So how DOES a publishing house justify its existence in a digitized world?Yesterday a piece in Publishers Marketplace reminded me of those words--and not in an entirely comfortable way:
. . . While anyone may be able to produce an e-book, the failure of most self-published books is evidence that merely having a book is not enough . . . What I suspect is going to happen is that the lines between publisher, distributor, bookstore and author are going to start blurring. Unusual contracts among the different parties are likely to emerge.
. . . Thomas Nelson has launched a self-publishing imprint, WestBow Press--though they are outsourcing the bulk of the operation to self-publishing giant Author Solutions. AS will design, publish and distribute the books. Nelson's primary roles appears to be sharing revenue and promising customers an "opportunity to be discovered by parent company Thomas Nelson.... For authors who hope to one day be signed by a traditional publisher, this is an opportunity to get your foot in the door."Thomas Nelson is, of course, the world's largest Christian publisher. Mike Hyatt is the president and CEO and someone for whom I have enormous admiration.
Author Solutions, as I've described it previously, is the Mother of Self-Publishing. Among other properties, the corporation owns AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and Xlibris. Entrepreneur interviewed Keith Ogorek, Author Solutions' director of marketing in April, 2008: "'As a company, Author House will publish about one of every 17 titles in the United States this coming year,' Ogorek says. That's about 20,000 titles."
I squirmed when I read the blurb by Publishers Marketplace, thinking "Who are we kidding here? The self-publishing industry has made millions stomping on newbie writers' dreams for money. And now Nelson is going to help lure more people into using a vanity press with the vague hope that they'll get a 'foot in the door'?"
My mood was not helped by this statement from the Nelson press release yesterday:
Titles published through WestBow Press will be evaluated for sales potential and considered for publication under the Thomas Nelson imprint.Come on, folks. What are the odds that a writer self-publishing through a vanity press will end up with a traditional publishing contract?
And before anyone points to The Shack, please go here to read my previous blog titled "Should You Self-Publish?" William P. Young did not go to a vanity press. He went to a pastor friend he trusted. That friend and another former pastor formed their own company, Windblown Media, to publish the book.
In other words, someone besides the writer saw the value in the book and was willing to invest cold hard cash in it. The writer ("a former office manager and hotel night clerk" according to the New York Times) did not pay to be published.
Mike Hyatt wrote about the new Nelson division in his blog yesterday here. The post made me feel both better and worse. It also left me with questions.
Mike specifically said, "If prospective authors are convinced their book should be in print and are willing to fund it, they should be able to do so without the fear that they might be ripped off."
I worked as a licensed social worker in both inpatient and outpatient settings for a number of years. The medical field uses "informed consent" forms in order to make sure that any patient considering treatment has "a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications and future consequences of an action" (thanks, Wikipedia). In other words: the patient must understand the risks involved before commencing treatment.
So, is WestBow going to ensure that potential clients are offered informed consent? If the book in question is the typical self-published mess and the writer is entertaining the fantasy that Nelson will soon be offering a contract, will WestBow disabuse the writer of such notions? Is WestBow going to offer a reality check, or are they simply going to collect a check?
In his post, Mike offered a list of seven situations in which self-publishing makes sense. I completely agreed with four of them (the third, fourth, fifth and seventh). The first, second and sixth sounded dangerously like the pap most self-publishing companies offer.
The thing that disturbed me most about Mike's post was the following statement:
We also want to work with agents and consultants as “WestBow Press Affiliates,” so that they can help more authors realize their dream of getting published. Rather than simply send a rejection letter, they can now offer a legitimate alternative and earn a referral fee in the process.So now we're offering agents the opportunity to pick up extra cash by making referrals to a self-publishing company.
I know things are tough in publishing today. But seriously, guys, is this the way you want to go?
Thomas Nelson enjoys a sterling reputation in the publishing business. Newbie writers are going to be reassured to see that WestBow belongs to Nelson. To me, that says Nelson has a higher obligation to provide information and assistance before taking a check from a still damp, newly hatched fledgling writer.
That's the Christian thing to do.