True Directions (Tarcher Books/iUniverse) – Overview

Penguin’s mind-body-spirit imprint, Tarcher Books, is the latest traditional publisher to launch a self-publishing venture for authors. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that the new Tarcher Books imprint is a publishing partnership with iUniverse (also a self-publishing imprint and owned by self-publishing service monolith, Author Solutions Inc.). Hey presto! We’ve come full circle because—of course—Author Solutions (ASI) is owned by Pearson and nestles now happily within the Penguin Book Group.

Author Solutions and Penguin is currently the subject of a class action complaint taken by law firm Giskan Solotaroff, Anderson & Stewart on behalf of three authors in the Southern District Court of New York earlier this year. You can read more about that here and here. In short, The  class action complaint lodged with the New York court at the end of April alleges that ASI misrepresent its company and services with the intention of luring authors in with claims that its books can compete with “traditional publishers,” offering “greater speed, higher royalties, and more control for its authors.” The suit also alleges that ASI profit from “fraudulent” practices, fail to pay royalties due, and engage in activities like “delaying publication, publishing manuscripts with errors to generate fees, and selling worthless services, or services that fail to accomplish what they promise.” Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart cite that these practices are violations of the California Business and Professions Code, and also violations of New York General Business Law.However events play out in the following months, ASI and its imprints (directly under the umbrella of ASI and those run in partnership with traditional publishers) hold little respect and reputation among the savvy self-publishing community and a host of author watchdog bodies like ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors) and Writer Beware. It certainly has not stopped traditional publishers like Thomas Nelson (now owned by HarperCollins), Harlequin, Hay House, Writer’s Digest and Berrett-Koehler rolling over and happily forming partnerships with ASI. In fact the latter publisher, Berrett-Koehler, has a similar self-publishing venture (Open Book Editions) housed with iUniverse.Tarcher Books’ new self-publishing venture, True Directions, is described as ‘an affiliate’ and its online home is not on the Tarcher website, but instead on iUniverse’s website. Vice President and Publisher at Tarcher Books, Joel Fotinos, spoke to Publishers Weekly about True Directions and explained that it would help him find new authors.

We will examine every True Directions title to determine which ones might best cross over into our Tarcher publishing program. ~ Joel Fotinos, Publisher at Tarcher Books

