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Review: Penguin’s Author Solutions Still Poor Self-Publishing Service Choice

Cover of 2014 edition of Choosing A Self-Publishing Service

Now available on Amazon, Kobo & Smashwords

It’s update time for  our Choosing A Self-Publishing Service Guidebook. Our latest edition will be released next week on Amazon and all major retailers and will launch at Book Expo America. Orna Ross, Director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, sounds a warning note from the guide — and invites you to tell your story about your self-publishing service below. You can also contact us using the form on ALLi’s main website, or the comment box below, if you want to check on your service provider’s record or report an divergence from ALLi’s code of standards.

Yes, it’s that time of  year again, when the Watchdog desk here at ALLi Towers (otherwise known as Jim Giammatteo and Mick Rooney) scan the self-publishing scene and analyse the good, the bad and the definitely-to-be-avoided.

Authors still have to make their self-publishing choices in an unregulated environment where the same service can cost $500 against $15,000, for pretty much the same thing, depending on where you shop; where services that are absolutely useless are sold at inflated prices; and where one large operation with many imprints dominates the information stream, including Google Ads/search.

Prior to launching our guide to services at Book Expo America at the end of May, we wanted to alert you to that company, the world’s largest self-publishing service, Author Solutions (ASI), acquired by Penguin-Random House in 2012, and trading under a number of brand names including Trafford, XLibris and iUniverse.

The Watchdog Warning issued last year about this company is still in place.

Our hope that Penguin would clean up ASI’s practices, notorious in self-publishing circles for over-promising and under-delivering, has not as yet materialised, so far as we can see.  ASI imprints score a very poor rating in our guide again this year.

I also wanted to share with you the correspondence I had recently with Andrew Phillips, ASI’s Chief Executive Officer, on the matter.

[Note: Andrew was informed that his reply would be publicly used, in a blog post and in our guide. His reply was heavy with links which we have removed, as we do not wish to direct authors to ASI services. Two emails from each of us are compacted into one, and extraneous information removed.]

Orna Ross, The Alliance of  Independent Authors To Andrew Philips, CEO, Author Solutions

Hi Andrew, I’m writing just to say that ALLi’s concerns about the Author Solutions group, as discussed with you in our telephone conversation and at The London Book Fair, remain live.

We have just completed the update of ALLi’s “Choosing A Self- publishing Service”guidebook for 2014/15, which will be distributed free of charge next month to the 400 delegates at UPublishU at Book Expo America and to all our members — and will also be widely available for sale at all book retailers. In the guide, our watchdogs’ opinion/research of services continues to raise the many concerns already voiced to you — and repeatedly raised by the author community, notably Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware and David Gaughran, who have both made a contribution to the guide, together with authors Giacomo Giammatteo and Mick Rooney.

The issues are those we discussed in detail in our phone meeting and at LBF:

  • selling a dream of widespread distribution and sales to writers whose skills make such an outcome unlikely or impossible
  • indiscriminate selling of ineffective marketing and promotion services to those whose books do not warrant such — particularly the selling of expensive services that do not sell unknown and unsuitable books to readers e.g. advertising in review outlets and trade journals
  • poor and expensive editorial services — copyediting, proofing
  • poor and expensive design in covers and page layouts
  • poor and expensive customer service
  • refusal to refund when services have not delivered what was implied or promised
  • widespread and continuous upselling of ineffective services, particularly marketing services. 
  • Essentially vanity-press practices that fail to deliver real value to writers or readers.

I wanted to extend the right to reply as a courtesy to you, in the wake of our meetings, and your assurances that you are committed to improving the services offered by ASI imprints. Our research, and reference to others in the author community, is not witnessing any such improvement in service to date.  Please let me know your thoughts.

Andrew Philips, CEO, Author Solutions to Orna Ross, The Alliance of  Independent Authors.

Dear Orna

Here are a few thoughts which I hope you find helpful. … 

Over the past few years, we have helped more than 180,000 authors publish more than 225,000 titles around the globe. Some have been picked up by traditional publishers; some have used their book to champion a cause; some have had their books optioned for film or television, but they have found that supported self publishing was the best way for them to successfully bring their book to market and have it available in print and all digital formats. For those authors who want a DIY solution, we offer [ link removed], which is a free, easy-to-use, e-book only platform that pays 100% royalties.

Those who simply want to learn about their options and better understand writing, publishing and marketing have turned to our Author Learning Center [link removed]. This online education platform is free for 12 months to anyone who publishes with an AS imprint and is the most comprehensive site for expert content on writing publishing and marketing.

Authors have many more choices than ever before – supported self publishing is one of those.

