Tag Archives: penguin

A PR Lesson from Author Solutions & Chick-Fil-A

author solutions jared silverstone

While going through the list of people who recently circled me on Google+ today, I came across a guy named Jared Silverstone from Bloomington, Indiana.

Bloomington rings bells for me, not just because it’s a couple of counties south, but because it has the rather distinct misfortune of being the home of Author Solutions (ASI) headquarters.

Sure enough, when I clicked through I discovered that “Awesome Publishing Consultant” Jared Silverstone is an ASI employee.

Huge eye roll. Being followed by these scum bags is nothing new. They’ve followed me (and dozens of friends) on Twitter too. I once thought this was dubious on their part, but it happened with such frequency that I’m now of the opinion they auto-follow accounts. Someone mentions a certain user or keyword and BAM!

By the way, in case any of you are wondering, that’s NOT in the best practices manual for social media relations. It’s the cheap, lazy, show-me-the-numbers way to use social media.

So back to Jared. Aside from the fact that he’s posted only a handful of ASI-centric posts since March 2012, Jared looks just a little too hipster to be hipster, doesn’t he?

the real jared

That’s because—surprise!—Jared Silverstone isn’t real. Click through a few pages of istockphoto.com  search results for “mustache,” and you’ll find our precious Jared, sans the green filter makeover and the slightly off center crop job. Before Author Solutions paid for his likeness, Jared looked a little something like (okay, maybe EXACTLY like) the watermarked guy on the right.

You’ve seen something like this before, haven’t you? That’s right. Remember that whole Abby Farle – Chick-Fil-A – Facebook debacle?

This is shitty, hack PR. And not only does this kind of sideways promotion not sit right with real consumers who demand honesty and transparency in business and in social media, but it makes all Author Solutions employees look bad (again). It also makes the company’s new parents, Pearson and Penguin, look bad (again).

And I have to point something else out: because Indianapolis’ Bohslen PR is the firm of record for Author Solutions, Bohlsen Group looks bad too.

Did ASI really just give their PR firm bad PR? Or was this a group effort?

If anyone from Author Solutions, Pearson, Penguin or Bohlsen wants to comment for the record, you know where to find me.

UPDATE 11:32: Apparently Jared’s on Facebook too. Why don’t you friend him up?
UPDATE 11:39: And Twitter @JaredSilverston (although, that one seems to have fizzled early)
UPDATE 8/31/12: GalleyCat picked up the news and reported on the story yesterday. Author Solutions later issued a statement to GalleyCat.

Don’t miss the complete list of complaints against Author Solutions and its imprints.

Author Solutions Gets Not-So-Rave Reviews from Industry Pros

author solutionsIt’s been a month since the announcement of the big sale of Author Solutions. To commemorate Penguin’s refusal to respond to questions about how Author Solutions does business, I thought I’d round up a few of the web’s best critiques on the subject.

In every case, the entire article is worth a read. Don’t just browse the little excerpts I’ve posted here, click through and then put on your critical thinking caps. Digest everything these bloggers are saying, particularly if you or someone you know has an interest in self-publishing.

How a Traditional Publisher Could Harm a Writer’s Career: Mark Coker of Smashwords writes, “Does Pearson think that Author Solutions represents the future of indie publishing?  Author Solutions is one of the companies that put the “V” in vanity.  Author Solutions earn 2/3 or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors’ books to readers.”

Penguin’s New Business Model: Exploiting Writers: At Indie Reader, David Gaughran writes, “Penguin isn’t purchasing a company which provides real value to writers. They are purchasing an operation skilled at milking writers.” Thinking about the stacks of complaints collected on this blog, I’d say Gaughran’s summary is on point. But read the whole article. Customers have outed Author Solutions brand iUniverse for published their e-books without permission.

Pearson Buys Author Solutions: It’s no secret that Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware has an opinion of Author Solutions, and it’s not a good one. Blogging about the sale of the company to Pearson/Penguin, she writes, “Despite ASI’s claims about customer satisfaction, the comments threads of my posts about ASI’s acquisition of Xlibris, Trafford, etc. … are replete with complaints from unhappy authors, and I receive many more via email.”

Penguin’s New Baby, Author Solutions, Adds Hacking to Laundry List of Poorly Delivered Services

Penguin Author SolutionsIt’s Friday night July 27, and I’m dreaming:

Kevin Weiss is line dancing on a beach in the Philippines with his cheap Cebu City laborers when his cell phone rings. He looks at the caller ID and sees it’s his new boss. “Hey, Johnny!” he answers. “You should totes be here, man.”

