This post is about the other goings on I found out about after I left my ex publisher and before Penguin bought them out. In my opinion they seem to be have like the Galactic Empire from Star Wars on so many levels it isn’t funny. All authors and definitely newbies need to be aware of what else these people are capable of.
Just like how the Galactic Empire began in Star Wars with a small group called the Sith, the Self Publishing Empire called Author Solutions, Inc (ASI) has small beginnings which grew into something big and very threatening. It all began with a print on demand publisher (POD) named AuthorHouse which used to be known as 1st Books. AuthorHouse had already gotten themselves a bad reputation among authors so then they become known as Author Solutions, Inc. They begin gobbling up some of their biggest competitors i.e. Xlibris and iUniverse when they were still known as AuthorHouse, just like how Sith sucked up the Seperatists and the Clones. However, Kevin Weiss, the CEO of ASI behaves just like Darth Sidious/Palpatine. Author Solutions is run by and invested in by Bertram Capital Management whose CEO is Jeff Drazan…he is basically the Sith Lord that was murdered by Sidious in his sleep (figuratively speaking). Not too many people know that Author Solutions has a top tier to the pyramid. However, until recently was Bertram capital the top tier, now Penguin is.
Penguin has a pristine reputation among authors, so now it looks like Darth Sidious has teamed up with Master Yoda…
Who is the Target?
The target of ASI and its imprints are authors…unsuspecting authors who want to publish their book and to be heard, not necessarily the readers even though they overpay for a crappy book so then they are like the unintentional casualties in the battle. As the Indie Author Revolution is in full swing, so are the ploys of ASI and their cronies. They play their game and hurt authors on both ends of the deal in paying huge upfront costs and printing markups and taking a royalty when they don’t help sell books…let’s not forget about the hidden costs… Just take note that they don’t exist to help authors; they exist to hurt them and only in it for the money and are not interested in any author’s success. In short “they are predators. Plain and simple.” These are words by someone else, not myself.
Don’t Let the Numbers Fool You
All of the companies under the banner of ASI empire mislead people with their statistics to authors to trick them into thinking when they publish there are going to be selling extremely well like the others. They boast that they sell thousands of books each year and boasts of thousands of authors under each roof that is really under one larger roof. In both New York Times articles in the Sources section Kevin Weiss has said himself and the New York Times has crunched the numbers to say that thousands of authors with thousands of titles equals only minute quantities of books sold by a majority of the authors there. Of the authors who make it, have they noticed anything fishy? Do they realize they have been shortchanged in their royalties? Probably not.
I also wonder how much dough they pumped into their ‘services’ to get the books out there to succeed there or what they did on their own with no help from them… I guess a couple authors have to make it with their sales model so they have some success story to use for sales hype to lure people in. If no one succeeded, they don’t have a case or “a leg to stand on” to mislead people.
Keep Throwing the Books at Them, Mark
Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print of Self Publishing in all four of its editions targets unethical publishers and why they should be avoided, but the authors make their own decisions based on the findings and raw data he presents. He represents the Obi-Wan of self publishing, and reputable companies and DIYers are the Jedi. All he did was share information and start a company, BTW. An entire chapter in every single edition is devoted to Author Solutions’ companies (and a few others) as “Publishers To Avoid”. These guys would be in any author’s “Publishers to Avoid” section, not just his based on things everyone understands: customer service, hard-sell techniques, and misleading statements not backed up by material or contracts. Some publishers have changed their contracts in response to his book to make them more author friendly, but others just get mad at him.
Author Solutions’ companies either get mad or just ignore him. He keeps on because he knows he’s right and the book is doing its job by angering the bad guys; many authors are grateful that he continues to do this. Also authors are becoming more aware all the time or have someone to talk to if they get burned. I read this book myself as I was a victim of Author Solutions and their ploys, and he helped me get my bearings and back on my feet so I could turn my situation around. To see my story read the article series My Horrible Xlibris Xperience, Looking for an Out, My MCP Experience. Mark hears stories like these a lot as a result of people reading his book and contacting him—at least the ones who have had bad experiences, and it is usually at an AS company (not always).
The Horror Goes Beyond the Contract and Website
Mark’s book only covers what’s in the contract and on the website, but there is much more to the picture. You don’t know this stuff until you get sucked in or hear from people like me and others who have experienced the horrors beyond the contract for themselves and lived to tell the tale. If what you read in The Fine Print is bad, which only covers the contract; just wait. Things get much worse if you get in, and I can say that from experience.
