Penguin’s New Business Model: Exploiting Writers

By

The performance of Author Solutions is so poor that the press release announcing the purchase by Penguin can’t even tout their own customers’ success, and instead lists self-publishing stars such as “Lisa Genova, John Locke, Darcie Chan, Amanda Hocking, Bronnie Ware and E.L. James” – none of whom used Author Solutions to publish their work.

Columns, David Gaughran, Homepage Sub, News  •  Jul 20, 2012

 

Penguin’s parent company, Pearson, has announced the purchase of Author Solutions for $116m – news which has shocked writers, especially given Author Solutions’ long history of providing questionable services at staggering prices.

Author Solutions are the dominant player in the self-publishing services market – via their subsidiaries Author House, Xlibris, Trafford, and iUniverse – and had been looking for a buyer for several months. According to the press release, Author Solutions will be folded into Penguin, but will continue to operate as a separate company. Penguin’s CEO John Makinson stated:

“This acquisition will allow Penguin to participate fully in perhaps the fastest-growing area of the publishing economy and gain skills in customer acquisition and data analytics that will be vital to our future.”

What does Author Solutions bring to the table? Well, for starters, around $100m in annual revenue. Roughly two-thirds of that money comes from the sale of services to writers, and only one-third from the royalties generated by the sale of their books.

Pause for a moment and consider that statistic. Penguin isn’t purchasing a company which provides real value to writers. They are purchasing an operation skilled at milking writers.

This is not a new accusation against Author Solutions. Industry watchdogs such as Writer Beware have received a litany of complaints about Author Solutions and their subsidiaries over the last few years: misleading marketing, hard-selling of over-priced services, questionable value of products provided, awful customer service, and, after all that, problems with writers being paid.

For example, Author House will provide you with a “web-optimized press release” for the bargain price of $1,199. In case it isn’t obvious, you would likely receive greater promotional value from setting fire to that money on YouTube.

How do writers fall into the trap of such an awful company? In short, disingenuous marketing. According to Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware, “marketing efforts include maintaining sites like Findyourpublisher.com, which purport to be utilities to help writers choose a publishing company.” That site, of course, will only give you the false “choice” of various Author Solutions subsidiaries – all of which have similarly awful services.

After falling for this marketing guff, writers don’t tend to make the same mistake twice. According to the above-mentioned press release from their new owners Penguin, 150,000 writers have used the services of Author Solutions, but they have only published a combined total of 190,000 books.

Before they leave the clutches of Author Solutions, however, writers are subjected to never-ending phone calls hawking a string of overpriced, useless services, including the press releases described above. As such, the average customer spends around $5,000 over their “lifetime” with the company, but only sells 150 books.

The performance of Author Solutions is so poor that the press release announcing the purchase by Penguin can’t even tout their own customers’ success, and instead lists self-publishing stars such as “Lisa Genova, John Locke, Darcie Chan, Amanda Hocking, Bronnie Ware and E.L. James” – none of whom used Author Solutions to publish their work.

This kind of disingenuity is standard for Author Solutions. Tireless blogger Emily Seuss has been watching the company, and has provided a handy catalogue of recent complaints. I should note that this is just the beginning where Author Solutions is concerned.

The last time I blogged about the Author Solutions subsidiary iUniverse (scroll down), I highlighted a typical marketing move. Just before Christmas last year, iUniverse mailed their existing customers with a very special “deal” where they offered to turn their print books into e-books and upload them to the various retailers for free.

The catch was that customers would then have to fork over 50% of their royalties from every single sale to iUniverse. Needless to say, formatting and uploading is a trivial task. For those unable to do it themselves, that service can be purchased for a nominal up-front fee, leaving a writer’s royalties intact.

After I blogged about this severe over-charging, two iUniverse customers complained in the comments that after they didn’t respond to that offer, iUniverse published their e-books anyway – without their permission. One of those writers is still trying to get her unauthorized edition removed, several months later.

As I mentioned already, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Following all the links above, and reading the comments to those pieces, will reveal hundreds of such complaints regarding Author Solutions and their subsidiaries.

None of this should come as any surprise to Penguin. I think it’s safe to presume that basic due diligence was undertaken before purchasing a company for $116m.

Defenders may point out that none of the above occurred on Penguin’s watch, and that they should be given an opportunity to turn the company around. But let’s not forget that Penguin have a little history here. Last year, Penguin unveiled their own self-publishing service, Book Country, which over-charges for basic services, and then puts its hand in the writers’ wallet a second time by taking an indefensible portion of their royalties.

In any event, no inference is needed regarding Penguin’s opinion of Author Solutions’ business practices. We only need to look at Penguin’s own press release to read CEO John Makinson’s thoughts:

“No-one has captured this [self-publishing] opportunity as successfully as Author Solutions, which has rapidly built a position of world leadership on a platform of outstanding customer support and tailor-made publishing services.”