While I hope this is helpful, we think the most important thing is to let our authors tell you what their experience was like and how Author Solutions helped them. These videos capture a range of authors with many different goals, but all with the same outcome. They are happy with their experience and the book they ended up with. I think if you watch them you will see that while supported self publishing may not be the best option for some authors, it does work very well for many of them. [three video links removed]

Feedback

We asked four author watchdogs, Jim Giammatteo, Mick Rooney and Victoria Strauss and David Gaughran to comment on the current situation at ASI and Andrew Philips’s response:

  • GIACOMO GIAMMATTEO: “This is simply another evasive tactic, and I doubt that we’ll ever get a real response or any level of concerned cooperation from ASI or their companies. I spoke to “Publishing Experts” at four of their companies while doing work on the Choosing A Self-Publishing Service book. All were evasive, much like the response received here.”
  • MICK ROONEY: “That’s pretty much the political canned response I expected… ASI can talk about Learning Centres and testimonials but for every one testimonial, we can produce at least two to three disgusted and agrieved authors week after week, after week… I had hopes that Andrew Philips might make some attempt to clean things up. Alas, it seems not.”
  • DAVID GAUGHRAN: “Andrew Phillips’ response is as useless as it is predictable. He has only been at the helm of Author Solutions for a year but has perfectly adapted to the corporate culture of deception and evasion. Nowhere does he respond in any way to the extensive list of issues that he was presented with. Instead, he attempts to use it as an opportunity to flog Author Solutions’ services. If anyone had any remaining hope that Penguin Random House and Andrew Phillips intended to address the business practices which have led Author Solutions to be roundly condemned by writers – and which has resulted in a class action suit – this farcical non-response should convince them otherwise.”
  • VICTORIA STRAUSS: Andrew Phillips’s generic response — enumerating the alleged benefits of ASI but not addressing any of the widely-publicized problems, of which he can’t be unaware — unfortunately doesn’t surprise. When Pearson acquired ASI and folded it into Penguin, I and others hoped that ASI would be cleaned up, as was done by Amazon years ago when it acquired the then-very troubled BookSurge. But there doesn’t seem to have been any change, either in the problems authors are experiencing or in ASI’s misleading advertising and PR tactics. It seems that Penguin is content with the way things are at ASI. Very disappointing.

In The Dock

As David says, ASI is currently the subject of a class action in New York state, taken by three authors who accuse the company, with its suite of imprints, of misrepresention, selling a dream that they cannot deliver, and profitting from “fraudulent” practices.

The company put forward a plea to dismiss the suit, which has been rejected by the court (thought the case against parent company Penguin was dismissed as they only acquired ASI in 2012, after the alleged misconduct.) That decision (30 pages) is here: http://www.gslawny.com/files/order_on_motion_to_dismiss_4.11.14.pdf  .

If the authors’ action is successful, there are likely to be thousands more authors staking a claim.

Please Help

We want to see change at ASI and all companies whose services are less than worthwhile for authors.

Your own comments are invited below — especially from those who have used the services of Author Solutions, Archway or Book Country (we feel that trade publishers have a particular duty not to promote vanity services like marketing packages that don’t work) but we are interested in feedback about all services.

All comments contribute to our knowledge bank and our Comparison Guide — and are forwarded to the service providers, and sometimes to their associates, where relevant, in the hope of improving the service.

In the past year, for example, Bowker in the US and The Bookseller in the UK have stopped dealing with ASI because of author community pressure.

Let us know your experiences below.

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37 Responses to Review: Penguin’s Author Solutions Still Poor Self-Publishing Service Choice

  1. ExAthourSolutionEmployee March 8, 2016 at 8:01 am #

    This is a warning to any aspiring authors, Do NOT buy any marketing plans from Author Solutions. They are make to believe marketing plans that do not exist. I was an employee before of this company but my conscience is killing me everyday! Do not buy any marketing plans in Author Solutions.

  2. Melvese September 4, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    AuthorHouse is the worse! I would NEVER use them again. Myhia & I had so many problems finalizing our book. Every time we requested a revision it was returned to us with typos that weren’t there when we submitted it. I had to reproof “Jones, Evans & Knight” ten times. Their customer service is HORRIBLE. I am in the process of contacting the highest authority possible to obtain answers to questions that I, as the Author and owner of my novel, have the right to know. (What date did retailers submit sales reports for the 2nd qtr to AuthorHouse? How many printed copies of my novel have been distributed to retailers via Ingram?)

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  4. Linda Bahnan May 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Congratulations on an excellent article.

  5. Michael N. Marcus May 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    The ASI salespeople often push expensive and useless services but would rather sell a package for $649 with no editing and publish a crappy book — than lose the sale because a writer won’t pay for editing.

    An Xlibris horror story: http://www.bookmakingblog.com/2011/06/xlibris-is-ruining-self-publishing-by.html

    • Orna Ross May 12, 2014 at 7:21 am #

      Excellent analysis Michael. Thanks for taking the care and attention to highlight the issues.

  6. Philippa Rees May 10, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    Just to add another penny weight: I published with Trafford in 2006. Despite my book being listed by several Amazon marketplace sellers as ‘used’ I was never ever paid for a single copy. I had fully formatted and designed the book myself but paid handsomely just to be listed with Trafford. ( Ingenue in the early days!)

    Recently I decided to republish it myself but because I needed the images I had bought and the high resolution cover ( also bought in 2006). To retrieve these I had to payout $150! If I didn’t they could continue to simply print the book themselves and I would never know because Amazon will not eliminate it from the Marketplace sellers.

