Hey Simon & Shuster: I’m Calling You Out!

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This post is half op-ed, half “I told you so,” but it’s still adamant that you’re aware of what’s going on. As an author — whether you’re a self-published indie DIY-er or a traditionally-published one — the changing landscape of the publishing world is a constant in our lives.

For that reason, I’m taking this opportunity to do a PSA-style blog post on something that really pisses me off.

Yeah, I just said that. 

I don’t usually wear my feelings on my sleeve and say things like that, but it’s true. I’ll explain what happened first, then I’ll discuss briefly why I think it’s a huge deal and why it should matter to you.

The background. 

Here’s what went down: Simon & Shuster, the age-old publisher dating back to the 1920s, behind such luminaries as Vince Flynn, Stephen King, and David McCullough, recently struck up a deal with Author Solutions to provide self-publishing “solutions” to those of us unfortunate enough to get a “real” publishing deal through Simon & Shuster themselves.

Simon & Shuster isn’t new to the publishing game, and it’s no secret that they’re not out to sell a million books with each release, they’re in the business to make money. I’ll take it a step further and say that any company — regardless of what industry they’re in is in business to stay in business. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to remain in business, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with trying to turn a profit each quarter.

It’s American capitalism at its finest, and whether you love it or hate it, it’s the truth.

Anyone who wants to argue that point can email me directly at nick@nickthacker.com.

So, now that we’ve clarified that, here’s the (first) issue I have:

Author Solutions has already ripped off 150,000+ authors and counting. 

But don’t take my word for it — read this, and this, and this. Further, I used to work with an author/psychologist who published through iUniverse (one of Author Solutions’ many imprints/subsidiaries). He had a pretty terrible experience, and while I don’t know the exact amount he spent with them, I’d bet that every single dollar he spent was the equivalent of throwing money into a shredder.

It turns out, Author Solutions has quite a few subsidiaries who thoroughly enjoy ripping off their customers. To name just a handful, you’ve got iUniverse, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and Trafford:

Author Solutions About Us

A quick aside: If your company was so great and amazing, why would you need to create so many mini-companies with the exact same address? It sure isn’t a matter of size — I don’t think Apple or Exxon have a bunch of subsidiaries who do the exact same thing and need to share an address… It’s a perfect example of trying to stay afloat by spreading out over numerous markets, dodging the BBB and other fraud-reporting agencies, and generally trying to “win” by exploiting available resources to the detriment of clients.

Anyway. 

Another major issue here is the conflict of interest. In case you weren’t aware, Author Solutions (which, as we’ve clarified, was recently acquired by Simon & Shuster, one of the “Big Six” publishing houses) is owned by Penguin. 

Yeah. Just let that sink in for a second. Penguin recently bought Author Solutions (for $116 million, no less. About $116 million more than they’re worth…). Like, they own the company that Simon & Shuster is now subcontracting their “self-publishing” services branch to.

Here’s the Author Solutions website, broadcasting their sellout-ness to the whole world:

Independent Self Publishing Book Writers Publishing Companies Author Solutions 1

And for kicks and giggles, here’s another screenshot of the Archway Publishing site (the imprint started by Simon & Shuster):

Archway Publishing Self Publishing Company from Simon Schuster

As if that weren’t enough…

It’s time to delve into a little Self-Publishing 101.

For years, “self-publishing” has had a certain stigma surrounding it, almost to the point that just because it wasn’t backed by a publishing house authors — and the general public — didn’t acknowledge that self-published writers were “real” authors.

That’s only now starting to change, thanks to companies like Amazon and their author-centric (yet still unabashedly capitalist) leanings. Never before in history have writers been able to write, publish, and sell their work to so many buyers and make so much money doing it. Amazon has set the standard with a 70% royalty rate for authors (that’s pretty darn close to 70% of gross earnings, too, not just Amazon’s net royalty), and other large sellers are taking note.