Uninterested,  Penguin CEO John Makinson immediately changes the subject. “You need to solve this problem.” He removes his glasses and spits into the receiver, “I want this Suess girl to stop writing about Author Solutions. My picture hasn’t been Photoshopped yet, and I’d like to keep it that way.” Makinson pauses, and then the white-haired executive adds, “Make it go away.”

“But, boss….”

It’s too late. Makinson has already hung up. Weiss takes a swig of his San Miguel and turns to his employees, “Any of you guys know how to hack a website?” The music stops and the partygoers go silent. Weiss pulls a dollar bill from a condom-filled wallet and waves George Washington’s face at the crowd.

A 12-year-old boy wearing a Level 1 Hackx0r T-shirt steps forward.

“Hellzyeah!” Weiss puts his arm around the kid. “Let’s shut this bitch down!”

 ***

On Saturday morning, July 28, I turned on my laptop and checked my email. Waiting in my inbox were thousands of messages. The first one was from Twitter, informing me that they received a request to reset the password for my account. The next email was from my own WordPress blog. It said, “Someone requested that the password be reset for your account.”

The remaining 15,455 emails all came from someone named rtertdfg;lrtprot using the email address erteto@yahoo.com. The messages, submitted automatically via my Contact Form, contained nothing but random keystrokes.

Could it be? I wondered.

I loaded my traffic stats and laughed heartily. The first thing I noticed was that someone from Cebu City, Philippines (home of more than 1,200 Author Solutions employees) had attempted to access the login URL for my blog. The hacker didn’t guess the URL right the first time, so my stat software logged a 404-error for the misses. When he did eventually figure out the correct URL, he was probably irritated to find I had Login Lockdown installed.

So my cutsey-wootsey Hackx0r-wackx0r decided to scare me by clicking the “Lost your password?” link. And let me tell you, folks. Nothing says internet bully like a fucking password reset notification in your inbox. I mean, I couldn’t get to sleep until, like, 9:30 p.m. that night.

That same person, from the same IP, hit my Contact Page repeatedly that morning. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Author Solutions was involved in trying to take down my site, bury me in spam, and hijack my Twitter account.

Still, I decided to verify a few facts with my host, Name.com, just for fun. The great people at customer service wrote:

Hi Emily,

Thank you for your email today. I’ve done some pouring through logs and it looks like the first IP you advised, 112.207.186.80, was indeed hitting your contact form very hard. I see 19,835 entries for that IP address in the logs from this month. [emphasis mine]

Like a good little site owner, I changed my contact form, added a Captcha, and waited. As I had hoped, this little hack of a hacker was apparently so angered by my Author Solutions and iUniverse reporting that he came back today! Guess he thought I deserved another dozen manually submitted spam messages about Mitt Romney. My favorite one merely says “Mitt for president…..” a couple dozen times.

Oh, you guys!

It wasn’t long before the password reset notifications came pouring in again, both for WordPress and Twitter.

Seriously? Who made this call, and why does he still have a job? Who at Penguin or Author Solutions thought that harassing me was in the best interest of the company’s customers and stockholders?

Oops. There I go asking questions again.

Author Solutions Complaints: Interview with iUniverse Author Kathryn Maughan

Kathryn Maughan iuniverse

Kathryn Maughan at the Sirenland writers’ conference in Positano. (2011)

Sometimes it doesn’t bother me at all that iUniverse and Author Solutions (and now Penguin Books) have one-sided conversations with the world about how great they are, because there are plenty of customers willing to step up and talk about what it’s really like to work with companies that habitually overcharge, under-deliver and make harassing sales calls.

Today, I’m glad to welcome Kathryn Maughan, author of Did I Expect Angels? to talk about her experiences working with iUniverse.

Maughan’s story is interesting because she started working iUniverse just before the company was sold to Author Solutions. This ties in nicely with what we’ve heard from other writers who talk about the “good” and “bad” iUniverse, referring to their feelings about the company before and after it was purchased by Author Solutions. (Or, as I usually think of it — ”before Kevin Weiss” and “during Kevin Weiss.”)

Maughan doesn’t really hold too much against iUniverse until she talks about a pushy marketing salesperson named Gracie. At that point in the story, we see the iUniverse many of us have come to know and hate.

Q: Please tell us about your initial search for a publisher and what led you to contact iUniverse.

