• Brooke Warner
  • Not All Subsidy Presses Are Created Equal: My Beef with Author Solutions
This blog was featured on 07/24/2016
Not All Subsidy Presses Are Created Equal: My Beef with Author Solutions

As the publisher of She Writes Press, a publishing model that falls under many categories—partnership publishing; hybrid publishing; subsidy publishing; self-publishing—I am often asked how we’re different from Author Solutions. And occasionally, because we charge for our services, we’re accused of being no different from Author Solutions. I’ll get to why that’s a hard pill to swallow in a bit.

I’ve been debating over whether to write about the difference between a press like She Writes Press and Author Solutions for a long time. Though there are many many many voices out there that are openly critical about Author Solutions and their practices, I’ve been hesitant to weigh in publicly because there are a lot of power players in the mix. Author Solutions now owns Xlibris, iUniverse, and Author House (its early imprints), but also its newer imprints, collaborations with major houses, which include Balboa with Hay House, Archway with Simon & Schuster, Westbow with Thomas Nelson, and Abbott Press with Writer’s Digest. To top it all off, since 2013, they’re owned by Random House/Penguin (owned by Bertelsmann and Pearson). That Random House/Penguin owns the self-publishing division of Simon & Schuster should give you pause, yes.

I heard about Author Solutions early on (they came on the scene in 2006). I started seeing their ads showing up when self-publishing was still a bit of a dirty word. No one I knew was self-publishing in 2007. I was deeply immersed in Seal Press, acquiring books and only barely aware of the major shifts that were about to rock the publishing world.

What Author Solutions got right back then was that there was an opportunity out there, and they seized it. They saw that tons of people were wanting to self-publish, and that they didn’t want to do it themselves. They truly were on the cutting edge of the whole hybrid model (as was Author House—the imprint they absorbed and expanded—before them). But unfortunately, this is where what they got right stops. Where Author Solutions has failed its authors is in not seeing the value in each and every single book, in not understanding that a book that goes out into the world is its author’s baby. They do not care about these babies, nor do they care to educate or nurture the parents. They don’t have any mechanism to help authors understand when their books are half-baked and therefore not ready. It’s not Author Solutions’ job to save authors from themselves, I realize, but a huge injustice is being done to publishing at large that so so so many books are going out into the world on their companies’ labels when they’re not ready to be published.

That they don’t care about editorial quality, however, is only the beginning. I’ve seen Author Solutions paperbacks that are 600 pages long and priced at $30—a product no one other than the author’s friends will ever buy. They do not help their authors understand the industry, or why price points matter. They also have subpar design. Even an amateur book designer understands that a book’s interior design is based on its cover fonts, but I’ve seen countless Author Solutions books that look as if whomever laid it out never even saw the cover. They probably didn’t.

While all of the editorial issues bother me (and, of course, since I’m an editor, they should), it wasn’t until 2012, when Author Solutions came knocking on my door, that I started to truly uncover what I now find so unsettling about them. In the early months of co-founding She Writes Press with Kamy Wicoff, we were approached by Author Solutions. They wanted what we had. The idea of adding a women’s imprint to their roster was appealing. At the time, I was concerned about their editorial and design issues, but I figured there must be a workaround on that. Like any new business owner, I was interested in the idea of a partnership with a company that had more resources than we did. Plus, I admired Hay House (and still do), so I figured I’d do a little exploring. And this is when I got my real education in how Author Solutions works.

They offered to put me in touch with the one person at Hay House who apparently acquires for Balboa. I was never able to reach that person, however. They highlighted for me how easy my role as publisher would be. All I had to do was feed them the leads, and they’d take it from there. As an acquiring editor for many years, I understand greatly the power of courting authors. Authors want (and many of them need) to be validated. Having someone like me whose whole job was to drum up authors could have been amazing for our bottom line (I’m pretty good at courting), but I am not and have never been an editor (and now I’m not a publisher) who doles out praise gratuitously. I personally don’t think it does any good to stroke an author’s ego when her book needs a lot of work. Plus, I wasn’t looking for my job to be easy. I wanted to do something quality—and to continue to support those countless authors I knew who had beautiful, well-written books but couldn’t get a traditional publishing deal.

