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]

Penguin's New Baby, Author Solutions, Adds Hacking to Laundry List of Poorly Delivered Services

Penguin Author SolutionsIt’s Friday night July 27, and I’m dreaming:

Kevin Weiss is line dancing on a beach in the Philippines with his cheap Cebu City laborers when his cell phone rings. He looks at the caller ID and sees it’s his new boss. “Hey, Johnny!” he answers. “You should totes be here, man.”

Uninterested,  Penguin CEO John Makinson immediately changes the subject. “You need to solve this problem.” He removes his glasses and spits into the receiver, “I want this Suess girl to stop writing about Author Solutions. My picture hasn’t been Photoshopped yet, and I’d like to keep it that way.” Makinson pauses, and then the white-haired executive adds, “Make it go away.”

“But, boss….”

It’s too late. Makinson has already hung up. Weiss takes a swig of his San Miguel and turns to his employees, “Any of you guys know how to hack a website?” The music stops and the partygoers go silent. Weiss pulls a dollar bill from a condom-filled wallet and waves George Washington’s face at the crowd.

A 12-year-old boy wearing a Level 1 Hackx0r T-shirt steps forward.

“Hellzyeah!” Weiss puts his arm around the kid. “Let’s shut this bitch down!”

 ***

On Saturday morning, July 28, I turned on my laptop and checked my email. Waiting in my inbox were thousands of messages. The first one was from Twitter, informing me that they received a request to reset the password for my account. The next email was from my own WordPress blog. It said, “Someone requested that the password be reset for your account.”

The remaining 15,455 emails all came from someone named rtertdfg;lrtprot using the email address erteto@yahoo.com. The messages, submitted automatically via my Contact Form, contained nothing but random keystrokes.

Could it be? I wondered.

I loaded my traffic stats and laughed heartily. The first thing I noticed was that someone from Cebu City, Philippines (home of more than 1,200 Author Solutions employees) had attempted to access the login URL for my blog. The hacker didn’t guess the URL right the first time, so my stat software logged a 404-error for the misses. When he did eventually figure out the correct URL, he was probably irritated to find I had Login Lockdown installed.

So my cutsey-wootsey Hackx0r-wackx0r decided to scare me by clicking the “Lost your password?” link. And let me tell you, folks. Nothing says internet bully like a fucking password reset notification in your inbox. I mean, I couldn’t get to sleep until, like, 9:30 p.m. that night.

That same person, from the same IP, hit my Contact Page repeatedly that morning. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Author Solutions was involved in trying to take down my site, bury me in spam, and hijack my Twitter account.

Still, I decided to verify a few facts with my host, Name.com, just for fun. The great people at customer service wrote:

Hi Emily,

Thank you for your email today. I’ve done some pouring through logs and it looks like the first IP you advised, 112.207.186.80, was indeed hitting your contact form very hard. I see 19,835 entries for that IP address in the logs from this month. [emphasis mine]

Like a good little site owner, I changed my contact form, added a Captcha, and waited. As I had hoped, this little hack of a hacker was apparently so angered by my Author Solutions and iUniverse reporting that he came back today! Guess he thought I deserved another dozen manually submitted spam messages about Mitt Romney. My favorite one merely says “Mitt for president…..” a couple dozen times.

Oh, you guys!

It wasn’t long before the password reset notifications came pouring in again, both for WordPress and Twitter.

Seriously? Who made this call, and why does he still have a job? Who at Penguin or Author Solutions thought that harassing me was in the best interest of the company’s customers and stockholders?

Oops. There I go asking questions again.

Author Solutions Complaints: Interview with iUniverse Author Kathryn Maughan

Kathryn Maughan iuniverse

Kathryn Maughan at the Sirenland writers’ conference in Positano. (2011)

Sometimes it doesn’t bother me at all that iUniverse and Author Solutions (and now Penguin Books) have one-sided conversations with the world about how great they are, because there are plenty of customers willing to step up and talk about what it’s really like to work with companies that habitually overcharge, under-deliver and make harassing sales calls.

Today, I’m glad to welcome Kathryn Maughan, author of Did I Expect Angels? to talk about her experiences working with iUniverse.

Maughan’s story is interesting because she started working iUniverse just before the company was sold to Author Solutions. This ties in nicely with what we’ve heard from other writers who talk about the “good” and “bad” iUniverse, referring to their feelings about the company before and after it was purchased by Author Solutions. (Or, as I usually think of it — “before Kevin Weiss” and “during Kevin Weiss.”)

Maughan doesn’t really hold too much against iUniverse until she talks about a pushy marketing salesperson named Gracie. At that point in the story, we see the iUniverse many of us have come to know and hate.

Q: Please tell us about your initial search for a publisher and what led you to contact iUniverse.

