Monday, 16 February 2009

Authonomy and Blurb

When HarperCollins’s manuscript display site Authonomy announced last month that it was going to add a self-publishing option to its site, there were some people who were not pleased. Authonomy’s implication that self-publishing could be a stepping-stone to commercial success was seen by some as misleading because, while it's true that some writers have done well by self-publishing, the majority of self-published authors flounder in relative obscurity and fail to make any significant sales.

What wasn't picked up on was Authonomy's odd choice of bed-fellow: the POD provider Blurb.

Blurb first came to most people's attention when it teamed up with Chronicle Books in 2007. Chronicle is a well-regarded mainstream publishing company with exacting standards: I know, I've edited for it (and we all know how good I am, right?). I was astonished when I heard that Chronicle was directing some of the books it rejected towards Blurb, as this seemed to me to represent a direct conflict of interests.

Blurb was set up to produce heavily illustrated books: showcases for illustrators and photographers, collations of photojournalism, and personal collections. Its focus on quality is admirable: but combine that with its bias towards full colour printing and you end up with very high unit prices which, while only to be expected for full-colour books, are simply ridiculous when applied to novels and memoirs—which is what makes up the bulk of Authonomy's members’ books. And while it’s recently set up a text option for the books it produces, I’m still waiting to be convinced that it’s the best option for Authonomy’s many members.


none said...

This "we'll publish the best, let the authors pay to publish the rest" approach seems all too common at present. Commercial publishers getting into bed with vanities? Deeply disturbing, but I guess we can't keep it from happening.

Jane Smith said...

Buffy, more and more mainstream publishers seem to be diverting writers to self- and vanity-publishing now: I've got a whole string of blog posts lined up which discuss this, for publication here and elsewhere.

There are ways that it could be done well (which I'll be discussing in those forthcoming posts): but what strikes me about the schemes I've seen so far is that the mainstream presses don't seem to be too well informed about the self-publishing industry in general, or about the companies they've teamed up with. Which leads to odd associations like this one. Hmmm.

none said...

To me it feels like if you went to the Job Centre, and they said, "Well, we don't have anything for you at the moment, but if you go next door you can buy a lottery ticket."

Alexander said...

Hi Jane.

Caught this one when you posted it and it makes some good points. And I now notice Authonomy has added some annoying advertising, too.

I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but I'm looking forward to a return to the 'legacy' slushpile as I finish the edit of the book I'm 'shopping'...

Anonymous said...

If writers go into this with their eyes open, where's the harm?

Jane Smith said...

Well, Louise: where shall I start?

Briefly, the harm lies in the conflict of interests involved in Authonomy referring all of its writers to a POD service like this, when some of them might have a good chance of getting published by a mainstream publisher (which is more lucrative AND results in a better quality book and higher sales); and in the fact that lots of writers misunderstand the limitations that self-publishing imposes, and only come to realise them once they've already self-published their work. By which time it's too late to avoid them.

All of which is explained more fully in some of my other blog posts--have a look around. And feel free to ask more questions, I'm happy to answer them when I can.