Monday, March 11, 2013

A Many-Headed Beast Rises

Anyone in the writing or publishing business keeps a close eye on trending in the self publishing business (or "Indie" publishing, the current popular moniker), especially Indie authors like myself, and if they do, they should be aware of the disturbing events taking place in the past week or so, manifesting themselves in the public letter-war between the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and Random House.

To recap, RH has launched four new "digital imprints," dedicated to eBook publishing: Loveswept (romance), Alibi (mystery/suspense) Hydra (SF/fantasy) and Flirt (college-age readers).  This is the latest poisonous mushroom to pop up in the fertile grounds around eBooks, digital publishing, and the Indie writers' movement.  They propose to "partner" with authors to publish their eBooks, taking on the traditional publisher role of editorial services, cover art, promotion, etc. You supply the creative content, sit back, we'll do the rest.

Hey.  Here'a lollipop--wanna go for a ride?  Get in.

Reading more closely--and this is what SFWA and a growing mob of horrified authors are objecting to--RH offers no advance on sales, and proposes to split net profits 50/50 with the author . . . after production costs.  So the services they're "offering" actually come out of the author's pocket, and it's pretty well acknowledged in the industry that accounting practices on those and other publisher costs are pretty fluid and fuzzy.  In case you missed it, I'll say it again: RH's offering to provide the traditional publisher services, but it comes out of the author's sales.  They call that "sharing the risks."  As SFWA states it: "[your] attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher is, simply, outrageous and egregious."

Ya think?

SFWA goes on to say that RH's Hydra branch, despite its SF / F content, does not meet their requirements for a qualifying market for membership.

But wait, folks; there's more.  They are also proposing to basically keep the rights to the works for print life of the work.  Peeps, eBooks do not go out of print.  That means, they hold the rights to your stuff until you die, and after.  That means if they don't do a good job of promoting, or your sales lag, or the cover they stick you with sucks, you don't have the freedom you have now with KDP or CreateSpace or Smashwords or Kobo or any other self-publishing medium to revise, price, tinker, repackage, offer a free promo period, or publish in any way.  You do not own your work.  You have no say.  Rights never revert back to you.  Never.

Again, the Dick-and-Jane version: RH wants you to write a book for them, to pay them to edit, format, publish and promote it, and you will trust them to count the beans and split the profits with you after they skim out their costs.  And they keep the rights forever--your baby belongs to them.

Snake oil, anyone?

This may sound fair to an author aspiring to break into publication, but to those of us who have already gone the Indie route know that there it's not that hard to format your work using everyday word-processing software, that eBook conversion software is free, there are many artists eager to do a book cover for a reasonable fee, and good editorial services are becoming more and more economical as the traditional publishing houses continue to implode from poor decisions and the pressure of the eBook / Indie movement.

The costs of publishing an eBook are minimal, running at most to the hundreds of dollars--why on earth would you give up your child for that price?  And why would you give the publisher half--after costs--when Amazon lets you keep 70%, and you can do what the hell you want with your stuff whenever you want?

This looks like an isolated incident, but it's not.  It's part of the growing trend of predatory practices around the eBook and self-publishing explosion; everyone wants a slice of the pie, but not everyone wants to earn it.   Self-pub authors deserve every penny for their works, for as long as they live; they are doing the heavy lifting.  But new authors drawn into the business by the publicity of the industry's success may not be savvy enough to avoid the pitfalls that are starting to spring up, traps laid by greedy publishing houses that missed the first wave of success because they had their heads . . . in the sand, and want to get on the board now--at your expense.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  I urge all of you to mentor new authors entering the biz, and to watch your own backs as well.  There are some legitimate digital publishers out there, and some successful Indie authors have signed careful contracts with the publishing houses, and the so-called hybrids; but Hydra and friends ain't one of them.

Let's cut off every one of the monster's heads, before we're playing Whack-a-Mole

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