The Bookseller Hires Author Solutions Exec To Spout Propaganda Bewares

futurebookAuthor Solutions is like a Bizarro version of King Midas. Everything they touch turns to shit.

One frustrating aspect of this is their history of co-opting supposedly independent organizations, which then silence critical voices.

This week, The Bookseller went one step further, and has hired a former Author Solutions executive called Tim Davies to write for their digital offshoot FutureBook.

Davies used his debut FutureBook post to vomit up some Author Solutions PR, interspersed with gushing praise for his former boss, who he breathlessly describes as “the effortlessly charming and driven Kevin Weiss.”

Of course, you only find out that Tim Davies is a former Author Solutions executive in the final paragraph of that post – something which should be disclosed up top (with a lot more detail too).

But that’s not the most troubling part. In keeping with the standard editorial line of The Bookseller since Author Solutions was purchased by Penguin for $116m, no mention is made of Author Solutions being a scammy vanity press which is slated by every watchdog in the business. There is a throwaway line about “Author Solutions’ occasionally less than pristine PR” – but that’s it.

Indeed, comments critical of Author Solutions are being censored from that post, as they have been from other articles in The Bookseller recently.

If you aren’t familiar with Author Solutions (and you might not be as they have flooded the market with identikit vanity imprints like AuthorHouse, Trafford, Xlibris, iUniverse and plenty more), I urge you to read my previous posts on the company (herehereherehere, and here).

Regular company-watcher Emily Suess summarizes the issues:

The short list of recurring issues includes: making formerly out-of-print works available for sale without the author’s consent, improperly reporting royalty information, non-payment of royalties, breach of contract, predatory and harassing sales calls, excessive markups on review and advertising services, failure to deliver marketing services as promised, telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars, ignoring customer complaints, shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories, and calling at least one customer a ‘fucking asshole.’

You can get an exhaustive list of Emily Suess’ posts on the topic here for more detail on those issues. In addition, leading watchdog group Writer Beware – which has received more complaints about Author Solutions than any other company – has a compendium of their posts here (where you will also find details of the class action suit against Author Solutions for deceptive business practices).

Ardent free marketeers might wonder how the company stays in business with such a terrible record of overcharging, high pressure upselling, staggering underperformance, and voluminous customer complaints, while being slated by every watchdog in the business.

It’s a multi-pronged strategy:

1. Author Solutions runs a multitude of faux-informational websites purporting to provide independent advice to inexperienced writers. After filling out a questionnaire, these sites then present a selection of publishing “options” – all subsidiaries owned by Author Solutions, all terrible. Author Solutions spends a lot of time and money to ensure that these sites appear at the top of Google’s search results for any generic terms that a publisher-hunting newbie would use (I’m not linking to these sites as that will help their SEO, but you can Google anything like “I need a publisher” to see what I mean. Running variations of those searches will bring up more than 20 different fake sites, all operated by Author Solutions).

2. Author Solutions operates fake social media profiles of “independent publishing consultants” which are manned by Author Solutions staff, target the most inexperienced writers, and only recommend Author Solutions companies.

3. Author Solutions pressures customers into writing positive testimonials before releasing their books for publication. I received one such complaint the last time I posted about Author Solutions, from an AuthorHouse UK customer who said that they wouldn’t publish the book she had already paid for until she wrote the testimonial here (second from top).

4. Author Solutions partners with supposedly legitimate and independent organizations to give a veneer of respectability to their scammy operations (like Hay House, Writers Digest, Simon & Schuster, Lulu, HarperCollins, the Authors Guild, Harlequin, and various writers conferences).

The Bookseller is, by far, the most popular publishing industry news source in the UK. There’s nobody really competing with them for that title. Like Publishers Weekly in the US, if you work in the trade in the UK, you read The Bookseller.

FutureBook, an offshoot of The Bookseller, is “a website dedicated to discussing how the digital revolution will re-shape publishing in the 21st Century.”

FutureBook likes to think of itself as the forward-thinking, digital-friendly face of the industry – which I suppose it is, as long as you don’t consider authors as being part of the industry.

While I regularly read both The Bookseller and FutureBook, I’ve had plenty of issues with their editorial line, particularly with regard to their policy of never printing anything critical about Author Solutions – or, at least, not since they were purchased by Penguin.

In the last few months, this policy has extended to censoring comments critical of Author Solutions on their blogs, a policy they now share with Digital Book World – whose parent company has its own Author Solutions-powered vanity press.

Both of these companies depend on income from advertising and running conferences, and it appears they don’t want to be critical of a huge player like Author Solutions’ owner Penguin – especially with their impending merger with Random House, which will create the largest (by far) trade publisher in the world.

This week, The Bookseller and FutureBook sank to a new low, hiring an ex-Author Solutions executive and handing him their significant platform to spout the same, disingenuous company propaganda that has led to innumerable writers being swindled.

I’m appalled.

NOTE: My use of the word “hires” might imply that Tim Davies received payment for his FutureBook piece. As far as I know, that’s not the case and I think contributors aren’t paid for their posts. His Twitter feed would seem to suggest that some arrangement has been made for him to contribute to FutureBook on an ongoing basis, which is why I chose that word, but I don’t think it’s important either way.

UPDATE (Thurs eve): The comments on FutureBook’s Author Solutions piece have finally been posted – 24 hours late. While I’m happy that the comments are posted, I’m not happy that it took this long. Unsurprisingly, all the comments that were “stuck” in moderation for 24 hours were extremely negative. Feel free to add your own thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

David Gaughran

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