iUniverse Complaints: Interview with Jodi Foster

Today I’m publicizing the story of Jodi Foster, author of Forgotten Burial: A Restless Spirit’s Plea for Justice. When we first started talking, Jodi informed me that iUniverse had asked her to stop airing her complaints and contacting other authors.

Ha!

iuniverse complaints jodi foster

Foster's story will appear on Syfy's "Paranormal Witness" this October.

That’s when I knew I just had to publish her story here on Suess’s Pieces.

Today’s interview is yet another call for iUniverse and other Author Solutions companies to be held accountable for their actions.

Like Jodi told me a couple of weeks ago,  ”We as authors and consumers need to ban together and stand up for our rights as artists. We should not be bullied by iUniverse or be afraid.”

Jodi names names in her account. In most cases I have used only the first initial of the employee’s last name; for Eugene Hopkins I’ve made an exception. His name is already all over the internet and is suggested as a contact by former employees.

ES: At what point did you realize you’d been scammed?

Foster: iUniverse has some real good sales people that could sell ice water to an Eskimo. After writing my book and having it professionally edited by Meredith Cooper, Managing editor for Chico News and Review, I was ready for self-publishing. I researched and saw that iUniverse was number one in self-publishing on a Google search. However, after more research I realized that Xlibris, the other company I was looking at, was part of Author Solutions, the parent company that owned both publishers. Since iUniverse was number one, I chose to go with them. I am really sorry I did.

Kathy W. sold me on the Bookstore Premier Pro package, which I purchased for $1,499. This program qualified me for Rising Star and Editor’s Choice, supposedly two prestigious writing awards offered through iUniverse.  I thought the amount of money she was asking for seemed pricey. I told Kathy I was a low-income single mom with two kids, and it was going to be a stretch for me to pay this amount of money, but she was a convincing sales woman. I knew I had a great book on my hands that had been read and reviewed and edited by a newspaper editor, an elementary teacher, and a college professor. My book, Forgotten Burial: A Restless Spirit’s Plea for Justice, was even connected to a New York Times best seller, published by Random House. I asked Kathy if there would be any other future costs and she said no.  I went ahead and took my savings, and bought the package. Well guess what…iUniverse lied, I soon found out that there were other hidden costs.

After I sent the money I uploaded my manuscript to iUniverse. Two weeks later I got an e-mail that said they loved my book and it would qualify for their Editors Choice program; however, my manuscript needed a developmental edit. I said to Kathy, “My book has been professionally edited already and proofread three times.” Apparently I was going to have to spend more money to have iUniverse do it again.

She said,  ”If you want to reach the Editor’s Choice, which I am sure you will, and have iUniverse get behind you to market your book, you will I have to buy a developmental edit for, $4196.26.

What…

I said, “Are you kidding me? I already had my manuscript professionally edited.” She convinced me it was not good enough for these prestigious awards, and I soon found myself on a payment plan.

Stupid, naive me. This is when I realized I was being scammed.

After paying, I did receive these awards. I was promised my book was going to be promoted by iUniverse due to the fabulous content, nature and the remarkable writing.

Hummmm, weird, I thought because not much in the developmental edit had changed. My story was still the same, with only a few minor adjustments. I was mad that I had to spend so much money for such minor changes, but Kathy again and again promised me Marketing! Marketing! Marketing! And, now that I received Rising Star, iUniverse would be promoting and pitching my book to bigger publishing houses. This sounded good at first. However, once again I was misled.

Yes, I was given a marketing consultant, Brian H. He told me iUniverse has a bi-yearly magazine that features all the Rising Star Authors and that they would be pitching my book to agents who produced movies and TV shows. I was excited at first but, unfortunately, the only thing I actually got from Brian H. was another sales pitch to buy a marketing package for $3,999.

Grrr…. anger is a kind word for what I was feeling. Misled again.

I told Kathy W. there was already a lot of information out there regarding my story. If I had received Rising Star and Editor’s Choice, why did I have to pay more money for marketing? She said that her job with me was over and that it was no longer her job. My book was now in the  hands of Brian H. Well, Brian H. did absolutely nothing for me except try and sell me more unneeded BS.

All iUniverse did was print my book, give me a hard time, and exploit me for money. And if this wasn’t painful enough? After printing, I received the cost for each book. I was not expecting to sell as many books as I did. So I questioned iUniverse’s customer service about their prices and asked where all my money was being spent. Basically, an author only receives $1.60 per book, a topic not discussed when you are purchasing your POD package.  This is what I received from Sherry T., who apparently works under Pamela H., for costumer relations at iUniverse:

I am providing you this information so that you’ll be aware about how you can earn and maximize the full potential of your book. I’ll be sending you an email as well that contains the Guide to Smart Self Promotion and please take time to read through it.

