Okay, folks, here, at long last, is the first part of my report on iUniverse’s advertisement re: giving shelf space to books from their “Publisher’s Choice” program in Barnes & Noble bookstores.
In this post, I’m going to answer, first of all, the basic question that was posed about iUniverse’s “Premier Plus/Publisher’s Choice” program. (There’s another program iUniverse has called the “Star Program” that is also a possible way to get books on the shelves in B&N stories, but it’s quite different, and I’ll deal with that in my second post.)
First, a brief recap. A few months ago, a writer posted on Miss Snark’s site that she had been handed a brochure and told by a B&N employee that if she just paid enough money to iUniverse, they would guarantee to put her book on the shelves in B&N stores. The writer wanted to know if what the clerk had told her about the iUniverse publishing programs called Publisher’s Choice was, indeed, true.
The answer to this writer’s question is, NO. It’s not possible for a writer to “buy” her way onto the shelves in B&N stores via any of the iUniverse programs. The clerk evidently misunderstood what she’d seen in the brochure that was referenced, which I have a copy of right here.
Books self-published through iUniverse’s Premier Plus plan are ELIGIBLE for the Publisher’s Choice program, but not automatically guaranteed to get into it. Books that are made part of iUniverse’s Publisher’s Choice progam are guaranteed to be be placed on the “new releases” table in a B&N store of the author’s choice (that’s ONE STORE) for a minimum of 60 days.
I did a lot of research on this topic, and received assistance from both B&N and iUniverse itself. The President of iUniverse, Susan Driscoll, actually called me from the beach on her cell phone to tell me about these programs. I found this to be an encouraging sign, because when an actual scam is going on, the LAST thing scammers want to do is cooperate with a watchdog group.
The Premier Plus plan costs an author $1,099, (I gather they sometimes run “specials” that reduce that price) but authors can end up paying more than that. For example, the PP package contains what they call an “editorial evaluation,” that’s included in that price, but not copyediting, for which they charge extra. Other services are included, such as “a Thorough Design Concept, Evaluation and [IUniverse’s] Cover Copy Polish service [and] a ‘tune-up’ of the all-important promotional text on your book’s cover.” How much these “extras” are actually worth is debatable. For the author that has written a poor book, no amount of “extras” will turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
What this all translates to, is that IF you pay the $1,099 for the Premier Plus package, you are then ELIGIBLE for the Publisher’s Choice program, which guarantees that your book will be placed on the “new releases” display in ONE B&N bookstore of your choice, and it will be kept there for 60 days.
Note the word “eligible.” It’s important. Susan Driscoll explained that no Premier Plus books will be made Publisher’s Choice books unless they have been read and approved by editors at iUniverse. Does this mean anything? Actually, it does. If you review the credentials of the iUniverse staff, you find that many of them actually have commerical publishing backgrounds. Susan Driscoll and the Editorial Director, Diane Gedymin, for example, both worked for commercial publishers, including HarperCollins, Penguin Putnam, and Holt. (Contrast that with PublishAmerica, for example, where no one in the driver’s seat has ever worked for a commercial publishing house.)
So, in order to be made a Publisher’s Choice book and placed on the display table at ONE B&N store of your choice, the author has to do the following:
1. Pay the $1,099 for the Premier Plus package
2. Have the book approved by the editorial staff at iUniverse so it is placed in the “Publisher’s Choice” program.
So, not all Premier Plus books will be chosen for the Publisher’s Choice program. And being chosen for that program doesn’t really add up to all that much. Display in ONE bookstore of the author’s choice? One bookstore might equate to several dozen sales, but hardly more than that. It does say that if the sales are promising iUniverse will consider placing the book in other stores. The program is too recent for this to have happened yet, if it ever does.
iUniverse sent me three of the books they’ve chosen for the Publisher’s Choice program (the designation is on the back of the book). I skimmed all three of them. Two of them were what I would call “coming of age” slice-of-life books, one with a romance subplot. The third was a detective thriller featuring a supernatural/horror type villain. The first two books were written pretty well, though I didn’t find either of the storylines particularly compelling. But the style flowed, and I’ve seen worse between the pages of books published by commercial publishers. The third book was not, in my opinion, commercially publishable. The style was awkward, the pacing uneven, the characterizations shallow, and the premise silly and not well executed.
In reading the iUniverse website or brochure about their publishing programs, the word that comes to mind is “spin.” They put the best possible face on what they do, which they call “supported self publishing” instead of vanity publishing. However, any author with two brain cells to rub together can discover via their materials just how it works, so in their case, “spin” does NOT equate to the outright lies favored by the scam vanity publishers like PublishAmerica. iUniverse tells you right out that they publish 400 books each month. That’s 4800 books per year. And they also tell you that 3-5 of the books they publish get picked up by commercial publishers every month. If you figure 4 as an average, that’s 48 books per year. So…1 book out of 100 has a chance of being picked up.
Does PublishAmerica tell you this in black and white? No. They don’t. IUniverse does, even if the reality is not emphasized and their few success stories are. Writer Beware has not gotten any complaints about iUniverse since shortly after they opened their doors. iUniverse is not deliberately misleading their authors in the way scam vanity presses do.
I have more to say about the iUniverse publishing programs, especially the “Star” program, which also promises authors that their books will get into B&N’s, but this post is getting fairly long, so I’ll address them in my next post.
-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
P.S. Does this mean I think all of you should immediately run out and sign on to become iUniverse authors? No, of course not. Writer Beware doesn’t endorse any publishers or agents. BUT, if a writer told me she/he had decided, after doing his/her research, to publish POD and asked me to suggest some vanity POD publishers that I would personally consider using, if I wrote something that I knew had no commercial potential (for example a personal memoir, or a family history, or a poetry collection), the ones I would suggest would be (in alphabetical order): Booklocker.com, Infinity.com, Lulu.com, and iUniverse.com
P.P.S. Also for the record, I don’t write memoirs, poetry, or family histories. Just novels. (grin)
Edited to add: Since this post was written, iUniverse has been acquired by Author Solutions, the company that also owns AuthorHouse, a more problematic POD self-publishing service (see Victoria’s post about the merger). We feared the merger might result in a deterioration of iUniverse’s services, and based on the comments that follow the post, as well as complaints we’ve received, that does seem to be the case.