Welcome to Penguin’s new business model. Exploiting writers.

 

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David Gaughran is an Irish author, living in London, who has released several self-published titles and blogs more regularly at Let’s Get Digital.

  • http://randyattwood.blogspot.com Randy Attwood

    There should be a circle in hell devoted to these kinds of people and the minions who work for them.

    • Amanda

      I know one of the ex-minions. It’s not a job to be proud of, but it’s better than unemployment and there aren’t a lot of jobs around here.

    • Satan

      “There should be a circle in hell devoted to these kinds of people and the minions who work for them.”

      I’m working on it, I’m working on it.

  • http://www.steveumstead.com Steve Umstead

    “For example, Author House will provide you with a “web-optimized press release” for the bargain price of $1,199. In case it isn’t obvious, you would likely receive greater promotional value from setting fire to that money on YouTube.

    Fantastic line…

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      If anyone is considering purchasing that press release, we can test that hypothesis…

  • http://annerallen.blogspot.com/p/about-ruth-harris.html Ruth Harris (@RuthHarrisBooks)

    David, thank you for posting this. Your photo just about says it all — except I guess they couldn’t find a writer to hold still long enough. Will tweet.

  • http://jwmanus.wordpress.com Jaye

    It’s getting to the point where the only REAL news is when some publisher acts ethically…

    I openly called Penguin’s Book Country venture a con job. I openly call this acquisition a con job, too. For those who think Penguin will somehow turn AS around and turn it into an ethical, useful service that benefits writers and adds value to their self-publishing efforts, well, all i can say is, I have this bridge…

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      Agreed, Jaye.

      I don’t buy the line that Penguin have bought Author Solutions to clean it up. AS make their money *from* authors, not *with* authors. That’s not going to change, whatever spin Penguin may try.

      • http://www.bondwine.com/ Tom Simon

        There’s enough evidence already out there in public to conclude the opposite: Penguin have bought Author Solutions to ‘clean up’ Penguin. Their own vanity press wasn’t getting the results they wanted, so they brought in the real experts at parting writers from their money.

        • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

          Given that the head of Author Solutions has been given a seat on the board of his new paymasters, that conclusion can easily be made.

  • http://www.michaelmccallister.com Mike McCallister

    Thanks for the heads-up. I used to love Penguin Books, and have learned much from their titles over the years. My previous enthusiasm has cooled rather dramatically, I’m afraid.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      I used to love them too. What happened?

    • http://www.dittymac.blogspot.com Virginia Llorca

      Years ago, they were very much respected.

  • http://susanrussoanderson.com Susan Russo Anderson

    Thanks so much, David. This post is a great service to indie authors.

    I can attest to the ruthlessness of Author Solutions. When I first started thinking of self-publishing, I clicked on one of their internet ads and to my shame got hounded with emails. How they got my cell phone number, I don’t know, not from me. But they started calling on a daily basis, using different phone numbers. Finally I had to get nasty with them before they stopped. Since then I’ve read horror stories from authors who have lost, not only the rights to their works, but thousands of dollars.

  • Tom Rizzo

    This business is getting more crowded my goofballs and charlatans that take advantage of those with an intense desire to get published –at, at least, see their name on a book cover. It’s unfortunate that a company like Penquin feeds this hunger by lending it legitimacy. The road to publishing success is littered with obstacles, but persistence – coupled with good writing and editing – can often result in surprising breakthroughs, and without the thousands of dollars companies like Penquin and its subsidiaries are eager to separate from their “clients.”

  • http://wodke-hawkinson.com Wodke Hawkinson

    I wonder why any author would use this program when it’s easy to self-publish now. One of our best decisions, we feel, was to self-publish first and consider other offers second. Thank you for an informative article.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      I think we should recognize that some authors either don’t want to take care of everything themselves, are intimated about the prospect of same, and may require a little extra hand-holding. That’s fine, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that (although I do think that many authors overestimate the difficulty of the process). There are scrupulous self-publishing services out there. Author Solutions certainly aren’t one of them.

    • Larry

      Fear of the non-writing stuff. A “full-service” company that does all that dirty work for you sounds good to newbies who don’t realize that it’s not that hard to DIY or hire reasonably priced freelancers to help. With sites like this one growing and sharing information, companies like this will/should bite the dust or lower their fees.

      BTW, are there any companies that really deliver on what AH promises and don’t gouge writers?

      • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

        It’s not quite a comparable full service operation (as far as I know), but I’ve heard positive reports about BookBaby. For a fuller service, I know people like John Locke used Telemachus Press in the past, but I’ve heard a couple of mixed reports about them. Finally, Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch (and several commenters on both their blogs) regularly sing the praises of Lucky Bat Books. Some of the services look a little expensive on first glance, but some look okay.

        (I can’t personally vouch for any of the above but I’m happy to take recommendations from anyone that has used a self-publishing service and was happy with both the price and results.)

