a black hole in iUniverse?

the days have grown dark in self-publishing land.

starting nearly two weeks ago, my book became unavailable to bookstores trying to order it through the normal Ingram process. this was thankfully brought to my attention by a co-worker who was told by a bookstore attendant that the store was waiting for me to replenish their supplies. now, a primary reason i went with iUniverse to publish my book was their use of the industry standard ordering process, so the book would be available to all businesses, like any other traditionally published book. so, when i discovered that my local Borders, the largest bookstore in the area, was unable to order my book, i assumed it was a simple mis-communication.

not so.

i confirmed immediately with the store inventory manager, who was very patient and explained that Ingram was showing the title as entirely out of stock, zeroes in all the warehouses, so it was impossible for him to order more. he even was kind enough to fax me a copy of the printout from the database, which showed, just as he said, no availability.

i ran into a different, but related issue with my local Waldenbooks back in April, and in that process learned a number of things, particularly:

  1. Ingram has four main warehouses to ship all books from, one for each quadrant of the country, roughly. most stores default to their ‘local’ warehouse when searching availability, so an item might be out of stock at that warehouse, but available at another. this was the case, in that Waldenbooks situation, as iUniverse was listing in one warehouse, but not all.
  2. iUniverse, as a POD service, doesn’t actually have any books in the Ingram warehouses, but shows a ‘fake’ count of 100 to allow stores to make orders.

with this knowledge, and the faxed document from the Borders inventory manager showing zeroes, i contacted iUniverse. to squeeze the next two weeks together, i’ve made repeated calls and emails to various members of the iUniverse/Authorhouse businesses (recently merged, but still not quite unified, administratively), but have received ZERO tangible response. the first-level contacts at iUniverse have been consistently positive, and validated, each time i call, that my book shows as active in the iUniverse system, and ready to print in the LightningSource system (the company that does the actual printing of the books), as well as showing zeroes in the Ingram database. this mixture of facts has surprised each of them, and they have given me further names/emails to contact. having done this, however, i have not had a single response from any of these further attempts of mine.

aside from the simple, and still amazing, frustration of being ignored, particularly as a contracted client, i’m daily losing opportunities to sell or promote my book in any brick and mortar stores. it’s hard enough getting a bookstore, squeezed as they are with overhead and cuts from the internet* and so on, to take a chance on a local, unproven author of a book that can’t be returned**; try standing in front of a potential bookstore manager, having them be interested, and then have them check the system and find out that there aren’t any available to order. talk about embarrassing.

this has been particularly in evidence with my (lame duck) interactions with the Borders inventory manager, who is actively trying to support me and be helpful, but if he can’t make orders, he can’t stock the book, and he has to tell potential customers he cannot help them.

as a final squirt of lemon on this cut, i’ve also learned that direct orders from iUniverse, even bulk orders, have been given a discount that is less than the discount of my contract. this absolutely boggles my mind. by going direct to the publisher, a bookstore looking to order bulk was being told it had to pay more per book than if it ordered each book individually.

say what?

this is killing me. i’ve recently made some headway with local buzz, but this is cutting the head right off it.

as of this writing, i still have several voice mail and email messages out without a single response. i’ll be trying again today, and pressing my way as far upward as i can get before they cut me off, so i can get an answer, but this has deeply soured my feelings toward iUniverse, which have been largely positive to this point.

wish me luck.

* important note: during this exact same timeframe, my availability was also showing ‘Ships in 1-3 weeks’, and i was afraid that this was impacting my online sales, too. however, last week the title was again showing as ‘in stock’, and available for overnight shipping, etc., so amazon seems capable of ordering them for their own warehouses. so what’s the problem?

** though iUniverse has recently added this ability to their titles (making it even more attractive to bookstores to take on the book, since they can send it back for a refund), i can’t bring myself to give over the additional $500 fee, particularly when i can’t even guarantee that the book will be available to stores to order in the first place!

  1. Time to pull out the… “I’m not hanging up until I get some answers and if you hang up on me I’ll just keep calling you back until you’re ready to blow your own head off… Have a nice day!” mentality. Corporate America… gotta love the customer service!!!!

  2. you’re right, of course, and that’s the plan for tomorrow. i did finally get a ‘we’re working on it’ email, after further discussion with another representative, but given the effort i’ve put in to contact these folks and the silence until today when i finally got managers and others copied on the conversation, i expected more.

    customer service, at its most basic (and, i would argue, its most helpful and most rare), is simply providing open communication. the specific business in question is irrelevant, as we’ve all seen this in the venues we interact with for, from offices to stores to software vendors to private industry and government. i have yet to identify a situation wherein silence is preferable to communication, in matters of customer relations, yet businesses continue to default to this mentality, thereby ruining otherwise positive situations.


    so, yes, tomorrow on the phone, even though i really, truly, honestly dislike being the squeaky wheel.

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