Bloomsbury Seeks Deal With Author Solutions

The publishing world has been turned upside down by ebooks and self-publishing. All the old middlemen – agents, publishers, distributors, retailers – are scrambling to reinvent themselves, trying to remain relevant in a digital world. And many like Bloomsbury are making highly questionable moves.

This post is from 11 October 2013. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links, but it’s important to preserve these older posts on author exploitation and the comments remain open.

Self-publishing is big business. By my estimates, self-publishers have captured 30% of the US e-book market. And everyone wants a slice. Unfortunately, many organizations are prepared to do pretty much anything to make sure they get theirs.

Author Solutions is the market leader in the author exploitation game. That, however, was no impediment to Penguin splashing out $116m to purchase the company in July 2012. And it has been absolutely no barrier to a huge range of companies doing deals with them of one kind or another.

The latest edition to this gallery of rogues is Bloomsbury Publishing, who are famous for the Harry Potter series, but who are also known to UK writers as publishers of the querying author’s bible the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.

Its equivalent in the US would be Writer’s Market, and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook holds a similarly special place for UK authors. The publishing industry has always been something of a swamp, and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook was the most trusted resource to keep you out of the hands of unscrupulous agents charging reading fees, dubious editorial services, and vanity publishers.

What’s happening to the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is a perfect example, in microcosm, of the industry being disrupted and embracing shady practices to protect future revenue. With less authors querying, less even wanting an agent or traditional publisher, and more and more electing to self-publish, the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook decided to reinvent itself.

Bloomsbury made all the right noises at the start. Along with a bunch of other self-publishers, I was invited to write something for their new self-publishing micro-site, which would form part of the re-launched Writers’ & Artists’ website. I was interested, but first wanted to see how the site went – being a little suspicious of publishers moving into this space, given the history of such ventures.

I’m glad I waited.

The centerpiece of the Self-Publishing section of the site is a “comparison service” of self-publishing companies. If alarm bells are already ringing, you’re on the right track.

Precious little information is given on the most viable path to self-publishing, the one that every single self-publisher I know uses (and I know lots of ‘em), namely, uploading directly to KDP and either uploading to Nook, Kobo, and Apple directly, or using a reputable distributor (like Smashwords or Draft2Digital) to reach the other retailers.

I don’t know of one single successful self-publisher who uses a “self-publishing service” to publish their books. The reasons are simple. At best you will have delayed sales reports, reduced payments, and less control over things like categories and pricing.

At the other end of the spectrum, where most of these companies reside, you will pay eye-watering prices only for your book to be poorly designed, poorly edited, have incorrect metadata attached (making discoverability and visibility an uphill struggle). You will be plagued by incessant phone calls and emails flogging overpriced services of dubious value, and you will experience trouble getting paid at all – if your book manages to sell anything, which is doubtful for the reasons mentioned.

When I tested the Writers’ & Artists’ comparison tool, I inputted answers that a typical newbie might. To no great surprise, the list of recommended providers was peppered with Author Solutions’ subsidiaries. No differentiation was made between the few reputable companies such as KDP, Smashwords, or eBookPartnership, and the much more numerous god-awful vanity presses like Trafford, Abbott Press, and Archway.

Author Ben Galley dubbed this approach “provider-centric” rather than “author-centric” – which is a great way of describing it. And it’s not just that terrible comparison tool. The FAQ is misleading and unhelpful, pushing writers towards providers, rather than letting them know there is an easier, cheaper, and more effective way to self-publish. An example:

Can I self-publish without working with a self-publishing company?

Yes. You can edit, format, distribute and publicise your own book or e-book, and publish your book under your own imprint, but if you do not have the time or expertise to do this then self-publishing companies can provide these services.

Of course, a newbie is going to read that and run straight into the arms of a “self-publishing provider” – and probably a disreputable one too, given the way the results of the tool are tilted. Bloomsbury claims the results are impartial, and that providers are ranked based on the number of services offered.

However, such an approach – by accident or design – will always rank a vanity press like AuthorHouse ahead of a legitimate service like Smashwords, because the latter doesn’t offer an encyclopedia of scammy services like a $1,199 “web optimized” press release or a $3,999 book signing.

Things get really interesting when you dig into the reasons why Bloomsbury took this approach.

