iUniverse Complaints: Interview with Author Lawrence Fisher

UPDATE 5/31/12: Lawrence has pulled his book from iUniverse. The new version of Kill Me Now  is available  for Kindle here.

Lawrence Fisher is the author of Kill Me Now! After self-publishing with iUniverse, Fisher ran into problems with the company. He’s agreed to share his story with the readers of Suess’s Pieces. You can learn more about Fisher on his blog.

For more information on this series, please read “iUniverse Rants: Coming Clean.” Have a similar story to share? Contact Emily.

ES: Can you tell us about your initial search for a publisher and what led you to contact iUniverse?

Fisher: I looked for a publisher and one publisher said that my genre did not fit in with them. They suggested self-publishing. In the Google search for self-publishing, xlibris came up. Negotiating with them, I researched the company and found that they were number seven on self-publishing, iUniverse was number one. [Note from Emily: xLibris and iUniverse are actually owned by the same company, AuthorSolutions.]

At the time, I didn’t realize that I could do it all myself.

ES: What was the deal you originally made with iUniverse to publish your book? Did you buy a specific publishing package?

Fisher: I purchased the Premier Package because it included Editorial Evaluation, Star Program Eligibility and Copyright Registration. In addition, I paid for three Marketing Services so that I could get a discount. I gave them $1,500. I did not pay rent for two months.

ES: What problems did you have with iUniverse, and how did they attempt to resolve your complaints? Were you happy with the result?

Lawrence Fisher, author of Kill Me Now!

Fisher: The problems started from the word go. My book went to Editorial Evaluation and they nominated it for the Star Program and Editor’s Choice. However, this was conditional on my paying for Editorial Services at a cost of almost $3,000. I was shocked. I said I had an editor. They told me that was acceptable but I must pay another $250 to go through Editorial Evaluation once again to become eligible for Editor’s Choice. They said I  also had to pay them $200 for a service known as Cover Copy Polish, which fixes up the back cover. I told them that I had no more money for that. They said “okay” and sent me along to another department. Issue UNRESOLVED.

The design of the cover was awful, too. They asked me for suggestions, and I gave them. The final example was not what I wanted, but they told me that I was only entitled to one round of corrections.

“Say what?”

They did not carry out my instructions and then wanted to charge me more? After complaining, they asked me to look for a photo, which I selected, the girl with boxing gloves. I asked for them to put the image on the backdrop of a restaurant. They did not. When I complained, they told me that I was not entitled to another round of revisions. I told them that it was only 5 minutes of additional work and proved it to them. They insisted it would hold up work for a week.

Another week for 5 minutes of work? Issue UNRESOLVED.

I told them to just send it on.

Next came marketing. Terrible service. I paid for a press release service, but I had to prepare the text. Their copywriters did not do anything. They claim to have sent it out to newspapers, but I got no comeback at all.

I also paid for email marketing and requested that it be sent 11/11/11. Their copywriters did not do anything. They simply took the text from the back of my book, which I wrote myself. They did not even send it on 11/11/11. I do not know when they sent it, nor do I know if anyone received it. So they offered me Social Media as compensation, and I had to REDO EVERYTHING. It was poorly setup.

As for sales – they do not report all sales books sales–not even from their own site–and they actually asked me to prove that there had been sales. Someone purchased an ebook from their site, but it did not show up. Also, Kindle purchases were not shown, and I provided them with proof. They told me that there were no records… Sales that I know of simply do not exist in their reports.

Customer support still does not answer my emails.

ES: How was your book publicized? Did you do it all yourself? Pay for them to help you market the finished product?

Fisher: Only by myself. They offered me nothing unless I paid for it. Even guidance. They sent me a document containing sites to contact and that is it.

On my own, I have had 8 radio interviews and blog tours and a few others. I publicize it myself on Twitter and Facebook. But people get sick of hearing you publicize your book on the same networks.

In short, iUniverse did nothing to help, despite my book being originally nominated for Editor’s Choice.

ES: Is there anything else you want to add? Advice for others considering using iUniverse to publish?

Fisher: Customer support is unsupportive. They often do not answer emails. On the telephone, one person says one thing and someone else says something else. I was told for six weeks that there were no sales of my book, even though I was standing next to someone who had received his copy and wanted me to sign it for him. No sales?

They have since blocked me from their Facebook page, as well as the group of people that are following me.

My advice to anyone who wants to use this company is to give me the money instead. I will give you nothing back as well, but I promise you less heartache.

Stay away from iUniverse.