  • Nikolai Krimp

    I too nearly fell into the bonds of Author House. I was warned before I signed on the dotted line. I sent them what I thought was a completed manuscript before I was told not to sign. Within a couple of days I was accepted. when I checked what I had sent them I found that I sent only half of my novel. So they could not have checked my story before accepting it. This then told me that it was a sham. Today I published with Kindle and now Red Skies Publishing has gotten, (From me) the permission to publish a printed copy of my book. I am very happy that I didn’t fall into a trap.
    Nick Krimp

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      I’m happy you were able to escape before you signed up.

  • http://bbebooksthailand.com Paul Salvette

    Very well written, David. eBook formatting should be around $50, not 50% of your royalties for the rest of your life.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      There is simply no justification for taking an ongoing cut of a writer’s royalties for a (relatively simple) one time task.

      (P.S. I do my own, but I hear Paul Salvette does great formatting work for anyone that needs it.)

  • http://www.turndogmillionaire.com/blog/ Turndog Millionaire

    It’s shocking, isn’t it?

    I actually signed up to Author House when I was a naive 20 year old. I still get phone calls now!

    Had I had the money back then I’d probably paid for a service of some kind. It would have been bad, because trust me, that Manuscript was not ready for the public eye

    I bet they wouldn’t have cared about that. So long as they got my cash. And the Big six complain that Amazon are taking advantage of writers. Ha, isn’t there a word for this? Hypocrasomething or other?

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      We’ll call that two bullets you dodged then :)

  • Rick Carufel

    Kind of ironic to publish a piece about exploiting writer on a site that exploits writers. $150 to enter a contest? Get real.

    • http://lloydlofthouse.org/ Lloyd Lofthouse

      I paid Writers Digest $100 to enter their contest three times now. However, what I’m really buying is the judge’s written evaluation which comes with each entry (even if you do not win or place) and I have not been dissapointed.

  • http://stuartaken.blogspot.co.uk/ Stuart Aken (@stuartaken)

    I wouldn’t have ever used such a service, but this is a brilliant piece for those unwary enough not to do their research. Thanks, you’re doing a real service to Indie Authors. Keep up the good work.

  • http://jeannetomlin.blogspot.com JR Tomlin

    Excellent article, David. There’s not much to say beyond that this news was nauseating.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      When I first heard, I genuinely thought it was a joke.

      No such luck.

  • http://www.ximerion.com/ Andrew Ashling

    This, and the class action suite of Harlequin authors against their draconian (an dishonest) contracts that reduce them to indentured servants, tells a lot about traditional publishing.

    It’s clear they’d rather be printing money than books. More and more they’re behaving like a mafia. I’m surprised they’re not lobbying for a law that would force anybody who wrote anything to hand over 70% of the royalties to traditional publishers, whether they had done anything to earn that money or not.

    It’s astounding how blatantly they despise authors, if they think we can’t recognize highway robbery when we see it.

  • http://www.georgewashingtonlegend.com Ryan Davidson Hatch

    A very useful article. I have personally viewed Author House and others like them for years as a scam. Anyone in this industry who promises the moon deserves a healthy dose of skepticism.

  • http://www.remcdermott.com R.E. McDermott

    Great article, David. And I loved the picture. Then again, I’m a bit twisted.

  • http://www.livehacked.com Nick Thacker

    Great article, David. I unfortunately have crossed paths with AS: I was working with a business consultant to promote his book–which he’d published through iUniverse a few months prior.

    He was shocked, appalled, and almost heartbroken at how much they did *not* do for him, and when it finally ended up on Amazon’s site, every sale he made was due to his own promotions, networking, etc.–and I highly doubt he ever broke even with it.

    A real shame, especially in this landscape. To me, these publishing houses could be making a KILLING by doing two things:

    1. Selling their electronic formats of their catalogs at reasonable prices (yes, I know that would be at the expense of their paper profits).
    2. Empowering their authors with better tools for self-promotion, editing, and building platforms.

    Nice article again, David. Thanks!
    Nick

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      Someone made a comment elsewhere that if Penguin had just spent that $116m on hiring a crack team of coders fresh out of college and given them the tools and freedom to create something, they would be way better off. I can’t disagree. Penguin, it seems, would prefer to make money the worst way possible: exploiting inexperience and vulnerable writers. It’s shameful.

  • http://www.PatriceFitzgerald.com Patrice Fitzgerald

    Great article, David. Thanks for spreading the word.

    And I just got the photo! I’m blushing…

  • http://www.michaelgalloway.net MGalloway

    Good article. I really don’t miss working with Author House. The spam, phone calls, and letters got old quick. I even remember being charged annual “Channel Access Fees” just to keep a book available on their website. Amazing.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      I’m tempted to sign up just so I can have a chat with some of these guys.

