Beware of Author Solutions

May 21, 2012 | Opinions

danger symbolFirst of all, let’s get something straight. If you publish a book, either all by yourself or by paying someone up front for the services you can’t handle (like cover design), for which you retain all rights and keep all profits, then you are an independent, self-published author. If you get an agent and a book deal that pays an advance and some healthy royalties, you’re a traditionally-published author.

If you use a service like Author Solutions, you’re a fool.

A Little History

Before the age of the Internet, people who paid for their books to be published outside of the mainstream industries were considered to be vanity publishing. It’s where the stigma of self-publishing comes from, and why there is a lingering attitude that those who self-publish were not good enough to get a book deal. Times have changed, of course, and self-publishing is becoming more and more respectable as a viable alternative.

The business model of a vanity publisher was very simple. An author paid for their book to be printed, as there was no other way to deliver their work to a potential audience. The company had no stake in its success and no reason to market the book; it was all on the author to sell as many copies as they could, to get back the cost of the printing. The point is that the company had already been paid, by their customers, the authors.

The Internet, of course, makes all of that irrelevant. Anyone can put their book up on Amazon if they want to sell it, with no printing required if need be. Why would an author pay for a print run if there were another, cheaper, far more convenient way to deliver their work? Like many industries before it, it was buried by new technology.

This doesn’t mean that vanity publishers went away, however. They just have a new face now, and many of them belong to the umbrella company called Author Solutions.

The New Business Model

There’s already a host of stories out there on Author Solutions and its subsidiaries, like iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris and others. I’ll forgo repeating them all here, but the summary is thus: there are problems galore. Emily Seuss is collecting some of the stories on her blog, and it’s worth a read.

Make no mistake about this, though – Author Solutions is a vanity publisher. They’re trying to pretend otherwise, but it’s clear that their services are pay-to-play. This is not a business model that’s favorable to authors, whatever way you cut it, and the fact that they’re pushing their services as self-publishing or independent publishing is plain misleading.

It’s all about the flow of money. According to Yog’s Law, money flows towards the author. I would add the caveat that, in the case of a true self-published author who may pay for a single service like cover design, all the profits flow towards the author. In Author Solutions’ business model, the money flows towards them.

Here’s how it works.

If you’re an author, you want to sell your books. This is presumably why you’re going to try to get into this business to start with. Marketing and selling aside, you at least know who, ultimately, is supposed to be handing over money for your work: the readers.  Not so with Author Solutions and their ilk.

In short, Author Solutions doesn’t sell to readers. They don’t get much money from readers. They get money from authors.

Let’s look at the statistics. I’ll use iUniverse’s price list as an example, as I’ve got some numbers on them from the How Publishing Really Works blog.

  • Average number of copies sold per title: 39.9
  • Average list price: seems to vary. Let’s say $15.95, as per the example on their site
  • Royalty Rate: 20%, the max that iUniverse offers as far as I can tell

Now, I’m not actually interested in how much the author gets. I’m interested in how much iUniverse gets. Let’s see if I can work it out, using the formula provided by iUniverse itself. (No, I am not linking to them. Sorry.) This assumes a sale to Ingram or another wholesaler.

List Price     –     36% Discount     =     Net Sale     x     Royalty Rate     =     Royalty Earned 
$15.95        –            $5.74             =       $10.21       x             20%            =            $2.04

Okay, the author gets that $2.04. iUniverse gets $8.17. The cost to print an average 150 page book using POD technology is $3.62. So, iUniverse gets a profit of $4.55. This means, on average, iUniverse gets a profit of $181.46 from book sales on each title it publishes. That’s $181.46 from the readers.

Now, bearing that in mind, their cheapest package that they sell to authors costs $899 at the time of writing.

The Bottom Line

I can’t really make this more clear. In this example (and I fully admit that this is nothing more than ballpark estimation), it’s blindingly obvious that iUniverse has no incentive to sell the books. They get far more money from the authors themselves, and it’s clear that their business model is geared towards that alone. I am sure of this because it’s already well known that the iUniverse sales team calls authors, not bookstores, to sell them on their products. Their website is geared towards selling to authors. By all accounts, every Author Solutions subsidiary works on the same model, and this puts them at odds with the purpose of the author in selling books to readers.

This just isn’t acceptable, not for an author who intends to develop a career out of their writing. Forget the problems, and the accusations of scamming and misleading advertising. This alone means that their company is a terrible choice. No sensible business person should ever, ever consider going into a partnership with a company that maintains the appearance of being aligned with their aims, while in actuality the company’s focus is entirely elsewhere.

Their tagline talks a lot about helping authors achieve their goals or fulfil their dreams. They just don’t mention that none of that includes commercial success. So here is my advice, dear authors, if you’re looking for help in publishing your work:

  • If you just want a few for your friends or family, use something like to buy individual copies.
  • If you need a run of books to sell at seminars, for example, look up book printing companies.
  • If you want to develop a traditional writing career, seek advice from the blogs of well known agents and big name publishers.
  • If you want to go down the self-published route, check every company who offers you services on Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware, and do a google search for “nameofcompany scam”.

In every case, you need to talk to other writers, preferably on the Absolute Write forums. Every time you’re told you need to hand over money for something or other, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting.