Close your eyes and envision a member of iUniverse's management team hanging up the telephone, rubbing his hands gleefully and glancing around the conference table at his two colleagues with an evil sparkle in their eyes. His tone is almost maniacal.
We've hooked another sucker.
Yep, I was one of them suckers once until I was wizened up by the fool me once... no, wait... fool me twice routine. I published my second book through iUniverse before I began to suspect the real operation, yet I never came across a single hint in the hundreds of complaints I've perused in the past couple of years.
I couldn't find a single person who was wandering down the same leafy lane as I was, so perhaps I be wrong after all. But the leaves are obfuscating and if I kick them hard enough, I get another glimpse at ... I meansurely I'm not the only one who has realized what is really going on?,
Meanwhile, up in the conference room, the same person picks up the telephone once again. Moments later, he hangs up and unable to contain his mirth, he doubles up in raucous fit of laughter.
He slumps into a chair with his legs spread out and wipes the tears from his eyes. Oh, the poor fools. That one is so irritated with our service he's just terminated his contract and going over to another publisher instead.
His face is going red as he tries to suppress his laughter. Xlibris.
The three men snicker, barely able to contain their gaiety for a few seconds before they intone in simultaneous accord, and we own them too. All three roll around in their chairs and such a sound of merriment echoes from behind the closed doors and drifts down through the sleazy corridors.
These three men manage twelve self-publishing entities. Same business. Twelve different business names.
Get annoyed with one, and the unsuspecting author moves on to the next, and the chances they will end up with the same company is high. But what of this mystery? you ask.
I know iUniverse brag of their ties to Penguin Books, because they have done so to me many times, so I wouldn't be surprised if 11 more are doing the same. But why would Penguin Books ties themselves to such a crooked enterprise preying on the Indie author, the unsuspecting newbie ...
or could it be that Author Solutions is the self-publishing side of Penguin Books. I mean, they've been around since 1927, a traditional publishing house with a reputable history spanning 90 decades.
Now let's consider the difference between a traditional publisher and a self-publisher, and consider the awesome possibilities should one discard a few ethics, stir in some deceit, and the word fraud is spoken in whispers. Are you all falling into line, yet?
I was never happy with the use of the word Royalty. The throw it around a lot.
You will get 100% royalties.
You're not going to take out a 15% management fee?
Nope, you get everything. 100% royalties is yours.
You are feeling really thrilled, perhaps to the point where you might forget to ask how much you should expect with each sale, but just in case you didn't, you will be told that it is 10% of the retail price.
O-only 10%? you may stutter. How much is the retail price?
Oh, it's not so bad.
The cost of publishing a book each time one is ordered, distribution, retailers fees, and of course, your royalty have to be all factored in, but we won't know the retail price until the book is ready to roll, you know, how many pages, the cost of paper, ink, card and so on. Don't worry, we'll sort it all out for you and let you know what the retail prices will be before the first one is printed.
You hang up the phone and stare across the room in silence with dollar signs in your eyes, or perhaps the word royalty is gnawing around in your stomach like a gnarly cancer that just won't go away. You've reread the contract a hundred times before signing it, looking for the verbiage that indicates you've been duped. Nothing to see here.
Royalties are mentioned at 10%, all yours for the keeping. It stipulates that I will agree for them to determine the retail price, but then that would ensure I wouldn't mess up be setting a retail price lower than the cost of production. They're the professionals, after all. Hmmm...
royalties. Am I missing something here?
The big day comes. You've paid a $4,500 publishing package, $3,500 for a professional editor, which they arrange for you. You send it to them.
They send it to the editor. The editor sends it back to them. They send it back to you. Perhaps you approve after making a few adjustments and corrections that the editor appears to have missed.
But yeah, they're only human and not perfect. You may be forgiving. You may not. You finally approve of the editing, the cover design, the interior layout, and now you wait.
A few days later they come back at you with the paper to sign to approve the retail price, and your jaw drops in astonishment. Surely that can't be right for the paperback? $25.95!!
Yes, they said, that is right. Wow, I might be able to twist an arm of a friend or two, but keepers, you know, I'm unknown.
Little old me. Even I wouldn't buy an unknown me book for that price when I can buy Stephen King paperback for $15. But then they reminded me that I was self-publishing. Costs are higher than mass-produced paperbacks.
Point taken... for now. Time for the second book in the series, but did anyone notice....
The first day it became available on Amazon, I rushed to sign on and stare with pride at my first book in a six-book series. Underneath was a link to other retailers in the Amazon marketplace.
New, 4 in stock from $25.95. Used, 8 in stock, $15.99. Still, unhappy with the retail price and with an overwhelming sense that I'm still missing something, I embarked on with enthusiasm on book two. The same procedure, it was all beginning to get familiar.
This time I got jerked around, a totally different experience to the first time around. I wanted the interior layout to be identical throughout the series, and said so. I may as well have give the same instructions to the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. And he wouldn't have to read my lips.
But we got there, and this time they set the retail price at $21.99, but there were about forty pages less in this one. It was still too over priced in my opinion. The first book had sold about ten copies, if I'm to trust their ledger, but I tried to convince myself it's because it is a series. Once I have all six books out there, then I might have more luck.