In the books he mentions what took place during his and his colleague’s interactions with the companies’ representatives. Mark and his editor/assistant were merely mystery shoppers with industry experience so they don’t get every dirty detail, but what they do find is enough for them to give others a stomach full. Mark Levine is just one person, so he has needed and has gotten other author stories to back him up and tell him what else is going on which he then relates to others.
Authors everywhere are telling one horror story after another about Author Solutions on forums, consumer complaint boards (i.e. Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Ripoff Report). Look in the sources section, there are others where I got my sources for this article. Click on each link to see a listing of 18-21 listings for each sector of the empire that is listed which are mostly the biggest players: Xlibris, iUniverse, and Authorhouse. These same companies have complaints on the Better Business Bureau by the hundreds, not just a few. Read my story. Visit Mark’s blog and read his article and read about an advertising lie to mislead people Xlibris uses that he caught them on, but this is just one of many. Every word on every site of all the AS companies are misleading. Are we having fun yet? There’s more, so hold on, and one being the transformation of a good company to a bad one.
The Phase Change in iUniverse
I have heard many stories about iUniverse being one of the best companies to publish with about five years ago, but not so anymore. They were up there with Createspace and Lulu coming in behind them as far as the do-it-yourself/hands on model is concerned. I personally don’t know since I wasn’t in the publishing game at that time, but I have heard enough from other authors who worked with them in their former glory and through Mark’s books I can draw some conclusions.
To get a glimpse of what iUniverse used to be like I requested to see the excerpt about iUniverse from The Fine Print 2nd Edition which came out in 2006. When I read his 3rd edition, he made comments about it being one of the “most author friendly companies around” at one time, but then fell down to the “Avoid” list. I was curious to know what they did that was contrary to the way they are now. From what I read they still were not the perfect company, and they did have their issues, but he graded them to be “Outstanding” which says something because he is much tougher on the grading than most authors.
They did have higher retail prices a tad above what the market could bear, but they were not considered ridiculous even by him. Royalties were a bit low for the independent publishing industry, but they were still Outstanding, and he could live with that and so did many other authors.
In his very first edition Mark pointed out something in the contract that was unfair, but they were quick to fix it and draft a new contract by the 2nd. When authors would raise a complaint about something, they would fix it and did so quickly to make it more author friendly, and just about everything else was fair. Services in editing, publishing, and marketing were in line with industry standards which have not changed very much.
Also Mark mentions that they went out of their way to help the succeeding author get to the next level. Mark says he could live trading off for the higher royalty and the cope with the printing markup for this type of mindset and service potential. They used their clout as a big corporation and high traffic to help authors succeed, and they were a stand-alone company then. The contract termination terms were fair and the author could take their print ready files at no charge and leave if they so wished and go somewhere else (a biggie).
Certain phrases and statements in the third edition of The Fine Print of Self Publishing gave me an idea when he mentioned what changed between editions two and three, and the biggest one was about the print ready files for the author’s book. The third edition is the one I read where I turned my published career around. Here are the ones that stand out in my mind:
“When they began charging $1,500 for the author’s print ready files, I was appalled by this one greedy maneuver.” “I was saddened to see an outstanding company fall into the murky swamp of publishers to be avoided. Boy, what a difference an edition makes.” –Mark Levine, The Fine of Self Publishing 3rd Edition.
These statements peaked my curiosity as a newbie when I read this book as an author with that same perspective. How did an outstanding company fall all the way down to the bottom in such a short time? I’m sure anyone who is an author would be curious to know what happened when they read this. If they did fall wouldn’t it be a little on the scale in such a brief time? Nope, not this time. After a while the truth came out, and it was they came under new management, and guess what? They were purchased by Author Solutions (they were under the name Authorhouse then).
Comparing this excerpt from 2006 to the latest edition which is the 4th edition (editions 3 and 4 are about the same as far as the raw data is concerned) there was plenty more that went wrong besides the print ready production file cost of $1,500 total ($750 for each unless you wait 18 months, but I’m not going there). The already high printing markups then went sky high. Now we have retail prices that are ridiculous and way outside what the market can bear. The editing services are twice the industry standard, and the publishing packages are now much more expensive for what you get. The packages they have now would be wonderful and an improvement if they were under the old management, and that’s sad.
On the service note that also went down the tubes. The author friendly mindset of going out of their way to help the working author who is making it also went away, and they won’t change any unfair contract terms no matter who complains about it even if it was Stephen King who filed a complaint. If any changes are made, they’ll be worse and not better. Now it’s the same old stuff with hard-sell techniques, shady statements, and waiting three weeks to answer someone’s email when they want a prompt, reasonable response to a question.
