Penguin Random House Merger Boosts Giant Scam

Penguin and Random House officially merged on July 1 creating the largest trade publisher in the world. This merger has given fresh impetus to one of their subsidiaries to scam unsuspecting writers: Author Solutions, the largest vanity press in the world.

This post is from 16 July 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 comment section remains open, as always.

One of my blog readers, who will remain nameless, has forwarded me emails from an AuthorHouse sales rep touting that company as the “self-publishing wing” of Penguin Random House. AuthorHouse is one of the many brands of Author Solutions, a tangled web which is deconstructed here.

When Penguin purchased Author Solutions in July 2012 for $116m, I warned that the Penguin brand would lend legitimacy to Author Solutions – who were already the market leader in author exploitation.

Defenders of the deal claimed that Penguin would clean up Author Solutions – a universally reviled vanity press which has been slammed by every watchdog in the business, and which is currently the subject of a class action suit for deceptive business practices.

author solutions
How The Author Solutions Scam Works – a detailed breakdown.

Needless to say, all that has happened in the year since is that Penguin has aggressively expanded the operations of Author Solutions – a task that is a little easier when you can add the names of two historic publishing houses to your logo, and to your sales pitches.

As you can see from email excerpt below, AuthorHouse is trading off the Penguin Random House merger to try and hoodwink their customers into buying a massively overpriced YouTube advertising package that simply won’t sell any books.

penguin random house author solutions scam

The price of that package, by the way, is a staggering £2,221 (approx $3,400). But that’s not even the most expensive marketing add-on that Author Solutions aggressively upsell when customers’ books, inevitably, fail to find any readers (thanks to shoddy covers, terrible editing and proofing, anemic book descriptions, poor formatting, and incorrect attachment of metadata such as categories).

Author Solutions uses any customer complaints as an opportunity to guilt their customers into buying various overpriced marketing services. Their sales reps know exactly which buttons to press, and they are very good at it too. According to their own figures, Author Solutions makes a full two-thirds of its revenue from selling services to authors (rather than, you know, selling books).

Author Solutions Makes Bank Scamming Literary Event

I received some spam recently from Xlibris (yet another Author Solutions brand), touting a literary event – the Word on the Street Festival in Toronto this coming September.

For £299 (approx $450), I was offered the opportunity to place my book in a “new title showcase” at the event. I’ve seen these shelves at the London Book Fair – a tired assortment of books, usually in an out-of-the-way part of the hall. I walked passed on numerous occasions to see if I could catch anyone browsing the books. I never did.

But that wasn’t the worst deal on offer. For an astonishing £2,999 (approx $4,500), I was offered the chance to host a book signing at the same event. To avoid any confusion, flights, accommodation, and personal butler aren’t included in this price. Not even a free ticket to the event. All you get is an hour slot at the Author Solutions booth and some free copies to sign – if anyone shows up.

You might think that no-one is gullible enough to spring for this. But you would be wrong. At Word on the Street 2012, Author Solutions had over 300 client books in their “new title showcase” and 36 book signings.

By my reckoning, Author Solutions brought in $297,000 from this wheeze. That’s from one year. And one event.

I don’t know if the Word on the Street Festival is aware of what Author Solutions are doing with their booth, but they should be appalled, and I sincerely hope they will put a stop to it before anyone else gets scammed.

Caveat Emptor?

Some people can be quite hard-nosed about this stuff, saying that Author Solutions’ customers must share at least part of the blame for not doing their research. I think it’s a little unfair when you consider Author Solutions’ approach to Google and social media.

I wrote a whole post explaining the various insidious ways that Author Solutions dupes prospective clients, including creating fake social media profiles purporting to be “independent” publishing consultants who only recommend Author Solutions brands, and fake “independent” publishing advice sites which only exist to hoover up email addresses and phone numbers of potential victims (and to exclusively push Author Solutions’ services).

Regarding the latter, a favored tactic is to flood Google search results with ads on terms that inexperienced writers tend to search for (such as “I need a literary agent” or “how to find a publisher”). On many of these terms, Author Solutions have multiple ads running – which creates the illusion of choice, but is also in breach of Google’s policies on double serving.

Note: I lodged a formal complaint last week with Google and I’ll update you with any progress. At the very least, I hope to get some of these ads taken down.

Author Solutions Media Whitewash

If a prospective Author Solutions customer attempts to dig a little further, the media is no help either.

Book trade publications provide uncritical (and sometimes glowing) coverage of Author Solutions, never mentioning that industry watchdogs such as Writer Beware have received more complaints about them than any other company.

But they don’t stop there.

As I noted in a previous post, some of those publications – such as The Bookseller and Digital Book World – go as far as censoring critical comments about Author Solutions or about (what seems to be) their editorial policy of whitewashing.

Digital Book World’s motivations are easy to guess at. They are owned by F+W Media – the same company that owns Writers’ Digest, which has its own Author Solutions-powered vanity imprint called Abbott Press.

I was a little more puzzled by The Bookseller, especially when they made the misguided decision to invite Tim Davies to blog for their digital offshoot FutureBook. It’s one thing to ignore criticisms of a company, but quite another to give your significant platform to a former executive of Author Solutions to write a puff piece – without disclosing his relationship with the company – and then censor critical comments on that same piece.

It has transpired that Tim Davies was no low-level flunky, but the head of AuthorHouse UK. He was obviously taking notes because he has since launched his own dodgy vanity press.

All of which makes The Bookseller’s decision more puzzling. Until you flick through their print edition and see this:

penguin random house author solutions scam

In case it isn’t obvious, that’s a full page spread in The Bookseller advertising books published by Trafford and Palibrio (which are Author Solutions subsidiaries). Now it’s a little easier for me to understand The Bookseller’s regressive position on Author Solutions.

Author Solutions has a variety of (what they call) Bookseller Magazine packages – ranging from £2,199 (approx. $3,300) to a jaw dropping £6,999 (approx. $10,500). When you see how many books they squeeze into one page, it’s clear that this is quite lucrative for them. I don’t know what The Bookseller charges for ad space, but I’m sure Author Solutions are adding a significant mark-up (as they do with all their services).

It’s not just The Bookseller. Author Solutions also offers overpriced packages to advertise with the London Review of Books, the Guardian Weekly, the Library Journal, Kirkus, ForeWord, Clarion, Readers’ Digest, Ingram, and the New York Times (details here and here).

These organizations might claim that advertiser dollars don’t influence their policies, but then how do you explain the New York Times providing uncritical coverage of, and free PR to, Author Solutions over and over again?

Let’s put this all together. Prospective Author Solutions’ customers are assailed with fake social media profiles, ads on Google touting faux-independent “advice” sites, and wall-to-wall uncritical coverage in both traditional media and trade publications. And we blame them for not doing their research?

The final piece in this intricate propaganda puzzle is the publishers themselves. Penguin and Random House are both well-known and trusted brands. But Author Solutions isn’t just trading off the names of their owners.

Author Solutions also has a white label operation which sets up (and operates) vanity imprints for a wide range of publishers including some of the biggest names in the business: HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Harlequin.

Magazine publishers such as Writers’ Digest are in on the game too. Author Solutions has its fingers in so many pies, it’s impossible to count them all. But my current favorite is the vanity press they have set up to target first responders.

penguin random house author solutions scam

As the above shows, there really is no emotional button they won’t press to try and squeeze money from people.

My question to The Word on the Street Festival, The Bookseller, the New York Times, and the rest of the organizations mentioned above is this:

Do you still like the color of their money?

Update 14 Feb 2014:

The above post led to a dialogue with Philip Jones, the editor of The Bookseller. Last week, he told me that The Bookseller that it 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 they felt it was the right thing to do.

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.

