Friday, September 28, 2007

From Chronicle Books

Joseph Ternes of Chronicle Books stopped by the blog the other day to post the following comment:

The information in the Newsweek article was incorrect. Chronicle Books will not receive a referral fee for recommending Blurb.com to aspiring authors or artists.

Just as from time to time our editors refer authors or artists to other trade houses, Blurb.com presents another option if they consider it an appropriate choice. This option will not be part of our response to every author submissions. There are many self-publishing options in the marketplace, though far fewer for illustrated book authors and artists. As an independent illustrated book publisher in San Francisco, Chronicle Books felt an affinity for the locally based Blurb.com and the quality of the product it is offering the public.


Good news!

13 comments:

Austin said...

Ahh, news media... Thanks for getting all the facts straightened out before going to press... once again!

>-/

Gregory Ludwig said...

You know, Chronicle's announcement sounds very credible. I think this blog sometimes opens itself up to seeming a self-parody when so much discussion takes off, whether it is stimulated by its administrators' specific comments or not, on labeling something a scam when it is not. I repeatedly remarked under the previous entry on how Edit Ink was different--the kickbacks, etc., were secret, and the material edited, as well as the editing, was cruddy. It was all a bait-and-switch scheme perpetrated on naive writer wanna-bes. The Chronicle arrangement was quite different, even if Chronicle did receive a referral fee (which now we see it isn't). (Incidentally, the only Chronicle book I have is the officials Beatles bio, which from my perspective as a reader and longtime proofreader/copy editor, seemed pretty well edited. But Chronicle seems mainly to do coffee-table-type books. Why were several writers commenting under the previous entry, who are concerned with selling novels and the like, suddenly snapping they wouldn't query Chronicle?)

Samuel Tinianow said...

Gregory, the fact that it wouldn't have been as bad as Edit Ink doesn't mean it would have been fine. The now-seen-to-be-false (pending further scrutiny) arrangement still would have represented a conflict of interest, exploiting people's trust by presenting them with, essentially, paid advertising disguised as a well-meaning recommendation.

But then, provided Chronicle's comment is genuine--or, hell, even if it's just nervous back-pedaling, as long as the end result is the same--then there's not a problem.

Emily Veinglory said...

I still feel that making provider-specific self-publishing suggestions to authors submitting to a third party publisher is a presumptuous and ill-advised. Choosing to self-publish at all, and who with, really isn't something a third-party press that is rejecting you needs to get involved with.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Personally, I can't help wondering what form that affinity takes between Blurb and Chronicle. Does that mean there are relatives involved? Is someone moonlighting and needs to up the referrals? I'd like to see those questions addressed.

Phoenix said...

Agent Nathan Bransford apparently got the clarification through his blog email after posting about the original annoucement, too.

Has anyone seen the clarification in the media or on PW yet?

Emily Veinglory said...

Every blog mentioning Chronicle and Blurb in the same sentence got that response.

Richard White said...

Not quite every blog. He hasn't gotten to mine (yet).

Won't matter much though. I doubt he'll address the questions I've posed there.

Gregory Ludwig said...

Regarding Samuel Tinianow's Sept. 28 10:52 a.m.:

You comment that my saying Chronicle's arrangement not being as bad as Edit Ink "doesn't mean it would have been fine." Nobody is talking about "fine." I'm saying it is a certain business arrangement, not a fraud, that some may choose and others may not. You add:

"The now-seen-to-be-false (pending further scrutiny) arrangement still would have represented a conflict of interest, exploiting people's trust by presenting them with, essentially, paid advertising disguised as a well-meaning recommendation."

"Exploiting people's trust" is not an issue. If Chronicle says, "We are not accepting this for publication, but you may want to consider this self-publishing arrangement with Blurb," where's the exploitation of trust? You as a writer who are offered this either contact Blurb or you don't. Are you going to cry and say "They exploited my trust!" because Chronicle didn't want to publish you but suggested a self-publishing option?

There is not enough of an attitude of "caveat emptor" among some of the writers who comment here. There is too much black-and-white thinking. I feel that, in trying to pursue a career in publishing (I have about 16 years in editorial areas, as well as having written book manuscripts), you start from where you start and you deal with a lot of gray areas. You learn from experience. I have often thought, "The difference between school (where you learn to conceive what publishing is about) and the actual publishing world is like the difference between the church and the battlefield."

I had dug out a letter I had received from Amherst Press, one shell entity of the Edit Ink scam; I got this in April 1996 after having part or all of a book manuscript looked at by them. I did not know about the scam then. The letter talks about my maybe having the ms. edited to "strengthen" it. I did not take them up on this because, given the rather-seedy flavor of the letter (with its chinzy typesetting probably on a Mac), and given that rarely had anyone among publishers I'd contacted in the 10 years through then suggested so broad (and crudely stated) an offer to edit my writing, I refused to follow this up, without a second thought. When I found out later Edit Ink and associates were basically a bait-and-switch operation, it was not terribly surprising. But in 1996 when I declined to do business with them, my decision was based on my purposes for my contacting publishers, and my past experience as a writer and with publishers, at the time.

