Home » David Gaughran, Self-Publishing » Simon & Schuster Joins Forces With Author Solutions To Rip Off Writers

Simon & Schuster Joins Forces With Author Solutions To Rip Off Writers

29 November 2012

From David Gaughran:

Simon & Schuster has launched a self-publishing operation, Archway Publishing, contracting one of the most disreputable players in the business to run the show: Author Solutions.

. . . .

But what if you need proper editing? Fear not! Simon & Schuster is here to help. For just $0.035 a word, you can have a thorough edit of your book. Which sounds cheap until you realize that a standard 80,000 word novel would cost you $2,800. So, in actual fact, the cheapest package, plus their edit, will set you back $4,799 for a standard length book.

As if that wasn’t enough, Simon & Schuster will also take half of your e-book royalties – after Amazon and the other retailers take their cut – and pay pennies for print sales.

. . . .

Author Solutions is the umbrella for (and owner of) several seriously shady self-publishing service companies (or vanity presses, if you prefer) – such as Author House, Xlibris, iUniverse, and Trafford.

Each of these companies has managed to achieve disreputable status on their own, but together they have screwed over more than 150,000 writers. Going through the full history of their rip-off schemes would require a book, rather than a blog post, so I’ll stick to the highlights.

The formidable Emily Suess has been covering Author Solutions for some time:

The short list of recurring issues includes: making formerly out-of-print works available for sale without the author’s consent, improperly reporting royalty information, non-payment of royalties, breach of contract, predatory and harassing sales calls, excessive markups on review and advertising services, failure to deliver marketing services as promised, telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars, ignoring customer complaints, shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories . . .

. . . .

At the time of the purchase, some commentators expressed hope that Penguin would clean up this cesspool. Instead, Penguin gave Kevin Weiss – the head of Author Solutions – a seat on the board.

A seat on the board!

And the scammy behavior hasn’t stopped; in fact, some of it is getting worse. I’ve received reports of Author Solutions staff calling prospective customers and asking if they want to be “published by Penguin.” Yes, they went there.

. . . .

Before you say that any writer who gets suckered only has themselves to blame, you must consider that Author Solutions is extremely disingenuous about how they target customers.

They prey on people who don’t understand the industry. Their whole business model is predicated on customer ignorance – and they are relentless at exploiting that, hounding people with incessant calls, pushing every emotional button they can think of, until they crack.

And it works. The average customer spends $5,000 getting their book published – which is crazy money – and Emily Suess has received reports of writers being tricked out of tens of thousands of dollars. After all that, the writers don’t sell anything anyway, and what little they do make is often delayed or unpaid altogether.

I can’t say it any plainer: Author Solutions are in the business of ripping people off.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

David’s warnings should suffice to steer anyone away from Author Solutions. However, if you need a second source, Victoria Strauss comments on Writer Beware:

It’s not an exaggeration to say that, right now, ASI is the most hated name in the self-publishing services world.

. . . .

ASI is the only self-pub service provider about which we get regular complaints.

. . . .

My problem is with how S&S and others have chosen to dabble in self-publishing–by choosing to work with a company that exploits authors through deceptive PR tacticsmisleading rhetoric, and terrible customer service. ASI’s poor reputation is not a secret–it’s all over the Internet. Could S&S and others not have chosen a more complaint-free service provider–or, even, created the service themselves?

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

David Gaughran, Self-Publishing

33 Comments to “Simon & Schuster Joins Forces With Author Solutions To Rip Off Writers”

  1. Surely there are smart people in traditional publishing – yet they think *this* is what self-publishing is? Quit conflating predatory vanity publishing with true self-publishing!

    • “Surely there are smart people in traditional publishing”

      Everyday I doubt that premise more and more. It’s almost supernatural how idiotic they all act.

      • Perhaps they think to undermine self-publishing by creating this flawed concept of ‘vanity’ self-publishing for the newer and younger generation of writers, the ones who didn’t grow up with dreams of being traditionally published only to have them crushed by reams of reject letters, the ones who are in the teens and early 20s and really only know the end of trad. pubs and the new ebook revolution.

        What if this isn’t just stupidity? What if they really are trying to convince these young, naive writers that ‘this’, THIS is self-publishing. Come over to the dark side because we have cookies, young writers!

        I’ve spoken to a few that fall into this category. They have no idea what it used to be like. They don’t even understand the difference between traditional and self-publishing as far as credentials vs. stigma. They don’t care.

        When they find out I’m published and I add, quietly, “Well, I’m self-published”, these young souls say, “So?” Then grin and ask about my book.

        Like my mama always said, “Nobody is that stupid.”


    • I’m pretty sure they *do* know exactly what self-publishing is. Just as I’d wager they know that what they’re hoping to sell to writers is *not* self-publishing.

