This happens: You write a book and now you are ready to have it edited, polished, covered and published. You know very little about independent publishing. Where do you turn?
Here is one eNovel Authors at Work experience with iUniverse, an arm of Author Solutions.
Dianne Greenlay: In 2009 a friend forwarded an article to me that compared the top ten “self-publishing companies.” Top of the list was iUniverse. (I later learned that all of the top ten listed were subsidiaries of Author Solutions). I contacted several of iUniverse’s authors and asked them for their their publishing experience with iUniverse.
The most notable reply was from Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice. She had paid iUniverse to polish and publish the title. Lisa began by hand-selling copies at talks, libraries and mental health events. When the American Alzheimer’s Society put their approval on her book, sales increased and Simon and Schuster offered her a contract. Still Alice became a best seller. It still is.
Lisa’s experience sounded pretty good to me, so I went ahead. I chose the upper end service iUniverse offered:
- A custom cover,
- An editorial evaluation
- 60 “free” softcovers
- 40 ”free” hardcovers
- An ebook edition
- An author website setup
- A social media setup (Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Shelfari, Goodreads, and Facebook)
- Copyright registration
- Library of Congress Control Number
- An email marketing campaign, and
- Promotional bookselling materials (bookmarks, postcards, and business cards).
All of this for only $4200 USD. I paid it—and more. Yep. After I paid iUniverse to edit, cover, format and publish my book, they pocketed 80% of the royalties.
Two months after I wrote the check, I held the hard copy and soft copy of Quintspinner – a Pirates Quest in my hot little hands. I was giddy with excitement, the books looked great. They really did! iUniverse uploaded on my behalf to Amazon, B&N, Chapters, and a gazillion other sites, most of which I had not heard of. There was my book on Amazon, the world could see it! I had no input on the pricing, but so what? An ebook by an unknown author would sell at $14.99, wouldn’t it? Nope. Sales were miniscule. Worse, I discovered typos and mistakes in all editions.
Every other month a rep from iUniverse contacted me with an upsell speech and a push for further services. I usually declined. My angst increased with each passing month due to a mere trickle of sales. Eventually, embarrassed about the typos, I paid for two extra rounds of revisions. I berated myself for having missed so many typos when I proofed the books and for simply not having been careful enough.
By 2010, I wanted out from under iUniverse. The more dismay I felt, the more I reached out and networked with other indie authors. I learned of editors, formatters and cover artists.
I canceled the contract. iUniverse insisted I pay $750 to release the rights to the cover that they had helped me design. I left that cover behind and started over with Amazon KDP and CreateSpace. It has taken four years for me to see a return on investment.
In 2009 I had no idea that I could have outsourced all of this for a sum far less iUniverse demanded. In retrospect, even if I had known, I’m not certain that I would have outsourced. Like many other new authors, I thought: iUniverse is a great deal, efficient, too. One-stop shopping and it was all professionally done. All I had to do was sit back and wait for readers across the globe to buy my book. That didn’t happen.
Recently iUniverse has been in the news.
One story is that Author Solutions (the parent company), has been acquired by Penguin-Random House (2013). There was chatter in our cyberworld that perhaps Penguin would clean up Author Solutions’ practices, because by 2012 Author House was well-known for overcharging, over-promising and under-delivering.
The second news story was more ominous—there were reports that a few authors had launched a lawsuit against Author Solutions/iUniverse, claiming that their typos/revisions submitted at the pre-publish stage were purposely ignored and not corrected in the final copy. Worse, the lawsuit claimed that Author Solutions had actually inserted typos into manuscripts. I suspect that happened to my book.
Perhaps iUniverse engaged in unethical business practices. I know I paid for two additional rounds of edits after I thought every error had been corrected. The civil case is presently before the American Courts. If those plaintiff authors win their case, I suspect there will be a line-up of many more.
The moral of Dianne’s story is that we must educate ourselves about every facet of our digital industry. The wake-up call is when our wallets are thinner than a hair, our books don’t sell and our writing careers are askew.
Dianne did not know of Preditors and Editors, a non-profit organization that offers guidelines and warnings (since 1997) to avoid scams, neither did she know that it rates such companies as Author House and its subsidiaries. Had she known she would have discovered this: Not recommended.
Preditors and Editors is a must-read site for indie authors. Subscribe! (Most authors don’t know it, but you can list your books on the site, new, priced and FREE. Don’t pass up that opportunity.)
Sadly, Dianne is not alone. Many of us have had upsetting and costly experiences as we leapt into the digital books world. The tools to help indie authors make wise decisions about our career paths are on the internet and most are free—we just don’t know it. We don’t know to look and we trust too easily. Networking with more experienced and savvy indie authors is key.
Once I heard from Lisa Genova and how successful she was, I looked no further. I was so new at all of this that I didn’t even know that individuals and their talents were for hire. When I contracted with iUniverse, I thought I was getting a professional package. And how convenient! One stop shopping.
Dianne finally saw an ROI on Quintspinner after she published the title herself in KDP and CreateSpace. The title went on to win multiple awards, including B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner, Best Historical (Reader Views, NIEBA), Best YA (Writer’s Digest, Hollywood Book Festival), Best Commercial Novel (Eric Hoffer), Book of the Year (Foreword Reviews).
For more articles on Writers Beware go here.