And people wonder why the industry is in the shape it’s in

This past Sunday my critique group met and, as usual, we talked about what’s going on in publishing. One of the topics we discussed was something Kate brought up in her post last week: Archway Publishing. In case you missed Kate’s post, Archway most definitely isn’t a publisher I’d recommend any author go running to. In fact, I suggest you run far and fast in the opposite direction from it. But that was just the tip of the iceberg in news from an industry that is, frankly, trying to tread water as it attempts to figure out how to survive in the digital age. Unfortunately, its efforts aren’t doing anything but keeping the bean counters afloat a bit longer. The backwash from its efforts are drowning, metaphorically speaking, authors and readers who still think they can trust legacy publishers.

I won’t spend much time on Archway because Kate did such a great job discussing it. However, here is the basic information. Archway is the demon child of an agreement between Simon & Schuster and the infamous Author Solutions. Read this article from Let’s Get Digital for more information about some of the red flags this new venture is raising. Be sure to follow the links in the article as well. If that’s not enough to make you pause before even considering submitting to Archway, remember the old adage: money flows to the author, not from the author. Don’t get blinded by the offer of 50% royalty. That comes only AFTER you have paid for your “publishing package”, a package that will cost you at least $1,999 — and that’s without the additional editorial, premium cover and layout design, etc., they will try to sell you. Ask yourself how many books you’ll have to sell just to break even. So run, don’t walk, as far and as fast as you can away from this new venture.

In the Better Late Than Never Department, Barnes & Noble has finally expanded its PubIt (and that is still a stupid name) program across the ocean. PubIt has finally found its way to the United Kingdom. If you already have e-books for sale through PubIt and stated that you have worldwide rights, it was automatically put on sale in the UK. Pricing will be automatically calculated based on your US sales price unless you click off the box telling it to do just that. While I understand BN’s desire not to rush into anything, the fact that it is so far behind in coming to the UK, much less other overseas markets, makes me wonder if they are still looking at digital sales as something of an anomaly that will go away if you wait long enough.

Then there is the next entry into the Do They Really Think We’re That Dumb Department. In the wake of their announcement that they will be merging with Penguin, Random House has announced the launch of three new digital only imprints. Alibi (which has the worst logo ever. Whoever thought a magnifying glass turned with the handle facing the bottom left would make someone think of an “a” needs to have their eyes checked.) will be the new mystery imprint. Hydra is the new science fiction/fantasy imprint and Flirt the new imprint for “college age New Adult audiences”. We won’t even go into the “new adult” tag. These three imprints join Loveswept, the romance digital imprint.

The reason I tagged this announcement as the latest in the DTRTWTD Department is multi-fold. Let’s start with their announcement of the new imprints. How many PR types were involved in getting the right level of rah-rah-rah before this was sent out. They are “excited to launch three new digital imprints, alongside the existing digital imprint LOVESWEPT, that will feed today’s savvy readers by bringing the best, the boldest, and the newest voices directly to them . . . this digital-only program will seek out the best and brightest names in the next generation of authors, enabling us to cultivate a team of writers in the publishing world’s most prolific and lively genres.  The format will allow us to publish more quickly and to nimbly embrace what’s new in each genre, delivering exciting, fresh, and varied new works every month directly to the digital devices of today’s most eager readers.   Dedicated to affordable, accessible, and accomplished genre fiction, these four imprints will have unprecedented potential, both in terms of breadth and scope.”

Oh, and every book will be assigned to “an accomplished Random House editor and a dedicated publicist. They will also have the invaluable support of Random House’s experienced marketing and digital sales teams, who know how to reach out to and expand each book’s dedicated readership. Not only will authors benefit from working with the finest cover designers to ensure irresistibly eye-catching books, but they will also be offered the unique advantage of social media tools and training that will allow them to connect directly with their readers.”

Now, excuse me for a moment while I laugh hysterically. Am I the only one who “hears” more than a touch of panic in those words. Random House is one of the Big Six, soon to be Big Five. It is one of the publishers that has continued to try to bail sea water out of its leaky row boat in the middle of the digital revolution. But now, it is going to be on the cutting edge of the revolution and will welcome with open arms the newest and brightest of authors into its fold. Gag.

I’ll admit I’m a cynic. As I read the bit about the accomplished editor and dedicated publicist, I laughed. Ask most any author currently under contract with RH about their publicist. Heck, ask about what sort of publicity their books receive and almost every one of them will tell you there is no promotion. So is it any wonder I find it hard to believe RH is going to actually have promotion for this new line?

My cynicism grew with the bit about working with cover designers and being “offered the unique advantage of social media tools and training”. That sounds like so many of the ways companies like Publish America and Author Solutions manage to get money out of authors that it has my internal alarm sounding loud and long. Note that RH says authors will be “offered” these advantages, not that they are part of the program. I may be wrong but it sounds hinky to me.

You can check out their submissions process here. Note that the general submissions page says they invite “queries”. Also note that they define “short content” as being between 15,000 and 30,000 words. What had me scratching my head was how they say novel-length content is “customarily” defined as being between 40,000 – 60,000 words. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a heck of a long time since I’ve seen a SF/Fantasy novel at a mere 60,000 words. Some romances, yes. But even mysteries are running 70 – 80,000 words still, especially if the author is hoping for print editions.