      (Proof: if we writers can figure out who and what the vanity presses are, and if the people in the publishing industry have been warning against them for as long as I’ve been researching the industry–5-6 years–then I really don’t see how anyone could have missed the memo. Heck, it was the industry professionals themselves who hammered it into newbie heads: money flows to the writer, not the other way around.)

  2. This is what I was talking about earlier regarding disruptive change in the industry: when it comes to indie publishing, the traditional publishers are not engaging and providing any value. Most don’t do anything, but those traditional publishers that have tried to provide services to indie publishers seem to be worse: they’re trying to simply screw them them out of money.

    If you do use a service to help put your book together, keep Kathryn Rusch’s axiom in mind: money flows to the writer. Never give up equity in your own book with these services – and certainly not most of it or without a firm date for full reversion back to you.

  3. Yes, I agree with everyone else that this is scammy, particularly the part about screwing around with roylaties. However, I’m going to take an unpopular stance and say that .035 per word is actually a fair fee if the editing includes a full line edit plus content/developmental editing. It’s too much for the vanilla line editing they likely actually do, but not for developmental editing. Sure, you can get it cheaper, but generally speaking, you get what you pay for. I have friends who do editing (and do editing myself). Prices among us range from a low of .0035 (for simple copyediting) to a high of .04 per word (for complex editing and/or a writer who needs a LOT of help), depending on the level of editing needed.

    • I agree with you Kat. $4700 is not a bad price for good editing. I just finished a lengthy process with The Editorial Department and spent a good deal more (I’m not David Gaughran or Kat Sheridan, so I expected to need more help). I think the final result was worth the investment. However, TED helped me with patience and education and without taking a piece of my royalties. The fact that Penguin is keeping royalties on top of what is probably overpriced editing is an outrage.

      Peace, Seeley

    • Thank you, Kat. I’m job costing/budget setting for the next year and I’m glad to have a (non-evil) source of information 🙂

      • Jamie, only people who don’t know me well consider me “non-evil.” The last romance I wrote had a body count of nine before I got to the end. MWAHAHAHAHA!! LOL!

        Seriously, if you ever need recommendations for editors (besides myself), I’m happy to help. I also know cover artists, and folks who will handle the formatting for you, and I write back cover blurbs, so we are pretty much our own informal consortium. And none of us EVER demands any ongoing royalties or commissions or try to upsell you.

  4. The horrifying part, of course, is that they have to pay for the editing on TOP of the cheapest package.

  5. As one person in the comment thread at David Gaughran’s blog observed, this development is depressing. Reading this post, I feel Penguin is acting as if it were a major real estate developer who, facing the economic crisis of 2007/2008, decided his best strategy was to hire the sales team from “Glengarry Glen Ross” — or someone with an equivalent ethical level & business plan.

  6. More scary, after following a series of links is this statement from the announcement in Publishers Weekly: “S&S will refer authors who submit unsolicited manuscripts to the Archway program”. So an author submits to S&S and thinks they are being referred by a legit publisher to another legit branch of that publisher. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/industry-deals/article/54883-simon-schuster-creates-self-publishing-unit-archway-publishing.html

    • Now that detail is especially insidious, since I remember Archway Paperback books, which I believe was a division of S&S. They published the Nancy Drew Case Files, which I devoured as a kid, so I can imagine someone thinking they really are dealing on the up and up. I can only hope someone is frugal enough to seek a plan B rather than fall for this.

      • Problem being that we are typically educated by those that have a conflict of interest. How many people learn how a mortgage works or a car loan from the loan officer trying to sell them a loan? People learn about computers from the kid at the store trying to sell them one. And authors learn about agent contracts from their agents, etc…

        Fortunately, there are resources online to learn – but it does take looking.

    • That’s the same move that got Harlequin in trouble with writer’s organizations when they tried to hook *their* scammy vanity pub arm (Dell’Arte) to rejection letters. I hope the writers organizations (RWA, MWA, NINC, etc.) are all over this with condemnation ASAP!

      • Anthea, I posted a warning in the RWA Industry forum and hope the board is paying attention. You’re right, the author organizations need to be out in front of this (except Author’s Guild, which has already obviously gone over to the dark side).

    • “S&S will refer authors who submit unsolicited manuscripts to the Archway program”.

      In other words, this is all about monetizing the slush pile — just the thing I’ve been accusing them of.

      Of course, this creates a direct conflict of interest that can only be detrimental to S&S’s core business —

      Old model: S&S earn nothing from a rejected manuscript. Handling submissions is a pure expense, but a necessary one, because only by doing so can they find books to publish. There is no incentive to reject books; only the books they accept can generate revenue and profit for the firm.

