A Disappointing Turn Indeed

I was twenty years old when an established author first explained to me how the process of publishing fiction worked.

Pause.

Okay, I’ve just written and deleted seven paragraphs–all running in different directions–that could logically follow that first sentence.  Those paragraphs are for another time.

The paragraph for this time:
In the two decades since, I’ve had the opportunity to hear from, read about, and befriend writers, as well as chat at length with editors and agents.  The one constant between all professionals was the claim that real publishers weren’t like the scam publishers.  Scam publishers charged huge up-front fees for substandard work.  Scam publishers offered egregious contracts and preyed upon ignorant writers who either didn’t know better, and wanted their books out too badly to care.  Scam publishers belonged in the literary slums, scorned and mocked by Real publishers.

If you haven’t already seen it, go check out John Scalzi‘s take on the contract terms for Alibi, an imprint of Random House.  Yes, Random House.

Then take a look at the report from blogger April Hamilton who received a letter from Simon & Schuster asking her to help them out with marketing.  S&S partnered with Author Services back in November, and now they want “affiliates” to refer new writers to their overpriced “self-publishing” services.  And what do the affiliates get?  A “bounty” of $100 per signed author.  Can you imagine being asked–by a “respectable” major publishing house–to make money off fellow writers who don’t know any better?

I should probably be angry about all that.  In truth, I’m just saddened.  Disappointed.  But, oddly enough, not surprised.

The question now is how the lines between real and scam shall be defined.  Me, I can’t see how real and scam can be sibling imprints in the same publisher.

I am all for successful business models.  But an industry shouldn’t stake a claim to prestige with one hand, then participate in practices they’ve derided in the past with the other.  They certainly can make the claim, but it’ll only stick if everyone agrees to ignore what that other hand is doing.

ETA: Here’s the link to the Writer Beware take on the Random House response about Hydra/Alibi contracts.   Victoria Strauss mentions, in contrast to John Scalzi, that life-of-copyright contracts are the industry standard.  Yep.  One of the points so many people found absolutely unbelievable when Hydra does it is reportedly done by everyone!  That’s one of the many, many reasons I like retaining control over my work.

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2 thoughts on “A Disappointing Turn Indeed”

  1. My brain knows there must still be good, honest publishers out there — and there are certainly good, honest editors (who have no control over what the corporate side of the biz does) — but… it sure sounds like they’re getting thin on the ground.

    As a self-publisher, I know I’ll probably labor in obscurity until they carry me out in a body bag, but at least I’m not getting raped.

  2. I agree the good ones are out there. Alas, they’re being hurt in so many ways by the creeping spread of hydras and alibis.

    We share the same feelings about self-publishing–though obscurity is relative, and “well-known” varies from social circle to circle. Moving between folks I know in trad publishing and self-publishing, I’m often surprised at what information and knowledge is not shared across the lines.

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