Publishing with iUniverse — Yea or Nay? (an iUniverse review)

Before we get into the nitty gritty details of this topic, let’s begin with establishing what exactly iUniverse is, and what makes it different from traditional publishing and self-publishing. In a nutshell, there are three types of publishing:

publishing chartSo there’s the breakdown. iUniverse is an assisted/vanity publisher, meaning you pay them money and they publish your book for you. Assisted/vanity publishers have a God-awful reputation amongst self-published authors, due to their tendency to squeeze authors for every penny they have. There have also been all sorts of lawsuits filed over missed/inaccurate royalty payments, publishing books without the author’s permission, etc. On the other hand, many authors have gone with assisted/vanity publishers and been perfectly satisfied.

So … iUniverse — Yea or Nay?

The Good

  • The friendliness. Every employee I have ever spoken to at iUniverse has been incredibly polite, friendly, and eager to assist me in any way they can. Now, their ability to actually solve problems is a bit dodgy — it took about three months for my book to get filed under the correct genre on Amazon, and it’s still wrong on other sites — but I can definitely give them 100% for friendliness!
  • The book quality. If you’ve ever held my book, you’ll find it’s absolutely lovely. The paper is thick and smooth, the cover is glossy, the binding is sturdy, etc. The interior formatting is excellent, and it looks great in ebook form too. If you go through iUniverse, you will at the very least get an excellent quality book out of it.
  • The straight-forwardness. Is publishing via iUniverse expensive? Absolutely. But (at least in my experience), they’ve always been very upfront about their pricing. If they’re going to tack on a fee for something, they tell me about it before I give the go-ahead. The only time they slipped up in this was when they failed to mention that I’d have to pay to ship the free books I got as part of my publishing package to my house. As shipping 25 books is fairly expensive, this was a major oversight on their part. But other than that, they’ve been very good about avoiding hidden fees and whatnot.
  • The “consultants”. These are the individuals assigned to help you through different stages of the publishing process. As mentioned above, they’ve been infallibly friendly and helpful. I was most impressed with my editorial consultant, who taught me a very important lesson — that all books need to be copy-edited, no matter how many times the author goes through them. She also had no problem talking marketing strategy with me for hours at a time, despite the fact that it definitely isn’t her job to do that.
  • The distribution reach. My book is available on all major retailers, and several minor ones as well. I’m given to understand that self-publishers can achieve a similar effect by publishing with Smashwords, but it’s still important to note that you get excellent distribution with iUniverse.
  • The convenience. With iUniverse, they do everything for you. They distribute your book, they collect royalties for you, they pay them out every quarter, they deal with customer complaints, etc. For someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, or doesn’t have a lot of free time, the convenience offered by iUniverse is invaluable.
  • The experience. The consultants at iUniverse have been in the industry a long time, and they really know their stuff. I learned a ton about editing and publishing during my iUniverse publication process, and it was very interesting to chat with my assorted consultants and glean wisdom from them.

