A Victory Against Author Solutions Bewares

authorsolutionsPRHIt should be clear to everyone now that Penguin Random House has no intention of cleaning up Author Solutions.

The only development since Penguin purchased the company for $116m back in July 2012 is that Author Solutions has aggressively expanded operations (see here, here, here, here and here).

I’ve been covering the Author Solutions story for a while now – particularly since the Penguin purchase, which was met with disbelief in the author community.  It’s a frustrating beat, especially when faced with a wall of silence from the many companies and organizations in traditional publishing who have links to Author Solutions and its subsidiaries.

Documenting the links between Author Solutions and the rest of the publishing world is depressing work. The list reads like a Who’s Who of traditional publishing. Getting them to discuss their links to Author Solutions has been near-impossible, let alone taking any action with regard to those links.

One exception has been The Bookseller.

I criticized The Bookseller when I learned it was carrying advertising from Author Solutions. Those ads were being re-sold by Author Solutions to its customers at insane mark-ups (prices up to $10,500). Price-gouging aside, I felt that Author Solutions being able to offer such advertising to its customers bestowed legitimacy on its scammy operations.

That post led to a dialogue with Philip Jones, the editor of The Bookseller. Last week, he told me that The Bookseller is no longer accepting such ads. Here’s the money quote, reproduced with permission:

The Bookseller is no longer taking advertising from Author Solutions or its subsidiary companies. We’ve previously asked them to update the information they display about us on their websites, and have now asked them to remove it entirely.

This is wonderful news and Philip Jones and The Bookseller should be applauded for taking this step.

I should also note that they didn’t have to do this. The Bookseller is under no legal obligation to stop taking ads from Author Solutions. The Bookseller was selling ad spaces to Author Solutions at standard rates, and it isn’t legally responsible for what third-parties charge when they re-sell that advertising.

The Bookseller took this decision because it felt it was the right thing to do.

This is a hugely positive step for three reasons. First, Author Solutions and its subsidiaries have one less way to gouge their customers. Second, another veneer of legitimacy has been stripped away from this awful vanity press. Third, we can use this to pressure other organisations with links to Author Solutions.

And there are lots of those.

Advertising packages with The Bookseller were just one of many such packages that Author Solutions re-sold to its customers at eye-watering prices. You can still buy packages to advertise with the London Review of Books, Guardian Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, New York Review of Books, Readers’ Digest, ForeWord, Clarion, Ingram, and the New York Times.

As an example, this advertising package with Publishers Weekly costs $16,499. And this single page ad with Readers’ Digest costs an eye-watering $72,499. That’s not a typo.

We need to start pressuring these organisations to do the right thing and stop accepting advertising from Author Solutions. Thanks to The Bookseller we now have an example of a company which made the right move.

Of course, it’s not just media organisations lending legitimacy to Author Solutions. As I covered in three successive posts last year, literary festivals and conferences are being used as a fig leaf for shady practices.

I reported in July how Author Solutions made $297,000 from selling book-signing packages at the Word on the Street Festival in Toronto. I followed that up with the disturbing news that the organizers of the event didn’t care.

The following month, I highlighted a similar scam taking place at Miami Book Fair International – one which Author Solutions made over half a million dollars from at their 2012 event. Delia Lopez, the Director of Operation of the Miami Book Fair didn’t care either, telling me by email: “The Fair as an organization does not take positions on these issues.”

This week I discovered another prestigious literary festival which has been welcoming Author Solutions for several years. From figures in their own press release regarding the 2013 LA Times Festival of Books, Author Solutions hosted 80 book signings and showcased 1,100 titles.

By their own price list – where they charge $3,999 for the former and $599 for the latter – this netted Author Solutions $658,900 for “showcasing” those books and a further $319,920 for the book signings. That’s a total of almost one million dollars. From one event!

It’s great to get a victory against Author Solutions, but it’s time to increase the pressure on the companies and organisations which still have links with the company. I’ve been asked by readers to compile a list of such links, and I’ve copied that below. Please note that this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s what I’ve been pull together so far, relying heavily on the work of Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware (who has been covering this story for much longer than I have) and Emily Seuss (who has blogged about Author Solutions and its subsidiaries in incredible detail here).

Author Solutions Subsidiaries & Brands: AuthorHouse, Trafford, iUniverse, Xlibris, Palibrio, BookTango, WordClay, FuseFrame, PitchFest, Author Learning Center, and AuthorHive.