Furthermore, I started seeing Balboa’s messaging—promoting the idea to authors that they were going to be part of the Hay House family, and that they had a shot at publishing with Hay House if their book was, to simplify the point, good enough. While it’s true that Hay House has now published a couple of books from the Balboa list (to much fanfare and many press releases), there haven’t been many. When I was at Seal Press, I used to say that the percentage of books that came from the slush pile maybe amounted to 5 percent (one book a year, if that, on a list of 50 or so books). The number of Balboa titles Hay House has published is not listed on its site, but I imagine that percentage is in the .000s.

Author Solutions has been accused of exploiting authors. They’ve been sued by authors. They definitely upsell things authors don’t need (the worst of which was an offer I saw a couple years ago to send authors to Book Expo to the tune of $10,000 for some exclusive party that anyone who’s been in the industry for one year or more knows will do nothing to actually promote sales). But their worst offense, in my opinion, is preying on aspiring authors’ dreams. Publishing is a tricky business, and lots of writers, when they’re first starting out, are very very green, and by extension very, very naïve. In my work as a coach, I give my clients reality checks about what to expect. In my writing and in my work with She Writes Press authors, I’m always explicit that even selling 500 copies of a book is hard work. I sought out a deal for traditional distribution because I wanted our authors to have the best possible chance in the marketplace, and I saw how a sales team, solid distribution, and preorders would offer that. And now She Writes Press is in the process of securing a marketing and publicity partnership because we see that it’s the final missing piece, and something authors who want to succeed truly need.

Author Solutions is not problematic, as some people think, just because they charge. And on this point I cannot distance myself completely from how they operate. They’re a subsidy publishing option, and so is She Writes Press. They are not, however, a publishing house, and She Writes Press is. They are a mill. They will take anything, regardless of quality, and put it out into the world, and they will sometimes even make the end result worse. And for this reason I conclude that they do not care about books. I watch Top Chef, and I’m always amused but also moved when Tom Colicchio is offended by a contestant who has not honored their fresh ingredients. Usually they’ve butchered the protein poorly, or covered up the essence of the ingredient by using some weird preparation or sauce. And he’s truly incensed. I feel this way about publishing services like Author Solutions, because I feel something similar: they are not honoring books, or the long history of book publishing. And unfortunately, the otherwise lovely people at Writer’s Digest, Hay House, Thomas Nelson, Simon & Schuster, and Random House are complicit in this dishonoring.

It does no one a lick of good to put books into the world that are not ready to be out there, or to publish books with quality, length, design, or price point issues. All these things contribute to dismal sales and shattered dreams. I saw what Author Solutions was offering She Writes Press in a partnership and I walked away. It would have been a very easy job to deliver aspiring authors to their doorstep, to opt into a relationship with a company that would have done tons of advertising for us and gotten our name out there in a big way. But it also would have been selling out big time.

I want to take a moment here to say that some Author Solutions books are just fine. Many have won awards. Authors who go in with their eyes wide open and who demand good treatment, or who have some handle on what makes for a good book fare better. There are authors who’ve been picked up by Hay House and Thomas Nelson. (Not sure about Simon & Schuster yet.) I also believe Author Solutions started out with good intentions, but like anything that gets too big for its own good, its own acquisition strategy and greed has contributed to its ickiness.

So yes, it hurts me a little when people accuse She Writes Press of being like Author Solutions, though I know it isn’t true. But it hurts me just as much to hear people I respect talking about their partnerships with Author Solutions (maybe they haven’t done their homework?) like publishing with these imprints is on par with a traditional publishing experience. To be clear, it is not. There is not a single publishing company out there that would publish a book without a copyedit and/or a proofread. Publishing houses stand behind their titles 100 percent. I worked on several books at Seal that I literally had to salvage—and presses pay a lot of money to maintain their editorial reputation, even if it means doing whatever it takes to make sure a book passes muster. After all, this is the foundation upon which the industry was built. Good books.