The Bad

  • The price of publishing. It costs a lot to publish with iUniverse. The cheapest package is $899, and that doesn’t even include formatting for hardcover. The one I purchased, the Indigo/Chapters package, was $2,999. There are no hidden fees — you do know what you’re getting yourself into when you buy the package — but it is far, far cheaper to publish the book yourself.
  • The price of editing. iUniverse sells editing packages, and they’re expensive. Now, editing is absolutely crucial — but if you’re going to hire an editor, don’t do it through iUniverse. My edit cost approximately $2,000, and it was a waste of money. A third of the “edits” were just the editor deleting something and then typing it back in, and while there were definitely some useful comments in there, it most assuredly was not $2,000 worth.
  • The price of printing. A 388 page softcover book retails at $21.95 through iUniverse. They absolutely will not lower the price, no matter how much you ask. Would you pay $21.95 for a softcover book? I know I wouldn’t. Even buying author copies puts you out approximately $14-$15 per book. By comparison, buying a 388 page softcover from Createspace is $5.50. The print books are insanely expensive for everyone involved, and iUniverse will not do anything to fix it. My book consultant actually advised me to buy copies from Chapters instead of from iUniverse, as it would actually work out to be cheaper for me.
  • The genre-listing system. This is hard to believe, but iUniverse has no “YA” or “Teen” genre listing. I know that technically these aren’t genres, but at the very least they should be available as age categories. What happened is that my teen book was listed as “children’s fiction” on all the online retailers, putting it in the same category as picture books. After several months of effort I’ve managed to get my book listed correctly on some of the sites, but it’s still a children’s book on several sites. I sent an email to iUniverse a few months ago suggesting they add a YA/teen category, but no response thus far.
  • The quarterly royalty reports. Only getting reports once a quarter means you have no idea how you did, sales-wise, until three or four months after the fact. How are you supposed to judge if your giveaway generated extra sales, or if your festival appearance sparked interest in your book, if all you get on your report is “23 ebooks sold in July”?
  • The lack of control. By this, I mean that if you want to make any change whatsoever — change the book’s genre, add a sentence to your ebook description on Amazon, etc. — you have to do it through iUniverse, which takes 6-8 weeks to go into effect. This wait time (assuming the issue is actually resolved) can be very frustrating.
  • The ebook pricing. The ebook price is the price. You can’t give away sale codes to your followers, or gift the ebook for free — a very bad thing, as sales/giveaways are one of the best ways to get word of your book out. And heaven forbid something go wrong with the system, like it did for me — now my ebook retails for $9.99 on certain websites, and neither Amazon nor iUniverse can figure out why, or change it.
  • The proof copy. My book went live and was available for purchase before I actually got my hands on a proof copy. That meant that several friends purchased my book and held it in their hands before I did. So when I found several problems with the proof copy and had iUniverse fix them, that left a handful of my friends holding flawed copies of my book that should never have seen the light of day. This problem actually has a really simple solution — the book should not go live until the author has approved the proof copy. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, iUniverse!
  • The cover design. Maybe I was just really unlucky, but my cover designer was fairly incompetent. The original cover they sent me featured what appeared to be a pregnant man. Also, the coloring for the text on the spine made the words impossible to read on the print copy (which necessitated me paying iUniverse $200 to get the issue resolved). Whoever iUniverse is hiring to do their cover design, they need to find someone a bit better at their job.

So there you have it! The good and the bad of working with iUniverse! Was it everything you’d hoped for in an iUniverse review and more?

And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for! iUniverse … yea or nay?

**drumroll**

NAY

I’m going to be honest — I learned a lot through working with iUniverse. And for authors who don’t know what they’re doing, have no free time, and need someone to hold their hand through the whole publishing process (like me back in May 2012), iUniverse is definitely a viable publishing option.

However, the cons definitely outweigh the pros. Self-publishing a book is a lot of work, but it’s very doable — and at a fraction of the price iUniverse charges. When you self-publish you control your book entirely, and that basically takes care of all the problems I experienced with iUniverse.

I did publish my first book with iUniverse, and while I don’t regret it (as I said, I learned a lot during the process), I will definitely be self-publishing from now on. Hop over to my blog if you’re curious to read about my adventures with iUniverse. Peace out!

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39 thoughts on “Publishing with iUniverse — Yea or Nay? (an iUniverse review)

  1. I think you bring up an interesting point at the end. A company like iUniverse can be very helpful in showing a new author some of the ropes. It’s not a great and cheap way of learning, but it can teach you something. I did iUniverse too way back when and I learned a lot about what does and, more often, doesn’t work.

  2. Michelle … a most sincere of thanks from me for posting this. It’s the type of information we all need. One of those little riddles we all wonder about. To me, the biggest problem with iUniverse and similar services is the loss of control. Unless they market the hell out of your book and put it in every bookstore and on every website and then push and push and push, people aren’t going to pay those prices for an unknown author. The price you quoted for a paperback? I’m not paying that for an author I know and that you have no control or say in it.
    Thank you for the info. Valuable stuff.