202 Replies to “Penguin Random House Merger Boosts Giant Scam”

  1. It is a good thing this article caught my attention. Was about to enter their website through – Penguin Book Writers. After reading this article I will stay clear of them.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Thanks for your information. I was guessing that scams like this were the work of some sleazy agent, not a name publisher.

  6. Hello I published my first book with iUniverse – to share my experience, they did what they said they would do in working through each step to produce the book but we had a little fight over the editing – I had had it edited by a professional editor in Atlanta yet the iUniverse folk picked many holes in it and pushed their own editing (for the fees) which I rejected. They then bumped me from consideration for their ‘star’ program which probably would have involved more fees anyway.
    Considering I had a designer do the cover to my own spec and arranged my own editing, they got off quite lightly in resources needed in putting the book together.
    That is when the fun starts. The catch in all this is that the cost of them printing and delivering your books then outweighs the revenue & royalty side so you end up having to subsidize your own work. This is outrageous and of course is not stated at the outset, why should they when they want to make money from the authors rather than from the book sales ?
    No matter, since you own the content you have alternatives and I have since printed the book myself and it is now in the bookstores as well as for sale online. All a colossal time-waste but needs must. Finally I was on my own for distribution – they were highly America-centric for their distribution proposals and unable to cope with my situation in Asia. I was not prepared to utilise them for the US distribution which I felt I could not control from here and am focussing here first.
    In conclusions I would not dismiss iUniverse out of hand since if you have no prior experience in bringing a book to print they do have a script and they do follow it. But I advise maintaining a huge ‘caveat emptor’ when dealing with them.
    Remember also that the association with Penguin/Random House cuts both ways. You have stated how can P/RH be associated with Author Solutions practices in this way, while for me it is the other way around, I am happy to say my first publisher was associated to P/RH.
    Thanks for the opportunity to share and good luck to all writers – just remember writing the book is in many ways the easy part – getting to print, getting it distributed and sold, well those are something else entirely.

  7. 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…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.

      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.

      2. 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 – – and watchdog groups like Writer Beware –

        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:

        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

  8. Hi I’m a victim of Xilbris (Author Solutions) they have my manuscript as a hostage, they won’t publish my book even though I’ve paid $2800 premium packaged that I got on a sale deal back in September last year (2013) as I had a Frank Williams call me up to be my marketing consultant as soon as I paid the remainder of my premium package out (help from my mum) and encouraged me to agree to him marketing my book in the New York Sunday edition and getting my book coverage to over 500k people via media outlets, I refuse to pay them another cent as when I agreed I thought this was real and actually happening until my mum helped me pay the remainder to the publishing package I had owning then two days later Frank calls me with this unbelievable deal (toss toss was I a sucker) I agreed to his marketing proposal of $1800 over 3 months then two days after that I received a email in my junk folder about Xilbris is a scam, I freaked out my partner screamed at Frank down the phone for proof the company was legit and he sent links that were just talking up Xilbris no proof, he had been contacting me every day until then, I have not heard from him since, that was 6weeks ago, I was suppose to receive my manuscript edited version next week but have received an email from them stating all production on my book is on hold until I pay the remaining $1100? Regardless of previous contracts, this was my first book my baby it took 2yrs to write, I was gullible naive and new to this world, now I’m on a mission to cancel my dealings with Xilbris and try and get what I can back from them, has anyone tried this and succeeded? I’ve had nothing but problems with this company once finding out the truth, they promise professionalism but all you get for your money is lies and crappy craftsmanship these are the people I’ve had to deal with, Annie Maynard, Peter Lewis, Martin Kintanar, Frank Williams, Ann Porter, Emily Laurel, the funny thing about these names is none of the people you speak to are Natural English speaking, it’s their second language as they all have strong thick accents and some are hard to understand, I’m guessing these are alias names, I’m planning on traveling to their address in NSW and seeing if these people actually exsist.

    1. Hi Tanya. Sorry for the late reply. I was launching a book over the weekend and not monitoring comments here. That sounds like a horrible experience (but all too common, unfortunately). If you need any help, please feel free to contact me at david [dot] gaughran [at] gmail [dot] com

    2. Tanya, that is a horrible story. And exactly the reason we went INTO business… to try and help authors publish and market their books without getting fleeced. I am so sorry. Perhaps between Christine (below) and myself, we can help you get your book to market. (Maybe a clearinghouse of people/firms that are willing to work with AH-victim authors in a bind for reduced fees is in order?)

  9. I wish to contact editor by the name of Nathan of Xlibris Publishers. He has been trying to speak to me past two days but failed because he phoned me around one o’clock a.m. By that time I will be asleep, it’s middle of night in Zimbabwe. Could he phone me during the day of our zone, then we can talk business Thank you. N. K. Moyo

    1. Hello Nicolas. I have also Had people from xlibiris & Author Solutions telephoning me in the middle of the night. They only want your money and will not provide you with the services you may need. Please get a copy of Mr gaughran’s book and publish your own book using his advice.
      Unless you like the feeling of having your money taken away from you and getting nothing in return. In which case give your money to xlibiris.
      Regards Christine

  10. Reblogged this on World Nouveau News & Muse Notes and commented:
    The Muses noticed that Author Solutions had several booths at the LA Times Festival of Books this year. Here’s why:

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  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…


    Sharon Baltman

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

    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

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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!

  25. UPDATE 14 Feb 2014:

    The above post led to a dialogue with Philip Jones, the editor of The Bookseller. Last week, he told me that The Bookseller that it 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. More on all that here:

    1. I spoke to a first-time author last night at a meeting of book publicists and authors. She had just paid a publisher 11,000 to publish her book and they were asking for 9,000 additional to promote it. Outlandish. So many new authors don’t have the information they need to make decisions. It’s why I wrote a book on marketing of books. It’s in its second edition, but apparently not enough authors are not getting the message, and you’re right. It’s getting more and more difficult. Keep plugging, David!
      Carolyn Howard-Johnson
      Loving helping writers get read with my HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers including the multi award-winning second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter

  26. ONE MORE FOOL that’s me. I fell for the hype given to me by Xlibris described by Wikipedia as and I quote ‘a cash cow for Penguin and Random House’ unquote. How glad I am that I did not fall completely under their spell. At first they promised they would publish, market and print etc., my book for the princely cost of around $1000 dollars. I told them no and that I would pay up to $500. The person I was speaking to went to ‘talk’ to someone and came back with $530. It was agreed upon. Since then I’ve had numerous phone calls the last one being their offer of editing for me at something like $1800. I told them no. Personally I think they are vultures praying on people like myself who at the ripe old age of 78 has written a fiction in the genre of thriller/suspense. I have so enjoyed the writing experience and all that I have learned about how much more work there is after just getting the story down. If I never get published at least I’ve had fun writing and I’m much wiser when it comes to con artists like Author Solutions. I end with shame on you Penguin and Random House for allowing your reputation to be dragged down but then the dollar reigns supreme.

  27. Nice Article David

    I am bombarded by these Vanity Publishers and yes without doubt they prey of the desperation of the many ‘wannabe’ writers. These are the same poor souls that create Facebook pages with the title “Author” either prefixing or suffixing their real names or pseudonyms – who then collect as many Facebook ‘friends’ as they can and request – day after day – for these people to ‘like’ what they have written. They are easy fodder for such people. No don’t get me wrong – everyone and anyone has the liberty to write what they please and produce it in what ever medium that they desire – and as a lover of all words – I am an advocate for the encouragement of reading and writing in all forms. Exploitation of those people who simply want to churn out a vampire book or ‘erotic’ novel (which alarmingly seem to be the chosen genre for the wannabe’s) – is indeed very wrong – as indeed exploitation of any kind. It is here that the role of a reputable literary agent becomes paramount. And no – I am NOT a literary agent

  28. Kevin, there are some businesses that have a true mission of helping. Mine is one of those, whether your cynicism allows you to believe that or not. My business does not DEPEND on authors’ needs, we were created out of those needs. Making a reasonable profit so that you can continue to do so is an essential part of business — And you are telling authors they must run and understand the business of publishing.. .

