Goodbye, iUniverse

My first royalty check

No, iUniverse isn’t going out of business.   (Well, maybe they are – I haven’t checked.)  I’ve just decided to pull my books from iUniverse.

I’ve done three books with them, and the idea of print on demand radically changed my writing career.  I mean, I have not made millions from it, but prior to the advent of PoD, I thought the only way I’d ever hold a printed copy of my book in my hands would be if I wrote a million agents and publishers and found one willing to print it, or if I payed thousands of dollars to fill my garage with a short print run, or maybe if I went to Kinko’s and printed my own copy.

Someone told me about iUniverse back in 99 or 2000, and this was around the time Summer Rain was close to done.  It was an incredibly revolutionary idea back then, this thought that I could get real copies of my book, and get them in Amazon and other book stores, and even have it so brick-and-mortar book stores (remember those?) could order copies through Ingram.

There were a couple of issues with PoD back then.  One was cost.  Summer Rain was incredibly expensive compared to the per-unit cost of offset printing a few thousand books.  There wasn’t the setup, and you didn’t have to produce a bunch of books at once and then warehouse them, which was awesome.  But selling a paperback book for thirty bucks was never easy.

The stigma was the worst part.  Back in 2000, everyone looked down at PoD as hackneyed and just another extension of vanity presses.  The party line was that real writers don’t self-publish, and you weren’t shit unless you had a book deal.  The irony of this is that the proponents of this attitude are the same people who can’t shut the fuck up about the kindle revolution.  (You know who I’m talking about.)  To some extent, this didn’t matter to me; I had a copy of my book on my shelf at home, and friends could buy it and read it, and people enjoyed the work.  That’s all that ultimately matters to me, but there was still a nagging feeling in the back of my head when the “real” writers talked shit about self-publishing.

I also didn’t have high hopes that PoD publishing would reap all of the rewards that getting a book deal with a Big 6 publisher would.  There was a lot of PoD backlash from people who dumped a book onto a PoD publisher, and then bitched and moaned when it didn’t take off.  I never saw iUniverse as anything more than a printer, and didn’t expect them to do anything more than fulfillment.  But some people thought you would just upload your PDF and your book would suddenly take off like a Dan Brown release.  Truth is, PoD involves just as much hustle as printing off copies yourself and trying to sell them one by one.

So, why am I dumping iUniverse?  A few reasons:

  • When I first started, there was almost no initial setup fees – I may have paid some trivial amount, like a hundred bucks, but it wasn’t much.  This fee went up and up, and after my third book, Lulu came on the scene with no setup fee, and that was the end of the line for me and iUniverse.  Now, their most basic package is $899, and the “Book Launch Premier Pro” is a whopping $4499.
  • All I really wanted was fulfillment and distribution.  iUniverse tried to differentiate themselves with all of this “value add” stuff that was mostly useless.  I have no need for bookmarks, press releases, book signing kits, or other crap I could get online for a dollar.  (Vistaprint is your friend.)
  • Without asking, iUniverse decided they would create e-book versions of my books and price them the way they wanted to price them.  And they made it damn near impossible to remove those versions.  So while I made a new version of Rumored to Exist for the kindle and priced it at $2.99, they made a crappy version and priced it at $3.99.
  • The per-unit pricing was too high.  Summer Rain was $29.99 on iUniverse.  The lulu version was $14.99.  The createspace version will be $13.99.  My profit is roughly the same on all three.
  • All of the processes at iUniverse are antiquated.  To find out your royalties, you have to wait for the next month’s statement.  To pull a book from publishing, you have to write them a god damned letter.  Ugh.
  • One of the things iUniverse had over createspace was that createspace is part of Amazon, which meant you wouldn’t get into B&N or brick-and-mortar stores.  With iUniverse, you could get into anyplace that used Ingram’s database.  In practice, 99.99999% of my book sales are through Amazon.  I don’t know if I’ve ever sold a book through a brick-and-mortar store.

So I wrote a letter to iUniverse and pulled my books.  (Seriously, a letter?)  There are currently only three books on there: Summer Rain, Rumored, and Tell Me a Story About the Devil, which is a journal archive from 97-99 that none of you ever bought.  The first two are already moved to Amazon/createspace.  The last one can die on the vine.  If you’re really desperate to get any of the iUniverse editions before they go away, I think you probably have a few days to grab them.  But the newer versions are not only better, but cheaper.

Next up will be hemming and hawing about what to do with all of my books on lulu, and if they should also get moved.  I should probably stop screwing with all of this and actually write new books, though.

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  • motel todd

    I'm expecting my first royalty check for BANJO ALIEN ZEN around the year 2020, maybe – haha.

  • My distrust of iUniverse (as a reviewer, not an author) is personal at this point, so I've been reading up a lot on what their customers have to say. They have their fare share of haters, but this is one of the first posts I've come across that is completely level-headed. Interested read.

  • Lisbeth L McCarty

    How do you get your books off Iuniverse? After that is done, can you just move the entire file to CreateSpace?

    • This was three years ago, but from what I remember, I had to actually call customer service, then write them a letter telling them I wanted to break my contract, then they eventually pulled the books.

      I didn’t move my books directly to CreateSpace – i still had the raw text of the books, so I redesigned the interior and made new covers.

      • Lisbeth L McCarty

        Thanks!