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David Gaughran was kind enough to alert me to this piece in The Bookseller, which details some quite extraordinary revelations – and opinions – around a letter from Guy Rose of agency Futerman, Rose and Associates, shared online, which advised an author to either use a Kindle publishing services provider, or to go to a specific vanity press. Not surprisingly, the Bookseller headline quotes the head of the UK Society of Authors as being “very uncomfortable” about agents recommending vanity presses and other paid services to authors, and advises them to request disclosure of any financial relationship between agents and services that charge authors money.

For the record, I’m only conveying, not endorsing, the SoA’s last point. I don’t believe necessarily that Futerman, Rose and Associates was seeking money by making these recommendations. The mere fact of them was bad enough.

The letter itself, from early 2013, is online here. In it, Guy Rose first says: “What I can do is to suggest an organisation who, for a reasonably low fee will make the full arrangements to ensure a full Kindle publication of your work … What is more, they will edit as well … Their fee is just £950 [$1587] and you get a free Kindle.” Further on he continues: “There is a publisher we deal with now, (not vanity) who have taken some of my more worthwhile mss and I believe they will promote and publicise properly. They do charge a fee (£4,500 [$7517] – refundable to you after sales of just 2,000) but I believe it is an acceptable deal as the writer enjoys a far better rate of royalties.”

For one thing, I’m confused as to why Guy Rose thinks that a publisher that charges authors for publication is not a vanity press. After all, that’s the definition, right? The Society of Authors is very clear about this. Does Rose think that his unnamed publisher is not a vanity press because it’s only one on Wednesdays and Fridays? Because it charges only some authors and not all?

Worse, if anything, is what Sam Edenborough, current President of the UK Association of Authors Agents, says in The Bookseller about Rose’s original letter. “I think the vanity word has been re-examined in these days of self-publishing. I think the old-fashioned black and white idea that if the author has to pay to get their book out there then there is something shameful about that has been kicked into touch. We are left with a spectrum which allows for multiple different routes to market.”

Actually, no, it hasn’t. The SoA is absolutely clear on the distinction. According to its definition of self-publishing – which has been around for a long time, just not as successful and lucrative as it is now – “You retain all your rights. In return for your payment you will receive an agreed number of copies in the paper, format, binding and design you specify. It will be up to you to store, market and distribute them.” Self-publishing, in other words, is just printing, not even editorial services.  In vanity publishing, meanwhile, “When you pay a vanity publisher, you are not acquiring the books. They remain the property of the publisher. You will be asked to grant the publishers an exclusive licence to exploit the work. Your fee is for the costs of publication.” So yes, you are paying the publisher for the right to make even more money out of you.

Why should digital self-publishing and Amazon distribution make any difference to this? What Rose didn’t point out is that, even for Kindle publication, you don’t have to pay anyone anything to self-publish whatsoever. Yes, your manuscript may well benefit from the attention of a professional editor before you publish, and you may want to engage a professional cover designer, or even a publicist, but you absolutely don’t have to. And if you can get these services for free somehow, through friends and family or whatever, then Amazon will do the rest for you without taking more than a percentage of your sales.

Why am I explaining all this again? Because it seems some professional agents, who make good money out of authors, either don’t get it, or don’t want to get it. Perhaps because, as SoA CEO Nicola Solomon says in The Bookseller,  “I would strongly advise that there is no place for an agent in the self-publishing process.” This ain’t necessarily so, as Edenborough himself demonstrates. But then again, if this whole episode is an indication of the level of knowledge, and impartiality, of agents, do you really want to give them a piece of your business?

 
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