Home » Big Publishing, David Gaughran » FYI: Penguin Random House Is Still In The Vanity Business

FYI: Penguin Random House Is Still In The Vanity Business

7 January 2016

From David Gaughran:

Penguin Random House announced the sale of Author Solutions on Tuesday, leading to headlines stating it has exited the self-publishing business and various commentators congratulating it for cleaning house. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true.

Four Penguin Random House-owned vanity presses will remain in operation – Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa, and MeGustaEscribir – and will be run as Partner Imprints. You can read more about how Partner Imprints work here, but the short version is that Author Solutions will operate these four vanity presses on behalf of Penguin Random House, and PRH’s job will be to provide leads (aka newbie writers), lend its name and brand to the effort, and then sit back and collect its commissions.

This is precisely how Author Solutions operates Archway Publishing on behalf of Simon & Schuster, Westbow for HarperCollins, and Balboa Press for Hay House, among others. In short, Penguin Random House is still in the vanity business, it’s just flying under the radar – along with many more famous names in the industry.

. . . .

These troublesome little details were overlooked by the press who were keen to trumpet Penguin Random House’s move. Indeed, it has been quite revealing watching the reaction unfold.

When Penguin purchased Author Solutions in 2012 for $116m, virtually all the press had the same angle: Penguin was making a smart move into the fast-growing world of self-publishing. No mention was made of the controversial business practices of Author Solutions, or that the giant vanity press resembled a viable self-publishing platform much in the way a glass of hydrochloric acid is a recommended way to cleanse after the holidays.

Fast forward to 2016, and suddenly Author Solutions has become “controversial” and even “toxic” – and selling the company is being hailed as an even smarter move. But what happened in-between 2012 and 2016? What did Author Solutions do to become toxic or controversial? Why was purchasing the company seen as smart in 2012, but getting rid of it was seen as even smarter in 2016?

Readers of this blog will be fully aware, but readers elsewhere will have no idea whatsoever because the press refused to cover the story. Indeed, in most publications, the only stories they ran on Author Solutions in the last four years were the purchase and the sale – no mention whatsoever of its awful business practices, the widespread protests from the author community, even the class actions.

. . . .

One line being pushed by publishing professionals is that Random House somehow accidentally inherited Author Solutions in the Penguin merger. I can picture CEO Markus Dohle pinching his nose as he made the head of Author Solutions part of his global executive team – obviously under some kind of duress.

More seriously, it’s patently ridiculous to make this claim. Penguin Random House happily continued the aggressive international expansion of Author Solutions commenced by Penguin – even to the point of opening a vanity press right in the offices of Random House Spain and pimping out its editors to sell 4,000 Euro evaluation reports.

Let’s also not forget what then-Penguin CEO John Makinson said when purchasing the company in 2012. “We spent time getting to know the people at Author Solutions and their sophisticated operation,” Makinson said. “They have skills that can help us at Penguin.”

His current job? Chairman of Penguin Random House.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG says David’s persistent and ongoing investigation into Author Solutions’ various and sundry swindles of the unwary is a great service to authors everywhere.

PG commented when Penguin acquired Author Solutions, the acquisition was a clear signal of how Big Publishing really regards authors.


Big Publishing, David Gaughran

54 Comments to “FYI: Penguin Random House Is Still In The Vanity Business”

  1. Why are we not surprised by this?

  2. I’d love to see us indie authors focused on stuff that actually matters.

    Bitching about A.S. is such a waste of time. Who cares about Author’s Guild and what they’re saying out of their a** today too, that doesn’t affect us either. Getting caught up in whether someone is missing a comma on page 42 of their novel also is something that matters either.

    Those things not going to increase book sales and it only frustrates people thinking about it.

    If we’d focus as much attention on becoming better writers and selling more books, we’d be a lot happier.

    • If you don’t give a hoot what happens to your peers that are swindled, that’s fine. No one is telling *you* how to spend your time. But, really, it’s the ultimate act of pointlessness to comment on a topic you don’t care about complaining that people are caring about it. Also, I’m capable of caring about more than one thing at the same time (such as otters, hats, wine, sea voyages, and helping authors not get screwed over).

