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Q: What was the deal you originally made with iUniverse to publish your book?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.