Author Solutions—though seemingly the most popular “solution” for large houses these days who want to create a self-publishing arm of their business—is not the only option. I want to give a shout-out to Turning Stone Press for choosing something different for Red Wheel/Weiser. Turning Stone Press, while not as inexpensive as the Author Solutions base packages, is actually part of Red Wheel/Weiser. They have a mission and a submissions process. To publish with Turning Stone Press is to publish with Red Wheel/Weiser. You actually do have access to their team and their expertise. In other words, they’re delivering what they promise. Turning Stone Press is the self-publishing model that Simon & Schuster and Hay House and Thomas Nelson could have turned to when they made the decision to enter into the self-publishing space. But the readymade model Author Solutions offered was easier. It meant only allocating a single employee to the task at hand, allowing the press to pay attention to what they really care about: their traditional list. I get it, but what I don’t get are the false promises that otherwise self-published authors are publishing “with them.” In the end it all comes down to sales and money and volume. I guess it gives authors bragging rights, too. What Author Solutions represents is sad for publishing. It's a company that took what could have been a good thing—supporting authors to succeed—and opted for an easier, faster way to get books out into the world to the detriment of authors and readers alike.

June 23, 2014 update: Writer's Digest has abandoned their partnership with Author Solutions. Abbott Press will no longer be run by Writer's Digest. News via David Gaughran. Read more.

*Generic book courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com.

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Wow! So WD is abandoning Abbott. There goes my rationale for going with Abbott in the first place. I still have the copyright to my book's content, at least.

  • This just in: Writer's Digest is abandoning their relationship with Author Solutions. Via David Gaughran: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/writers-digest-dumps-author-solutions/

  • It's telling to me, Jo Anne, that you didn't know that Abbott was part of Author Solutions. People are getting swept up by the idea of working with Writer's Digest, Hay House, Simon & Schuster, or whomever, but on the back end it's all the same; it doesn't matter to them what imprint you're a part of. And this is the antithesis of what publishing houses were originally created to do. Like Liz, I'm not surprised to hear that your experience mirrors everyone else's. What is surprising is how they keep drawing in thousands of new authors every month.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Jo Anne, Your experience at Abbott isn't surprising since they are now owned by Author Solutions :-( It's frightening, because many new authors don't know the business enough to truly understand what is realistic to expect for an unknown debut author, and they prey on those big dreams.

  • Liz, thanks for the Gaughran link. It's scary, and sounds a lot like what I experienced with Abbott. I won't make the same mistake again. And fortunately, I did get a good Kirkus Review (which I think is honest), so I can market my book with a good conscience.  And Cardyn, it shouldn't be a surprise that Penguin bought this cash cow. Most of the main-stream publishers are strictly concerned with the bottom line.

  • Thanks for sharing the link, L. G-O'C. It sounds as if Author Solutions is the publishing industry's cash cow at the expense of writers. Random House Penquin's enthusiasm for this model is alarming. 

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    I just noticed the tweet I referenced below was from our very own SheWriter, Karen Wyle :-)

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    If you really want to read something scary, check out this post from Dave Gaughran that appeared via a post on Twitter regarding Author Solutions. SUPER unethical business model on top of being scary... http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/the-case-against-author-solutions-part-1-the-numbers/

  • Inge Saunders

    Interesting post :)

  • Hi Jo Anne, yes, what you describe here sounds a lot like what I've heard from others about Author Solutions. (Abbott Press is Author Solutions' imprint—through Writer's Digest. They're everywhere!)—being conned into buying a package. It's probably the case that you needed a marketing and publicity package, but the issue, from what I can see, is that they're templated. You need individuated attention when it comes to marketing and publicity, and a team that really cares about your book. The fact that you got a good Kirkus review says a lot because they're very honest in their reviews. Good news for She Writes Press at this point is that we can and do submit for traditional reviews (meaning you don't pay). Thanks for your comment!