  • http://peggyireland.blogspot.com PeggyI

    David, Love the Penguins…

    A couple months ago I had someone come to me who had signed up with one of Author Solution’s companies. After taking his money for a publishing “package” which he thought was all-inclusive, he was shocked to discover that the so-called editing included was nothing more than a bare bones critic. They then offered to do a full copy-edit for him at the low-low price of $2,000 above the thousands he had already paid.

    He was quite upset to discover that there are people out there who will do exactly the same work for less than half the price. There is a reason that most books published with them are one-offs. People who realize they’ve been ripped-off either learn the ropes or give up and never venture down that path again.

    • http://lloydlofthouse.org/ Lloyd Lofthouse

      $2,000 for a full copy-edit? Amazing!!!

      Recently, I called “Proof Reading Pal.com” and was quoted $680 for an 80,000 – 100,000 word manuscript.

      In fact, in the Writer’s Digest Magazine classified section, copy-editors advertise $2 a page.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      What I find particularly galling about stories like this (which are all too common), is that the victims (and they are victims) tend to be inexperienced writers. While the more resilient may dust themselves off, chalk it down to experience, and crack on, I’m sure we have lost many from the profession due to these scammy tactics.

      Author Solutions should be ashamed of themselves, and Penguin doubly so for both buying the company and praising those same tactics.

      I have lost whatever shred of respect I had left for Penguin.

  • http://lindadwelch.com Linda Welch

    I mistakenly sent away for an Xlibris information package two years ago. I was bombarded with phone calls and emails for a solid year, despite telling them several times via email and phone to quit.

    One thing puzzles me: Author Solutions seems to be making a lot of money, which begs the question, why were they looking for a buyer and why are they selling now? Do they know something Penguin does not?

    • http://www.jefsix.com Jef

      Yes I had the exact same problem as Linda. They actually got aggressive and downright nasty, even resorting to hard sell sarcasm. That was my experience with Xilibris I’d warn anyone to be careful.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      Hi Linda,

      A few people have queried the purchase price of $116m versus the stated yearly sales of $100m. I guess the company has a high cost-base – they do employ 1,600 people after all.

      It could also be the case that the former owners – Bertram Capital – were sick of owning a company with such shlocky, exploitative sales tactics, which generated so many unhappy customers.

      If you look at the figures, it must be hard work for Author Solutions. Most writers don’t tend to publish something more than once (I presume they learn from the experience). Out of 150,000 Author Solutions customers, they have only published 190,000 books. Contrast that with a great company like Smashwords (who only make money when writers make money). Authors always go back for more. Out of 40,000 Smashwords customers, they have published 140,000 books (in a much shorter time too).

  • http://SupernalLiving.comandBookLuvin'Babes.com Dana Taylor

    That sounds like Penguin shelled out a lot of money for a rotten egg. Guess they’ll be trying to hatch it on the ice for a long time.

    Dana Taylor

  • http://SupernalLiving.com Dana Taylor

    Looks like Penguin bought a rotten egg. Looks like they’ll be trying to hatch it on the ice for a long time.

    Dana Taylor
    Book Luvin’ Babes

  • http://lloydlofthouse.org/ Lloyd Lofthouse

    For sure, all self-published-indie writers should BEWARE of wolves in sheep’s clothing. However, there is nothing illegal about what Author Solutions is doing. Instead, writers are responsible to discover what options exist and through Google it is fairly easy to find no end of information on this topic.

    In addition, self-published-indie writers should educated themselves about the reality of the publishing industry.

    For example, the nonprofit California Writer’s Club, the CWC, founded by Jack London and friends more than a century ago (with eighteen branches and well over a thousand members spread over California today) launched a Publishing Pathways Website to “educate” writers for free on this subject and it is still a work in progress.

  • http://www.Xlibris.com/ReparationsforSlavery.html Gene A. Brown

    Since I published my book with Xlibris in 2008-three editions-Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover-I have receieved less than $60.00 in Royalities. I have 40 pages of sales and Royalties since that time to June 30, 2012 which totals $690.00.
    When I call them, they tell me they mailed them out. I own all copyrights and title, and cover. I have spent close to $5,000. in marketing and promotions. I am at the point where I will have to sue them. This is the worst, fraudulent company in the history of publishing. I am 71 years old. Please help me!!!
    Gene A. Brown, copyright owner

    • http://christineleovlealand-author.blogspot.co.nz/ Christine

      My advice, change the content of your book 10% and re-publish it yourself with a different cover and title.
      International law cases have generally found a 5% or greater difference to equal a ‘new’ item.
      Food for thought?

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      I’m truly sorry to hear that Gene. If any good can come from your experience, perhaps posting your story here will serve to both put a human face on what we are talking about and warn potential customers away.

      As for yourself, I recommend contacting Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware (blog here: http://accrispin.blogspot.co.uk/ ). She does sterling work in collecting such complaints, and advising on further action, where appropriate.