Here’s your copy of your Author Volume Discount.

http://www.iUniverse.com/why-iUniverse/publishing-the-iUniverse-way/selling-your-book/author-discounts.aspx

Soft Cover retail price: $17.95:

Copies Discount Price Per Book
1-24

30%

$12.57

25-49

35%

$11.67

50-99

40%

$10.77

100-249

45%

$9.87

250-499

50%

$8.98

500-999

55%

$8.08

1000-1999

60%

$7.18

2000+

65%

$6.28

Hard Cover retail price: $27.95

Copies Discount Price Per Book
1-24

20%

$22.36

25-49

30%

$19.57

50-99

35%

$18.17

100-249

40%

$16.77

250-499

45%

$15.37

500-999

50%

$13.98

Here’s why YOU need to purchase copies of your book with us:

1) You get the highest margin when you sell books directly.

Bookstores take 40% of your revenue when you sell through them, your royalty is always higher on direct sales (remember, the discount you get translates directly into a higher percentage of the sale in your pocket) than on Web sales. Web royalties are fixed.  Direct sales profit grows the more books you order.

2) You build word-of-mouth publicity and reader loyalty when you get in front of your target market.

Meeting your readers is the best way to get them involved and talking about your book. Appearing before a group will always generate more book sales than advertising, direct mail or publicity. You get a chance to have a meaningful interaction with your readers, and they remember this.

3) Events create opportunities for media exposure.

The media is event-driven. A book signing, public speaking engagement, creative event, or presentation is always a better draw for media attention than just a press release because it is an event.

Larger volumes create an even greater profit margin for YOU!!!

Best regards,

Sherry T.
Book Consultant

1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington IN 47403
P: 877.820.5395 ext 8243

ES: When did you realize they weren’t paying accurate royalties?

Foster: After all the initial hard work and heartache, I did all my promoting and marketing myself. I got my story in newspapers, radio and TV. I knew I had a great story and so did others. I received great book reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other web sites, and I have my own web site, http://jodifoster.net/. Due to all of my promotion, I was contacted by the Syfy channel to do a one-hour episode on my story. It will air in October 2012. The show is called “Paranormal Witness.”

What I find funny is that even with all the promotion I did, iUniverse tells me that I haven’t sold but a total of 49 books in the 3rd quarter (July, August, Sept, 2011) and 70 books in the 4th quarter (October, Nov, Dec 2011). I know this is a lie, and I have proof that I have sold more then was being reported through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In fact, after I called customer service at least 50 times to no avail, I finally got a call from Pamela H. She was completely incompetent and downright mean. She said, “We will publish anyone’s book, we are not going to market and hold an author’s hand. That is the author’s job; we are simply a POD [print on demand] company.”

I got mad and reminded her that I hired her, and that IUniverse was working for me, not the other way around. iUniverse did not represent themselves as a simple POD when they were selling me their services.  I insisted she send me proof of my sales and royalties and explain where their 80% was being spent. This is what she sent me:

Your book now has the EC and RS icons with it on the iUniverse online bookstore.  The book is also listed under the links for these recognition programs.

Royalties are figured as 20% of the net sale.

The equation always begins with the cover price minus the vendor discount.  The resulting amount is the net sale, of which the author receives 20%.

Some of the expenses covered by the portion iUniverse receives are listed below.

Printing and binding costs using POD equipment

  • Pay IT staff and system maintenance which runs the iUniverse online bookstore, the author’s myUniverse site, and accounting’s system.  IT helps compile data from vendors for posting sales and royalties
  • Pay accounting staff
  • Cut, stuff, and mail royalty checks
  • Pay Customer Support staff to be available 24/7 to assist with concerns and answer questions, and the expenses to maintain their system and equipment such as computers, phones, server, etc.
  • Pay staff member to complete the procedure for reassigning royalties when authors want the royalties to go to a family member or a LLC company, or in the event of the death of the author
  • Pay staff members who work with distributors and vendors to make certain quality standards are maintained and to make sure processes continue to flow smoothly
  • Pay for staff members to work towards other opportunities for our authors such as the current negotiations for our eBooks to be carried by a distributor, which would allow libraries to carry eBooks much as they do printed books.

This is a sample of things which benefit authors, many of which are behind the scenes.

