The story so far:
1) A Newsweek article stated Chronicle (a third-party publisher) was going to refer authors they rejected to Blurb (a self-publishing provider) and receive monetary benefits as a result.
2) This spread to forums and blogs and was widely criticized.
3) A Joseph Ternes, representing Chronicle, posted to many blogs saying that monetary benefits were not in fact part of the deal.
4) Most bloggers thought this made the recommendations acceptable.
I, however, was not one of them and I would like to explain why. From a customer's point of view, all books are pretty much the same whether published via a third party publisher or self-publishing provider. From an author's point of view however these two business models are very different indeed and not interchangeable.
If we take as our model a mainstream press like Chronicle the writer's goal in approaching them is to place a book with wide appeal on the mass market, through bookstores. Successful self-publishers have a range of different goals. They may wish to maintain firm control of the work for artistic or philosophical reasons. Or they may want a swift and easy book production process because their book is topical or their medical tolerance for stress is low. They may have a work that is not suitable for the mainstream due to content, style or – let’s be honest – quality. They may need the book as part of a general small business, further monetizing their services, products or expertise.
If self-publishing is to develop as a valid business model authors need to enter it knowing which of these explicit reasons they are motivated by and why they think self-publishing is the best way to satisfy it.
Look at this way:
Let’s say you want to knit. You try to join a knitting circle and take some of you knitting. The most esteemed senior member of the circle says: "having you considered taking up pottery?" It is possible the novice knitter has never considered potting and will indeed enjoying potting, and that the local potting co-operative is truly excellent, but is this really the message being given?
In brief although I do not believe Chronicle is doing a malicious thing for money, I would still argue they are doing an ill-advised thing for [insert your preferred reason here]. The mere mention of Blurb from a person the author presumably holds in high esteem carries a message that the author needs to change their goals and implies a reason why.
If a person wants to be third-party published, if those are their goals, that is what they should do. They should continue to try and do it until that hope is either extinguished or their whole approach to writing undergoes a marked transformation and they discover their real goal is more consistent with self-publishing.
Chronicle is entirely the correct authority to say your book is not right for Chronicle.
Chronicle is entirely over-stepping their bounds to in any way suggest or imply your book is not right for third-party publishing in general, and is right for self-publishing.
Because, as I said, even if they have a perfect understanding of the book this choice is not about the book – it is about the goals of the author. And the author should be encouraged to explore those goal him or herself without a person of considerable authority (to writers with third-party publishing goals) endorsing a specific company that operates on entirely different business model. And authors that embark upon self-publishing with the wrong expectations only end up participating in the growing backlash against its typically more modest and nuanced achievements.