Even Employees Don’t Like iUniverse & Author Solutions

author solutions bloomington indianaIf employee reviews of Author Solutions, Inc. are any indication, the company and it’s many self-publishing imprints face an uncertain future.

According to anonymous reviews on Glassdoor.com, an online community providing information about jobs and companies, the approval rating of Author Solutions CEO Kevin Weiss is a staggering 12%, and the overall company rating is 1.3, which translates to “very dissatisfied” according to the Glassdoor.com rubric.

Of course it’s likely that only the most disgruntled employees are taking the time to vent. But with such horrible ratings, one has to wonder where the loyal employees are hiding, if, in fact, there are any loyal employees to be found.

The review headlines for a majority of the anonymous responses are cringe-worthy, particularly when you take into account that  majority owner Bertram Capital would like to unload Author Solutions in the near future.

A March 7, 2012 Publishers Weekly article states:

“Coming off of a year with sales of $99.8 million and net income of $4.2 million, representatives for Author Solutions Inc. are looking for a buyer for the self-publishing giant. According to the offering memorandum, majority owner Bertram Capital, which made its first investment in ASI in 2007,  is interesting (sic) in ‘pursuing a liquidity event as part of the normal investment cycle.’”

Maybe a sale could shake things up enough to change some of these review headlines:

  • Disappointing
  • Poor leadership
  • Just not worth it
  • Awful first job
  • Poorly run and slightly delusional
  • Poor upper management
  • Great idea…pathetic, greedy implementation

Poor Leadership

thumbs down iuniverse

Employees’ stories have several recurring themes: poor leadership, constant fear of outsourcing, and dishonest business practices. In fact, one reviewer wrote of the leadership at Author Solutions, “Senior management … spends bulk of their time watching Hulu and playing on Facebook.”

Another reviewer expressed concern about the executives’ lack of regard for customer satisfaction. “As I spoke with more and more customers and took it up the ladder, I realized that the company did not have its customers’ interests at heart.”

That reviewer was not alone. Another writes,

“AuthorHouse’s [an imprint of Author Solutions] management is the worst. Their entire focus is the bottom line with very little care for their employees or their customers…Middle Management at AuthorHouse is usually good, but Upper Management is out of touch with production or the realities of the processes they have installed. Most of the time it ends with customer dissatisfaction, unprofessional products, and shoddy workmanship.”

Threats of Outsourcing

Several employees report that they fear losing their positions to outsourcing citing a “culture of constant fear” and “fear of your job being outsourced.” This came as a result of operations and production responsibilities being shipped to the Philippines. An employee writes, “Pretty soon this company will be completely run out of Cebu. After I quit, my position was sent overseas rather than filled in the States.”

The reviews just get worse:

“The final blow was how they treat expansion. Make no mistake, Author Solutions is moving where the labor is cheap… And the employees that get replaced? They get taken into a room and fired with no warning, no notice. The boxes to clear your desk are piled by the door, and these meetings include 10-20 people at a time. Worst business ever.”

Customer Disservice

I feel for some of these Author Solutions employees, I really do. When you need a job, you take one. And it can be weeks or months before you realize what kind of outfit you’re actually working for.

To those current and past employees of Author Solutions, iUniverse, Author House, et al. who regret taking advantage of customers and being a part of this organization, take comfort in the fact that at the very least you haven’t lost your humanity yet.

If you ask me, any place getting these kinds of comments should do some serious soul-searching:

“Extremely disorganized. So many departments throw clients back and forth to so many different people it’s no wonder they get so upset by the time they reach you.”

“Outsourcing handled poorly and without any thought or planning, which greatly affected authors.”

“The products they offer and the promises they give their customers, many of whom are retired men and women spending a huge chunk of their savings to write and publish their books, are junk. No one buys them. They get almost no royalties. The dishonest business this place conducts made me sick to my stomach.”

Photo credits: Pratheepps; Dan Poehlman

About Emily Suess

Emily Suess is a technical marketing writer by day and a freelance copywriter by night. And, no, she's not related to Dr. Seuss.
  • Phil

    Looks like it’s actually dipped to 11% since you posted this.  Eek.

    • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

      Hmm. And it’s inched up to 1.4% as well. That May 18 review is a new one for me. Going to read it and sip a cup of coffee right now.

  • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

    Hmm. And it’s inched up to 1.4% as well. That May 18 review is a new one for me. Going to read it and sip a cup of coffee right now.

  • Lawrence

    Sales of $99M and net income of only $4.2M? You know what that means of course? Top management are drawing HUGE salaries, the kind that we dream of making in a decade.

  • http://twitter.com/rayntweets The Raynfall Agency

    I spotted this when I was doing some research for my article on their business model. Simply shocking. It’s no way to run a business.

    @2b04f7362221b3525e3ed923d293d7e2:disqus it could also mean that they’re just running on some very tight margins, but I think your estimation is probably correct. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and got an average of $181.46 earned for iUniverse per book from sales alone. Their cheapest package is $899, so, let’s lowball it for $1080.46 earned total on average per book.