I wrote a book in 2002 and began an agent search, getting about 40 rejections. I thought I had the tolerance to see it through, but then I began grad school in 2003 (dramatic writing, NYU), and that took pretty much everything out of me. After I graduated, in 2006, my dad suggested I self-publish the book I had written years earlier. I had always thought of self-publishing as the kiss of death, but at that point, I thought, “Well, it’s dead already. Why not?” And yes, that’s about as much thought as I gave it. So I did an internet search. I liked the idea of publish-on-demand because I had visions of a thousand copies of my book mouldering in my parents’ basement. (I live in NY, so they wouldn’t be mouldering in my apartment…no room.) I also liked the fact that they had an affiliation with Barnes & Noble. My book did in fact get into a B&N for a while.

Q: What was the deal you originally made with iUniverse to publish your book? Did you buy a specific publishing package?

I bought the bells-and-whistles package. I knew it included an editorial review, cover art (which I didn’t use), possibility for Editors’ Choice etc. I believe it included more than that, but it’s been years….

Q: What problems did you have with iUniverse, and how did they attempt to resolve your complaints? Were you happy with the result?

This is the thing…I published with them in 2006. Well, I started the process in 2006, and then I hired an editor (yes, through iUniverse) and after that I did an *extensive* rewrite that lasted nearly a full year, so it was published in 2007. iUniverse was not part of Author Solutions at this point. I was actually happy with the results and the responsiveness of those with whom I worked.

I sent in my own cover art (commissioned by a professional book cover artist), so I can’t comment on that. But their development edit was very thorough and it genuinely helped me make the book better. It cost more than some other professionals with whom I’ve since consulted (I’m on my 2nd book now…and no, I don’t plan to self-publish this one), but then I’ve heard other friends talk about freelance editors who charge double what iUniverse did.

Honestly, iUniverse did what they said they would do. I went into it with my eyes open. I was given Editors’ Choice, Publishers’ Choice and Star status, but they never marketed it…nor did they say they would (unless I purchased marketing). They did one copy edit after I turned in the final manuscript. (I have a frenemy who is very, very nit-picky about this kind of thing, who informed me that she had found ONE copy error in the final product. Hey, at least she bought it.) After an initial evaluation, they did say that in order to be considered for EC I’d have to do a rewrite. However…many years later, I know that the book in its initial state wasn’t great. I wrote it initially in 2001/2002, and I rewrote it in 2006/2007 after going to grad school (in writing, no less). I never tried to get an agent with the rewritten book, because I was already under contract with iUniverse when I rewrote it. I view the whole thing as a learning experience.

One problem I had: the book is written with two narrators. One is an educated woman, the other a Costa Rican immigrant. Their voices couldn’t be more different. iUniverse, however, insisted that I put Henry’s story into italics. I thought that was a strange idea, because if you get one sentence in, you know who’s speaking. But Editor’s Choice was on the line (the keys to the kingdom, it seemed), so I did it. And a lot of reviewers said that the italics were hard to read.

The biggest issue I have with them now is their attempt at marketing. I’ll address that next.

Q: How was your book publicized? Did you do it all yourself? Pay for them to help you market the finished product?

I never even looked at iUniverse marketing. I don’t remember if they didn’t offer it then, or I already had other plans. I hired a marketing firm, and they turned out to be a big dud, even though they came highly recommended. The marketing that turned out well was what I did myself, contacting lots and lots of book bloggers. I got some really good reviews, actually…and not from my mother. 🙂

A few years later, after iUniverse was purchased by Author Solutions, they began calling me every so often to try to get me to buy more packages, marketing packages. The first time, Gracie asked me if I would like to get the book into bookstores, for $750. (keep in mind, it’s not guaranteed, it’s just taking a step to the POSSIBILITY of getting it in bookstores.) I said no. Or maybe she didn’t say anything about the $750, and I asked? I don’t remember. I said no. The next time she phoned, she said, “I’m calling to talk about getting your book into bookstores.” I said, “For $750?” She paused and then tried to talk around it, and I said, “For $750?” Finally she said, yes, that’s what it cost.

I explained that I had spent all the money I was going to spend on this book, and they tried really hard to put on the pressure. I’m a midwestern, polite-to-the-point-of-death person (you could be stabbing me and I would ask you to please stop), and I ended up shouting over this woman, “Gracie! Gracie! Gracie! I am not buying any more services!” She was going on about how iUniverse was the number one self-publishing company. I said, yes, I have already published my book with them, and I’m not doing any more for it. In a very accusatory manner, she said, “So what do you expect me to do with your book?” I said, “Nothing. Let it go.” “You want me to ignore your book?” She seemed very angry. It was truly strange. Later I kept getting messages on my machine, about one every three months: this is iUniverse and we want to talk to you about a marketing plan for your book. I wouldn’t call them back. After a while I f igured out a trick: go to your profile and change your phone number to 000-0000. They haven’t called since.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add?