    1. I must say that I agree with Kevin. Writers cannot afford to wear blinders in this day and age of ‘self publishing’, OR traditional publishing for that matter. You need to be fully aware of the process. It’s like driving a new car, you can’t just hop in without first having knowledge of what buttons perform what functions. Different cars have different layouts, and you first have to be aware of those layouts before cruising off into the sunset. Same with publishing, you have to be aware of the differences, the benefits, and the downsides of all possible facets of ‘publishing’ or you set yourself up as a victim for the ones that DO thrive on taking advantage of the less informed!

  29. This Idea that, I only want to write, but I want to self publish, is unrealistic. Publishing is a business. Self publishing makes it YOUR business and you need to know it. There’s a lot to know and it’s changing rapidly even as I write. That’s the bottom line. If you ONLY want to write then self publishing is not for you. Get involved, educate, research. Every publishing service from Createspace to Lighting Source have resources available. But even if you decide it’s not for you and sign with a publisher or small press you still need to know what your getting involved with. It’s just part of deal You cannot be lazy and expect to be a writer.
    This thread has grown difficult me to follow. I quickly becoming one of the thought that people deserve what they get.
    Join this group

  30. ok, in amongst this mess, what’s a newbie to do, in order to get legit services in copy-editing, cover design, and making a word doc ms acceptable to createspace? with some “non-traditional PR” marketing to follow. who’s out there helping with that? there’s obviously a hole in the system that they’re feeding off.
    some links…please. i couldn’t find one in all the responses to your very important and impressive posting, david.
    thank you

      1. thank you for this. i will check it out.
        i do have to admit that i wish i could pay someone to do it, because it’s so time-consuming — even doing the research to learn to do it myself. call me lazy…
        there are tons of honest, unemployed editors out there these days, so there must be some way to access them and employ them. it doesn’t make sense.

      1. thanks david. it looks great, but again — it takes so much time, which i’d rather be using to write my next novel. and i’m still stuck on there needing to be a way to access the good people looking for work and like you, willing to help out — but for money!

  31. “Author Solutions is like a Bizarro version of King Midas. Everything they touch turns to shit.” Best first line of anything I’ve seen in a long time!

    Thanks for continuing to bring these issues to the forefront. You’re saving loads of indie authors some major pain.

  32. Reblogged this on Kammbia1's Blog and commented:
    This is an insightful article on how traditional publishers are making money of the self-publishing business and tricks they will use to get gullible authors published. A good warning to aspiring authors who choose the self-publishing route.

  33. David,
    On the 7/23/13 The Passive Voice there’s an post titled “Author Solutions’ Rep: People Complaining About Our Scammy ‘Services’ Are Engaged In ‘Racketeering’.” It, and the comments, are illuminating, to say the least. I hope you are comfortable with being labeled a “racketeer” by ASI.

  34. Authorhouse wanted me to buy a ” Google Display Ads at £1,299.00″. I told them I did not see why I should promote my book as they never give me complete sales reports. Complaining that AuthorHouse had not given me any sales report over the past 3 trimesters except for their own website, and that they never listed any sales on Amazon (where friends have bought many copies as I know), I got this reply from the AuthorHouse “lady”:
    Thanks for your email. I appreciate it because in this way I can clarify everything to you because you simply don’t understand the nature of this business. How could you say those things when we were able to produced your book and distribute it to the online market. Your book is out there ready for purchase. It’s just not selling because you are not marketing it. People don’t know you, you are unknown, so how can you expect your book to sell and get royalties? You need to build your credibility first. There are investments involve in our services because we are using other parties resources to provide/give the services that our authors had paid for. We are under Penguin RandomHouse but we still operate as a self publishing company.
    I may don’t have the right to question your knowledge and experience but I am confused if you really know what it takes to be a writer and be known.”
    So, I am the stupid guy who does not know how to promote myself etc.
    So, I now decided not to promote my book anymore and think about something else. Why should I spend money for promotion if they pocket all proceeds?

  35. Thanks for this post David. I’m in the midst of self-publishing my first book and have avoided many pitfalls just from reading your book and entries like these. Very informative.

  36. Publicizing a book can be intimidating. It is tempting to leave that task on someone else’s doorstep, like a lost puppy. There is nothing wrong with paying someone for their work – editors, illustrators, etc deserve to be paid for their work. What’s wrong is taking someone’s money in return for work you misrepresent or cynically know to be inferior.

  37. I have read almost all of the comments on here, and while I mostly agree, I have a question. I also published through WestBow, an Author House arm, and I figured I could help authors the same way but on a smaller scale with complete integrity. So, I operate a small publishing company that charges very little for very professional cover design, formatting, and distribution to online channels. Every one of my 10 or so authors has made a profit beyond their cost with me just by selling to family and friends. My question is this: why is it so evil to pay someone for services that you can’t or don’t want to do yourself? Just getting a copy of InDesign is expensive, and good luck with the learning curve. And, most self-published books look self-published due to unprofessional covers. I guess I’m a vanity publisher, but I don’t charge a high fee, I don’t have anything to upsell, and I never promise more than I can deliver. Isn’t there a place in the publishing world for people like me who can offer an avenue to publishing for authors who can’t do it themselves (our most recent author doesn’t even own a computer) and will probably never be seen by the big boys? (By the way, I will be happy to provide my website URL for full disclosure and inspection, but I didn’t want to look like I was using this to promote myself.)

    1. Dr. Wyatt, my firm was started for the very same reason.Most of my clients, both fiction and non-fiction writers, have other professions (physicians, attorneys, photographers, investment professionals ) and do not have the time or inclination to navigate the publishing process. Perhaps we should start a “Publishers with Integrity” support group. I would love to see what you are doing, by the way.

  38. I am unable to understand this seemingly universal gullibility. I am “janedoemidwestUShousewife” and have known this forever. I have these shysters call me on the old hard line telephone. I say, “Okay. Print ‘er up. You get half.”

    And, David, I think you mentioned Lightning Source when you were a neophyte. Tell us about that since there seems to be a little side drama cropping up here.

  39. David, thank you for this amazing post. It cuts through all of the confusion. You have made my mission of assisting new authors much easier by staying on top of this alarming – and illegal – direction publishing has taken. This is such an important article that I am considering sending out a news release/feature article around the topic. I would love to stay in touch and use you as a source for the media. Again, thank you.

  40. Eff me, this is outrageous, a disgrace and low down disgusting (to put it mildly). I cannot believe what I have just read. This is serious business. Would-be new authors are warned. Thank you for writing this article, which I am keeping. Shame on Penguin and Random House for starters. And sympathy for those that get fooled.

    I read their advertising pitch and yeah, talk about pressing buttons – sickening what they wrote and are doing. Thanks for the warning. Shame too on those respected company’s that you mentioned that know about this scam: Readers Digest? I’d never of thought that such a respected magazine with a huge readership would be involved in anything like this. It’s a scary thing to be honest.

    You have done us a good damn service writing this article. Unbelievable. Thank you.
    ~ Victoria

  41. Thanks so much for this. I run a writers’ circle in Brighton ( and have written a post and linked back to this. It’s so important that every writer knows about such an important issue, especially now it seems it’s even easier for the scammers to rip people off. Thank you.

  42. Phyllis – you may want to go back and read the exact wording of my comment . . . no where did I say that Lightning Source IS associated Author Solutions.

    I requote: “Vanity publishers, like Trafford, Lightning Source, and others that feed off the desires of authors to be published for a price are being exposed by authors such as myself for what they are. . .”

