Author Solutions Rep to Skeptic: 'All I Can Tell You Is The Facts'

Author Solutions Penguin: Liar, LiarGot an email today from an author, Kevin, who had an entertaining exchange with an Author Solutions rep calling himself Eric Emlinger.

Now, Kevin was pitched by iUniverse back in the day, but decided not sign on the dotted line because they failed to answer all of his questions satisfactorily. Basically, Kevin sensed something sleazy was afoot and walked away.

Well, he recently received another email from Author Solutions. It was their typical spiel.

[toggle title_open=”Hide Email” title_closed=”Read Author Solutions’ Email Pitch” hide=”yes” border=”yes” style=”default” excerpt_length=”0″ read_more_text=”Read More” read_less_text=”Read Less” include_excerpt_html=”no”]

Kevin,

Thank you for requesting publishing information from iUniverse, one of the most established and respected brands in the independent publishing industry. In a recent study, iUniverse sold twice as many books in the retail channel as other leading self-publishing brands.

iUniverse offers the most extensive variety of publishing services to help individuals publish, market, and sell fiction, poetry, and nonfiction books. Our company utilizes print-on-demand technology, and is one of the largest self-publishing companies in the United States, publishing more than 5,000 new titles each year.

This link will help you with information and details about our Publishing Packages – click here —> [LINK REMOVED]

The iUniverse management team has extensive editorial and managerial experience with traditional publishers such as HarperCollins, Putnam, Simon & Schuster and Holtzbrinck. iUniverse partners with industry leading author organizations, including the Authors Guild, the Harlem Writers Guild, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) to bring innovative programs to their members. iUniverse has strategic alliances with Barnes & Noble, Inc. in the U.S. and Chapters Indigo in Canada and has offices in New York City and Bloomington, IN.

iUniverse was created to be as similar to a traditional publishing experience as possible, while permitting the author to maintain all rights and control of the process.

Another iUniverse author gets a book deal! [LINK REMOVED]

“iUniverse has a thorough process to identify promising new writers, and then invests real dollars in promoting their books. Their editorial review process greatly enhances the quality of the books they publish. The iUniverse Star Program is a great opportunity to discover new authors and bring them to market.” – Barnes and Noble CEO Steve Riggio.

Through our recognition programs and awards, we make real investments to support titles that demonstrate a high level of editorial quality and marketability. These programs open the door to more opportunities for retail presentation and placement. This is the only self-publishing series of its kind established to identify, celebrate and support authors. Our recognition programs include:

The Star Program books are republished free of charge under the Star imprint, presented to Barnes & Noble for in-store placement, and offered to booksellers with attractive retail terms and returnable status.

Rising Star is the only program of its kind to guarantee titles will be presented by a commissioned sales force to national, regional and local booksellers. Each Rising Star title is featured in the Rising Star Special Collections boutique on Barnes & Noble.com.

iUniverse chooses only those titles that have the essential qualities of a professionally published book to be part of our Editor’s Choice program. Books that receive a positive Editorial Evaluation are sent to our Editorial Board for careful consideration.

Editorial excellence is important, but so are book sales. The iUniverse Reader’s Choice designation recognizes authors who have achieved both editorial excellence and sales success.

No other self publishing organization offers the unique and successful iUniverse Author Recognition and Marketing Programs.

First, I would like to know more about you, your book and your motivation to publish. To help me better understand your needs, I have outlined a few questions that I hope you will answer in detail for me:

-What type of book have you written?
-Who is your target audience?
-Are you finished writing the book?
-What computer program did you use to write your book?
-Will your book have images on the interior pages or text only?
-Do you plan to publish those images in color, or black and white?
-How many pages do you estimate that your book will have?
-Would you like to have your book published in softcover or hardcover?
-When would you like to be holding your very first copy?

Author Solutions, the parent company of iUniverse, is now a member of the Penguin Group. Read full press release here.