    • Yes, the loss of control is extremely frustrating. I didn’t realize when I first signed with them exactly how frustrating it would be. I actually initially really liked the idea of having someone else take care of stuff for me … until I realized that it’s a lot faster, easier, and less aggravating to do it yourself 🙂 And you know what — if it weren’t for the pricing problems, I might even have considered recommending iUniverse. But $21.95 for a softcover … that’s just stupid.

      • If the loss of control came with better support, better marketing, better options, better flexibility and a paperback that wasn’t priced at 21.95, it might be worth it. But, when it comes with all of that baggage …

  3. Just a side note. Traditional publishers do very little when it comes to marketing. The author is always responsible for sales.

  4. I self-published my first book through CreateSpace, and published the eBook through SmashWords and Kindle Direct. Your experiences with iUniverse and the experiences of others I know who used other companies convinced me I did the right thing.

    While I had a few hiccups (you can see my blog for details), it was relatively painless and cheap. I think my final cost was less than $70 ($35 to register copyright, $25 for expanded distribution network, less than $10 for proof.) I priced my book at $9.99 since it was less than 100 pages. My author’s copies are only about $2.15 each.

    Drawback: No hardcovers.

    Still, I’m getting ready to publish my second book next month, and I will mostly follow the same route I did the first time.

    The one thing I wish I had was your talent for promoting your book. I’m just not as outgoing as you are, I guess. 🙂

    • I’ve been doing alot of research on this lately and the method you describe is similar to what I will probably be doing. Glad to hear it went smoothly and was so inexpensive.

      • It really was. If you plan to publish and eBook, I highly recommend downloading the “Smashwords Style Guide” and following its instructions for formatting.

        For my second book, I’ve even removed the spectre of copyright issues on the cover art by basing it on a photograph my sister took. I converted it to a paining/drawing using FotoSketcher and added text in PhotoScape (both free). Just be sure to follow the size specifications covered in the “Style Guide”.

        Hint: you can re-use the cover art for your print book.

      • I’ve already downloaded it. 🙂 It’s next on my TBR after I finish Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. Good advice on the cover art. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  5. I self-published my first book through CreateSpace, and published the eBook through SmashWords and Kindle Direct. Your experiences with iUniverse and the experiences of others I know who used other companies convinced me I did the right thing.

    While I had a few hiccups (you can see my blog for details), it was relatively painless and cheap. I think my final cost was less than $70 ($35 to register copyright, $25 for expanded distribution network, less than $10 for proof.) I priced my book at $9.99 since it was less than 100 pages. My author’s copies are only about $2.15 each.

    Drawback: No hardcovers.

    Still, I’m getting ready to publish my second book next month, and I will mostly follow the same route I did the first time.

    The one thing I wish I had was your talent for promoting your book. I’m just not as outgoing as you are, I guess. 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing this, Michelle. I think I’ve read so much about the bad parts of Author Solutions companies (including iUniverse) that I’d never stopped to think about the circumstances when using a company like this might be the best thing. The price alone would have been enough to scare me off… I’ll be hiring an editor and cover designer, but I’m going to try to find my own who will do it more cheaply. Hey, selling some of my My Little Pony collection has to cover these costs… *sigh*

    I appreciate your honesty here. And I’m glad to hear you feel confident about going it alone for the next book. I can’t wait to see what kind of cover you choose! And maybe I’ll be able to get a paper copy of the next one. 🙂

    • And that’s the problem — when you Google “Author Solutions”, you either get scathing reviews hailing these companies as the harbinger of the apocalypse, or you get promotional quote and videos and stuff put out by the companies themselves. There’s no middle ground! There are actually many good reasons to try out vanity publishing — and that’s why people do it. It’s just that, for someone trying to actually make a career out of self-publishing, Author Solutions isn’t the best way to go.

      The price is a bit steep, isn’t it? Lol. You can definitely find editors/designers for cheaper. I’m not sure where, but I know they exist!!! 😀 I keep changing my mind about my cover, lol. Some days I wake up envisioning a thrilling starscape, the next day I picture a girl in a pretty dress floating through the space, the next day it’s a bunch of lasers blasting the bejesus out of everything … who knows, lol.

