To fee-charging services looking for more customers, what could be more lucrative than a referral from a literary agency or publisher? To a literary agency or publisher, what could be more tempting than to make money not just from its clients, but from the thousands of authors it rejects?
This is the logic behind referral fee schemes, in which a fee-charging company or service offers a percentage or finder’s fee to agents and/or publishers willing to send authors its way. Unscrupulous scams such as crooked editing service Edit Ink and dishonest vanity publisher Commonwealth Publications have done very well from such schemes, paying kickbacks to agents who placed writers with them. A number of “stealth” vanity publishers (publishers that charge a fee but publicly present themselves as “traditional”) have also experimented with referral incentives, targeting both literary agents and non-vanity publishers. And some straightforward POD self-publishing services offer referral programs–AuthorHouse, for instance, pays $100 for successful referrals.
Occasionally, referral plans backfire. In 2001, self-pub service Xlibris contacted a large number of reputable agents, inviting them to recommend their “not quite ready for prime-time writers” to the company, for which they would be rewarded with a percentage of whatever writers who chose to publish with Xlibris wound up paying. A storm of criticism ensued, and Xlibris canceled the plan, admitting that it “goofed.”
Note to referral plan offerers: Stick to questionable agents and publishers. Not only will they probably have fewer scruples about embracing such arrangements, they’ll be more likely to need the easy money. And they’ll be less likely to contact Writer Beware.
The latest outfit to ignore this basic bit of common sense is fee-for-service audiobook “publisher” Good Impressions Audio Books, which appears to be actively contacting reputable literary agents with the following pitch:
A new ongoing revenue stream for your agency.
FACT: The vast majority of manuscripts don’t get published.
FACT: You receive many submissions you don’t accept.
FACT: You don’t make money from those.
FACT: www.myaudiobook.org can change that.
We developed an innovative concept for writers to record professional sounding audio books with our recording equipment as we guide them every step of the way and our professional audio team then edits, improves and enhances the audio book.
You can become an “audio book agent” for your authors and for authors with manuscripts you might not normally accept. One phone call or email to us and we handle the rest.
We’ll pay you 15% of the audio book recording fee for authors you refer to us.
Per its contract, Good Impressions Audio Books charges a minimum fee of $499. If authors choose to use its voice talent, rather than their own, they can wind up paying much more.
Ashley Grayson, the literary agent who shared this solicitation with me, wasn’t tempted. “I’m all for entrepreneurship in publishing and applaud authors with innovative platforms,” he says, “but our agency declines all offers to be slipped a portion of the money an author pays to anyone. We earn our commissions from the deals we negotiate for authors.”
On its website, Good Impressions seems to be reasonably straightforward about its services, but its Why an Audio Book fact sheet includes a number of mis-statements, such as the claim that “few authors get advances from publishers anymore” (false) and that “audio book sales are coming close to overtaking printed book sales” (the Audio Publishers’ Association estimates the total US audio book market at $1 billion, but this is a fraction of the multi-billion-dollar US book market. Not to mention, sales statistics are meaningless to self- and vanity-published authors, whose main problem isn’t what consumers are or are not buying, but how to let consumers know their books exist).
While referring a slush-pile author to a vanity press or other vp type business is a highly unethical thing for a publisher to do, so long as the company to which the spa is being referred is a legitimate business which actually provides the services for which it charges – it's not a scam. It's distasteful. It's unethical. It's reprehensible. And, yes, it does lend a perception of credibility to the method. But, it is not a scam. "Scam" is a very serious allegation. It doesn't apply to every distasteful situation.
Sounds like something Objective Entertainment would jump on.
'I note all the "It's a scam!!!" indignation in the comments on that post…' Which ones? I certainly didn't intend my posts to come across as indignant. In post number 3 I may have been flippant but I asked if there wasn't a conflict of interest. In post 5 I explained what I meant and pointed to further information on the Absolute Write forums and in post 7 I said scammers wouldn't be put off easily from making money and the fact that publishers and agents are referring authors give credibility to the referral scam.
Adding clickability to the link above.
I note all the "It's a scam!!!" indignation in the comments on that post, but there's a big difference between a referral fee scam, such as the one conducted by Edit Ink, and a reputable agent's suggestion to an author that the author might want to seek editorial assistance. I don't think that an agent should ever suggest such a thing lightly, or suggest it unless they feel that editorial input could make the manuscript marketable (as opposed to just a somewhat better unpublishable manuscript). Also, authors should always think very carefully before hiring a paid editor, because it's an expensive gamble that may not pay off. But a suggestion to consider editing–especially if it comes from a successful agent–is not automatically illegitimate or a sign of fraud.
People need to evaluate things in context, and not go scam-hunting under every rock.
Referrals are starting to creep into UK publishing and agenting too, under the guise of Reaganomics due to the economic climate:
So an agency could earn a potential $74.85, at a minimum, per author. It's not a lot, but multiply by the number of people who send in manuscripts…
Glad to see that reputable agents won't have anything to do with it.