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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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.
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:
And for kicks and giggles, here’s another screenshot of the Archway Publishing site (the imprint started by Simon & Shuster):
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:
- It’s faster. Unbelievably fast compared to the traditional routes. Can’t go into it here, but you probably already agree with me.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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,
- 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:
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:
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?
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:
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:
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.
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:
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).
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:
“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.
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?
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!
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.