That is all any of us works with: experience, and a sense of things we get from a *range* of sources, not just this blog. You find there is no simple formula for what leads to getting published, or for how to evaluate publishers or other related services. There are a lot of such companies that are borderline-sleazy, or that might act sleazily to more-naive writers or editors and less so to the more seasoned.

In this regard, there is a lot to learn, I think, from the sleazier or more workhorse-like operations (the latter being educational publishers and reference publishers, for instance) to understand some of the recent business innovations among trade publishers. It's not that trade houses are the gold standard of publishing practices and honorability, and everybody else is a white-trade wannabe. All levels of publishing have some measure of the "soul" of the industry, and I think the more questionable practices among the backwater and non-trade-house places are sometimes clues for understanding some of the developments among trade houses lately that some years ago, before the Internet created new possibilities and challenges, would have been considered questionable or the like.

Victoria Strauss said...

Gregory Ludwig said,

"Exploiting people's trust" is not an issue. If Chronicle says, "We are not accepting this for publication, but you may want to consider this self-publishing arrangement with Blurb," where's the exploitation of trust? You as a writer who are offered this either contact Blurb or you don't. Are you going to cry and say "They exploited my trust!" because Chronicle didn't want to publish you but suggested a self-publishing option?

That's not the point. The point is the conflict of interest involved in referrals for money (if recommending something can make you money, how can the person you're recommending it to trust that the recommendation is in his or her best interest? This is especially true if the financial arrangement is not disclosed) and the potential for abuse (if recommending something can make you money, how tempting will it be to recommend it to everyone, and not just to the people who might benefit--assuming there is benefit?).

Presumably all this is moot, now that Chronicle has disavowed the kickback scheme described in the Newsweek article (which I note hasn't been corrected). But even if Chronicle's referrals to Blurb are selective and don't generate a referral fee, there's an issue of appropriateness. If authors who submit to Chronicle were looking to self-publish, they wouldn't be approaching a commercial publisher. So how is it helpful or useful to suggest they consider a self-publishing service?

I think ANY publisher that takes it on itself to suggest that authors pay for publishing--and Chronicle is not alone, I've heard from writers who submitted to other commercial publishers and were told to check out AuthorHouse or iUniverse--is starting down a slippery slope. There is NOTHING wrong with self-publishing, if that's what you want to do--as long, of course, as you go into it with your eyes open. But whether to self-publish should be the author's decision. A publisher--or literary agent--has no business stepping into that decision process.

I suspect that one of the things at the root of the Chronicle-Blurb arrangement is an overly optimistic assessment of the potential (for most authors) of self-publishing.

Anonymous said...

It's a sad day when a reputable publisher such as Chronicle stoops to sending potential authors rejection letters--only now to include a spanking new alternative solution for them: an advertising insert in the letter containing some kind of a consolation prize coupon, sending them over to their your do-it-yourself partner Blurb. In effect they are suggesting that in order for your book to even be considered by Chronicle, authors must first publish a vanity book to test their concept, proving a viable market. And all the while, Chronicle gets to make money on the side via some sort of affiliate deal (Chronicle now says they will not, but that was Blub's deal to get Chronicle's crediblity and they originally went for it) on the authors they send Blurb's way. Authors and agents who send proposals to "real" publishers used to believe they had their best interests at heart. It seemed as if they might really want to help them become published if their work was worthy. But with Chronicle's new angle to their business model, what they probably won’t explain to their rejected authors is that they likely will be stuck with what appears to be (if you read the comments on Blurb’s own forums from their users) a mediocre product with poor reproductions, mixed up content, software that crashes, shipping prices that are exhorbinent, no customer service line, and bindings that cause pages to fall out on the first crack open. What is up with all of this? Believe me, a rejection letter is enough of a slap in the belly and now publishers want to pour salt in our wounds, too. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing and it works great for many people and groups needing something fast and cheap. But really, does Chronicle have any idea that they are going to have backlash and controversy likely to result from the authors they steered toward of the likes of the Blurbs of the world who will come back to them with their complaints when no one else is there to help them? Didn't Chronicle look at the quality of the Blurb experience from every angle before making this partnership announcement?
H. Tran.

Samuel Tinianow said...

Are you going to cry and say "They exploited my trust!" because Chronicle didn't want to publish you but suggested a self-publishing option?

Yes, because, in that hypothetical scenario, they didn't "suggest" it; they were paid to make me think they were suggesting it. That is what I would call an exploitation of trust.

Victoria said it all, really. Even if there's no referral fee involved, the whole thing is just really unnecessary. And I, too, would like to see Dave's questions addressed.

Anonymous said...

"I've heard from writers who submitted to other commercial publishers and were told to check out AuthorHouse or iUniverse"

Even editors who accept unagented submissions have standards. Apparently those writers didn't meet them, or come close.