  • http://www/patricialynne.com Patricia Lynne

    When I first started looking into publishing, I remember looking at a few sites like Author Solutions. I knew I needed help editing, but I was in no position to fork out the amount of money they were asking. Now I’m glad for that fact. It saved me a lot of heartbreak and I found wonderful editors and beta readers who help me edit. I did get calls from one of those sites after filling out a form requesting info, but I never picked up and they gave up on calling.

    I am curious to see this story develop because I don’t see how anyone in Penguin thought buying AS was a good idea.

  • http://www.dittymac.blogspot.com Virginia Llorca

    In the movie “Happy Feet” scientists planted a sensor in the star penguin’s back. It was horrifying. What was worse was when the penguin told his pals this was a good thing. It would help penguins. This reminds me of that. . .

  • stanley bruce carter

    One of the best things that ever happened to me was when I tried to sign on with Xlibris (or maybe it was Author House, I forget which) and their website was malfunctioning so I couldn’t complete the process. A month later it was still messed up. I went to another self-pub site and had the same problems. Maybe the internet gods were watching out for me. I still got a lot of phone calls from them, but at least I didn’t waste any money.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      A lucky escape, Stanley, as witnessed by some of the horror stories in the comments here.

  • http://indieebookfreview.wordpress.com Cally Phillips

    I’m a bit confused. To me Author Solutions and their like sound like VANITY publishers rather than real self-publishing options? For me, indie publishing is about the WRITER doing it themselves and this is what I’ve always done. Okay you don’t get the ‘marketing’ services of these companies, but I’ve always been sceptical of these. If you are an indie publisher (and by definition this more or less is a self publisher in some respect) you need to BE the publisher not just pay someone else to do it for you. How can you trust the editorial skills or integrity of companies who are simply making money out of you whatever you write? It’s like suggesting that Amazon are involved in ebook publishing through KDP. They are showcasing PRODUCT and it’s up to the individual to make the creative judgements. I say, buyer beware. If you get into publishing, do it properly and take responsibility yourself, don’t just pay money for someone to publish for you because no BIG publisher will do so. That’s both naive and yes, vain! I haven’t quite got my head round what Penguin have done here yet (need to read more on it) so I’m not suggesting I know completely what I’m talking about here, but I DO KNOW that there are lots of modern day vanity publishers in the ebook world and that people need to grow up and take responsibility for their own publishing PROPERLY and then we can all band together and work against the ridiculous marketeers who are milking creative people and doing nothing to enhance the fledgling freedom that indie writers COULD have with the new technology. Don’t just sell out to the same old sharks with different smiles. WAKE UP and BE truly independent.

    • http://christineleovlealand-author.blogspot.co.nz/ Christine

      Bravo! Well Said – The Passive Guy said – regarding lazy insecure author’s desire to be published by a publisher:- “My life experience, especially as learned from some of my former divorce clients, is if you want someone to run your life, you’ll probably find that person. You may not be terribly happy with the life that results, however.”
      In spades for Author Solutions and my personal experience is ditto for Penguin.
      ALL authors can find easy ways to publish and promote their books internationally. Spread the word!

  • http://retirement-planning-coach.blogspot.ca/ Dave Erhard

    Great article.

    The fact that Penguin is doing this came as a surprise, but on second thought, it shouldn’t have.

    The bigger suprise for me was when I learned that Balboa Press flying under the Hay House name was actually an Author Solutions subsidiary.

    The fact that Hay House is a well-known spiritual publisher and has apparently rented their name out to Authors Solutions has to bring their integrity into serious question.

    Indeed, it is appalling that a spiritual publisher would get involved with Authors Solutions. Writers with Hay House, including Hay House founder Louise Hay, talk about this higher level of consciousness that is becoming so prevelant in this world.

    If Hay House renting their name to Author Solutions is a sign of this higher level of consciousness, things don’t look that great insofar as where this world is going.

    Back to Penguin and their purchase of Authors Solutions. Why this should not be a surprise to me is that Penguin is run by executives who likely have MBAs. Surveys have shown that something like 65 percent or more of MBA students admitted that they would lie to increase their company’s financial performance.

    Get the picture? Integrity, decency, and excellence are falling off the radar screen regardless of what the spiritual writers at Hay House are telling us about a higher level of consciousness. The publisher Hay House has proven this themselves.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      It’s not just Balboa Press and Hay House, Author Solutions run self-pub services for several large publishers.

  • http://earthatory.wordpress.com/ Hermine Strand

    NEWS FLASH: SELF-PUBLISHING IS NOT VANITY PUBLISHING. THEY ARE DIFFERENT. Companies that charge money to publish your book are vanity publishers and should be avoided. True self-publishing outfits do NOT necessarily charge money up front, although you can still pay them extra for certain services. To have a vanity publisher described as a self-publisher is demeaning to everyone who believes in self-publishing.