Vanity Presses powered by Author Solutions: Archway (for Simon & Schuster), Partridge (for Penguin), Westbow (for Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins), Balboa Press (Hay House), Abbot Press (Writers’ Digest/F+W Media), Dellarte Press (Harlequin).

Customer Service/Marketing Packages by Author Solutions: BookCountry, Lulu.

Companies which recommend Author Solutions: Sony, Overdrive

Publishers with vanity presses run by Author Solutions: Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Thomas Nelson/Harper Collins, Hay House, Writers’ Digest/F&W Media, Harlequin.

Conferences/Festivals that allow Author Solutions scams: Toronto Word on the Street, Miami Book Fair International, LA Times Festival of Books, Tucson Festival of Books

Companies which run Author Solutions ads: London Review of Books, Guardian Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, New York Review of Books, Readers’ Digest, ForeWord, Clarion, Ingram, and the New York Times.

Instead of blaming the victims, we should remember how vulnerable we were when starting out. We should remember how little we knew about how publishing really worked. Remember the deceptive methods Author Solutions uses to ensnare customers (practices which have landed Author Solutions and Penguin with a class action suit).

Look at the list of companies above. And then read this story from The Bookseller about a UK agent referring rejected authors to vanity presses.

Still think it’s the victim’s fault?

What can you do?

There are only so many hours I can put in to digging into the huge web of deceit that surrounds Author Solutions, and that pales in comparison to the amount of time Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware have put in on this issue. It would be a full time job for a whole team of people, to be honest.

We need the whole author community putting pressure on these companies. Because the Authors Guild isn’t going to help. Not when they are in partnership with Author Solutions.

It’s down to us. So ask Publishers Weekly when they are going to stop taking ads from vanity presses, ads which Author Solutions re-sell for $16,499 to authors. Email them and ask them. Even better, confront them publicly. Hound them on Twitter. Annoy them until you get a response. Post it on your Facebook Page. Post it on their Facebook Page.

Ask the LA Times Festival of Books what they think about Author Solutions scamming writers out of a million dollars at their event. Ask them on Facebook and Twitter what they are going to do to stop that happening again this year. Ask all the companies listed above about their links to Author Solutions.

Then ask the Authors Guild when they are going to break their silence on this issue, why the only advice they give on self-publishing is a package with iUniverse, and if they receive any financial benefit from such referrals.

And keep asking until you get answers.

Update: Here’s a sample tweet to give you the idea, which you can also retweet yourself.

73 Replies to “A Victory Against Author Solutions”

  1. Thank you for your work on this David and commendations to The Bookseller for their ethical response — hope other industry figures take note. I totally agree that group action is the only way to force some change here. Whenever an author approaches our Watchdog desk feeling aggrieved or deceived, 99 times out of 100 it’s an ASI company at fault. These services have no interest in books or writers and their size, outsize advertising budgets, and strapline “a Penguin-Random House Company” make it difficult to alert aspiring writers to the dangers. On with the good fight!

  2. there are so many parasite companies online, all appealing to the emotions, it reminds me of the advertising industry, who did the same to society, and thrashed everything in it’s way, while governments applauded, well done to the bookseller, and great article too.

  3. David,
    A compelling read where you make sure the shark infested water is marked with a sign. I also appreciate your suggestions on how we can take an activist approach to the scams. Tiocfaidh ár lá.

  4. David,

    Good luck on trying to get the LA Times Festival of Books to drop Author Solutions and their various, nefarious imprints. For the LAT, it’s all about making money, and the Festival is a nice, fat cash cow for them.

  5. Thanks for this post. I’d had a memory of Lulu being in some kind of deal with them, but others have said, no no, you’re mistaken.
    There’s plenty of people who would say, buyer beware and all that, but the new author is like a newly hatched turtle, all soft and vulnerable and unable to defend against the predators out there.

  6. Thanks so much for this post, David. Last year I noticed the multi-booth display by Author Solutions at the Tucson Festival of Books and ever since I’ve been wondering how to warn people away from these scammers. $599 to display a book? A whole booth at TFOB is the same price! I never thought about challenging the festival itself for allowing them to be there. Twitter campaign started.

      1. Here’s an update: TFoB says they can’t (won’t) kick ASI out this year but will look into the evidence I sent them (including this blog post). Will they actually deny ASI a booth next year? We’ll see. I’ll be watching. I hope Elise will be too.

  7. Thanks for all you do David, and perhaps this campaign could be part of AuthorEarnings, Hugh Howey’s latest venture which aims to lobby for author’s rights?
    I’m so pleased that The Bookseller has gone this way – they’re great people and I’ve always found them to take indies seriously. Well done you for making this happen!