So, in order of importance (at least to me), here are the reasons authors choose self-publishing over “traditional” options:

  1. It’s faster. Unbelievably fast compared to the traditional routes. Can’t go into it here, but you probably already agree with me.
  2. It’s more fun. It might just be me, but self-publishing seems way more fun than what I’ve heard about the traditional route. Probably has something to do with #3.
  3. I have full control. I don’t have to wait for tons of changes, revisions, or alterations — I get back the piece from my editor and decide to publish it as-is or to keep editing. The cover design is up to me — no one else.
  4. It gets your book into the hands of real fans. If you’re a nobody, or at least nowhere close to Kardashian-esque status, self-publishing has the benefit of making sure your work gets into the hands of people who really want to read it. How so? Because you can really only sell books to people through the platform you’ve built through blood, sweat, and tears,
  5. It’s more profitable on a per-book basis. If you’re publishing through a house, you’re probably going to get somewhere in the ballpark of 17.9% back from each gross sale (see later screenshot for another disgusting alternative). If you’re self-publishing, you can control the pricing structure, royalty rate (to an extent), and availability of your work.

Taking these points into consideration, let’s dive into this new “self-publishing” company’s offerings and how they hold up under scrutiny!

My favorite part of this post. 

Nope, the little section of company history wasn’t, in fact, my favorite part.

My favorite part of this post is what I’m about to write. It’s the bashing and uncovering of a true scam artist — looking at the Archway Publishing FAQ pages:

First up, we have this helpful fact (again, taken directly from their FAQ:

Archway Publishing E book Formatting Distribution FAQ 1

Apparently, the e-book version of your masterpiece won’t be sent to the distribution networks until the “print edition of the book is made available.” And that, dear friends, means your book won’t even show up in online e-book stores until well after “approximately four weeks after your print book.” 

Hmm. For a company trying to become a new “self-publishing alternative,” they’re completely disregarding that a major reason authors choose self-publishing over traditional publishing  is the speed in which their book can be put up for sale. 

I once wrote a few books. Each of those books were made available for sale literally 24 hours after I’d finished writing and editing them. Period. The turnaround time at Archway, therefore, absolutely sucks.

Next up, this little ditty:

Archway Publishing E book Formatting Distribution FAQ 2

Of course, even though you won’t be able to sell your e-book for a good 4 weeks after the print version is made available, you’ll still be able to choose which stores in which it’s “made available,” right?

Nope.

Archway is going to tell you, the self-published “make-all-the-decisions-” DIY-er which stores you can and can’t sell through. That means if B&N gets into bed with another Big Six publishing house (like, for example, the aforementioned Penguin…) they can promptly pull your entire catalog from that store.

Talk about a conflict of conflicting interests that are conflicting…

Let’s say you don’t care about availability or capitalist truisms.

Okay, well here’s a fun one for you:

Archway Publishing E book Formatting Distribution FAQ

That’s a screenshot of the royalty structure of an e-book published through Archway. Notice the big, fat 50% royalty you’re going to receive from Archway each time you sell a book. To be clear, that’s after they’ve received royalties from whatever store they’ve decided to sell your book in

For a nice juxtaposition, here’s the hard-copy royalty structure:

Archway Publishing General Information FAQ 3

You’re looking at a whopping 8.69% royalty rate, if you do the math.

Turns out, being traditionally published will net you around 15% in a great contract as a new author, and about 10% normally (for us mere mortals).

“But that makes sense,” you say, “they’re providing a necessary service!”

You might think that. But you’d be wrong.

Two reasons: 

First, they’ve already provided the service. That’s right — this royalty rate I’m talking about is after you’ve already paid for services rendered.

I’ll say that again, because it’s a pretty big freakin’ deal:

You are paying twice — once for the services you want, and then every single time you sell a book. 

It makes sense that Amazon, B&N, and other booksellers charge a per-book fee — they did not provide anything to you other than hosting your files, offering an easy, quick way to make sales, and the ongoing support of continued service.

It makes sense that you’d pay Author Solutions for their services — editing, cover design, and book layout cost money. Maybe not as much money as they’re asking, but money nonetheless.