[LINK REMOVED]

I look forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely,

Eric Emlinger
PUBLISHING CONSULTANT

1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403
US Toll Free: (800) 288-4677 Ext. 5377
Fax: (812) 349-0747
[LINK REMOVED]

Author Solutions, the parent company of iUniverse, is a Penguin Random House Company.

iUniverse authors win Independent Publisher Book Awards: [LINK REMOVED][/toggle]

A few points about their first email:

  • Notice how they’re humping that Penguin-Random House association to add an air of legitimacy the Author Solutions name can’t conjure on its own.
  • Notice what B&N’s CEO is quoted as saying about the Author Solutions/iUniverse editorial review process. (So that’s why my B&N closed! Now I get it.)
  • Don’t miss the rest of their corporate name dropping. Plenty of brands to be leery of including: HarperCollins, Putnam, Simon & Schuster and Holtzbrinck, Authors Guild, the Harlem Writers Guild, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), Barnes & Noble, Inc. and Chapters Indigo.
  • Be sure you laugh at the part where they say iUniverse is designed to be “as similar to a traditional publishing experience as possible.” (Where to begin with this…)
  • And finally, check out this line: “No other self publishing organization offers the unique and successful iUniverse Author Recognition and Marketing Programs.” (Except Xlibris, AuthorHouse, Trafford, et al because they’re owned by Author Solutions too.)

At any rate, Kevin picked up on what was going on, and shot an email back to Eric:

Ugh, I didn’t realize this was iUniverse under another name.  I’ll pass thanks.  I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about how little authors get and how you people upsell for next to nothing in return.

To which Eric responded with this gem:

Hello Kevin,

Such horror stories are from websites that are being sued for racketeering, their [sic] essentially hiring people to write bad reviews about big companies. I don’t expect you to believe me, all I can tell you is the facts. We’ve been in business for 15 years, published over 91,000 books, we have an A with the Better Business Bureau, we are regulated by the FCC, and our company is a part of the Penguin Random House group. Many of my authors have even returned in recent months to publish their second and third book. I hope we hear from you again.

Sincerely,

Eric Emlinger
PUBLISHING CONSULTANT

Oh. My. God. That’s so delicious. Racketeering? You wouldn’t be making shit up now, would you Eric?

‘Cause, umm, who’s suing whom?

[box]Author Solutions & iUniverse Complaints: The Complete Index[/box]

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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.

 

Author Solutions, Random House & Syphilis, Oh My!

author solutions syphilisIt never fails; every time I mention ‘Author Solutions’ and ‘self-publishing’ in the same breath, some self-pub stalwart emails me or tweets me with a tirade about how self-publishing—true self-publishing—has nothing at all to do with the business model of vanity presses, and Author Solutions is a vanity press.

In theory, I would agree. I even tried to make this distinction here on the blog early on, but found it futile. However we might like to define terms like ‘self-publishing’ and ‘vanity press’ in an academic sense, we cannot ignore actual language in use. ASI calls what ASI does self-publishing. Consumers call what ASI does self-publishing. Media outlets call what ASI does self-publishing.

If that makes you angry, perhaps I can console you a little. ASI’s attempt to change public perception by framing itself as a self-publisher has had limited success*. Instead of forcing ASI to use the less desirable term, we’re getting something even better out of the deal: The term ‘Author Solutions’ is now bearing the negative connotations we had previously associated with the more general term ‘vanity press.’

As an amateur linguist, I find this fucking delightful.

***

Recently a friend asked me how things were going with ‘that Author Solutions.’ Her nose wrinkled. Her upper lip curled. She expressed disgust. It was like someone had shown her the syphilis photos from my seventh grade health book at the exact moment she said ‘Author Solutions.’

That’s it! I thought. Author Solutions is syphilis.

And the thing about syphilis is that it’s contagious.

***

Yesterday, Random House went and did something foolish, exposing their sores and lesions to the world. You see, Random House recently launched e-book imprints with contracts so foul they were likened to vanity press contracts.

John Scalzi, president of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, took Random House to task after seeing contracts for Hydra and Alibi**. He pointed out plenty of problems with the contracts: there are no advances, authors are charged for costs previously covered by publishers, and—I find this stuff particularly disgusting—the publisher keeps your rights for the length of copyright AND options the next thing you write.

Scalzi wrote:

“Dear writers: This is a horrendously bad deal and if you are ever offered something like it, you should run away as fast as your legs or other conveyances will carry you.”

Funny. That’s exactly what Mrs. Hewlett told us about sleeping with people who didn’t want to wear condoms.

***

So what, specifically, does Random House have to do with Author Solutions and syphilis?

