I’m sure you’ve heard of them or seen their aggressive advertising campaigns. Author House, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford Press…the list goes on. But are these just publishing scams, or legitimate publishing services that offer tangible benefits to their clients?
What you may not know is that about two years ago, a law firm in New York filed a class action lawsuit against Author Solutions, the parent company of the above-mentioned outfits. If you’ve used the services of one of these companies, you may want to check it out and see if you qualify for joining the lawsuit yourself. [UPDATE: This lawsuit has been denied class action status so the original page is no longer available, but other efforts against Author Solutions and other alleged publishing scams persist. Click here for more details.]
Despite the usual legalese, it’s really worth reading the full complaint as a case study in how these companies work. I’ll leave it to the judges to decide if in fact their practices are illegal, but I am going to say without equivocation that most, if not all, have deceptive marketing practices that often pull in amateur writers who simply don’t know any better.
I want you to know better.
So here’s the first part in a series of posts to help you get really, really clear once and for all on the differences so you can choose how to get your book to market in the way that’s best for you, without falling for publishing scams.
Problem #1: They Are Not Book Publishers
While many have been misled to believe these kinds of companies are book publishers, the best and proper way to characterize them is in fact as book publishing services. They are institutions that sell a variety of products to authors, not readers, and so their primary market is people just like you—folks who want to publish a book. They are not at all in the business of selling books, as a book publisher is.
Why does this matter? Before you enter in an agreement with any party, it’s important to be clear about what that party is and what it will, will not, can, and cannot do for you. Especially when you’re about to shell out your hard-earned cash. Here are just a few brief comparisons to make the distinction really clear.
|A book publisher…||A book publishing service…|
|Has standards and a brand identity that it protects by carefully choosing which submissions it will accept for publication. This guarantees the consumer or end-reader (as well as other industry folk like reviewers) a certain level of quality.||Has no standards other than that the client can purchase one of their publishing packages. They will publish any book. There is no guarantee of quality, and everyone is well aware of this fact, which influences the relationship these services’ clients have with industry folk.|
|Is your partner in publishing your book, typically paying an advance against royalties and sharing if not wholly taking on the burden of expenses to produce the book. Because of their investment, they take a portion of income earned from book sales, sharing income with you via royalty payments. They only make money by selling books, as do you.||Is a service provider from whom you may purchase any number of products or services designed to help you publish and sell your book. They are not invested in your book’s success in any way. All expenses incurred are on your end, including the cost to produce and ship each book. They do not pay advances, and royalty payments represent the percentage they’ve promised to give you from each sale. They make their money selling services to you, but you only make money when you sell books.|
|Has a network of relationships with distributors, retailers, and media outlets that they will leverage to promote the book in order to make back their investment (i.e. your advance plus expenses) and hopefully a continued return for both of you.||Has some relationships with distribution channels that are not the same as those the publishers use (because they are typically not admitted to those catalogs). Generally purchases media lists to satisfy clients’ promotion needs, which client has paid for a la carte. They have no investment to earn back, and so are motivated solely by delivering whatever they promised to the client at time of purchase.|
|Employs teams of skilled and experienced professionals to provide such services as editing, design, and marketing. Training is often done in-house as well. Collaboration often occurs between a book’s team members and the author. All services are included as part of the publishing contract. There are no “upsells.”||Employs mainly unskilled workers because they can’t afford to pay more experienced professionals and maintain their profit margin. Worse, salespeople remain intermediaries between clients and workers, so there’s no real way to know what experience, if any, an editor or designer has. Each service is an upsell. There is no collaboration.|
|Provides all books with an ISBN that is under the publisher’s account. This lets book retailers know the book was produced professionally and they generally will stock it (various factors affect how many and where sold). Book publishers accept certain terms such as wholesale discounts and allowing returns in exchange for retailers’ support.||Typically provide an ISBN under their account, but book retailers recognize these as non-publishers with whom they do not have the usual relationship terms, and so most brick and mortar businesses will not stock these books. Some services offer an upsell to allow the wholesale discounts and return terms to retailers if you want your book stocked, but even then these books are usually rejected.|
When you read the complaint filed by Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart, you’ll notice a lot of fancy, different phrasings that essentially say the same thing: They’re contending that the Author Solutions companies make a habit of passing themselves off as publishers with tricky language, counting on the fact that the average would-be author is too excited by the idea of seeing his or her work in print to understand the difference.
In short, they take advantage of people by playing off their egos and general ignorance, not lying outright but rather just allowing clients to believe they are being signed by a publisher who will help them achieve their publishing goals and dreams. They use the same tactic to upsell clients on services that don’t actually deliver any results; no effort is made to ensure results occur, nor has any effort been made to measure results in order to justify their selling of these services.
Whether it’s legal or not, it definitely sucks. Next time, I’ll explore another problem with publishing services (that may not actually be a problem for you, but it’s important you make the choice with eyes wide open).
Have you worked with one of these companies? Did you have a good or bad experience? I’d love to hear from you, just comment below!
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.