    I commented that Lightning Source, which is a “subsidiary” of Ingram Group, Inc., is one of the ‘vanity’ publishers, as in they charge to print the books, which are then distributed through Ingram. Even in their own verbiage, Lightning Source touts printing AND distribution, which would lead an uninformed person to believe that they receive both services through Lightning Source for a particular price. In truth, the client pays for the printing services of the book (which is P.O.D. – same as sources like CreateSpace or Smashwords who produce the paperback or e-book for free); and then must pay another price for ‘distribution’, which is not guaranteed to certain book stores; for example Barnes and Noble – where getting your book on their brick and mortar shelves is dependent on the book buyers at said venue.

    Quotes from Lightning Source website:
    “Lightning Source specializes in on demand printing needs. Titles are printed one book at a time to meet the exact demands of the market. A range of formats are available including hardcover, trade paperback and ebook. As part of our on demand printing capabilities, we also provide short-run and galley printing”

    “Lightning Source is designed to be a resource for publishers, providing printing, distribution and digital fulfillment services”

    Their services are not provided for free, and they ARE P.O.D., which a lot of brick and mortar book sellers will not carry.

    1. Anastacia,

      Lightning Source is a legitimate printing company. Books cost money to print; printing isn’t free. It’s as simple as that. Even David will tell you (or perhaps he already has; I haven’t finished reading this thread of comments) that Lightning Source is not a scam, but a perfectly valid printing company with distribution through Ingram. If a self-publishing author wants to do true self-publishing, he/she needs to hire a) an editor, b) a book designer, and c) a printer. Lightning Source is a good choice for printing.

      1. Arlene,

        My comment re: Lightning Source was based solely on the fact (as evidenced by their own copy from their website) that they ‘appear’ to offer distribution, which is not their forte, you are directed to Ingram, which is yet another charge for solely having the author’s work distributed. I find that by virtue of the copy (which I quoted in my comment above) that it is somewhat misleading to the ‘novice’ author, and that simply by virtue of having your book ‘distributed’ through Ingram (which Barnes and Noble suggests one does) . . . does not guarantee inclusion in their brick and mortar stores. That is dependent on what the buyers deem ‘worthy’ of inclusion, and the simple fact that an author is ‘distributed’ through Ingram is not a guarantee that they will be carried on Barnes and Noble shelves. I have no doubt that Lightning Source is a viable ‘printer’, but that is all they are, albeit still P.O.D. and for a cost, as opposed to the free services offered by venues like Smashwords and CreateSpace, wherein the author has the capability of publication and distribution to a large variety of venues. If an author ‘pays’ upfront to have their book printed, distributed, etc., then is it not ‘vanity’ publishing, as opposed to ‘traditional’ publishing? I believe it is.

        Yes, the ones that allow the author to publish ‘gratis’ also charge, but it is not an ‘upfront’ charge. The e-books and paper volumes are still P.O.D., but the cost of printing is basically absorbed as the (paper) books are produced and purchased by the reader(s) on Amazon, and the author has no ‘upfront’ costs, other than what they may spend on editing, proofing, book cover design, etc., and even those things can be achieved by less expensive means if one takes the time and initiative to connect with valuable sources wherein services can be exchanged at a great savings to both parties. The author is not left holding the ‘virtual bag’ after spending large sums of money only to find out that their ‘masterpiece’ is not well received. If it is marketed aggressively, and received well, the author stands to profit with much less risk by taking the avenue of services such as Smashwords and Createspace. Not all authors have the luxury of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to have their work printed and distributed at their own expense.

        Even with ‘traditional’ publishing, as stated previously, the author must take an active role in marketing as the current economy and influx of writers into the market makes it less likely that traditional publishers are willing to invest large sums of revenue and time in marketing ‘upstart’ authors in the hopes that said author will generate the desired income. It’s a gamble either way.

  43. For Anastaciamoore

    Lightning Source, which you named in a comment, IS NOT and never has been, or associated with, a vanity publisher such as Author Solutions. I have no dog in tne race except the truth. I, too, am against what Random house Penguin has done and what Author Solutions is doing.

  44. Reblogged this on Lise McClendon and commented:
    At the Jackson Hole Writers Conference I talked a little about all the scams out there to avoid in vanity publishing. SO many, mostly connected to Author Solutions, whether they mention it or not. David Gaughran lays it all out for you here. Be careful out there.

  45. Author Solutions is like a giant spiderweb… I had no idea that they had that many different brands under them.
    It’s also quite hard to figure out which services they own. I signed up for BookTango last year(I asked them to remove my books later, because you couldn’t change anything without going through Customer Service), and it was only recently I found out that they were owned by Author Solutions. After reading this post, I can see just how far they have spread their web!

  46. Thanks for this valuable info. David … these people are leeching off the desperation of writers to see their own work in print and selling well. I have shared this with my writing friends on Facebook

  47. For someone who is looking to enter this author/ illustrator world this is quite intimidating. How can we avoid this organization if they are, in fact, everywhere?

  48. Bravo, David. Thank you so much for your tireless investigative work and advocacy. Thank you so much for shining a light in dark places!

  49. Another great piece Dave! Thanks again for all the work you do. Enjoy the “holiday.”

    “What the scammers were doing before was horrifying, but now that they have Random Penguin’s banner, there will be no end of scamming.”

    Can’t agree enough. In fact I think the 8 headed beast will grow to have 32 heads or more. The number of aspiring writers fleeced by this operation will probably multiply by ten now that the scam’s been taken out on the international road with big corporate backing. It will make millions a year and I guarantee there won’t be a single good seller anywhere in the mix because that end result isn’t any part of the vanity equation.

    And no matter how many class-action suits “Random Penguin Vanity and Anti-Trust” loses over this operation it will never even be a blip in the mainstream news. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep spreading the word.

  50. To borrow a quote from Ali ibn Abi-Talib, “There is no wealth like knowledge, no poverty like ignorance.” Thanks for raising the knowledge level of so many.

  51. Thank you for reporting on this issue. What the scammers were doing before was horrifying, but now that they have Random Penguin’s banner, there will be no end of scamming. I’ll forward your blog to my writing groups, all the same.

  52. It makes one question the veracity of former venerables Publisher’s Weekly an Kirkus, too. For example, PW asks $150 for placement of indie/self-published authors with “potential” for review. Kirkus and Clarion are closer to $400! The prices seem excessive but I don’t know what legit publisher’s costs are for the review service so… At any rate, the likes of Random House and their vanity subs aren’t doing the industry any favors. Great post David!

  53. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    Writer beware, indeed! Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve read countless posts warning writers about Author Solutions. It appears that the Penguin-Random House has enabled AS to extend its evil tentacles toward even more unwitting writers. Their activities sound so much like “white collar crime,” I wonder how they get away with it. Then I realize, it is “white collar crime” and that is how they get away with it.

  54. Like Martin (Tiller) above, I produced my books myself (apart from the covers and beta/proof reading). Not everyone wants to do that. As for doing your research, the amount of information out there is overwhelming. The point is that newbie writers should be following blogs like this one and which give helpful advice and useful recommendations rather than following the online ads, whoever they appear to be from. Read the blogs guys!

  55. UPDATE: I’ve asked both The Bookseller and the Word on the Street Festival to comment on this piece. I’m heading to the airport shortly, but will be back online tonight, and I’ll update this post with any response received.

  56. As a freelance editor, specializing in helping new indie authors, I am always cautioning my authors to carefully think about what publishers offer them, should they choose to try that route. I’ll definitely have them read this.

    I see so many companies, large and small, offering services for a fee when the actual so-called service they offer can be had for free… if the author is willing to do a minor amount of research. If an author is willing to dig around a little, they can find others who will help them with anything they need for free or nearly free. I firmly believe there is no better marketing tool than word of mouth advertising. If the work is genuinely good, word will spread, especially with so many free avenues online these days.

    Thanks for a great article!

