Mar 102010
 

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:

Month 1

  • Pitch magazines.
  • Set up book events in author’s hometown and surrounding markets.
  • Pitch to Amazon reviewers.
  • Pitch to Top 100 Newspapers.

Month 2

  • 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

Month 3

  • 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.

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  • Thanks for sharing your experience with iUniverse, Shireen.

    When it comes to self-publishing, I really like what John Scalzi has written about it over at his blog. This post in particular humorously illustrates the benefits of “traditional” publishing for an author:
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/02/03/why-in-fact-publishing-will-not-go-away-anytime-soon-a-deeply-slanted-play-in-three-acts/

    Good luck with your querying. And if you ever need another beta reader, I’m always game.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience with iUniverse, Shireen.

    When it comes to self-publishing, I really like what John Scalzi has written about it over at his blog. This post in particular humorously illustrates the benefits of “traditional” publishing for an author:
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/02/03/why-in-fact-publishing-will-not-go-away-anytime-soon-a-deeply-slanted-play-in-three-acts/

    Good luck with your querying. And if you ever need another beta reader, I’m always game.

  • Shireen

    His title is hilarious. I’m already liking his post.

    Thank you for your comment and offer Ben. I’m considering entering ScriptFrenzy and writing a third book during NaNoWriMo, so I may need another beta reader sooner than I think. πŸ™‚

  • Shireen

    His title is hilarious. I’m already liking his post.

    Thank you for your comment and offer Ben. I’m considering entering ScriptFrenzy and writing a third book during NaNoWriMo, so I may need another beta reader sooner than I think. πŸ™‚

  • Shireen – Very fascinating to read about your experience. I hope more authors like yourself speak up about what these services have or haven’t been able to deliver. It keeps it all real — it keeps them real, too. I hope they reach out & contact you if they read your post.

  • Shireen – Very fascinating to read about your experience. I hope more authors like yourself speak up about what these services have or haven’t been able to deliver. It keeps it all real — it keeps them real, too. I hope they reach out & contact you if they read your post.

  • Shireen

    Thank you very much for commenting on my post Jane! I hope authors will speak up publicly. For the most part, it’s only through e-mails to me or on Facebook. But how can others make an informed decision about contracting with iUniverse or similar companies if authors won’t talk much about them in the public sphere? Rather ironic as writing is what we do.

  • Shireen

    Thank you very much for commenting on my post Jane! I hope authors will speak up publicly. For the most part, it’s only through e-mails to me or on Facebook. But how can others make an informed decision about contracting with iUniverse or similar companies if authors won’t talk much about them in the public sphere? Rather ironic as writing is what we do.

  • Susan Kalish

    Just found you through Twitter. I am in the process of producing a poetry book. I signed on in ’08. I have noticed the place feels like it is falling apart. Very poor communication. I am going over the manuscript many times and have found egregious errors that any professional, competent editor and proofreader should have found. It’s a nightmare. Whoever “polished” my cover as the contract provided, needed to go back to H.S. English. I ended up polishing myself. When I complained I was told that that was the best the freelancer could do. I was livid.

    There’s no one looking at aesthetics–I had a mess of poor line breaks, widows and orphans.

    Now I know why the marketing person left. No one got back to me, there seems to be a big shakeup.
    My project person moved to marketing.

    I have just hired my own editor and will hold onto this as long as I need. One good thing, they don’t care.
    I am beginning to think this place is as bad as Toyota–about to hit the wall at 90 mph– with no one driving the car.

    Nice to meet you.
    Sue

  • Susan Kalish

    Just found you through Twitter. I am in the process of producing a poetry book. I signed on in ’08. I have noticed the place feels like it is falling apart. Very poor communication. I am going over the manuscript many times and have found egregious errors that any professional, competent editor and proofreader should have found. It’s a nightmare. Whoever “polished” my cover as the contract provided, needed to go back to H.S. English. I ended up polishing myself. When I complained I was told that that was the best the freelancer could do. I was livid.

    There’s no one looking at aesthetics–I had a mess of poor line breaks, widows and orphans.

    Now I know why the marketing person left. No one got back to me, there seems to be a big shakeup.
    My project person moved to marketing.

    I have just hired my own editor and will hold onto this as long as I need. One good thing, they don’t care.
    I am beginning to think this place is as bad as Toyota–about to hit the wall at 90 mph– with no one driving the car.

    Nice to meet you.
    Sue

  • Shireen

    Sue, love your Toyota analogy. It’s too funny and so apt! I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a terrible time with the process. Before it fell apart, they did care about such things and did their best to fix stuff. I had hoped that after the year of transition was over that things would’ve settled down, but it doesn’t sound like it. It makes one feel sad about a company that used to do good work, but has clearly tanked.

    Good idea to hire your own editor. It’s more money expended that you shouldn’t have had to but at least it means you’ll have a product at the end you can be proud of. It’s nice to meet you too!

  • Shireen

    Sue, love your Toyota analogy. It’s too funny and so apt! I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a terrible time with the process. Before it fell apart, they did care about such things and did their best to fix stuff. I had hoped that after the year of transition was over that things would’ve settled down, but it doesn’t sound like it. It makes one feel sad about a company that used to do good work, but has clearly tanked.

    Good idea to hire your own editor. It’s more money expended that you shouldn’t have had to but at least it means you’ll have a product at the end you can be proud of. It’s nice to meet you too!

