Puff, Pastry, Peterson and Reliable Publishing Resources

I get asked a lot about where the best resources can be found for authors taking their first steps into the world of book publishing, whether through traditional channels or via the self-publishing route. Ultimately, an author needs up-to-date resources that are reliable and provided by an expert. This couldn’t be any more important when applied to the ever-changing world of publishing. My role as a publishing consultant isn’t to make the decisions for my author-clients, but help them make informed decisions with the most accurate and suitable information available. This process is about providing advice and my ability to be able to evaluate a client, but also to evaluate all the options available to them. It’s no good if all I do is offload information and leave them splashing about in a sea of indecision. The critical part is rating and evaluating information, and I have to do that as editor of TIPM as well.

When visiting authors come to TIPM and read through our publishing service reviews, they are looking for critical information and answers to questions they may have about a company or particular service. The publishing service reviews are not simply a casual walk-through list of name-checked companies. There has to be some form of analysis and evaluation, not just from me, but from the many authors who use the services and post comments about their experiences.
A little over a week ago, I came across this this post on David Gaughran’s Facebook page. Gaughran is a novelist, author of Let’s Get Digital, and actively blogs about author rights and the publishing world.
“I understand the instinct to blame the victim when you hear about Author Solutions scams. But remember that many of the “trusted” names push inexperienced authors towards the company. It’s not that victims don’t do any research, it’s that they come across uncritical puff pieces about the company. Like this one on About.com. The worst thing about this piece is that I challenged the author on Twitter, and she’s doubling down.”
Gaughran was referring to this article on About.com by its resident book publishing expert, Valerie Peterson. It is something of what I would call a puff-piece on Author Solutions’ self-publishing imprints. Regular readers to TIPM will be only too familiar with Author Solutions, a global Goliath in the self-publishing services market with multiple imprints and partnerships with several traditional publishers. The company currently has a class action lawsuit filed against it by three authors in the Southern District Court of New York which alleges that Author Solutions misrepresents itself as an independent publisher and lures author in paying for expensive services with claims of “greater speed, higher royalties, and more control for its authors,” and then profits from “fraudulent” practises, including “delaying publication, publishing manuscripts with errors to generate correction fees, and selling worthless services, or services that fail to accomplish what they promise.” In April this year Judge Denise Cote dismissed all charges against co-defendant Penguin (Author Solutions’ parent company) and also dismissed a charge of unjust enrichment in regards to unpaid royalties. A look at many of the TIPM reviews of Author Solutions’ imprints will reveal a catalogue of complaints in the comment from authors, and I receive complaints directly from authors on a regular basis—you will find two of the most recent at the end of this article. A cursory Google search of most Author Solutions will also reveal a trail of disgruntled authors.
About.com’s Book Publishing Expert, Valerie Peterson, has written numerous articles on publishing; everything from publishing e-books, self-publishing audiobooks, getting an agent, copyright, and write-ups of other self-publishing services like Bookbaby, Blurb, Kobo, CreateSpace and Lulu. While at times the articles could do with more detail, I’m sure authors find them helpful. However, what they all glaringly lack is any kind of evaluation. At times, they read like promotional puff-pieces lifted from the company’s website or brochure. It’s all unfiltered information and this certainly doesn’t require the hand of an expert.
Peterson has had a marketing career working for publishers like Random House, Doubleday and John Wiley. She is also a non-fiction authors, having published books on travel advice, cocktails and cookies with Workman, Crown and Random House. Quite why she started to write about self-publishing, I’ve no idea. But with her industry experience, I would have thought some perfunctory research into Author Solutions would have revealed many reasons why a promotional puff-piece was wholly unsuitable without mentioning Author Solutions questionable reputation.
David Gaughran put this very point to Valerie Peterson on September and got the following response via her Twitter account.

Unhappy with ASI? Review them on the site instead of slamming me. See other reviews, here: http://t.co/br1h3Ji1BQ
— Valerie Peterson (@PetersonValerie) September 6, 2014

. @PetersonValerie I’m “slamming” you because you think it’s okay to write uncritical puff pieces aimed at newbies about a notorious scammer
— David Gaughran (@DavidGaughran) September 6, 2014

Gaughran makes the important point that a resource site like About.com, by its nature, is going to be heavily trafficked by newbie authors wanting to know more about self-publishing services and not just information that can be accessed from the publishing service provider’s own website. If you are going to present yourself as an expert in any area, then there is something of an obligation to provide something more than a summarised snapshot of information and services without any kind of critical eye. Readers of About.com’s pages on publishing services need to be aware that they are not critical assessments. The real work and value comes when authors take the time and effort to record their experiences in review comments. And, rightly or wrongly, any piece about publishing services on About.com, when it’s ascribed to an ‘expert’ elevates what is said with an air of authenticity and endorsement, whether intended or not.
It’s all very well to include disclaimers like do your research and buyer beware, but I can’t help feeling that Peterson isn’t helping things with the following on her bio About.com page:
“I take your questions and comments very seriously, and I do use your feedback to help determine what I cover on the site. However, due to the volume of correspondence About Book Publishing receives, I can’t answer your queries personally…”
Indeed, I should point out that Valerie Peterson, despite what is indicated above, does actually reply to many of the posted comments—good and bad. Authors are invited to post review comments on companies, but I should stress that these reviews get deposited into a pool of comments on all self-publishing service providers, not under the specific About.com article. It would make far better sense if the comments appeared under the publishing service they were related to, but therein is one of my issues here. There is only a handful of companies actually written about in articles, and the Author Solutions article seems more an effort to capture multiple self-publishing imprints under one umbrella. At one stage recently, there was mention of the long-defunct WordClay, and Writer’s Digest is still mentioned as having an involvement in the Abbott Press imprint.
There are 47 comments in this review pool, of which five are rated by the comment posters as two stars or lower. The vast majority of comments are positive, rated four to five stars. So those five low-rated comment reviews really stand out. Three of them are about Xlibris (an Author Solutions imprint). The other two are about Lulu (a publishing platform that Author Solutions now supplies high-end services on behalf of).
What is of greatest concern to me is the omission that Author Solutions is at the heart of a major lawsuit in the USA and the brunt of considerable criticism of established indie-authors and organisations in the self-publishing community, and Valerie Peterson knew this as a ‘publishing expert’ and choose not to relate it, or she was completely unaware of this. I’m not sure which is actually worse; knowing and exonerating yourself of the obligation to communicate this, or being completely unaware of something you should know if you profess to be an expert. Either way, puff or pastry, Peterson doesn’t come out of this looking too good.
If you are an author, and you are considering a self-publishing service, then About.com, Ask.com, Answer.com and similar website resources are not the place to start your research. They often just provide information, and not always critical analysis from experts.
Instead, consider dedicated website resources, forums and organisations with some degree of history and reputation.

 


Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

If you found this review or article helpful, but you’re still looking for a suitable self-publishing provider to fit your needs as an author, then I’m sure I can help. As a publishing consultant and editor of this magazine, I’ve reviewed and examined in detail more than 150 providers throughout the world like the one above. As a self-published and traditionally published author of nine books, I understand your needs on the path to publication and beyond. So, before you spend hundreds or thousands, and a great deal of your time, why not book one of my personally tailored and affordable consultation sessions today? Click here for more details.
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