  • D.L. Shutter

    Please be aware…this is from the same people that bought us “Book Country Fair”.

    Dave: can we see a link to your fisking of that?

    Mind you, unless you’re on a binge and purge diet right now, you might want to take some time between the two articles, These repeated efforts by Penguin against authors might have a nauseating effect on you. They do to me.

    Thanks Dave

  • D.L. Shutter

    Mind you…This is from the same people that bought us Book Country Fair.

    Dave: a link to your fisking of that if you will?

    Unless you’re on a binge and purge diet, I would take some time between the article. Penguins repeated efforts to exploit writers may have a nauseating effect on you. They do on me.

    Thanks Dave

  • http://www.jitterygt.wordpress.com Kenton Lewis

    These people are essentially bottom feeders. The problem is that there is a legitimate market for writers who can’t get their work published by the established publishing community. Some sort of self publishing is the only way for some writers to have works available to others.
    I fall into that category. I just refuse to part with my money. I would rather have my work sit in a drawer or on a shelf than spen a year or more into writing something that I have put my heart and soul into and fork over a few thousand dollars and still have it sit in a drawer or shelf. That can break your heart let alone you bank account.

  • http://nativemichigander.com/ John

    Wow, that’s really disgusting. I don’t publish or write as a pro by any means, totally an amateur. But this gives Capitalism a black eye. DISGUSTING.

  • http://theofenraven.wordpress.com Theo Fenraven

    Reblogged. Excellent article.

  • http://www.garystarta.net Gary Starta

    You don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars (or more) to get your works out there!

  • http://www.indianajim.net Indiana Jim

    Can we call it “Country Book Jamboree?” Or better yet, “Country Penguin Jamboree?” Disney should make a theme park ride.

  • http://fasttimesinpalestine.wordpress.com/ Pamela Olson

    I did a huge amount of research before self-publishing my first book, Fast Times in Palestine, and it was immediately clear to me that I didn’t have enough money to use any Author House services, whatever their quality. Plus it didn’t smell right, and I was starting to feel discouraged. Then I was lucky enough to stumble onto this article — the single most useful article on self-publishing I’ve ever read: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-18438_7-10119891-82/self-publishing-a-book-25-things-you-need-to-know

    It turned me onto CreateSpace, which has worked (mostly) beautifully. I don’t recommend their editing or text-creation services (such as press release creation) AT ALL, they were sophomoric and overpriced to say the least. I ended up complaining and getting my money back — they were pretty quick to give the money back when I complained, actually. But their interior design service was excellent, and the cover designer was pretty good and very responsive to my suggestions. I spent about $1,000 all told and made it back in the first month due to an email list of several hundred people who had been following the progress of the book (and the blog that preceeded it) for years.

    You can probably hire a freelance cover designer for better and cheaper, but I’m still a happy fan of CreateSpace’s interior design — it takes a lot of pressure off your shoulders, and there’s nothing like poor or middling interior design to scream MEDIOCRE, whatever the quality of the text. A beautifully-designed interior, on the other hand, with the right margins, font sizes, spacing, drop caps, and recurring images at the beginning of each chapter, invites a reader right in.

    My book ended up getting picked up by a traditional publisher this summer, and it will be out again in the spring under the Seal Press imprint. I’m allowed under my contract to sell my book until August 1, so I decided to do one last KDP giveaway before the story goes dark for 9 months. Feel free to pick it up here on Sunday, July 22: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00513NHNI

    FYI, the book is an unorthodox combination of coming-of-age travel memoir and narrative journalism, with a dash of romance and adventure. Think Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia meets Eat Pray Love in the Middle East.

    P.S. Am I the only one who HATES all the damned Penguin orange on her book shelf? Whatever Penguin’s flaws, they do own the rights to some great books. But they could have picked any color in the universe — why did it have to be that godawful orange?

    • Amy Edelman

      Congrats on your book being picked up, Pamela! Hope it goes well.

    • Jay

      Thanks so much, Pamela, for sharing your thoughts and your experience with Create Space. I’m trying to decide on which service would be best for me — tallying up the costs of cover design, editorial, etc. — and I keep coming around to Create Space. One thing I’m confused about, though, is the issue of royalties. The royalty calculator on Create Space came up with an abysmally small royalty return — something like 10% or 15% of the sale price. It was crazy, and I was shocked. Could you tell me what kind of royalty rates you got through your self publishing experience?

      Best to you and THANKS to David for this most informative and duly excoriating piece.

      Jay

      • Hart St. Martin

        If I sell my book on Amazon, I get 21.5% of the retail price. If I sell it on the CreateSpace e-store, I get 41.5%. Haven’t yet loaded up the Kindle version, but I’ve heard the royalties are even better there. also not sure why the discrepancy between Amazon and CreateSpace stores. I just know that I’ve been very happy so far with their service although I have been doing it all myself with the help of their templates. A few snags along the way. My only issue is that if you go the “free” route, as I have, you’ll find you get little, if any, help from customer service. There is a huge member community, though, and most answers can be found there.

