Thank you for your letter regarding Random House and Hydra, and your interest in speaking with us.
Unfortunately, there is very little to discuss. SFWA has determined to its own satisfaction that Hydra does not meet our minimum standards for a qualifying market, as its contract does not offer an advance. Additionally, your attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher is, simply, outrageous and egregious. The first of these things alone would disqualify Hydra as a qualifying market. It is the second of these things, however, that causes us to believe that Hydra intends to act in a predatory manner towards authors, and in particular toward newer authors who may not have the experience to recognize the extent to which your contract is beyond the pale of standard publishing practices.
You extol your business model as œdifferent ; the more accurate description, we believe, is œexploitative. We are particularly disappointed to see it arising out of Random House, a well-regarded, long-standing publishing firm. Bluntly put, Random House should know better.
I want to thank SFWA for taking this stand. They’re completely right on the problems with this contract. It’s sad (but unsurprising) to see Random House moving into what can only be seen as a new-era vanity press publishing model.
As someone who was a member of SFWA (disclaimer: Laurie is still a member) for many years and put a lot of time and effort into the organization, it’s great to see how it’s grown up and gotten involved in issues that are significant to people who are trying to make a living at writing.If I were at all involved in fiction right now, I’d be thrilled to rejoin SFWA and put my money into helping them in these fights again (and people who know me know that wasn’t always true).
The sad thing is that it’s been almost 20 years (sigh) since I published my last piece of fiction — and while ebooks have created some interesting opportunities and new revenue opportunities for writers, it’s actually harder now for the journeyman writer to make a living at it, not easier.
I’ve been spending the last year investigating whether I want to reboot my fiction writing (okay, I want to. I’ve been investigating whether it makes sense in my situation. Right now, the answer is “no” but the argument with myself continues) and it’s been a fascinating thing to research.
We saw Borders implode, and Barnes and Noble isn’t looking much better — but between them, they did a good job of imploding the diversity of the industry around them. That’s nothing new, they’re following the same path that the music, stock photography, and newspaper industries have followed. This Random House imprint seems to have built its contracts around music industry traditions, which frankly isn’t encouraging if the corporation sees that at the path forward.
If you’re someone who’s thinking about doing this for a living, you really should be watching what SFWA is saying. I also strongly suggest that the only viable path for an author starting out today is through independent publishing, where you control your own destiny (but you don’t have a publication house supporting you on administration and distribution and marketing). That means you need to learn those other pieces of the business, but if there was ever any question that the existing publishing houses are no longer your friend, look at these contracts. And frankly, despite what SFWA is doing, I expect these contracts to stick, and their language to migrate into the other lines at Random House over time — these contracts are en experiment, and I expect it to work for them. And you can bet the other houses are watching
So if you do want to try your hand publishing, I suggest you start reading a few blogs and get yourself some education (you’ll need it): John Scalzi‘s blog is a perfect example of what an author blog can be and how to engage your readers and make them a part of your career; Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have done a huge amount of work figuring out how to make the indie career path work and making that information available to all of us, and the Passive Voice blog is a great collector of information about what’s going on and what is working in the writing/publishing world today.
And for me, for various reasons, I’m going to continue to sit this one out, but it’s a fascinating time for writers. Not always a fun one, but as old standard career options are being destroyed, new opportunities are being created. If I were 25 again, I’d certainly be making different decisions than I did when I chose to retire from writing 20 years ago
Update: Judy Tarr diggs in on this topic as well, over on Book View Cafe (which, if you aren’t following their blog, you should. Great group of authors over there doing interesting things in the cooperative self-publishing world and who also happen to be quite entertaining to read). If it wasn’t painfully clear my view on this, here it is: if you sign a contract like this, you are an idiot. Or at least, hopelessly naive. Unfortunately, idiots and the hopelessly naive kept the vanity press industry alive for a long, long time.
This is the fiction industry’s equivalent first step into photography’s Microstock, which devastated stock photography for many photographers. And yes, some photographers earn good money in microstock, but a lot of photographers earn a lot less because of it. Whether fiction writing can avoid the same kind of disruption I don’t know (I doubt it), but that doesn’t mean you have to sign contracts with them. Learn about doing your own publishing; the day when you have to sign with a “real” publisher is long, long gone. To me, the sign that Random House is investigating moving down this path in their contracts indicates to me they see the end to traditional publishing, as more and more authors will either start out on their own, or use traditional publishing to get started and then break off indie as soon as their career is moving. So watch out for publishers who’s response is to try to tie you up or take from you without investing in you
I realize I should also have linked to one more site: Writer’s Beware, which is managed by SFWA, and which is there to educate writers about all of the cheats and scams and bad contracts that are out there, so you don’t find out about them on your own, the hard way.