Do you get paid a bounty for referrals? Do you disclose it?

I may tell you to work with another professional for a service I don’t offer. Sometimes I get paid a bounty for this. Here’s why I always disclose those payments.

When an author comes to me, sometimes I can help them, sometime I can’t. They might need a different kind of editor, an illustrator, a cover designer, a hybrid publisher, a ghostwriter, a publicist, or an agent. I love referring people to other professionals who can help — it feels good, it helps them succeed, and it creates business for other professionals who I respect.

I have one principle: I will match you to the best person for you.

Of course, sometimes I get paid a bounty, too.

How does this happen?

It happens because I recommended these professionals enough times — based on exclusively on their expertise — that they wanted to confirm that relationship and thank me. I didn’t ask for the bounty. And believe me, if they ever let down an author I’ve referred, I’ll stop referring people to them.

Since my referrals are based exclusively on my judgment about what’s best, why disclose the bounty? After all, it doesn’t influence my recommendation or the quality of the work the professional will do for the author.

I disclose the bounty because I don’t want that author coming back to me and saying, “I thought that was an honest recommendation — now I can’t trust you any more!”

My integrity requires that I disclose the payment. Not only that, I believe it’s better for the professional receiving the business. The last thing I want is for that author to be unaware that a secret payment has changed hands, a payment that makes them suspect both me and of the person to whom I’ve referred them.

Secret payments have a way of coming back to bite people. And my integrity is worth more than any bounty payment.

When you get referred, you should ask about bounties

When an acquaintance refers you to another professional, don’t assume it’s free.

Ask the person who’s providing the referral if there’s a bounty. Then listen closely to the answer.

If there is a payment, do you still trust the referral?

Do they recommend any alternate providers from which they don’t get bounties, or is this the only one they believe in?

A bounty shouldn’t put you off the potential of working with the other professional. But when you’re making that decision, it’s better to know about the payment than to find out later and feel you got deceived.

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  1. If I am simply giving a referral or recommendation, I do not accept or seek bounties. That’s because a) what goes around comes around, usually and b) I want to be scrupulous about anything that reeks of a conflict of interest. If, however, I am bringing in a consultant as part of my team for work that I have identified and sold to my client, then I charge the subcontractor a certain percentage of their fee, since they had to do no work to get the gig, and I am responsible for the quality of their work. But for simply giving referrals, I charge and want nothing in return, apart from goodwill and perhaps a lead in the future.

  2. I’m with Nancy – I do not seek or accept bounties. One person to whom I’ve made several referrals sent me a gift after each one, in increasing amounts of value. It felt funny to me. The last thank you note I wrote asked her to let that gift stand in for all gifts in the future. The value was not huge – $115 – but it still felt wrong to have established the reward pattern. I like to refer based on what is best for the client.

    I also did not expect to pay bounties, however, and this has run me into trouble. The referrer above began sending me gifts for my referrals to her. I began to wonder if she had expected more than a thank you note for referrals she sent my way. I will make sure to ask! The health of the professional relationship is most important to me.