Now, they look and feel like any other Author Solutions company when they were bought out. They became just another face of Authorhouse/Author Solutions (Authorhouse also reminds me of Sybil with its many publisher personalities) that was spliced with the old iUniverse in some way to create a big genetic monster.
No one could ever tell iUniverse used to be a great company, except those who know their prime past. It’s sad really, but it gives you a good bird’s eye view of what is really going on at Author Solutions, Inc, and the fact that they can turn a good, reputable company to a scummy one is worth a conversation. iUniverse is now involved in the ultimate dirty deeds that I am going to write about next, and they are one of the biggest players in it.
Xlibris is another company that had a similar fate before iUniverse, but now that’s so ancient that the findings are sketchy.
In a way you could say that AS is a threat to other publishers as well since they want to gobble them up or make it hard for them to take their disgruntled clients when they want to go to a new publisher. If they buy out your company you can see what it could turn out like, and it will become another personality of the publishing world’s Sybil with the intent on harming authors. If you are an author and you find out that AS is buying out your company, you may want to abandon ship while you can!
But wait; there’s even more bad stuff happening!
The Grim Reaper of Self Publishing
Just when you thought egregious printing markups, fat publisher royalties, bad customer service, overpriced, shoddy marketing services, bad book production, the non-return or ransom for your print ready files, transforming companies, and hidden costs were not bad enough, just wait. In my source articles below which I will summarize below will stop your heart.
Royalty Theft: This goes way beyond the printing markups, inflated print costs, etc, this means even the paltry sum that is left over is also swiped. How?
They fail on purpose to report sales and royalties to the author account which the author trusts will be done by the publisher. Authors put a lot of trust in publishers to do the right thing, and believe they should be professionals (I did). Read what I learned from my mistakes in the “Mistake” series here on this blog.
However, in the sources section authors have found means to check and found out that their books were selling more copies than what is reported on the sales page and that authors have called and been lied to about the situation. Authors received ridiculously small royalty checks and then they found out by word of mouth, Book Finder.com, and Google Books that they should have been paid more and their royalties are “missing”.
The formula they give you makes it possible to find out how much you should have gotten, so you can instantly find the discrepancies. The fact remains that more was owed to the author that has been discretely swept under the rug and they hoped no one would notice and where it goes no one knows. When the authors call them on it; no one has a clue what they mean, conveniently.
**My story for proof: I sold a copy of my second book Escape From Ancient Egypt on Amazon which has to stayed at Xlibris till I cut the lines. A book has to sell in order for me to have a ranking number. There is a number for the paperback and not the hardback which means I sold a paperback, and this was a few months ago. I also log into my AuthorCentral account where it shows I sold a book in June 2011 sometime. In 2012 metadeta from their bookstore also told me that I had sold books.
I log into my My Xlibris account (the sales tracking system) and there is no record of the books being sold; all that is there are no books sold and/or no royalties. It is supposed to be in real time. I’ll never see those tawdry royalties, and calling them about it is a waste of time. Their customer service sucks and nothing will be done about it. A waste of my time.
Copyright Fraud: Look closely! That copyright page in the front of your ASI published book may not be legit! It looks like an ordinary copyright page to me, you say. Well, other articles and the ones below can say otherwise and I have a personal story to tell. So what you pay in the package or as an add-on may not be a real copyright!
**My story: When I republished my first book Neiko’s Five Land Adventure at Mill City Press, one of many reputable publishers, I found a big surprise on my copyright papers which was mailed to me from MillCity for my records. On the new registration I did mention there was a previous publication at a different publisher. However there was a date of previous publication on file (which I provided at registration), but for the actual documentation it was PENDING at a year later!
All other legit information: registration number, year, etc was all present and accounted for Mill City. There was no such thing for Xlibris except for PENDING, and I didn’t receive any documents for copyright proof, but being a newbie, I didn’t know that I could have these. I’ll never know if two copies of the book had been mailed to the copyright office by Xlibris since they are supposed to do it for you.
I knew they got there from my publication with Mill City because I mailed them myself by insured/certified mail and was given explicit instructions on what I was supposed to do. I never received such papers from Xlibris or any means to prove my registration. How interesting, I wonder if the same thing will be on my papers for Escape from Ancient Egypt…
ISBN switching: This is another way ASI covertly steals author royalties by tweaking the ISBN numbers so the royalties from the retailer doesn’t go to the author. Authors have gone back to plug in their listed ISBNs and it be different than the original number. See sources. I checked mine and it came up clean; maybe because my books are not selling well enough yet for them to do that to me.