When Bloomsbury first launched this site, they emailed the various companies listed in their comparison tool stating that there was no charge for being listed on the site, but that a charge for leads may be introduced at a future time. This is confirmed on the Writers’ & Artists’ site itself, where it states:

Every provider featured on the site has been contacted with the option of paying a flat fee for each lead received via our comparison service.

In other words, Bloomsbury wants to be an affiliate for some of the worst vanity presses out there. It is collecting personal information from inexperienced authors, and then parceling it up and seeking to sell it to some of the most disreputable companies in publishing – including Author Solutions and its myriad subsidiaries.

I contacted Eela Devani, the Digital Business Development Director at Bloomsbury who oversees the Writers’ & Artists’ website, to express my concerns. She had previously denied any deal with Author Solutions, but when I confronted her with evidence that Bloomsbury was seeking such a deal, she said the following:

The reason we do not have an agreement with Author Solutions is because they are yet to sign anything.  Should they wish to sign an agreement, they would be treated the same as any other self-publishing services provider featured on our site. That is what impartiality means.

When I suggested that Writers’ & Artists’ had lost all credibility by including Author Solutions companies, Eela Devani replied:

We have only used information within the public domain.  Just because you omit one provider from the site, it does not mean that writers won’t find them.

I think they will be a little easier to find when Bloomsbury recommends them in the comparison service. And the way results are tilted means that Author Solutions companies will invariably be near the top, squeezing out the reputable providers.

The most frustrating thing about my exchange with Eela Devani was her pushing back against my classification of Author Solutions as a disreputable provider. She said:

How do we go about deciding which companies are reputable and which ones not? User Ratings are a good gauge and will be introduced as a way for people to discuss their positive/negative experiences with providers.

I can’t believe that someone with Eela Devani’s experience would be unaware Author Solutions’ reputation. I can’t believe a publisher like Bloomsbury is unable to spot a vanity press. I guess being slated by every watchdog in the business, hated in the author community, and being the subject of a class action suit for deceptive business practices doesn’t change the color of their money.

Eela Devani mentioned “User Ratings” making an appearance on the site at some point, and this is where the story takes another twist which reveals Bloomsbury’s true intentions.

The Alliance of Independent Authors had worked with Bloomsbury for several months on potential rating system for their comparison tool, but after a pilot trial showed Author Solutions companies to rank very poorly, Bloomsbury got cold feet. Orna Ross of the Alliance said that the project completely broke down on the issue of pricing.

The Alliance wanted (quite rightly) to make pricing a key metric of the rating system, but Bloomsbury refused, claiming that such information wasn’t readily available. I don’t know if anyone at Bloomsbury knows how to use Google, but it took me about ten seconds to get the relevant information. Orna Ross told me:

A rating that didn’t take pricing into account wasn’t worth having and wasn’t something we could stand over. When it became clear they had no real intention of incorporating it, we withdrew.

If you want background on that part of the story, Orna Ross has more here where she explains why the Alliance has issued a formal warning to authors to avoid the Writers’ & Artists’ site.

At this point, you might be asking what we can do about this. Well, we still have time to stop newbie authors getting delivered into the hands of scammers. The deal with Author Solutions hasn’t been signed yet, but Bloomsbury is closing in. Our only chance of stopping this is to make as much noise as possible.

Authors’ rights are under attack from all sides, and we must be resolute in our defense. We don’t have billion dollar companies and the associated PR machines to fight our corner. But we do have the internet, and thousands of author platforms.

As John Scalzi put it back in March, when lambasting Random House for the awful terms of their digital-first imprints:

What Random House is doing with their Alibi and Hydra imprints is what the raptors in Jurassic Park did: They’re testing the fences, looking for weaknesses. If they find them, then why wouldn’t they charge through them, to feed on the soft and chewy morsels on the other side (i.e., authors)? And if they can get away with it, why wouldn’t other publishers follow their lead, using the excuse of “this is how the business is these days”? This is why authors have to keep the fence electrified.

I sincerely hope that Bloomsbury change course, and I think there is a reasonable chance of that happening if we make our displeasure known. As Orna Ross said to me:

This could be a good service for the kind of author-publisher who doesn’t want to go the DIY route. We would urge Bloomsbury to make the relatively simple changes that would make it transparent and fair to writers – surely the first duty of an “impartial” author service.

In my view, Bloomsbury needs to do the following:

1. Ditch the plan to sell “leads” (i.e. authors’ personal information) to Author Solutions and their subsidiaries. This plan is unconscionable, and there’s no possible justification for Bloomsbury to deliver inexperienced writers into the clutches of the worlds’ biggest vanity press. Same goes for the other dodgy companies listed.

