Author Solutions has forged partnerships with a long list of famous names in publishing – from Simon & Schuster and Hay House to Barnes & Noble and Reader’s Digest.
Recent disclosures in various lawsuits, along with information sent to me by a Penguin Random House source, detail for the very first time exactly how these partnerships work and the damage they are causing.
Since a second suit was filed at the end of March, Author Solutions is now facing two class actions, with the new complaint alleging unjust enrichment and exploitation of seniors on top of the usual claims of fraud and deceptive practices. It also has a wonderfully precise summary of Author Solutions’ operations:
Author Solutions operates more like a telemarketing company whose customer base is the Authors themselves. In other words, unlike a traditional publisher, Author Solutions makes money from its Authors, not for them. It does so by selling books back to its Authors, not to a general readership, and by selling its Authors expensive publishing, editing, and marketing services (“Services”) that are effectively worthless.
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Despite Author Solutions’ mounting legal troubles, and an unending stream of complaints against the company from both its own customers and a whole host of writers’ organizations and campaigners, companies are still queuing up to partner with Author Solutions.
Penguin Random House – its corporate parent – has shown no inclination towards reforming any of the deceptive and misleading practices of Author Solutions, or addressing any of the long-standing issues its customers face, handily summarized by Emily Suess as:
- 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.
Instead of making any attempt to tackle that list, Penguin Random House has focused oninternational expansion of Author Solutions, a process which has also seen the re-introduction of practices which had previously been banished from the industry, like reading fees.
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Below is a partial list of the publishing companies which have partnered with Author Solutions to create their own in-house “self-publishing service,” but it gives you an idea of just how many supposedly respectable publishers are willing to profit from exploiting inexperienced writers.
The name of the respective service – or what Author Solutions refers to as a “Partner Imprint” – is in brackets.
- Simon & Schuster (Archway Publishing)
- Harlequin (DelleArte Press) – partnership terminated 2015
- Hay House (Balboa US, Balboa Australia)
- Barnes & Noble (Nook Press Author Services)
- Crossbooks (LifeWay) – partnership terminated 2014
- Penguin (Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa)
- HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson/Zondervan (Westbow Press)
- Random House (MeGustaEscribir)
- Writer’s Digest (Abbott Press) – partnership terminated 2014
Some of these companies go to great lengths to hide the Author Solutions connection (Lulu, Barnes & Noble, and Crossbooks being pretty famous examples), and customers of these platforms often aren’t aware that services are being fulfilled by Author Solutions – yet another reason, if one is needed, why victims shouldn’t be blamed.
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Author Solutions pitches its services to publishers as a way of monetizing the slush pile, offering what it calls “white-label services” to these organizations – which essentially means that Author Solutions will provide the entire infrastructure for their “self-publishing service” and operate it on their behalf too.
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These relationships are crucial to Author Solutions, as it doesn’t get organic referrals – i.e. for obvious reasons, writers aren’t recommending its services and Author Solutions has severe problems with customer retention.
Aside from providing a false veneer of respectability to Author Solutions’ operations, the only role that the partnering publisher plays is to provide “leads” to Author Solutions, and then sit back and collect the royalty checks. In short, these publishers are pimping out their brand as bait for the Author Solutions scam.
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The relevant points regarding partners are:
- Partner Imprints provide identical services, but often with higher prices. For example, the exact same book review package – Kirkus Premium – costs $5,999 from iUniverse and $6,999 from Archway.
- These higher prices are necessary to cover, in part, the royalty payment to partners.
- The balance is made up via higher quotas assigned to sales reps responsible for Partner Imprints.
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The sales force employed by Author Solutions is considerable. Most (approximately 80%) are based in the Philippines, despite deliberately giving the impression they are based in the US. Also, they aren’t identified as sales reps to Author Solutions customers, instead they are dubbed “Marketing Consultants,” “Book Consultants,” or “Publishing Consultants.”
Publishing Consultants are the first to deal with authors, advising them which publishing package to purchase. The only way that Author Solutions measures the performance of Publishing Consultants is the total dollar value of packages sold, so these sales reps are only incentivized to sell the most expensive package possible. If the customer can’t afford a given package, a payment plan is offered.
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Book Consultants are introduced to Author Solutions customers as the people who will help fulfill the “free” order of books that comes with their publishing packages, but their true role is to convince the author to place an additional order for further copies of their books, beyond the small amount that comes free with some of the publishing packages. From Author Solutions own figures released when looking for a buyer in 2012, we know that two thirds of its revenue comes from selling publishing and marketing packages, and one third from selling books. What wasn’t known until the depositions of Author Solutions executives were made public is that the vast majority of those book sales are authors purchasing their own books.
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According to a source at Penguin Random House, Author Solutions employs 594 sales reps in its Philippines office, and 138 in its US office, making a total of 732 staff members whose primary role is to sell products to its own customers.
This is in stark contrast to the amount of people dedicated to actually providing basic services to its customers – services which Author Solutions has a duty to provide.
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A recurring complaint from Author Solutions customers is that the company fails to fulfill purchased services, and also fails to fulfill basic services included in the publishing packages (allegations which are repeated in the class actions).
An example should illustrate why these complaints are so common. A frequent claim is that royalty payments are often delayed, incomplete, or wholly inaccurate – a situation further compounded by abysmal customer service when complaints are made.
You might imagine that calculating the respective royalties for the 180,000 authors and 225,000 titles which Author Solutions has published is a tricky task, especially given that these titles are distributed in several different formats to a large list of retail outlets, many of whom operate in different territories and currencies and pay out a different percentage based on a whole range of factors, including price.
This is how many staff Author Solutions employs to calculate royalties for all those authors and titles: 1.
That’s not a typo, there is one single person to calculate royalties for 180,000 authors and 225,000 titles. One person! And 732 sales reps with aggressive quotas to sell worthless crap like “web optimized” press releases for $1,299, YouTube advertising packages for $4,099, and Hollywood pitching services for $17,999.
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Staff turnover is a problem in general at Author Solutions, but particularly for the position of the poor person who has to calculate royalties for 225,000 books from 180,000 authors. I’m told that it’s lucky if this staff member can get through two payment quarters without quitting in sheer frustration – which means that a new person has to be regularly trained in, and is always playing catch-up.
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Among those refusing to comment was Publishers Weekly and I suspect its partnership with Author Solutions runs far deeper than simply allowing it to re-sell blocks of advertising.
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Obviously, having a financially lucrative partnership with Author Solutions acts as a strong disincentive [for Publishers Weekly] to run an exposé of its shady practices, but there are other factors in play. Author Solutions is owned by the largest trade publisher in the world and Penguin Random House’s advertising spend is considerable.
Penguin Random House has also been actively suppressing the Author Solutions story. One investigation I have knowledge of was supposed to be published in April 2014, but the editor in question decided to kill the story at the last moment.