Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Author Solutions: The New Carnys?


I love carnivals and respect the hardworking folk who run them, but ever since I read Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz I've associated the word "carny" with "benign shyster". Like Vegas, no matter what you do, the house always wins.

We accept this if we gamble, but would feel quite differently if the guy who came to fix our refrigerator sold us parts we didn't need and inflated what would have been a $400 charge into a $4,000 one.

That's not cool.

Here's the definition of fraud, courtesy of Google:
  1. Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
  2. A person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.
I'm not a lawyer, but I've often marveled that at a time when traditional publishing houses are closing their doors forever, Author Solutions isn't just surviving, it's thriving.


Author Solutions: Why It Should Be Called 'Author Problems'


Recall that Pearson, Penguin's parent company, bought Author Solutions in 2012 for $116 million. Why did Penguin buy Author Solutions? I'll let David Gaughran explain:
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.
That's right. Author Solutions makes most of its money not from selling books but from selling services to authors.

Here's an example of what this means for authors.


Jean Rikhoff's Experiences With iUniverse, a subsidiary of Author Solutions


Jean Rikhoff is a celebrated writer (see Jean Rikhoff's Wikipedia entry).
Jean Rikhoff has written seven novels and two young adult biographies, collaborated on two anthologies, and founded "Quixote" an Anglo-American literary review. She also helped found The Loft Press, taught English, and served as an English department chair at Adirondack Community College. Rikhoff, now retired, lives in Upstate New York. (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: A Memoir)
 Here are a list of Jean's formal complains against iUniverse:
- iUniverse assured her they could embed the pictures she wanted included in her book. They gave her a contract and took her money, but later told her their machines were not able to print her books as she had requested.

- Once Jean was turned over to the editorial staff at iUniverse, she received numerous phone calls about services not covered under her initial package. They told her she would want to take them because she had been awarded Editor’s Choice, a tactic Jean charmingly refers to as a “buttering up for the skinning.”

- Jean was sold copy editing services from iUniverse that she was told would cost close to $400. She agreed, and her credit card was charged $3,794.33. She disputed the charges with her credit card company.

- She went over the “editing” iUniverse provided and found more than 100 errors.

- Jean attempted to get resolution for her issues, but iUniverse employees stopped responding to her. She emailed at least four different employees. Finally someone named Joseph said he couldn’t help, but he’d try to get someone who could. Her original contact was gone, there was a “reorganization” within the company.

- Jean eventually got a final proof that was riddled with formatting problems and copyediting errors, even though they’d charged her nearly $4,000 for editorial review. When she complained, the response from iUniverse was, “The designers do not go page by page looking at the formatting.”

- Jean got one softcover and one hardcover book; she never received the remaining author copies she paid for as part of her initial publishing package.

- They spelled her name wrong on the jacket, despite her correcting this on the proof numerous times.

- Royalties were never paid. (Jean Rikhoff Takes iUniverse & Author Solutions Complaints to Indiana Attorney General)
That's an impressive list! Jean was told editing would cost her $400 and then iUniverse charged her $4000, wow. That's incredible.

David Gaughran reminds us that over 150,000 writers have suffered at the hands of Author Solutions and that number is sure to grow now that Penguin has given them a patina of respectability.

DG points out, though, it's not just Penguin who seems comfortable with Author Solutions' business practises.
Presumably Random House has no issue with Author Solutions, given that they are merging with Penguin, and operations are expanding.

Simon & Schuster must feel the same way, given that they hired Author Solutions to run their own self-publishing operation, as did Harlequin, Hay House, and Harper Collins-owned Thomas Nelson.

That’s four of the “Big Six” involved with Author Solutions in some form or another – along with the biggest Romance publisher in the world.
And now Author Solutions is expanding into India (see: Penguin India Launches Partridge – a Self-Publishing Service for Suckers). 

Buyer--or in this case writer--beware.
Have you, or anyone you know, had business dealings with Author Solutions? If so, was the experience positive?

Other articles you might like:

- Structured Procrastination: Procrastinate And Get Things Done
- Joanna Penn's Tips For Writing Realisitic Fight Scenes
- Story Craft: Five Important Questions

Photo credit: "'Children's Carnival' - Paul Landacre - Wood Engraving - 1946" by Thomas Shahan 3 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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