Friday, May 17, 2013

Lawsuit v. Penguin: self-publishing as a servant's entrance?

The publishing industry is undergoing a metamorphosis that is painful and confusing for all parties involved—especially writers. E-books, the dominance of Amazon as an online bookseller, the concentration of so-called "traditional" publishing power in the hands of the Big Six houses, and the rise of independent or self-publishing are all mutating the business of books—and no one, not even the alleged experts, can predict with any degree of certainty what the final outcome will be. What publishing will look like in ten years—or even in two—is a mystery that keeps many of us running to the medicine cabinet for daily doses of Prilosec.

Since my own foray into indie publishing last month, I promised a blog post on the ups and downs of my experience. But that will have to wait. Today I think it's more important to publish four links about the new class action lawsuit filed April 26, 2013, against Penguin and Author Services Inc., which it owns. Under that Penguin umbrella are a host of other self-publishing services, such as AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, Xlibris, Palibrio, and Booktango. ASI is also the force behind self-publishing imprints with traditional book publishers like Simon & Schuster (Archway Publishing), Thomas Nelson (WestBow Press), Hay House (Balboa Press), Guideposts (Inspiring Voices) and Writer's Digest (Abbott Press).

I've had students and manuscript clients who have published books with some of the services listed above, and who said they were satisfied with what they got for their money. I've also had clients who were so traumatized by their experiences with these same services that they couldn't even bring themselves to share the details with me. They seemed to take the blame onto their own shoulders, and were too ashamed to talk about it. 

Well, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit isn't ashamed. In Emily Seuss' blog, Jodi Foster (no, not the Oscar-winning actress) is more than willing to talk about her experience with iUniverse.

I have not researched this particular lawsuit thoroughly, though this Mick Rooney blog post at TIPM takes a balanced look at it. Also, Victoria Strauss at the excellent Writer Beware blog reports on it as well. 

Until I can write more intelligently about the lawsuit, I'll withhold comment on that. What I will say now is this: it has always made me deeply uneasy that major publishers such as Simon & Schuster—even Christian publishers such as Thomas Nelson—should offer two separate paths to publication. If you aren't lucky enough to get an actual contract where they pay you to publish your book—and give you all the editorial and promotional services that go along with that, for free—there is a back door, a kind of servant's entrance. You can still have that affiliation with S&S or Nelson, sort of—as long as you are willing to pay them for the privilege. But does that buy you the same careful editing, the book design, the cover art, or the promotion that a contracted author receives? Somehow I doubt it.

Now that may not be a fair representation of how these self-publishing imprints of traditional publishers work, but that's how it comes across to me. If any reader has published a book with one of these imprints, I'd love to hear about your experience.


Vijaya said...

I think it also misleads readers. I recently purchased a book from the self-publishing arm of a trusted company but didn't realize it at the time ... the book was a disappointment. Overwritten and full of clichés. Oh, I applaud the author for having a coherent story, but it could have used some serious editing. Next time, I'll be careful which *imprint* I buy from.

Also you have to wonder if some of the authors aren't *duped* into these imprints. They will get a nice rejection letter from the traditional arm, with the offer to publish with the other. I guess it's all business, but it needs to be more transparent.

Nancy Butts said...

I hadn't thought of how it dupes readers as well as writers, Vijaya: that's an excellent point.