I wrote a book in 2002 and began an agent search, getting about 40 rejections. I thought I had the tolerance to see it through, but then I began grad school in 2003 (dramatic writing, NYU), and that took pretty much everything out of me. After I graduated, in 2006, my dad suggested I self-publish the book I had written years earlier. I had always thought of self-publishing as the kiss of death, but at that point, I thought, “Well, it’s dead already. Why not?” And yes, that’s about as much thought as I gave it. So I did an internet search. I liked the idea of publish-on-demand because I had visions of a thousand copies of my book mouldering in my parents’ basement. (I live in NY, so they wouldn’t be mouldering in my apartment…no room.) I also liked the fact that they had an affiliation with Barnes & Noble. My book did in fact get into a B&N for a while.

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

I bought the bells-and-whistles package. I knew it included an editorial review, cover art (which I didn’t use), possibility for Editors’ Choice etc. I believe it included more than that, but it’s been years….

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

This is the thing…I published with them in 2006. Well, I started the process in 2006, and then I hired an editor (yes, through iUniverse) and after that I did an *extensive* rewrite that lasted nearly a full year, so it was published in 2007. iUniverse was not part of Author Solutions at this point. I was actually happy with the results and the responsiveness of those with whom I worked.

I sent in my own cover art (commissioned by a professional book cover artist), so I can’t comment on that. But their development edit was very thorough and it genuinely helped me make the book better. It cost more than some other professionals with whom I’ve since consulted (I’m on my 2nd book now…and no, I don’t plan to self-publish this one), but then I’ve heard other friends talk about freelance editors who charge double what iUniverse did.

Honestly, iUniverse did what they said they would do. I went into it with my eyes open. I was given Editors’ Choice, Publishers’ Choice and Star status, but they never marketed it…nor did they say they would (unless I purchased marketing). They did one copy edit after I turned in the final manuscript. (I have a frenemy who is very, very nit-picky about this kind of thing, who informed me that she had found ONE copy error in the final product. Hey, at least she bought it.) After an initial evaluation, they did say that in order to be considered for EC I’d have to do a rewrite. However…many years later, I know that the book in its initial state wasn’t great. I wrote it initially in 2001/2002, and I rewrote it in 2006/2007 after going to grad school (in writing, no less). I never tried to get an agent with the rewritten book, because I was already under contract with iUniverse when I rewrote it. I view the whole thing as a learning experience.

One problem I had: the book is written with two narrators. One is an educated woman, the other a Costa Rican immigrant. Their voices couldn’t be more different. iUniverse, however, insisted that I put Henry’s story into italics. I thought that was a strange idea, because if you get one sentence in, you know who’s speaking. But Editor’s Choice was on the line (the keys to the kingdom, it seemed), so I did it. And a lot of reviewers said that the italics were hard to read.

The biggest issue I have with them now is their attempt at marketing. I’ll address that next.

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

I never even looked at iUniverse marketing. I don’t remember if they didn’t offer it then, or I already had other plans. I hired a marketing firm, and they turned out to be a big dud, even though they came highly recommended. The marketing that turned out well was what I did myself, contacting lots and lots of book bloggers. I got some really good reviews, actually…and not from my mother. :)

A few years later, after iUniverse was purchased by Author Solutions, they began calling me every so often to try to get me to buy more packages, marketing packages. The first time, Gracie asked me if I would like to get the book into bookstores, for $750. (keep in mind, it’s not guaranteed, it’s just taking a step to the POSSIBILITY of getting it in bookstores.) I said no. Or maybe she didn’t say anything about the $750, and I asked? I don’t remember. I said no. The next time she phoned, she said, “I’m calling to talk about getting your book into bookstores.” I said, “For $750?” She paused and then tried to talk around it, and I said, “For $750?” Finally she said, yes, that’s what it cost.

I explained that I had spent all the money I was going to spend on this book, and they tried really hard to put on the pressure. I’m a midwestern, polite-to-the-point-of-death person (you could be stabbing me and I would ask you to please stop), and I ended up shouting over this woman, “Gracie! Gracie! Gracie! I am not buying any more services!” She was going on about how iUniverse was the number one self-publishing company. I said, yes, I have already published my book with them, and I’m not doing any more for it. In a very accusatory manner, she said, “So what do you expect me to do with your book?” I said, “Nothing. Let it go.” “You want me to ignore your book?” She seemed very angry. It was truly strange. Later I kept getting messages on my machine, about one every three months: this is iUniverse and we want to talk to you about a marketing plan for your book. I wouldn’t call them back. After a while I f igured out a trick: go to your profile and change your phone number to 000-0000. They haven’t called since.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add?

I honestly wonder if their practices have changed since they were purchased by AuthorSolutions. I felt that I got what I asked for when I self-published. It was the marketing that felt shady to me.

To read more about Author Solutions and iUniverse, browse the complete index.