana.

Bloomington rings bells for me, not just because it’s a couple of counties south, but because it has the rather distinct misfortune of being the home of Author Solutions (ASI) headquarters.

Sure enough, when I clicked through I discovered that “Awesome Publishing Consultant” Jared Silverstone is an ASI employee.

Huge eye roll. Being followed by these scum bags is nothing new. They’ve followed me (and dozens of friends) on Twitter too. I once thought this was dubious on their part, but it happened with such frequency that I’m now of the opinion they auto-follow accounts. Someone mentions a certain user or keyword and BAM!

By the way, in case any of you are wondering, that’s NOT in the best practices manual for social media relations. It’s the cheap, lazy, show-me-the-numbers way to use social media.

So back to Jared. Aside from the fact that he’s posted only a handful of ASI-centric posts since March 2012, Jared looks just a little too hipster to be hipster, doesn’t he?

the real jared

That’s because—surprise!—Jared Silverstone isn’t real. Click through a few pages of istockphoto.com  search results for “mustache,” and you’ll find our precious Jared, sans the green filter makeover and the slightly off center crop job. Before Author Solutions paid for his likeness, Jared looked a little something like (okay, maybe EXACTLY like) the watermarked guy on the right.

You’ve seen something like this before, haven’t you? That’s right. Remember that whole Abby Farle – Chick-Fil-A – Facebook debacle?

This is shitty, hack PR. And not only does this kind of sideways promotion not sit right with real consumers who demand honesty and transparency in business and in social media, but it makes all Author Solutions employees look bad (again). It also makes the company’s new parents, Pearson and Penguin, look bad (again).

And I have to point something else out: because Indianapolis’ Bohslen PR is the firm of record for Author Solutions, Bohlsen Group looks bad too.

Did ASI really just give their PR firm bad PR? Or was this a group effort?

If anyone from Author Solutions, Pearson, Penguin or Bohlsen wants to comment for the record, you know where to find me.

UPDATE 11:32: Apparently Jared’s on Facebook too. Why don’t you friend him up?
UPDATE 11:39: And Twitter @JaredSilverston (although, that one seems to have fizzled early)
UPDATE 8/31/12: GalleyCat picked up the news and reported on the story yesterday. Author Solutions later issued a statement to GalleyCat.

[box border=”full”]Don’t miss the complete list of complaints against Author Solutions and its imprints.[/box]

Writers' Week 2012 FAQ

When is Writers’ Week 2012?

Writers’ Week is an annual event on Suess’s Pieces. This year, it takes place Monday, September 10 through Friday, September 14, and the theme is self-publishing.

Why should I attend Writers’ Week?

  • It’s free!
  • Writers’ Week gives you the chance to learn from writing and publishing pros.
  • The Writers’ Week self-publishing directory will connect writers with other industry talent from editors and marketers to illustrators and cover designers.
  • There’s a fun writing contest for bloggers. You can win stuff.
  • Social media events give you the chance to network with certifiable word nerds just like you.

Who runs Writers’ Week?

Officially, Writers’ Week is coordinated by me, Emily Suess. But I don’t do it all alone. Many volunteers donate their time and talents. This year four gracious writers have donated a collaborative short story to benefit Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, several experts have written guest posts for the event, and two judges have given up their free time to help judge the writing contest entries.

What’s on the schedule for this year’s event?

An official schedule with specific dates and times will be announced closer to Writers’ Week. For now, here are some schedule highlights:

  • The hella fun Writers’ Week writing contest kicks off on Monday, September 10.
  • For $1 you’ll be able to purchase a digital copy of the short story “Ten Mississippi” by Johann Thorsson, Len Berry, Claire Ryan and Rachel Brody and edited by Emily Suess. All proceeds will benefit the kids at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.*
  • There will be giveaways every day of the week.
  • During the Twitter chat, you can share your self-publishing tips and tricks and get your burning questions answered.

Who can enter the writing contest?

Anyone. The contest will include a number of prompts to choose from, but I leave the genre wide open. You can write an essay, a blog post, a short story, a poem, an open letter — anything. If you think of yourself as a blogger but not a writer, get over it. Enter the contest.

What is the Writers’ Week Round-Robin Short Story?

One day I asked the fine people of Twitter if anyone would be interested in volunteering to write part of a round-robin short story for charity. Four writers from three different countries said, “I will!” Each of them agreed to take a section of the story for about two weeks, write what they could, and then send it on to the next writer in line. If I gush about these people, it’s because they are some of the most generous and giving people I’ve never met in real life. Their story will well sell for $1 and all the proceeds will go to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Will there be prizes?

Yes, I’m still getting the details all worked out, but you can probably expect PayPal cash or giftcards for the winners of the writing contest. Also, I’m working out the particulars with the fine folks at Literature & Latte—they’ve donated a couple of copies of Scrivener writing software. (Woohoo!) There will also be daily book and goodie giveaways, you know, if entering the writing contest isn’t your thing but you still want cool stuff.

Can I volunteer to help with Writers’ Week?

Of course! If you’d like to help, contact me with your idea.

Can I advertise during Writers’ Week?