However, it makes no sense that Author Services, aka iUniverse, Xlibris, Archway, or whatever other imprint name you want, would charge you for both the services they’re providing and the services their distributors are charging. Further, there’s no feasible reason they’d charge you an ongoing royalty rate for external network sales unless they were only taking advantage of unassuming authors. 

There are a lot of italicized phrases in that last sentence, so you might want to read it again, but here’s the takeaway:

Archway (and every other imprint under the Author Solutions umbrella) is ripping you off at every turn.

There’s not much else to be said.

Oh wait, there is. Let’s keep going through their public FAQ page:

Archway Publishing General Information FAQ 1

ISBN #s. Those are those little barcode-looking things that represent a specific that tell the world who’s behind the book they’ve just scanned.

Turns out, you won’t be that person.

Instead, Archway wants to take full credit for that — they’ll be the ones who purchase, assign, and control the ISBN on your book’s back cover, and for that, of course, you get to pay big bucks.

Here’s an idea: go to Bowker’s website and buy your own. You’ll pay $125 for 1, or $250 for 10. Want to buy one through Archway, to save time and effort? Can’t do it. But you can certainly purchase one of their packages, in which an ISBN is included (assigned to their own publishing imprint, of course).

By the way — it doesn’t take much time or effort at all to buy your very own ISBN…

Fiction Publishing Packages from Archway Publishing

These are the packages you can choose from. Click the image for a more detailed explanation of the “awesome” services you’ll get…

As if that weren’t enough:

Archway Publishing General Information FAQ 2

“But at least Archway will help promote my book, right?”

You’d think that since they’re a subsidiary of a Big Six publishing house, they’d be able to provide some pretty stellar marketing services to the author, like great product placement in brick-and-mortar bookstores, more “clout” when distributing through Amazon, etc.

Nope. 

Turns out, they’ll offer your book access to the “Archway Publishing online bookstore,” which “includes all of the titles published by Archway.”

Wow! So, you mean, I can have my very own book page on your obscure, never-heard-of-you-before website store, and be listed among all of the other titles published by you?

Sounds like a deal. Not. 

Essentially, Archway will do absolutely nothing to help you sell more books. Further, they probably won’t report the books that do sell, so they can take your money for themselves (again, I’m not making this crap up — read this post to hear the first-person account!).

But if you were in charge of the (self-declared) “largest self-publishing company in the world,” would you use this as a testimonial on every page of your website? 

 

Independent Self Publishing Book Writers Publishing Companies Author Solutions

You know what? I can go to Wikipedia and find something I “need to know, and a whole bunch of stuff [I] didn’t know I needed to know.” And I would find it out too, to boot.

You’ve got to be kidding me — my apologies to Andy & Bernice Tate, but your terrible testimonial really isn’t that helpful!

So what? 

Congratulations — you’ve reached the end of one of the longer posts on this site — I commend you for that. If you’re still wondering what the alternative is, here’s your answer:

Do it yourself. 

That’s right — the whole point of “self-publishing” or “DIY” publishing is to do it yourself. Figure out what a “good” book cover looks like, and find someone on Fiverr who can mock it up for you. Figure out what good book layout looks like, and then do it. Figure out what real editing costs, and then pay for it.

My God, don’t just settle.

Settling means you’ve just taken the easy way out — the way that means more money, more royalties withheld, more crap you have to put up with, etc.

The “easy” way out doesn’t even mean it’s the cheapest option — on the contrary, just take a quick look at the exorbitant prices Archway is trying to get away with.

The “easy” way out is the one that means it was harder to accomplish; harder to pull off than the alternatives.

Assume that everyone is going the easy way — and then do the opposite. Seek out the “self-publishing” company that will truly partner with you — I’ve placed “self-publishing” in quotes almost every other time I’ve written it because the mentioned reference isn’t in fact a true self-publishing company.

