Over the past few months I’ve noticed that AuthorHouse have been making a particularly worrying use of their Referral Program. This type of program is used by a number of large Self Publishing companies using digital POD (print on demand) services to authors. Here is AuthorHouse’s own description of the Referral Program. The following are from AuthorHouse’s US and UK websites.
Let me be quite clear. I have no problem with any business, let alone a POD publisher paying a customer (one of their own published authors) a fee for bringing in new customers. After all, if we want to get hold of a good plumber or carpenter to do some work for us—we will often place a heavy weight on ‘word of mouth’ referral. Sometimes this can be the best recommendation before we hire someone and part with our hard-earned money. Pod publisher’s web pages are after all full of so-called ‘author testimonial’ letters espousing the virtues of that particular publisher.
Now, let’s go one step further than an author being paid a fee to recommend their POD publisher to another author. How would you feel as an author if the recommendation and referral was coming from a royalty-paying traditional publisher?
Recently, Chronicle Books, a tradition publisher, began referring rejected authors to self publishing company Blurb. You can read the Newsweek article on this story here.
Well, it seems AuthorHouse’s promotions department is starting to court quite a number of companies in the book publishing business and not just traditional publisher Osprey. From following a number of forums, blogs and on line book trade magazines—it is not only publishers, but literary agents who are also picking up a fee when they pass their own rejected authors on to AuthorHouse. Here are a number of links you might find interesting as well as an ongoing discussion on AbsoluteWrite’s forum and some other links referred to in the debate.
While the traditional and self publishing worlds are indeed merging—some traditional publishers have started various forms of partnership publishing, where either the author invests a percentage along with the publisher in the publication of their book, or they for-go an advance for increased royalties—we are seeing a number of interesting changes in the ‘business model’ of publishing. The actions of AuthorHouse in courting traditional publishers and literary agents raise some ethical implications. Why should a traditional publisher earn money by referring an author they themselves have rejected to a self publishing company? That’s like your neighbour saying ‘hey, use this plumber for your leaking pipes—he’s not good enough to do work for me, but he should do you fine.’! I hope this is not a desperate sign which traditional publishers are going to use to tide them through difficult financial times.
I wrote some articles over the past week for Selfpublishingreview which discusses the types of self publishing companies there are and the standards needed in the industry to protect both author and publisher. Make no mistake; I’m all for an integrated model of publishing, where an author can go to a publisher and discuss their book and investments are made by both, if that is what is agreed, so long as the pathway is clear and the model of publishing is not shrouded in deception.
While some may say the case above with AuthorHouse could be good for self publishing—in the long term, it gives the business of self publishing itself a poorer reputation if these referred authors have a first-time bad experience with the POD publisher they are referred to. Who is to say AuthorHouse or any other POD publisher offering author publishing services are the best or right choice for all authors. Every author has different needs and aspirations for their work. What makes my blood boil particularly is literary agents involving themselves in this referral system. An author who approaches an agent with their manuscript is clearly serious about writing and their intentions are to follow the traditional path of publishing. A literary agent is there to represent, promote and look after an author’s rights, not make a quick $100 on the ones they show where the door is. I already know of one literary agent who last year launched a self publishing service to authors!
I have no genuine axe to grind with AuthorHouse, but rather with this method of attempting to engender their company into the established, tried and trusted pathway to being published, when in fact, they are anything but a traditional publisher. It is a disingenuous way for AuthorHouse to add a ‘traditional air’ of legitimacy to their model of publishing, simply to increase business and clasp onto a reputation that must first be earned in the publishing business as a whole.
If traditional and self publishers are to stand side by side, and even merge together, then fine. But it is critical that the business of publishing as a whole does not become mystified for any aspiring author. We are quickly reaching a stage when self publishing is starting to be taken seriously. I don’t think this case helps matters and it would be a shame if in taking one step forward—we have just taken two steps backward.