The Author Exploitation Business

penguin (1)Writing is a glamorous occupation – at least from the outside. Popular depictions of our profession tend to leave out all the other stuff that comes with the territory: carpal tunnel syndrome, liver failure, penury, and madness.

Okay, okay, I jest. I love being a writer. Sharing stories with the world and getting paid for it is bloody brilliant. It’s a dream job, and like any profession with a horde of neophytes seeking to break in, there are plenty of sharks waiting to chew them to bits.

Publishing is a screwed up business. The often labyrinthine path to success makes it much easier for those with nefarious intentions to scam the unsuspecting. But it doesn’t help that so many organizations who claim to help writers, to respect them, to assist them along the path to publication are actually screwing them over.

Before the digital revolution made self-publishing viable on a wide scale, the dividing lines were easier to spot. Traditional publishers paid you if they wanted to buy the rights to your novel. Self-publishers were people who filled their garages with books and tried to hawk them at events. And vanity presses were the scammers, luring the unsuspecting with false promises and roundly condemned by self-publishers and traditional publishers alike.

Today it’s very different. The scammy vanity presses are owned by traditional publishers who are marketing them as the “easy” way to self-publish – when it’s nothing more than a horrifically expensive and terribly ineffective way to publish your work, guaranteed to kill your book’s chance of success stone dead, while emptying your bank account in the process.

Some of you might think: hey, it’s just business. Caveat emptor and all that. And don’t these people know how to use Google?

That’s easy to say from our position of experience. Do you remember how naive you were at the start? Do you remember just how badly you wanted to get published? Do you remember the crushing grind of the query-go-round?

I’m not surprised people get scammed. When you want something so badly, and you can’t seem to make progress towards that goal – no matter how hard you work – you start to go crazy. You get desperate.

And it’s much harder to tell the scammers from the legitimate organizations when they are owned by the same people.

Take Penguin-owned Author Solutions, one of the worst vanity presses out there. Here’s how they hoodwink inexperienced writers into using their horribly expensive service.

If you Google a term like “find a publisher” the results are littered with sites like (which I’m not going to link to because that will help their SEO, but you can cut-and-paste that address).

The website purports to be an independent resource, helping to pair you with the most suitable publishing company. Or as they put it:

dedicated to helping both first-time and experienced authors identify the most suitable indie book publishing company for their book. With the information you provide about your book and goals, FYP makes a recommendation as to which indie book publisher has the best publishing package to help you reach your publishing objectives.

Below this message is an online questionnaire asking you about your book. When you have completed that and handed over your phone number, the site makes a recommendation based on your answers.

Except the only companies recommended are Trafford, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, and iUniverse – all of which are scammy vanity presses, all owned by Author Solutions. And, fitting with the rest of the pattern, is just one of many (many!) such sites owned and operated by Author Solutions, purporting to make independent recommendations, but only recommending Author Solutions companies.

I have sympathy for those hoodwinked by awful companies like Author Solutions. The dividing lines aren’t as obvious as they were. And inexperienced writers naively assume that a company like Penguin has their best interests at heart. Maybe it’s the cuddly logo.

Newsflash: Penguin doesn’t care about writers

When Penguin bought the world’s biggest vanity press for $116m last July, many people in the publishing business gave them a pass. They claimed that Penguin would clean up the cesspool. But instead Author Solutions CEO Kevin Weiss was given a seat on the Penguin board.

A seat on the board!

Emily Suess wrote an excellent guest post here back in February, detailing how the slick Author Solutions scam hadn’t changed one bit since the Penguin takeover.

It’s now almost a year since Penguin bought the company (instead of buying, say, Goodreads, but I digress). It should be clear to everyone now that Penguin has no intention of changing Author Solutions’ scammy approach. In fact, Penguin just announced plans to take the scam global.

Penguin has been looking under the Author Solutions hood for 10 months now. Its conclusion was this: we can make this bigger. We can take this scam on the road and start exploiting writers all over the planet.

And Penguin is still getting a pass for this crap.

The Penguin Omerta

The Publishers Weekly piece on Penguin’s aggressive expansion plans for Author Solutions makes no mention of the company being a universally reviled vanity press that has cheated 150,000 writers out of their savings.

This is something I’ve been noticing for a while, and Publishers Weekly isn’t alone. The pieces in The Bookseller, GalleyCat, and Digital Book World also make no mention of the widespread criticism that Author Solutions has attracted, nor do they mention that the company is currently the subject of a class action suit for their deceptive practices.

More disturbingly, my comment pointing this out appears to have been scrubbed from The Bookseller, is stuck in the moderation queue on Digital Book World’s piece (despite explicitly stating that they had posted it).

The reaction at the London Book Fair was similar. No-one from traditional publishing wanted to talk about Penguin’s ownership of Author Solutions. No-one wants to talk about how a supposedly legitimate publisher now owns the most successful author scamming organization on the planet.

These guys are probably taking their cue from the New York Times, who won’t mention anything remotely critical about Author Solutions, but are happy to spend lots of time showing them in a positive light (like here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Writer Beware

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has done sterling work over the years warning writers away from people like Author Solutions both on their own site, and through their industry watchdog Writer Beware.

However, I would love to see them go one step further.

Remember those awful Random House digital-first imprints? Public pressure forced Random House to change the horribly one-sided terms it was offering writers. That result was achieved after Writer Beware blogged about it, SFWA president John Scalzi followed up, and SFWA itself threatened to de-list Random House as a qualifying market.

What Author Solutions is doing to writers is far, far worse.

Isn’t it time to do something about this? Isn’t it time to threaten to de-list Penguin as a qualifying market if they don’t clean up Author Solutions?

Hands Up If You Don’t Own A Vanity Press

There’s only one problem with this approach. Where do you stop? Because you would have to threaten to do the same with all these guys too:

1. Simon & Schuster hired Author Solutions to run their own scammy vanity press – Archway Publishing. If that wasn’t enough, they then offered a bounty to bloggers to lie about the company.

2. Harper Collins-owned Thomas Nelson have their own crappy vanity operation called West Bow Press – also “powered” by Author Solutions.

3. Harlequin, never afraid to turn down a penny, jumped in the game a few years ago. Author Solutions provided the white-label vanity operation for them.

4. Showing that it’s not just the larger publishers, Hay House contracted Author Solutions to set up Balboa Press – another scammy, crappy, overpriced vanity press.

If it was down to me, I would threaten to de-list all these guys until they cleaned house, but Penguin would be a good start, given they (a) it all comes back to Author Solutions, (b) Penguin owns Author Solutions, (c) Penguin has shown no interest in addressing concerns, and (d) Penguin is planning a massive expansion of the Author Solutions scam.

Writers Digest & Lulu

I’m sure Digital Book World’s reluctance to mention the problems with Author Solutions has nothing to do with the fact that they are owned by F+W Media, which also owns yet another crappy vanity press – Abbott Press (which has some of the worst prices out there).

In a refreshing change of pace, this crappy vanity press is not actually powered by Author Solutions. Abbott Press is a division of Writers Digest. Yes, that Writers Digest.

If that catches you by surprise, I’m sorry to say that Writers Digest went over to the dark side a few years back, and now spam their subscribers with crap like this.

I’m sure Author Solutions was disappointed to miss out on that deal but at least they can console themselves with the new partnership they struck with  Lulu last month to provide premium (i.e. overpriced and ineffective) marketing services to Lulu customers.

That’s right. Lulu made a deal with the devil.

How Can We Fight Back?

Penguin think they can continue to ride out the storm, ignoring the criticism and collecting their ill-gotten gains, but if we make enough noise, they will have to respond. That starts with sharing this post, or, even better, blogging about it yourself.

But it also means reaching out to inexperienced writers and trying to steer them away from these crooks. We need to get the message out that self-publishing is not the impossible task it’s painted as. Sarah Woodbury has a helpful post on the basics here, and I have another here. Feel free to point newbies to them, or write your own.

Each time you see an article talking about Author Solutions and not mentioning all the issues, comment underneath and call them on it. Even if the media don’t change their one-eyed approach, readers will see the comments.

If you’re a member of a writers organization like SFWA, RWA, or MWA, ask what they are doing about Penguin. Ask them why they haven’t threatened to de-list Penguin. And keep pressing them! The SFWA (and the RWA) were really strong in response to Random House. We need the same from them again.

150,000 writers have been screwed over already. I think that’s enough. Don’t you?

CORRECTION: Abbott Press (the Writers Digest vanity press) shares the same address as Author Solutions so I think it’s safe to assume it’s being run by them. The packages are all quite similar, as is the marketing. Indeed, Emily Suess names Abbott Press as being powered by Author Solutions (scroll down to bottom). More profit for Penguin! Hooray!

UPDATE (Weds May 8): The editor of The Bookseller has made a wishy washy defence of his reasons for deleting my comment criticizing them for their whitewash of Penguin and Author Solutions (here, scroll down). You can see my response below that.

* * *

For all those who have been patiently waiting, Let’s Get Visible will drop some time next week – just waiting on the proofed version.

My mailing list peeps will hear about it first – a day or two before I get to blog about it. Sign up here to get an automatic email when it’s released.

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.

308 Replies to “The Author Exploitation Business”

  1. Another Vanity Publishers are UK-based Austin Macauley. I emailed them a copy of my manuscript, which is a children’s book, and they replied saying that after the board of editors had reviewed it they would get back to me in six weeks to tell me which route they were going to take as to getting my book published, however it only took three weeks for A M to email me, instead of the six as they had originally said, where they gave my book very positive feedback, but the real reason for their speedy response was because they wanted a fee and emailed me a 14-page contact, plus sent a hard copy of the contract in the post, outlining the terms, should I, the writer be expected to pay for publication of my book, and they were: £1900 for paperback and e-book, £2900 for hardback and e-book, £4400 for hardback, e-book and audio-book. Needless to say I will not be going ahead with this. Also they are not listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, as I can only assume legitimate Agents/Publishers are listed there.

  2. Reblogged this on A.R. Rivera and commented:
    This is an excellent blog post!
    Are you a first time writer thinking about using a vanity press?
    Read this first…

    1. IP address from The Philippines? I’m guessing this Author Solutions staffer needs to get back to work. Don’t you have a Hollywood Pitch Package to sell to some newbie for 10 grand? Get to it.

    2. Should be “anonymous” being so rude (and without any reason). Get out. Or must be paid by the mafia scammers from AS. Then for sure, get out.

  3. Re You May update The Bookseller appears at this point to have deleted and closed all discussion on their puff piece on the scammer and scam company Author Solutions

  4. Another issue to be aware of is that this spread of vanity press greed is causing other scammers to take notice and jump into the fray. I recently had the good fortune of dissolving a publishing contract between myself and Pegasus Books ( after they claimed to be a traditional publisher and then set about charging me for every step of the process and then insisting I buy a certain number of books before I could go to print. None of this was ever disclosed on their website or within their publishing contract, of course.

    I wrote a detailed report of the scam here:

    Please help spread the word!

    1. With all these blatant scams is there no legal remedy to the authors. After all, the AuthorHouse, Lulu or Pegasus are big names in publishing industry. They rob authors of their legal rights and there seems to be no law that forbids them

  5. I have published 6 books on with Lulu. All I can tell you is my work seems to be selling yet I never see any profits. And some of my story ideas, as in exact words and concepts turned up in a couple movies, one on ABCFamily, the other on Lifetime. I believe Lulu may use spy tools through the government. May sound crazy but I wouldn’t put it pass them.

  6. AuthorHouse is a real scam. I self-published a book with them paying them for editing, publishing, marketing and even advertising. The book is now a bestseller on amazon but sales report at AuthorHouse says only a single copy was sold over the past five months? So, I don’t get any Royalty. Is there any way to sue them?

  7. Much thanks for confirming my suspicions about Xlibris specifically. I got a call from one of their reps out of the clear blue sky the other day who immediately started pushing me to buy their Platinum package at $15,000 without even telling me what was it was or what it included. When I realized they HAD in fact said fifteen THOUSAND dollars, I got them off their sales pitch by asking for actual (gasp!) information, gave the ensuing email a read-through, and then searched the internet for a review, which led me here. Thanks again!

  8. So in other words I should not even bother trying to find an “honest” publisher? All I read here were negatives seemingly about every publishing company in the f—–g world!

  9. This newbie just stepped back from the Xlibris abyss and will walk in the opposite direction towards an unknown destination that may include not publishing AT ALL (because it is all too damn hard)….. In which case, my Grandfather’s life and times, including his Boer War and WW1 experiences (so well documentated through letters, photographs, diaries, and his “animadversions”) will remain hidden from view, and my 14 or so lever-arch folders of primary documents will be tossed out by my next of kin when I die. Along with my musical compositions of the past 28 years. Ah well ….. Ed K

      1. David, thank you. I have bookmarked this site and downloaded your pdf (238 pages) and will read it with concentration and gratitude and I hope to apply it to my particular circumstances. You have cheered me up immensely already and added years to my literary life …. Thank you for sharing your wisdom so generously!!!! Edward Kermode

  10. While you mention the companies to stay away from, you never talk about the legitimate ones. For those of us who do not have a working knowlege of the business and want the help of a self publishing company that has reasonable pricing, can you please give the name or names of legitimate companies? I know that Create Space and Amazon offer free services but once you opt for added services, their prices exceed that of the for mentioned companies? Thank you in advance for any advice you are willing to share.

    1. Hey,

      I’ll do my best to answer, but… it’s complicated. However, definitely avoid the paid services offered by Createspace – I think they are poor value.

      I have a post here which covers the basics of self-publishing – – it’s short, but will give you an idea of what you need to do.

      As you will see from that post, there are four main steps involved: Cover, Editing, Formatting, and Uploading.

      Most self-publishers outsource the cover design and editing (using freelancers), and then either learn the formatting themselves or pay a small fee to a formatting service.

      The uploading part is critical, and you don’t want a third-party doing that for you. You *need* to retain control of your account – it’s crucial for innumerable reasons, some of which I touched on in that post.

      In other words, I don’t recommend using *any* all-in-one service. Even if the price is good (rare) and the quality of cover design and editing is as good as you could get from a freelancer (unlikely), you will be putting yourself at a severe disadvantage. If you don’t have control over your account, you won’t directly control your book listing.

      This will prevent you from changing price as quick as you will need to (no third party service will allow this, despite their claims), indeed you might lose control of pricing altogether. You won’t be able to put your book in the correct categories, and may also be hampered in important areas like choosing the right keywords for your book.

      The idea of paying a little extra is seductive, having someone else take care of all the trivial details. But it usually ends up causing more time and stress than doing it yourself – and the results are often questionable.

      If you still want a trustworthy provider after considering all of that, I’ll dig out a recommendation for you, but I strongly urge you to consider handling it yourself.


  11. Hi, Found you through twitter and just reblogged this. I have heard a few authors talking about going with Penguin’s self-publishing service, so thought I would try to warn them. Thanks for the info. Luckily, I have not had experience with any of the services/publishers you mention. I have to say, though, that Abbot Press was a surprise to me. Seems like Writers Digest has gone to the dark side!

  12. I so tired of everyone offering to edit, review or give advice on publishing. Meanwhile, that is all they offer.

  13. Very interesting article. I’m writing a book about networking and just now begin my research on how to self publish. Now I know several publishers to avoid. Thanks much!

  14. David has a great article and insight on the Vanity publishers..

    Here’s what is missing.Look around your homes for vanity purchases, including just about everything from the iPhone to your car. Vanity is everywhere in purchasing. Any class action may or not succeed but it will not put an end to Authorsolutions. Class actions rarely put down a revolution they simply suppress an aspect of it for a while.

    The invention scam business is alive and as well as it ever was 30 years ago despite multiple losses in class actions. Same with fashion model scams and any myriad of others in business all aimed at vanity and the indestructible passion the world has for self delusion. It will never end.

    Vanity Publishing already has the words DONT DO THIS YOU ARE NUTS written all over the tin yet thousands drop for the film flam pitch each month. The madness of crowds..

    The world is full to vomiting point with tricksters like the Authorsolutions scam. Class actions will be stuffed to the gills with another scourge on society…the corporate lawyers who will ensure that despite some wrist slapping and a possible whopping fine the bottom feeding pond life of the vanity press will continue relatively unabated. Nobody will ever write the last chapter on vanity businesses. They were here 200 years ago and will be saddling up for business in another 200.

  15. I have to admit that a lot of self-publishing sites are appealing to self-publishers but people often don’t realize that those sites still have to make money too. Hence that’s why they often have overpriced packages whether it be for marketing, editing, or for the cover design of the book; things you can do yourself (at least most of it if you’re good). However I don’t agree with them being ‘evil’ especially since some provide cheap packages or even the option to self-publish for free, granted you have more things you are in charge of taking care of.

    1. Thanks David for your continued wisdoms and sharing with those of us who tread these waters. I am so enjoying and learning lots from your Let’s Get Visible book after having read ‘Digital’ 🙂

    2. Yes, they have to make money. But the way some (like the huge Author Solutions group) deceive first-time authors (like myself) is not good business practice. David has exposed their tactics in detail. I have now read both of David’s books and I learned a lot. It would be nice anyway to have some reliable self-publishing companies that provide honest and needed services; not everybody has the time and capabilities to do all the jobs to be a successful author. Right now, I haven’t really found any.

  16. Thanks to Penguin taking it global my elderly relative in New Zealand was scammed by Xlibris for nearly $4000 and would have been for more if I hadn’t stopped the nonsense. Thanks Pearsons.

    1. Hi Sebastian. The email attached to your comment doesn’t appear to be working. If you would like to share further details about this, please contact me at david dot gaughran at gmail dot com

  17. Class action suit link does not work: “This is something I’ve been noticing for a while, and Publishers Weekly isn’t alone. The pieces in The Bookseller, GalleyCat, and Digital Book World also make no mention of the widespread criticism that Author Solutions has attracted, nor do they mention that the company is currently the subject of a class action suit for their deceptive practices.”

  18. I tried the link “class action suit”: “This is something I’ve been noticing for a while, and Publishers Weekly isn’t alone. The pieces in The Bookseller, GalleyCat, and Digital Book World also make no mention of the widespread criticism that Author Solutions has attracted, nor do they mention that the company is currently the subject of a class action suit for their deceptive practices.”, but it does not work. I wanted to read about the class action suit and see in how far anybody can still join.

      1. Thanks. Somehow something went wrong when I posted this, it said “you already posted” and it seemed deleted. So, I used another login… Result: double entry. Sorry about that. BTW I found the law firm form and filled it out for the class action, now waiting to see if I hear from them.

      2. Dear David Happy to say I just bought your two e-books a few days ago (finally!). Now need time to read them! I registered at the law firm, did send them another message to ask if I could join the class action suit but nothing received as feedback. So I wonder what they are doing, especially because the form is still there to fill out. I don’t know if other “victims” have been able to get involved in that suit, except the 3 persons said to have started it. Would be interesting to investigate? I just went through the dozens of comments on your blog. Great reading… kind regards Gilbert ____________________________________________________ Tel: (86) 10-6553 2151 Fax: 10-6553 2148 Mobile: (86) 13601392009 – DL: 65530858 Skype: newgalileo Twitter: @bjprc Beijing Global Strategy Consulting Co., Ltd. The business blog: Beijing life:

  19. Reblogged this on Savvy Writers & e-Books online and commented:
    Penguin and Author Solutions
    We wrote in dozens of blog posts about the difference between publishers, self-publishing service companies and Vanity Publishing, recently in an article “99% of All Manuscripts Will Be Accepted…

    A Must-Read for every author is David Gaughran’s article about Author Solutions, where he explains:
    “Traditional publishing doesn’t talk about Penguin’s 116m purchase and ownership of Author Solutions. No-one wants to talk about how a supposedly legitimate publisher now owns the most successful author scamming organization on the planet, that has cheated 150,000 writers out of their savings.”

    Unfortunately Author Solutions / Penguin owns also XLibris, Balboa, Trafford, iUniverse… ,collaborates with Lulu, and spam the internet with

    The good news: Three authors filed a class action complaint against Author Solutions Inc. and Penguin Group USA in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Allegations include breach of contract, unjust enrichment, various violations of the California Business and Professional Code, and violation of New York General Business Law and request release of publishing rights for the class, and payment by the plaintiffs of restitution, court costs, and compensatory damages in excess of $5 million.

    Read David Gaughran’s extensive article and re-blog it, to warn as many writers as possible, so that they do not fall into their traps.

  20. I thought your post about ‘lazy agents and Argo Navis’ was excellent. This one on Author Solutions and Penguin exploiting authors is a great companion piece. I’ll blog them both. As one who researched diligently because I had no one to ask, I am disheartened when I see friends exploited by these companies. It’s a done deal by the time I learn about it. I don’t want to come off as telling them they were a fool. I regret that Lulu (first, as far as I know, actual affordable DIY self-publishing company) has changed so much since I did the first edition of my memoir with no cost except any books I bought (2004) with them. By the time I had learned enough to want to do the second improved edition they had begun to change and help was less available.
    Yes, there are reputable indie publishers out there and authors who don’t want to be fleeced can find them. I believe you are doing a real service by keeping on sounding off about scum like Author Solutions and Penguin’s collaboration. Because THEY will find and dupe unwitting authors.

  21. Thank you for this. It certainly started a debate. Since e-books and the likes came on the scene, publishing your novel has grown more complicated.

    My first novel was published by Austin & Macauley Publishers. Yes, it cost me a bucket of money, but it was my baby and just to see my hard work in print was magical.

    I remember sending my first three chapters to a total of 15 publishers before they said yes!
    I like to think that in the future I won’t be so naive.

  22. Someone made a good point, on one of the posts you pointed us to, about so many publishers climbing on the Author Solutions bandwagon. They’re shooting off their own foot and more complaints will rise and more heads will turn, with annoyance in their eyes, at these publishers with dinosauric processes.

    Long live trad publishers. They’ll get what they don’t pay for.

    What about Amazon though? I’m still finding too many horror stories from users on that website. Things I’ve never even IMAGINED. Things that water down the marketing process on that website.

    Not to say it doesn’t happen everywhere else. Can you suggest a few places where people are logging all this craziness? I am spending a lot of time reading this stuff. It might just be my karma; I do not know.

    I still worry about them. Any way you can calm me down about these people? A dollar a book? 7/11 has a similar process. They pay the rent with Slurpie income.

    I’m supposed to be a Slurpie?



  23. I’m firmly of the self-publishing fraternity after years with traditional publishers. I now have control and am much, much, better off. Thank you for this post, David. I’ve shared it on my blog, tweeted/fb’d it, linkedin,stumbledupon, pinned it, google+’d it and asked people to share. We all need to keep our wits about us in this increasingly cut-throat and exploitative business. Well done for making us better informed.

  24. If I knew a year ago what I know now… So I am connected somehow to the publishing business in Romania, this small European country with a chaotic publishing market to say the least. And more than a year ago, a brilliant Romanian writer, young but optimistic, finished a fantasy novel written exclusively in English. Asked me to publish it in the US, as here he wouldn’t have a chance. So not knowing anything about publishing in the US, I queried-around for a while from this other side of the world. In my journey I met vanity press that almost killed me, the writer and the project, very very serious self-proclaimed publishers who asked obscene sums of money to publish the book and small presses, independent ones, who seemed to be ok. The said author and novel received three contracts. We chose the one that sounded better. And I believe we made a mistake. They still seem legit. Yet, no marketing strategy, no savvy promotions, no nothing. It’s just like we are a self-published author with some distribution going on. Being here, wanting to break through in the business, having an author already acknowledged by his (yet very very small audience) as being brilliant and having the potential of becoming a classic, I tend to dream big. I tend to wish for a large house, a big-6 one to show up and say “I want you guys on board, we’ll make it big!”. I dream of taking my writer to a huge house and to the Oscars. And then you read articles like this one, you talk to other publishers, other agents, other writers and feel you ended up in a jungle with no flashlight and no guide. It’s heart braking and makes one just wanting to quit… So if it’s hard for you guys out there, imagine how hard it’s for us, thousands of miles away, not having any support and fighting a battle we can’t win with just some books and some talent…

    I’m gonna share this article. In spite the sorrow it brought me, people just have to know.

    1. I can feel with you. Been in Romania for business myself. Now, if you are far away, think about people like me sitting in Beijing… also feeling at the end of the world… and making mistakes…

  25. Thank you for this article. I am seeking to be published. I sought out West Bow because of their connection with Thomas Nelson. After reading your article, I am so thankful I did not pursue anything through them.

  26. It’s worth mentioning also, I think that the percentage of Create Space’s take on titles published through them FAR exceeds the royalties one might expect from a reputable independent publisher. In researching such costs for a POD client the other day, (yes, folks even we publishers must constantly do our homework) in order to offer our authors the best possible array of options,) I was honestly shocked and with 30 years in this industry, I’m not easy to shock.

  27. Very interesting. I published my first book ‘Of Land, Sea And Sky’ with Trafford, some years back when it was an independent company in Canada. It’s always been my view that if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing right so I took their ‘best seller’ package, read most expensive.

    At the time Createspace wasn’t available. My next two books, How To Anchor Safely and Hill’s Heroes were published on Createspace. My partner believes there’s some value to still having Of Land, Sea And Sky on the Trafford site. It’s already there and apparently Google views it as an authority site. On this basis I have very discreet links on my websites which I hope no one will find except the Google spider which rates them!

    However I’ve also added extra work to the original Of Land, Sea And Sky and published it again with Second Extended Edition appended to the title and undercut my own Trafford edition by a few cents. I recently received a royalty check (cheque in English English!) from Trafford for a single penny as someone unfortunately bought a copy of the old edition. Shows how much they pass on but i felt better when I realized the postage cost them over a pound!

    I frequently receive phone calls from Trafford trying to sell me enhanced distribution, reviews, even film scripts. Naturally I always decline. It’s transparent that their business model is to exploit writers. I wouldn’t entirely make that accusation of the original incarnation of the company, but it seems pretty apparent that this is the case now. I have received calls from many different reps (consultants) over the last two years which suggests a high staff turnover. Reading between the lines I wonder if they’re taking people on with huge promises of commission and little in the way of salary, then giving them a list of published authors to try and squeeze more money out of. Given we’ve wised up the poor who thinks he or she has landed a good job is on a hiding to nothing.

    Actually it’s all rather sad.
    Malcolm Snook

  28. I’m late to the party as well. I signed with WinePress, and I am pleased with their work. Yes, it is POD, but, they did the cover, editing, and will help my with publicizing the book. It’s not as if they took the money, published what I wrote, shipped it to me and left me to my own devices.
    I agree. Read the contract carefully. If you have a friend who is an attorney go over it. If you are at all uncomfortable don’t do it. Don’t let the desire to have your baby published over rule your commen sense. I even looked the company up on the BBB. Be smart.

  29. Excellent post! I like Mark Coker’s advice: find out where they make their money. Coker’s Smashwords platform make money by selling books, either on their own site or via iBooks, Nook, Sony, etc. they take a cut, but it’s still a good deal for the writer. Companies like Author Solutions make a lot more money selling service to authors than the authors make selling books. It’s particularly galling that these kinds of scam companies want the writer to assume all the financial risk but insist he share the rewards when he does find success.

  30. Great article — I’ve provided a link to it in the course I teach on self-publishing your own e-books. I agree with Heidi’s comment that it isn’t just the publishers who are taking advantage of authors, as so many indie publishers are drawn in by marketers after they do publish themselves. The more information we can make available to writers, the faster we can help eliminate the scams.

    1. Amen Aksomitis! It is just sad that people would take advantage of others dreams in so many ways!

  31. First, let me say that my heart goes out to all of you that have suffered at the hands of the aforementioned vanity presses. I knew their prices were high and they did a lot of upselling, but I thought that at least an author would get a decent product and whatever else they paid for. This blog by David (and replies by all of you) has opened my eyes to reality. I’m a book designer and I used to work as a creative director for a good-sized publisher. I now do work for self-published authors and small presses using what I learned to turn their manuscripts into finished books, ready for bookshelves or Nooks or Kindles or whatever. Please understand that I’m not writing to promote my services in any way. Right now, Like Kristen King, I’m helping a legally blind WWII vet get his poetry into book form, with the only charge being for the number of finished books he wants printed. For any author, although I offer suggestions, I never claim to be a marketing expert–that part is up to them. I do promise a product finished to their satisfaction. In one case i worked up 16 cover designs before arriving at one that the author liked. When you’re providing a service to someone who has put his or her heart and soul (and sometimes years of their lives) into something, I couldn’t do anything but my best to help them see their dream realized. I’m also a writer with a bi-weekly newspaper humor column and a dozen or so short stories sold, so I have a great sympathy for, and interest in, other writers and authors.

  32. Thank you for this information. Just two days ago, I decided to forego paying some mega bucks to the “vanity presses” and launched “Mariah Communications” to publish my memoir, From Tears to Triumph, My Journey to the House of Hope. I will re-blog this on:

  33. Sadly, vanity publishers aren’t the only ones trying to make a buck off authors. Marketing “experts”, “advertising space” on websites, and even paid reviews. My philosophy is that if someone cannot give you quantitative data on their services (such as how many cpls, what sort of exposure you can expect,or how many views their pages get…) then they aren’t worth paying. As for paid reviews, that is patently ridiculous!! A reviewer should write their reviews for their audience and if they are good at reviews, then there are better ways to get paid than charging the author. I use Amazon associates and make decent money from people buying a book based on my reviews.

  34. An excellent post, David Gaughran. I think an interesting follow-up would concern the publishers, somewhat normative in poetry but a gray area in prose publishing, that charge authors for some or all provided services but whose charges match those of standard book packagers and/or those one would pay, working indpendently, separately for a good book designer, printer, etc. Such publishers unfortunately tend to pay royalties, however fine those may sound to new authors, on net rather than gross sales income, and have a tendency to slide out of business and leave authors stranded. Generally, these are small companies and many are dedicated but simply undercapitalized, but some turn out to be, or turn into, scammers; how do writers tell which are which, and how does one warn of the bad apples in this realm yet recognize their difference from the Authorhouse variety?

    1. One thing to keep in mind regarding so called “hybrid” independent publishers is that ALL publishers pay net royalties, simply as a protection against the return policies established by booksellers.Otherwise, the publisher is left holding the bag for unsold or returned copies. Too, amazon and others keep changing the rules for electronic and print titles. They used to pay every month, now, they pay 90 days out. and if they have another bad quarter, it may take longer than that. We’ve had to alter the terms of our original contract accordingly. Finally, it’s crucial for every independent author to recognize the trend in tightening distribution for self published titles. amazon, for example will not list any print title that is not distributed through either Ingram or Baker and Taylor, and though Create Space (amazon’s subsidiary) distributes through those channels, they will not produce a hardcover. They have also put titles out worldwide, thereby removing an author’s chance to sell rights in those territories. So the idea that amazon and others are not trying to control the huge rise in self publishing authors’ profits or paying them on “gross” sales is completely ludicrous They have their hand in your pocket, whether you publish with them for “free” or not. When dealing with small independent publishers, it’s therefore crucial for authors to research the personnel on staff thoroughly. Most of the time, an author needing services chooses cheap (amateur) over professional, when the whole advantage of having a publisher at all is finding someone who actually knows what their way around the business and will advocate for their rights. .

      1. Excellent points, Teresa. Having worked with designers and as an editor, I was able, when considering a hybrid small press, to compare its charges with those of independent and excellent designers, etc. should I hire these separately. Thus I could compare charges and tell that the press in question was genuinely dedicated and not a ripoff (though of course such conclusions always wait on seeing the royalties in hand, in dealing with any press that does not pay an advance). It is important that authors query a few design and editing professionals and do cost comparisons, and as you note, check on distributions issues such as access to Ingram or Baker and Taylor, yes.

  35. I’m late to the party, and so I could make a career out of reading all the comments here. But kudos on your post, David. I just wish there was some way we could get the word out to every wannabe author not to do business with these scam artists. Almost always, people get burned before they figure it out.

    Coincidentally, Rich Meyer wrote a post this week on vanity press predators for Indies Unlimited. Maybe if we all yell loud enough, even new authors will start to pay attention.

  36. Reblogged this on Kristin King Author and commented:
    Big publishers owning vanity presses turn to make money off writers rather than books. This article by David Gaughran is eye opening as it focuses mainly on Penguin/Author Solutions scamming while getting great press from Publisher’s Weekly, NYTimes, The Bookseller, GalleyCat and Digital Book World where every one of these trusted sites fail to mention the class action suit against Author Solutions. Gaughran notes that Penguin isn’t alone in bilking hopeful writers: Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Harlequin have jumped on the band wagon. Other vanity press divisions indicted include West Bow Press, Balboa Press and Abbot Press with is actually a division of Writers Digest. Lulu which has long been an outlet for indie authors has also made a deal with Author Solutions for “premium” services. Writer Beware! Trafford, AuthorHouse, Xlibris and iUniverse are all owned by Author Solutions.

    Recently I helped a fellow author disentangle herself from Xlibris, so this all hits home for me. Providentially, this author began work with this arm of Author Solutions when their terms still included a no risk policy whereby she has applied for a refund.

    Born in the same year as Anne Frank, this particular author is an 84 year old Iron Curtain survivor who is sitting on her personal memoir which is an absolute historical treasure. Who is her publisher now? I am. Do I charge her for converting typed pages to digital files? No. Is it painstaking work? Yes. So why am I doing for free what Xlibris charges another $2.50 per page to do? (337 page manuscript, BTW). I believe in the value of the work, the need for this story to be told. I also think this work will be a financial success given time, so I will do what traditional publishers used to do. At no cost to the author, I will apply my indie publishing expertise to the project and wait for my payment in terms of royalties.

    I’ve gotten off track with my personal example, but I do highly recommend writers and readers check out David Gaughran’s article, The Author Exploitation Business.

    Do you know someone who has been taken by a vanity press? Any vanity press success stories? Comments welcome.

    1. Doing a quick read of The Bookseller “article,” it appears that they’ve just cut-and-pasted the Penguin/ASI press release verbatim (or nearly so).

  37. Thank you, David. As a new writer, I was tempted, but held out and went to the independent publishers instead. I have nine books now with three publishers and am proud of and thrilled with all: Astraea Press, Musa Publishing, and Secret Cravings Publishing. I have also self-pubbed three times. I put this on my facebook page, Googled it, will tweet, pin, and link it, and have reblogged this on and added by personal credo: Write, publish, and be informed!

  38. David, I would like to ask permission to quote from this article in a forthcoming book of quotations (1,001 Tips for Writers). However, this should be done privately. Could you e-mail me your e-mail address at Thanks. Great article, by the way. And you are right. The Times’ publishing correspondents do not seem to understand the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing. The paper makes the same mistake over and over again.

  39. Thanks David! Very interesting article. I went directly to self publishing, so I have no awareness of how traditional publishers and the vanity press work. After reading this blog, I consider myself lucky. My foremost advice to any writer is to self-publish as soon as possible and then improve your writing via direct reader feedback. W4$

  40. As an independent publisher who has more than 30 years in this business, both with traditional houses and independents, I have to say that many aspiring authors and self-published authors particularly, tend to tar all publishers with the same brush. But wanting to make money, and seeing opportunities to make money in a thriving industry is not a scam per se. Penguin is simply operating on the much touted “abundance model” that traditional publishers have always used. Sign enough books, throw them out there and depending on how hard the author works for his or her own success, you might squeeze out a bestseller or two.
    Some of us, my own company included, operate on a different model. We offer services that are desperately needed, editorial, design, publicity, how to write a query, how to use social media, etc.I don’t sign up anything that I don’t feel can compete in a very crowded market for my imprint and I do charge for my editorial and other services;I give solid and honest advice to those who want to self publish, those who want to go tradish, and those who don’t have the faintest idea what they want or need, save to get their books out there. Unlike those publishers who see prospective authors as little more than cannon fodder, I evaluate EVERY book on an individual basis.And I’m not doing that to exploit anyone. I do that because nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see good books get published.

    1. Hello Teresa, I read your comment(s) with great interest. As a new published author “Sailing against the Current” published by Trafford, and now available on Amazon, I’m starting to come to grips with all the issues. Thank you for your very useful perpective.

      1. Thanks Albert! When everyone these days is jumping on the “bash the corporation wagon” (and believe me I have NO love for the big houses and how they do business) it nevertheless remains in every author’s best interests to seek the help of qualified professionals when they need it. Realistically, the chances of success going it alone are very slim.

  41. Thanks for being you David. Your posts are always such great and informative reads. Makes me all the more unsure about my own direction, but I still have time on my hands to figure it all out and I am super glad there are people out there in the world like you, who offer such helpful and sage advice. x

  42. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I’ll share it on my FB page, personal timeline, and LinkedIn. Dare I hope the tide if finally turning against these predatory companies, no matter who owns them?

  43. I was scammed by Author Solutions back in the early days. I totally agree that it is unacceptable that all the trad publishers are using them to offer some kind of self-publish option. They don’t sell books. They sell more and more and more “services” to the authors. Ugh.

    Personally, I don’t think the only option (as some of the commentors have said) is a press with an advance and a print run. I started a small publishing company for an under-served niche and I certainly don’t think I’m a scam! At this point I offer small advances but there is no print run. I discuss that very openly with authors ahead of time. It’s ebooks and POD. The contract makes it very easy for them to take back their rights if they change their mind. I think what sets something like that apart from a scam is that I never take money from authors. I make money selling books not author services.

    Mercy’s definitions make sense to me. New authors should definitely be looking at where the money goes when deciding what route to take.

  44. I think a lot of new authors get confused because we don’t have good, clear terminologies in publishing anymore. All these vanity presses talk about “helping the author self-publish.” Well, in that case, it can’t be a scam, right? /sarcasm

    I’d really like to see people consistenly using terms based on where the money goes:
    traditionally published: Author pays nothing to publisher. Sales income flows mainly to the publisher.
    self-published: Author pays individual contractors as needed. Sales income flows mainly to author.
    vanity press: Author pays publisher to publish book. Sales income flows mainly to the publisher.

    That way, regardless of what size of publisher, we know what we’re talking about. If the money comes to me, it’s self published. (If you split checks on a traditionally published book, the bulk of the money still goes to the publisher.) If the money goes to the publisher, it’s either traditionally published (if I did not pay the publisher anything) or vanity press (if I had to pay the publisher).

  45. Author Solutions is getting a new CEO. Whether that will make any difference in the way they do business remains to be seen. I don’t think it will. After all, Penguin bought ASI “as-is” to make money. Why would the ASI biz model be changed by Penguin and risk butchering the cash cow?. Here’s the press release URL:

  46. David I’d like to thank you for taking us Indie authors and newbies such as myself, under your wing. When I first began writing my book and realized that a writer is not just a writer without wearing many hats if they want to strive for success, I was astounded at what is actually involved besides the art in-it-self of writing to become a published author. It seems to me that there aren’t too many corners left in the world where anyone can escape greed and the preying on of innocent people. I am halfway through my first draft and spend more time doing research on following up on publications (such as yours), trying to stay current and informed and learning all about self-publishing, all of which take up more time than the actual writing of my book. I do all this so I can make informed decisions and learn the tools to make my book the best it can be. I believe that there are bad apples in every bunch and it is up to all of us to do our diligent best to protect ourselves, and the duty to pay it forward by spreading the news so that the uninformed writers who have yet to learn the tricks of the trade, may be spared the costly mistakes. I believe if writers and authors alike can all keep abreast on these issues as you do, perhaps we can all come up with better ways or even new associations where we can make the self-publishing process become easier for new authors to be able to tackle the technological challenges and fears and therefore not be led astray by the piranhas in the publishing world.

  47. Hello David, Thanks for your most informative overview (about Penguin etc.). Having recently published my new book titled “Sailing against the Current” with Trafford’s highly competent assistance, (at a very reasonable price), I have only good words to say about Trafford. I have learned much about the industry from what you have written, and this is a vital perspective for me. You can see my book on Amazon, just type “Albert Edelson” in the search box. I plan to continue publishing with Trafford – their have earned my fullest confidence.

    1. Hi Albert,

      I’m sorry that you fell into the clutches of Trafford, but I can’t let your recommendation stand.

      I have looked at your book on Amazon and it has many issues that are typical of Trafford’s sloppy approach. The cover isn’t great. The typography is impossible to read even at full size – let alone thumbnail. THe designer shows little knowledge of how to design a cover which looks good online, or one that is suitable for an e-book.

      The second problem is the pricing. Because of Trafford’s scammy pricing structure, you have to set the price of your paperback extremely high to generate any royalties at all. The paperback is showing at $19.75 to me, which, I’m sure, prices most readers out of the market. Your e-book is also overpriced at $9.99 – I presume you set the price that high to try and claw back some of the outrageous costs you paid to Trafford (which you neglected to mention).

      Your book is 129 pages long and you are charging $10 for the e-book and nearly double that for the paperback!

      I also note that you have around 100 chapters in a 129-page book – meaning that each chapter is just over a page long. A good editor would have advised a different structure. Even James Patterson and Dan Brown – famous for super-short chapters, stretch it out to three or four pages. This would become extremely tiresome to read (not talking about the subject matter, but the structure, some of these chapters are but a paragraph – this isn’t serving you well, and a good editor would have strongly recommended changes).

      Another problem is the formatting. Trafford have placed the (lengthy) table of contents at the start – which is a problem when you have 100 chapters, and a TOC several pages long. Your book is already short at 129 pages – meaning your sample on Amazon will be around 12 pages. Between the TOC, the title page, the copyright page, the cover, the dedication, and the prologue, a reader sampling your book gets little actual book to sample.

      I haven’t read the sample in detail (what little of it is there), but it looks like the editing could have been tighter. Another big issue is the metadata. You are only in one Kindle category – severely limiting your discoverability. This is basic stuff that Trafford can’t get right.

      What we have here is a great example of a poor job by Trafford that severely limits your ability to sell books. On top of being published badly by this company, you will have paid a hefty fee, then will pay again the second time in the form of a percentage of your royalties.

      Doubtless, you will be aggressively upsold so-called “marketing services” which aren’t worth a tenth of the price, and will do nothing for your book anyway.

      So no, I’m sorry, Trafford is not recommended. My advice to you would be to cut your losses, request a reversion of your rights, and publish the book yourself – properly.

      1. I think this comment by Albert Edelson is typical to the problem we’re dealing with = many hopeful writers just don’t realize that they’re being scammed by companies like Trafford. I wish they would read your columns before they turn to these scam publishers.

  48. Great overview, once again. Yes, we first-time authors are the suckers. I did quite some Google research before I “chose” AuthorHouse instead of Xlibris (you are allowed to snicker now). With so many channels leading to the same scammers, not easy to see the truth, especially not having known this blog yet.

  49. I love it when the truth gets told. Really good post David.
    As with writers, I think designers share similar experiences. Being scammed, disrespected etc. Without any of these professions, there would be no books. Alot of traditional publishers laughed at the idea of self-publishing. Now we have these very people trying to rob us of the very thing they insulted. I agree. Something should be done about it. I will spread this, and do my best to write on it too.
    Thanks David!

  50. Thank you for the information related to Readers Digest. I was wondering if the world had turned upside down on me.

    Decades ago I had several year’s worth of a subscription to the magazine – way before there was an internet. They were often informative, encouraging and always had books to sell – many of which I bought and still have.

    Then, one day my life turned a different direction and I dropped the subscription. Now I have time to return to this effort in earnest. I decided to first try their email subscription – and got about one half-hearted, half-informational email about once a month (it is a free newsletter, so I didn’t expect too much, but this was less than that), but also got daily (or several times a week) spiels to sell me something. After about 4 months, I unsubscribed. It just felt scammy to me.

    I can see now that my world view did not change so much as theirs had. It’s disappointing, but it also seems like the burgeoning of large old industries are disintegrating all around us. It is probably time for that.

    I think you are on the right path in encouraging all those that know to get the word out about these sorts of shenanigans. Paradigm shifts will most likely take a multiple-faceted approach to get the word out – not all emerging writers will know about subscribing to your’s and other’s websites who watch this unfold.

  51. Reblogged this on and my comment included a cute analogy: “A vanity scam is like a gigantic evil squid–once you’re caught by one of its many clawed tentacles, you’re going to have a hard time breaking free and it’s going to cost you. You’ll either lose everything or you’ll lose chunks of flesh while trying to escape. Honestly, we don’t need vanity publishers. There are way too many options open to us. But not many writers know this. What is also worrisome is that some of these vanity presses are owned by traditional publishers. That is the shocking part.”

  52. I just want to add a thought about the recession, starving writer’s and parents like myself. I wonder how many extremely desperate, wanting to be published author’s borrow the cash from – let’s face it – someone like – because they don’t have a steady income. It’s quite sad really, when you think of it like that

  53. Interesting and comprehensive survey of the vanity press market that takes your money and does nothing for you. But it is possible to self publish without getting ripped off. Printing a book is a task that almost anyone can figure out to do. Marketing is the tough part, but the vanity presses don’t do that anyway.

  54. Reblogged this on Illuminite Caliginosus and commented:
    A shocking, damning commentary on the state of affairs in publishing.

  55. Do we realize how much Hugh Howey being indie costs these traditional publishers? By Hugh skipping the slush pile and going directly to readers he makes $100k per month for a few years – digital dollars the Big 6 will NEVER recapture as Hugh will own those rights for eternity.

    It is in their vested interests to squash such opportunities.

    See they believe that the next Talented Mr. Howey will come from the Author Solutions ranks – but the types of authors that buy into that scam are the polar opposites of a Hugh Howey, or a JA Konrath, or a Barry Eisler, etc.

  56. I had no idea this was happening. Thanks for spreading the word. It’s sad that traditional publishers are sneering and mocking digital self-publishing while promoting a crappier version of the same thing.

  57. Great post. Having spent 10 years in the music business I was already pretty adept and smelling a scam when I began writing. My basic rule is anything you have to pay for up front is not worth it. I’m not talking about advertising, of course you have to pay for certain types of advertising, but any kind of “We have awesome connections so pay us in advance and we’ll hook you up”.

    With print on demand services and the ability to self publish ebooks so easily to all the major platforms, aspiring authors should be saving their cash for proofing and cover design (if they can’t do it for free through friends), and of course advertising!

    Thanks for sharing, all the best 🙂


  58. Not to get too political; but what you see here is liberal media protecting it’s own. US media is state-run; with few exceptions (one?) it’s main purpose is to further its agenda. As 95% of the publishing world is liberal-leaning also; sites like yours David, are the only alternatives exposing the truth.

    Today’s politicians are of the ‘you didn’t build this’ mentality; all of us are so ill-equipped to lead our lives that we require governmental assistance and ‘protection’ to create a level playing field. Hogwash. Now you have legions of authors, mostly liberal, buying into the fact that they haven’t succeeded because giant publishing houses aren’t helping them – and presto, perfect storm for the Big 6 to exploit these emotions.

    The true Indie success stories did it 100% themselves, as entrepreneurs. They wanted to write and not promote? Tough, they LEARNED the promotion angle, and cover design, and social media, and uploading files to KDP, etc. They did indeed build it themselves, and they will be millionaires.

    Authors who fall for these scams are following the lead of our ruling class in looking for excuses as to why they aren’t rich and famous, instead of looking for opportunities of which to take advantage. And by all means, EVERYONE in the media has a vested interest in giving these saps what they are looking for – a convenient way to buy yourself into the industry, at a heavy, heavy price.

    As of now: I’d imagine the scorecard of indie successes who were involved with an Author Solutions type company shows zeros, while the hundreds of new writing stars did it themselves and that gap will only widen.

    The NYT is a fish wrap on its best days. Remember we live in a world where a Nobel Prize Winner has a documented Kill List. Where an entire political party against waterboarding is perfectly OK with dropping a bomb on your head via drone strike as you sip coffee at a cafe in Kabul.

    No author could make this stuff up.

    1. Seriously? You’re going to shoehorn this into your “evil liberal agenda” conspiracy-mongering?

      Two can play at this game. Author Solutions is the epitome of right-wing, soulless capitalism. So long as it can extract money and line its pockets, it’s irrelevant if they’re actually providing a service to its customers-slash-victims. Survival of the fittest, man. Those authors who feel cheated should have paid more attention, done more due diligence.

      Hell, Author Solutions is a friggin’ capitalism success story. They got no assistance from the government, beyond the copyright law which is the purview of the gub’mint, thus spake the Founding Fathers through the Holy Constitution. They won big by forging partnerships with tens of thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs, creating a revenue stream that eventually attracted investment capital from the biggest names in publishing. U S friggin’ A!

      Hell, no, your touted “indie success stories” did not do it “all on their own.” They did not “build it themselves.” They outsourced distribution to Amazon, editing and cover art to freelancers… exactly the sort of relationships and services that Author Solutions promised but didn’t provide in any meaningful sense. The only thing they may have done by themselves is the publicity, and they did so by taking advantage of platforms like Twitter, Blogspot, etc., that they didn’t “build themselves”, and that are themselves built atop a technology invented by a partnership between government and academia.

      Had these authors had the good sense or good fortune to go with someone who provided actual value, many of them would have done very well for themselves. Had there been basic transparency laws in place — the sort of “intrusive government regulation” you right-wingers decry — then many of their customer-victims would have seen the figures Author Services was putting up on the board (your $5000 investment in our author services will yield you 150 book sales) and run like hell.

