Friday, August 24, 2012

Why I Left iUniverse

I published The Virtual Kibbutz, my collection of short stories about life on the kibbutz, with iUniverse in April, 2003. At the time, iUniverse appeared to be the most professional publishing-on-demand option for my book. I paid my fees, received a number of free copies, and purchased many more to send off to Jewish publications with hopes that reviews would encourage future sales.

This week at my request The Virtual Kibbutz was removed from the iUniverse book catalog. It is still possible to order the one or two remaining copies at Amazon and other online retailers, but soon the original edition will become a collector’s item.

I plan to republish The Virtual Kibbutz independently in the coming months. For now, here is the reason why I left iUniverse.

Publishing News

In July of this year, Pearson PLC, a provider of education and consumer publishing services including the Penguin Group, acquired Author Solutions Inc from Bertram Capital for 116 million dollars in cash. The same Author Solutions purchased iUniverse back in 2007. While these corporate acquisitions are not directly connected to my own book, the business logic behind them eventually led to my decision to leave iUniverse.

According to Author Solutions chief executive Kevin Weiss, his company generated $100 million in revenues in 2011, 1/3 were from publisher services, 1/3 from marketing services and 1/3 from distribution or consumer book sales. Meaning, 2/3 of the revenues generated at iUniverse were from sales to authors (publishing and marketing services). The main focus of Author Solutions is to make money from authors, not from book readers.

How does this relate to The Virtual Kibbutz? In the years following iUniverse’s sale, I was approached a number of times by sales representatives offering me additional publishing and marketing services. If I was willing to spend $3,000, I could publish a huge advertisement in The New York Review of Books. And for only $1,200, I could issue a press release announcing the publication of The Virtual Kibbutz.

Belated Press Release

A press release? In 2010 to announce the publication of my book which originally appeared on virtual bookshelves back in 2003?

“How else will people know about your book?” the sales representative asked me. “What are you doing to promote your book?” he asked.

After a number of persistent phone calls and numerous emails, I thought that the offers would stop coming. Until I received a new round of calls a year later.

It became obvious to me that this was not the iUniverse I knew from 2003. These representatives had no intention of helping promote my book. They were just interested in seeing how much more they could milk out of me.

Phone calls can be dismissed and annoying emails deleted. The reason that I decided to leave iUniverse was much simpler.

Non-royal Royalties

According to the original contract I signed with iUniverse in 2003, “if the royalty payment due in a single calendar quarter is less than twenty-five U.S. Dollars ($25.00) the balance will be applied to the next calendar quarter until the royalty payment due equals or exceeds twenty five U.S. Dollars ($25.00), at which time we will make the appropriate royalty payment to you.”

Yet, despite this clause in the agreement, every quarter or so I was sent checks in the amounts of $10.23 or something similar. I wrote repeatedly to iUniverse, stating that this was not according to my agreement and explaining my circumstances, saying that living in Israel I am unable to cash checks of these small amounts.

Suddenly there was a new clause in the agreement, something that miraculously appeared nine years after I originally signed with iUniverse. “Should the total royalty due is still less than twenty five U.S. Dollars ($25.00) by the end of the year, iUniverse will dispense all royalty checks due regardless of the amount.”

The bottom line here is clear. When the occasional copy of The Virtual Kibbutz is purchased, I am not being paid royalties and the only one who is profiting is iUniverse.

Complaints Against iUniverse

This sounds like a very small complaint compared to the many documented cases of authors losing huge amounts of money when purchasing services from iUniverse that they never received. 

A website called Suess’s Pieces serves as a complete index of complaints against the services of Author Solutions and iUniverse. According to the website’s owner, freelance writer Emily Suess, “the real problems with iUniverse began in 2007, when Author Solutions bought them. So, yes, many in your situation had a reasonably happy experience publishing with them before that time. The unfortunate thing is that after they were purchased, it wasn't just new customers that had complaints. Those with already published books seemed to find themselves getting irritating sales. Some found their books had been put up for sale again when they were supposed to be out of print.”

If you haven’t yet read The Virtual Kibbutz, please DON’T purchase it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, because if you do, I will not receive any credit for it. Please wait patiently for the upcoming, independently self-published version of the book.


  1. Thank you for sharing your personal knowledge of iUniverse/Author Solutions. Your experiencenwill prevent other authors from similar frustrations.

    May blessings fall on The Virtual Kibbutz ~

    1. I am aklready feeling minor symptoms of what to expect from iUniverse and I am not published yet. This week they took $149.00 from the Visa card number I gave them last year for their services in getting my book ready for publication, and signed me up for some Authors Support something for which I gave no consent using the credit card.Now they will not answer my calls or emails about this issue.