I honestly wonder if their practices have changed since they were purchased by AuthorSolutions. I felt that I got what I asked for when I self-published. It was the marketing that felt shady to me.

To read more about Author Solutions and iUniverse, browse the complete index.

Pearson buys Vanity Press Conglomerate Author Solutions for $116M

In case you haven’t heard, it’s official:

“LONDON–Pearson PLC , a provider of education and consumer publishing services, said Thursday it acquired Author Solutions Inc from Bertram Capital for 116 million dollars in cash, adding that it expects the acquisition to enhance adjusted earnings per share in its first full year.”

So I’m getting asked on a number of fronts what I think about Bertram Capital selling Author Solutions to Pearson, another publisher with ties to Indianapolis. I think the people of Bertram Capital are probably relieved to have that monkey off their back.

I think Pearson has a lot of housecleaning to do, but it’s like an employee says, “Everyone thinks it will be better. Unless they change the leadership, I don’t see how.”

More in the works. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1:14 PM EDT: After reaching out to Pearson, my inquiry was forwarded to a media relations representative for Penguin Books. (If you’re confused, Penguin is owned by Pearson. Or Penguin is to Pearson as iUniverse is to Author Solutions. Sort of.)  Whether or not my questions will be addressed by the company remains to be seen.

Author Solutions Denies Refund, Cites Contract They Breached

joan moran

Joan Moran, author of Sixty, Sex & Tango

Remember author Joan Moran? She’s been fighting for months to get a $150 refund from vanity publisher iUniverse. She called, she emailed, she Tweeted. But the self-publishing imprint’s parent company, Author Solutions, wouldn’t even bother to respond to her. While they tracked down Lawrence Fisher on his blog to give him a refund, they simply ignored Joan. For months.

Until today, that is. They finally broke their silence on the issue after Joan Moran emailed CEO Kevin Weiss last week. He, of course, passed her complaint off to someone else. There were some apologies and “we can’t help yous” followed by a, “let me check with my boss and get back to you” when it became apparent that Joan wasn’t going to relent. Earlier today, Joan received this:

Hello Ms. Moran,

I have discussed the situation with my supervisor and we are unable to offer you a full refund at this time for the proofs that you purchased. We fulfilled the service you requested in purchasing your files and as outlined in your publishing agreement. If I can assist you further, then please do let me know.

I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Regards,

Desirée Acosta
Production Manager
iUniverse

1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403
desiree.acosta@iuniverse.com

It’s polite, I’ll grant that. But don’t you just love how the representative cites the publishing agreement as a reason why they can’t give Joan her money back? From a consumer standpoint, it’s reprehensible. This is precisely why authors keep working to organize a class action lawsuit.

iUniverse and Author Solutions willfully breach the contract’s royalty provisions every quarter for every customer. In fact, they still haven’t posted items that should have been reported April 30. And yet, somehow, they just can’t issue a refund for misleading a customer into purchasing a document twice because it’s not in the contract.

Joan paid them to create this text file of her book when she bought the original package, but they charged her another $150 to email the PDF to her when she wanted to leave. The customer service rep led her to believe that she would be able to edit the document once she had it. Then later told her that everyone knows you can’t really edit a PDF.

Jerk.

So no, Author Solutions says. You can’t have your $150! Our hands are tied, can’t you see?

Funny they don’t have a problem ignoring their contract when the company stands to profit from it.

I guess that’s one way to keep the books looking good for a financial suitor.

Author Solutions Begs Employees for Nice Reviews

author solutions iuniverse trafford xlibrisI’m not going to lie, when I heard that people in HR at Author Solutions were asking employees to go to Glassdoor.com and submit favorable reviews, I laughed so long and so hard that the muscles in my belly literally ached. I mean, someone get Scott Adams on the phone, because this is the stuff Dilbert is made of.

Because they’re only now begging employees to talk nice about them, I have concluded three things:

  1. HR wasn’t at all concerned with the scathing reviews  until I called attention to them here and here,
  2. Things are getting really tense around Author Solutions, what with that sale looming and all, and…
  3. I’m a badass in the tenacity department.

Now, several people have asked me if it’s against Glassdoor.com’s Terms of Service for HR to be “asking” current employees to submit favorable reviews. It’s a really, really good question. Sadly, the answer appears to be no.

You’d think that coerced reviews would be frowned upon by the website, considering it needs to be taken seriously by employees and job seekers to maintain any sort of authority in its niche. Here’s the thing: anonymous reviews are awesome because they protect employees from vindictive bosses, but anonymous reviews are also bad because Kevin Weiss himself could sign up for an account (or two or seven) and leave a glowing review of the company if he wanted. How does Glassdoor police something like that and still provide anonymity to users?

So far, HR’s suggestion that employees leave favorable reviews hasn’t led to any systemic review tampering on the site anyway. Even the writer of recent four-star review “It’s a good job, but not a career” spends more time discussing the cons and frustrations of working for the company than talking about how great it is. And while that same employee approves of Kevin Weiss, he or she still only awards two stars to Author Solutions under “Culture & Values.” To me, that says a great deal.