Remember back in July when Pearson and Penguin acquired Author Solutions for $116M and the publishing world sort of gasped in horror? Many people thought executives at the traditional house were out of their ever loving minds. Others, including a few ASI employees, expressed hope, thinking maybe the sale would be good for ASI.  Maybe the new owners would finally force the scourge of the publishing industry to clean up its act?

No such luck. Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a healthy person and a syphilitic having sexytime, and the syphilitic being healed as a result?

So the disease has continued to spread through the industry. Pearson (parent of Penguin) merged with Random House after buying Author Solutions. Author Solutions was then hired to run Archway for Pearson’s competitor, Simon & Schuster. Penguin launched Partridge, another self-pub imprint operated by Author Solutions. And ASI already had self-publishing connections to Harlequin, Hay House and Thomas Nelson.

 ***

Maybe I’m paranoid from watching too much Fringe lately, but I believe Random House has a serious case of the ASI syphilis strain. Remember how your Sunday School teacher told you that having sex with one person was just like having sex with all the people that person had sex with? It’s kind of like that in the publishing industry right now. (Author Solutions is owned by Penguin who merged with Random House. Yadda. Yadda.)

Syphilis! Syphilis! Syphilis!

What makes Random House unique from syphilitic brands like iUniverse, Penguin, Partridge, etc. is that they’re not embracing the term ‘self-publishing’ when talking about their suck-ass, vanity-style imprints Hydra, Alibi and (presumably) Flirt—because that’s a term that could raise flags for even the n00biest n00bs.

I believe Random House wants to pioneer making vanity publishing the new traditional publishing, and they’re starting by, as Scalzi puts it, trying to “skim the slimmest of margins off the most vulnerable of writers” first.

I also believe that if these assholes succeed with their little vanity contract experiment, they’ll be one step closer to erasing any distinction at all between vanity publishing and traditional publishing.

And then those self-pub stalwarts all hung up on their definitions are really going to be pissed.

 


*By the way, you should know the law firm Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP is currently investigating the practices of Author Solutions and all of its brands. There are whispers of a class action lawsuit. Tell. Everyone.

**As far as I’m concerned, both of Scalzi’s blog posts are required reading for new authors.

 

About that Author Solutions…

Author Solutions Penguin poops on publishing world

I know many of you are interested in getting continuing news about Author Solutions, so I’m pointing you in the direction of David Gaughran’s blog Let’s Get Digital today. He invited me to write a guest post in light of recent news that Author Solutions will be operating yet another self-publishing company, Partridge. Partridge is Penguin’s new self-pub brand for India.

If you hop over there you’ll also have a chance to read about Leah, an author who was saved by a caring internet from very nearly publishing with Author House. Read the post “Penguin’s Solution for Authors: One Racket To Rule Them All.

Sure You Don't Want to Name it Simon & Schyster?

Simon and Schuster Logo MashupOkay, so here’s what happened in Publishing Land today:  Simon & Schuster announced that they jumped into bed with Author Solutions, forming yet another imprint run by Kevin Weiss et al. They’re calling it Archway Publishing.

So, to clarify: Pearson who owns Penguin who merged with Random House and owns Author Solutions Inc. is now working with their competitor, Simon & Schuster. Yes, for real. The New York Times adds:

“One odd twist of the deal is that Author Solutions was purchased by the British publishing giant Pearson in July. Pearson has made Author Solutions part of Penguin, a Simon & Schuster competitor. But since Simon & Schuster was already far along in the planning with Author Solutions for the new brand, they decided to go forward anyway, [Adam] Rothberg said.”

The Times also reports that Simon & Schuster wants to “distinguish Archway as a premium service, at a premium cost to the authors.”

Distinguish it from what, I wonder? Perhaps from all of Author Solutions’ other already overpriced brands and partnerships—names like Author House, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, Palibrio, Publish in the USA, Abbott Press, Balboa, WestBow, Inspiring Voices, Legacy Keepers, FuseFrame, Pitchfest, Author Learning Center, WordClay, BookTango and AuthorHive?

