I am about to head off to my daughter’s orthodontist appointment, so let me briefly address a question that I’m seeing a lot in the wake of me writing about Random House’s Alibi/Hydra imprints and their genuinely awful boilerplate contracts. The question is, more or less:
Is this where traditional publishers are going with their contracts?
The short answer: Not necessarily, but if authors and readers don’t raise hell about it, it becomes more likely.
The slightly longer answer: Look, what Random House is doing with their Alibi and Hydra imprints (and presumably their Flirt and Loveswept imprints as well) what the raptors in Jurassic Park did: They’re testing the fences, looking for weaknesses. If they find them, then why wouldn’t they charge through them, to feed on the soft and chewy morsels on the other side (i.e., authors)? And if they can get away with it, why wouldn’t other publishers follow their lead, using the excuse of “this is how the business is these days”?
This is why authors and readers have to keep the fence electrified. Authors have to say, “no, this is bullshit” and refuse to deal with imprints offering these sorts of terms, and they have to tell other authors — including and especially aspiring ones, who are the most vulnerable to crap like this — that it’s bullshit, and explain why. And they have to explain to readers why this is bullshit too. Because readers are fans of authors and they’re sensitive to the people whose work they like being exploited.
Should authors, readers and fans let Random House know they think the Alibi/Hydra contract terms are complete bullshit? Why yes, they absolutely should. Random House doesn’t want a bad public image, and the more each group expresses its dissatisfaction the worse that image gets (and the more Random House becomes a cautionary tale for other publishing houses). But it’s equally important that authors and readers talk to other authors and readers about it. At the end of the day, if authors are still submitting to Alibi/Hydra, then Random House can shrug off the momentary blight of bad press, because business is business.
I don’t think one should assume that other publishers (or perhaps even other Random House imprints) want Alibi/Hydra to succeed on these terms; I know a number of publishing pros who think the contracts there are outright appalling. But I do think that if the bar is successfully lowered then everyone will queue up to shimmy under it, because business is business. So in great measure it’s up to the authors and readers to keep the bar high. Simple as that.