2. Remove all mention of Author Solutions companies. Author Solutions companies have no place on a website which claims to provide authors with good advice. Even if you must mention them for the sake of completeness, then there should be big neon signs warning authors away, like they do at Preditors & Editors.

3. Provide information on the DIY path. From a cynical perspective, I can understand why this information isn’t front-and-center on the Writers’ & Artists’ site, instead of the comparison tool. Actual, sensible advice on self-publishing is much more difficult for Bloomsbury to monetize. KDP doesn’t run an affiliate program for the delivery of leads. It doesn’t need to because they are a reputable service with an army of satisfied self-publishers doing that work for them… unlike Author Solutions.

These are steps that Bloomsbury could take right away, and, until then, the Writers’ & Artists’ website can no longer be considered a trusted resource for writers.

Before I go, it was announced today that Writers & Artists has been nominated for Best Publisher Website. Which tells you everything you need to know about traditional publishing, its approach to Author Solutions, and how much it cares about writers.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

63 Replies to “Bloomsbury Seeks Deal With Author Solutions”

  1. I guess this is just an aside. Drawn out conversation on some Linked In sub heading. Guy talking about how to do it.(Promo I think.) Sounded like he had some experience under his belt. So, of course, I look on Amazon to see his rankings. (Don’t you?) When I saw his publisher was Author House, his credibility disappeared.

    I am still dismayed by human gullibility but there was THAT election over here.

  2. This is an excellent article. I haven’t looked into “author services” because I’m not quite there yet. BUT the affiliation with Penguin would definitely have caught my eye and given it the halo of legitimacy. Sometimes it feels like there is this huge bazaar of carpet sellers trying to take you for every last dime. Thanks for helping us newbies avoid some of them.

  3. Very interesting. Every industry moves fast. A company can embrace change, or it can try to crush it. But the companies that embrace change are the ones that survive.



  4. Another interesting article, warning about the shark family to be extended. I finished reading both of David’s books, showing the way how to do it. Not that simple but better than fall into the bottomless trap of AS and related.

  5. Applause for all your work on this David, and your relentlessness in shining a spotlight. As an attorney, I have to point out that businesses often stubbornly cling to the “we have to be fair by including everyone (no matter how scurrilous)” line not JUST because they want to make money, but because they fear retaliation, and even litigation, if they omit certain entities. Often what looks like bad behavior is simply cowardice or a knee-jerk CYA (cover your a$$) position. It is easier to keep AS and affiliates on their list by means of some blind ranking apparatus than to take them off or put big warning signs beside their names, and possibly face a lawsuit.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the lawyers are supplying the talking points for Ms. Devani.

  6. The best way to learn about how to self-publish and which service providers to utilize is by reading blogs by people, such as yourself, who have actually done it. I can’t imagine how some ‘tool’ could provide the same kind of advice. Most people who have self-published are incredibly generous about sharing their experiences and will identify exactly who they worked with in terms of editing, cover design, and formatting. It doesn’t take long to review their collective experiences and determine that the DIY route is the best approach, not to mention the most affordable and enjoyable, for most people, and be able to easily compile a list of potentially great people to work with. Thank you so much for continuing to share.

  7. I am so glad to see this. Honestly, I was getting worried. Moderate this out if I shouldn’t say it but I trusted “She Writes” and it has totally evolved to being a Vanity Press as far as I can see. Please keep presenting this information.

  8. Thank you for this clarification of a complicated new world. It would be good if someone had the time and integrity to create a comparison site of service providers – their cost, their help – and a clear guide to a new author seeking to self-publish of why you might use them – and why not. Knowledge is choice and the knowledge in this area is confusing. Everyone skirmishes around the topic with their individual opinions, but a logical, clear guide would be wonderful. Your post suggests W & A have not managed this – I suppose what you are suggesting, is that they could, if they took the influence of the independent publishing world as equally important as the influence of the traditional publishing world. In the end, business is business – so perhaps one day the two worlds will interweave harmoniously, and authors will be happily able to buy in what they need, without feeling guilty, on one hand, or vulnerable, on the other.