Sources reveal to me that morale inside the company, specifically at Indiana offices, is terribly low anyway. Those that fear their jobs might be outsourced to the Philippines probably don’t see much point in posting happy reviews just to appease the execs. And anyway, who could be happy dealing with angry customers, shoddy office equipment, and an apathetic executive management team all day, every day?

But reviews do matter to job seekers, so I just want to take a second to address Bloomington and Indy employees directly:

I know you work with some good-hearted, knowledgeable professionals, and I’m not asking you to leave bad reviews or even leave reviews at all, but if you do? Don’t sugarcoat it because you fear HR or fear your boss. Just tell the truth—whether its good, bad or anticlimactic.

And cheer up! Because you and the rest of the internet get to watch this hilarious video of Kevin Weiss (CEO), Joe Steinbach (General Manager, Cebu) and Bruce Bunner (VP, Global Sales & Marketing) line dancing on the beach. (At least until someone starts giggling and it gets yanked from YouTube. If that happens, don’t worry. I have another present for you guys.)


Because at Author Solutions you can either earn a living wage
or have a beach party…but you can’t have both.

Author Solutions Tax Credits Followed By Outsourcing to Philippines

If you’re an iUniverse customer, you should know that a few people on the inside care.  You should also know you’re not the only ones that parent company Author Solutions has taken advantage of. I’ve received word from sources inside Author Solutions that there’s more you and the tax paying citizens of Indiana should be pissed off about…

Take the Money…

One of my biggest concerns with the company as a resident of Indiana is that shortly after Gov. Mitch Daniels toured the Bloomington Offices and praised Author Solutions for “insourcing” jobs from China, Author Solutions started laying off employees and sending jobs to the Philippines. This disgusts me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Author Solutions was awarded an Economic Development Tax Credit for creating those Indiana jobs in the first place. Here’s an excerpt from an undated press release on the AuthorHouse website:

“The Indiana Economic Development Corporation offered Author Solutions up to $575,000 in performance-based tax credits and up to $100,000 in training grants based on the company’s job creation plans. The Monroe County Commissioners and the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation have supported property tax abatement to assist the company with new job creation in Monroe County.

The company, which employs 230 associates in Bloomington and 50 in Indianapolis, is currently identifying candidates for creative, customer service and technology positions.”

But things changed. In April 2011, Terry Lee Simpson wrote this letter. In it she complains, “It has come to my attention that Author Solutions, a local self-publishing company owned by Bertram Capital, has recently laid-off more than fifty employees since the beginning of this year.” She urges officials to look into the problem saying that as an Indiana and Monroe County taxpayer, she feels “extremely ripped-off.”

It seems pretty clear that Author Solutions was playing the tax loophole game with the residents of Indiana. Whether or not the company conformed to the letter of the law, Indiana residents got the short end of the stick. An employee recalls:

“I don’t know the exact numbers but I can tell you that two years ago … there were not enough desks or chairs for everyone. Parking was horrible, and people would park along the curbs to get a space. They were moving filing cabinets to hallways to make room for more desks. The Indianapolis office was the same way. In fact, some people had to start working from home because the landlord said we were using too many parking spaces.”

…And Run

author solutions quoteContrast that to today, after numerous layoffs and a transitioning of the workforce to the Philippines, and this is the picture of Author Solutions one employees sees: “Now in Bloomington there is a whole section of about 25 desks that are empty. There are 3 or 4 vacant offices. In Indy, almost one entire half of the office is vacant and is being disassembled.”

An anonymous employee tells me:

“More and more jobs keep ending up in the Philippines… There are now 1200 employees there. 1200!!! That means over 2/3 of services, sales, customer service and marketing are being done out of the Philippines! And the rest of the US staff? Most of them don’t work on the core imprints. There are a handful of people who work on iUniverse and AuthorHouse in the US. The rest of the staff — they only work on the partnerships (Abbott Press, Westbow, Balboa, Inspiring Voices, Crossbooks, Dellarte). Why? Because those partners are smarter than to allow untrained Filipinos to work on their books! There is not a single Trafford or Xlibris employee in the US!”

And the picture in the Philippines isn’t pretty either. The employee likens it to a sweatshop and says the people there are “packed like sardines for pennies a day. No training, no publishing expertise, just shove those books through the assembly line and sell, sell, sell!”

Customers See No Benefits From Cheap Labor

I’m assured that in addition to the number of authors who I’ve interviewed here already, there are still hundreds more who have been ripped off by the company.

The refund process was even changed to take greater advantage of customers. So the longer a customer waits to ask for a refund, the less they get. This works to the company’s advantage because most of the authors wait to ask for their money back, always thinking the company deserves a second chance to make things right.