    I did consider a well thought of British company for assisted publishing of my second book until I interviewed their Chief editorial assistant ( at the LBF) to be told that editors simply wait in line, and a book is assigned to the next, regardless of whether they know anything of the field, genre,or, in my case, bibliography, endnotes.or subject matter!

    Their CEO added for comfort that it would not matter because nobody would read it anyway!

    • Orna Ross May 10, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      Oh dear Philippa! Can you tell us who that company was? I have an idea of one that would work well for you. Also would like to know who you’re referring to; this is something that should go in our research files.

  7. Karl May 10, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Thank you for continuing to bang the drum on this one. The fact that a respected publisher like Penguin would ally itself with this pack of outright thieves has always been simply incomprehensible to me, and I keep hoping that the light of decency and good sense will dawn on them.

    • Orna Ross May 10, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

      Hi Karl! Yes, we’ll continue to survey the scene annually and report back on our findings and to exert pressure any way we can. We have seen victories in the past year, with The Bookseller no longer accepting ads from ASI; Bowker having dropped them; and San Francisco Writers Conference too. Onwards and upwards, soldiers!

  8. Eamon Murphy May 10, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    The scamming of anxious writers makes me so f. …….mad. I am a successful self-published author but nearly got caught myself. I found a site that promised so much, Placement in bookshops etc. BS. Bookshops don’t stock self-published books. Fortunately I found, through the local writers’ club, a brilliant and honest small publisher. With the scam mob I would have got 20 books for $6.500. Peter, my current editor, published 300 books for $3,000. His fee included print and ebook, ISBN, editing, cover design, advice on marketing. et5c He also set up my book’s websiteand blog site for free. To use a very mixed metaphor: the self publishing business is a minefield in a sea of hungry sharks. Go with Peter or someone similar. http://www.etextpress.com/

    • Orna Ross May 10, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

      Thanks Eamon, for sharing your experience. Glad it worked out well for you.

  9. Pete Brown May 10, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    I can but concur with the article and comments. I was bitten by Author House and sold some services which were completely impractical for an ab-initio writer. I have joined the class action. My solution was to republish a second edition after having it professionally edited for a lesser sum than I forked out to Author House. Utilize Create Space (an Amazon Company) they will publish it for no fee if you are capable of utilizing their online formatting software for your manuscript and the software for the cover is just great.

    They will now print on demand one or five hundred for US$5.98 per copy (415 pages). Their freight rates are competitive as well, $2.00 per copy to Australia or NZ is good.

    • Orna Ross May 10, 2014 at 11:16 am #

      Really sorry to hear about your experience, Pete, and please keep in touch and let us know about your experience of the class action too. Createspace is a fantastic option, utilising Amazon’s very widespread distribution. ALLi recommends IngramSpark for extended distribution. See this video for more information on Ingram: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL5on8XtGOI and this one for Amazon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXJKd4X_1Y0. I’m glad your book had a happy ending.

  10. Arlene Prunkl May 10, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    Excellent article, Orna. And great research and responses by some authorities on the issue. I’ve shared this across all my social media. Self-publishing authors need to be warned, but so many thousands are out there who don’t do their homework and fall prey to the tentacles of ASI. I am becoming increasingly discouraged that all our efforts at educating authors will have little effect against this monolith of deception, but we have to keep trying. Recently I edited a book by an author who had published his previous four books with AuthorHouse. When I told him the story, he immediately put a stop to that. His most recent book, the one I edited, will be published by CreateSpace.

    • Orna Ross May 10, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Thanks for sharing Arlene, and yes, it is a case of writers needing to be informed. One of the difficulties is that ASI is so big and has such excellent advertising that it’s hard for beginners to navigate. Especially now that ASI is branded “a Penguin-Random House company”. Well done on preventing your author from making that mistake. It’s so important for writers to help each other out on this.

  11. Warren Shuman May 9, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    Many Thanks for your comments regarding Trafford, and similar publishing services. I have long noted their website’s promises, and intuitively understood that this is perilous territory. I have been in publishing since 1995 and am well aware of the old Vanity Trade publishers. Indie authors must learn to wear many hats. Your warnings are much appreciated.

    Warren

    • Orna Ross May 10, 2014 at 10:49 am #

      Well done, Warren, and thanks for the appreciation!

  12. Jane Steen May 9, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    The very best route to author-publishing is the independent one. It’s not for the impatient or those unwilling to cope with the learning curve, but there are more and more quality professionals offering services such as formatting, cover design, editing and publicity. For the money you’d pay to a supported publishing company you can build a trustworthy team of your own and still have change left over. There are many great resources, including ALLi of course, to teach you about the process and help you find the right team.

    I’m not saying all supported self-publshing companies are bad–some are excellent. But if you’re an author thinking of going the indie route, you owe it to yourself to understand everything you can about the business and what options are open to you. Thanks ALLi for staying on top of all the options for us!

    • Orna Ross May 10, 2014 at 9:05 am #

      Thanks Jane, this is the route that ALLi recommends for those who want to make a living at this but we have members who are more time than money poor and welcome the assisted-self-publishing option. The guide recommends those who are doing this particularly well. Thanks too for your kind words about ALLi.

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