Oh dear. Following our recent post about a Futerman & Rose rejection letter, which seemed to be encouraging a client to use the services of the very worst type of vanity publisher, I now learn that the habit runs a little wider than that.
One writer – a member of the Society of Authors, indeed – received a letter from the hhb literary agency that also recommended the services of a vanity publisher. In the words of the writer concerned:
What happened was I sent my sample chapters to [hhb literary agency] and they requested my full manuscript. Later, I received the rejection from someone called Claire Houghton-Price who suggested publishers that I know demand huge sums of money to publish. I felt hurt and insulted, but also very concerned that this info apparently was being sent out to people in what was presumably a standard rejection letter. I thought Claire might be an admin assistant and that the agent Heather might be concerned if she knew about it. I therefore emailed Heather and she got back to me defending the agency’s response saying Claire had only been trying to help by making this suggestion and she went on to justify it in the way I described in my comments on your blog. I was horrified. I’m a member of the Society of Authors so I contacted them about it. The SOA agreed with my reason for concern about an agency taking this attitude, but, as far as I know, it wasn’t taken further by them.
Personally, I think this practice by literary agents is heinous. Anyone who wants to self-publish their work can do so for free on Amazon’s platform, or indeed worldwide on multiple platforms via such easy-to-use sites as Smashwords or Ebook Partnership. If you really want a physical copy of your book – a perfectly reasonable thing to want – you can do so via honest, reputable, long-established houses such as Matador, who won’t lie to you, skin you, or sell you complete crap and useless services that you don’t need (not that you know you don’t, because they sound good in principle.)
I also think that the Society of Authors should clearly signpost that literary agents should not recommend vanity publishers and should never accept commissions from such houses and should never, ever, not in a million years accept such commissions without clearly, upfront, telling writers that that’s what they’re doing. (To be clear, I don’t know if either Futerman & Rose or hhb take kickbacks. If they do, they should say so in letters of fire.) I also think that the Association of Authors Agents should make it crystal clear where they stand: is it OK for literary agents to accept commissions by promoting the worst kind of vanity publishers? The answer, I think, is completely bloody obvious.