UPDATE: iUniverse made contact with Mr. Fisher yesterday in a rather odd exchange in the comments on his recent blog post. I think my favorite part is how Keith mentions refunding Mr. Fisher’s credit card and Mr. Fisher basically reminds them that according to iUniverse employees, they don’t keep credit card information on file. And, oh by the way, Mr. Fisher originally paid by wire transfer.

If something smells fishy to you right about now, congratulations! Your nose works.

iUniverse is owned by Author Solutions, Inc., a Bertram Capital-owned holding company.

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.
  • Lawrence

    As an addition, they sent me a private email saying that they would refund all the money I paid. As I have no trust with them at all, I answered them on the blog. One of the followers who have had problems with iUniverse said that she was promised a refund two months ago and it is still not forthcoming.

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

      Keep us posted. 

  • Lawrence

    The one person asked me why I am airing my grievances out in public. Well that is the only option when they do not answer emails. 

    I have to prove to them that there were sales! As I mentioned in one of my comments, all they sent me as proof was a report. I can also print a report like that using Google Docs.

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

      I noticed that. I love how they tried to shame you, when they’re the ones being deceitful. My ex-husband actually used the same tactics on me back in the day, and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to find out that he–their publicity strategist–was the one leaving comments on your blog using Keith Ogorek’s name.

      But aside from all of that, you have every right as a consumer to let the world know what kind of problems you are having with the company. iUniverse is obligated to live up to its word, or else deal with the social consequences. My guess is that they want to keep everything hush-hush so that dissatisfied customers don’t get together and start dropping hints of class action lawsuits or something.

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

    *sigh* Another story of unscrupulous vanity publishers taking a stars-in-his-eyes aspiring writer and squeezing him dry. What these people are doing should be against the law.

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

      I agree! 

      But, short of that, I’ll settle for an educated public that puts them out of business by refusing to work with them.

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

         I had a thought, Em. How about some discussion of valid self-publishing options? I know Wil Wheaton has several books out – all of them self-published. One of the services he has used, and spoken favourably about, is Lulu. Amazon offers a self-publishing option for Kindle eBooks as well – I have a friend who has self-published a novel that way. An aspiring author has avenues these days that weren`t available even a decade ago. There`s no reason for scammers like AuthorHouse to even exist anymore.

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

          That’s doable, Paul. Can you get me an interview with Wil? ;)

          Seriously though, do you think your self-published friend would want to talk about his/her experience for an interview post similar to this one?

          One of the Writers’ Week judges self-published too, completely on his own if I remember right. I should try to touch base with him.

          Anyway, good idea!

        • Lawrence

          There is CreateSpace belonging to Amazon as well. I do not like lulu.com as they are restrictive and their website is not friendly.

          There are other avenues.

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

             I did poke about on Lulu’s website a bit this morning and found it to be less than intuitive.

        • Cpennyc

           Primal Scream – LuLu is as bad if not worse than iUniverse.  Emily found me through a couple stories on my web site: pennycallmeyer.com
          I agree it would be excellent to have a discussion about viable/honest routes to take.  In addition to my iUniverse story, please read, Pay to Publish and Beware and Compare POD Publishers.  These last two articles are reposts from other Industry Experts, not just my opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/Incandescere Candace Nicholson

    Wow. Just wow. I’m glad I clicked through to Lawrence’s blog to learn that iUniverse didn’t even fulfill their part of the agreement regarding copyright registration. Again, just … wow. All that requires is filling out forms and submitting them to the right agencies, and they couldn’t even do that.

    I didn’t know Author Solutions was having financial trouble, but now that I think about it, Indianapolis Woman magazine has folded as well, and they’re owned by the same publishing family.

    I’m sorry you had to go through this Lawrence. It’s a terrible lesson to learn the hard way. I hope they refund your money in full. Keep us posted on the drama as it unfolds. :-)

    And Emily? I’m so glad you’re using your sleuthing powers for good instead of evil. I might need to hire you to take care of a few things for me. ;-)

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

      Now that’s a profession I hadn’t considered! :)

  • Lawrence

    Just to keep you all appraised, Keith has sent me an email requesting wire information to refund my money. 

    “Two things. I posted another comment on your blog. Please approve so people know I have tried to connect with you. Second, if you read below, I need to confirm your wire information to make sure we have the correct information. I think we do, but I want to confirm it is correct.”