 

Regards,
Pamela H.
Customer Support Supervisor
iUniverse
1663 Liberty Drive Suite 200
Bloomington, IN 47403
1-800-authors, ext. 3

My hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm EST.

eugene hopkins author solutionsAfter all my calls to customer service and complaining, and becoming a part of a Facebook page of authors who were being screwed by iUniverse. I finally got a call from Mr. Eugene Hopkins who requested I show him my proof of my book sales.

Now, mind you, his request for proof came after his comment suggesting people lied to me about buying my book just to shut me up, and I quote the explanation given for such low sales numbers, from the lips of Eugene himself:

“I have lied to girl scouts in front of Wal-Mart and told them I already bought cookies just so I didn’t have to talk to them or purchase any cookies.”

Are you kidding me? This was his professional explanation for their discrepancy in book sales. I refused to give him the source of my proof. During this conversation, Mr. Hopkins asked me to stop contacting other authors from IUniverse about my issues. I didn’t keep my mouth shut. I knew I couldn’t have been the only one who experienced iUniverse’s deceit.

ES: Did you ever get a refund?

Foster: Yes, three days after our conversation I received a refund for the marketing package I purchased, but not for the initial publishing package.

Then I requested from Eugene Hopkins, Pamela H., and customer service paperwork detailing all sales and royalties of my book from all sources. Guess what? None of the reports I received from any of them added up. Their own internal reports didn’t even match.

When I asked customer service about accounting practices, they passed the buck and told me that there must be some kind of error in IT.  All I can say is that iUniverse should be held accountable to all authors for their misrepresentation. There should be a class action lawsuit against them.

ES: What happens next for you?

Foster: The good news is, I continued to pursue other avenues and I got a real literary agent in New York who saw the potential of my book and recognized the writing and storytelling abilities I have. My story will appear on a number one Syfy show in October, and my dreams of being the author of a great book are becoming reality—without IUniverse.

See the full index and read more iUniverse complaints.

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.
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Little/565071363 Paul Little

    [pedant]Perhaps, instead of banning together, we could band together.[/pedant]

  • Darin Carlson

    I think you have enough evidence, why not solicit the Attorney General of the state that iUniverse is founded and have him file the class aciton suit?  If the AG gets enough complaints of fraud or whatever, he has no choice but to investigate.  Idaho’s AG did that to a Debt Colleciton Service that was doing similar things and he absolutely buried them.

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

      It’s a valid point, Darin. Not being a customer, I have no actual complaint to file. But I did read that people were trying to organize some kind of class action suit against the company. I also read (and this is purely speculation) that the Indiana AG had some kind of good ol’ boy connection to the company’s executives. Like I said, nothing verifiable, but if it is true? Could totally hinder the process. Plus some of the other allegations against Author Solutions and iUniverse are even less savory than customer complaints I’ve been seeing. 

    • Lawrence

      I know that one irate customer did tun to the AG and they basically laughed him off

      • Nutt Justin

        I talked to a gentlemen yesterday in the process of attempting to get people together for a class action suit and he stated that when he contacted the Attorney General in Indiana all they did was turn the letter over to iUniverse as a complaint and nothing came of it.

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

          It’s going to take more than one letter from someone without an attorney to get Zoeller’s attention. Everyone who has been screwed by ASI/iUniverse is going to have to put in some real effort for the thing to get the attention it needs at the AG level. 

          The authors can’t just say “ASI is evil” either. The royalty scamming, the contract breaching, the undelivered services…it all has to be detailed, documented, spelled out.The real questions is, how dedicated are these wronged consumers to making ASI accountable for its actions? Because I’ll be honest, I’ve spent a lot more time fighting these bastards than some of the authors who’ve been ripped off– and I’m not even a customer. 

          • Nutt Justin

            Agree that is the reason I am trying to get as many people together for a class action suit as possible.  In my case it is especially troubling as I don’t even keep the profits from my sales.  All of my profits are donated to the organization that I founded and am Executive Director of Acts of Random Kindness (ARK.)  All the profits are used to implement a new program for the organization to implement a new program for survivors of domestic violence.  Luckily I have a large number of copies that I purchased and am selling those through my own website.

            Even having a new avenue to publish my book I am still wanting to stage a huge fight against these companies, not so much for myself, but for the countless others who will no doubt be cheated by them and may or may not ever know.  People who like Jodi are single parents and who use saving to publish their book only to have the largest percentage of their profits go to iUniverse who provided little to no services.

  • Jodi Foster

    Project: Jodi Foster
    FROM: Customer Support
    TO: chicorose1111[@]yahoo[.]com
    Message flagged: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 5:22 PM

    Dear Jodi Foster, 
    Thank you for contacting iUniverse. I checked with Barry and he has requested assistance from our supervisor regarding your royalty report concern. Our supervisor, Pamela Hawkins or Eugene Hopkins will contact you soon to discuss this. Please don’t hesitate to contact any member of the customer support team if you have any further questions or concerns. You can reach us via email at customersupport@iuniverse.com or call at 1-800-288-4677. 

