Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Big Six Publishers

Harlequin Mess: New Authors, Stay Out

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In the past few weeks, two well-known writing blogs (Passive Voice and A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, which is Joe Konrath’s blog) have taken a look at Harlequin’s onerous contractual language, and have come up with some startling conclusions.  Both blogs were based on a guest post written at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing by Ann Voss Peterson, who used to write — prolifically — for Harlequin.  The reason she no longer does is because she can no longer afford to do so.  As she says here:

If you do a (very) little digging into publishing companies, you’ll discover that while the industry standard royalty rate for mass market paperback sales is 8% for US retail, Harlequin pays its series authors only 6%.

The royalty goes down from there.

(Peterson goes on to point out that Harlequin pays lower than standard industry advances, too.)
 
Then she discloses what she’s made on her most popular book:
 

My life-to-date statement says this book has sold 179,057 copies so far, and it has earned $20,375.22. (bold text by Joe Konrath) That means the average I’ve earned is a whopping 11 cents per copy. If you use the cover price to calculate (the number used in the contract), which was $4.50 at the time of release, I’ve earned an AVERAGE of 2.4 % per copy.

Why is this?

First, while most of my books are sold in the US, many are sold under lower royalty rates in other countries. In this particular contract, some foreign rights and -ALL ebook royalties- are figured in a way that artificially reduces net by licensing the book to a “related licensee,” in other words, a company owned by Harlequin itself. (content bolded by Barb Caffrey)

As Konrath says at the end of this blog, this is absolutely disgraceful.  But a comment made at both blogs by Donna Fasano points out something even worse than these horrible contracts; when someone has the guts to complain, he or she apparently gets blackballed.  From Fasano’s comment (cut and pasted from the Passive Voice):

While attending an RWA conference, a friend of mine stood up and asked a panel of HQ editors and other ‘suits’ how they expected their authors to live on the paltry wages they paid. Their blunt answer, “We don’t.” They said they warn authors not to quit their day jobs; they tell them not to expect to earn a living as a writer. They stress that this is a hobby, not a career. I was stunned and saddened. Consequently, after my friend spoke out, she never sold another manuscript to the company.

 

This experience raises the following question: what kind of publisher tells its writers not to expect to make a living at writing?

Obviously, after being made aware of this substantial problem with regards to Harlequin’s contract, my advice to other emerging writers is this: stay away from Harlequin unless they change their terrible contractual language (and for that matter, their horrible attitude regarding the rights of professional writers to make a living).  Remember that you can and will do better as a self-published author than at Harlequin or any of its subsidiaries.  And if you can’t bring yourself to test the self-publishing market yet, you’ll also do better at any other publisher because every one of them pays better royalty rates than Harlequin.

One caveat, though, for those who are going through any “Big Six” publishing house (these are the well-known, long-established publishing houses such as Random House, Penguin Putnam, etc.) — read the contractual language carefully before signing.  Get a lawyer to look it over if you can (if you have an agent, make sure they have a lawyer look it over as well), and know your rights with regards to any given contract.

Publishing is fraught with so many challenges as it is, which is why you must be careful and vigilant.  Know your rights.  Don’t get taken in by a big company with a long reach like Harlequin; instead, believe in yourself and your talent, because ultimately, that is the only way to win.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 17, 2012 at 8:44 pm

About Self-Publishing from two examples; Kiana Davenport and Ric Locke

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Today it’s time to talk about self-publishing — the good, and the bad.

First, unfortunately, is something bad that happened due to self-publishing (which is, in and of itself, a generally good thing writers do when they’ve exhausted all other avenues of getting their books or stories out).  Kiana Davenport, a writer with many awards and sales to her credit, had a novel scheduled to come out in 2012 with a “Big Six” Publisher (she doesn’t, or can’t, name which one), but that contract was canceled after Ms. Davenport self-published two collections of short stories the very same publisher didn’t want.  (Hat tip to Sharon Lee, who posted about this on Twitter and Facebook.)