  • Good commentary! This "self-publishing" and "assisted publishing" merry-go-round is a bit daunting to a naive author who is trying to enter the business without a mentor. My first book was published by CreateSpace, which was a good experience from the publication side, and not very expensive. The second book was published by Abbott Press, which was a good deal more expensive. They did a good job of the actual publication, but I was talked into (I almost want to say conned into) buying a publicity and marketing package which was almost as expensive as the publication itself, and pretty much a bust. I don't believe I saw any sales blip when the "publicity and marketing" kicked in. So I'm poorer and wiser, and I realize now that I simply have to do my own marketing (for which I'm personally and emotionally unsuited). BTW, both books got very good Kirkus Reviews (for which I also paid). Not sure what I'll do next, but I'll certainly explore SheWrites Press when I get back on my feet financially.

  • Thanks so much, Nina. Yes, it can be difficult to explain the differences, especially when there is some measured success. My biggest hope is that these companies will change their ways. I think Balboa should lead the way. Not sure if that will happen, but one can hope.

    Sydney, thank you for that word. Scandal. I agree with you. It is. It's shocking that there isn't more negative press around all of this. You have a few loud voices out there, but the more I read the crazier it gets. Anyone interested in this whole thing should follow Emily Suess and David Gaughran.

  • Nina Amir

    Fabulous and courageous post, Brooke. Everything that has needed to be said. Just today I was trying to expain to a client and student about subsidy publishing and the false promises made by Balboa. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • It's a scandal.  A woman I know paid her publisher thousands of dollars  to attend an event that would provide a short coaching session on how to pitch your novel to a Hollywood producer and then she would be given an opportunity to pitch to producers. She did this because they told her her novel would make a good movie and they were sure a producer would want it. The packs of wolves at the publishing door are voracious. 

    Here's my dream. Wealthy benefactors with an assortment of interests (literary fiction, trekking in the Andes, whatever) will create imprints and solicit manuscripts of high quality but perhaps low interest to the general public who will tolerate formulaic writing for the sake of constant amusement. They will use the traditional model to obtain a quality product and collaborate with authors to uncover audiences that are not being well served in the current environment. And they will figure out how to make it pay. Okay, it's a dream but one I didn't have to pay to watch fizzle. 

    Thanks for putting this out there. It takes courage to say the king is naked in his greed. We all need to develop more courage and backbone to say, "this doesn't feel right, so no thank you."

  • My pleasure, Brooke. Have a great summer!

  • Thanks for this comment, Cardyn. At least back then they were up front with you. I'm not sure this is so much the case now. But you are so right—it does all fall back to you as an author and how much you're going to put into your marketing and publicity efforts. I've found this to be true even with the big houses. Less and less is being done in-house and more and more is expected of authors. I think this is why we've seen such a huge increase in self-pubbing; so many authors figure, If I'm going to do it all myself anyway, why would I give up 85% of my royalties? So yeah, the tides are a shifting. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Judith Newton

    So clarifying, Brooke!  Thanks!

  • Thanks for your post, Brooke. It took me back to 10 years ago when my manuscript kept getting rejected for not making my Black characters "consistent or identifiable with my target readers" because they weren't poor, down-trodden or inarticulate. Self-publishing seemed to be the only option. I asked First Books (now AuthorHouse) three questions: What percentage of their authors at least break even between their publishing expenditures and their book revenues? How many generate a profit? How many chose to self-publish another title/s through them? 

    When a very nice man (marketing exec, Don? Dan?) e-mailed me that they didn't have those stats, his answer told me that successful, high-quality publishing wasn't their focus (because if it were, those stats would be essential); making money from the service fees paid by the authors was. His answer told me that I was 100% responsible for every aspect of my book. The basic First Books package was the least expensive at the time, so Seducing the Burks was published (printed, really) through them with my consciously understanding that their mission was to sell me as many services and upsells as possible. 

    My goal was to prove that well-written erotic love stories about loved and loving middle-class adults who happen to be Black would appeal to mainstream readers of erotica regardless of ethnicity. Feedback from readers, book clubs, independent reviewers, independent bookstores, and recognition as an IPPY Awards finalist confirmed my belief. 