    1. There are two different issues here which I’d like to untangle, if I may:

      1. The failure of W&A. I didn’t go into granular detail about how poor this comparison tool is. I was more concerned with Bloomsbury acting (and seeking to act in the case of Author Solutions) as an affiliate for some of the worst vanity outfits around. These guys have no place on a site which is purporting to help and advise writers. To deliver writers into the clutches of these vanity presses – and accept money for doing so – is despicable, quite frankly. But if you want more detail on how this tool fails in its job, and how useless it is for writers considering self-publishing. Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware does that well here:

      2. As I mentioned in the post, the problem with doing a comparison service of providers is that you are answering the wrong question, i.e. “which service provider should I use?” The right question to answer is “What is the most effective way to self-publish?” And the answer to that is (unquestionably) the DIY route. But you’ll find little information on that route on the W&A site for reasons explained above.

      The DIY route isn’t for everyone, I must accept, but it will suit the vast majority of writers – certainly anyone seeking to make a living out of selling books should pursue this path as it’s much more difficult via a middleman service for reason I explained above.

      However, if you want a fair and independent assessment of the various providers, The Alliance of Independent Author have a book on the topic:

      This book actually came about as a result of W&A refusing to use The Alliance’s rating scheme, so you can be confident it drills down on those scammy providers and rates them appropriately.

      1. Thank you David. I had forgotten about that book when I replied to your post. Horrifying admission as I have recently subscribed to Alli following your post on them a while back! It shall be read with great confidence immediately. Keep up your strong work – thank you.

      2. What I would love is a place where I could search for e.g. cover artists, copyeditors etc. At the moment I rely on word of mouth recommendations and, so far, I’ve been pleased with the people I’ve hired. But I’d love it if there were a centralised database of those sort of people providing services to self-publishers.

  9. David… this makes me want to throw-up. I can hear the giant sucking sound as more naive and unsophisticated young authors and authors to be get caught in the Author Solutions spiral of deception and misrepresentation. All of us must keep the should out going: Author Beware, Author Beware … the Publishing Predators led by Author Solutions and all it’s stealth partnerships and not so stealth love your credit card far more than you or your book … just another nibble along the path to total author devouring and fleecing.

    1. Publishing is a business, but that doesn’t mean that anything goes. Aside from ethical considerations (which are esp. relevant when publishers demand special consideration because they are the “guardians of our literary heritage” or spend their time “nuturing” writers), there are also legal ones.

      I don’t know if you have read the complaint in the class action suit against Author Solutions, but the experiences of the three writers are pretty typical of what I have heard from lots of customers over the last couple of years:

    2. I run two businesses (in addition to writing). That fact does not, and should not, invite the conclusion I’m a lying, cheating, dream-stealing, thieving, manipulative, criminal bent on picking the pockets of my clients.

      I expect a business to make a profit. I don’t expect a business to engage in morally bankrupt and criminal activity.

    3. “Business” is not synonymous with unethical and predatory behavior. There is such a thing as being a good corporate citizen. If more executives and business owners kept that in mind, “business” as a whole wouldn’t be so consistently classed as the villain in art and real life.

  10. Lot of sharks out there prowling. The best thing a newbie can do is attend several writer’s groups and here from authors who have self-published. That is what I did and got great advice on social media and also a very good and cheap formatter who put my book in Mobi, ePub files and formatted a pdf for book on demand at Createspace.

  11. It’s sad people are still falling into Author Solutions’s traps. I’ve self-published a short story, and only spent $150 for the cover art, and did everything else…And with the novel I’m working on, I was able to find a good editor for only $250! People need to research.

    1. They do need to research, true, but the problem is that Author Solutions spend a hell of a lot of time and money to make that task much more difficult. They have co-opted huge sections of traditional publishing, and newbie authors will run into all sorts of supposedly reputable companies and sources recommending their services.

      I’ve been asked to collate a list of all the companies working under the Author Solutions umbrella, and all the companies with links to Author Solutions. I’ll detail all these links in a future post, but here’s the raw list as it stands (and please mention any I have missed, I’m sure there are lots more).

      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).

      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 such as $4000 book signings
      Toronto Word on the Street, Miami Book Fair International

      Companies that recommend Author Solutions (for a fee, of course)
      Sony, Overdrive

      Companies which run Author Solutions ads (who then re-sell those ads at exorbitant rates)
      London Review of Books, the Guardian Weekly, the Library Journal, Kirkus, ForeWord, Clarion, Readers’ Digest, Writers’ Digest, Ingram, the New York Times, and The Bookseller.

