Interesting news on POD outfit iUniverse from Publisher’s Weekly reporter Steve Zeitchik:

Saying you were more than a subsidy publisher but not quite a traditional house always seemed to us like saying you were half pregnant. But iUniverse may soon prove that such unlikely feats are possible (the publishing, not the half-pregnancy). The Nebraska firm has announced a deal with Kensington that could give iUniverse authors a better chance to get picked up by a print house.

According to the deal, iUniverse will package and present select titles to Zebra Books, Kensington’s romance imprint. Books that sell 500 copies in six months will be eligible for review by a board set up by iUniverse. If the books pass muster, they will be, possibly after a slight repackaging, sent to Kensington for review. The publisher will not be obligated to print any book. “It’s not a press-release agreement. If it doesn’t work, it just wastes everyone’s time,” says new iUniverse CEO Kim Hawley.

The deal is meant to increase iUniverse’s appeal to prospective authors. About 5000 writers are currently with iUniverse, a number the firm will need to bulk up if it is to reach profitability. If this gambit works, Hawley says, the company could make deals with other houses in other genres.

Hawley views the arrangement as part of the company’s drive to move away from being a subsidy house and toward one that performs author services – in other words, get writers some play where they really want it. (The company has even brought in a packager to help with certain titles.) Of course, many of its authors may have been rejected from houses like Kensington in the first place, but Hawley says she’s not too worried about the recycling effect; she cited an internal study that says that about half of iUniverse authors have never tried getting published by a traditional house.

iPublish, of course, also had a semi-permeable membrane between the self-publishing and the traditional, but iUniverse thinks it could avoid some of the usual traps. “Part of the problem is that there hasn’t always been a well-defined process for how to get from point A to point Z,” Hawley says, adding that unless the process becomes more transparent “people think their book will just end up at Random. It sets up a lot of false expectations.”

This pact could keep expectations reasonable, but it also highlights what seems to us like iUniverse’s little dilemma: To become more appealing to authors, it needs to increase the odds that authors will get print deals, but if it increases print deals, it limits its own royalty streams, a paradox not unlike having kids to save the marriage….