I feel a little like I’m being a touch gratuitous by even broaching this topic. But I also feel like it’s a bit of a responsibility for me to do so.
One of the six biggest publishers in the world is Random House. Random House is almost certainly a company you’ve heard of before. They do a lot of publishing and they have a really good reputation, because they’ve historically been fair with their dealings with writers.
But a little while ago they chose create a set of imprints focusing on genres (the science fiction one is Hydra). As I mentioned yesterday, I am of the opinion that perhaps Hydra would be more appropriately named after certain themes in specific types of Japanese animation.
At this point I resist the temptation to both over-explain and break our family-friendly rating. Pretty much, you either know what I’m talking about or you don’t. If you don’t, take my advice and do not Google that.
See, what I’m saying is that Hydra (and definitely Alibi, which is the imprint for mystery) is attempting to take extremely unfair advantage of writers, and likely focusing on predatory advantage of new authors hoping to break in. If your unfamiliar with how publishing works, you should read my last post.
And I’m going to admit, I am not doing the best job of describing this here.
John Scalzi, president of Science Fiction Writer & Fantasy Writers of America, has written a series of posts about this. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for primary sources, I unfortunately can’t point you at a copy of the contract that Random House is using to rip off attract writers.
However, here’s how SFWA felt about the details of the contract (remember that SFWA is an advocate for writers). And then Random House got all hurt and offended by it. But then SFWA explained that they don’t buy it and instead of blowing sunshine perhaps Hydra (and Alibi, and the other Random House imprints if SFWA the information that we all know is in the other imprints’ contracts) could just start being decent to writers and stop trying to rip them off.
I’m not sure there’s a whole lot to add to all that. Referring to yesterday’s post, I talked about how publishers do things for you, and spend money to get the book selling. On top of that, they give the writer money, which, in part, motivates the publisher to work hard to make money — under this arrangement, if the publisher doesn’t try to make money on your book, then they lose money on your book.
Hydra, et al, have effectively removed any motivation for themselves to do anything. The contract they make as their standard arrangement has the author pay for everything like typesetting, internal design, cover art, distribution, etc. OK, technically, these costs come out of all the “shared profits” from the sale of books. Yet, here’s the thing: Random House already has facilities for doing all that stuff. In addition to that, since they aren’t spending any of their own money, they don’t have any incentive to keep costs down. Don’t they want to keep costs down so they start earning money?
Well, remember how they have facilities to do all that stuff? Where do you think overpriced services are going to come from? You guessed it, Random House! So while the author is just sitting around waiting for some money to somehow come to them to reward them for the hard work they put into creating a work of art that they are emotionally attached to, Random House is making money by buying services from themselves.
Is this factual? No, I’m speculating. And maybe it’s a touch cynical. But the circumstances are undeniably suspicious. Random House has to know that this is all public now. Maybe they thought that it would remain relatively private between them and SFWA for a bit. Though if they thought that, they didn’t know John Scalzi very well.
I want to be optimistic. I’m hoping that Hydra, and Random House, realize they crossed a line (this is even more optimism: I’m hoping they weren’t overly trying to rip people off and that they actually believe their own claptrap about this being a “potentially lucrative” new business model and that they just lost all track of … well, everything about publishing). I’m hoping that they realize how horrible this model is for everyone involved, and how messed up the ethics are.
But until that point, don’t go near this deal. Honestly, you are so much better off flying solo than taking one of these deals. Self publishing you have control over the money and the quality of the work done and you get to own the profits instead of relying on someone who doesn’t have any motivation to do it right. Being with a publisher is great, for the reasons I mentioned in my last post. But it’s not a holy grail. It doesn’t magically fix anything and these contracts will do a lot of damage to your resources and your career. Please, please don’t sign with them.