iUniverse CEO Speaks… Again

This seems to be POD/Self-Publishing day on my blog.  Pod-dy Mouth hosts a lengthy Q&A with iUniverse CEO Susan Driscoll. There are quite few interesting quotes. Here’s one:

If an author isn’t traditionally published then his/her title is not likely to get stocked nationally on bookstore shelves. Anyone who tells an author otherwise isn’t telling the truth.

You have to admire her honesty on that score. As she did in her letter to my blog, Susan once again tries to sell iUniverse as "a stepping stone to traditional publishing" success rather than a "vanity press" for people who can’t get their work published any other way.

iUniverse gives authors a way to quickly and affordably publish a book so that
the author can test market the book and can determine whether he/she likes doing
the marketing. Those that succeed will get picked up by bookstores and perhaps
by traditional publishers.

That’s where she loses me.  I don’t buy that reasoning for paying hundreds of dollars to self-publish your book.  She calls it the "all-important author platform," which is her attempt to refresh and re-imagine the age-old vanity press come-on/false hope:  the very slim possibility that you can become a bestseller on your own or that you will attract a "real publisher" with your self-published book.

Sure, it happens. People occasionally win the lottery, too.

All her talk about the importance of author self-marketing is essentially saying this:  iUniverse prints your book… and that’s it. You have to do all the rest. You have to create awareness and demand.  And if you manage, against all odds,  to somehow sell thousands of copies of your vanity press book, then a real publisher might take notice. 

That isn’t the "all-important" first step or, as she calls it, "author platform."
Writing a good book is the all-important first step. The second one is finding an
agent. The third one is selling the book. The fourth is getting out and marketing it as best you can (very different, by the way, than the kind of marketing you have to do to move a vanity press POD title that isn’t available in bookstores). The fifth is starting to write your next book.   The combination of those five steps is what I would call "the author platform."

In my opinion, self-publishing your novel is a frantic and foolhardy last
resort… a desperate gamble with very, very, very little chance of success.  It’s not a platform…it’s another charge on your credit card bill.

That said, I think  iUniverse has a lot to offer someone interested in self-publishing non-fiction or self-help books. In that case, I think you have a realistic potential for success, especially if publishing your book goes hand-in-hand with giving seminars and teaching classes.

I also think iUniverse is a great way for instructors to provide their own "textbooks" for their students as opposed to having them buy bound xerox copies of their articles and essays.

And iUniverse offers a second lease on life for previously-published books that have fallen out-of-print.  It’s not lucrative…but it offers readers hard-to-find books in handsome new editions and provides a few extra dollars to the authors that they wouldn’t otherwise see from used book sales.

10 thoughts on “iUniverse CEO Speaks… Again”

  1. I don’t buy this idea of iUniverse being a platform, either, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not true. In my experience in literary fiction, this platform she speaks of is not a self-published book that creates demand, but short fiction in prominent journals. I could list hundreds of writers who got their start in literary fiction, at least, publishing in magazines like Glimmer Train or Other Voices or the Black Warrior Review or (the now defunct) Story or Tin House or…well, there’s literally hundreds of them. If lucky, maybe that writer will then get selected for a Pushcart or Best American or O. Henry Prize and suddenly that demand is there. It’s more of a proving ground than self publishing ever can be — and with agents, it’s a badge of accomplishment in that all important query letter — and I think in large part that’s why so many MFA programs end up creating so many published writers — they preach that short story to novel leap, first by hitting the journals and then moving up. Does anyone really think that Jonathan Franzen or Richard Ford or Alice Munro or Lee Goldberg or Tod Goldberg or any of our family members thought, oh, you know what? The best way to get noticed is to publish this myself. Of course not. It simply isn’t true.

  2. That is probably the first, and last, time I will ever be referred to in the same sentence as Jonathan Franzen and Richard Ford.

  3. Good post Lee. That’s exactly the kind of nonfiction that is a good use of a vanity press like iU. And that category is narrow. Most of the folks who go this route aren’t in that genre at all. Even my essays don’t qualify as material for this misguided route to nowhere.

  4. “In my opinion, self-publishing your novel is a frantic and foolhardy last resort…”
    “That said, I think iUniverse has a lot to offer someone interested in self-publishing non-fiction or self-help books.”
    I guess I am not understanding this, Lee. If someone wants to self-publish their work of fiction, why is not okay for them to do it as long as they have realistic expectations? I’m assuming that there are a lot of writers who write as a hobby and want to see their book in print and have no other ambitions. Wouldn’t companies like iUniverse be a good choice for them? I can’t imagine that everyone who writes does so for commericial success. There must be at least a percentage of writers who write because they love the art, but don’t expect to make a living doing it. Then again, I don’t know anything about writers or the publishing world, so maybe I’m wrong.

  5. If the only thing you’re searching for is a printed copy of your book, iUniverse does an excellent job of providing that. I can’t imagine that anyone would quibble with that. More power to ’em.
    Where Lee (and others, like me) raise an eyebrow is when companies like this start to portray themselves as a launching pad for a career or a gateway to publishing. That is a very different story.

  6. For what it’s worth, CafePress will print your book up as well, with no upfront costs. The drawback is the whole design has to be done by the author.

  7. Rick,
    If all you want to do is pay hundreds of dollars to have whatever you write printed in a trade paperback format then, sure, iUniverse is fine.

  8. And building on what Lee and David said, it really isn’t art as a vanity press product. What makes art art is the recognition of the world. You won’t get that from a vanity effort. It won’t be recognized at all. If you like to write, then really you’d like to get commercial publication and the recognition that comes with it. I don’t believe anyone who says they don’t want that and are just in it for the joy or the cathartic benefits of the process.


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