    2. Omg! I was thinking about how to publish my I'm frustrated on how to do this and safely. I am truly thankful I came across this information doing my research.

    3. Yes, once iUniverse has your cc, they take you down the rabbit hole with promises of increased sales and services that infrequently produce results. Not that their product doesn't look professional, but the additional services offered in their "plans" fail to yield much except phone calls and additional publishing options at great expense.

  2. I commend you for sharing this story of warning to all would-be and actual authors. I feel writers are all colleagues, not competitors.

  3. I've made a mental note to avoid iUniverse. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. This is interesting to me, as someone who has published with both traditional academic presses (American Psychiatric Press, Hamilton Books) and with iUniverse. The two books I published with iUniverse, in 2010 and 2013, were both produced and edited professionally, and I was satisfied that the publisher had fulfilled its obligations. I haven't made a lot of money, but I did see the 2013 book (to my surprise!) in Barnes & Noble (The Three-Petalled Rose). I have not been bothered by high pressure marketing scams, etc. So, maybe I was just lucky--or are there others out there with similarly positive experiences with iUniverse? --Regards, Ron Pies MD

  5. iUniverse was a wonderful company when it was a family-owned concern in Nebraska. Sadly, the best rated electronic publishing company was purchased by one that wasn't rated nearly as well. It didn't take long for things to change and you are not the only one to leave. I bailed in 2009. Good luck with self- publishing. It's hard work but at least you know your publisher has your best interests at heart.

  6. I never used iUniverse nor was I ever in a position to do so. But I know people who have and I cannot report one positive story. One friend used to forward their emails to me. They were absolutely outrageous—asking for thousands of dollars for absolutely nothing in return. Example: we'll display your book for ONE HOUR at the LA Times Festival of Books for $$$$.

    Maybe they were better back in the day, but I've never heard anything positive. I also don't understand why a company that basically prints your book has any rights at all as a publisher.

  7. Thank you for posting this. I will certainly avoid iUniverse if I decide to self-publish.

  8. I am sorry for your grief, Ellis. Certainly with the advances in self-publishing and print on demand, there is no reason to use these vanity publishers. With respect to Author Solutions. David Gaughran, a well-respected self-publisher, is an excellent one to read about this predatory company.

  9. Hi Ellis,
    David says it all in his blog below. You've made a great decision. Traditional publishers are jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon to exploits authors. As an author you are responsible for marketing and promotions if you self-publish with a self-publishing platform. M&P is harder than writing and publishing but you learn and grow, and the rewards are great. I got my own ISBN and printed my books at a old fashioned bindery. I'm glad I chose this path because I'm in control. The downside to this way of printing is you would have to store your books, which shouldn't be a problem if you have space in your house.
    Gawri Manecuta

  10. i just stumbled across this blog and I'm glad I did! I, too, had the misfortune of publishing with iUniverse and am looking to pull my novel Baby! Baby? Baby?! from their catalog. Did you have any problems doing so? It was such an ordeal dealing with them that I can't imagine leaving them being easy!

  11. Some books are not published, some are not read, others reach the best sellers list on the New York Times and go downhill from there; but what comes in between the gaps in between is all "hootspah" [my spelling]!

  12. I have published three books with them, starting in 1999. The royalties have been suspiciously low, though I see many of my books advertised at various online sites. I receive royalty statements with no details about titles or number of sales, and there seems to be no way of getting that info. Books published by my traditional publisher, Greenwood Press, are handled completely differently. I do not expect to use iUniverse again..

  13. Now I can't figure out whether to use them or not. But self-publishing appears to be the only option available these days. Traditional publishers aren't accepting manuscripts from new authors, it seems!

    1. Traditional publishers still accept submissions from new authors. A friend of mine did a bunch of research, sent out 5 queries, and got 5 offers. The publisher she chose paid for EVERYTHING, gives her 30 and 40% royalty, and signed her for her next two books. It does happen. I went the other way, I like my 70%.

  14. who are the publishers???

  15. A few weeks ago, I got a call from iUniverse, asking me how much longer it would be until my book was finished being written. I was within a week or so of that happening and told them so. However, within a day of submitting my manuscript, I got an email from iUniverse saying that they were going out of business. I was so upset that it took two days to tell my husband what happened. I was afraid that he would be angry at me for what happened.
    At this time, I have not received any other notice, one way or the other. Was this a scam, or was it sheer dishonesty? In either case, someone there belongs in prison!