Refunds work like this: if you have just purchased a package you can get a 100% refund, but as soon as you submit your manuscript it drops to 75%. After you start design, it drops to 50% and so on  until eventually you actually have to PAY Author Solutions $150 or $750 to get a worthless PDF of the file you already paid them to create (Schedule A, Section 9 of the publishing contract).

If labor costs less, they don’t have to pay state and county taxes, and no one’s getting a refund where is all the money going? No doubt it’s being used to make the company appear more profitable to buyers. Rumor has it that an announcement on Bertram Capital’s sale of Author Solutions is just around the corner.

It’s Time for Authors & Hoosiers to Act

As a sale becomes more likely, one employee has a message for iUniverse and other Author Solutions customers: “I can completely sympathize with authors… I wish they would all speak up.” Another employee says, “If you want to get revenge, better alert Publisher’s Weekly about everything you’ve dug up, and get organized with the Attorney General NOW.”

Get in Touch Now:

Fran Marburgh
Office of the Indiana Attorney General
Consumer Protection Invoice
302 West Washington Street, 5th Floor
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

http://www.in.gov/attorneygeneral/
317.232.6201

Indiana residents should vocalize their objections to local and state representatives as well as let Author Solutions execs know their abuse of tax code provisions for employers who are actually committed to job growth in Indiana is unacceptable.

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Indiana citizens, authors and their supporters should voice their compaints. To reach those involved on Twitter: @INATTYGENERAL @keithogorek @authorsolutions @mymanmitch and @iuniversebooks.[/box]

Author Solutions Negligent, Wastes Thousands in Author's Money

iuniverse author solutionsHere we go again. Another iUniverse/Author Solutions FAIL.

On Friday, I got an email from Mark Thornton, one of the iUniverse authors I interviewed back in May. Mark is an assistant producer for a Louisville-based AM radio station, and in that capacity he discovered something quite unsettling about iUniverse and its parent company, Author Solutions, Inc (ASI).

Mark writes:

I’m an Assitant Producer at WGTK 970 AM, and I book authors to be on one of our talk shows.

There’s a publication that every radio station in America uses: RTIR Radio-TV Interview Guide. Anyway, iUniverse is charging their authors to place ads in RTIR and listing the Author Solutions phone number 812-339-6000 ext. 5222 and the contact person Kelly Rynard, but that extension is not vaild and there is no Kelly Rynard at Author Soultions or iUniverse.* So the writers are paying iUniverse to promote their book to Radio and TV producers, but when somone calls to book an interview they hit a dead end.

I used the Internet to track down the author we wanted to interview, and she was shocked to find out that her ad was useless.

Mark gave me the phone number for RTIR. Armed with that and the power of Google, I started digging. What I found was pretty repulsive, but sadly not surprising.

Authors Can Buy Ads Directly From RTIR

Author Solutions’ imprints iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Publish in the USA** and Author House all encourage authors to purchase RTIR ads through their website. However, as is the case with their Trifecta Book Review Services, these vanity presses fleece authors by tacking thousands of dollars on to the original supplier’s price tag.

There is nothing preventing authors from buying ads directly through RTIR, except perhaps the misleading copy on Author Solutions websites.

  • ASI companies don’t spell out what RTIR stands for, presumably to prevent authors from discovering they can buy ads without the middleman for thousands less through Radio-TV Interview Report.
  • ASI companies brag that the RTIR packages include “professionally written content (with your final approval),” making it sound like ASI’s people provide this service when actually RTIR includes copywriting in their base price.

iUniverse’s Mark-Up on Ads is Unholy

author solutions iuniverse RTIR

Sources: RTIR Ad Rates, Deadlines and Other Information and Author Solutions’ company websites.

Just how the math works depends on several factors: Does ASI purchase the 1/2-page or full-page ad from RTIR? Does the customer buy 1/4-page or 1/2-page ad from ASI? And does the customer go for a 1-, 3- or 6-issue package? I ran all the scenarios, and estimate that ASI takes in anywhere from $2,000 to $18,000. (Those numbers assume that ASI doesn’t get a price break from RTIR. The gap could actually be bigger.)

Here’s a look at what iUniverse, Trafford, Author House and Xlibris imprints pocket when authors pay for these advertising services:

iuniverse profits

Missed Publicity Opportunities for Authors

Like Mark mentioned, there’s more than just price jacking going on here. The information printed in the ads points radio and TV producers to an invalid extension and an employee that is no longer with the company. Mark kept digging until he found the author he was looking for, but how many others don’t bother? How many authors should have been contacted for interviews and weren’t? And how many authors paid thousands of dollars for nothing?

The way I see it, Author Solutions has failed epicly this time. First, change the ad copy, idiots. Second, reroute or reassign extensions when an employee leaves. Third, stop being such an awful employer. It’s like those DishTV commercials:

When you run a scam business, your employees hate working for you. When your employees hate working for you they leave in droves. When they leave in droves, current employees don’t know where to route calls for former employees.