        • http://EvolvingoutofEden.com Ed Suominen

          The higher royalty at the CreateSpace store certainly looks attractive when you see it and compare it to what you will get from sales of the same book via Amazon.com. But with hundreds of copies of my book (obligatory plug) Evolving out of Eden sold thus far, I’ve only moved a handful of those copies through the storefront. The total is probably less than ten, and those were mostly bought by people who knew about the book’s upcoming release and wanted to order as soon as I sent them the link. The rest of my sales have been e-books and print-on-demand books sold through the main Amazon.com site.

          Initially, my link to buy a print copy via the book’s website was to the e-store. I wanted that nice juicy higher royalty, after all! But with so few sales from it, I decided it might actually have been hurting sales by distracting people from where they would be buying print copies anyhow. So I decided to just forget about the e-store and send visitors to Amazon.com for their print copies. I think it was the right move, for me anyhow. Other people’s situations might be different.

  • Bert Gedin

    ‘Penguin’s’ exploiting writers ? Has anyone considered whether publishers & writers exploit readers ?

    • Amy Edelman

      Huh? How do you figure that?

      • Bert Gedin

        Sorry I was drunk.

  • http://www.AlexAAkira.com Alex A Akira

    Thanks for the heads up.
    As a new self publishing author, I have relied on your blog and the advice of other experienced self publishers to help me navigate these inviting waters. You have not failed me yet.
    There is a lot to learn in the self publishing world, but it can be truly gratifying to complete a work and know that you own it… mistakes and profit both. It takes time and things change and you add to your arsenal frequently, but I love how everyone in the community supports each other. I think I have found more support in this virtual world than I have in the physical.
    Thank you David and all… whose comments are so insightful.

  • http://www.writemindset.com Simon Townley

    This is astonishing. With all the changes taking place in publishing, one thing Penguin has going for is a very strong brand. But didn’t they just kill that brand? Not with the average reader, for sure, who pays no attention to the shenanigans of the publishing industry (and rightly so). But with writers and people in the book trade, surely this devalues the Penguin brand to the point where it becomes a vanity publisher.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but I suspect that might be the case. I think the blowback about this deal is just starting. Personally, I have lost all respect for Penguin.

  • http://www.jimkukral.com Jim F. Kukral

    Depending on who you are, you could say their overcharging is just good business, or not. We of course, know it’s a rip off at those prices, but it’s not stealing/cheating. They still provide the service, it’s just not worth that much.

  • David

    FYI: Here’s the official press release: http://www.authorsolutions.com/News.aspx?id=776
    I’m not entirely sure if you do your research or do you just base your babble through random blogs on google?

    • James

      …and a link to the same release on the Penquin site is included in the second paragraph…
      Ironic.

      • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

        Like rain on your wedding day?

  • http://www.sonjahakala.com Sonja Hakala

    I’ve been teaching other writers how to independently publish their own books for years, after spending time in the traditional publishing world. And I started doing this work because way too many authors came to me after horrible experiences with these bottom feeders.

    David is so right about what these companies do, and I would add one more sin to the list—after you’ve paid to have your book formatted and a cover made, guess who owns that digital file? Right—Author Solutions.

    Tell me one other business model when you pay for a product but then have no right to own it?

    I always begin my workshops on independent publishing by warning authors that their excitement and their dreams make them extraordinarily vulnerable to exploitation.

    And just one more comment about the terms vanity press, self-publishing, and independent publishing.

    Vanity presses worked for years beside traditional publishers. They charged authors to print their books. This wasn’t really publishing because vanity books had no means of being distributed. Instead, authors ended up with 1,000 or more copies of a book that got moldy in their garage until someone threw them away.

    iUniverse pretty much invented the term “self-publishing” when the digital revolution started hitting book publishing, back in the late 1990s. In effect, it is the same business model as a vanity press though the sales tactics are much harsher, and there is something like a distribution system because books from these companies are available on their websites and often on Amazon.

    When iUniverse got the self-publishing ball rolling, bookstores immediately shut their doors to these types of books because the quality was dreadful, and they don’t sell.

    As more and more authors figured out how to publish their own books—which anyone can do without ever using iUniverse or its kin—the term independent publishing came to be associated with authors who basically assume all of the tasks once performed by traditional publishers. In essence, an independently publishing author IS a publishing company.

    The key questions always are: Who get the money and who controls the quality? In independent publishing, the authors makes sure that quality standards are maintained AND they keep more of the money from sales.

    • Jay Schwartz

      Does anyone proofread their own comments here…?
      I would expect a little more “quality” writing on a site such as this–or am I a nitpicker?