  7. I had a similar experience with iUniverse. I don’t regret it and I learned a lot, but I’ll be self-publishing on my own from now on. While I felt that the pricing was fair for the services they provided, the lack of control over pricing of the books and the royalty system were not.

  8. I’ve been reading a book where the author said to stear clear of iuniverse. It’s good to get the perspective of someone who has dealt with them directly too. Thanks for the very helpful post!

    • No problem 🙂 One of the reasons I went with iUniverse is that, when I was looking up reviews for it, I found all the negative reviews just blasted them for everything they were doing wrong and didn’t mention a single thing they did right. And that seemed really suspicious to me, because no one can be THAT terrible! So I’m hoping this review will make its way around the web and maybe shed a little light 🙂 iUniverse isn’t a terrible company — they just do a lot of irritating things that could be easily avoided if you self-publish!

  9. I’ve read all your posts about iUniverse and I’m not surprised at all with the nay decision. The price of the softcover is very off-putting. I think I’ll be going self-pub with friends and family help. 🙂

    • Hahaha yah, it was pretty easy to see coming, right? But I thought I should definitely mention the reasons I liked them, because the experience hasn’t been all bad. Plus, I’m hoping people will see this as a balanced review, and therefore not dismiss it as a hate-filled rant.

      • Good call. Definitely not hate-filled at all. Hopefully companies like this see the feedback and act on it. Afterall they want people to come back. Don’t they? A business model hat relies totally on unsuspecting (and perhaps naive?) new customers who never return doesn’t strike me as future proof! The additional charges for some additional work might be fair enough but the 6-8 week turn around for online tweaks that take minutes is just absurd and should be one area they could improve on immediately.

      • Oh, I have a whole list of ways they could improve — maybe I should write my next post about that, lol. But I assume they won’t read it or care. I mean, I sent them an email several months ago suggesting they add a Young Adult/Teen category to their book category list, and they never responded, so obviously they have no interest in actually improving their process. Ah well!

        Oh, and apparently 6-8 week turnaround, while irritating, is actually standard for book publishers. Something about going through the proper channels. But by self-publishing you can for some reason bypass that entirely. Doesn’t make a heckuva lot of sense to me, but apparently 6-8 week waits are actually the norm for book publishers. Weird, eh?

  10. Michelle, thank you very much for sharing your experience! You explain the tradeoffs very well and (I’m sure iUniverse won’t be happy about this), but your experience does make the case that, if a writer has the time and inclination, she might be better off self-publishing through Createspace, etc.

  11. Michelle
    Your experience will be very valuable to anyone considering assisted publishing. Thank you for sharing, and sorry that you have had to go through all this. I am currently self-pubbing through CreateSpace and find myself gaping at the iUniverse costs. :O
    I do not have access to those sorts of cash, I remember my first encounter with a vanity publisher on-line who quoted £765 ($1175) for setting up. The cost included ten free copies. Woot!
    My thought was ‘Why am I paying THEM? I want to MAKE money, not give it away.’
    Do you think you will ever be able to recoup your outlay? :O

    • My motto: Failing, that others might succeed 🙂 Um … well, I mean eventually I hope to recoup my outlay, but it will definitely take more than a few years, lol. The way I’m trying to look at it is that the money was spent on a valuable learning experience, so it wasn’t so much “start-up costs” as it was “educational fees”. That way I feel less silly about spending 5 grand on iUniverse, lol.

  12. It sounds like you’ve learnt enough from your experience to go it alone next time. And the rest of us have learnt from your journey. Shame about the problems and you would think that they would try to resolve some of them as they are no-brainers really.

  13. To me the costliness of iUniverse is the biggest turn-off. I wouldn’t want to pay so much money on something that will probably take ages to yield results that would pay back half of the investment. I liked Lulu because it was free, but as I’m going to try Lightning Source this year. True, you have to pay around $140 to have a book published, but they have a lot of perks, one of which is being able to sell a 300+ page book for less than $7!

    • I don’t think I truly appreciated how cheap it can be to self-publish until after I’d signed with iUniverse. And it’s going to take me FOREVER to recoup my investment (gah!). Ah well. Lesson learned 😀

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