  57. Thanks for the info here.
    I still have people at work when asking me about my books.

    I had this conversation this year, when showing my new book.
    “How much did it cost to publish it?”
    “But don’t you have to pay Amazon?”
    “….no…I paid my illustrator and a proof reader.”
    “And you wrote all the words in here, even the quotation marks?”
    “….yes…” (I thought, that’s what the “by” part means on the cover means.)

    These are the people that are easily parted with their money. People that don’t do their own research and don’t think it’s possible to do this themselves.

  58. As a Company Director I can assure everyone that the Corporate Governance of the boards of directors of Penguin and now Random House (merged as the largest publishing company in the world) indicate by their purchasing, appointing directors and CEOs yet not cleaning up Author Solutions: that exploitation of creative people the world over is their fundamental bottom line.
    It’s simple. and and others like All romance have given authors retail outlets where they can earn real money regularly and have any of their creative work in front of eager and appreciative readers for the same amount of effort and with more success than traditional publishing offers.
    Extortion and exploitation; illegal activities and illegal advertising is BIG publishing’s response.
    Successfully adding to their customary hidden exploitation using contracts and double accounting books to stiff authors at royalty time. Kristine Katherine Rush goes into this on her blog.
    Thanks for your persistence, David. You are saving the lives of authors every day!
    I aim to report the false advertising for to the NZ Commerce Commission as false advertising is illegal in NZ. they are purporting to be a NZ Publisher when clearly they are not.

  59. Another great post David, but can I just point out that, when I first really seriously began writing almost ten years ago now, one of the first rules I made to myself was NEVER to pay for anything, whether that was the dreaded vanity publisher, or even competitions, and it’s worked remarkably well in preventing me from getting ripped off. Maybe those authors who are in a real hurry to get published should take a step back and do a bit of basic research before jumping in. The worst thing about all this though is the knowledge that bona fide ‘major’ publishers such as Penguin and Random House embrace this exploitative model. Sickening. All power to the indies!

    1. You’re right, Andy, but it was a little easier 10 years ago to differentiate between the legitimate and the scam merchants. There was clear lines between vanity publishers, self-publishers, and traditional publishers. What we have here is a slick vanity press which has rebranded itself as a self-publishing service company, owned by a traditional publisher, and selling itself as the “self-publishing wing” of that publisher. I’m not surprised newbies are confused.

      1. Whilst I think that writers need to be savvier and smarter to avoid these sharks, I also think it’s a damning indictment of the state of the world when an iconic publisher such as Penguin adopts these business approaches. I won’t be buying books from them any more.

  60. Sorry I’m not more involved in the comments, I’m packing for vacation (yey!). Two related posts I wanted to highlight quickly:

    1. Emily Suess (who has been following Author Solutions for some time) has blogged about them again. This post is especially worth reading as she quotes an email from an Author Solutions rep accusing the company’s critics of “racketeering”

    2. The second is a guest post from my blog a couple of weeks back that you might have missed as it went out on a Sunday. It’s from Phoenix Sullivan, and it’s relevant because a common defense that people like Author Solutions make, and people who run shady agent/publisher outfits make, is that they are serving a certain kind of customer – one who doesn’t want to do everything themselves. Phoenix expertly shows both where these guys fall down, and sketches out a template of how they actually could provide value to authors (if that was their true aim, which it isn’t):

  61. Thanks for this information, David. Author Solutions and organizations like them are playing on writers’ desire for a shortcut to success/visibility and there isn’t one. I’m in Toronto. I’ve retweeted your post, posted about it to WOTS Toronto Facebook and I’ll talk to other writers’ organizations here about this.

    1. Thanks Lois, I really really want to hear what WOTS have to say. I’m hoping that (a) they weren’t fully aware of the potted history of Author Solutions and (b) they weren’t aware that Author Solutions were using WOTS to gouge writers with those horribly overpriced book signing packages.

      Let’s be quite clear: WOTS could put a stop to that straight away. I hope they do so. Needless to say, The Bookseller et al could stop taking Author Solutions’ money tomorrow, or, at the very least, insist that they stop overcharging so much for re-selling those packages of ads.

      We’ll see.

      1. Another Canuck here. I’ve pointed Toronto WOTS to this article, via Twitter.

        We’re dealing with our own Vanity Publisher here in Nova Scotia.

        And for more…

        These companies are freaking rampant.

        Newsflash people – anytime that any sort of so-called “publisher” starts out a sentence with “We will publish you if you just send us umpteen thousand dollars…” – run about as far in the other freaking direction as your feet will carry you.

      2. You may also see no prices but, “every package is designed to fit the individual authors needs.”
        Suppose to make you feel special, like they’re working for you, and you alone.
        It’s a con.

  62. I’m a new “victim”, just learning what to avoid. But I am published by AuthorHouse. I’m trying to find a way to either re-publish… and/or to market through a better channel. Any help is greatly appreciated.

    1. Steve, check out smashwords, and CreateSpace. I am not blatantly advocating for them, BUT, they have both proven to be great venues for publishing my work. The only real ‘downside’ (which is basically the same as with the ‘vanity presses’) is that you will either have to do a lot of marketing on your own, via the internet, book signings, etc., or pay someone else to produce marketing materials, etc.; but you may find that even with traditional publishers, they cannot expend the amount of funds as in the past to promote ‘new’ authors. There are so many other options available especially with the multitude of internet avenues for self promotion. Good luck!

  63. Yeah, well, they’re not the only predators in the house. Many incompetent small, micro press’ who can’t sell, market or stay afloat pretending to be “traditional,” are also sprouting branch imprints suddenly claiming to be self publishing “experts,” for a package fee of course. It’s pathetic, true, but it’s the same old cloak and dagger, from the top sharks all the way down to the bottom feeders. Cheaper and smaller doesn’t mean you trust them either.

  64. Good lord – Good grief and great article. I feel so bad for authors I have witnessed getting ripped off as they start out so pumped and ready and brainwashed only to find the hype they have bought into for crazy amounts of money fizzles fast.
    You have provided a great service as is usual David. Thanks

  65. This is so bitterly true. It’s a growth industry generating big bucks. I’m a literary midwife to a lot of new authors, working hard to keep them out of exactly such scams. Great expose, David, I posted a link to this on my New Writers Interface blog. The saddest thing? The authors who get taken by these scams feel like total failures when they sell very few copies of their poorly produced books.

    1. So true, Mary. I am glad to know that we share the literary “midwifery” work. Because we work one-on-one with authors, we will only work with a few clients at any one time. I would love to know where in the world you are, so that I may point authors in your direction should we find some there. We work in Dallas, TX and San Diego, CA. I will look forward to following your blog! Thank you.

  66. Another great article David. After researching personal attacks on indie authors on Goodreads and Amazon for over a year I have come to the conclusion that traditional publishing has people in their employ who do nothing but stalk, bully and harass indie writers with the intent to destroy their reputations, careers and livelihood.

    So far the trail has led back to Penquin as the source based on comment made by the attackers. One mentioned on a forum, receiving a box of books from Penguin and another mentioned having to catch up on reading for Penquin. Clearly traditional publishing blames indies for their slipping influence and seems to be waging a campaign against indies.

    Goodreads and Amazon also defend and protect the people who launch these attacks, so there is clearly complicity on their part. Author Solutions is a criminal enterprise and Penguin has assumed the same distinction by purchasing the biggest rip-off operation of authors to date. Clearly the plan is to drain as much resources from fledgeling writers as possible in return for nothing, to scare them back into the traditional publishing fold.

  67. Reblogged this on Shari Lopatin and commented:
    OK, so I haven’t written about the publishing industry on here in awhile, but this was just too dang good–and important. I know many of you who follow me are also professional writers, some indie writers. So please take a moment and read this. It opened my eyes! And knowledge is power, people.

