I think we're stirring the pot—and the pot needs to be stirred,” says Kevin Weiss, CEO of self-publishing giant Author Solutions. It's been an eventful few weeks for Weiss, thanks to the controversy that erupted last month from writers over Harlequin's partnering with Author Solutions to launch a line of self-published books. By creating the imprint—originally named Harlequin Horizons, but then changed to DellArte Press, to separate it completely from Harlequin—Harlequin got itself kicked out of Mystery Writers of America and is on shaky ground with Romance Writers of America. Weiss's take? “The exclusivity of it issilly. I understand it, though. There's a lot of change going on in the industry right now and people aren't ready for it.”
Weiss knows about change, having worked at IBM in the mid-1980s, when critics were fond of asking, “Is IBM good for America?” “We went through tumultuous times,” Weiss recalls, but the company changed “and came back strong.” That's how Weiss sees Harlequin's decision to team with Author Solutions. “Harlequin is trying to make sure that the brand survives. There are some very forward-thinking people in the publishing world who are working hard to figure out how to remake their business.” And for those who are still publishing books the traditional way? “I wouldn't swap seats with any CEOs today in traditional publishing,” he says.
Weiss's reluctance to join mainstream publishing reflects his tech-heavy background: before joining Author Solutions in December 2007, he was CEO of software service provider Simdesk; president of computer security company McAfee Inc.; held senior management positions at tech companies Ariba, Bindview, and BMC Software; and spent more than 15 years at IBM. He came to Author Solutions, in Bloomington, Ind., when a friend from college (Princeton, 1979) persuaded him to run the venture he'd just bought. “It has been the most fun I've had in my working career,” Weiss says.
Author Solutions came to dominate the self-publishing market through a string of acquisitions over the past few years. This year, nearly 250,000 people inquired with the company about self-publishing their books, and some 24,000 of those books wound up getting published through Author Solutions. Over the past 13 years, Author Solutions' brands—AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Wordclay, and Xlibris—have published more than 120,000 books by 85,000 authors, and the company had its biggest month ever this past November. Authors pay anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for services like editing, illustrating, design, publicity, promotion, distribution, and sales.
Weiss knows “some people want to be the next John Grisham and be on the New York Times bestseller list,” and says some Author Solutions authors generate meaningful sales. “There's an education process we need to go through with people,” to give customers realistic sales expectations and to explain that sales are often the result of “a lot of work—and luck,” Weiss says. Other people just “want to see their piece in print, or want their manuscript to get out there so they don't die with it in the bottom drawer. We represent choice—an alternative,” he notes. Weiss spoke about that choice in a December 7 video statement released online in response to the Harlequin controversy, where he addressed the importance of providing “expanded choice and opportunity” in the publishing industry.
Self-publishing is one of the fastest growing segments of the publishing landscape, and Weiss commends people like Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes for recognizing that. “[She] knows if she doesn't continue to innovate, she isn't going to survive.” In addition to Harlequin, Author Solutions is working with Thomas Nelson on WestBow Press, a Christian self-publishing imprint, and Weiss says partnerships with other publishers will be announced next year. The company also recently signed a deal with On Demand Books, which owns the Espresso Book Machine, to provide writers with online tools to publish, distribute, print, and market their books in retail locations via the Espresso Book Machine.
Weiss says Author Solutions is helping publishers “figure out how they might transition their businesses. I think publishing companies are realizing [self-publishing] is the part of the equation they have to solve.”