By charging $1,599 to $24,999 for packages, Simon & Schuster’s Archway may well succeed in distinguishing themselves as the most laughably overpriced self-publishing option available. But I can’t imagine the words “premium service” becoming the hallmark of this hookup. You see, S&S is taking a hands-off approach to the whole thing. Again, quoting from the Times:

“While the venture promises to access the expertise of a major publishing house, it will be completely operated and staffed by Author Solutions. With no Simon & Schuster personnel involved, and without the Simon & Schuster name attached in any way to the final product, Archway’s prices – significantly higher than even the most expensive competition – could be a hard sell.” [emphasis mine]

And we all know about Author Solutions’ reputation for great customer service and quality, right? I mean, are these people for real? Let’s run down the litany of complaints against ASI one more time to make sure we’re all on the same page. From an earlier post:

“The short list of recurring issues includes: making formerly out-of-print works available for sale without the author’s consent, improperly reporting royalty information, non-payment of royalties, breech of contract, predatory and harassing sales calls, excessive markups on review and advertising services, failure to deliver marketing services as promised, telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars, ignoring customer complaints, shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories, and calling at least one customer a ‘fucking asshole.’

Anywho…

I admit I scratched my head over the Pearson/Penguin buyout of Author Solutions this summer. But with this S&S deal, I think I’ve carved an inch-long notch out of my skull with my fingernail. They’re effectively letting their competition run their self-publishing show. And all they have to say about it is that they were so far along in the branding process they didn’t want to turn back?

Add that to the list of things I won’t be buying from Archway Publishing.

Real-Life Horror: Author Solutions' Book-to-Screen Prices

author solutions book to screenOn Monday, I noticed Author Solutions started touting its 2007 Trafford title, The Foreign Pawn written by Lee Yagel. Seems the book was optioned by Anarchy Management (what? seems legit to me), so Author Solutions, never wasting an opportunity to push an overpriced yet mostly useless marketing service, wrote a press release about it bragging that:

“The Cold-War period novel, written by Lee Yagel and published by Trafford, resulted from adding Author Solutions’ Book-to-Screen coverage services to his publishing package.”

(Dare you to diagram that sentence in your free time, by the way. It doesn’t say what I think Author Solutions intended it to say.)

Anyway, I imagine having a book optioned is pretty exciting for an author. Even though it’s no guarantee your novel will ever make it to the big screen, it does mean that someone wants the right to purchase the screenplay at some point down the road. And that’s cool.

The full truth about book options—something you won’t likely get from an Author Solutions employee—would probably temper the average writer’s enthusiasm, though.

Someone out there correct me if I’m wrong, but I think most options last between 1 and 3 years and option payments are nothing close to a windfall. Nope, odds are you won’t be paying off that 30-year mortgage. Also, plenty of book options just die. Nothing ever comes of them, and the rights just anticlimatically revert back to the author when the term of the option expires.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and no one really gets hurt, unless you’re delusional enough to pay Author Solutions $859 to $16,299 for the privilege of such disappointment.

The Price of Trafford’s Book-to-Screen Marketing Services

Just in case you think I’m making up those ridonkulous numbers, here are the prices for all Book-to-Screen services taken directly from the Trafford website today. (iUniverse, AuthorHouse and other Author Solutions imprints have similar services.)

Hollywood Gatekeeper: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$859[/typography]

Hollywood Audition: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$2,149[/typography]

Hollywood Storyteller: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$3,749[/typography]

Hollywood Topliner: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$16,299[/typography]

Book-to-Screen PitchFest New York 2012 and Book-to-Screen PitchFest New York 2012 with Video through Trafford cost $1,999 and $3,499 respectively.

The Screenplay Treatments

One of the the things the Hollywood Storyteller package will get you is a treatment. According to Trafford, a treatment:

“is a thoroughly developed guide that outlines how a screenwriter would adapt your book into a fully-developed screenplay.”

Coincidentally, someone claiming to be a former freelancer with ASI, left a comment on the post, “Author Solutions & Jared Silverstone: Now With 99% More Bullshit”, explaining that these treatments are used to sell overpriced adaptations for screen. Well, here, just read for yourself:

Gawd — these guys. I had a pretty surreal experience freelancing for their ‘book-to-screen’ program. They had me adapting self-published manuscripts into treatments, which they apparently would then use to try and upsell their clients on exorbitantly overpriced screenplay adaptations. The whole thing reeked of selling snake-oil to people who didn’t realize that spec screenplays, regardless of quality, almost never get past the dreaded ‘intern readers,’ much less optioned, much less produced — whereas ASI assured that these adaptations would ‘most likely’ get produced, and with A-list Hollywood stars to boot.