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  10. I love how you’re always exposing author scams. The eye popping 72k for the readers digest ad made my eyes pop out. Just for kicks I decided to see how much the mark up was…

    Shockingly, it’s actually a bargain. According to the RD rate card for 2014, the price for a full page, full color ad going to 1.5 million subscribers is $108,200.
    http://www.rd.com/wp-content/themes/readersdigest/images/2014_RD_RateAndDates.pdf

    My first instinct is to think that they negotiated a deal and are actually listing their price at cost or very minimal markup. At 74k they can’t sell many, if any, of those packages. But it does make their other ad packages, which they do sell regularly, look positively cheap in comparison.

    1. F+W Media, which owns Readers Digest, also owns Writers Digest and its Author Solutions powered vanity publisher Abbott Press. It’s possible that Author Solutions has procured a discount, but, given that it’s Author Solutions, it’s entirely possible they are shafting the customer in some other way. In any event, anyone that recommends a marketing campaign at this price to a new or inexperienced author is clearly only seeking to milk them. There is no way in hell that author will even make a tiny portion of that money back. And I know from talking to Author Solutions victims that the marketing consultants aggressively upsell all this stuff and make all sorts of crazy promises.

      1. It’s because of this connection that I have stopped reading Writer’s Digest or recommending them to new writers. I do the opposite now and straight out tell my students that writers digest is connected with Author Solutions and is in the ‘business’ of abusing the dreams of thousands of new writers. Thank you for posting this.

      2. I’ve always known there were a lot of scammers in the publishing world. The sheer gouging, and the extent to which some literary festivals can be complicit in these activities, makes me sick to my stomach. Look under the hood and, well, it seems like it’s business as usual and not a whole lot about support for the power of the written word, which so many writers believe in. I would never have the time to research to the extent you have, David, so thanks for putting certain “elements” of the publishing world into perspective for the rest of us. Cheers, Joe

  11. David–I want to add my word of thanks to those of others. What’s worse than preying on the combination of hope and ignorance that characterizes so many writers? Lots of things. Still, in miniature, the “business model” of Author Solutions is analogous to the loan sharks who tanked many economies. They, too, preyed on–you guessed it–hope and ignorance, but of home buyers, not writers.

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  13. Just jumped on the Facebook and Twitter pages of Publishers Weekly, the Authors Guild, the LA Festival of Books, and asked them to stop supporting Author Solutions. I’m going to encourage people on my own Twitter account to do the same. Thanks for this post!

  14. David,

    Once again — you are amazing. It’s come to the point that every time I think about doing some marketing and paying for it, I wonder: “Now what would David Gaughran think about that?” And I’m back on your blog searching…

    Thankyouthankyouthankyou,

    Sharon Baltman

  15. David, I completely support you on this, but I think Author Illusions is going to keep going no matter what we do. They’ve already infected the bloodstream of traditional publishing, as it were. The one thing likely to kill AS is self-publishing itself. Well, that and the free nature of the internet.

    1. There will always be scams and parasites, but one of the reasons I focus so much on Author Solutions is the sheer scale – over 160,000 writers duped (and counting). My aim with all this is to embarrass all the companies with connections to Author Solutions as this is how they get customers (writers conferences, Google ads, dodgy agent referrals, strategic partnerships, sponsorships) because it’s pretty damn clear writers aren’t recommending them. Quite the opposite. In fact, looking at it a certain way, what they’ve built is a kind of impressive anti-word-of-mouth machine.

      Anyway, I agree that they will probably keep going in one form or another, but I absolutely believe we can reduce the scale of their operation and get some of the above listed companies to do the right thing. In fact, later on this week (or early next week) I’ll be sharing news of two more companies/organisations that have dropped their links to Author Solutions. More to come!

  16. Wow. I can’t believe how much they make at the Miami Book Fair. I originally published my first novel with iuniverse a few years back. They kept trying to get more money out of me for promotion, but it made no sense to me to list my book, for a large fee, with 10,000 other titles where it would have no chance of being noticed. I had already realized the scam when they “edited” my book. What a joke.

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  18. Reblogged this on CKBooks Publishing and commented:
    If you have been keeping track of the many companies that Author solutions has their fingers in, David Gaughran has updated his growing list.
    If you’re not familiar with the issue, Author Solutions and it’s subsidiaries, takes advantage of new authors by offering them book services at outlandish cost. Please read Davids post and share this information where you can. If you’re up for it, share your displeasure with companies like Hay House, Writer’s Digest and Harlequin who use Author Solution services. Your voice matters!