      Government regulation creating a functioning free market? Nah, could never happen. Violates the first maxim of modern rightwingism: gub’mint bad, entrepreneurs good.

      More than half our politicians (thanks, Republican gerrymandering) are firm believers in the fantasy of “you TOTALLY built it yourself, and to hell with anyone who tries to lay claim on any of YOUR money which you earned BY YOURSELF YOU PRECIOUS LITTLE SNOWFLAKE!” It’s a line of reasoning that panders to our egos, would look ridiculous coming from a nine-year old, and I pity the fool who is narcissistic enough to swallow it. Every genuinely successful person is the winner of a huge cosmic lottery. Had Bill Gates been born in a remote village in sub-Saharan Africa, he would today be a subsistence farmer in sub-Saharan Africa. Probably a very clever one who is doing very well for himself, compared to the rest of the village, but a subsistence farmer nonetheless.

      I won the lotto when I was born with good genes: they made my life easier by granting me intelligence, generally good health, and — let’s be totally blunt, since we live in a racist, misogynistic society — my white maleness. All those things opened doors for me that will remain forever closed to others.

      I won again because my parents both came from a middle-class background, and had been instilled with notions about education and hard work.

      I won again when I found my interests bending toward computers rather than 17th-century French poetry. It’s a very lucky thing when one of your true passions in life happens to be highly marketable.

      I won a third time when I happened to sell a real estate property near the height of the housing bubble (pure dumb luck on my part), thus clearing my student loan debts and providing me with money to finance a meager living while I work my ass off to become a crazy-famous author. Without that money, I’d have a lot less “spare” time to invest in my improbable rise to greatness.

      I’m not hugely successful. Hell, I’m looking up the ladder at the middle class — and come on, middle class, wear underpants, cuz nobody wants to see what I’m seeing — but I’ve had opportunities and lucky breaks that most people would be jealous of, and even at my current impoverished state, I’d be happy to pay more in taxes if doing so gave more people the opportunity to succeed, and the opportunity to fail without courting disaster.

      1. You made my point exactly: the hypocrisy of a liberal-led machine like Big Publishing practicing evil capitalism a la Author Solutions. Everyone has equal access to the institutions you cite such as Amazon, Twitter, etc. Billionaires get on the web from their gold plated laptops, and the homeless get on the web from the public library.

        Some maximize those opportunities, others squander them. I believe that Author Solutions puts up yet another barrier to success for many, and that ain’t right. Anyone claiming to ‘help’ you in your quest to be an author, is first helping themselves at your expense.

        Write your books, submit to agents/publishers, collect rejections, learn from constructive criticisms and come back stronger. Repeat 500 times. No one needs Author Solutions in that formula.

    2. “US media is state-run; with few exceptions (one?) it’s main purpose is to further its agenda.”

      Gee, I wonder what the sole exception is. I’m sure it’s a bastion of agenda-free truth and objectivity, with the singular goal of protecting the interests of all Americans.

      Somehow, even with that paragraph as your starting point, your post still managed to go downhill. Bravo!

  59. I fell for the I-Universe pitch in 2001. Live and learn. Great article. I’ve put together a cost comparison between Author Solutions and Createspace for anyone who would be interested. It’s eye opening information for anyone considering publishing with either company. It can be seen here.

    It saddens me to see writers throwing away their money on these services.

  60. Reblogged this on Michael R. Hicks and commented:
    I’ve posted myself about this topic, but it can’t be repeated enough. If you’re an author (or aspire to be one), do NOT fall into the trap of paying one of these companies a boatload of money to publish your book! It’s a complete and utter rip-off.

  61. It’s crazy out there, and publishers get away with a lot they shouldn’t. Harlequin was able to get away with paying authors 3-4% royalties (vs the 50% they expected) for digital versions by what any reasonable person would call dishonest means:

    Considering the authors likely thought their contract protected their rights, it makes a writer re-think wanting to deal with a publisher at all – would even a seasoned writer know to include a clause stating the royalty should be 50% of the selling price even if it’s licensed to a third party publisher?

    P.S. Read some of the short stories you have on Amazon, left me impressed with your ability to create compelling, well-rounded characters.

    1. (Caveat: not a lawyer, and haven’t read the actual complaint or the judge’s reasons for dismissing it)

      From what I have read about this case, I thought they had a reasonable chance. I’m happy to hear the authors are appealing, because what Harlequin did was particularly underhanded. I’m not happy with the royalty rates that most large publishers are paying, but at least they are (more or less) upfront about it, and don’t try this kind of bait-and-switch. It’s a con, pure and simple.

      P.S. Thank you for your kind words about my shorts, so to speak. Looking back, I’m probably only fully happy with how Transfection turned out, but they were all fun to write. Need to get more out there. Soon!

      1. Even if the appeal doesn’t work (and if the contracts really say that Harlequin had every right to do what they did, I don’t think the appeal will win), it will hopefully raise awareness of other authors to be on the lookout for crap like this. Get yourself an IP lawyer, people, I don’t care how good your agent is. Contracts aren’t written in common English even if they look like they are.

  62. Penguin doen;t care about writers? NONE of them care about writers. If they did, they’d have scrapped the corrupt distribution busineses 10 years ago. It;s all one big scam, as you eloquently point out. EVen big houses who give contracts don’t promote their authors – – – EVERYBODY gets paid but the author – – – the arsehole PR people, the jerkoff “marketing” hacks – – – the sit home and get paid agents – – – all of them. Criminals. This is why our culture is in the toilet on a lot of levels.

  63. I decided to publish myself after having two agents and nearly being taken twice but knowing nothing I published an essay first with lulu and then createspace.
    From what I learned i decided to create our own publisher, which we have, and publish others who had been left behind in the great publishing buy-outs of the 1980s and new authors with something to say.
    You say it used to be easy to tell who the vanity and who the ‘good’ publishers were but that is still the case. if they ask for money, run away. We signed up with Lightning Source, our books have started to sell in 2s and 3s in the USA and UK and we are building up notice.
    If you truly love books, paperbacks might not enthuse you, but the system works and more and more excellent writers do not see self-marketing (which is what it ultimately comes down to) is a problem of anything but energy.

  64. Here’s the full list of Author Solutions companies (I might be missing one or two, there’s just so many): Author House, iUniverse, XLibris, Trafford, Palibrio, Publish in the USA, Abbott Press (Writers Digest), Balboa Press (Hay House), WestBow (Thomas Nelson/Harper Collins), Partridge (Penguin India), Archway (Simon & Schuster), Inspiring Voices (Guideposts Magazine), Legacy Keepers, FuseFrame (previously Author Solutions Films), Pitchfest (Authors pay to come pitch their stories for film adaptations), Author Learning Center (Online learning tool hoping you’ll forget to cancel your credit card after the free trial ends), WordClay (Abandoned ebook imprint), BookTango (New ebook imprint), AuthorHive

    1. Thanks for this last comment and your first post on Authorhouse. They’ve been calling me and again I was afraid to take the leap at publishing my book. I’m thinking seriously about Amazon for kindle.

  65. Reblogged this on Angela's Hub On WordPress and commented:
    (Sigh) I used to respect Penguin. That’s no longer possible. If you’re a new writer, and you’re writing a book, you need to read this. As David points out — you don’t need to spend money to publish your book. You can do it yourself. Seriously.

  66. A most excellent post. Years ago for reasons not important now, I had occasion to leave a paint bucket in a sand dune on the west coast of California (for which I was fined). In the morning, behind the sand bucket was a wind furrow 15 feet deep and beyond that a new dune over thirty feet high. The downstream effect of a small obstacle in a strong wind can be great, such as this article you posted. May the winds of change pile your dune high David, good job, and hopfully no fines for you.

  67. Excellent post! I find it odd that so many legacy publishers–the same ones who, mind you, a decade or so ago, preached against vanity publishing–are now, themselves, offering… vanity publishing.

    Stuck in their old and worn-out ways (in many regards), legacy publishers, if they aren’t going under, are struggling to deal with the self-publishing revolution’s impact on their bottom lines. Rather than change their centuries-old practices and processes (which is what got them into the shape they’re in now), they simply want to “cash in” on the new way of publishing as a secondary line of business, even if it means going back on their many years of preaching against vanity publishing. They haven’t changed their tune about vanity publishing, but they’ve “repackaged” it as “self-publishing” (the big lie) and seem to embrace it. The most maddening aspect of this deal is, to me, their insistence that it’s “self publishing” when it’s really not. Unfortunately, many (if not most) writers don’t know the difference between self and vanity publishing, and those are the writers these companies prey on.

    The big companies also muddy the water by selling so-called “self-publishing” services, yet bash and ridicule self-publishing and self-published authors every chance they get. “ALL self-published books–every single one of them, and down to the last page–are terrible, and not worth reading.” Sound familiar? That’s the huge fallacy (stereotyping) the legacy publishing industry constantly propagates though press releases, Tweets, Facebook posts, web articles, and other avenues, and which, of course, isn’t true. Yet those same companies SELL… “self-publishing” services?

    Author exploitation comes in many forms, though, and not just through vanity presses. Next to aspiring models and songwriters, authors are they most preyed-upon group in existence. Anyone can claim to be a literary agent, marketing expert, career coach, proofreader, editor, and the list goes on, and seek out authors who will pay their hard-earned money for such services. The self-publishing industry doesn’t yet have a common advocacy group or professional association, but I am currently working toward starting one. At present, most self-publishing authors are like tiny sailboats with no sails, in a sea of witch doctors, charmers, scammers, and large publishers who are intent on shooting them down or taking their money.

      1. There’s also the Alliance of Independent Authors which I’ve been hearing great things about. They had a hand in organizing the more author-focused (and self-publishing friendly) aspects of the London Book Fair this year. I met some of the people behind it, and they are a great crew (UK-based self-publishers like Orna Ross and Ben Galley). They also have some top people on their advisory board like Joanna Penn, Mark Coker, and Victoria Strauss. I *think* most members are UK based right now, but they have plenty of international members and plan a big international expansion this year. Website is here:

  68. A.S. is a heavy advertiser everywhere writers look. Industry media, even Kboards. ‘Nuff said?

  69. I left Writer’s Digest shortly before F+W’s partnership with Author Solutions and launch of Abbott Press. (Not coincidental.)

