I wrote my second book — my first novel She — during National Novel Writing Month last November, revised it and got reader feedback and revised it again during Christmas and January, and then I had to decide: head down the traditional road this time and seek an agent or go back to iUniverse? It was a no-brainer, well, almost a no-brainer, because the traditional route is fraught with will-they or won’t-they as well as requiring patience and giving up (some) control over one’s work.
If you read my brief blog posts during the self-publishing phase of Lifeliner, you’d surmise I had a mostly good experience with iUniverse. There were a couple of odd things, like I wasn’t allowed to know the names of the editors who edited my book, but overall I found my Publishing Services Associate friendly, helpful, and professional. I liked how the editors helped me craft a better book. I liked that I had a chance to have Lifeliner‘s cover professionally designed. And I liked having the opportunity to have my book stocked in an Indigo bookstore in Toronto. After that though, things went downhill.
It all began when Author Solutions bought out iUniverse. My PSA couldn’t move with iUniverse to their new headquarters due to the burst housing bubble. My newly assigned marketing associate also left the company shortly after I contracted with iUniverse to use one of their publicists, and I wasn’t allowed to have her as my publicist (due to conflict of interest, they said). And in the midst of releasing and marketing Lifeliner, my lawsuit against the drivers who mucked me up emerged from one of its many long lulls into the final throes of resolution, which of course took months and months and months. Because I had little energy left over to market Lifeliner and to stay on top of the publicist’s and iUniverse’s efforts on my behalf, I relied on them to fulfill their contractual obligations, to do everything they said that they would.
iUniverse stated in their paperwork that they would do the following in their three-month publicity campaign:
The publicist…will contact the author the first day of the campaign to determine specific media target audiences and develop a plan.
A plan will be developed based on the following schedule:
- Pitch magazines.
- Set up book events in author’s hometown and surrounding markets.
- Pitch to Amazon reviewers.
- Pitch to Top 100 Newspapers.
- Continue to follow-up on all interested media pitched to date.
- Pitch to radio and television in local and regional area (talk, drive time, interview).
- Pitch to newspapers in local and regional area
- Continue to follow-up with all interested media to date
- Pitch national wire services
- Pitch wire services
- Pitch all freelance writers
That’s pretty much the gist of the agreement. My publicist and I talked specifics about what kinds of magazines and because she was from the NE USA, I had to fill her in a bit about the media market here in southern Ontario, despite the fact that I wasn’t fully cognizant of all that is published round here. (Months later, when I’d recovered from the end of lawsuit, a quick Google search netted me a long list of newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in Ontario, a few in upper New York state, just across the border from Toronto.) My publicist didn’t set up book events because of my energy limitations but we did discuss one event that I set up myself, and she sent out an announcement to a couple of publicity places. It didn’t help that there was a problem with the timing of when to start the campaign because Indigo, to put it politely, bounced around the start date of when to stock Lifeliner in the World’s Biggest Bookstore (WBBS). I was also informed that Indigo would not tolerate me approaching them about having a book signing for Lifeliner, yet I suppose my publicist could’ve spoken to them, I don’t know. It didn’t happen anyway.
Aside from that item, the Month 1 obligations were fulfilled, well, except that 100 newspapers were not pitched to.
My publicist followed up on all her pitches over the three months of the campaign, and I received several Amazon reviews. I had had no idea book reviewers don’t just work for newspapers and magazines solely, but also post their reviews on Amazon and several other websites. Over Months 2 and 3, she also pitched to a few of the national newspapers and magazines (in addition to specialty ones in Month 1, including The Women’s Post, which was just not interested, sheesh), and to radio stations and Citytv in Toronto. The manager at WBBS told me that getting mentioned on CBC would help me sell books because their biggest customers listen to the CBC. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to pitch — though I tried on my own several months later — and my publicist was not familiar with how CBC worked, though she followed the website instructions. So that pretty much went nowhere. She pitched to community papers in Toronto but not regional newspapers in southern Ontario or upper New York state. I tried to do it myself months later but with my energy limitations and lack of knowledge, it was an impossible task. She did send out all the review copies I’d bought for the campaign to various magazines and reviewers. Of those, about 13% resulted in reviews of Lifeliner. I don’t know if that’s a good response rate or not.
The wire services pitched were of the web-based kind, not what I would consider national (like AP or CP). And if freelance writers were pitched, they were few in number.
With iUniverse in upheaval during this time, it was difficult to find out who my new marketing associate was and when I did find out, impossible to get a proper answer from her after our first e-mail exchange that I initiated in the brief moments of respite in the insurance company showdown. Of course, iUniverse had no problems billing me for postage for the publicity campaign. Even when I earned iUniverse’s Reader’s Choice award, no one e-mailed or called me to tell me this good news. I stumbled upon this fact when I was checking out my book page on iUniverse’s website. They again ignored my e-mails, even though all I wanted was the image of the RC logo to put on my website. You’d think they could at least respond to that.
Recently, I received a promotional e-mail from iUniverse. I was back in their good graces, I guess. And so that got me thinking again about the botched publicity campaign. I contacted the person who e-mailed me; she gave me the name of the guy who covers marketing for me; he, also a nice person, said he wasn’t familiar with my publicity contract, would look into it, and get back to me. Yup. You all know what that meant. Before we hung up, never to speak again, we also discussed getting Lifeliner into the Sony Reader Store (for eBooks) and onto Amazon Kindle. However, he said that would cost me. Apparently, iUniverse has a new deal where they’ll do the work for you, and you pay. Since I was already feeling like I’d overpaid for my less-than-promised publicity campaign, I wasn’t too interested in paying more. He never considered that he had a pissed-off customer who, being a writer, may one day grump about it online, and the best way to head that off was to make me happy by offering that deal for free as a make-up for my lousy experience. That kind of offer may also have upped the odds of me being a repeat customer. But clearly he was not too interested in resolving my issue and more interested in sending me regular promotional e-mails. Yup, great way to placate an unhappy customer.
Because of my previous posts on iUniverse, I heard from some unhappy iUniverse customers. One, distressingly, confirmed my 2008 experience of not being paid for books sold — basically, iUniverse under-reported sales. Because I happened to know just how many books sold through all
sources, I knew the numbers were off. iUniverse blamed a software
glitch. The same furious customer also informed me that iUniverse inaccurately reported how much they were discounting his book, meaning less royalty in his pocket, more in the retailers’. This was pretty much my beef about how they capitulated to Amazon without so much as polling their authors.
And so what began as a good experience, ended up with me feeling cheated, both on publicity and royalties. I have no intention of hiring iUniverse again, or, for that matter, any AuthorSolutions company. Jane Friedman in her recent blog post on AuthorSolutions says they are very focused on what their authors want. I beg to differ. Although when they do deliver, it’s worth it, I would advise any writer thinking of going this route to do it only if you’re a persistent little bugger who will not have any trouble sitting on them when they don’t deliver on what they promise. Meanwhile, I am going the trad route. For now.