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.
We’ll get to that distasteful link-up in a second, but first let’s have a look at what Simon & Schuster are offering prospective customers (i.e. writers).
Fiction packages start at $1,999 and go up to $14,999. If you have written a business book, prices are saucier again: $2,999 to $24,999.
While the upper end of the pricing spectrum is obviously shocking, some of you might think that $1,999 isn’t too bad if you are getting a proper edit and a decent cover.
Not so fast.
That price tag doesn’t include any real editing, just an assessment which – according to their own website – is “not a replacement” for editorial services but “a preliminary diagnostic tool.”
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.
Not looking so reasonable anymore, is it.
“But wait!” I hear you cry. “Those Simon & Schuster editors might be pretty damn good.” Alas, Simon & Schuster won’t be lending any editorial expertise to this new operation; it will be run and staffed by… Author Solutions – the world famous repository of editorial talent.
In fact, the whole operation has been outsourced by Simon & Schuster to Author Solutions. In case you aren’t familiar with them, let’s go over a little history.
Author Solutions is the umbrella for (and owner of) several seriously shady self-publishing service companies (or vanity presses, if you prefer) – such as AuthorHouse, 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, and calling at least one customer a ‘fucking asshole.’
Read the above list carefully. Take a moment to consider it. This is the company that Simon & Schuster has hired to run their self-publishing operation – a company which was purchased by Penguin in July for $116m.
If you are unfamiliar with the charges above, this post will give you a little more detail.
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.
Then, a month after Penguin’s purchase, Author Solutions were heavily criticized for their misleading marketing strategies by Victoria Strauss of industry watchdog Writer Beware.
Aside from the usual litany of dodgy affiliate programs and misleading “independent” websites, Author Solutions had now gone a step further: using fake people to tout their services. A social media profile for “Jared Silverstone” was decked out with a stock photograph, and sent out to hustle for Author Solutions – under the pretense of recommending them independently.
Since Fake Jared’s fifteen minutes of fame, I’ve seen similar “writers” and “publishing consultants” disingenuously promoting Author Solutions companies in various writing groups on Facebook. And they’re just the ones that slip through the net – the administrator of one popular Facebook group told me that she “turns away people like this all the time.”
The latest wheeze is even better: an army of spam bots, posting comments to writing and publishing blogs, attempting to both lead people back to AuthorHouse and boost SEO. I snapped a comment from one such bot on the blog of Porter Anderson last week (which hasn’t been deleted at the time of writing).
Thank you, Author Solutions. The world really needed more spam bots.
PREDICATED ON IGNORANCE
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.
That’s who Penguin purchased. That’s who Simon & Schuster hired to run their self-publishing operation. That’s who the Author’s Guild partnered with to help their members get books back in print.
150,000 writers have already been duped by Author Solutions. That number is likely to increase significantly now that Penguin has legitimized the company by purchasing them and Simon & Schuster has validated their business practices by hiring them.
Let’s make sure no more writers get ripped off.
UPDATE 29 Nov: As you can see, this post has received a lot of comments. One in particular deserves highlighting, from a writer called Khloe on her experience with Xlibris (an Author Solutions company). She says:
“They told me that with Penguin buying them they could, basically, guarantee that penguin would look at my book and because it was so good (she’d read the first couple of pages) they would definitely pick it up – the next 50 shades I was told I would be!”
This is the second such report I’ve received of Author Solutions using Penguin’s name to try and snare writers. The last person was asked (by AuthorHouse), “Would you like to be published by Penguin?” and then was offered the standard AuthorHouse packages, but with all sorts of promises about how “Penguin” would market their work.
Make no mistake, this is on Penguin. They knew what they were buying. Let’s recall the words of Penguin CEO John Makinson on the purchase of Author Solutions (ASI).
“We spent time getting to know the people at ASI and their sophisticated operation,” Makinson said. “They have skills that can help us at Penguin.”