Also keep in mind, the majority of these authors would insist upon one-to-one adaptations of their manuscripts (most of which had clearly never been edited), which typically yielded sprawling, 3-hour scripts that would be line-budgeted for 100+ million bucks.

What nonsense. Even better, ASI’s in-house ‘editors’ would inevitably return my treatments with a list of corrections that, at best, were arbitrary and, at worst, would themselves be rife with grammatical and syntactical errors. A few were riddled with spelling errors. Corresponding with editors who can’t spell does not exactly inspire professional confidence.

But I had to quit because I was continually corresponding with poor folks who seemed honestly to believe that this was their ‘big break’ into Hollywood. It seems ASI even set up their own production company so they could claim that ‘other companies’ have a ‘first look’ deal with their screenplays. Shady.

Now might be a good time to plug that self-publishing services directory I launched during Writers’ Week, you know, in case you’re looking for some alternatives to Author Solutions.

Author Solutions & Jared Silverstone: Now With 99% More Bullshit

jared silverstone author solutionsIn case you missed it, the PR Lesson from Author Solutions & Chick-Fil-A post went kind of viral on Friday. And I have to say, it was a lot of fun. Not only was the news of Fake Jared picked up by GalleyCat, Writer Beware and The Atlantic Wire, but the link to my blog was shared on Google+ by Guy Kawasaki. Friday afternoon I spoke to Guy about self-publishing and his upcoming book on that subject!

But the thing that brought me the most joy? Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI) had to explain themselves to the publishing community. GalleyCat’s Jason Boog got this official statement from ASI:

“At Author Solutions we take our social media activities very seriously, and we are committed to following industry best practices. The manner in which the accounts were set up is not supported by our company-wide social media policy, and in no way is condoned by our company. We are taking appropriate action and we are in the process of removing the content from social media accounts.”

Of course, just like the company’s press releases, this official statement reeks of bullshit. If Jared Silverstone wasn’t sanctioned by the Author Solutions social media and PR teams, why was Jared found lurking on all the major social networks? Why was the Jared Silverstone account on Google+ still actively following people? And why had he posted a link to his blog, Indie Book Stalker, as recently as August 2, 2012?

Like the statement suggests, Jared’s Indie Book Stalker blog was removed along with his social media profiles, but you can still see the cached version of his solitary blog post if you’re curious. No surprise that the site contains one blog post, not even 250 words, and no less than three links back to the Xlibris bookstore, as Xlibris is one of the many publishing brands owned by Author Solutions.

indie books to screen screenshotThen there’s the blog Indie Books to Screen which I stumbled across while writing this follow-up post. If you look at it live now, it appears to be written by someone at Xlibris named Gio Ruiz. However, take a look back at the cached version of the site, and who do you see? You guessed it! Fake Jared. You see, Author Solutions doesn’t want to give up all of their precious backlinks, so they’re just changing the blog author names when it’s convenient.

Someone tell me again this whole thing wasn’t condoned by Author Solutions. G’head.

I’ll cut them a little slack on the deleting part though, as it must have been pretty late on Thursday night when the Author Solutions PR brain trust cobbled together that official statement. Clearly where it says they’re in the “process of removing the content from social media accounts,” they meant to write the qualifier “some” instead of the definite article “the.”

Right?

And though they’re gone now, we still have an ungodly number of distribution articles written by the Author Solutions employee formerly known as Jared Silverstone to take into account. GalleyCat uncovered a dozen articles attributed to Fake Jared on EzineArticles.com. And I’ve found several more articles on Goarticles.com, Easy Articles, and Articlesbase. These are the remnants of ASI’s “industry best practices.”

It seems odd to me that they’d try to spin this as if some rogue employee acted foolishly and without approval, considering Fake Jared’s been polluting the web with crap accounts since at least March. Either Author Solutions approved of these Silverstone tactics or they only discovered it was going on because I wrote about it. Neither scenario makes them look good.

Perhaps next time the BIG BOSS should line dance on the Cebu beach after the employees’ work has been inspected?