So my question for Kevin Weiss and Keith Ogorek is this: Are you guys too stupid to anticipate that this would be a problem, or do you just prefer collecting thousands of dollars from your customers without having to provide any actual services? My bet’s on the latter. Because then your employees don’t have to work for your authors, they just have to make more sales calls for you.

For more information, read the Complete Index of Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints.


*A search on LinkedIn revealed that there was a Kelly Rynard who worked at Author Soultions from June 2010 – November 2011.
**The imprints Author Solutions owns seems to grow exponentially every time I search the web. Publish in the USA is the latest one I’ve stumbled across. I refuse to link to the site, but you really should see it. It’s like the Time Cube guy made it for them.

More Author Solutions Employee Reviews

Have you been keeping track of the Author Solutions employee reviews on Glassdoor.com? Of course you haven’t, so let me give you the skinny. We start with one good review and wrap up with two more bad ones.

The Good Review

iuniverse customer serviceI’m glad to see that someone at the company decided to take my suggestion to heart. On May 22, I wrote: “one has to wonder where the loyal employees are hiding, if, in fact, there are any loyal employees to be found.” Then yesterday, I found a 5-star review from someone at the Fort Mitchell, KY offices* who claims that the company is growing so quickly a few hiccups are to be expected. You can read  the review in its entirety here.

That Author Solutions review really tickles me. I mean on one hand, ZOMG! It’s so fast-paced you might not be able to hang. But on the other, there’s a three-month ramp up period to help you along, so you’re good. (Granted, I imagine it does take some time to master the art of pushing overpriced marketing services on people who have said repeatedly they don’t want them.)

I also love how the employee lauds what other employees have grudgingly identified as croneyism. Also, lookie! The review has bumped Kevin Weiss’s approval rating all the way up to a whopping 20%!

The Bad Reviews

That approval rating and the company rating of 1.6 would probably be higher, except that two other 1-star reviews have also been added. (I’ve posted excerpts for your convenience, but you can see the full reviews by clicking on the dates at the end of the quoted material.)

“Being owned by a private equity corporation, treatment of employees and client satisfaction are AuthorSolutions lowest priorities. The wages are low and the benefits are minimal. Discipline is maintained by regularly singling out employees for harsh treatment through intimidation, work overloads, artificial production goals and eliminating positions to transfer to their facilities in the Philippines. Management actively recruits employees to spy on other employees. On the job training is minimal and employees are expected to sink or swim on their own. Expertise and seniority are not valued and promotions are often based on obsequiousness to upper management, not skill. For these reasons, employee turnover is high and moral is low.” — June 21, 2012

and another from a Fort Mitchell, KY employee…

“Aside from the pay being significantly under normal expectations, shortly after starting to work there, they had the gall to actually pull a bait and switch on pay, by changing the CarrerBuilder advertisement from ‘base salary plus an aggressive commission structure’ to ‘draw against commission’ with net loss of $17,500/year in guaranteed income, plus they raised the minimum acceptable performance metrics level by 33% without discussion, comment, or any additional compensation in doing so.” — June 13, 2012

What it Means for iUniverse Customers

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: High employee turnover and dissatisfied employees are bad news for the customers of any of Author Solutions vanity presses, including iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, and Palibrio. Just to be safe, I’d stay away from Abbott Press (Writer’s Digest-branded line), Balboa (Hay House-branded line), WestBow  (Thomas Nelson-branded line) and Inspiring Voices. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Plenty of customers have already warned you:

Lawrence Fisher
Joan Moran
Mark Thornton
Philip Reed
Justin Nutt
Lawson Brooks III
Jean Rikhoff
Jodi Foster 

*Fort Mitchell, KY offices located at 228 Grandview Dr., Fort Mitchell, KY 41017 with phone number (859) 916-5741. I’m not sure what strategic reason they have to maintain offices here, unless they 1) want to split employees to break down communication and lessen solidarity or 2) found a way to get economic development tax credits from Indiana AND Kentucky.

iUniverse Complaints: Interview with Justin Nutt

Justin Nutt is the author of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truth, a Kansas City resident, and a counselor who specializes in relationship and identity issues. Judging by his website, he’s also an all-around nice guy. Take for instance this quote from his bio, “All proceeds from sales of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truth as well as other products or services made through this website will be used to fund the domestic violence work of Acts of Random Kindness.”

Sadly, Justin is one more author who’s had the misfortune of working with Author Solutions, Inc. imprint iUniverse. Read his interview to find out why he’s working to organize a class action lawsuit against Author Solutions for inaccurate royalty reports and payments, issues which breach the iUniverse contract. For more information, contact Justin.

ES: Can you tell us about your initial search for a publisher and what led you to contact iUniverse?