    One very respected and well-known industry analyst has made some public remarks on the ASI acquisition: Mike Shatzkin

    Here’s one of his posts from late last year:

    But he doesn’t come out with value judgments, only analysis, calling the situation “tricky.”

    That aside, everyone on the traditional side is very silent indeed.

      1. The NY publishing community is quite small; probably no one wants to publicly criticize people who are basically their friends and colleagues (or their future employer). I also believe this is being sold under the banner of innovation, and/or something that can help keep people in jobs. Probably no one can see any benefit to speaking out, but that assumes they see ASI as predatory, and I’m not sure everyone in the broader publishing community is 100% aware of ASI’s business practices or how they’re perceived by educated authors. Perhaps there’s a belief that it provides value or a needed service to certain types of authors. That was certainly the line being promulgated at F+W (not disingenuously), and it was hard to convince executives otherwise. “There’s a market to be served, so why don’t WE serve it?” Nevermind that “serving” that market in this scenario has very little to do with educating authors or providing real, long-lasting value.

        I continue to be amazed that ASI can compete when so many better options exist for authors. (The inevitable confusion among beginning writers is a key problem, as you point out.) I do think, eventually, ASI will cease to exist, but publishing conglomerates are only too happy to milk what profits might be left as it declines.

  70. Reblogged this on Ty Hutchinson and commented:
    If you’re writing a book or want to write a book, please read this before considering your publishing options. Another great blog by David Gaughran. Authors looking out for authors.

  71. *head desk* Well, color me unimpressed now.

    May 2013 RWA Letter from the President – this one excerpt says it all.

    “In the past, RWA tried to protect authors by vetting “recognized” publishers and agents. But as the publishing industry changes and new initiatives and programs are offered to authors, this sort of quality assurance isn’t possible. It’s up to each author to decide which route is the best for their individual circumstances. It’s RWA’s mission to try to educate our members to make those decisions wisely.”

    This just gets worse and worse.

  72. I got an important detail wrong in the above post, so I’ve just added the following to the bottom:

    CORRECTION: Abbott Press (the Writers Digest vanity press) shares the same address as Author Solutions so I think it’s safe to assume it’s being run by them. The packages are all quite similar, as is the marketing. Indeed, Emily Suess names Abbot Press as being powered by Author Solutions. More profit for Penguin! Hooray! (scroll down to bottom)

  73. Brava for this article – we, too are sick and tired about hearing how authors got scammed. One of our clients came to us after they’d worked with a supposedly reputable press – Ended up spending tons of cash, well into five figures, sold no books, and then had to fight (and PAY) to get their rights back to publish elsewhere. Have you sources for your numbers as I’d love to do a piece on this but need to see/verify the facts (lest we become part of the problem and not the solution).

    1. Hi Shari, if you click through the links above you’ll see sources for everything – and voluminous detail on all the issues surrounding Author Solutions. If you are having trouble verifying anything in particular, come back to me and I’ll dig out the reference for you.

      1. Fabulous, I’m on it and will give you attribution of course. Hilarious about Abbott Press – I too have been harboring “WD gone to dark side” thoughts for some time now… Sad when your gut is right, but it IS getting tiresome.

        Funny enough, someone recently asked me at a conference why we decided to do the things we do (most recently our Winner Circle launch – talk about weeding through drivel – yikes!) and I told them that, for better or worse, virtually all of what we’ve launched for writers was motivated by disgust and incredulity with some of the nonsense out there.

        It’s lovely to find another voice of reason and integrity advocating for authors. Again, brava!

  74. David,
    As I write this I’m reflecting back to a previous post about Argo Navis.
    I have no proof to back my suspicions, but it seems to me that the publishing industry is trying to monetize the self publishing wave.
    As agents and publishers lose authors to self-publishing their revenues decrease and they’re alarmed by the trend. What better way to pay the mortgage than to cater to clueless self-publishers? Just lower the bar to the type of material you will accept and open the floodgates. Shuttle the naive off to paid services. The cut is still the same and what one loses in poor sales may be made up in the random success story. After all, there’s a virtue in quantity over quality. A few pennies from thousands are as good as one occasional block-buster and the revenue’s steadier.
    The prospective novice author has no way to judge. After all they were just accepted by a major agent or a publisher like Penguin. They’re both reputable companies, so what could go wrong?

  75. Great piece, David. I believe vanity presses are a pox on authors, and the more writers can educate themselves with facts, the less likely they are to be scammed.

    However, I don’t agree with your solution. While well intentioned, I think you may be missing out on an important fact about writers’ organizations that I learned long ago, having been in several.

    Writers’ Organizations Suck the Legacy Teat.

    They care about things that effect their legacy deals, but they don’t care about writers in general, and self-pubbed writers in particular. I can name a dozen self-pub writers that outsell 95% of MWA members, but aren’t allowed to join.

    A group so snobby they refuse to let any writer in–no matter how successful–without a legacy stamp of approval is not going to give two shits about those same legacy publishers screwing newbies.

    The old boys network doesn’t care about newbies, and never will. With exclusivity comes a nice, happy feeling of superiority.

    The ITW is a notable exception here. They’ve always been forward-thinking. And, in full disclosure, I’ve been out of the loop for a while on writing organizations, so I may be ranting against practices that have changed.

    But don’t confuse the SFWA taking RH Digital First to task or MWA challenging Harlequin Horizons with caring about newbies. It always boils down to self-interest, and that self-interest prides itself in segregation.

    Good for Scalzi for making sure he and his peers don’t get screwed, and good for MWA for getting Harlequin Horizons to change it’s name to Dellarte, but I’m not holding my breath to see them challenge Author Solutions. But it sure would be nice if they proved me wrong…

    1. I don’t hold out a lot of hope either (but would love to be proved wrong too). I was impressed with the ability of the writing community to get the RH terms changed, and I think the turning point there was the threats from SFWA (I think RWA might have done something similar, but I’m not as familiar with that part of the story).

      I guess my thought is this: if they don’t do anything, if they remain silent, then we can hold them to account. When the Authors Guild try and act like they care for working writers, we can point to their association with Author Solutions.

      I suppose I’m an optimist deep down, and was hoping that the post would light a fire under someone – an RWA member or an SFWA member – who cared about this issue to at least start asking the question: why are you guys silent about what Penguin is doing?

      1. David,
        I’m an RWA member and yes, they were a part of the RH revising their terms. RWA sent emails to their membership warning that RH contract terms were questionable. They also “hinted” about the negative ramifications if RH didn’t change their terms. RWA then took part in a conference call and soon after, RH revise their stance. RWA also emailed their members about the result. Color me impressed. 😉

        I’ll check into what RWA says about Penguin and report back. 😉

  76. Great piece. I thought the whole point of self-publishing now, was to get punk and do it yourself. I did it. Didn’t cost sweet F.A. As you pointed out here, the problem lies with the desperation of new writers, who’ll do anything to make their dreams come true. Like asylum seekers willing to pay thousands to be crammed into lorries, and dumped just outside Dover, it now seems that Penguin seem to have gotten into people trafficking… or at least the trafficking of people’s dreams.
    Perhaps what should be talked about more often, with more honesty, is the daily grind of writing and publishing. To dissuade people from wanting to come ‘here’ in the first place. To the great citadel of Writersville. We are not free men and women. Behind the media-clad walls there are hundreds of us, put to task. Not only do we have to grind out words day in, day out, but we have editors, agents, producers and the publishers themselves, lording it over us.
    Too many people have a rosy old view of writers and writing. If I hear the ‘Harry Potter was picked out of a slush pile’ story again, I’ll shoot myself in the face with a projectile made from my own poo. That’s one in how many million? (Or at least hundreds of thousands)Most of the people I have dealt with in the ‘creative industries’ are pillocks who wouldn’t know a good story… until it was written by someone who has already made them money. First and foremost, they are marketeers. Fine, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it?
    To survive in this ‘business’, I have a developed a skin that’s thicker than a Rhino’s. An ego surrounded with kevlar and the patience of a saint forced to beg alms in a dole queue. It’s not glamorous and apart from the very few that make it BIG, it’s not even well paid. Sure, I’d rather do what I do than deliver incontinence pads to the elderly and infirm… but I’ve done that too, in between jobs (no pun intended).
    I suppose that one thing may result from this awful scam, it may put the majority of FNGs* off and leave it to the rest of us liver-hardened professionals to continue our war of words, against the true enemy – the empty page.
    Fuck. Is that the time… I’ve got a 9.00am deadline to deliver some scripts. For a moment I thought I was free again. Good piece. Will spread the word.
    Love and respect.

    * Fuckin’ New Guys

  77. I know a retired lady who re-mortgaged her house to spend $9000U$ on ‘services’ with author solutions. After all that still no book. She has since self-published a hard copy in NZ. That is where the money Penguin wants comes from. Life savings, families, homes.
    It was all because she was lazy, would not listen to advice to visit Author Beware, nor how to have her book edited via legitimate means. The language is so persuasive on AS sites that unwary ppl believe it.
    Personally I have complained to Google if they dare provide me with scam sites on a search & we can ALL attack these scamsters by demanding Google eliminate them from search results & paid advertising. We can vote them down in WOT site warning service.

  78. As one who was hoodwinked by iUniverse five years ago I could not agree more. I silence from the NYT and other spots may be due to the law suit in progress. They don’t want to jump on the wrong side in case it gets them in hot water depending on the outcome.

    1. Major corporations are the subject of any number of ongoing court actions at any one time. While reporters have to be careful not to prejudice a case, there is zero danger in mentioning that a case is happening. I don’t expect the NYT to write a hard-hitting piece about Author Solutions, but I do wish that every time they did write about them, it wouldn’t be simply a puff piece with a jolly quote from Kevin Weiss. I don’t know how anyone, in good conscience, can write about Author Solutions without even mentioning the widespread criticisms. That’s not just part of the story. It *is* the story.