    I answered him and I am waiting for his reply.I will keep this blog appraised. Frankly, if they had spent any of this time on actual marketing, maybe there would have been many sales 

    • Cpennyc

       Wow, seriously, they are talking about refunding your money?  Emily is going to be interviewing a customer/friend of mine soon.  She got zilch back from them, she’ll probably want to hear how you got them to refund.  Let us know when the money is in the bank and not just talk.  I really hope you get it!

  • Cpennyc

    Thanks so much for publishing this information, I’m glad Emily found  a nightmare story on my web site regarding iUniverse.  Let’s get together and get this word out so people stop getting ripped off!
    Penny

  • http://withjustabitofmagic.com Jackie

    Wow… now that is incredible poor business practices! My guess is that Lawrence isn’t the only on that that this has happened to and hopefully more and more people will start coming forth to talk about it. 
    I don’t assume that iUniverse is going to change anything but at least now people will know and think twice about using them!!

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

      That’s the goal, Jackie!  A couple of other interviews are in the works and will be published here too. 

      Places like iUniverse don’t suddenly have a change of heart about how they treat their customers, so my plan is to keep publishing and publicizing these authors’ stories for as long as the submissions come in.

      Hopefully others will help us put pressure on iUniverse to do right by these authors.

    • Lawrence

      You should check out my blogs about this and posts all over. On my facebook group, I have 30 people who have had similar things happen.

      Now I want to republish but by myself. A waste of 8 months already. 

      Stupid thing is that had I known all this I could have just paid them the minimum $700, just to do the things that I did not know how to do. Most of it I know how to do today

  • Timemerson

    Good lord.  What a mess.  Vanity Presses have always been an “if,” but these are ridiculous prices and service conditions.  Question-why not just go with an established “old school” vanity press?

    Better yet, today, why go to a vanity press or e-service at all?  A few weeks work and a few hundred dollars will have you laying out your book on InDesign like a pro.  Export it as a PDF and you’ve got an e-book.  Get yourself a website and some SEO advice (less than $100 for both from many reputable vendors), and you’re in business.

    Writer/Tim

    • Timemerson

       aka “writingtrue”

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

      Tim, I do think people are figuring out they can do it themselves more easily and for way less money, but so many only realize it after it’s too late and the company has screwed them over.

      And for everyone’s benefit now:

      At some level, I understand why there’s this appeal to have the book publishing done for you, worry-free. It’s the same thing that leads people to pay for a housekeeper or whatever–convenience. (The difference, however, is that you can actually see that the housekeeper is doing work.) 

      But sadly iUniverse doesn’t want to deliver ANY services of actual value. What services they do provide most always fail to meet customers’ expectations, let alone live up to the standards promised by their reps or even their web copy. That’s because with exorbitant prices, you kind of expect to see results.

      I mean, $800 gets you a couple of social media accounts and a blog and some basic instructions on how to post the content yourself. That’s maybe 30 minutes worth of work, depending how many accounts they set up for you (the website doesn’t stipulate, but I’d guess more like 5 minutes of work for Facebook and Twitter and a Posterous.com freebie blog.)

      I don’t know about the rest of you, but for $800 I could easily get a customized website/blog theme on a real domain and have enough left over to pay for domain registration, Facebook & Twitter branding, AND hosting fees.

      Seriously. iUniverse should be ashamed.

      • Lawrence

        And I ended up doing it all myself

  • http://twitter.com/keithogorek Keith Ogorek

    In the interest of fairness and for the benefit of your readers, would you like to interview someone from iUniverse? If so, I am available and look forward to seeing what questions you might have. 

    • Lawrence

      Emily, 

      I think you should take Keith up on his offer. I am tired of hearing excuses like we have over 45000 books and so we cannot market them.

      Hopefully my full refund will be coming soon

      Lawrence

  • Cpennyc

    I would think that was fair if all of the people we’ve been talking about/to actually have their money returned, for services they paid for and never received.

  • http://twitter.com/keithogorek Keith Ogorek

    Certainly if there are services that have not been fulfilled, we will make sure they get delivered.

  • Cpennyc

    Right, and how would you deliver services to people that have already pulled out of iUniverse due to your lack of performance?  Perhaps you will get a voice when that wire transfer lands in Lawrence’s bank account!  But, that would just be a start, until you’ve made things right with a long list of people (which is growing everyday), until then it’s lips service and excuses!   Tell me Keith, how do you sleep at night?

    • Lawrence

      I can tell you that people have been promised refunds and are still waiting.

