I try to stay away from talking about the business of writing on this blog, because it’s stressful trying to draft, edit, re-edit, re-re-edit pitch, query, and potentially sell something. But then something happens that just pisses me off and I can’t keep my mouth shut.
This story is flying around the SFF author world like a bad bout of norovirus. And it’s just as ugly.
John Scalzi reviews an exploitative contract by Hydra, an imprint of Random House.
John Scalzi reviews a different exploitative contract, this one by Alibi, another imprint of Random House.
Victoria Strauss has another opinion.
In other words:
But there’s more.
SFWA finds that Hydra is not a qualifying market for membership and delists them
Random House responds to… something, I don’t know what because they don’t address almost all the criticisms laid against them.
SFWA responds to Random House’s response essentially telling them to go away unless they admit their contracts are the crap that they are and change their terms.
Essentially, it comes down to several things. The contracts offer:
1) No advance. How can a publisher like Random House, one of the biggest in the world, not afford an advance? No advance and there’s little incentive for them to try and earn that money back by, I don’t know, giving the book good editing, cover design, and promotion.
2) The rights–all of them, different languages, movies, toys, etc…–are held by the imprint. That’s a huge rights grab for tons of stuff typically held by the writer.
3) Out-of-print clause to get your rights back? Not defined. Not good. While a life-of-contract clause isn’t unusual, it’s typically limited such that, if the book isn’t selling, the rights revert back to the author. But the bar can be set so low (especially if it’s undefined in the contract) that the rights never revert back.
4) Profit sharing instead of a simple royalty. Sounds good? Nope. Incredibly bad. Costs of publication (like editing, cover illustrations, promotion, advertising, etc…) are downloaded onto the author and the author only shares in the net profit. Who determines what’s a profit? The publisher of course. And it opens the door to manipulative accounting just like it always has in Hollywood, where some of the biggest grossing flicks somehow never earn a profit.
So, and to keep with the Star Wars memes:
In other words, these two imprints of Random House are trying to completely redefine the author-publisher relationship into something that’s so exploitative that authors can probably expect to see jack shit for anything they publish with them. It’s absolutely pathetic.