Find the self-publishing company that will let you keep all of the royalties; one that will let you be in charge of your book — from beginning to end. Find the company that will allow you the freedom to decide where and when your book will hit the market, and how it will be received.

Most importantly, don’t fall for the shady tactics of companies who are only in existence to rip you off. They’re not always easy to spot, and they’ll deny their existence all day. But they’re out there, and they always will be.

One last note. 

Since this is a true, down-to-earth “smear” piece meant to add to the growing number of posts aimed at destroying the credibility of Author Solutions, I want to add a little disclaimer (or a “claimer,” I guess…)

Dear Author Solutions: Go ahead and call me out. Prove to me I’ve been lying, and prove to the world that you’re a reputable, respectable company, interested in making money by providing the best service at the best competitive price on the market.

Please — I welcome your opinion on this blog. Leave a comment below (as a real person, not as a fake stock photograph with a random name) and let me know what the truth is.

Nick ThackerHey Simon & Shuster: I’m Calling You Out!
  • http://www.youngaspiringwriter.blogspot.com/ Chihuahua Zero

    This is definitely an extensive article. You did a great job setting up an argument that will be hard to debunk.

    I have a question though: what virtues do you think traditional publishing has now, even with self-publishing storming the scene?

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Traditional publishing has plenty of virtues (probably amounting to a full post’s worth…), but off the top of my head I can name brand image/recognition in an established market, easy access (and low/no cost) for necessary author services like editing/proofreading, copyediting, marketing, etc., and clout with brick-and-mortar stores.

  • KathyPooler

    Great points, Nick. From what I can gather after exploring this issue, it appears that Author Solutions is not acting in the author’s best interest. Partnering is the key, whether one chooses traditional or self-publishing. The exorbitant fees proposed are incredulous. I haven’t decided which route to go yet, but I do know it will cost money either way. I want a publisher who will be my partner not drain me dry financially for their bottom line. My responsibility is to deliver a quality product and I know I’ll have to pay the experts to assist me in that goal.If I self-publish I can handpick each one (editor, book cover designer,etc)Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Writers Beware!

    • Grace Peterson

      Kathy, If you land a book deal with an Indie, royalty-paying publisher, you won’t have to pay anything.

      • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

        True — I recommend either paying up front, or working out a small royalty-based deal, but NEVER both.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks, Kathy, and thanks for stopping by!

      They’re definitely NOT acting in the author’s best interest, but honestly that isn’t what surprises me (any company’s best interest is going to be in providing growth and security and profits to the shareholders). What surprises me is how BLATANTLY they’re ripping people off!

  • http://MikeLoomis.CO/ Mike Loomis

    Great book… I mean, POST! There’s no such thing as “pay to make your book sell” if it’s too good to be true – it IS! I’m angry with you, and glad you’re calling this out. I have too many clients, and potential clients, who ponied up thousands and got nothing. Actually, WORSE than nothing!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      HAHA, thanks Mike! Very true, and retribution is coming for these companies in the form of Chapter 11s…

      • http://MikeLoomis.CO/ Mike Loomis

        This just in from a new client (who signed up for this “publishing service” before we met. I gotta invent a time machine)…

        “Just got off the phone with the “geniuses” at _________ , and I must say…NEVER doing this again if I can help it! GRRRR!!!!

        • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

          Ouch. Let me know if you’d like to talk some about working together… Turtleshell Press (launching 2013) has some cool things going on, but we’re not even in beta yet. The idea is to offer a la carte and package services (not unlike the type of company we’re talking about here!) except at a TRULY reasonable price, and one that doesn’t take any rights/royalties/whatever from the author. Feel free to send me an email!

          • http://MikeLoomis.CO/ Mike Loomis

            Just emailed you – Thanks!

  • http://growwithstacy.com/ Stacy Claflin

    Thanks for sharing this! I just published my first novel and when I was looking into my options, I ran across an ad for iUniverse and couldn’t believe what they had to “offer” – it was a joke! They wanted me to pay well over $800 for what I could do myself. Not only that, the person who was calling and emailing me never returned a single email. I was so glad when she finally quit calling and emailing me.