      • This.

        And thanks again for the service you are providing for newbies. My partner and I conduct seminars locally on self-publishing and are constantly encountering beginners who have or are considering going with a vanity press. We’re able to save some, but not all.

      • I’m also on board with why David does this (and appreciate that he does). It matters because I care about people who want to be writers. There were writers helping me when I started out (there are writers who still help me in countless ways even now), and I’m always one to return the favor whenever I can.

        That, and it infuriates me when people prey on one another. I hate that publishing companies are using people’s hopes and dreams against them to make a quick buck. And when it happens in my field, and I’m in a position to help others, I’m absolutely going to do so. I don’t want authors to be taken advantage of. I want them to write books and live out their dream without getting screwed over.

      • I understand you’re helping people and I think you’re awesome for doing that. But goodness, if people don’t know how shady A.S. is by now, I don’t know what to say.

        Sites like Joe Konrath’s used to focus on how to be a better author and how to sell more books. Now, they harp on Author’s Guild (zzzz … who cares?)

        I understand it’s a procrastination tool for writers (I finished my 10 chapters for the day so I’m allowing my self to procrastinate). But it also allows indies to point fingers at another big bad boogie man that’s comin’ to getcha. We’re better than that.

        If we as indies put as much passion into things that actually affect OUR lives, we’ll be happier and we’ll make our readers happier too.

        • “I finished my 10 chapters for the day so I’m allowing my self to procrastinate.”

          How long is each chapter? A page? A paragraph?

          • I start writing at 4am and I don’t stop (other than an afternoon snooze) until about 6pm.

            • BTW my last post on Author Solutions was in May 2015. My last post of any kind was in August 2015. Recommending that I slow down my blogging is a pretty tough case to make!

        • Two reasons actually.

          Those that have heard of ASI may not know of all their clones, so the info might save them.

          There are new writers every day that are just dipping their toes into this writing thingy. Hopefully they’ll find sites like this one, but if they don’t see fresh warnings about ASI and company they may not see the danger — or since there are no new warnings they might thing the problem is in the past.


          Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

          Evil flourishes when good men do nothing

          ETA, just a few thousand words for the day here — which is a lot as me be a sloooow writer … 😉

          • A+ Allen F.

            Very well said, and…

            a few thou wds a day, is very good. Trust: quite so.

            leaves time to care about one’s health, one’s family, one’s animals, have a brew, laugh with friends, for hours and hours each day. Good plan.

        • You’re posting that like everybody who will ever write a book or who has ever wanted to write a book knows everything there is to know about publishing, and especially vanity publishing. We’ll have new people entering the market on a daily basis who will know nothing and might get suckered in to a vanity press.

          Vanity presses prey on those who either 1) haven’t done their homework or 2) are such newbies they don’t even realize that there’s researching/homework to be done. They don’t even know what they don’t know.

          Which is why people like David and PG are here to help.

        • There are countless websites that focus on how to write, what to write, and how to publish. Not so many that warn newbies about scammers like AS.

          You sound as if you have the process down. Why are you bothering with any writing or publishing blog at all? Surely no one here will be able to tell you anything you don’t already know.

        • @Kristi

          I could say several things, but this should suffice: I was the one who broke the story that Author Solutions were secretly providing the POD services part of Nook Press’ Author Services. Nate Hoffelder of Digital Reader was the one who broke the story that Author Solutions were secretly providing the marketing services to Lulu authors. If neither of us had bothered writing those stories, people would still be unaware of that fact, and still using Author Solutions services without knowing they were doing so. Thus your whole argument falls down.

          Not only that, but Every Single Time I blog about Author Solutions, I get messages from authors thanking me who were about to be duped. One common complaint? Authors simply don’t realize that all these imprints are owned by the same company, or that the company in question is Author Solutions. All this negative press is primarily attached to the Author Solutions name, and some of the older imprints. That’s why they keep launching new ones. And that’s why we have to keep getting the message out – because no one else is helping.

          And if Joe Konrath wants to spend the rest of his blogging life talking about two-toed sloths, he has bloody well earned the right to do so.

