Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson, chimed in on the Harlequin Hoopla today and his blog is worth reading if you take your blood pressure medicine first. Don’t take our word for what he said, go read his blog and our comments.
A lot of what he says about publishing is accurate. What’s surprising is how candid he is. He intends to refute three tall tales of self-publishing and yet reinforces them all. Throughout, there’s an overall slap at agents.
Self-publishing dilutes the brand of the sponsoring company
His argument against brand dilution is mostly accurate: consumers are largely brand blind, and the example he gives for the “imprint challenge” is undoubtedly true. However, readers are not completely brand insensitive: how does he think readers of Thomas Nelson books would respond if Thomas Nelson started publishing books on atheism or that were manifestly below the usual quality expected of Thomas Nelson? Would Thomas Nelson hear from readers, or would readers vote with their dollars? Both, I suspect. He says he knows what his brand represents and that WestBow Press is “fully within that tradition.” The WestBow Press website says “We want readers to have confidence in our books.” Yet WestBow Press is willing to accept payment for publishing all comers under the WestBow Press imprint, (provided that the submitted book meets stated Christian criteria), and on the WestBow website promote publication with WestBow as an opportunity to be discovered by Thomas Nelson. While Christianity may be all about offering hope, what WestBow/Thomas Nelson doesn’t say is that the likelihood of being “discovered” from your book at WestBow is probably about the same as being “discovered” at a diner in Hollywood, even if you are wearing a nice sweater (cover). Hyatt is unfortunately blind to the ethical issue of running both a real business and a predatory one that promises everything and nothing at the same time, and charges far more than what an author who merely wants to publish his book might pay a copyeditor and a printer for the same pleasure of having 500 copies in his garage.
Grumpy old agent comments: Apply his ethical blindness to other aspects of life and the churches will open casinos. Church members are used to giving money to their church with no earthly return. Gamblers pour money into casinos with a false hope they will eventually win it back. What’s the real difference? Both models move money from individuals to organizations with feeling good the only return. At home, his position will tempt husbands world wide to carry on tawdry affairs and justify them by saying: “She means nothing to me, she’s just extra, non-committal sex”–oh, wait, they already do this… Like the cheating spouse, Harlequin, or likely Torstar and Thomas Nelson, want it both ways. WestBow will take the author’s money and pretend-publish a book with no other chances for publicaton, while refusing to publish any book that doesn’t meet their Christian criteria regardless of merit. OK but the same logic will justify all kinds of “I did it because it felt good” activities.
Self-publishing will flood the market with poor quality books.
Hyatt argues that fake books will not flood the market and drive out real books, because book stores won’t carry them and being listed in a database won’t make them noticeable. He makes the case for the futility of self-publishing pretty well. Nice job here. He concludes:
We live in an age when technology and the public’s desire for self-expression make user-generated content viable. If people want to publish their own book through print-on-demand (POD), subsidy or vanity publishing, or whatever, why should anyone else care?
Excellent point, particularly as in his blog, he admits that “very few of these [self-published books] find their way to bookstore shelves.” Do they put that on the WestBow Press website – no, they charge $2,799 for the “essentials needed to increase your chances of commercial success.” Perhaps none of the WestBow authors will read Mr. Hyatt’s blog and discover that their chances of commercial success are so close to nil.
Self-publishing rips off the authors.
Hyatt’s final point is that informed authors, or those who would like to be published authors, should be allowed, even encouraged, to toss their money down any sink hole they want. Bernie Madoff never required anyone to give him money, he just made up a big, fat lie that the promised returns were real. Self-publishing is simply a set of available tools, but Author Solutions taps individual’s needs for their own profits.
And as for Mr. Hyatt’s comment about publishers being “ripped off” because “Most of the books we publish don’t make money?” “Ripped off?” Have authors been delivering the phone book or sheaves of folded paper instead of their contracted novels?
Hyatt throughout is building a case against agents, a pretty self serving argument. In reality, most of the concern is being voiced by authors. I’m one of the few agents speaking out on this topic, but more will, because agents are the people most aware of the business model in publishing and are most concerned with the author’s rights and income. Agents do provide access, and the price of admission is a book good enough to be commercially published. Agents only get involved if we believe our time is worth what our 15% commission which we will earn from the author’s future income. The Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR) membership stipulates we cannot charge reading fees or otherwise profit from rejections. Author Solutions makes its money from authors, not from selling books to readers, and unfortunately, few self-published authors make any money from selling books to readers, either.
Both Carolyn and Ashley Grayson contributed to this item.