  • Susan Kalish

    Oh, just happened to see your tweet and followed it back. I blog on Multiply. Between iUniverse and dell computers, I be in the funny farm shortly. I really have no idea what is going on over there, did they move?
    Could you email me? πŸ™‚
    THANK YOU

  • Susan Kalish

    Oh, just happened to see your tweet and followed it back. I blog on Multiply. Between iUniverse and dell computers, I be in the funny farm shortly. I really have no idea what is going on over there, did they move?
    Could you email me? πŸ™‚
    THANK YOU

  • Attaching my web page.
    Sue

  • Attaching my web page.
    Sue

  • Shireen

    iUniverse moved awhile ago, so don’t know what’s going on now. Others are having trouble too though, so you’re not alone! Thanks for the link to your web page. I’ll check it out when I have a moment. I’m a bit swamped right now. It never rains, but it pours. πŸ™‚

  • Shireen

    iUniverse moved awhile ago, so don’t know what’s going on now. Others are having trouble too though, so you’re not alone! Thanks for the link to your web page. I’ll check it out when I have a moment. I’m a bit swamped right now. It never rains, but it pours. πŸ™‚

  • Hi,

    Working on iUnivoice.com, the teaser page is live at:

    http://www.iunivoice.com/

    This site will be a dedicated UNofficial resource, providing important information which iUniverse appears to be concealing from both current and potential iUniverse authors.

    I went through an audit process with iUniverse, as it was determined that my suspicion was correct (twice!) that my book sales were being under-reported. In working with iUniverse to diagnose and correct this, other troubling info came out of the wash, including but not limited to, 1) A much steeper discount was given to Amazon than what was posted on iUniverse’s site, and 2) iUniverse was selling books for a stretch for an even deeper discount directly to the consumer, under their third-party retailer, “A Delightful Book.”

    Both greatly reduced my per-book royalties. iUniverse took these actions without consulting authors first, or even notifying authors during.

    The new iUnivoice.com site will detail this story / experience, provide information which iUniverse seems to want to keep quiet, and encourage authors to challenge iUniverse on these shady practices.

    iUnivoice.com will be the VOICE of iUniverse authors’ discontent.

    D

  • Hi,

    Working on iUnivoice.com, the teaser page is live at:

    http://www.iunivoice.com/

    This site will be a dedicated UNofficial resource, providing important information which iUniverse appears to be concealing from both current and potential iUniverse authors.

    I went through an audit process with iUniverse, as it was determined that my suspicion was correct (twice!) that my book sales were being under-reported. In working with iUniverse to diagnose and correct this, other troubling info came out of the wash, including but not limited to, 1) A much steeper discount was given to Amazon than what was posted on iUniverse’s site, and 2) iUniverse was selling books for a stretch for an even deeper discount directly to the consumer, under their third-party retailer, “A Delightful Book.”

    Both greatly reduced my per-book royalties. iUniverse took these actions without consulting authors first, or even notifying authors during.

    The new iUnivoice.com site will detail this story / experience, provide information which iUniverse seems to want to keep quiet, and encourage authors to challenge iUniverse on these shady practices.

    iUnivoice.com will be the VOICE of iUniverse authors’ discontent.

    D

  • Vhagerty

    I contacted iUniverse for information, but in the end decided to go another route — when I told the sales rep i decided to go another direction (who called often and unwanted to solicit my business) she sent me a string of harassing email’s with insults and commemts like “thanks for wasting my time”

  • Well, that’s a great way to ensure iUniverse stays in your good books so that you might consider them for your next book. Not.

    They called me as well last year, often and unwanted too. One of their marketing specialists also called to talk to me about my complaint over the marketing of “Lifeliner,” said she was new and was going to address my complaint. I was polite but skeptical. Apparently, that was not OK. She said she WAS going to look into it and would get back to me. Never heard from her again. Yup, par for the course.

  • Lawrence Fisher

    Well, I have now been ripped off by iUniverse for my book

  • I’m sorry to hear that. πŸ™ They still call me regularly trying to get me to buy some new package to sell my book. Would’ve been nice if they had followed up on their promises to make good on the original marketing package I bought. So I let their calls go to voice mail, where they belong.

  • Lawrence Fisher

    In December I was informed that 25 copies of my book had been sold in Q4 2011, only from the iUniverse website, not including online sites such as Amazon.

    Now, in their royalty statement, they are claiming that only 12 books have been sold, totally.Β 

    Their marketing was not even worth the trouble

  • Ah yes, I had similar trouble too at the beginning of my sales. Luckily for me, many of my readers, especially bulk buying ones, had told me that they’d bought my book, and their numbers exceeded iUniverse’s. Also I used to talk to the book department and find out where sales were made, so had some idea of where and when books were selling. I spoke directly to the sales department about the discrepancy, and he assured me it was a software error and that it was being fixed. They did fix it. That was a few years ago, but I’ve heard rumblings of similar problems. All I can say is to persist in getting them to make good. Sometimes the squeaky wheel does work.

  • Lawrence Fisher

    I have started a facebook group:Β Β 
    http://www.facebook.com/groups/iuniverse.issues/

    and I have my own post:

    http://killmenow.org/iuniverse/Β 

    I welcome any help I can get

  • Lawrence

    Hi Shireen,

    As a follow up, after a tough social media campaign, iUniverse returned my money and cancelled my book. I have since republished with CreateSpace

  • Thank you for the update Lawrence. It’s fantastic you succeeded. I hope the CreateSpace experience went well for you as it did for me.

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