    Let me tell you, it was awesome to have full control over when I published. Once everything was ready, I submitted it all to Create Space and two days later received my proofs. They were perfect, I clicked one little button and *poof* my book was available for the world! The kindle version was ready the day before.

    I couldn’t be happier to be an author right now! Self publishing is only going to get bigger! I love what Amazon is doing for authors!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Hi Stacy! Yeah, iUniverse is one and the same — literally! They’re a joke, their other imprints are a joke, and frankly, the way traditional publishers are taking advantage of indies is a joke!

      Glad it’s working out — I’m a HUGE DIY proponent, and my new business, Turtleshell Press, is going to be a REAL self-publishing company (we’ll provide packages or one-off services for a VERY reasonable price only).

  • http://twitter.com/NiteWriter07 Christopher

    Well written and very informative Nick. I am shopping for a DIY solution and this one will not be on my list. Good looking out!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks, Christopher!

  • Grace Peterson

    My takeaway: When there is a cost to the author for BOTH producing the book and again with selling the book, with the publisher keeping a percentage of the royalties, it’s not in the interest of the author. And those production fees are outlandish. Thanks for sharing Nick.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Agreed — my point exactly. Thanks for the comment, and for reading!

  • Scot Murberger

    From the beginning, I researched many self-publishing companies (many of those listed above), but my nose kept twitching every time I browsed the list of services vs. package prices (got a nice full-color package from Xlibris in the mail just this week). I finally decided that I wanted to feel the full experience – for my first publication I wanted to do every step myself. Just to see what it was like. It turned out like many things, once you’ve done it, it’s not so difficult after all. There are more than enough groups, blogs, and self-help pubs out there to find instructions for every step of the way. Now that I’ve done it myself, I don’t think I can let any parts of the process ever go (including the hand coding of the epub files). Your article just reinforces to me that I made the right decision. Thanks!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      I love that — I wish more authors would choose to try everything themselves once, just to see what it’s like. They’ll probably find, like you and I did, that not all of it is scary or even difficult — plus, it gives us a great step up in bargaining with independent shops and firms for a la carte things like cover design!

      Glad you commented, Scot, and thanks for stopping by!

  • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

    Ah man, I have another post about this so-called service. I find it disgusting – as an ongoing DIY-ler, you only need two things to pay for: A good edit and a grreat cover. Everything else can be done yourself.
    Yikes, what they offer is the WORST form of capitalism – only worrying about their profits and ripping of their customers. The funny thing is, they probably would make more money by putting their customers first, ensuring their success and thus getting more and more biz – but no, they are short-sighted.

    I think this just shows that the big publishing industry still disdains the self-publishing world. They now switched from thinking “Damn, we got to stop the self-publishing world” to “Well, we can’t stop it, so we may as well rip people off and make some sweet moolah.”

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Hi Mars. I agree that you MUST have someone other than yourself edit, if you can afford it, but even cover design can be done by yourself. That said, my “rule” is that you need to be essentially a professional graphic designer to design your covers yourself… Editing doesn’t really fall in the same boat because you’re too close to your own work, and we can’t properly (objectively) edit our own stuff.

      The extension is that while you can do everything yourself, it can be nice to have someone to partner with on it — pay someone to do the layout, conversions, setting up websites, etc. — but the kicker is these things MUST be one-off charges, NOT agreements to pay ongoing royalties! Further, the price you agree on must be reasonable, and THAT’S where these companies are going to fail.

      Self-pubbed guys are going to start becoming more and more aware of what’s “good” when it comes to pricing, and hopefully these otherwise helpful firms will start to come down in price.

      I like your last comment, and all of this is why we’re launching Turtleshell Press soon!

  • http://twitter.com/RadicalRog Peter Rogers

    After years working in book marketing for a major chain and now working with 2 indie publishers, I’ll second all that’s said here.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Dang, I was almost hoping SOMEONE out there had had a good experience… ha.