A Brief Note on Recent Events

Mostly replicating what I said earlier today on Twitter, but it’s worth repeating:

A few folks are giving me credit for Random House’s contract revisions, so let me be the first to say: Thanks, but no. At the very least, there many other people and organizations who deserve more credit. In particular Victoria Strauss, who has been covering this all for Writer Beware, and who has been doing so much in public and behind the scenes, gets my vote as the key person here. She was fantastic in initially bringing the issue to light and keeping everyone updated.

Several writers organizations (SFWA, RWA and HWA notably) brought attention to the issue, kept their members updated and gave them advice, or were in communication with Random House in one manner or another. Writers kept the conversation going online, and media outlets like the Guardian and Publishers Weekly among many others raised the profile of the issue. Last but definitely not least, Random House (and specifically Digital VP Allison Dobson) listened to complaints and concerns and worked in a serious manner to address those concerns.

In short: What I did was the least of what happened. This was a community effort and the community includes the organization the complaints were directed toward.

“We” didn’t win; Random House didn’t lose — or vice versa. What happened was a conversation on where writers and publishers are at this moment in history, in public and in real time. Random House listened and made adjustments based on the feedback it got. This is a praiseworthy event; I am glad they did it, and they deserve credit and thanks for doing so.

What happens at this point is things keep going. Writers’ organizations are going to keep their eyes on publishers, writers will talk to each other, the media will occasionally note what’s going on, and publishers will keep trying to stay in the swim of things as their industry changes, which it always does and is always doing. There will be flashpoints, some things will be resolved and some things won’t and thus will be continued to be watched.

That’s what happened here; we got some things dealt with and some things will continue to be looked at. It will happen again later, too, in a different way, with different actors. It’s how these things work.

An Alternate View of Royalty-Only Models

Anyone who has read the site in the last week knows I am deeply suspicious of publishers who do not offer advances, so I thought it would be useful for folks to get an alternate view from someone whose opinion I respect.

So: Please meet Evan Gregory, an agent at the Ethan Ellenberg Agency (i.e., the agency I’m with; Evan handles much of my foreign rights work), who offers an informed opinion “In Defense of the Royalty-Only Model for Digital Publication.” Check out what he has to say on the subject. It’s worth your time.

Also, of course, if you comment on his site, please show him the same courtesy (and in some cases, even more courtesy) than you show me here. Thanks.

Immediate Thoughts on the Random House eBook Imprint Contract Changes

These thoughts come in no particular order, and represent only my thoughts, not the thoughts of any organization I may belong to. These are first impressions.

Also, these thoughts pertain to what I’ve read here and here. I have not seen any actual contracts reflecting the change in terms and so cannot comment on how the promised changes will be written up and implemented. The devil is always in the details, and the details here will matter quite a bit, considering from where we started with the contracts and their language. Even so.

Here we go.

1. Good on Random House for listening to writers, writers’ organizations, readers and others and being willing to make alterations. That’s a positive thing and should not be discounted. It’s a shame it took a furor for Random House to take a step back from its original contractual position (and that it offered those positions to begin with), but let’s move forward from that.

2. The Random House eBook imprints will offer a choice between their “profit-sharing” model (more on this) and a more traditional contractual set-up, which will include an advance against a backend 25% of net and the imprint covering all other charges and expenses. This is very good in theory; among other things it will offer authors something to compare the “profit-sharing” model to, in terms of what an author could expect to receive both immediately and in the long haul.

What’s going to be interesting to see, however, is how this model is actually handled in practice by Random House’s eBook imprints. Given the imprints’ previous business model, it’s not at all unreasonable to assume they have a bias toward pushing authors to the “profit-sharing” side of things. Something authors (and their agents) will need to be on the lookout for is these imprints underselling the advance-bearing model, both in its initial discussions with the authors and in terms of the actual advances they offer.

Which is to say, if the advances that these eBook imprints offer aren’t equitable — not in line with what advances are at other Random House imprints and/or other major publisher genre imprints (with some calibration for being eBook-only) — then that should be a red flag, and authors (and their agents) may reasonably question how serious the imprints are in offering advances as a genuinely viable choice for their authors. We’ll have to see how the rubber meets this particular road.

3. The no-advance “profit-sharing” set-up still concerns me as a slippery slope for all sorts of reasons but if the advance-offering option is equitable and reasonable and every author is offered it as a matter of course and there is no discrimination between how the two classes of authors are generally treated and serviced by the imprint, then offering a second, riskier option does not strike me as wholly predatory, as the author can turn it down and still publish with the imprint if such is her choice.

Random House’s eBook imprints have said they will take on the set-up costs and sales/marketing costs they previously tried to shove onto authors. That’s good, although again they shouldn’t have tried to do that to begin with, so my congratulations to them for seeing this particular light is, shall we say, muted. It’s important to note, however, that the imprints still intend to shift costs to authors if a book makes it to print, which is still no good. Nothing in the information about audiobooks, and whether the costs for those will also be sent along to the author; in the absence of any new information, I would assume they would be.