    One truth that seems to apply regardless of the publishing method is this: Authors need to be prepared to hustle because no one is as invested in the success of their works as they are. The gift of working with publishing pros who care about the quality of the content as much as their business mandates (like She Writes Press seems to) is too rare these days. 

    Keep writing the good write, everyone:-)!


  • Sonya, I know. I agree with you and it bothers me a lot too. I have always admired Hay House, but this is just a bad call on their part. And they should really extricate themselves from this relationship in my opinion. When I hear top people at Hay House talk about their "partnership" with them it makes me bristle because I know what it entails. I feel like it's going to be untenable for them over the long term though.

    Thanks for all your support—Lynn, Stacey, Colleen, Alexa, Lisa. I appreciate the comments!

  • Thank you for writing this.  I became involved with a small publishing firm (a one woman show) outside Vancouver that promised it was different, and supportive of its writers by offering (at a monthly cost) a support group for writers in their home town (or you could join in by Skype).  Often the woman running the groups had done no prep, had no topics, and basically just talked about the process that she put people through to get to the point of having a book in your hand.  She "encouraged" us to set a publishing date despite the fact that at that point no one had even finished their manuscripts or had their work edited.  She said she read all the manuscripts that came to her before they were published, but it became clear that she didn't - she published whatever people gave her.  I saw one woman's work get published at great expense and it could have been a good book - but it needed the editing it never got.  That was when I dropped out.  Our group disintegrated.  Later I found out that the contract you sign with her gave her complete control of your manuscript for 5 years.  She is still operating her business.

  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    Informative. I have not worked with Author Solutions, but I know a solution should solve a problem without creating others. This piece seems direct and honest and your points come through clearly. 


    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (and everyone)

  • Colleen Haggerty

    thanks for the post and for your integrity, Brooke.

  • Brooke, I too appreciate your courage in speaking out about Author Solutions in such an honest but balanced manner. Sharing your personal experience with Author Solutions with Balboa specifically was particularly valuable for me.

    Just last week I wrote about Author Solutions and Balboa Press in a special report. So many writers of self-help and inspirational books are stunned to find out of this partnership. They trust the Hay House brand so much. On the Balboa Press website it is prominently described as a “division of Hay House,” with no mention of Author Solutions. It’s difficult to reconcile such deception on the part of the Hay House Brand.

    I also find it disturbing when I hear a select group of developmental editors, writing coaches and publicity people boast about their clients who have been “picked up” by Hay House, when in fact these clients have self-published with Balboa Press.

    In regards to the number of Balboa titles Hay House has picked up, by their own admission on the Balboa Press Complaint page- 4 out of more than 2000 Balboa titles. http://www.balboapress.com/complaints.aspx.  So, with a whopping .002 track record, your estimate of .000s is right on.

    I agree so much with Stacey Aaronson that these are facts that our clients and prospective clients need to hear. 

  • Alexa Bigwarfe

    Thanks Brooke. This is really good information. I appreciate your willingness to tackle the topic!

  • Stacey Aaronson

    I am SO happy you mustered the courage to write this, Brooke. These are facts people sorely need to hear ...

    I'm constantly telling my own prospective clients that there's no sense in publishing a book without professional editing, proofreading, and design; it only hurts the author and the literary community to cut corners, which is why I won't work with any author who doesn't wish to "honor the legacy of traditional publishing" as a self-publishing author (a quote I got from you that I love!). It's not about me making money; it's about quality, marketability, and fulfilling a writer's dream of being published with excellence. Unfortunately, Author Solutions, et al, has no concern about that level of excellence, and the dashed dreams you speak of are only one negative byproduct of their model, which you made clear so well in this post.

    I make my living working with self-publishing authors as you do, but the fact that we actually CARE about the book being produced and how the author will be able to sell it makes a huge difference in how self-publishing functions as a viable option for writers. I've been steering people away from these "alluring" platforms for awhile now too, because the author's best interest is NOT at heart with these companies, so THANK YOU for putting your highly experienced and credible stamp on the topic. I will be happily sharing this post!