    I can’t find any solid number for recent annual sales, but let’s say it’s similar or better to the reported number for 2005, which is 22,265. That works out to a little over $24 million in revenue. Their Linkedin profile lists them at 51-200 employees. Let’s assume 150 employees each with a salary of $30,000, based on some more numbers I found for average salaries for sales people in Bloomington, Indiana, where they’re based. (As their modus operandi is to sell authors on their products, we can assume that the majority of their workforce is in sales.) Let’s also assume they pay around $15,000 a month in rent for their office, again based on a little googling of commercial rents in that area. That’s a yearly major overhead (personnel and rent) of $4.7 million, and what we know about their business doesn’t suggest that they have any other big expenditures. I’ve already removed the cost of POD on each copy of a book they produce in my earlier calculation.

    I’m not sure if I’ve missed some other major costs, but even if you knock off another few million there, you’re talking about some huge profits coming from iUniverse alone. Those profits have to be going somewhere. Bear in mind that I’m lowballing the figures too – it’s highly unlikely that all of those books were sold on the cheapest package, meaning that the average sold, and thus profits, are a bit higher.

    (Usual disclaimer: I’m making some very broad assumptions here. Don’t take this as fact. This is just me doing some speculative numbers and I could be completely wrong.)

    • Lawrence

      In many cases, you are paying them for work they are not actually going to do. As has been pointed out, the people from each company within AuthorSolutions sit a few desks away from iUniverse or Xlibris. The address is the same. The “lawyer” who looked at my book had an email for AuthorSolutions and not iUniverse. 

      When it came to dealing with people, the people I was talking to all had iUniverse.com addresses, but their managers all had AuthorSolutions.com addresses.

      I cannot believe that I fell for this

      • http://twitter.com/rayntweets The Raynfall Agency

        Look, don’t feel too bad about this. Their whole business model is geared towards getting money from authors, and I think it’s clear they play on the author’s desire to be published to do it. They’ve had years to get good at extracting cash from you.

        Think about it this way – at least you’re out of it now.

      • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

        I agree with @twitter-558393733:disqus on this one, @2b04f7362221b3525e3ed923d293d7e2:disqus. The Author Solutions people are experts at weaseling money out of customers. And Lord knows how many people have a story similar to yours.

        I’m just glad they made you angry enough that you started speaking out about it. When other writers start looking to self-publish, they’ve got a better chance of learning the truth about the company–thanks to you and the other writers who have helped spread the word.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but your calculations are kind of absurd. There are more like 1600 employees internationally, but there are also way more services sold than just the ones you mentioned. They’ve said themselves they had over $100 million in sales in 2011, but the expenses are going to be a bit more for 1600 employees than they are for 150.

      Also, I’m not affiliated with them in any way, I just know how to use google.

      http://www.authorsolutions.com/News.aspx?id=776

  • SilverBee

    I wish I had a record of all the telephone calls I had with Xlibris and Author Solutions employees. After a while I began requesting (nay, demanding) emails rather than telephone conversations so that I’d have my own record. One person said, basically and ingenuously, that Xlibris has recordings. I do have a considerable file of correspondence outlining my dissatisfaction with all that had transpired and a few returns.

    At the moment, I have requested a refund on the amount I prepaid for the publication of my next two books. In the interim, trouble began brewing with the way my Book-to-Screen plan had been/was being handled. Supposedly my payment was to engage the services of professional who (according to a phone presentation) knew how to write the synopsis and analysis and, second point, knew which doors to knock on in Hollywood. When the synopsis came back it had typographical mistakes and errors of fact about the story! I was told we couldn’t question the “professionals,” but eventually, after three attempts, the copy came back correct. The analysis was an opinion, and it was fair until these professionals opted to add the comment that the project would be too expensive to consider! I thought it a gratuitous remark about a decision better left to the filmmakers. Finally, the upshot was that there was no “knocking on Hollywood’s doors” but simply posting the information on a database for the perusal of filmmakers, producers, etc. and that authors had no access to the database or how their books were viewed. I was told I would be informed IF someone showed an interest. At the end of a year, I received a letter on photocopied letterhead informing me that no one had. There was no signature on the letter. $699 down the drain–life lesson learned.

    I continue to receive promos for offers set to end in two or three days from Xlibris almost daily, even though I’m negotiating for a refund. In fact, a new voice has increased the volume–Philip Sarthou.

    I will say that the Author Learning Center has provided some interesting videos and webinars that were apparently included in my original Basic Program under which I published “The Girl Who Dreamed of Ships.” I’m happy with the look of the book, though it is a soft bound, no illustrations version. I painted the cover art and they followed my instructions to get it to print on front and back satisfactorily. So far I was happy. Sales have been almost nonexistent once friends and family had purchased copies. My marketing has been almost nonexistent, so I can’t really complain.

    Oh, I almost forgot–if you’re still reading–one of the most niggling displeasures I’ve experienced from the beginning–the way they provide sales and royalty information to authors. It takes them more than a month and a half (and a few days) to post the data. And since there is no item by item, real-time sales information the author can access, there is also no ability for the author to audit the records. I have no reason to think there have been any discrepancies, but it has still seem less than optimal from the author’s viewpoint.

    Beverly “SilverBee” Scofield