      Sonja’s last paragraph:
      Who “get” the money…(This should read Who “gets” the money…)
      Further: the authors “makes” sure that quality standards…(This should read the authors “make” sure…)

  • http://HelpPublish.com HelpPublish.com

    This type of practice should be regulated.
    If you are a new writer, let me help you.
    Give us a call.
    We provide editing, cover design, book layout for print or e-book, and web site design with a shopping cart to sell your book.
    Most of our clients self publish.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      Do you think hawking your services in the comments was a wise move beneath an article about a self-publishing service company with inappropriate marketing techniques?

      • http://segordon.blogspot.com Scott Gordon

        LOL! XD

  • tom

    Hey, the idea isn’t new. Umberto Eco already wrote about this idea in his book “Foucault’s Pendulum” back in 1988.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      I think that answer could be used in response to… pretty much anything :)

  • Brad

    Lisa Genova did publish her book with iUniverse first

    • Amy Edelman

      Yes, you’re right. That she did.

    • http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ David Gaughran

      Thank you for that correction Brad – Lisa Genova did indeed publish first with iUniverse. I should point out, however, that she did so before iUniverse was purchased by Author Solutions (and the service levels subsequently deteriorated).

  • Catherine Mullan

    Its capitalism at its best…no better than the banks! always read the small print!

  • http://www.illusograph.com Benjamin

    When I was kid Penguin classics were an easy way to gain access to famous classics. Then as I grew older, I’d pick up the original Tolstoy (translated) or Victorian author and read the original text, so I can’t think completely negatively of the company.
    You could put a positive spin on this development and say that here is yet another admission by one of the big five publishing companies that the old model is broken. These big publishers now remind of worms on the side walk on a rainy day, twisting this way and that looking for solid ground. For better or worse this is what the Penguin board went for. It will be interesting to see what happens. (Most savvy authors will not go for this service anyway). Looking into the crystal ball, I’d say Penguin will regulate the Author Service model carefully and instead of promising the world – will just offer a one stop self publishing shop a bit like CreateSpace?
    PS
    Great image for this article…

  • http://www.jacquelinedruga.com Jacqueline Druga

    Thanks for the great blog/article. I have been trying for MONTHS to get iU to remove the unauthorized ebook copies of my novels. This has drastically cut into my Kindle sales. They have no right to do so, I have contacted Amazon six times and sent at least that many letters to iUniverse. Including a cease epublication threat. Nothing has worked. They are my books, I own the copyrights. What a mess. Had I known years ago this would happen I would have avoided them.

  • http://cameliarose.net olga pitcairn

    At the age of 50 i decided to start my destiny as “author”. In The Philadelphia Inquirer (1998) i read about John Feldkampd starting Xlibris. The write-up/interview was excellent. To make a long story short, in 2009 i went with Xlibris/Philadelphia, publishing within one year three novels under my pen name Camélia Rose. I had no idea that by 2010 Author Solutions had acquired Xlbris; i was simply told they had moved their location. As a senior citizen, i liked the idea that Xlibris would “guide” me with advertising the three books. The idea of going to bookstores, setting up a coffee and cookies table and sell and sign books was not for me. So i took the offer of having the books advertised in the New York Review of Books in the August 18, 2011 edition. They had made a grave error listing The Kiss as having 707 pages so i complained. They graciously offered to readvertise (9/29/2011) with the correct page count of 103 pages. So far so good. Early this year i FINALLY received two royalty checks made out to Cam*lia Rose…. I notified Xlibris and they instructed me to return the checks and they would replace them with my correct name Olga Pitcairn. As of today, i am still waiting. July 20th i read in the WSJ that Pearson’s Penguin of London had acquired Author Solutions/Xlibris and it dawned on me why i had been stonewalled.
    Lady Luck has smiled on me. My fourth book is not yet ready for publication (i always had my own editorial services) and my LABOR OF LOVE (the fourth) has been saved from the clutches of AS and Penguin.
    My heart is bleeding for all authors. However, i was never duped that i OWNED the digital file. Before i signed i had my lawyer look it over and she told me never to put down my social security number until it was required for royalty purposes. Also, she told me to check out first with consumer protection in doylestown, pa. to see if Xlibris was filing bankruptcy or something similar; the director gave me the green light. I owe the copyright and i can sell the novel for translations, but i understood that the company owned the “product”- the right to print.
    For my fourth and fifth, my last book, i shall be wide-eyed — perhaps consult with a savvy person to handle this for me as i am not “savvy” to do this myself.
    :-) know thyself

  • David

    One major clue that shows what a scam Author House and its subsidiary companies are is when they strongly emphasize that they pay royalties to writers.

    No self-published author should expect to receive a royalty on their work because if the author is the publisher of the work, then they (the author/publisher) never receives a royalty, he or she has a sale of their work.

    Read that over a few times and if you don’t “get it” then find some real self-published authors who can explain it to you.

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