JN: I actually did a lot of research into traditional publishers, wanting to avoid self-publishing. But I found that it was a much harder road between query letters and agents. I then did huge research into self-publishing companies. iUniverse and other Author Solutions companies came up time and time again, and I chose to publish with iUniverse. (Little did I realize that they were in fact paying for sites and creating sites that showed them as top-ranked to show higher in search results.)

ES: What was the deal you originally made with iUniverse to publish your book? Did you buy a specific publishing package?

JN: I talked with them several times about packages, and I decided on the Premier  Package. I added Cover Copy Polish and Book Buyers Preview, though Cover Copy Polish was a joke.  They took what I wrote and didn’t even type it in correctly. I had to correct the bio for them.

Several times they suggested going with a more expensive package, but I knew what services I needed and didn’t allow them to talk me into extras like paying to be a “Rising Star.” (Yes, this award was actually offered to me if I paid more.)

I was told several things would be part of the package such as copyrighting help with creating interior images and proofreading and editing—all were appealing to me. I was so happy with what the sales person promised that I even bought a second package for another book that I had finished writing just a few days earlier. I was excited to hear that the second package was only $1, how great is that? Needless to say the idea of finally being a published author was a hugely exciting thing.

ES: What problems did you have with iUniverse, and how did they attempt to resolve your complaints? Were you happy with the result?

JN: The excitement was very, VERY short lived. I had a great deal of issues with iUniverse starting shortly after I submitted the manuscript to them. It took them far longer to edit the book than they stated it would take, and when I got it back there were numerous items which made little to no sense to change. Some of the edits changed the entire meaning of what was being said. Because the book was a self-help book on relationships, changing what something meant could not only prevent a person from being helped, but do the polar opposite and cause more damage.

iUniverse also suggested that I use line editing which would’ve cost an exorbitant amount, more than a private editor. I had someone else do the editing for me and turned them in to get back a proof. The proof contained mistakes that were a result of formatting. None of the mistakes had been in the manuscript previously, so I had to do yet another round of edits. Due to there being new items that needed to be changed along with some that had been missed by the editor, they attempted to charge me several hundred dollars. I complained, so they only charged me $100, which I thought was a great thing. It made me think maybe they were a good company.

After all the edits had been made, I asked my check-in coordinator about the “custom designed images” they stated they would create free of charge. I was told that if I gave them a description of what I wanted they would “try to find a stock image that we (they) felt would work.” This wasn’t acceptable to me, because I had specific images in mind for the book. I had a friend create the images and I sent these to them.

What I then heard was that the images were not formatted correctly and would have to be fixed. My friend changed the images to the DPI they wanted, and they were sent to iUniverse. I was told they would look perfect. What appeared in the book when I received the proof copy, however, was distorted. In one case an image was cut off on one side. When I contacted them about this, I was told that if I wished to change it I would have to pay to have it fixed — they said it would be cheaper to start from scratch than to fix one image. I was also told that I couldn’t use the second package (the additional package I’d purchased for $1) for this, but would have to buy a new package. It was only one image, though, and I was not willing to spend another $1,500 to do this. These were all minor things I was able to move past with the excitement of being published, doing radio interviews and friends telling me they couldn’t wait to read the book. The real issues started when the book was released and sales numbers were not available on their site.

I contacted them about this and they stated that it was a glitch that had recently popped up due to new software and that it would soon be fixed. I called again and complained about it and was told that they couldn’t give me any numbers. So I started doing more research, and a friend who had read something about iUniverse sent me a link. I saw that a number of others had the same issues I had. I commented on this and even wrote my own post about a concern, and the next day I received a call from an iUniverse representative, Desiree Acousta. She asked what my concerns were, and I explained what I already had to the other iUniverse employee. She pulled up that they showed only one sale from their website, and this was something that I found of great concern.

My own website had not yet been set up, so I had been referring people to the iUniverse bookstore and had been receiving emails on the book’s Facebook page that people had bought the book and that they loved it. They mentioned very specific things about the book, and I loved that the things I was worried would be seen as silly were the things that had helped individuals to engage in the process of change.

I addressed these things with Desiree Acousta, and she stated that it was most likely due to the fact that sales figures took 60 days to post after the end of the quarter. She also stated that iUniverse sends free copies of author’s books to news outlets that request them, and that might account for some of the emails as well. I dropped the subject, briefly.

eugene hopkins iuniverse author solutionsI got more and more emails. People called in to shows talking about how they loved the book, and I even ran into people when I was out that had read the book and recognized me from my picture on the back cover. (Yes, that happens when you always wear the same cowboy hat.) I called Desiree again and was eventually referred to Eugene Hopkins. That’s when the real issues started. He seemed very nice during the first call, listening and stating he understood where I was coming from. He wanted to help and would pull up all the sales reports for everything to that day and call me back. It was during this call that I addressed for the first time that I had been contacted by well over 100 people told me they bought the book. He said, “They were probably just being nice and didn’t want to tell you (me) they didn’t care.” I then explained these weren’t people I was trying to sell the book to they were people who went out of their way to contact me, to which he stated that there are a number of reasons people would lie.