Fotinos recently acquired Timothy Pychyl’s Solving the Procrastination Puzzle directly from Author Solutions and the book will be published as a Tarcher edition in January 2014. Quite often traditional publishers launching self-publishing imprints (whether in partnership with ASI or not) often cite these new ventures as vehicles to talent-spot new authors. The reality and evidence doesn’t always support this claim when you examine imprints launched by ASI and run on behalf of traditional publishers. Two imprints immediately come to mind; Balboa Press (Hay House) and WestBow Press (Thomas Nelson), imprints that have seen only a decimal fraction of authors taken on by the main traditional imprint, and often after the author has paid for services and had a book self-published.
True Directions – Overview
True Directions is the self-publishing venture of Tarcher Books (itself an imprint of Penguin Books). Tarcher publishes mind-body-spirit titles and the company was founded by Jeremy Tarcher in 1974. Tarcher publishes around 50 titles each year on self-improvement, spirituality, current affairs, relationships, esoterica and occult, wellness and health, creativity, prosperity, sex, science, memoir, and parenting. Although not directly stated, I would expect True Directions to also feature a similar title list, rather than simply be an open-house self-publishing service. According to this Publishers Weekly article about True Directions, all titles will be reviewed by Tarcher editors. Now, it’s important to note that this is not specific about whether it includes all submitted manuscripts or just the ones an author agrees to pay a publishing service fee. I also could not find this information on the True Directions page hosted by iUniverse.
I would also add that an editorial evaluation is exactly that—an evaluation! It does not mean an author’s submitted manuscript is edited by Tarcher’s editorial department. The evaluation will recommend levels of editing and if this affiliated imprint works like most of ASI’s imprints, then editing will be undertaken (for a fee) by iUniverse editors.
An author’s contract/agreement, should he/she decide to pay for self-publishing services, is entered into with iUniverse—not True Directions or Tarcher Books. Interestingly, this page actually makes the agreement available to read. A good sign perhaps of transparency? Well, although it is called the True Directions Publishing Agreement, it has little difference to the standard iUniverse agreement. The link itself directs to the exactly the same agreement as that offered to iUniverse authors!
This brings us nicely to True Directions’ three publishing packages; Resolve, Achieve and Summit.
The basic elements of Resolve ($1999) are included in the Achieve and Summit packages:
  • One-on-One Author Support
  • ISBN Assignment
  • Custom Cover Design
  • Interior Book Design and Page Layout
  • Softcover Formatting
  • Digital Formatting and Distribution (eBook)
  • Editorial Evaluation
  • Bookseller’s Return Program
  • Star Program Eligibility
  • Editor’s Choice Eligibility
  • Author Learning Center 12-Month Free Subscription
  • Tarcher Editor Review for Consideration of Inclusion in the Catalog
  • Listing on Website 
  • Free Admission at one Tarcher Live Event
  • Free Admission to Tarcher Webinars 
  • Softcover Copies*
  • BookStubs*
  • Black and White Image Insertions
The Achieve ($3299) package provides more paperback author copies, bookstubs (loyalty-style cards with promotional codes for e-book download), image insertions, and hardback and author copies. In addition, the Achieve package also adds:
  • U.S. Copyright Registration
  • Library of Congress Control Number
  • Cover Copy Polish
  • Hardcover Formatting
  • One Inclusion in Tarcher Newsletter
  • Premier Seating at Tarcher Live Event
The Tarcher Newsletter is a mail-out to subscribers and the Tarcher Live Events are webinar learning zones about the publishing industry. The very fact that a True Directions author has to shell out $3299 just to have Copyright Registration and a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) tells me that their might be limited value in what I’m going to learn at a Tarcher webinar!
The Summit package includes all of what is included in the Achieve package (also extra author copies, image insertions, bookstubs) and the following:
  • Special Reception at Tarcher Live Event
  • One Inclusion in Email Campaign
  • Rising Star Eligibility
You might ask what the Rising Star program is. You will find an explanation here. This is a specific iUniverse program, which has been run by the company for a number of years, and from what I have heard from authors who have purchased the package; it makes claims about excellence and quality of books ‘selected’ for the program with the intention of selling directly to chain store book buyers and getting bookshelf space for titles. The first kicker of course is that the author must have purchased the returns program, editorial evaluation and editing services and several other side services to simply qualify for selection. And therein we come to the second and most important kicker here. An author might pay True Directions/iUniverse $4999 and still have an unedited book. Show me a True Directions author out of pocket to this tune, and I’ll show you ten other authors who use alternative self-publishing services or go directly with Lightning Source, IngramSpark or CreateSpace and for that amount of money will have all of what these packages offer and a lot more, including professional editing, fulfillment and distribution and even some traditional marketing services for a lot less than $4999.
If you still think after purchasing a publishing package from True Directions that you can make your financial outlay back through royalties—think again. True Direction royalties are the same poor royalty return as iUniverse. You receive 10% on the retail cost of a book through distribution channels; 25% of retail price through the publisher’s bookstores; e-book royalties are 50% of NET price (after distribution discounts). Royalties are paid by the publisher on a quarterly basis.
In recent years ASI imprints have improved the terms of their agreements when it comes to the termination of agreements and the return of production files. The agreement can be terminated providing at least 30 days’ written notice has been given, but be very wary of when you decide to give that notice. Once production work has commenced by the publisher on a book, depending on what stage the book is at, you will only be entitled to a limited refund. iUniverse’s agreement allows it to deem the time you have made first payment as the start of production and publication from the ‘effective date’ of the agreement. Yes, even if you have signed the agreement but not delivered the final manuscript, your refund comes less a $150 setup fee! Production files can be returned to the author, but the author must pay $150 fee for the removal of ISBN, logo and trademarks of the publisher.
Generally, books through iUniverse and other ASI imprints are set (by the publisher) at a retail price above what will be competitive and the market will bear, and I see nothing with True Directions to suggest this will be any different.
Paying to be published through True Directions is simply like trying to ride the same wild horse, but just in a different colour. If you sign an agreement and publish with them, you are simply paying to publishing your book through ASI’s iUniverse imprint. Outside of perhaps of your manuscript falling under the eyes of a Tarcher editor, and receiving an evaluation YOU pay for, I can’t see how this would attract any author. It is not self-publishing; you have little or no control over your work; the fees are astronomical; and at every turn of a corner you will be have to jump through qualifying loops and pay additional fees for the privilege.
If after all that, you still want to be wowed by Tarcher Books and True Directions, consider this. Go look at the True Directions logo. Even Tarcher don’t describe their new partnership venture with iUniverse as their publishing imprint—True Directions: An ‘affiliate’ of Tarcher Books!
RATING: 5.8/10
UPDATE: Dec 2016
This imprint appears to have ceased operations for self-published services.            


Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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