      • Nutt Justin

        I got an offer or a refund today, $1.00, I am not kidding they offered me $1.00 refund.  How about what they do is actually pay the royalties that are owed.  I have spoken to around 200 people who have stated they bought the book or were given a copy from a friend, this was during radio interviews, through my website, and yet they state that only 9 copies have been sold.  Well that is what their “sales reports” (a term I use loosely says) of course Eugene Hopkins stated that there were 14 when I talked to him on the phone, then he tried to say that was because there are 14 lines on the “sales report.”  Hell I have had three people come up to me because they recognized me from the pic on the cover, stating thy bought the book from iUniverse and yet they say that not only were there no sales through there site, but there have only been sales in the UK.  

  • Lawrence

    Thank you all for your support. I will let you all know IF I get the refund

  • Lawrence

    People. I got a partial refund. Just thought I would update all.

    • Lawrence

      To be fair to Keith, he says that they gave me a full refund and that my bank may have taken off a sum of money in fees. I need to check in to that

      • iUniverseSucks

        by all maens, let’s be fair to keith

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

      iUniverse is essentially just trying to buy your silence at this point…placate you with the smallest payment they think they can get away with in exchange for your silence on the issue. I’ve seen it a hundred times. In the meantime, they get to say “Hey, we gave him some money back! We’re good people.”
      And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

      Partial? Nope, I wouldn’t be satisfied with that. It’s not a true refund, and it shows they are clearly not ready to accept responsibility for their failure to follow through. 

      • Lawrence

        iUniverse made a full refund. The discrepancy was due to exchange rates

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

          That’s great news! I’m shocked. :)
          The first step is for them to make amends with current customers. The next step is for them to stop predatory sales spiels and change to a business model that respects independent authors.

          Let’s see if they’re still listening.

  • Lawrence

    How is this that I received over the weekend from someone at AuthorHouse:

    Hi Lawrence, 

    How are you doing? 

    I’m writing to inform you about the Good News! Here at AuthorHouse, we make your words bloom and grow this season of spring! Purchase a print publishing package and get another one for only $1. 

    Think about it, it’s as good as publishing two books for almost the price of one. You don’t even need to have two finished manuscripts to take advantage of this rare opportunity. You can invest now and publish later, or you can give your second package as a unique gift to someone special. 

    Take in the bounty that spring brings. You don’t need to have a finished manuscript for you to enjoy these offers but time is about to run out. 

    The address is the same as iUniverse and Xlibris. Maybe I should give them a try

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

      Too many @AuthorSolutions:twitter brands to keep track of. These people should be ashamed of themselves. “You don’t need to have a finished manuscript?” For real? Why don’t they just write, “Give us your money, because we don’t plan to do any work whether you’ve written anything or not.” 

      Thanks for sharing, Lawrence. That’s a real hoot.

  • Nutt Justin

    I just read this after Lawrence sent me the link and have to say that iUniverse is completely dishonest.  They report totally inaccurate sales figures, they avoid your calls, until they can come up with some double talk to tell you or you threaten a lawsuit, but then they just spout more lies. 

  • Nutt Justin

    Funny, shortly after I posted this Eugene Hopkins called me.  Again he gave the same run around where he would divert from the subject being talked about as soon as he I was able to catch him in a lie.  When I called him on it, he became aggressive and rude stating “I don’t care, and I have a meeting to go to.”  

    I have talked to many others and it seems as though the only recourse is a class action lawsuit against them, something I had been toying with, but wishing to avoid.  If there are any others who wish to join this lawsuit, please contact me at nutt.justin@gmail.com and I will add you to the list.

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

      God they’re miserable. And, I think you’re right: class action seems to be the only viable option left for customers.

  • Cpennyc

    I wonder if a lawyer could get Bowker to release of list of ISBN’s they applied for as a method of trying to find more people?

  • Cpennyc

    Actually just looking at iUniverse’s site they have quite a list of the titles and author’s names but it would take a village to try to locate all of those people, not to mention the other imprints under AuthorSolutions.  Lloyd Rich is a long time Publishing Attorney, you might want to contact him for information.  He can be reached @ 303-388-0291  http://www.publaw.com   rich@publishingattorney.com

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

      Thanks for this info!

      • Lisa

        I don’t understand why only 3 people are mentioned in the Class Action suit.

  • http://hthomasgillis.com/ Thomas Gillis

    Oh man, thank you Emily for this web site – I have read so many comments, stories just like Lawrence’s experience with IUniverse I am calling and cancelling asap!! I have worked hard enough. The last thing I need is an incompetent publisher !!