Once upon a time…there was a young woman who had wanted to be a writer ever since she read Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca way back in junior high school. That young woman – me – worked hard at her writing over the years until many years later she actually had enough expertise to write a non-fiction book that she was actually able to sell to a trade publisher. That was a good decision and allowed me to take off the training wheels.
I happily continued to write (but never left my day job as a communication professor), hone my skills and sell a few more books (six) to a variety of other publishers. But, like many bona fide non-fiction writers out there (at least that’s what I was told by a tetchy literary agent one time), I wanted to write fiction. More than that, I wanted to see it published.
Caught by the historical fiction bug, I meticulously researched and wrote a novel about a 12th century Catholic nun in Germany (Hildegard of Bingen if you’ve ever heard of her). I finished the manuscript and set about finding an agent. I ran head-long into a wall of rejection, including one from the aforementioned agent who prefaced her rejection by saying, “If I had a dollar for every bona fide non-fiction writer who wants to be a novelist, I’d be rich.” She wouldn’t even read my fiction. I suppose I ought to have been flattered that she considered me to be the real deal in non-fiction, but that didn’t support my passion to publish my novel. So I decided to take a different route.
I researched what was then the budding self-publishing industry. An entire industry of so-called self-publishing companies was springing up before my very eyes. One of them – quite new at the time – was one whose name you will know if you’ve dabbled in this area yourself. It was iUniverse. I was about to make the worst publishing decision of my life.
I scoured their web site for information about editing, file set-ups, cover design, distribution and marketing. I knew from experience in traditional publishing that editing was crucial, and that I’d need professional help. So I selected what I’d now refer to as a supported self-publishing package and knew that Grace Note would be a reality before long. This much was true. The process, however, has haunted me for years.
I was assigned a “publishing consultant” who would take me through the editing and production process. The book was edited, but then I received an email telling me that the book was good enough to be a part of their “editor’s choice” program. All it needed was a second edit – which would cost more. Then it was chosen for the “rising star” program. More services required.
Wanting the book to be the best it could be, and perceiving that there might be marketing advantages to the “rising star” program, I agreed. At the end of the editing process, I had a good product; that much I knew. Then we were on to production.
The book cover had to be one that their designers produced – they didn’t like my ideas. In order to remain in this marketing program, I had to agree to that cover. I always felt uncomfortable about the cover, but I knew that even with traditional publishers, the cover issues could be fraught. (Read my post What’s in a book cover? (Part 2): The Whole Damn Thing!) So, I was stuck with this cover.
The book was published, and then the real sales pitches began. Hardly a week went by when I didn’t receive a call or an email from my “marketing consultant.” They wanted to sell me book trailer development services, book review services, and then there was the offer of the movie treatment services. (Read about this debacle at Finding a home for the next book.) This went on for months regardless of how many times I told them to stop calling and emailing.
By this point I had come to the conclusion that their business model was based on selling services rather than on selling books (although that would be nice, too, since they do take quite a chunk of the royalties).
The worst thing about this dumb decision on my part is that it’s so difficult to retake control of the book. I’d dearly like to change the cover. I’m told that this will cost me $140.00 even if I do it myself or hire a talented cover designer to do it. My contract with them (yes, you have to sign a contract that gives them very specific rights to the book), indicates that I can get out of it with notice, but it’s difficult to find anyone to discuss this with who won’t try to sell me another service that I don’t want.
In 2013 US-based law firm Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP began “investigating the practices of Author Solutions and all of its brands (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Inkubook, and Wordclay). Authors using Author Solutions have complained of deceptive practices, including enticing authors to purchase promotional services that are not provided or are worthless, failing to pay royalties, and spamming authors and publishing blogs/sites with promotional material.” Although there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on the development of a class action law suit, it does speak to the widespread discontent of authors who have purchased these services. Upselling isn’t actually illegal, just annoying and a bit disingenuous.
I am going to try to retrieve my rights (and dignity) when I have the time. Until then, iUniverse gets a big chunk of any sales and the cover is still hideous. It’s a good book though!
So, this was my dumb mistake. I offer it only as a cautionary tale. We all have to make our own mistakes!