You’ve written a manuscript and you’re actively looking for an agent or publisher. You’re hoping for a contract and a handsome advance.
Instead, Agent X says, “I don’t think your book is quite what I’m looking for, but I know just the self-publishing agency that can help you.”
Or, rather than the usual form rejection letter from a traditional publisher, this time you hear, “I think this manuscript would do really well with our self-publishing imprint.”
This week, Maria Schneider of Editor Unleashed wrote a series of three articles which discuss (what I believe to be) a very disturbing publishing trend: traditional publishers and literary agents making money by referring rejected authors to their own self-publishing agencies.
In order to understand the issue at hand, you should take a moment to read these posts:
- Looking for Money in the Slush Pile
- DIY Publishing: What’s Worth Paying for ?
- Agents and the Trust Factor
Basically, traditional publishers are inundated by unsolicited manuscripts, and can only publish a small percentage of them. Some houses are looking to capitalize on would-be authors by establishing self-publishing imprints and offering expensive packages to those whose manuscripts are rejected.
In addition, literary agents may begin to receive referral fees for steering writers toward self-publishing.
Let me be clear that I’m not knocking people who actively choose self-publishing. It can work for those who have money to invest and motivation to market their book. I am also not saying people who self-publish can’t write well enough for traditional publishers.
However, in reading Maria’s posts and subsequent reader comments, I have become aware of some issues:
- Publishers who take this route are seeking to make money from writers instead of readers. Does this just seem wrong?
- A lot of people would do anything to see themselves in print, though their work may be far from publishable. Do you see it as helpful or cruel to encourage self-publishing for those who would do better to invest time and effort in learning to be better writers?
- How will writers be able to distinguish between literary agents who are honest and those simply looking for a referral fee?
- If self-publishing becomes extremely commonplace, how will readers be able to choose quality material?
I’ve personally experienced this trend in my writing. I once submitted a children’s manuscript to a publishing house and waited over 6 months to hear back from them. When I did get a response, it was positive, with some personal feedback. However, they didn’t make me an offer. A couple of weeks later I received a phone call directly from the publisher asking me how I was going with my manuscript, and offering me a handy package with their self-publishing imprint.
Let me say, I was insulted–not because I felt they should have offered me a contract, but because they either:
(a) Liked my manuscript, but not enough to pay for it themselves, OR
(b) Didn’t like my manuscript, but gave me positive feedback to butter me up for a self-publishing sale.
I will never know which is the truth, but I’m inclined to believe the latter.
How do you feel about this issue? Do you think there are pros in it for readers and writers, or just for publishers and agents?
Is this simply a necessary evil because of the changing nature of the publishing business?