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Saturday, March 09, 2013


Do traditional publishers think that bottom-feeding is the way to beat Amazon?

This has been a disturbing week for anyone watching the publishing industry. Random House launched four new imprints, with “you really named them that?” names like Hydra and Alibi, offering terms worse than a standard vanity publisher. As always, “the large print giveth, the small print taketh away.” The 50/50 split seems pretty good, until you realize that your share is zero until all expenses are accounted for. The thing is, it’s Random House that determines how much they’re charging themselves (and authors) for the editing, cover design, layout, and so forth, as well as any ongoing expenses they can gin up. Musicians have pointed out similarities to record label contracts, coupled with the record companies’ use of creative accounting to avoid paying royalties to artists at all.

Given the nature of the contracts, the SFWA has de-listed Hydra (the SF imprint) as a qualifying market1 for SFWA membership. SFWA president John Scalzi thumped Random House thoroughly on his personal blog. “It’s genuinely shameful that a publisher is willing to offer this contract — and for that matter, to defend it,” he writes. But defend it they do, in an email to SFWA’s Writer Beware.

One major publisher pulling this kind of stunt, ever, would be bad enough. But it’s not just Random House. They weren’t even the first. Last year, Simon and Schuster hooked up with Author Solutions/ASI, the scammiest of the publishing scammers, to create the “Archway” imprint. (Hmmm… “arch.” As in, bend over? I’m seeing a trend in these names.) Perhaps to steal a little of Random House’s thunder this week, S&S emailed major writing bloggers, offering an affiliate program. (No, I wasn’t contacted. No, I wouldn’t have signed up anyway.)

If it was just this, I could say the universe is validating my decision to not bother with traditional publishers. But then someone forwarded me an email they got from Amazon on Wednesday:

Look at what’s topping that list. Look at the fourth book down. I believe it was no coincidence that Accidental Sorcerers got yet another wind (fourth wind? fifth? eighth? I’ve lost count) after that mail went out, and jumped back into the Top 100 lists for Kindle Fantasy, Fantasy, and Teens. How many traditional publishers are going to do that kind of marketing for a new unknown author?

Say what you will about Amazon. Even 30% is a better cut than I’d get from a traditional publisher, and they actually do some marketing. Now I need to email Apple, B&N, and Kobo, and tell them, “Hey, Amazon’s including my book in ads, and we’re getting pretty good sales over here. How about you guys try to outdo them?”

1The SFWA also says indies like me don’t qualify either, to which I give a shrug and a “pfffft.” Why join a club that would have me as a member, anyway?


  1. I'd actually be very interested in Apple responded with a plan!

  2. I've been reading about this too and it makes me very glad I'm doing everything myself. It might be tough, but better than getting ripped off.

  3. Okay, wait, I need to ask about your last point: if you self-publish a Science Fiction and/or Fantasy book, make actual, countable sales from strangers and earn actual, countable money... the SFWA says it doesn't qualify? You're getting disqualified for having the business acumen to publish your own stuff? I've never bothered to look up their rules, but it seems the way things are going, they'll have to disqualify everyone from joining in a few years.

    Congratulations on scoring two titles in that e-mail blast! Very cool.

  4. @Katherine,
    I think that's the case with a lot of groups like that. Like the romance one, I believe, doesn't accept self pubbed either.

  5. John, I will definitely keep everyone posted once I send the prodding emails out!

    Patricia, it's pretty horrid out there. There's some value in the old publishing model, but the big publishers themselves seem intent on destroying it. :-P

    Katherine, thanks! And yes, you read that right. The SFWA and all the major author associations are still very much tied to the traditional publishing model. They have a point in that if you sign your rights to your work away, you should be paid for your work up front. And I can understand their reluctance to take anyone who tosses word salad onto Smashwords or whatever, without any attention to detail. But if you keep your rights, and reach some amount of sales, that should be recognized. I'm sure it will happen sooner or later. Of course, once the metrics are defined, people will argue forever that they're too much or too little.


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