Author Solutions Sued For Deceptive Practices

author solutions bloomington indiana

Author Solutions, owner of several vanity press brands, has offices located in Bloomington, IN.

On Monday, April 29, I opened an email from an associate at Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP. It said simply, “We represent plaintiffs against Author Solutions.  I wanted to let you know that we filed our class suit against them on Friday in the Southern District of New York.”

On May 2, I got an email from Anon with nothing more than a link to a Publisher’s Weekly article titled, “Authors Sue Self-Publishing Service Author Solutions.”

Then a couple of days ago, I got an email from Jodi Foster asking if I’d heard about the lawsuit. (If her name sounds familiar, it coule be because she did an interview here last May. See “iUniverse Complaints: Interview with Jodi Foster.”)

Then this morning, I noticed that I was getting traffic from a Forbes article posted yesterday on the subject of the lawsuit.

Although I’ve been tweeting about the suit since I received the first email, I figured it was time I wrote something about the happy news. Something official to include in  The Complete Index.

About the Lawsuit

Here’s an excerpt from the Publisher’s Weekly article in case you’re not familiar with the details:

Three authors have filed suit against self-publishing service provider Author Solutions, and its parent company Penguin, airing a laundry list of complaints and alleging the company is engaged in deceitful, dubious business practices. “Defendants have marketed themselves as an independent publisher with a reputation for outstanding quality and impressive book sales,” the complaint reads. “Instead, Defendants are not an independent publisher, but a print-on-demand vanity press.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

There are three authors bringing charges: Kelvin James, Jodi Foster and Terry Hardy, and excerpts from the formal complaint read like poetry to someone like me:

“Despite its impressive profits from book sales, Author Solutions fails at the most basic task of a publisher: paying its authors their earned royalties and providing its authors with accurate sales statements.” (Victoria Strauss has posted a PDF of the full complaint.)

The authors are asking for $5 million in punitive damages. Now, I have no idea what kind of true financial impact a win could have on the company. Maybe none at all. What excites me more is the potential deterrent to future customers this lawsuit will bring, as it’s being widely publicized in self-pub circles and the media in general.

Other articles:

Bye-Bye Kevvy!

In related news, Digital Book World reported on May 3 that Author Solutions parent company, Pearson, has appointed one of their own to take over Kevin “Backdating” Weiss’s role as CEO. Penguin exec John Makinson said, “This is a bitter-sweet announcement because we shall be sorry to lose Kevin, who has provided the stability and clear leadership that Author Solutions needed in the year after our acquisition. But I always recognised that Kevin would seek fresh pastures in time and that a new chief executive from within Penguin would connect the business more closely to Penguin’s curated publishing activities.”

I haven’t yet heard where Weiss is heading, but the article says to expect an announcement sometime this week.

 

Stop Hunting For Better Clients

freelance writing burnoutI received the following email and thought it might help other freelancers to read my response. The author of the letter agreed to let me post the email anonymously.

Hello Emily,

I am a budding freelance writer. Truth be told I have been a budding freelance writer for more than three years now. I have spent a lot of time writing for low paying content mills, and to be honest I feel that I am pretty much burnt out from it. At the moment I am burdened with low paying clients, and I spend over 12 hours per day writing articles just to pay the rent and eat!

I am constantly reading that there are good paying clients around and I do not doubt that, but so far I have not had any success in attracting their attention or even finding where they are. I don’t think I am a bad writer, and I have a couple of decent clips on Yahoo, Blog Critics, and places like Hubpages.

I really don’t know what it is I am doing wrong. It seems to me that I am missing a piece of the puzzle. I know it all takes hard work and effort, and I am certainly not adverse to rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck in. I have just wasted so much of my effort thus far digging in the wrong fields. I am worried I will be burnt out before I realize my full potential as a freelance writer.

Kind regards,
Burnt Out

Dear Burnt Out,

My advice for you is threefold: dump the content mills, stop searching for work, and stop blogging for other writers.

I know what you’re thinking, but let me explain.

I spent some time writing for content mills back in the day, and I’m not surprised you’re unhappy. It might put food on the table, but it’s uninspired work that pays poorly with unreasonable deadlines. My first piece of advice to you? Fire them as clients.

I know you’re dependent on freelancing for your income, so phase them out if you have to. But you can’t accept better jobs if you’re spending 12 hours every day writing drivel. You also don’t have time to improve yourself or your business with such a workload. When will you update your portfolio? Your website? When will you blog for your business?

You also can’t build an impressive portfolio if all your clips are content mill samples. The best writers still produce subpar work when they’re burnt out and underpaid.

My next recommendation is that you stop searching for clients at all. Do you know why content mills can make outrageous demands and pay so little for the work? Because writers keep applying. And the only writers willing to apply to them have convinced themselves they’re desperate for the work. Trust me, the mills know this and they’re all too happy to exploit it.

So change up your business model. I haven’t searched for a client in a few years now, because at some point I realized I was wasting my time. Instead I’ve invested time and money assisting potential clients in their search for me. I built a website and blog and made friends on social media so that when people searched for “Indianapolis freelance writer” they found me. Then they contacted me.

All I do these days is respond to the requests for quotes that land in my inbox and reach out to potential clients in my network. I don’t cold call anyone ever. I don’t scour openings on Elance or oDesk or Craigslist.

Back to the website stuff for a minute. I’m not a keyword expert and I don’t know all the ins and outs of search engine algorithms, but I have common sense and know how to improve my chances of being found online. I recommend you do the same using “freelance writer” or “content writer” with a local qualifier like your town, city, region, or country to bring in search traffic. That’s how they’re going to find you.

The next problem is: what will those people find on your site when they get there? When potential clients see you’ve been blogging to other writers or complaining about the horrors of content mill writing, they’re going to be confused. You need to be posting content for people who hire writers not for other writers. At least until you’ve established a solid client base.

It’s great to commiserate with people who understand, and I don’t know where I’d be without my freelance writer friends, but none of them are ever going to become my next client.

I recently separated my blogs. I have the professional blog for clients and this blog for writing whatever the heck I feel like. But I have a full-time job paying the bills at the moment, so I have some freedom in that regard. If you don’t have the time to run two separate blogs, writing to a client audience should be your priority.

Now, I’m not saying this next part describes you, Burnt Out. But it’s worth putting out there for all the struggling freelancers:

Sometimes I think new writers see talented, successful writers running classes and giving advice to budding writers and they think they need to mimic that behavior to be successful. Great freelance writers have freelance writer followers! Great freelance writers are mentors and give advice! I should do those things to be a great freelance writer too!

Unless you’re in the business of educating new writers right now, it’s not a profitable way to spend your time. If that’s something you want to pursue later, awesome.

I hope this helps you, Burnt Out. Let us know how things go.

Emily