  68. I am truly astonished and appalled! Unfortunately, the best person to scam is the new, “young” writer who just wants someone to read her book. I am SO glad you wrote this post because I would never have known to steer clear of them! I appreciate your post because it is well researched and you provide source material to back up everything you are saying. I am putting this out on Facebook—I have a lot of writer friends and I don’t want them duped! Thank you!

  69. When you read this post, keep in mind that all the listed scams are also available–cheaper–from others, but they’re still usually scams. These kinds of things are one of the reasons I wrote The Frugal Book Promoter. Most scams are based on promotions people can do themselves or for very little money.

    I think that often authors get taken in because they think of themselves–or the topic of their books–as exceptional. I’ve seen writer friends and clients spend money on scams because they’re sure the “service” will work for their books–even though they’ve just been told that it didn’t work for many others.

    By the way, anyone falling for paid reviews? Even Kirkus offers them and they certainly don’t fool bookstore buyers, librarians, or any other knowledgeable person in the industry. They’re also journalistically unethical.

  70. Thank you for publishing this. I find it appalling that “indie” authors, such as I am, are being bombarded by these ‘fake’ ads, and fake posts on sites such as LinkedIn, disguised as blog threads, etc., and then when you make the mistake of clicking on said thread, it turns out to be an advertisement for their ‘services’. Case in point . . . a post :
    Authors – Marketing

    For 2 Weeks I will expose your book cover or business logo to OVER A MILLION FOLLOWERS! Click here:
    Naturally, being the curious Leo that I am, I clicked on said link, to discover that OH BOY, they, for the wonderful price of $79.99 would promote my novel, my links, etc., on ALL of the best websites: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and on and on!!!! Isn’t that amazing??? Unfortunately, for me, I was so dumb to have ALREADY linked, cross-linked, etc., on ALL of those aforementioned sites! Wish I could have known that for the MERE price of $79.99, I could have had exposure on those sites for a WHOLE TWO WEEKS!!!! Isn’t that wonderful??? Amazing, in that by doing my OWN marketing, my links will remain for as long as the site(s) are up and running!

    There are unscrupulous ‘marketers’ that are now touting ‘book promo trailers’ for ONLY $499!!! I have created two of my own, and one for an author friend FOR FREE! They claim to be able to provide sound (check); still photos from ‘freeware’ (check); and ‘exposure’ (check) . . . what can they provide me that I have not already created myself? Absolutely NOTHING!

    I may be shooting myself in the foot (or not) by posting my thoughts regarding these vultures on my blogs, facebook page, various LinkedIn forums, etc., but I think it is IMPERATIVE that fledgling authors are not taken advantage by these unscrupulous vermin that proliferate the internet with their façade of being ‘helpful, mentoring, and beneficial’ to ‘newbie authors’.

    Vanity publishers, like Trafford, Lightning Source, and others that feed off the desires of authors to be published for a price are being exposed by authors such as myself for what they are . . . vultures, lurking in the shadows, waiting to swoop in and devour unsuspecting authors who, if they do a little research, can be self published through sources like Smashwords and CreateSpace for NO COST, and have their work distributed through every online book retailer, including Amazon.

    Granted, it is basically P.O.D., but if the prospective author reads thoroughly the fine print of the ‘vanity publishers’ . . . their services are ALSO Print On Demand. Same service, higher cost, and less revenue for the author!

    End of rant!

  71. Reblogged this on My Writing Life and commented:
    This is crazy. I was in the shower thinking about this exact same issue (I do my best thinking in the shower). I published my first novel with Xlibris. I advise authors to avoid Author Solution companies at all cost (which is a lot, according to what they charge). The money you spend on them would be better spent self-publishing.

  72. Thanks for this. I have to admit that I have historically tended to be a little bit baffled by people who become involved in these scams – but I’m increasingly realizing that I am an unusually compulsive Googler, and I can see that if you are a little bit less prone to doing hours and hours of research over every darn thing, it would be quite easy to fall into these traps.

    I’m a little amazed that this stuff is legal. So much of it seems to really skirt or even cross the line of fraud.

  73. I hate being right about this kind of thing, but like I say, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. They’ve corrupted the so-called arbiters of literary culture (which, considering their general attitude toward self-publishing, makes them look even worse) as well as the #1 search engine and some top writerly magazines. Voices of sanity won’t be nearly loud enough.

  74. I guess Davies wasn’t the only one taking notes either. I was sent a couple of links this weekend that point to another former employee trying to launch his own self-publishing business.

    Turns out, it’s my ex-husband (the person of questionable repute who dragged me into this by pretending to be a number of ASI’s authors and asking for free reviews on my blog). He seems to have left Author Solutions in May LinkedIn Profile only to start (however half-heartedly) his own little shop called The Alliance for Indie Publishers.

    My favorite part of the AIP website is this little gem under the “Why We Do It Page”:

    “Feeling hosed by an indie publishing company?

    Trust your instincts. And run!

    Some self-publishing businesses earn their lion’s share of profits from services they sell a la carte. The problem is not the services, or the company’s publishing process; it’s how they sell those services. Typically, the person trying to pry money from your bank account doesn’t understand marketing. All they are concerned with is making a sale. So, you will typically purchase services that aren’t necessary or return little to nothing on your investment.

    What ends up happening is that you spend thousands of dollars on services you don’t need and waste resources that could be applied to a more profitable approach.”

    I wonder what he could possibly mean by “some self-publishing businesses.”

  75. David, I admit, I am one who occasionally blames the victims. But not from malice, it’s frustration. I put a lot of time and effort into helping the writers I work with become effective indie publishers, always pushing them to research, take charge, take responsibility. Some have a very difficult time slipping into a publisher frame of mind. They’re the ones I worry about the most. I send them to your blog, to TPV, to the Business Rusch. I show them how to research publishers on Amazon. Still I hear, “But I just want to write and let someone else take care of all that other stuff…”

    You are so right. We are up against a monster with a media machine that may very well be unstoppable. So my frustration grows. At least, here you are. And TPV and Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith and J.A. Konrath and Victoria Strauss who, though they cannot protect people from themselves, can at least keep putting out the information.

    Ay yi yi.

    1. Well said, Jaye. I’ve been in the publishing business since 1979 and it’s easy for me to forget how opaque and puzzling it must be for people who are looking at it (from the POV of a writer) for the first time.

      [Note to David: Your books are brilliant. I own both, and treasure the wisdom they contain.]

    2. Jaye, you are so right. The monster and media machine parting talented writers from their money is alive and growing. Thanks to you for trying to guide them. And thanks to David for lifting the veil. This confusion and the games that publishing houses are playing are the primary reason that my company got started just a year ago. We started out just helping authors who were published by vanity presses and had thousands of books to market – on their own. Then, as we surveyed the industry and word got out about some of our publishing services, authors started coming our way for everything related to publishing their work; from ghostwriting, editing, design, POD, E-books and marketing.

      Your quote from an author, ” But I just want to write; let someone else take care of all that other stuff.”, is exactly what I heard from my new client yesterday. After our meeting, she said, “You have “lifted that weight off of my shoulders. Now I can get back to writing!”

      People like you and David help keep US informed so that we can better help our clients navigate the self-publishing journey. Thank you.

  76. When I first tried to find my way in this business over fifty years ago, one piece of advice that always kept coming up was NOT to pay for vanity publishing and to stay away from agents/publishers promising you the earth and success at a very low price because no-one can guarantee that and you’ll end up out of pocket. It looks like Penguin & Random House are trading on wannabe writers’ gullibility and making a handsome profit from it. I’ve no doubt that people will always be parted from their money, and to this day you can still find the pea in a cup street magicians taking money from them. It’s just that Author Solutions have raised the game.

