If you're a writer, you may have seen the internet heat up this past week over issues taken up with a few Random House e-book imprints which several high-profile writing organizations called foul. The best, and most heroic example goes to science fiction writer John Scalzi, one of my husband's favorite authors. See his blog post here for how he dealt directly with Random House and their contracts, representing the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He represented many of us as well, whether we knew it or not.
The issue? The publishing contracts for Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt, each representing different genre fiction, were so limiting to authors, it is downright insulting that they came from a big-name NYC publishing house. Now, I'm no expert in contracts, but when I see a written agreement that includes no advance payment to the author, a 50/50 split of royalties AFTER a muddled clause about subtracting fees for costs that may or may not include promotion, marketing, set-up fees, and even printing fees, with lifetime ownership of the copyright, I think SCAM. If you are curious on details, please read Scalzi's blog post because it's fantastic. His outrage gave me chills!
Basically, what is the point of signing a contract with all these stipulations when so many legitimate avenues for self-publishing exist? It's the Random House "x" imprint name. That's it. You are paying--and paying dearly--for the name, but you aren't getting the same level of services a more legit Random House contract offers. This is the sad-sack, gather-in-the-soup-line, stale bread hand-out version of a real publishing contract. And authors deserve better.
Why this is so concerning is how many people might see the Random House name attached to the imprint and assume the contract is fair. From my limited experience in this industry, one thing I know solidly: a LOT of people want to see their book published, to the point they will take desperate, or ignorant actions. Of course, if you heard someone say "pay me $10,000 and I'll publish your book," you would run, right? RIGHT? A Big NYC publisher putting out such junk as bait for over-eager writers is simply wrong.
Random House has since amended the contracts, which is a partial victory for writers given that making noise can spark change. But, the contract still doesn't seem awesome, and you have to wonder what other slop publishing houses will push on unsavvy writers going forward.
I'm so grateful to my RWA chapter for linking Scalzi's blog post in our yahoo group, and days later, Romance Writers of America contacted Random House to discuss the contracts (Loveswept and Flirt) to better inform the authors they represent. All this to say, know what you are signing, and align yourself with professionals who know the industry.
What do you think about this situation?