Author Solutions, Random House & Syphilis, Oh My!
It never fails; every time I mention ‘Author Solutions’ and ‘self-publishing’ in the same breath, some self-pub stalwart emails me or tweets me with a tirade about how self-publishing—true self-publishing—has nothing at all to do with the business model of vanity presses, and Author Solutions is a vanity press.
In theory, I would agree. I even tried to make this distinction here on the blog early on, but found it futile. However we might like to define terms like ‘self-publishing’ and ‘vanity press’ in an academic sense, we cannot ignore actual language in use. ASI calls what ASI does self-publishing. Consumers call what ASI does self-publishing. Media outlets call what ASI does self-publishing.
If that makes you angry, perhaps I can console you a little. ASI’s attempt to change public perception by framing itself as a self-publisher has had limited success*. Instead of forcing ASI to use the less desirable term, we’re getting something even better out of the deal: The term ‘Author Solutions’ is now bearing the negative connotations we had previously associated with the more general term ‘vanity press.’
As an amateur linguist, I find this fucking delightful.
Recently a friend asked me how things were going with ‘that Author Solutions.’ Her nose wrinkled. Her upper lip curled. She expressed disgust. It was like someone had shown her the syphilis photos from my seventh grade health book at the exact moment she said ‘Author Solutions.’
That’s it! I thought. Author Solutions is syphilis.
And the thing about syphilis is that it’s contagious.
Yesterday, Random House went and did something foolish, exposing their sores and lesions to the world. You see, Random House recently launched e-book imprints with contracts so foul they were likened to vanity press contracts.
John Scalzi, president of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, took Random House to task after seeing contracts for Hydra and Alibi**. He pointed out plenty of problems with the contracts: there are no advances, authors are charged for costs previously covered by publishers, and—I find this stuff particularly disgusting—the publisher keeps your rights for the length of copyright AND options the next thing you write.
“Dear writers: This is a horrendously bad deal and if you are ever offered something like it, you should run away as fast as your legs or other conveyances will carry you.”
Funny. That’s exactly what Mrs. Hewlett told us about sleeping with people who didn’t want to wear condoms.
So what, specifically, does Random House have to do with Author Solutions and syphilis?
Remember back in July when Pearson and Penguin acquired Author Solutions for $116M and the publishing world sort of gasped in horror? Many people thought executives at the traditional house were out of their ever loving minds. Others, including a few ASI employees, expressed hope, thinking maybe the sale would be good for ASI. Maybe the new owners would finally force the scourge of the publishing industry to clean up its act?
No such luck. Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a healthy person and a syphilitic having sexytime, and the syphilitic being healed as a result?
So the disease has continued to spread through the industry. Pearson (parent of Penguin) merged with Random House after buying Author Solutions. Author Solutions was then hired to run Archway for Pearson’s competitor, Simon & Schuster. Penguin launched Partridge, another self-pub imprint operated by Author Solutions. And ASI already had self-publishing connections to Harlequin, Hay House and Thomas Nelson.
Maybe I’m paranoid from watching too much Fringe lately, but I believe Random House has a serious case of the ASI syphilis strain. Remember how your Sunday School teacher told you that having sex with one person was just like having sex with all the people that person had sex with? It’s kind of like that in the publishing industry right now. (Author Solutions is owned by Penguin who merged with Random House. Yadda. Yadda.)
Syphilis! Syphilis! Syphilis!
What makes Random House unique from syphilitic brands like iUniverse, Penguin, Partridge, etc. is that they’re not embracing the term ‘self-publishing’ when talking about their suck-ass, vanity-style imprints Hydra, Alibi and (presumably) Flirt—because that’s a term that could raise flags for even the n00biest n00bs.
I believe Random House wants to pioneer making vanity publishing the new traditional publishing, and they’re starting by, as Scalzi puts it, trying to “skim the slimmest of margins off the most vulnerable of writers” first.
I also believe that if these assholes succeed with their little vanity contract experiment, they’ll be one step closer to erasing any distinction at all between vanity publishing and traditional publishing.
And then those self-pub stalwarts all hung up on their definitions are really going to be pissed.
*By the way, you should know the law firm Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP is currently investigating the practices of Author Solutions and all of its brands. There are whispers of a class action lawsuit. Tell. Everyone.
**As far as I’m concerned, both of Scalzi’s blog posts are required reading for new authors.