Also worth highlighting is the idea that the imprints would cover the first $10k of book-specific publicity marketing (edit: Allison Dobson of Random House notes that the $10k is for marketing costs, not publicity. The error is mine; downstream edits replace “publicity,” with “marketing”) after which the costs would be tallied to the author. This is hugely important for authors to note. One, it doesn’t necessarily mean the imprint will spend $10k on marketing, just that it will cover it up to that amount. Two, $10k seems like a lot, but if a lot of marketing is happening, then you might be amazed at just how quickly $10k disappears — and how any additional money from that point will disappear from your pocket once you have to pay for it.

This is a better “profit-sharing” set-up than it used to be (at least at first glance). This does not mean I think this is a good deal. I don’t. I don’t like the print cost-sharing aspect at all, and I think the marketing cap introduces a whole bunch of weird dynamics which can force authors to choose between effectively capping the reach and sale of the book, or reducing their income significantly in the hope that more marketing will reach more buyers. There’s a reason why marketing is handled by a publisher — the publisher is able to amortize its costs and risks across an entire line. A writer, particularly a new one, doesn’t have the same option. It’s still all too easy in this arrangement for a writer to end up with little or nothing at all while the publisher makes a tidy sum in aggregate.

Personally speaking, I would not sign onto this “profit-sharing” agreement, as it’s been outlined to me, without substantial revision; I’m not convinced the 50% of the net I’d make on this set up would be more than the advance + 25% I’d make with the other set-up, especially if the book were gaining traction and could benefit from additional marketing of the sort Random House could afford as a larger corporation, but I could not as a private individual, or if there were a demand for a print/audio version.

This is why authors should remember that it’s not only the percentage of the backend that’s important, it’s everything else around the percentage, too. If you’re just focused on the 50% and missing all the rest of it, then you’ll have a problem. Make sure you know what you’re getting into. If you don’t know, ask; if you don’t know what to ask, that’s what SFWA and RWA and MWA and other writers organizations are for (not to mention, you know, agents). Even if you’re not a member yet they’ll still have information you can use and learn from.

3. The imprints appear to be taking fewer but still a substantial number of rights, some of which it doesn’t appear that they intend to do much with other than keep them in their pocket. If I were an author making a deal with them I would (or I would tell my agent to) ask for those rights or at least ask for a reversion clause if the rights were not exercised in a specific (fairly short) amount of time.

4. The “out of print” terms here are much improved, which is important because the imprint is still asking for rights for the life of the copyright. The OOP terms are what allow an out for this. Before they were nebulous. Now this is definitely not the worst reversion clause I’ve ever seen.

In short: Better, but I find the profit-sharing setup still very worrisome, and I wouldn’t recommend that option, especially for a newer author or one without much experience with contracts. The most important change — and the most welcome and critical change — is now writers have the option of being paid first and upfront, with no other costs assigned to them. That’s huge. It’s what should have been there in the first place.

Which bring us to a very important question: Will Random House extend these changes to authors who have already signed contracts with these imprints? If they do not, we still have a very, very, very big problem. There’s no point proclaiming your new, better contracts if you still have a class of author still beholden to the egregious old ones. This will be a test of legitimacy for Random House, I think. Given how much they’ve been willing to move from their old positions, I’d like to think they’ll pass it.

(Edit: Allison Dobson of Random House responds: “If this deal compares favorably to that which we have already given authors, we will happily amend those agreements.” So that answers that, and good on Random House.)

In any event: I’ll be happy to see the actual contracts.

Random House Makes Changes to Hydra/Alibi Contracts

Here is information about the changes from Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware, including a pdf of the actual announcement from Random House. The announcement is also up here.

The short version: The imprints will now offer writers a choice of publishing models, and in the profit-sharing version of the model, some significant changes have been made.

I’ll be looking at the revisions and be offering my personal thoughts at some point in the reasonably near future.

Likewise I know the SFWA board has been made aware of these changes, although I can’t give a timetable for a response there, if any.

Update: My additional immediate thoughts are here.

The Human Division, Episode Nine: The Observers is Now Live

I have been informed by a source who I believe to be reliable that today once again is Tuesday. Which means it’s time for another episode of The Human Division! This one is “The Observers,” in which — surprise! — there is a crisis to be dealt with:

In an effort to improve relations with the Earth, the Colonial Union has invited a contingent of diplomats from that planet to observe Ambassador Abumwe negotiate a trade deal with an alien species. Then something very bad happens to one of the Earthings, and with that, the relationship between humanity’s two factions is on the cusp of disruption once more. It’s a race to find out what really happened, and who is to blame.

I like this episode a lot because among other things it introduces on my favorite new characters in the Old Man’s War universe: Danielle Lowen, a diplomat from Earth. I could tell you why I like her, but I think that would ruin the fun of discovering it for yourself. And I would hate to ruin your fun. Because then you would come up to me, point your finger and proclaim “FUN RUINER” before stalking away. And that would be awkward after the first couple dozen times. So let me just say that I think you will like her.

As always, there will be a discussion of the episode over at Tor.com today, and I’ll post a link as soon as I know it’s up (edit: It’s here!); and if you feel like giving the episode a review on whatever places you like to review writing, well, that would be groovy with me, too.

Tune in next week for “This Must Be The Place,” which has Hart Schmidt stepping into an unusual role for him: protagonist.

The Observers: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBookstore|Google Play|Kobo|Audible (audioboook) (All links US)