Edited to Add: Objective seems to have discontinued these referrals. Since the fall of 2009, Writer Beware has received no further reports.
Over the past couple of days, I've heard from several writers who queried agents at Objective Entertainment, a relatively new literary agency with a strong track record and experienced staff, and received the following response:
Dear [name redacted],
Thank you so much for contacting us at Objective Entertainment. We have reviewed your material and we would like to refer you to one of our Publishers who we trust and believe will be able to serve you best. In order to do this I need your permission and the following information so they can either contact you via Phone or Email. The following information we need is if you would like to receive their newsletter and special offers. I think this is an amazing opportunity for you.
Please reply with the information we asked so that we can get you that one step closer to getting your work published!
When the writers, eager to know the name of the publisher, requested more information, they received this response from Ms. Ravenelle:
We work with Iuniverse and AuthorHouse. Iuniverse has the number 5 book this week on the NY Times Best Seller List!
The writers then asked why Objective was recommending a self-publishing service. As of this writing, only one has received a response, which I am reproducing exactly as it was sent to me:
Because we believe they would be the most beneficial for you at this point in time. Then you would come back to us after the sales starting racking up and we go major! This is the best way for an author to get their work out their. One of their books is number 5 on this weeks upcoming NY Times Best Seller list. So we believe they can help our potential future clients immensely.
There's much here that's puzzling. The most pressing question, of course, is the one the writers themselves asked--why Objective would refer rejected clients to a self-publishing service. AuthorHouse does offer a Referral Program that pays $100 to anyone who makes a successful referral, and I have heard from literary agents who've been solicited by AuthorHouse to participate in this program. Even with the probably huge volume of queries Objective rejects every week, however, it's hard to imagine that $100 apiece for the small number of writers who might actually sign up with AuthorHouse would be an incentive for a successful literary agency (unless AuthorHouse has offered a special, more remunerative arrangement). Still--shades of Edit Ink, the crooked editing firm that paid kickbacks to literary agencies that sent rejected clients its way! Most of the agencies that hooked up with Edit Ink were fraudulent or amateur, but a few legitimate agents did participate in the scheme.
But Objective isn't just suggesting that rejected clients check out a self-publishing service--it's encouraging them to do so in a wholly misleading manner. Not only is AuthorHouse described as a "publisher" they "trust," it's described as "our Publisher" and an "amazing opportunity for you." Not only are writers encouraged to believe that self-publishing is "the best way...to get their work out their [sic]" (for most authors, it's not--see the Sales Statistics section of Writer Beware's POD Self-Publishing Services page), the carrot of representation is extended to sweeten the deal. As a "potential future client," this is an opportunity that can help the writer "immensely." Once "the sales starting [sic] racking up," writers can come back to the agency "and we go major!"
Edit Ink agencies held out the same carrot, encouraging writers to return with their edited manuscripts. If they did, the agencies claimed that their focus had changed, or that their lists were full, or made some other excuse to blow the writers off a second time.
Also deceptive: the book claimed to be on the New York Times bestseller list is Lisa Genova's Still Alice, which is currently number 7, but debuted last week at number 5. However, although Genova originally self-pubbed through iUniverse (which is owned by AuthorHouse), her book was picked up last summer by Simon & Schuster. That's the book on the bestseller list, not the iUniverse version.
Last but not least, I find it puzzling that Objective would employ an individual who appears to have significant problems with grammar, spelling, and punctuation--or at the very least, with proofreading. Look especially at Ms. Ravenelle's third message. I see this kind of error-ridden writing all the time from people at disreputable literary agencies--where a command of the English language, along with actual agenting skills, is not a job requirement--but it doesn't seem like the kind of writing one would expect from a staff member at an established literary agency.
It's all so strange that some observers of the situation have suggested that someone has hacked into Objective's computer system, and is sending out fake messages in response to queries. As conspiracy-theory as that sounds, it doesn't seem all that much more farfetched than the notion of a borderline-illiterate staffer at a successful agency trying to convince rejected writers that AuthorHouse is their ticket to fame and fortune.
So what's going on here? Has anyone else received an AuthorHouse referral from Ms. Ravenelle? Let me know.