You can include your business in the Self-Publishing Services Directory if your company helps authors through any part of the self-publishing process (marketing, design, editing, formatting, illustration, etc). It’s free to advertise in the directory as long as you submit your listing by August 31, 2012. Starting September 1, entries will cost $3.

The only other way to advertise your business is to contribute in some way — write a guest post, donate a prize, volunteer as a judge. In exchange for your service to our community of writers, I’ll help you promote your business or personal site in several ways: sidebar links, content links, and social media sharing. Contact me by September 1, 2012 if you’re interested in contributing in some way.

*At the end of Writers’ Week, I run (jog? walk-jog?) the annual Al’s Run 8k in Milwaukee, WI. Rather than collect traditional sponsorship donations this year, the sale of “Ten Mississippi” will help me fundraise for the event.

You Decide: Is This Author Solutions Review Legit?

Author Solutions Review

There’s another Author Solutions employee review up on GlassDoor.com. And I don’t really know what to say about it, except that it’s weird. It’s written like the person moved on to greener pastures, but then the reviewer describes him/herself as a “Current Anonymous Employee in Indianapolis, IN.”

My favorite line is this:

“Wish the upper management would’ve been more personable, with the exception of the CEO.”

Based on the rest of the review, I assume the writer meant that Kevin Weiss was perfectly personable and his behavior required no modification. But what comes out is a little ambiguous, leaving room for the suggestion that maybe Kev was a little too personable. If you know what I mean. Wink, wink.

With this review and rating, Author Solutions rises to 2.1 stars out 5 for employee satisfaction, and Kevin Weiss’s approval rating jumps to a whopping 36%.

I’m on the fence about the legitimacy of this review, though. So I leave you with a weekend poll.

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”][poll id=”6″][/box]


Self-Publishing Directory Listings

I’ve been tweeting about it for more than a week now, but in case you haven’t heard: I’m going to host and publish a directory for businesses who provide services to self-published authors as a part of Writers’ Week 2012.

I started out saying, “IT’S FREE!” But as the list grows, I realize I need to qualify that statement. Submitting your business to the directory is free…FOR NOW.

I will continue to accept directory submissions at no charge through the end of August. And as long as you beat the deadline, it’ll never cost you a penny. However, starting September 1, 2012, if you want to be added to the list, it’ll be $3 a pop.

I’m not looking to rip anyone off, and I want to make this directory accessible for freelancers as well as larger companies. But I really don’t want to find myself updating the thing every day for the rest of my life without receiving anything for my time.

I’m also hoping the price jump will encourage people to submit well before Writers’ Week kicks off. That makes the list more useful to the Writers’ Week audience, and it gives me time to work out any of the formatting bugs ahead of publication.

arrowAuthor Solutions, Inc. and its brands will not be be given a listing for obvious reasons. However! If they refund Joan Moran’s $150, I’ll take back one or two of the nasty things I said about them.

I’m pretty sure you all understand the reason for the new price tag, but I wanted to preclude any whining about it later. You have been warned.


Free entries are no longer accepted. To add your business to the directory, you must purchase a listing. The directory will be published on September 10, 2012.

Author Solutions Gets Not-So-Rave Reviews from Industry Pros

author solutionsIt’s been a month since the announcement of the big sale of Author Solutions. To commemorate Penguin’s refusal to respond to questions about how Author Solutions does business, I thought I’d round up a few of the web’s best critiques on the subject.

In every case, the entire article is worth a read. Don’t just browse the little excerpts I’ve posted here, click through and then put on your critical thinking caps. Digest everything these bloggers are saying, particularly if you or someone you know has an interest in self-publishing.

How a Traditional Publisher Could Harm a Writer’s Career: Mark Coker of Smashwords writes, “Does Pearson think that Author Solutions represents the future of indie publishing?  Author Solutions is one of the companies that put the “V” in vanity.  Author Solutions earn 2/3 or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors’ books to readers.”

Penguin’s New Business Model: Exploiting Writers: At Indie Reader, David Gaughran writes, “Penguin isn’t purchasing a company which provides real value to writers. They are purchasing an operation skilled at milking writers.” Thinking about the stacks of complaints collected on this blog, I’d say Gaughran’s summary is on point. But read the whole article. Customers have outed Author Solutions brand iUniverse for published their e-books without permission.

Pearson Buys Author Solutions: It’s no secret that Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware has an opinion of Author Solutions, and it’s not a good one. Blogging about the sale of the company to Pearson/Penguin, she writes, “Despite ASI’s claims about customer satisfaction, the comments threads of my posts about ASI’s acquisition of Xlibris, Trafford, etc. … are replete with complaints from unhappy authors, and I receive many more via email.”

Quick Note On Writers' Week 2012

Writers' WeekJust a few housekeeping points to make regarding Writers’ Week. It’s going to be here before you know it.

  • Writers’ Week will be September 10 – 14, 2012. Mark your calendars.
  • There will be another writing contest, much like the one last year.
  • I am looking for volunteers for contest judging. Contact me if you’re interested.
  • The theme this year is self-publishing. I have room for one more guest writer. If you’ve got a post idea you’d like to pitch, contact me.
  • I’m compiling a directory of services for writers who want to self-publish. If you offer proofreading, substantive editing, cover design, layout design, consulting, marketing, or any other service that’s valuable to a self-publishing author, you can list your business in the directory.