It’s crunch time. My post is due and I woke at 3 am in a panic with no topic. (Sound familiar, Dan?) There is too much going on in my life. But then an idea I have been toying with for some time came back. I can share the story of my experience with iUniverse and use it as a cautionary tale for novice authors. And cautionary it is.
Let me preface this by saying that I do believe there are legitimate ‘self-publishing’ companies out there who deliver what they promise with integrity and quality. But let me also emphasize that such companies are few and far between and, to most of us, indistinguishable from the rest.
I have singled out iUniverse because that is where my story happened. The real point of this post, however, is that my story is not unique and definitely not exclusive to iUniverse. LinkedIn had a thread about the Author Solutions company, under whose umbrella I believe iUniverse, as well as Authorhouse, fall. Other companies were also mentioned there. There are others, many others, not under Author Solutions, and that is what makes this so important. The experiences of their customers, Indie authors all, new to this game and naïve, were overwhelmingly similar. Again, there were exceptions.
In 2008 I did what I thought was good research on the ‘net to see how self-publishers were rated. I also checked out which ones offered the services I felt I needed at the time, and what the costs would be for those services. I did my homework – I thought.
iUniverse stood out as the best option for me. I contacted them and opted for their top package at the time at a cost of roughly $1100.00. The package included two editorial reviews and the opportunity to earn their ‘Editors’ Choice Award’, which I felt would increase my sales, should I win it. It also included the support of a personal assistant with whom I could be in constant touch by email.
Things started out swimmingly. My assistant proved very helpful – the first one. By the time my book came out I had gone through three. My first editorial review suggested a number of ways to improve my book. This was the most important element to me because I felt I needed some guidance due to my lack of writing experience. I cut 30%, re-ordered some chapters and edited it myself four times, had my other half edit it as well. I re-sent it. I was pleased with the second review but felt I wanted another kick at that can so I purchased a third review, requesting a different set of eyes this time to give me a broader look. They told me how close I was to getting that coveted award but suggested my book needed a copy edit and a proof-read to bring it up to snuff. I paid an additional $2000.00 (roughly) for those two services. This was a huge sacrifice for us as it did not fit our budget at all. But I did get the award and believed this put me on the road to being recognized, and would garner me good sales. After all, only 5% of their authors got the ‘Editor’s Choice’ seal on their covers. (I counted.)
My package also included a cover design. Their site led me to believe it would be custom created by an artist in accordance with my ideas. When I filled in the form I was told it was too busy because they use stock photos that a graphic designer then manipulates into a cover. When I challenged them, citing their own website, they hooked me up with their head graphic designer. I must admit she was good. I got a cover I truly liked, but it still was not what they advertised.
When my books arrived (a 350 book bulk shipment, most of which I had to pay for at $1700.00) I was elated. They looked beautiful. My hopes were high.
But, a marketing package was part of my ‘package’. It did not arrive and their website no longer included it. Eventually they convinced me to pay for a press release. It was appalling. I rewrote it myself and told them to use my version. They also sold me “a list of contacts for newspapers and media, concentrating on the three cities close to me which I specified”. The list I received had almost none of the contacts I expected and over 100 for remote places as far away as the Yukon. The names were out of date or incorrect. Calls to complain got me nowhere. They stonewalled me. I learned later that they outsourced their marketing. No quality control there at all.
All my sales came through my personal effort. Literally none were the result of the award. I had to push to be listed at amazon.ca in spite of iUniverse’s promise to do so at the outset.
Then readers pointed out two inconsistencies that no one had caught. Now I have learned that there are editing errors still in the final product.
Am I steamed? You bet.
The moral of the story is, your homework may not be enough to find a ‘self-publisher’ you can trust. Word of mouth is still best, preferably from several established Indie authors who have used these companies and been pleased. Better yet, find a recommended private editor and then publish your book for nothing on either CreateSpace and Kindle or Smashwords. Your end product will be better and so will your reputation.
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Yvonne Hertzberger is a Contributing Author at Indies Unlimited and author of Back From Chaos and Through Kestrel’s Eyes, Books One and Two of Earth’s Pendulum, an Epic fantasy trilogy. For more information please see the IU Bio page and her blog @ http:/yvonnehertzberger.com.