Scams and Slams! Indie Author Mishaps

Written By: Jackie Weger - May• 28•14

 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?

Dianne Greenlay

Go to Dianne’s page on eNovel Authors at Work

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.

Find on Amazon

Find on Amazon

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,
  • ISBN
  • 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.

Quintspinner: A Pirate’s Quest

Find on Amazon

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.

Dianne said,

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.


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  1. Wow, quite a story Dianne. I got caught by Author House back in 2004, when there wasn’t really any alternative. Their ‘services’ were expensive and useless but things had moved on when I published again in 2012. I knew enough by then to do it myself, with the advice and guidance of websites such as Indies Unlimited but I was locked into having AuthorHouse for my 1st book. I cancelled my contract with them and produced a 2nd edition of the 1st book but they somehow ‘forgot’ to remove their version from Amazon. So, they were stealing my royalties. I ended up having a phone conversation with the lawyers who were working on the lawsuit and mentioned this in one of my many communications with AuthorHouse. Things moved pretty fast after that. So, if anyone is still fighting one of the Author Solutions branches…mention the lawsuit!

  2. I’m so grateful that the first article I ever saw about independent publishing was about publishing on Amazon. I suspect I might have fallen into the same trap had I seen iUniverse instead! Thank you, Dianne, for this important and cautionary story. I definitely will subscribe to Preditors and Editors!

    • Lorrie, we all learn from our past mistakes and experiences (at least I like to think that I have…). We are just so fortunate to be writing at a time like this where there are now so many effective, ethical options.

  3. Wow, thanks for the insight into iUniverse. Sadly there are many vanity presses out there that I’ve unfortunately heard similar stories about. I absolutely agree that authors should research and find other avenues of publishing their work. When one puts their time, blood, sweat, and tears into a project, they should reap the majority of the rewards and it’s really terrible when places such as the one in the story above, take advantage of your dreams. This was a wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing the information with all of us!

    • Christine, at the time, I believed the magazine article, and Lisa Genova had been so kind to respond to me with her success story and had been very up front with the role that getting her novel first published with iUniverse had played in her path to bestseller success, so it seemed to me to be all above board.

      Also, at the time, trad publishers were paying an author only 7% royalties, so iUniverse’s royalty of 20% seemed golden to me. Looking back, I should have researched even deeper, but hindsight is always more clear than foresight, and the experience eventually gave me something to compare to, and something to be grateful for, when I 2 years later, discovered KDP and CreateSpace.:-)

  4. Rich Meyer says:

    Unfortunately, there are still far too many authors who don’t do the basic “due diligence” research before shelling out loads of dough to unscrupulous vanity predators like this. The whole Penguin acquisition has just given it a new sheen of “respectability” for anyone not already involved in the industry. Even longtime predator PublishAmerica is still thriving, under the name America Star Books.

    The keys for anyone looking to self-publishing are simple: The first is to venture into the wealth of information before spending ANY money at all. And the second is that proper publishers pay YOU for your book and not the other way around. If they want to publish your book, you should NOT be paying them for covers, editing, etc., etc. You WILL be doing that yourself as a self-publishing author, but you will also have complete control over the costs.

  5. I was lucky enough to meet authors who had had similar experiences with iUniverse, Dianne. Twice lucky to have my first novel picked up by a small indie publisher. They were author friendly, turned out a quality product, but they weren’t much on marketing and folded last year. First I panicked, and then I launched myself into Createspace. Loved the entire experience! Yours is a cautionary tale so worth reading, but also a tale of hope and smarts. I applaud you the guts to share it.

    Sharon Pennington

    • Sharon, I’m so pleased to hear that you forged ahead and found an alternative for yourself as well! My experience is kind of embarrassing to me now, but I wanted other authors to know about it so that they didn’t find themselves in the same situation.

  6. Mike Markel says:

    Beyond all the insights you and the others have presented, Dianne, there is this irony: if these companies acted even reasonably professionally, they’d have many satisfied customers and make tons of money.

  7. OMG!!! What a story! I’m glad you fought back.
    Geez! 80% !!! That blows my mind!! I’m so glad you brought this to everyone’s attention. There are so many people out there trying to take advantage of people and all without the tiniest bit of a bothered conscience. It takes someone standing up to them and getting the word out so others don’t get caught in the vicious cycle too. Great article, very informative and certainly eye opening.

    • Thanks, Julie. A 20% royalty at the time was certainly a dangling carrot in front of me, having read about trad published authors only receiving 7% on average. However, it doesn’t even come close to the earnings that we now get through CreateSpace, KDP, Smashwords, etc. It’s authors taking control of their writing careers. A wonderful time to be in the business of writing!

  8. When I read stories like this I’m so glad I have never had the money to pay out for such a scheme as I’m sure I would have been drawn in and fleeced like so many others! It is a daunting thing stepping out into the world of publishing and knowing exactly where to go for reliable help.

    • Yes you’re right Kristen. Thankfully things have changed and improved so amazingly fast in the last two or three years in self publishing, that many excellent choices are out there for us now.( however, the not-so-good ones still lurk around…)

  9. Guess I’ll stick with CreateSpace for print copies and continue to make my own e-books. An indie author’s work is never done! Hard work, determination, and a lot of drive are required when an author chooses this path–or the path chooses you.

    • Yes, Linda, that’s so true. And just when we think we have the publishing journey figured out, there’s a new fork in the road. The best things are never static, I guess!

  10. Pete barber says:

    Hi Dianne,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I got lucky with the guy I used on my first novel (Ray Rhamey) he did a fine job and I feel I got value for money, but I didn’t do a lot of research and would almost certainly gone the same route you did if I’d seen iUniverse first.


    • Yes, Pete, I thought I had researched it enough, and it had good references at the time, but I was such a newbie that it never occurred to me that anything was wrong, until much later, when I had the experience and more information to compare it to. Live and learn…

      Thanks for dropping in and reading!

  11. Joanne Hill says:

    It’s so good to get stories like yours out there although its truly heart breaking. I wrote and didn’t sell for 20 years, and all along, it was a Big 6/Harlequin or nothing. It stayed ‘nothing’ until 18 months ago I saw friends DIY with indie and that appealed. Nothing to lose so no regrets. I now see writer friends making good money on indie but some of their books they’ll never get back, cos small presses are holding on to them & they signed the contracts. I often think ‘there but for the grace of God go I!’

  12. Dale Furse says:

    I’m so sorry you had to go through that experience, Dianne. I found you on Wattpad and love your book so I’m glad you kept your faith in your story.

    I was lucky, I heard about P&E when my sister submitted a poem to some unsavory publisher or other years ago.

    It’s great to hear you recouped the initial sum and I hope your success grows from here on, in.

  13. Rosie Dean says:

    That’s a very sobering story. Fortunately, I had help from a fellow indie, who had already jumped through the hoops herself, and gave me a lot of guidance.

    80% is high for a publisher to take. I was recently offered a contract by a publisher, who would have taken 75%.

    I didn’t sign, even though they have quite a high profile. I mostly wanted to stay in control of my work and my marketing.

    Thanks for the heads-up on P&E.

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