Of course, iUniverse told me otherwise. I need to invest in a promotional package for $6,000, but you know what, I was getting phone calls and emails offering promotional services for $6,000 (strange how they were all $6,000) in 3 or 4 easy payments starting on the first day book one went on sale. iUniverse insisted that they never gave out my telephone number or email address to anyone, like I should be so gullible I would believe them. The callers were aggressive, so much so, I had to start screening the calls.
The same number came up on the caller ID no less than 7 times in a ten-minute period. I had already spent $15,000 on the two books, and I declined the promotional offer.
Oh, goodie, book 2 is going live today, and I rush to sign on Amazon with less enthusiasm than I did the first time. There it was, complete with a link to the market place: New, 5 in stock from $20.99. Used, 10 is stock, $13.99.
I stared at the price of the used books trying to understand why I felt so disturbed.
The answer was staring me straight in the face, and I followed the link. It was a store I'd never heard of before, but I noted they had ten copies of my first book available as used too. Then it hit me. I had only sold 10 copies so far on the first book.
Had all ten buyers sent them in to the same used book store? Then there is my second book. Newly released today and already there were 10 used copies in stock. They did add in mint condition.
It began to sink in.
They are not obliged to pay royalties on used books because the author should already have been paid royalties on the first sale. And clearly, there was not a first sale.
Then I knew why the word royalties bothered me so much. A traditional publishing house paid royalties to their authors, but an Indie Author doesn't get paid royalties - not in the same sense. The traditional publishing house, lets say Penguin Books, signs up an author, but from that day on, an author rarely has a say in his book.
The publisher pays for the editing services, cover, interior design, printing, distribution, the author is expected to assist with the promotion in appearance, but the publisher foots the bill for everything. Therefore, they can retail the book for whatever price they want, pay the author the agreed royalty, and keep the rest. But even an author receiving royalties from a traditional publishing house, in general, got 15% and not 10%.
For an Indie Author, who is paying for the entire caboodle normally footed by the traditional publishing house, are buying a service, and so the Indie should reap a higher return because I should be entitled to the difference between cost of production and retail should. There was no agreement with the publisher for a fee, and in fact, when I queried this, they had not answered the question but spun it by repeating that I get 100% royalties.
Now I think I am starting to see the bigger picture (and I'm sure you are too, by now).
I emailed iUniverse with one little question, and the reaction it brought was almost atomic. I simply asked them to send me a breakdown of the publishing costs per book whenever it was ordered, say from Amazon, through to dispatch by to the customer and the retailer's percentage for the sale. I sent it to one of the bosses, and ten minutes later one of his underlings called me. He asked for me by name, and when I said this is he, he introduced himself and immediately started off without me saying a word.
You are getting paid 100% royalty. I was curious. Who said anything about royalties? (see what was on his mind) I asked for a breakdown of the book from order....
Why do you want that?
I paid for it, and I'm entitled by law to know exactly what I am paying for.
Would you buy a car without knowing if there was an engine in it? I wasn't sure about the analogy, but there was no doubt he was agitated by my request. We went back and forth, saying he had no idea (this is the assistant publisher and promotions). I finally asked that if he didn't know, then could connect me to someone who does.
I will have to find out who it is and I'll email or call you back tomorrow.
I did not expect to see that email or get a call the next day, and I was right. I checked the prices of the books published by Xlibris and most of the 11 associated self-publishers, and their retail prices are extremely high too.
I let a month go by before I called him to remind him that thirty next days have passed, and he made out he had no idea what I was talking about. I want the breakdown as I asked for. He flat out refused to give them to me.
That was the last time I spoke to him on the telephone (mid 2018) and I began an investigative mission to find out what press they used, what services, etc. At the same time, I was looking for a new publisher. It was the that publisher (not associated to iUniverse or Author Solutions), and he told me that they used exactly the same press, distribution channels, etc, as iUniverse. He said they were always transparent about the costs and after asking me how many pages was in my first book, he then told me the cost total to the finished product was $6.48, and with distribution/shipping/retailer fee (varies, but this is calculated for Amazon and Barnes &;;;; Nobles sales) my total cost is $10.38 which leaves a discrepancy of $15.61.
Would you believe they are, or appear to reaping th benefits of a traditional publishing house at the expense of the Indie author.
We are the ones who are losing big time... fake used book sales, and on our sales via retail outlets.
I terminated my accounts with iUniverse on January 4, 2019, republished the first two books at $11.99 each, published book 3, and now I am pre-editing the fourth book in the series, which I expect to ge ready in late spring, early summer, 2020.
In the meantime, iUniverse has not honored my notice, and despite three emails sent to three persons, they have ignored my emails and continue to try and sell on Amazon. My republications are up there, and recently, somehow, the current edition of the first book was marked as "No Longer Available" and the iUniverse had put up the edition they are no longer have the publishing rights to. Amazon changed it back when I called, but it was a reader who sent me an email to complain that I was advertising it for $11.99, and she followed the link because it caught her interest, and asked my why it was $25.95.
That cost me at least one sale, if not more.
So take your pick when you use any of the Penguin Books/Author Solutions affiliations. They are all under the management of the same group.
TELLING IT HOW IT IS
Product or Service Mentioned: Iuniverse Publishing Service.