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.
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]
- 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.
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.