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:
So 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 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 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?
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!