  77. “Fake “independent” publishing advice sites which only exist to hoover up email addresses and phone numbers of potential victims (and to exclusively push Author Solutions’ services).”

    When I first started looking into getting my writing published I mistakenly entered my email address and phone number into one of these sites. But I started frequenting the AW Water Cooler and Writer Beware around the same time. They continued to call me and email me for a year even after I said no until I responded back with the following:


    I appreciate your email but I did some research and your company is affiliated with Author Solutions and came up on a Writer’s Beware list. In addition, your services are extremely expensive compared to simply hiring my own cover artist, freelance editor, and formatting myself with Adobe Indesign. Thank you for following up but I don’t think your services meet my current needs.

    All the best,

    Julie Lemardy

    On 6/29/2013 11:39 AM, Nathan Shaw wrote:
    > Dear Julie,
    > Good day!
    > My name is Nathan Shaw, I have been recently assigned as your Publishing Consultant. I just want to check on your book project. I believe you have expressed your interest in publishing your book; I would like to take this opportunity to inquire if you are interested in publishing and becoming a published author. When you have time, please give me a call at 877-820-5395 ext. 8315, or email me to let me know your current plans and intentions; it will be greatly appreciated.
    > First, I would like to know more about you, your book and your motivation to publish. To help me better understand your needs, I have outlined a few questions that I hope you will answer in detail for me:
    > -What type of book have you written?
    > -Who is your target audience?
    > -Are you finished writing the book?
    > -What computer program did you use to write your book?
    > -Will your book have images on the interior pages or text only?
    > -Do you plan to publish those images in color, or black and white?
    > -How many pages do you estimate that your book will have?
    > -Would you like to have your book published in softcover or hardcover?
    > -When would you like to be holding your very first copy?
    > Currently, iUniverse is running a 25% discount off our publishing packages until July 31. This means that you can get our professional services at a lesser price! Note that we do not set deadlines on manuscript submission, so you may reserve a package now and submit your materials at any time.
    > If this is something that you are interested in doing, please feel free to contact me anytime soon. Thank you.
    > For a list of our Publishing Packages, visit;
    > Best Regards,
    > Nathan Shaw

    I feel so bad because of their ‘reputable’ facade and pushy marketing that so many people fall prey to. I have learned so much more from joining a good writing group, networking, workshops, authors loops, various blogs (yours included), and reading your books. I finally got brave enough to publish an erotic short story which on a free giveaway hit the top #1, #2, and #4 in three categories. I didn’t see a post sales bump but didn’t expect to with only a 3K story. But what it did do is get my writing into 2,500 hands to give readers a taste of my style which was my point. I wanted to test the system with a smaller piece as I taught myself cover art and formatting with Indesign. Now I’m publishing a short story anthology 8/1 and my full length debut novel 12/1. And if not for Writer Beware and your books I wouldn’t have had the courage to go through with it and may have ended up as another Author Solution victim!

    1. I am a former iUniverse client. I joined way back in 2000 before their current ownership; I had two books published at low flat fees with minimal bells and whistles and it was fine. When I got to the third volume in 2006 their new ownership tried to upsell me into the middle of next century and it cost me 5x as much to get the same if not slightly lower quality work than the first two volumes.

      When later I got a letter from iUniverse from someone I did not know trying to upsell me yet again I sent them a very unhappy letter about their tactics. Their response was basically “it’s your own fault you’re not trying hard enough, clearly you don’t have what it takes to succeed” and I cancelled my books with them. They are now no longer able to print them.

      This did not however stop them from selling the PDFs (which they own, per the contract) to other companies to print books and offer them up on Amazon. Which means I make no money from them whatsoever. Amazon and I had a chat about that. The books are now out of print completely in book form, and in the interim until I have new formats and covers done, they are available as e-books and I keep more than 2/3 of the cost. I have literally made more in profit in the past year with the three volumes as ebooks than I did from my entire time at iUniverse, in the 12 years since publishing the first one as a print on demand work.

      the upshot of this is, it may seem daunting to do it yourself, but the rewards are worth it where the hassle of dealing with one of these predator companies is completely NOT worth it. I would give the same advice to anyone considering self publishing. If this is the business you want to be in, teach yourself how it works. You can’t be a baker without knowing not only how to bake the product, but also how to buy the ingredients and how to use the equipment.

      1. Thanks for those details, Arlene. I, too, am an iUniverse victim. I am still with them but have found better e-book sales with another publisher. I was unaware of the pdf situation. Many thinks for the info.

      2. Good point. After researching self-publishers, and in view of my limited budget, I’ve decided to go with a DIY website from (a lovely company to deal with!), and a printer rather than a publisher. With an artist as collaborator, my son to do the layout and my husband to help me with the marketing, things are shaping up. I’m thankful for people like you, too, who warn others. Thank you on behalf of all who have taken your warning!

  78. Sounds like just about the only thing they don’t offer is the old “fee reading” scam. Used to be agents who ran ads offering to read mss & provide “editing” for $xyz fee. Maybe they’re still around. I wouldn’t be surprised.

    1. This article is right-on. Authorhouse sales rep. repeatedly lied to me about what they would provide…For example, the rep. told me they could get my book into the library catalog…the legitimate one that only publishes books that libraries order from. As an enticement, he said there are thousands of libraries throughout the USA and they mostly order more than one copy of the book. Three times I specifically asked “You say my book will be listed IN the catalog.” Three times he assured me it would be a listing INSIDE the catalog, along with all the other legitimate book listings…Well, months later I obtained a copy of that catalog and my book was listed, along with a dozen other books, ON AN INSERT that was put into the book separately. In other words, an advertisement insert. Since my next royalty check was in the amount of something like $1.36 I doubt whether any one consulting this catalog even looked at the insert . I don’t even know if the insert was included in any of the catalogs that were published…..Authorhouse is completely unethical and Penquin should be shamed for being part of such a fraudulent operation that takes advantage of writers. Also, when giving publishing services, Authorhouse is deliberately misleading…inflating what services it provides. For example, if you want more than 1-3 items pictured on cover it will cost you more money. Also if you need additional editing because you missed something on the first edit, etc. etc. etc. Every step of the process they find ways to extort money. I understand a class action suit is being filed against them. Good luck. Someone should expose them and get everyone who worked with them a refund.

  79. Well, I guess i’m starting to understand why Amazon can do the things they do that people have told me about. I’ve heard about people being blocked or banned from forums on Amazon for speaking out. Hm…

    They’re learning from all these kinds of publishers. And people just ignore any view they don’t agreed with. Deny, deny, deny. Hm….

    Great. Small world. Getting smaller. Every moment.

    Thanks for posting.


  80. Melanie,

    It’s easy to do if you have no scruples, morals,or ethics. What has cracked me up is the naive belief on the part of some that Random Penguin, having purchased ASI, would clean up its act. Hogwash! They paid over $100M for it because it’s a cash cow. Why would they gut or kill a golden goose that’s working? ASI isn’t going to change its stripes. And other BPH’s are joining the vanity press bandwagon, usually subcontracting out their VP “imprints” to ASI.

    1. Yeah, James, you’re right. They were giving away promotional material like candy. My friend came back with all of it. I warned her about them and told her to read these kind of blogs etc. But still, it’s such a gross way to do business. Random house never ceases to shock me. Being in the kid lit world I’ve seen several deals go through them and I’m always surprised by what they throw money at. Big money, stupid money, on books that are terribly written, meanwhile beautifully written, quiet stories go by the wayside.

      1. Melanie,
        Yeah, kinda like most movies today. The focus is on what attracts the Clearasil Crowd: CGI special effects, “hot” young actors and actresses, moronic or missing plots, meager character development, and 200 dB megabass sound tracks. Makes me sad and mad, since I was a film student back in the 70s, when the Golden Age of American Cinema was in full bloom. That all changed with Star Wars. The big studios went with “big” films they thought would reap megamillions and even billions. There are still great small films out there (like “Winter’s Bone” that deservedly made Jennifer Lawrence a star), and occasional break-outs like “The Artist,” so all is not lost. But such films tend to have short, small runs in the theaters. TG for DVDs! And TG for self-publishing that permits writers to write what they want and reach readers worldwide.