    Sincerely Yours, 
    May Alvarez PSA,
    Customer Support
    iUniverse
    1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 300
    Bloomington, IN 47403
    customersupport@iuniverse.com
    Phone: 1-800-288-4677
    Fax: 1-812-355-4085

    This was on May 23 2012. I still have’t heard from Pam Hawkins or Eugene Hopkins.  I have called customer support numerous times since the 23rd, and still nothing.

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

      Sadly, I don’t think anyone will be surprised, Jodi. Author Solutions, iUniverse et al. seem to be ignoring ALL the unhappy customers right now. And I can’t for the life of me think why they feel this is a good for business. I’d say they’re doing more to mar their own reputation than I ever could at this point. 

      (I edited the above comment for format only, so it would be easier to read.)

      • NonDilusionalAuthor

        I’m sure they are ignoring all 8 of you unhappy customers. Wait….8 out of how many? 150,000? Oh That That IS horrible!

        • Justin Nutt

          It is far more than 8, I have talked to at least 50 and those are the ones who have emailed me as a result of Emily’s work and a comment I made on another website. Now is it every customer No, but then not every book sells so they don’t need to fake those records. Jodi’s case her story got made into a docudrama by SyFy, it was the most downloaded episode of the series to date. Mine if I can run into people where I live who have read the book (recognize me from the back cover picture) and sit and talk with them about the book and they know every detail you think iUniverse isn’t lying when they have said I only sold books in the UK? You call your self “non-delusional author” answer this, why do they have an entire team dedicated to search the internet for bad reports, but never do anything about any of them beside tell lies? Actually I don’t want your answer to that, because I am pretty sure you are a member of one of those teams.

        • Sebastian Shores

          There are thousands of unhappy customers. Tens of thousands, you can find all over the internet- Xilbris sales rep pretending to be an author. I don’t believe there is a single happy customer of Author Solutions imprints. The only ones saying they are happy are those who have only just paid, and sales reps like you pretending to be authors on complaint sites.

    • Lawrence

      At least you got a reply by email. I found that they were not replying to emails. But calling was also of no use.

    • Nutt Justin

      You will have to call Eugene a dozen times to talk to him once (if lucky) and then he will simply double talk and avoid the topic at hand.  If you call him on that he becomes very aggressive.

  • Lawrence

    Jodi tells me that Eugene Hopkins is now the only one authorized to talk to her and that her account is locked.

    For me, my book has been cancelled by iUniverse. I know that there are some outstanding sales, some that they told me were carried over from 2011 to Q1 and some sales in Q1. I guess I will not be seeing anything

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

      Thanks for the update.  #AuthorSolutions has the worst customer service ever. 

  • Nutt Justin

    Jodi your story sounds hugely similar to mine.  I have talked to good old Eugene several times and he stated pretty much the same thing to me.  I find it funny that he thinks people would write emails, contact me through my website, call in to radio shows I am on, or even come up to me in public and state they have bought my book, but it all be lies.  They report that I have sold 9 copies, well let me rephrase that he stated 1 copy was sold through their website, then stated that there was a total of 14 copies sold, but none through their website or in the US at all, then I got a “sales report” from him which stated 9 copies were sold.  

    Also similar he wants proof of the sales.  He wants me to contact each of these people and get a batch number from them off the book so he can “look into it.”

  • Angry at ASI

    If you want to get revenge, better alert Publisher’s Weekly about everything you’ve dug up, and get organized with the Attorney General NOW. Office is being revamped – last time they did this was the week before Bertram bought us.

  • http://twitter.com/AiAuthors Independent Authors

    These stories are very concerning; we’ve heard them before, and unfortunately more and more authors will suffer similarly unless these companies go out of business. That’s why we formed the Association of Independent Authors – to offer a place for authors to ask questions and be informed before they spend/waste thousands of dollars. 

    It’s ridiculous that they would ask for a batch number! Why can’t you just tender your Bookscan Sales Report from Author Central? You can generate a report for the past 12 months. 

    Alternatively, you can unpublish your book, rename it, change the cover  as well, and sell it directly via CreateSpace and Lightning Source. More importantly, upload the eBooks – that’s where sales are these days. 

    Authors don’t need to publish through these companies – it’s so easy to do it yourself.

  • http://learnlanguage.ca Yuliya B

    Emily, I was scammed as well… I keep calling them but the manager never picks up the phone… Could you advise me what to do?