      1. I’ve been negotiating with Balboa Press and so far the experience has been excellent, but I see they’re listed as one of the ‘Publishers with vanity presses run by Author Solutions’ — what does this mean exactly? Thanks.

        1. Balboa Press is a vanity imprint run by Author Solutions on behalf of Hay House. Like all the vanity imprints run by Author Solutions, it is subjected to numerous warnings from writers’ organizations like the SFwA – http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/pod/#Cautions – and watchdog groups like Writer Beware – http://accrispin.blogspot.cz/2010/05/hay-house-publishing-establishes.html

          In short, they are very nice when they want your money but fail on every metric when it comes to delivering on their promises. On top of that, they will aggressively upsell all sorts of marketing packages that you don’t need. More on all that here: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/the-case-against-author-solutions-part-1-the-numbers/

          Author Solutions is also currently subject to a class action for deceptive business practices.

          In other words, run away as fast as you can.

    1. Whatever you do dont’ go near Author Solutions or Trafford Publishers. I self published with Trafford in Oc.2010 in Nov. 2012. I had received about $40. from them. I have since published with Amazon, but Trafford still is selling my book and so is Author Solutions. In one month my book according to Neilson Scan sold over 6,000 books. I have been broke and they are still making money off of my story.A Deseperate Journey by D.H.Clark

  19. I saw an ad a few days ago for Balboa Press which read something like “do you wish to publish within Australia?” They also have an email address with a .com.au…I couldn’t understand how people can get away with such misleading ads.
    I took this to mean that they have a branch in Australia but that’s not the case apparently.
    What’s worse is, the fact that a company like Hay House, from whom the majority of the books l own come, are associated with them. I don’t believe they do themselves any favors. I certainly have lost respect for them and wonder if Louise Hay (whom l admire greatly), knows what’s going on.

  20. The article is certainly enlightening for anyone interested in self-publishing. Author Solutions sounds like a company bent on exploiting the ambition and desperation of beginner authors but I would stop short of calling their operations a scam given that there is a willing buyer and a willing seller. Just because they charge a lot of money for their services doesn’t make it a scam. That’s just called supply and demand. What they are really selling to authors is not so much the marketing but rather, dreams of astonishing success. As long as they do not promise to deliver on these dreams, they are legally in the clear and it’s a case of buyers beware. I feel that more effort should be placed in educating authors to the hard realities of publishing i.e. only a minuscule number of authors ever “make it” so you worship the bitch goddess of success at your peril.

  21. These reprehensible Bastards (“AuthorHouse,” “AuthorSolutions,” et al) have “taken me to the cleaners” not ONCE, but TWICE (by different names), all because I didn’t do my homework!!! Like so many OTHER authors, I was too anxious to get my first biography printed, that I jumped at what sounded like a “very good deal.” When I determined just exactly WHAT “AuthorHouse” (which changed its name, due to legal suits being brought against it, to “AuthorSolutions”) were, I swore I would never “do business” with them, ever again. Imagine my shock and dismay when I signed a contract with Xlibris, only to determine that they were one and the same company!!
    So . . . here I am, on the eve of publishing my third biography, being utterly gun-shy and totally distrusting the entire “literary world, with no positive “leads” to pursue in publishing said tome.
    Perhaps, once either of my first two biographies “make it big,” I will have some big-name publishers beating down my door – seeking to sign me up with them . . .
    However . . . I can only hold my breath for so long.

  22. I wholeheartedly agree with everything said about Author House/Solutions. I self published my book – Masterpieces of The Master – with them in 2015 and to date have never made a profit. All the profit goes to them. It is truly heart breaking to know that you have worked so hard and not received anything (apart of course from the joy of knowing persons have bought your work).

    I have written to them to sever all ties and am willing to go the legal route. I am a UK resident.

    Thank you for all of your hard work in exposing them. I disagree with Kevin, it is not just about the dreams of astonishing success; it is the deceit and the way in which they get you to publish with them. I too was sent an email asking to showcase at the Miami Dade Festival – the price they quoted was astronomical. I contacted Miami Dade myself and exhibited as an individual and the cost was only $300!! Whilst there I visited Author House stand – books were on shelves and racks but there was no one there to even talk about them. I felt for those authors who had paid so much money!!!
    Once again thank you.

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