      There’s also big-name conferences like BEA and Writers Digest that invite Author Solutions execs onto the stage to spout their disingenuous crap. Author Solutions also peppers the Google search results with fake independent websites which only recommend their services. And Author Solutions also uses underhanded tactics like creating fake social media profiles of “independent publishing consultants” who rave about their packages.

      Do we still blame the victim for not doing their research?

      1. Hmmm, I might have transcribed that incorrectly. I’ll remove for now, double-check, and come back to you.

        EDIT: Yes, it was meant to be the “Author Learning Center” which is run by Author Solutions. Thank you SO MUCH for catching that. I’ve changed the above.

      2. I remember arguing this with Dave some time ago over writer’s who don’t research this thoroughly deserving what they got. Since the AS scam has been taken wide and global, all under the waiving and spotlighted Random Penquin Vanity and Anti-Trust banner, I’ve since seen his point. The web search results, the advertising, the glowing reviews and plugs given the AS beast by long standing legacy biz media outlets. It’s all but impossible for a newb to think it’s anything but legit at first glance.

        It’s one thing to know a Sarnac pit is out there in the desert, it’s another to avoid one when their gaping maw’s all look like bed & breakfast joints and you’re tired and starving.

        And the publishing award is so crooked and phony it’s almost funny. The “innovation” award from Future books? Yeah, right. An award for Innovating new ways to screw writer’s. Should we be surprised?

      3. I absolutely agree. Author Solutions is the bigger problem, because of all those phony “comparison” websites, and other craziness. And, from reading Author Solution’s publishing imprint websites, they all sell themselves as the only and best choices in self-publishing. Also, it doesn’t help when traditional publishers get in on the action, because that validates the scams for would be victims. I was almost ripped off too.

  12. “They’re testing the fences, looking for weaknesses. If they find them, then why wouldn’t they charge through them, to feed on the soft and chewy morsels on the other side (i.e., authors)?”

    Only a quality writer could provide such a descriptive metaphor like that when discussing a topic like this. 🙂 Hats off to John Scalzi for that one.

    And thank you, David, for continuing to expose these Author Solutions scams in a detailed and thorough and engaging manner. I am better for having read it, and are now thinking of “web optimized” ways to spread the news!

    1. Yeah that “web optimized” press release is a joke. They also sell a non “web-optimized” one for $800 instead of $1200. The difference between the two? The latter has clickable links. I’m not joking.

      1. LOL. I know I shouldn’t laugh, but it’s hard not to. So much more coding and effort has to go into their “web-optimized” PRs… Uh, NOT! However, it’s instructive to see how efficient Le Creme de la Scum/Scam Predators can be when it comes to extracting contents from the wallets of the naive.

  13. …a perfect example, in microcosm, of the industry being disrupted and embracing shady practices …”

    Yup. People do lots of not-so-nice- things when they’re desperate. (And “Corporations are people, my friend.” sez Mitt Romney.)

  14. I can’t even begin to comprehend why someone would not self-publish, especially starting out in the business. I have nothing but great things to say about KDP and Createspace. Thank you, wonderfully written!!

      1. That actually lowballs it considerably. I hate to see the media (not TPV, he gets the difference) just parrot that Bowker stat as if it has any meaning. Bowker is only counting via ISBNs. Most self-publishers don’t buy them, as they don’t need them to publish at Amazon, Createspace, B&N, Apple or Kobo. The true number is far, far higher.

      2. You previously did, but I *believe* they have dropped that requirement. In any event, you can go via Draft2Digital or Smashwords and they will assign a free ISBN to your book.

  15. DIY, DIY, DIY – you CAN learn – and at least you can trust your own ethics and honesty.

    Then, when you know how to put a book up, decide how much help you need and who you will pay how much for it – if you don’t want to DIY the next time.

    Thanks for continually pointing out the hazards.

  16. Thanks for your comprehensive analysis, David. We all await a response from Bloomsbury — that shows they appreciate the issues at stake for writers. And, indeed, from members of the trade publishing press, all of whom received a press release about this

  17. You’d think your name would be on the list of people to avoid NOT invite if you are going to work with vanity presses and scammers. If major publishers bring in people who point them to Preditors & Editors and explain things to them and they claim “there is no way to be sure” we know they don’t care about anything but the money. It’s sad to see another one bite the dust. Not unexpected but sad.

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