When he did eventually call me back days later he said there were no sales through their website, even though Desiree had previously said there were, and he told me there were no domestic sales at all–only sales in the UK. I asked about the sales that had been shown on Amazon, and he said that it was probably only a place keeper (not the term he used but what he meant by his long drawn out statement).He further stated that the only sales, other than copies I had received, were 14 that had sold in the UK. He promised to email me copies of all the sales reports he had in front of him.

A week elapsed without receiving the email sales reports, so I called him four different times and he finally sent me a spread sheet that had my copies printed with US and UK sales on it. I emailed him back asking about the actual sales reports he promised, and he never answered the email. I sent another email reminding him of the demands I had previously set out and informing him that I was in the process of organizing a class action suit. What I received back was a settlement offer of $1.00, the refund of the second package I had purchased.

I called him five more times before he would return my call. One of the first things he said was an almost attack on me saying he needed proof and wanted me to contact those people who said they had bought copies of the books and provide a batch and order number. “Proof isn’t copies of pictures sent by your (my) friends,” he said. He further stated that there were 14 lines on the “sales report” and so that maybe where my confusion was. Of course what is lacking from this “sales report” are the free copies that Desiree mentioned they sent to people at news outlets, which is odd since my copies were on this report. I explained the various issues I had and that I was pulling the book and expected to be compensated for the sales I had made as well as get a refund.

Each time I would make a specific point Eugene Hopkins would shift to a previous point or give some unrelated answer which had nothing to do with the topic at hand at all. Great example: I was asking about the “sales report” he sent me, and he started talking about how the book had been pulled from their website.

After this occurred several times I called him on it, and at that point he became very angry and aggressive, stating “I am telling you what is going to happen, got it!?” To which I replied that I was telling him what was going to happen, meaning a class action suit if he didn’t cooperate with me and the other authors I had been in contact with. It was at this point he got even angrier and told me “I don’t care, and I have a meeting to go to” followed by “f***ing a**hole” as he was hanging up the phone.

ES: How was your book publicized? Did you do it all yourself? Pay for iUniverse to help you market the finished product?

JN: While I received many calls about buying a PR package for $4,000 and their willingness to let me make payments, I never paid for that service. I did all the publicity myself. Before the book was ever published, I had created a blog and a Facebook page to promote it. I contacted a number of radio shows and did interviews with them. One interview led to an hour-long international talk that was done on the internet to several thousand individuals and is still available on the organization’s website.

After creating a program based off of the book, I have actually been contacted by several domestic violence shelters who have heard about the program and have read the book or know someone who has, and they are interested in implementing the program. I have also been contacted by some churches in the area who wish to use the program as well–which is great since I would get to actually teach the group rather than just train people to facilitate the group.

ES: Is there anything else you want to add?

JN: I would love to mention two reviews that a friend found on Barnes & Noble from those who state they have bought the book. There are typos, but I’m leaving them so they are exactly as they were written.

“No clue how a cute cowboy could understand a girls POV so well, but this one does. I bought the book after hearing a talk he gave online awhile back and have to say that it is nice to finally find a self-help book written by someone who has been through all of this andwho also doesnt try to say stuff in a way that makes others feel dumb. The book is great at not doing that and the analogies are great my fave is the cartoon snowball, trust me when you read it you will know hwat i mean. Color me a happy girl and please write more books you are awsome and easy on the eyes. ;-)”

The snowball analogy, how would anyone know that was in the book, or the conversational style I used when writing the book if they were lying about buying the book, as Eugene suggests?

“i think this book is great i bought it a month ago and has changed my life so much so that three of my friends also bought it and we sit around and discuss it. if you have problems with love how i did this is a must read to find your good guy. didn’t buy ours through b&n but glad to see they are selling them now. thanks so much mr. nutt!!! muah!”

This shows four sales alone, which would account for half of the sales that iUniverse says have been made. Add in the above sale and another review from April 6th on Barnes & Noble’s website, and that means only two other books were sold.

Still with us? It’s Emily again. Just wanted to add a few of my own thoughts. After hearing Justin’s account and other stories, I can say without hesitation that Eugene Hopkins is a miserable client services manager. I understand that he probably gets tired of dealing with this kind of stuff all the time. But it’s time to find a new vocation when you call customers fucking assholes, insist that their friends are lying to them about buying books, and then rationalize that theory by explaining how you lie to Girl Scouts about buying cookies elsewhere. Maybe his job wouldn’t be so miserable if he was actually empowered to correct these problems? Regardless, I ask all writers with manuscripts to avoid the Author Solutions vanity presses listed in this post unless you think dealing with ol’ Gene sounds like fun.