  81. Author Solutions was present at an AARP convention in Los Vegas this past weekend selling their services to retired folks.
    Their sales pitch was that everyone who bought their services could be published and make boatloads of cash.
    Targeting retired individuals on fixed incomes and spewing lies. Shameful. Awful.

  82. Great post, David. Author Solutions should just make Snidely Whiplash their official corporate logo. If they were any more evil, they’d be tying authors to railroad tracks while cackling maniacally and twirling their black mustaches. Random Penguin should be ashamed.

    BTW, I absolutely LOVE your new book LET’S GET VISIBLE. I’ve been recommending it to all my indie friends. Will be posting a 5-star review as soon as I finish it!

  83. UPDATE 2 (Fri morn): Tim Davies, the ex-Author Solutions executive mentioned above (who was shilling for his old bosses in FutureBook), runs his own crappy vanity press called Swift Publishing. It seems he was taking notes while working for Author Solutions as they have some of the worst terms I’ve seen.

    Publishing packages with Swift Publishing start at $2300 and that doesn’t even include editing. Oh, and they pay 17.6% royalties on e-books (versus 70% if you go direct yourself).

    In an interesting twist, Swift Publishing uses Faber Factory (owned by Faber and Faber UK) to distribute e-books to retailers. Faber Factory itself uses Constellation, a distribution platform run by Perseus Books, owners of the awful Argo Navis service I blogged about in April (which itself uses the Constellation platform).

    This means the problems with using a company like Swift Publishing don’t end with overcharging for basic services and dipping their hand in your wallet a second time by taking such a huge cut of your royalties.

    I really can’t understand why FutureBook gave Tim Davies this platform, and why, at the very least, his own interests weren’t declared at the very top of his piece. I guess “Disclosure: I used to work for the world’s largest vanity press and now I run my own crappy vanity press” would have been a bit of a turn-off for readers.

  84. Just as I feared, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better at the Big Publishers. Authors who haven’t already cleared out of the way are going to be run through the grinder.

  85. Well, Penguin said they were going out wide with their “service.” Here’s their first salvo.

    Funny thing though, where’s all the anti-suck-puppet crusaders in all this? Shouldn’t prominent web figures and publishing journalists be mob-lynching all parties involved in this scammery?

    I mean, disingenuous online publishing claims and reporting IS the single most dangerous thing in the book world, right?

  86. It’s a disheartening trend but it makes you wary of trusting anyone who offers such services and more determined to go the hard route of teaching yourself. Mind you its virtually impossible to be a all things to all people so you need to seek out experts you can truly trust. Thanks for the warning

    1. So true, Diana. It hasn’t been easy to learn how to do it all myself (esp. since I’m not exactly a spring chicken ;-)), but it’s been worth it for me. And fun (at times)! Trying to get my mind around page layout software has been the absolute hardest because it’s not at all intuitive, but I’m making headway.

      Have you taken a look at Dean Wesley Smith’s and Kris Rusch’s blogs? I feel the advice they offer is spot on; same with David here. One company that Dean has talked about that provides a menu of services – you pick and choose what you want with no one pressuring you to buy anything – is Lucky Bat Books.

      And as you said, you need to seek out experts you can trust. Some of the people on Kindle Boards (or maybe I should say K Boards now) seem to be on the up-and-up.

      This almost makes me long for the day when Publish America was main vanity publisher to loathe and revile. Almost.

  87. No sign of our comment either, which was careful to stick to facts — that we at the Alliance of Independent Authors receive regular and repeated complaints about ASI; that in our recent book — Choosing A Self-Publishing Service 2013 — ASI imprints were rated 1 or at best 2 out of ten and that most of their imprints offer the most expensive services and the poorest terms and conditions, making it virtually impossible for a self-publishing author to make a profit. I do understand the trickiness of legal/libel issues while a class action is underway (certain comments could even be used against the authors if ASI lawyers decided to play it that way) but nothing we wrote in our comment could be interpreted as defamatory and all is verifiable. Disappointed with Futurebook and the Bookseller and the blanket of silence in the trade press on this issue — and other questions of importance to author-publishers, who are now part of the trade.

  88. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I want to focus on positive solutions for self-publishers, but I also think it’s important that we keep in mind that there are some less than stellar opportunities for authors. I have been hearing horrible things about Author Solutions and its many offshoots for years. Here’s as good a summary as I’ve seen.

    1. I fired Xlibris/Author Solutions after I almost went broke doing as they suggested, and they didn’t care – said “Useanother credit card” – I have had many e- mails to them written by me in frustration at 2:00 am – it was a time of horrible experiences of people I really distrusted – in every way – pushing, calling with more pressure and that went on and on. I reluctantly gave them a second book (the minute they know there are more books in you,the high pressure begins – and the pressure phone calls – that book they published a day BEFORE the date they gave me for final date. I paid for editing and that was the worst editing I ever saw – didn’t make changes and they weretoldat least 5 times. So they published my second book and I made them stop everything in representing me and the theming trouble started when (both books published under another publisher) – once they were out they did damage to me preventing sales – it has been terrible and my books just sit there.

      1. Unfortunately, there are far too many “publishers” out there more interested in taking the money of desperate authors than in making money selling their books. Sorry you had that experience.

  89. I can’t believe Penguin bought a bunch of vomit and shit for 116M. That money could have been spent on much more honest venues, like investing in their current authors. They’ve got to recoup that money somehow, even if it means scamming hapless authors.

    1. I presumed at the time of the purchase that it was a mistake, & once someone with a clue & some clout had a good look at Author Services it would either be completely reorganized or liquidated.

      Now I find I was wrong. I’m flailing for an analogy here, but comparing Penguin buying ASI to a sex counseling clinic hiring a team of pimps might be inflammatory yet captures my current opinion of the matter.

    2. Scamming hapless authors seems to have been the point of the whole exercise. The numbers Tim Davies quotes in his article are staggering. There’s hundreds of millions in them thar hills, as long as you’re willing to sell your soul.

  90. Hmmm… very informative and unsettling. Thanks a lot for this, David. We need people like you out there keeping an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse… or a third eye on cyber space.

  91. There is such a surreal, Clockwork Orange feel about this whole Authors Solution mess. Why is no-one shouting this on Twitter? Or starting a campaign on FB. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting in a nice, safe life-boat watching the Titanic sink.

    1. Because of the Penguin connection,many don’t want to leave an electronic trail of calling these publishing connected companies and people out on their monetizing BS least they close that avenue of publishing down.

      Your Titanic comparison is apt.

  92. Below the article it says: ‘By posting on this website you agree to the Bookseller Comments Policy. Comments go live immediately, please be relevant, brief and definitely not abusive.’

    Then, after you leave a comment: ‘Your comment has been queued for moderation by site administrators and will be published after approval.’

    Did they bring comment moderation in just for Tim Davies, knowing he’d need it?

  93. I left a comment yesterday on Tim Davies’ Bookseller post, saying:

    “Author Solutions ‘the world’s biggest self-publishing company’? Surely you mean the world’s biggest vanity press?”

    My comment hasn’t shown up.

  94. Yep, saw it earlier on The passive Guy and followed the link to FutureBook’s site. Only one comment was there. Then later you posted a notice that you left a comment, but you doubted they would publish it. Seems you were right. I waited, and waited, and waited, and only that one little comment remained there. No other comments were added. Now don’t tell me no one else had an opinion on that piece. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending not to hear doesn’t make the noise disappear. It only makes it louder and more insistent.

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