          • As have you, Mr. Gaughran. Your advice on “things that actually affect OUR lives” helped this newbie (among many others) make a living from writing. As far as I’m concerned, you could talk about UFO conspiracies and I’d pay attention. I do admit that I find the poster’s attitude a bit baffling. Every year new people are venturing into writing, and warning them about the predators in our midst is a huge service to the community.

        • …if people don’t know how shady A.S. is by now, I don’t know what to say.

          If there still weren’t a whole lot of people who don’t know the truth about ASI and the many names they hide behind, they’d be out of business. Instead they’re still fleecing hopeful authors who don’t know better out of thousands–and tens of thousands–of dollars. If I can help save even one of those people the experience of being fleeced in the name of publishing their book, I’m happy to boost David’s signal.

          ETA: Oh, and yes. It actually matters. To me, and many others.

        • Knowledge is power, Kristi. There are always people coming into the writing world with no idea what any of this means, if it’s important to them, or what their first step should be. They need the constant threads and blog posts, because old stuff falls off the radar and they might not see something from even a month ago.

          We might know and be bored to death by it, but we do no one a service by wishing it would all go away. There used to be an acronym for things that didn’t interest or relate to one’s circumstances, SOB: scroll on by.

    • “I’d love to see us indie authors focused on stuff that actually matters.”

      So, why are you here reading TPV and not ‘writing’?

      Some of us think watching and warning others of what the ‘bad guys’ are up to is ‘stuff that actually matters’.

      Had you not seen the stories/warnings here and on other sites — might you have signed a bad trad-pub contract? Or paid out your money to one of the many vanity press clones?

      “I’d love to see us indie authors focused on stuff that actually matters.”

      Some of us do.

    • There’s lots of sites on that. And Konrath has said most of what he thinks on how to get sales already I believe.

      I don’t think this is really a craft or sales site even though it brings it up occasionally. It’s more like a local news page bringing various interesting or controversial stories in the field.

      Whereas most other news like Publisher’s Weekly have a lot of pieces on editors being hired, imprints closing, big author signings, etc.

  3. Not surprised, but still disgusted. And glad I’ll never associate myself with the cesspool of trad publishing.

  4. These scumbags bilked a friend of mine out of six thousand dollars. They charged him outrageous fees for multiple edits and left him with a published product that was garbage. He didn’t know better at the time, and was just trying to do what he thought was the normal way to get a book published. Now, he’s lost thousands of dollars and damaged his own name. Not that he’ll ever publish again. He’s in his sixties, and as far as I can tell, will never try to publish again. He won’t even talk about writing anymore.

    Thanks David, for keeping an eye on these creeps and warning others about them.

  5. Oh, this makes me sick when I hear someone being taken for thousands of dollars. We need people like David to shout loud and clear over and over again to stay away from these vanity presses. Even more so now. Writer’s lives are being ruined.

    • Being swindled out of one’s money is bad. What really hurts my heart is the fact that this friend of Jamie’s had stories to tell, and told one, and his others are not going to be heard. Ever. Because of these douchebags. I hate like crazy to hear that any voice has been silenced untimely.

      • Exactly how I feel. A few years back he told me some of the story ideas he had been working on. A couple of them sounded really good. One sounded so interesting that I still want to read it, but I doubt he ever finished writing it. Even if he did, it will probably never see the light of day.

  6. I think regardless of who says what about whomever; the bottom line is for authors pub’g with vanity presses, there will be no bottom line of import for them.

    Louise Hay the founder of Hay House=Balboa, for years now. They are a ‘spiritual’ imprint. Not sure how ‘Balboa’ rides with ‘spiritual’ principles.

    Suggest being proactive and converting this real concern into riding it out into the farther reaches– into the wider world – a capacity many here have.

    If you have a website, on your FAQ page, place a note to “new authors’ for surely you’ve been asked for advice by some or many.

    I’d like authors’ websites to be uniform in this one way: to just say as CLEAR as possible that ‘the bridge is out- ahead’ re vanity presses. Maybe not even calling them ‘vanity’ but ‘pay to play’ presses, or like kind… and in the longing to be published one ought never allow their common sense to be overwhelmed.

