Over the past few months I’ve noticed that AuthorHouse has been making a particularly worrying use of their Referral Program. This type of program is used by a number of large self-publishing service providers using digital POD (print on demand) to authors. Here is AuthorHouse’s own description of the Referral Program. The following links 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 publishers’ web pages are after all full of so-called ‘author testimonial’ letters espousing the virtues of the particular publisher.
Now, let’s go one step further than an author receiving 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 provider Blurb. You can read the Newsweek article on this story here.
Well, it seems AuthorHouse’s corporate marketing 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 online book trade magazines—it is not only publishers, but literary agents that are also picking up a fee from AuthorHouse when it passes on rejected authors. 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 above.
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 a 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 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 that traditional publishers are going to use to tide them through difficult financial times.
I wrote some articles over the past week for Selfpublishingreview which discuss the types of self-publishing providers available to authors and the standards needed in the industry to protect both parties. 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 deceptive practices.
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 a poorer reputation if these referred authors have a first-time bad experience with the POD publisher. 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 intention is 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 it shows 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 a company into the established, tried and trusted pathway to being published, when in fact, it is anything but a traditional publisher. It is a disingenuous way for AuthorHouse to add a traditional air of legitimacy to its 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.