  79. I think all the traditionally published authors on my auto-buy list are from Penguin imprints. I love these authors. I rave about them. I push their books off on friends.

    But I have been seriously considering boycotting their books since they bought Author Solutions. I don’t want to hurt my favorite authors’ sales, but… Supporting Penguin troubles my conscience.

    1. I wasn’t going to bring this up, but seeing as you mentioned it, I haven’t bought a single Penguin book since they bought Author Solutions. It’s not a boycott per se, and I’m not calling for one at all (I don’t think that’s the right play for lots of reasons), but I also really really don’t want to give them any money. A couple of my favorites are published by Penguin, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Maybe check them out of the library or buy them second-hand.

      1. Hi David,
        I would like to see your reasons for saying a boycott of Penguin is not the right play. I think it is.The other play I would like to see is the lawyers out there who are authors to investigate the businesses for criminal fraud. Even calling them vanity publishers puts the onus back on the victims. Caveat emptor is no defence against fraud. As soon as I finish reading all this I will re-post on my blog.

        1. Hi Bernie. Why I think calling for a boycott is the wrong play:

          1. A boycott like that would hurt Penguin’s authors most of all. They have nothing to do with this.

          2. I have severe doubts how effective such a call would be in achieving what we want to achieve.

          Most importantly though, I think the position laid out above is something that all writers could get behind. I think calling for a boycott would split the pack. What we need right now on this issue, IMO, is the writing community united and acting in concert – like what happened with the RH imprints.

          We are so often divided over self-publishing, Amazon, e-books, and a bunch of other stuff. I really think this is an issue that all sides can get behind and effect change. I think that a boycott call would be divisive.

          P.S. There is already one class action suit in progress against Penguin & Author Solutions:

  80. Scary stuff. You’re right that this is a lousy trend and we need to reach as many newbies as possible to warn them. Thanks for this. I had not heard about Lulu. I thought they were safe.

  81. When I started in the industry, I was fortunate to have a local writers guild with experienced authors who taught me how to spot a scam. They hosted a conference every year bringing in editors from the big publishing houses and respected agents. Unfortunately, the guild has long since disbanded but I wonder how the conference would play now since it would seem that inviting editors from publishing houses would be inviting the wolf into the fold.

  82. I shake my head over the fact so many in publishing spend words and energy hating on Amazon, yet can’t muster even a timid glance of disapproval for the spreading reach and influence of Author Solutions.

    1. Exactly my thoughts. At the London Book Fair this year the great debate was something like “Amazon: Friend or Foe.” If I had my way, Penguin would have been in the dock.

  83. [hand up!] I started a small press last year – NOT vanity, NOT a scam. We’ve published four books, and yes, two are mine, but the fifth is being released this month, and there will be four more after that, just this year. I’m swamped with submissions as it is and could easily expand to fit the demand – the demand for an honest publisher who works hard for her authors.

  84. Once again David, you’ve enlightened me. Thank you.
    Mind you, I can’t help wondering just how many writers would have that sort of money to throw at their book? And, do any of them make it back with sales?
    I’ll share to

    1. The answers are: 150,000 as of last July, probably a lot more today; and, No. The average Author Solutions customer sells 150 copies of their book (and spends $5000).

        1. The figures are pretty damning when you line them up:

          1. 150,000 customers have only published 190,000 books, meaning there’s very little repeat business – esp. when you factor in all the authors publishing multiple titles right off the bat. For comparison, the average Smashwords author has published over four titles with them.

          2. The average Author Solutions customer spends $5,000 publishing their book, and only sells 150 copies.

          3. Only one-third of Author Solutions’ income comes from book sales royalties. Two thirds comes from author services – their whole model is based on making money from you, not with you.

    1. Yeah, they are worse, but I think the number of people duped by Author Solutions is a lot larger (if anyone has numbers for PublishAmerica, lemme know).

      Plus it’s not like PublishAmerica are owned by Macmillan…

  85. Author Solutions had several booths at the recent LA Times Book Fair. There were several authors signing and giving away free copies of books. I had some suspicions about them.

  86. I…hate…vanity publishing companies. I’m so glad I came across this post. I had one contact me a few years ago (although now I can’t remember which :() and I was I think 20 and super naive at the time. I had just put my book into the vault and that was how they found me. Whenever I asked for more information, they just continued flooding my email with requests to get my novel and blah blah and it took me almost four months to shake them off. It got to the point where I had to tell them if they were that interested they should buy it and that was how they left. Ugh. Perhaps I will write my own post on this…regardless, thank you for yours!!

  87. Thanks for voicing this public warning David. There’s something specially nasty about publishers like Penguin taking advantage of the desperation they know exists among writers.

  88. Applause to you, Dave, for spreading the word far and wide about these scams. I think half the problem is that writers fear they can’t do this self-publishing thing. I run a tiny publishing venture myself–for author friends with good books who feel they can’t do it on their own.

    I am eagerly awaiting the results of the class action suit against Author Solutions.

    1. I have read your lines here. I would appreciate it if we can communicate via email. I am an author from Stockholm. Thanks

  89. This makes me mad. I understand that publishing houses are businesses that have to make profits, but was there really no better way for them to adapt to the new digital marketplace? It seems as if they’ve all gotten into bed with Author Solutions, and the most troubling part, as you point out, is how no one but bloggers are even attempting to point out what a terrible thing that is for writers.

    1. They have to make profits, yes, but Penguin are choosing to make money *from* writers instead of *with* writers. Also, as I mentioned above, for the same price they paid for Author Solutions, Penguin could have picked up Goodreads.

  90. It’s really not just a big publisher / self-publisher world. There are a lot of small / niche / regional presses out there as an additional option for everyone wanting to get into publishing. That might work for some and not others, but at least the possibilities aren’t limited to just A or B.

      1. The problem, David, is that it never is about “all the options.” Let’s face it: your article is more comprehensive than the majority and extremely well done, but it just rehashes everything that already been said. Yes, it will awaken those who haven’t already read it somewhere else, but basically, it’s simply touting the party line of all the organizations like SFWA.

        Which is, that the only “real” way to become a published author is the traditional one. You MUST get an advance. Your publisher MUST do print runs. Otherwise, you’re still being scammed, and we don’t consider you a real professional.

        Never mind that both of those are artificial criteria created at the same time booksellers started doing returns to stay in business.

        Never mind that the world has changed somewhat in the 80 years since those criteria came to be.
        Never mind that there are now layers and layers between author and publisher that didn’t exist when those criteria came to be because, first, the author-to-publisher channel became populated by a plethora of agents who need those advances to stay in business.

        I’m not condemning agents. They are a vitally necessary part OF THE TRADITIONAL PATH TO PUBLISHING. However, there are 70,000 to 80,000 independent and academic presses in the US alone, all of them legitimate, none of whom require a dime from the author, that are NEVER mentioned in any of these articles decrying the growing establishment of a vanity publishing division in traditional publishing.

        As a result, those articles are essentially telling the authors they want to warn about that growing establishment those 70,000 to 80,000 publishers aren’t worth their consideration. I realize it’s likely not intentional, but that doesn’t make the implication any less real.

        It also reinforces the notion established by the media that writers have only two choices: the Big Six or self-publishing. As a result, writers whose work is eminently publishable are rushing into the latter, releasing work that an editor at a independent publisher probably could have made considerably better.

        We independent press owners aren’t asking for a recommendation or anything else, although we could certainly lodge a protest that we are continually scorned by the official writers organizations (although not necessarily their membership). We would simply appreciate not being treated as though we don’t exist.

        1. Elizabeth, this post is not about small press v Big 6 v self-publishing. It’s about large publishers operating vanity press scams.

          I don’t think the discussion of small publishers is germane, but to address your comments… If you want to know what I think of small publishers, you can just ask – you don’t have to ascribe positions to me, especially ones I don’t hold.

          I know plenty of writers who are either with a small press or have published through one. Their experiences (as you might expect) range from the awful to the excellent.

          I personally don’t agree with the SFWA stance on advances (I’m not a member btw and have no affiliation whatsoever), but I understand why – historically – they have that rule. But I think it’s outdated for a whole bunch of reasons I won’t get into now.

          As for what I think about publishing with small presses in general, well that depends on the publisher and the deal they are offering. Some small publishers have fantastically author friendly contracts, a smart approach to ebooks, pricing and marketing, and have developed real reader communities who gobble up everything they publish.

          I talk about smart small publishers lots on this blog. For example, Open Road are probably the savviest publisher (large or small) out there at the moment in terms of marketing and achieving visibility on Amazon. And here in the UK, Angry Robot are a great future-forward publisher with killer covers, cool authors, great branding, a slick online store, a clever approach to community building, and just innovative in general in terms of trying things like bundling e-books with hardcovers.

          I get asked all the time about this publisher and that publisher and whether an author (usually a self-publisher who has been approached) should sign with them. I tell the author to look at the whole package on offer (not just the advance). I advise them to weigh up what they are giving up (the book is usually on sale already and earning money) against what they are getting. What is the out-of-print clause? Do rights revert after a certain period? Does the publisher have a good reputation? Are they savvy about marketing? Etc. etc. In other words, the same questions an author should always ask – whatever the size of the publisher. Different authors will have different goals, but you can use the answers to see if the deal is the best path towards those goals.

          I self-publish everything right now, and don’t submit anything to publishers at all. I do that because it’s the right choice for me right now, and the quickest way I think I can grow my audience. I have published with a small publisher before – a short story in a hardback anthology, which was pretty cool. And I could do it again in the future. I’ve nothing against the idea per se. Options are good.

    1. The small presses have a harder sell. They don’t have the weight of trade pubs, yet don’t offer the same flexibility with pricing as self publishing. Pricing flexibility is now so intertwined with marketing for new authors, and at the end of the day the author is responsible for marketing. A USP for small presses would help them get some of the limelight.

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