Illegal Book Switch: When an author leaves and ASI company and signs on with a reputable company, then the books begins to sell better. While that author is sleeping, they have found a way to remove the new edition and replace it with the ASI edition and take advantage of the booming sales. I saw this last year on Google stated by another author who filed a complaint against the representative and company which was Xlibris, and now I am seeing new appearances from new authors on this matter at all other Author Solutions companies including Xlibris. If my book starts selling at MCP, then I may need to keep a watch on my book…or anyone else who was previously published by any ASI company also should whether they moved to a different publisher or DIY.
Loosing of important papers (Copyright/contracts, etc): People have filed complaints about copyright registration, etc, being “lost” in order for them to hawk more money. Another author talks about the author’s social security number, which they have to give up to receive royalties, was misplaced and had to be resubmitted. That almost seems suspicious. Signed contracts are also MIA (missing in action) so the author misses out on the discount or extra ‘free’ copies they push for and so they have to resubmit.
Most of the time the contracts require the SSN (social security number) at signing at any of the other Author Solutions companies; Mill City doesn’t do this, so I don’t think other reputable companies ask for this up front and have other means to get royalties to the author. With all the identity theft going on, giving up the SSN is almost dangerous, and the handling of such important personal information so irresponsibly should raise some questions.
One day in 2011 I got a call from Xlibris wanting my SSN because they misplaced it or something; I didn’t give it to them. I had no royalties, so why should I care? Also when I submitted my materials for Escape from Ancient Egypt they said they got my CD-ROMs that had my copies of my character sketches, but they didn’t work after I checked them before sending them in. Also, my contract and written instructions for my illustrations didn’t come in. Strange. How could one thing and not the other come in? By the way, that paperwork supposedly never came in so I had to redo, scan, email everything.
What Does All This Equal?
This means this could be the biggest money laundering scheme in US history that is taking advantage of the Revolution of the Written Word based on the comments by some of the authors who posted on Ripoff Report. They have found every way to rob authors blind. Similar statements are made by the Better Business Bureau and Writers Beware. Those are not my words about the money laundering and fraud, but that’s basically what is going on. They pocket the money and have gotten it out of the country by the highways and byways of the Internet. Fraud is harder to track on the Internet, but they have been nailed on fraud (see below) and sued successfully. If there are millions independent authors, and ASI publishes one in fifteen titles, then that is a lot of money when you factor in all the money they are taking from each author!
There is an article about Kevin Weiss receiving recognition for providing the Bloomington community with jobs in 2011, but then he covertly lays off thousands and outsources the jobs to people to the Philippines (see sources), and I had read about a massive layoff taking place in Xlibris and the jobs being sent to the Philippines not too long after I left Xlibris. Is this why your service sucks, because there are underpaid and overworked people? No. The service has always sucked; it just means its worse.
One post reiterates this and speaks of the work conditions at any of the companies. It is doubtful it was written by an author; a disgruntled ex worker perhaps? I have heard other tales about the working conditions here from friends, and it’s not pretty.
Among the fraud and questionable ethics, Author Solutions and all of its imprints also specialize in the most author unfriendly practices out there. Their customer service practices confounds what anyone knows or has been taught about customer service practices when they enter the workforce or what they receive in public anywhere. These people don’t get fired or punished for insulting a customer or if someone files a complaint against them like anywhere else. They get a pat on the back and not a pink slip.
Anyone connected to Author Solutions does the same things and it makes one wonder, and I wonder if they send their representatives in training to Hard-sell Techniques 101 and to Customer Unservice Boot Camp at orientation to dismantle any professional customer service training they may have had at a different job. It seems like it since their representatives seem to act all the same way and do the same things and they are at different companies but at the same address.
All these companies and their practices would receive and F on any author’s grading scale.
Other authors who know about the practices of the ASI family also know to stay away. There is tons of information out there, but it takes some looking around. I have heard a lot from friends and what they think, and some of the language used by some can’t be repeated around kids when they speak of any one of AS companies. I have often wondered why they want to make the worst conditions for their customers and exist only to rip people off. Of all the companies, Authorhouse is the worst and they are the lead player in the bad dealings with authors.
If they chose to do things right and not do detestable things I believe they would be much more successful and make more money, but they choose to be evil instead.
Rip Off Reports:
Author Solutions, Inc (ASI): http://www.ripoffreport.com/Search/Author-Solutions.aspx
Bertram Capital Management: http://www.ripoffreport.com/Search/bertram-capital-management.aspx
“iUniverse” unedited excerpt of The Fine Print of Self Publishing 2nd Edition. 2006. Excerpt provided by author.
“iUniverse” The Fine Print of Self Publishing 4th Edition. 2011. pp 194-206
The Fine Print of Self Publishing 3rd Edition. 2008. (quotes and information)