The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is concerned about the email approach being made by Archway Publishing to a number of our advisors and colleagues.
Archway is a new joint venture between publisher Simon & Schuster and Author Solutions (AS) an umbrella company operating self-publishing package brands such as AuthorHouse, Xlibris, and iUniverse. Several of these regularly bring forth serious complaints from writers (see below).
The new Archway imprint, though backed by a trade publisher, exhibits the same model widely employed by AS and is almost indistinguishable across the various imprints.
Like the others, Archway's products are designed to provide a "360-degree solution" (from cover design to editorial assessment to ISBN and eBooks) for authors wishing to self-publish. And also like the others, the price tag on Archway's packages is far from cheap: beginning at a handsome $1,999 and reach a -- staggering! -- $14,999.
"What's causing concern is not the cost per se," says Orna Ross, Director of ALLi, "but the value to authors in how their book will be packaged, presented and promoted to readers. An expensive service that delivers may sometimes be better value than a more reasonably priced one that does not. Sadly, Author Solutions's houses are infamous among writers for their failure to deliver -- and worse -- and so far, even more sadly, we are seeing no evidence that Archway is handling the self-publishing challenge differently."
Desperately Seeking Self-Publishers
Archway is currently engaged in a mass marketing drive, contacting industry professionals, bloggers, and organisations, inviting them to join their new affiliate scheme. The "Archway Affiliate Program" enables partners to earn a $100 "bounty" for each author that buys a self-publishing package from them.
This is a smart, if not slightly worrying, move by Simon & Schuster and Author Solutions. There are plenty of publishing package providers in this industry and, as many of you already know, ALLi is keen to root out the flaws that these packages can often exhibit -- overly high price tags, questionable quality in offerings, misleading information about publishing potential and vague promises that are not, often cannot, be delivered.
The argument for the package model is that it allows authors a one-stop shop for all their needs, across the spectrum of publishing. The counter argument is that an overly large initial investment by the author is financially risky. The inclusion of a middle-man, especially one that is overpriced, makes it very difficult for the average author to break even, never mind make a profit.
And many package providers fail to deliver in key areas, such as cover design, due to the mass-production, conveyor-belt-style way they process their customers. Often promotion and marketing promises do not follow through. And some go so far as to require exclusive rights, when instead of offering an advance on royalties, an author is being asked to pay to be published.
Given that Archway now has the power of a major trade publishing house behind them, it is more important than ever that writers are clear about what precisely is being offered in exchange for sizeable fees.
Opportunity or Opportunism?
In their email approach, and on their website, Archway is keen to tell the author that “Simon & Schuster, always on the lookout for fresh, new voices, will monitor Archway titles that perform well” This is of course very attractive to authors. Do we dare say it sounds like a lure, to draw more authors in to purchase self-publishing packages?
Combine this with the tack Archway are taking with their Affiliate Scheme, and asking leading industry figures to include links on their websites, and it is easy to see that this is an all-out, heavyweight grab to attract as much new business as possible.
These promises will remain unfulfilled for the vast majority of authors who, going on past performance, could be falling into the trap of a dubious package model. Complaints that ALLi, and other writers organisations and concerned representatives like Victoria Strauss, David Gaughran and Emily Suess, regularly receive about Author Solutions companies include:
- non-payment of royalties
- inaccurate royalty information
- misappropriation of rights and breach of contract
- harassing sales calls
- not returning phone calls and in other ways ignoring complaints or service issues
- excessive markups on review and promotion services
- selling formerly out-of-print works without author consent
- overcharging for and/or failing to deliver marketing services promised
- overcharging for and/or failing to deliver distribution services promised
- telling customers add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging credit cards thousands of dollars
- shaming and banning writers who go public with their stories
- verbally insulting their writers.
Says Orna Ross: "When Penguin's parent company bought Author Solutions last year, ALLi hoped they would fix the editorial issues that gives the company such a poor reputation and make its activities more author-focussed and transparent. We still hope that might happen -- but have yet to see any indication of it. Archway describing themselves on their website as 'a passageway to becoming a published author', for example, is the sort of misleading language that is very unhelpful."
As always, ALLi urges each author to be shrewd and to put services under a microscope before parting with your money. Analyse what that service could cost elsewhere, if it’s worth it, if it’s possible to be handled by yourself. Compare what you're getting with offerings from companies like KDP, Kobo, Bookbaby, Smashwords, Createspace and Lightning Source.
Under such scrutiny, more often that not the price tag for a publishing package quickly goes from appearing like good value, to looking very extortionate indeed.
Watchdog Watchout 1: Known AS brands and partnerships include: Author House, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, Palibrio, Publish in the USA, Abbott Press, Balboa, WestBow, Inspiring Voices, Legacy Keepers, FuseFrame, Pitchfest, Author Learning Center, WordClay, BookTango and AuthorHive.
Watchdog Watchout 2: If you want to know more about which provider is best for you as an author, or want advice on the plethora of providers out there, ALLi will be launching its first publication -- SELF-PUBLISHING SERVICES FOR INDEPENDENT AUTHORS: A COMPARISON GUIDE -- at this year’s London Book Fair. Written by Ben Galley, the Guide will examine every inch of the most popular providers and all of their services, allowing you to make complete and informed decisions. More news about the Guide coming soon.