I checked out the submission link for Hydra, the sf/f imprint. It was pretty much as expected. There are boxes for you to fill out with your name, title of the book, length of the book, etc. They want to know if the book is finished. You can include up to 1,500 words of your work along with the query letter. There is also a space for you to give the book blurb. There are two boxes that caught my attention. The first is where it asks if you have an agent. Folks, if you have an agent, you’d better be darned sure of your contract with them before you submit to any publisher on your own. If your contract is such that they represent everything you write, then you need to be letting them submit your work wherever. At least make them earn their cut of your earnings.

The second box that caught my eye was where RH asks for your publishing history. Now, at first glance, this isn’t anything untoward. Why wouldn’t a publisher want to know if you have anything else out there. But then the cynic in me kicked in again. Are they asking to see if you have a history of being able to finish work and get it into the hands of readers? Or are they asking so they can check your Bookscan numbers to see if you have sold enough to make it worth their while to publish you? Or, even worse, are they asking because they don’t want to work with an author who has had the audacity to self-publish? Remember folks, there are documented cases of authors being dropped by their publishers because they self-published works completely unrelated to what they had sold to the publisher.

Reading through the FAQ also raises some concerns. Because there is no sample of their contract language, the issue of what rights they’d want if they accept your manuscript comes into play. You’d think since this is a digital only imprint, they’d be interested only in digital rights. Don’t bet on it, not when one FAQ entry notes “While most of our titles will be published exclusively in digital to start, some may find a home in print as well.” I’d bet this means their contract will tie up not only digital rights but print — and all other rights — as well. So, if you do submit to them and you are offered a contract, have an IP attorney read it closely.

Another red flag for me is that there is nothing that I’ve seen on the site that discusses contract terms or royalty rates. Oh, the announcement notes that the titles published under these new imprints will be affordable and accessible to readers but it doesn’t give an estimated price range. Nor does it discuss if DRM will be applied. There are a lot of unanswered questions so far and, based on RH’s history, I’m not convinced this is anything more than another way for them to try to line their own pockets at the expense of readers and authors. So, if you choose to take this path, beware and don’t sign anything without reading it very closely.

As I said, I’m a cynic. That means I tend to look at these “wonderful and earth shattering” announcement from legacy publishers with a jaundiced eye. The choice is yours to decide if you want to go this route — either with the new imprints from RH or with Archway. If you do go that way, please make sure you protect yourself by having an IP attorney go over anything they send you to sign. Most of all, remember that money is supposed to flow to the author from the publisher and not the other way. Determine how long and how many books you’d have to sell to make back the investment if you are asked to pay for publishing services.

8 Comments

Filed under E-books, publishing

8 responses to “And people wonder why the industry is in the shape it’s in

  1. TXRed

    Has anyone else eaten Archway brand cookies? That’s what Archway Publishing makes me think of – cheap, tasteless, over-advertised baked goods. Great move, PR department! *eyeroll*

  2. It’s almost tempting to apply, and see what sort of response they send back. Hmm, pen names. Various answers to publishing history questions, see what they’re fishing for. And what their contract looks like.

    • Pam, I’ve thought the same thing. I still might. It would be interesting to see what happens and then report back on it. Hmmmmmm.

      • 'nother Mike

        Isn’t that how… what was that “book” that got created by a group of fans and submitted to Publish America? Who promptly offered to publish it? Ah! Atlanta Nights! That was it.

      • It also reminds me of the author who sent in one of Jane Austen’s works — “Emma,” I think it was, but am not sure — to see if Austen could get published in today’s market. He found out that the answer was “no.” (And it wasn’t recognized, either, as Austen.)

        This probably doesn’t surprise you much, Amanda. But at the time, I was very surprised that they didn’t at least *recognize* Jane Austen’s style as it’s quite distinctive.

        At any rate, thanks for an illuminating and insightful post. These two enterprises both say — scream, really — “A sucker is born every minute.” So I do hope that savvy authors will give these entities a wide berth.

        • 'nother Mike

          Savvy authors… that’s the real problem, isn’t it? The “naive” author, dewy-eyed and looking for someone to publish their first work, stumbles into these operations, and like the fellow at the guessing game in the county fair, soon finds that his pockets have been emptied while he was coming so close, just one more try… and then he tells everyone what a bum deal publishing is. How do we help that naive author find Naked Reader and other places that can really help them?

          • I honestly don’t know. All we can do is discuss the problem and hope that a Web search will bring up at least some of the various blog posts — including Amanda’s cogent ones — that are out there.

            I know I had to talk my niece out of PA a few years ago; fortunately she listened and self-published elsewhere (with Lulu). That way, she wasn’t ripped off.

            With self-publishing a much more realistic option now, maybe at least some of those folks will self-publish via Amazon or B&N or Kobe (Apple platform?). Then they’ll get a much bigger percentage and won’t have to put up with utter nonsense.

            But as you say, they’re naive and aren’t really thinking about that at the time. So I don’t know.