      New model: S&S earn money from rejections by referring them to their sock-puppet vanity imprint. They now have a positive incentive to reject books. Every book ‘published’ by Archway represents a guaranteed profit, even if nobody ever buys a copy: cost + profit come from the writer up front. If they accept a book, it may lose money; if they get the author to waste the book by consigning it to the hell of an Archway deal, it will certainly make them money. This creates clear and obvious pressure to go for the vanity referral in all dubious cases.

      Problem: any writer not fresh off the turnip truck will be outraged at this treatment, and not only will not buy a vanity deal from Archway, but will regard S&S with scorn and contempt thereafter — not submit to them anymore — and talk about it.

  7. Big Publishing has been ripping writers for forever. They’re just doing it out in the open now.

  8. Just like anything new, scam artists always come out of the sewers to exploit the uninitiated. AS must have made good money to be acquired by S&S. So let’s drop all the pretenses, S&S is in making money, not great literature.
    It is very enticing to believe that a major publisher, for a premium price, will publish your book. And that’s the end of it, publish it, not market it and sell it. To publish a quality book it cost a few bucks. Good editing cost from 2c to 3.5c per word, but it’s worth every penny. Book design (interior and cover) could cost from $300 to $700 depending how fancy the cover is. Any writer can do his or her own interior and cover design, it is not that difficult. For my first book “Arboregal” I contracted with CreateSpace. It cost me $5,800 for an 118,000 words book, and I supplied the artwork for the cover. I bought additional services for that price, but in the end the only thing worth buying was the editing and the book design, which is a lot less than what I paid for.
    For my first book I managed to get the high resolution proofs of the book cover and interior. CreateSpace does not give the proofs away, the first time I was persuasive. Since I cannot get the proofs for which I pay, I decided to use freelancers for my new book “Escape from Communism” and the cost would be under $2,000 for a 49,000 words. I will use CreateSpace for printing, and I own all the proofs and copyrights, including the ISBN. I’m happy with CreateSpace, but when you know what you’re doing you choose the less expensive way. You could spend even less than what I mentioned above, but use my numbers above as a guide, or check on CreateSpace to compare prices.

  9. I wonder when the class action lawsuits will begin.

  10. As usual, D. Gaughran doesn’t hit the nail on the head, he splits one nail in half with a second nail with his fisking of this steaming turd pile of a “service”. This is “Book Country F&*k” with a different, cheap paintjob and even more outlandish fees and terms. As if that were possible.

    And as many have pointed out (as evidenced by the posts from those that still rally around agent blogs and shout “hooray” to all the recent “we’re still necessary” posts) writers who still need a stamp on their forhead will line up and shell out to bend over for this.

    And all that will serve (because it won’t serve the writer’s) is the profitability of sales venture’s like this, meaning these scam services will only grow in number and scope.

  11. I like the way their “author profile video” service (http://www.archwaypublishing.com/Servicestore/ServiceDetail.aspx?ServiceId=BS-5514) costs six grand for them to spend ninety minutes filming you in one location, and yet the edits they’re willing to include in the price don’t cover things like “you didn’t include that shot of me playing ping-pong with my cat” or “eww, there’s a curry stain on the bottom of my T-shirt, can you do a digital zoom to crop it out?”

    I know just enough about video to be dangerous, and I’m struggling to think how I’d hire enough people with that amount of money for them all to have something to do, even if I was padding the price to make a profit for myself.

  12. Outstanding article by David, as per usual. I’m so glad we have David writing for us! He is a fantastic advocate!

    I liked Victoria’s article too, except where she rolled her eyes at self-publishers for calling for change, but not liking this. Huh? That was weird and made no sense.

    I’m really glad authors are rallying around this. The sad thing is that the authors who most need to read these articles, probably won’t.

    • Sadly, Victoria often gets in digs at indies, whom she seems to look down on. And yes, the very people who most need to know the difference between being an author-publisher and “self-publishing” schemes like this one will never be exposed to David’s article, PG’s blog, Kris’s Business Rusch, or any of the other great advice out there. We can hope that a few of them will know someone who knows someone who…

      • Sadly, I think you’re right about the people who most need to know. Back in the Lower Cretaceous, when I were a wee lad, I learned not to waste money on vanity presses from Writer’s Digest. Today, Writer’s Digest is running its own vanity-press scam. The sheepdogs are eating the sheep.

        • Bridget and Tom – I know, it’s so sad that authors aren’t educated.

          I’ve been thinking about this lately, and if there is any way to address it. Is there a central blog for indie folk and information about indies?

          Also, I was toying with the idea of an outreach team. Maybe we should go to the source. 🙂

          • I know there’s a massive yahoo loop for indie romance writers (traditional or indie, romance writers are among the most well informed writers on the planet. Too many years of being treated like bon-bon-eating, feather-boa-wearing pea brains I guess). Don’t know if there’s a similar non-romance indie loop.

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