Here’s the link, and a relevant (unfortunately quite lengthy) quote from Ms. Davenport’s blog:

In January, 2010,  I signed a contract with one of the Big 6 publishers in New York for my next novel.  I understood then that I,  like every writer in the business, was being coerced into giving up more than 75% of the profits from electronic sales of that novel, for the life of the novel.   But I was debt-ridden and needed upfront money that an advance would provide. The book was scheduled for hardback publication in August, 2012,  and paperback publication  a year later.  Recently that publisher discovered I had self-published two of my story collections as electronic books.  To coin the Fanboys,  they went ballistic.  The editor shouted at me repeatedly  on the phone.  I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of ‘blatantly betraying them with Amazon,’ their biggest and most intimidating  competitor.  I was not trustworthy.  I was sleeping with the enemy.

My lawyer  quickly pointed out that the  first collection, HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZE-WINNING STORIES,  had been e-published  in December,  before I signed the contract with the publisher,  so they immediately targetted the second collection, CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume II, published recently in July.

Most of the stories in both collections had  each been published several times before,  first in Story Magazine,  then again in The O’HENRY AWARDS  PRIZE STORIES anthologies,  the PUSHCART PRIZE stories anthologies,  and THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, 2000, anthology. And, over  several years  both collections had been submitted  to each of the Big 6 publishers in NY.  I still have their rejection letters,  including one from the house I was now under contract with.  So you might say these stories were, in a sense,  recycled,  sitting  in my files rejected.  Yet,  as published collections,  this Big 6  publisher  suddenly found them threatening.

So, here  is what the  publisher demanded.  That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms.  Plus,  that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS.  Currently,  that’s about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?)  Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback.  In other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer,  in a state of  acquiescence and, consequently,  utter self-loathing.

Note that Ms. Davenport is fighting back, as well she should.  Because to my mind, this sort of attitude makes no sense whatsoever; if Ms. Davenport’s short story collections do well in any format, anywhere, that can only help raise the name recognition for her novel in 2012.  And while I realize the “Big Six” publishers are nervous and don’t seem to completely understand the e-book revolution, why on Earth don’t they realize that any publication in any format, especially from an award-winning writer, can only help them down the line?

This is a short-sighted, self-serving attitude at best, and completely stupid at worst, from the “Big Six” publisher in question, which is why I’m making sure that anyone who reads my blog knows about this as a possibility with regards to self publishing, even though I hope it will not happen again to anyone else due to the utter stupidity of this happening at all. 

Ms. Davenport has the right to earn a living; it is absolutely, positively wrong for any publisher to try to keep her from doing so.  Period.  (And if you want to help her earn some money this quarter — I have no money or I’d throw some her way — go buy one of her short story collections, here or here.  That’ll help her, and spite her idiotic “Big Six” publisher, all at the same time — the very definition of a win/win.)

My hope is that by writing about this, and all the discussion of it (here, at Ms. Davenport’s blog, at Passive Voice, by Sharon Lee, and by many, many others) has to help get the word out that some publishers are just plain crazy.  And that “sisters have to keep doing it for themselves.”  (Or brothers.)

Now, on to a very good example of self-publishing that has worked well.

Ric Locke, who was a good friend of my late husband Michael, self-published his novel, the milSF TEMPORARY DUTY, at Amazon.com and other places.  (Here’s the link to his book at Amazon.)  Locke dedicated it to Michael, which I greatly appreciated once I found out about it (through correspondence with Locke, which I didn’t see for months due to not checking my e-mail as regularly as I should).**  I’ve read Locke’s novel — it’s excellent, and I don’t say that lightly — and believe it should’ve been picked up by someone in the mainstream, mainline publishing world.  But since it wasn’t, I’m glad he published it himself.  So far he has around 11,000 downloads since he put it up at the end of May of 2011, and that’s great.  98 reviews to date at Amazon.com, too — most of them positive.

All of that said, I’m still a bit leery of self-publishing even though I have seen it work for Ric Locke and have seen it work for a few other friends.  But it has become a worthy option for many, and it’s much better to have good novels like Locke’s coming out somehow rather than being forced to the sidelines because none of the “Big Six” liked what Ric was doing.

So, there you have it.  Self-publishing is how more and more authors are making a go of it to attempt to pay the bills, and it’s here to stay.  So let’s hope that whichever publisher Ms. Davenport was dealing with will get with the program and realize that, as the old adage says, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

—————

** Note that Michael helped to edit Ric Locke’s novel.  (Which should tell you how long Locke tried to get his novel published before finally taking the plunge and publishing it himself, as Michael has been dead for nearly seven years.)  I read it and commented, too, but compared to Michael’s comprehensive efforts, it was nothing.