Writer Beware and SFWA Blast Random House Hydra Imprint Terms

Random House recently announced new digital imprints for science fiction (Hydra), mystery (Alibi) and new adult (Flirt) and now that the standard terms have become public knowledge Random House is catching flak. Victoria Strauss, in a blog post at Writer Beware, has outlined the standard terms of the contract:

– It’s a life-of-copyright contract that includes both primary and subsidiary rights. 

– There’s no advance. Net proceeds (defined as net income plus
subrights income less the deductions detailed below) are split 50/50 between author and publisher.

– Deductions for ebook edition: “one-time out of  pocket title set up costs” (editing, cover art, design, etc.), plus a “sales, marketing, and publicity fee” of 10% of net sales revenue.

– Deductions for print edition, if there is one: “actual direct out-of-pocket paper, printing and binding costs,” plus 6% of gross sales revenue to cover freight and warehousing costs.

Digital Book World has quoted the SFWA’s response to those terms as:

contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable.

The SFWA went on to deem the imprint as one that would not qualify authors for membership in the organization. (The SWFA bases membership terms around publication through venues they deem of professional quality, and so Hydra is effectively considered unprofessional by the organization.)

The terms for the Alibi and Flirt’s imprints don’t appear to be public at this time but authors should be cautious there as well given the lines were announced together. Also, note that Random House’s pre-existing romance digital imprint Loveswept does appear to offer advances so it remains at least possible that each line is making its own decisions and may need to be evaluated separately.

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3 thoughts on “Writer Beware and SFWA Blast Random House Hydra Imprint Terms

  1. Why am I continually astonished by the lengths to which (allegedly mainstream) publishers will go to screw unsuspecting writers? Maybe a naivete’ pill automatically accompanies our first finished manuscript. This kind of crap only reinforces my decision to indie publish.

    • It’s quite an odd turn. The industry has been hurling scorn at vanity publishing companies and tactics for decades and then in the past two years they’ve started duplicating their most abusive tactics (or buying them outright and rebranding them as “self-publishing” companies.)

      I’m fine with no advance. I’m fine with lifetime of copyright (assuming there’s a reasonable reversion clause which Scalzi has failed to discuss). I’m fine with what they call “profit sharing” but which is in fact just a 50/50 split of revenue. What is completely unacceptable is charging the author on the back end for nebulous costs incurred as part of the normal business of publishing. “Hey, we owe this author five grand so let’s just release a paper version on his dime and make us some more money.” And then of course gobbling up every conceivable right is an overreach that needs to be negotiated back toward some kind of equity. Novelists have it rough–short fiction has never been such a minefield contractually.

  2. This is yet another reason I self publish; I wonder if alleged ‘agents’ will try to pass off these imprints as traditional publishers. I spent a year chasing down agents, too; it was a waste of my time. There is an amusing side to this situation, though; after constantly deprecating various Self- Publishing venues, at least one of the A-List publishing companies comes up with their own version with draconian terms and no real guarantee of proactive service. Beware Big Publishing Houses…Smashwords is here!!

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