Publishers are squeezing out even the most respected authors, as wallets tighten and print runs drop. More and more creators are turning to self publishing.

When I was a self publishing tadpole, self publishing meant printing thousands of copies to distributor order. Total newbies who didn’t understand how the business works lost big bucks printing what they thought distributors would order in the future, only to find their prose books/comics/graphic novels taking up space in the garage and attracting nothing but hordes of silverfish.

Print on Demand seems like the perfect solution. Print on Demand allows you to print exactly to order, even if that order is as low as one copy at a time. The cost per copy is much higher than printing in bulk, but there is little or no risk.

I’ve spent many exhausting hours trying to convince people that printing 2,000 copies when you don’t have any up front orders will not save you any money, even if unit cost is lower. Printing 2,000 copies over 500 copies will give you a discount of 50 cents per unit. However, you still spent $2 per copy for orders you didn’t get.

A friend of mine who would not take my advice printed $12,000 worth of books and six years later is still five figures in the hole on her project.

You minimize risk with POD, but all Print on Demand services are not created equal. Some which started out as printing services have grown into vanity presses which charge fat fees for tasks you can easily perform yourself.

Let’s take a look at iUniverse.

Arlene Harris is an award-winning author who has a long-term interest in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. She spent years researching and writing sequels to the book, three of which she self published through iUniverse.

When she first went to iUniverse, the up-front POD fee was a reasonable $100. Later it increased to $300. Now the minimum package fee is nearly $600, and the contract appears to be a co-publishing agreement with term rights clauses, and high prices for basics that are easily performed for free.

Arlene decided to take her business elsewhere. She sent iUniverse a short letter of termination in response to their upselling more of their (IMHO) expensive packaging services to her.

Thanks, however I am not about to call you and get upsold services I do not want. Any messages you have, unless they are sales messages, can be relayed through this email address. If they are sales messages, kindly refrain from sending them. I’ve wasted enough money with this company and am not about to throw more money after it.

Arlene C. Harris

From iUniverse, a finger-wagging tour de force of patronization (emphasis within text is mine.)

Hello Ms. Harris,

I wish there was something I could say to pacify your hurt feelings
. But seriously, you need to take time to ponder about what you have done so far to market your book because I don’t see anything about it that’s remotely significant or serious.

The authors that have made significant strides in promoting their book rightly deserve what they reap because they take action instead of complaining and blaming others for their failure.

We are here to help but if you don’t like our gesture, we will as you say, kindly refrain from doing it.

However, we are here to serve everyone without prejudice so we will continue to be available to you in case you’ll need our help someday.

With kind regards.
Jed Michael “Luck happens when opportunity meets preparation!”
Marketing Consultant

Perhaps iUniverse will require something from me to pacify their hurt feelings after I post this review of their services.

Let’s examine a few, shall we?

The $599 “Select” service package includes:

One on One Author Support!

I guess that’s supposed to be priceless. But, you know, this is what salesmen are for.

Non-Exclusive contracts!

It’s nice that what is essentially a printing and packaging service would allow you to go elsewhere for your business, but exclusivity shouldn’t even be an issue for this sort of thing.

Volume Book Discount for Authors!

Well golly gee whiz, no kidding. Volume discounts for wholesale purchases!

You do realize this is standard practice for just about any business on the planet. Buy a lot, get volume discounts.

Custom Cover!

The sort of cover design just about anyone with a computer can do these days.

Worldwide Distribution!

I hope you realize this doesn’t mean much. Your book gets worldwide distribution the minute you put it on a blog.

Just because some salesman presents your book to a distribution company – crammed in with all the other self published miscellany in their catalogue – this does not in ANY WAY OBLIGATE THE DISTRIBUTOR TO PLACE AN ORDER FOR THAT BOOK. This Worldwide Distribution “service” is worthless.

But don’t despair! That’s just a few of the TOTALLY AWESOME GOODIES you get for your $600, none of which you cannot do for yourself without paying $600. I didn’t see diddly squat in the $600 package that was worth the price unless you are a complete computer deficient, which means you would not have the skills to even format your material sufficiently to send it in to iUniverse.

A quick examination of their a la carte menu reveals jaw dropping prices for extras.

The Copyright Registration Service:

It’s not standard with your $600, so if you don’t upgrade to one of the more expensive packages – nearly $4200 top tier, discounted down from nearly $6,000! What a sale! – you have to pay an extra $170 for this.

Or, if you have even one iota of internet savvy, you can just go right here to the US Copyright office, download the form, fill it out, and pay the $35 fee, saving yourself a whopping $135 for five minutes of effort.

The Library of Congress Control Number:

It will cost you $75 at iUniverse. Here’s a post that explains exactly how to get one for free.

The Social Media Setup:

A laugh-and-a-half. They will charge you to create your Facebook, MySpace, yadda yadda, all for only $799! I didn’t pay diddly squat for “social media” because almost all social media is FREE! But iUniverse will only set you back $799 for this free stuff!

Everybody who managed to figure out how to set up your own Facebook page in 15 minutes, raise your hand!

OK, would you pay $799 for that service?

Lo, the hordes cry “Hell, no!”

Website Set up

But you will want to be a thoroughly modern author, so add $399 for a website!

A website made from a FRICKING TEMPLATE!!!

The fine print says they give you a web design template and then YOU set up the website. So what the hell are you paying $399 for? You still have to do the work! You can get a free WordPress blog with customizable template instead!

But wait! More fine print!

“The template layouts, header images, and operating software are the property of American Author and these cannot be transferred in the event of cancellation.”

If you decide to leave, you can’t really do a whole lot with your website without a redesign.

So, just go with WordPress, OK? Sheesh.

But don’t forget that iUniverse adds a $29 a month hosting fee! Which is EXPENSIVE.

For crying out loud, for less than half what iUniverse charges for one website and “social media”, webgoddess DC McQueen made custom WordPress designs for and Her price covers hosting as well as tech support, and my sites have far more features.

iUniverse also touts the fact that you can use their service to set up Paypal payments to take orders for your book! Wowee!

This task is not rocket science. ANYONE can do it. There’s no reason to pay someone for this.

The Book Returns Program:

OK folks, this is absolutely ridiculous. I told a publisher friend of mine about this (a real publisher, a big one) and I think he peed himself laughing.

iUniverse charges you $699 to tell booksellers they can return your book if it doesn’t sell.

Returnable books is standard in publishing, except for the comic book direct sale market. Why on earth anyone would charge you $699 for this service I cannot fathom.

Except they want to make a buck from your ignorance.

First off, you guys gotta realize that once booksellers see your book coming from iUniverse, they know it is self published and are far less likely to stock it. Booksellers know Vanity Press when they see it. OK? Let’s just get that out of the way right now.

Scour the shelves of any retail bookstore outside the direct market, and I defy you to find five copies of anything self published. I’m not saying it never happens, I am saying it is sort of like, I dunno, having a meteor hit your house.

I have rarely seen a single copy of a self published book in a bookstore outside of the direct market. Big bookstore chains are not going to order your book in any kind of quantity that will necessitate returns because they probably won’t order 50 copies of anything you self published. If you’re not coming to the gate through Harper Collins, or Simon and Shuster, or Harlequin, you’re not getting through the gate.

Returns happen when stores order in quantity to fill the shelves and to hold on reserve in warehouses for reorder. This is unlikely to happen with print on demand books.

Moreoever, returns are not what you think they are.

iUniverse doesn’t tell you this, but returns can be:

A) a return of the complete book

B) a return of a damaged book

C) a return of the book cover alone to show proof the book wasn’t sold. The rest of the book is destroyed, which means you paid to print a book you can’t sell to someone else. iUniverse graciously absolves you from having to pay for the destroyed book that is unlikely to ever get ordered in the first place.

D) Affadavit returns. The client swears the books were destroyed and you do not get them back to sell to someone else. And ditto about the non-ordered, we-swear-destroyed book for which you are paying $699.

What a deal!

iUniverse sells services to total newbies who do not understand the most basic aspects of publishing. They charge you a lot of money for things you do not need.

Unlike most of the people reading this, I have been a successful self publisher and have sold over 300,000 copies of my works via self publishing, not to mention all the books my name is on that I didn’t self publish.

I would not purchase iUniverse services.

Arlene is not “…complaining and blaming others for their failure.”

Arlene simply does not want to be upsold goods and services when she does not get value for her money.

And Jed Michael, I’m a successful author as well as a successful self publisher.

You’re a Marketing Consultant selling overpriced goods to ignorant hopefuls.

I think that’s cruel.