    Say in your own way, that like Jamie Sedgewick said above, aspiring, frustrated, hopeful authors of good will have been courted– but then later bilked of out several thousand dollars, by the vanity press keeping a running open tab.

    Consider adding these: Point authors to a website of your choice that lists ‘bad vanity presses’ by name. And/or to David’s site to see the lay of the land in a broader, longer sense in depth. Google for the sites you prefer to refer your readers to. Also google for model contracts that new authors/hopeful authors can compare any contract against.

    If you speak at conferences, find a way to teach [from that paragraph or so you carefully crafted on your website] and speak up, find a way to work in your concern/warning.

    Since the 1960s ads in the back of ‘writer’s digest,’ who was happy to take the ad money from Vantage and other vanity presses to promo to unsuspecting authors of many kinds: I do, have, will continue to speak up, including as I’ve mentioned here before, teaching ‘model contracts’ to professors at med schools and universities… who amongst some of the most naive about even their own uni presses.

    You too. Many of you already do. For years, I know. And I think having a ‘fixed place’ on your website esp for such, will be very helpful to young/new authors.

    There too, you could add a para about why you dont use high praise/lower than a snake’s belly, presses. And another para about why you choose instead to indie pub.

    As we say, That’s all I got.

    Fer now.

    • This is a great idea, and I know a bunch of authors (like Sarah Woodsbury) who have done just this. I think we should all do it.

      My basics post is here (and it doesn’t need to be this involved at all, I’ve seen people cover the same ground in 500 words or a simple list of links):

      It doesn’t take too long to write, and it has actually saved me TONS of time in the long run because I can’t just point newbies to it who email me.

      • Good ideas all David. Thanks for your work. Im with you.

      • I already had a link to your website on my Links and Resources page, but have now added a link to your Basics page. Brilliant! I spoke at a writer’s conference in November 2015 and it’s amazing how few writers know about Author Solutions. We have to take care of each other.

      • David, I’ve linked to your basics post on my home page. A sincere thanks from a writer who started down this self pub path just over a year ago. I could not have done this without the wisdom of those who have come before me and who continue to share.

      • I think we should all do it.

        I’m in.

      • And here’s the thing about David continuing to post on this issue … a few weeks ago I got an email out of the blue from someone from ‘America Star Books’ at the LA Book fair wanting to ‘feature’ one of my books. Thankfully, I remembered from something David had written about the LA Book fair having ties to AS, and I shot him a quick query. Yes–this was an AS arm. Without his efforts, I would have had to dig pretty deeply to find that out.

    • Agree with David. Great idea and fairly easy to do.

  7. Thank you so much for that “basics” list, David! I will help spread the word.

  8. Here’s a test we can all take at home:

    List all the Authors Solutions imprints or publisher imprints managed by AS. Start now.

    For those who think too much time is devoted to writing about AS, how did you do? Well informed and on top of the issue?

    Damn. I am stupid. The only one I know is “Authors Solutions” itself. But, forget about all that. What do you think of adverbs, serial commas, and the contribution of indpendent authors to a new multi-cultural literary canon?

    • I would even fail that test. I know because every time I try and put together a comprehensive list, someone pings me to say I missed one. These guys are everywhere.

  9. USAF, that’s a good idea. I’m going to implement a page on my site for this. Bookmarked David’s basics page for inspiration.

    David, thank you for keeping up with all of this and continuing to shine a light into the darkness. You’ve saved a lot of people from making mistakes — reference one above — and I know will continue to do the good work in the future.

  10. Youre welcome Sheila. Let’s keep going.

    Multi-named scams remind me of back in the day when ‘dishonest roofers’ after hail storms, would get shut down by leins or law suits or lose their licenses for re-roofing houses that then fell in on and injured people… and next day, next DAY would go right back into business with new name, new principal, new papers filed, and building dept would act as though nothing was happening.

    Roofing scams.
    ‘Authors Solutions & Roofing Company’ [no offense to honest roofers]

    Linking to David’s list/page is a good idea.

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