AuthorHouse Courts The Establishment With Referral Program

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.



  1. Matador said:

    As self-publishing becomes more accepted as a way for authors to get published — more accepted by the books retailers, that is — then traditional publishers are going to see the commercial benefits of offering self-publishing themselves. Legend in the UK has already done this with YouWriteOn (though there have been a lot of complaints); AuthorHouse trying to get others to effectively recommend them to rejected authors is a further step towards this blurring in publishing. You’re right in that as the recession bites, traditional or niche publishers will see some benefit commercially in entering into such arrangements.

    But from an author’s viewpoint, not to mention a reader, it has the potential to be a disaster. The two forms of publishing are very distinct in terms of an author’s involvement, and for any unsuspecting author who is “referred” to a self-publishing company in this way (be it by AuthorHouse, a literary agent or a publisher in a referral programme), this may be a distinction they do not fully grasp. Any sort of self-publishing involves a lot of work on the part of the author; delivering the manuscript is not enough, and certainly not to actually get the book sold.

    I’m sure that this sort of arrangement will become more common in future, rightly or wrongly. It’s one of the steps that publishing is taking to try and counter the dwindling market… and when ebooks do kick in, there will be even more of a rush to jump on what could be seen as a self-publishing bandwagon!

  2. Mick Rooney said:

    You know Jeremy, some people might say that I can indulge in some ramblings before I get top the point in my articles, but I do like to give as much background as I can before I nail my opinion down.

    In regards to this article, you have gone as directly as possible to the core of the issue.

    I agree. The two models of publishing are blurring, the key to it all, good or bad, it that the author understands the differences. From my own experience, that’s where the problem lies. I don’t think an author who ‘takes on’ self publishing, whether through an author service provider like AuthorHouse, or they truly go it alone with their own sole imprint, realises it’s hard work and ultimately a business in itself.

    I suppose that is what I meant when I used the word ‘deception’ in the article. It’s decieving an author who starts out with a traditional publisher and finds themselves, firstly, rejected – then plunged into the murky sea of self publishing. It they choose to take that plunge, then it is the quality of that self publisher service and their own experience which is going to impact most on the author. An average to poor self publishing service will result in the author forming a negative opinion about self publishing, and maybe even worse, about publishing as a whole.