Doubts About a Diatribe – Playing the Devil’s Advocate for the Publishing Industry

FYI, the next few Mon/Wed updates are probably going to be a bit on the short side. I’m getting entrenched in writing mode for the blog tour and I have a lot of work to do on the next book.

Now, on to today’s topic!

One thing I wanted to mention, as I have seen a number of people retweeting and talking about this in the writing world, is that no one held a gun to Ann Voss Peterson’s head. She didn’t have to write 25 books for Harlequin. If she really didn’t like her royalty rates that much, she was under no obligation to keep working for them from 2000-2011–unless there is some exclusivity clause in the Harlequin contract I’m not aware of, which could put a slightly different spin on this. Also, she could have exercised her audit clause in her contract at any time to ensure the figures were being calculated correctly. Complaining about the rates like this is in very poor taste considering Harlequin apparently launched her career.

You don’t sign on to Harlequin for the huge royalty percentage, you sign on to get the exposure of the Harlequin brand name (which is something to take into account if you ever decide to try to publish with them). As Jackie Barbosa said in the comments on a Dear Author article:

So, all in all, Harlequin has a lot to offer authors who write these kinds of books. The Presents line, in particular, sells very, very well. I believe in May, all six of the titles released in the US hit the USA Today list. For some authors, those kinds of odds might be worth the trade-off in royalty rates and other terms.

Also, Ms. Peterson’s “woe is me” attitude about the money she made doesn’t add up. I’m going to talk out of my ass for a moment and speculate using the information to hand, but even if she made an average of $10K per novel (basing this theoretical figure upon her $20K as the high end, with the $6K advance and earning out on every single novel), at 25 novels, that comes out to a ballpark of $250,000.

My numbers are totally theoretical. I'm using guesswork based off of the information to hand. Use at your own risk. No warranty express or implied. Yadda yadda.

This post is what we refer to as “burning bridges” and “biting the hand that feeds”. What if some terrific opportunity had come up to work with Harlequin again in the future? What about other publishers who might have considered working with her before, and on much more favorable terms, but now may not because of her airing her disputes so publicly?

Not that I feel that someone should sit on their disagreements if they have them, or keep genuine issues in the dark, but there is no sense of responsibility or accountability for this situation that I can detect in this woman’s post. In addition, by adding his own thoughts at the end, Mr. Konrath seems to be doing his best to make it appear that all publishers are horrible (they aren’t) and are all trying to bilk their authors out of their hard-earned royalties (where is the proof?).

Not to say that Harlequin hasn’t had anything to answer for. They are not perfect, and their royalty rates do appear to be abysmal. However, as I mentioned:

A) She signed the contracts of her own free will, so it’s a bit silly to attempt to hold the company accountable for something she didn’t agree with after the fact because “she didn’t know it would be like that” (DO. YOUR. RESEARCH.); and,

B) She could have exercised her audit clause in her contract to ensure she was being paid correctly; and,

C) She was not under any obligation to continue writing for them if she didn’t like the pay or how she was being treated, and should have brought her concerns about the financial end of things to her agent to explore other publishing options and/or stopped signing contracts for new books with them/had her agent negotiate better terms once she became established.

Agents are not only the people who get you your book deal—they are supposed to be your leg up in the industry, your advisor, and your champion. When you have questions about where your career is going, or think something doesn’t seem quite right, your agent is supposed to be the person to give you guidance in these matters. (Not the person to make decisions on your behalf, but to help give you some direction and make sure that whatever deal they negotiate is in your best interest—or inform you when it isn’t.)

Relying on your agent for this isn’t the be-all/end-all of your publishing career. You should definitely think for yourself in these matters, and never sign a legal document without first reading and ensuring you understand it.

You are responsible for what you sign. No one grabs your hand and forces you to scrawl your signature on the dotted line. You can cry foul later if someone actually does something underhanded and sneaky, or violates the terms of your contract, but after having 25 books in over a decade all published with the same house, I sincerely doubt the veracity of her argument.

While I do wish her the best of luck with her self-publishing venture, I can guarantee you that she will have an easier time finding success (not that this is guaranteed) than someone who is going the self-pub route straight out of the gate. For anyone reading her story and planning to watch how she does to use her as a measuring stick of some kind, and thinks that her post and Konrath’s opinion are good enough reasons to dive straight into self-publishing, I would like to remind you that she has a “built in” audience. People may have seen her name on the shelves before or read her traditionally pubbed books, and became fans, and will now follow her no matter what publishing platform she uses (self, vanity, indie, or traditional). Let us not forget that she is now going to be shouldering all of the expenses inherent in self-publishing (promotion, marketing, setting up distribution, paying for cover art/design and editing, etc) that were formerly handled by Harlequin.

Also, while I believe Mr. Konrath has given some good advice on the nuts and bolts of self publishing in the past, I find his diatribes against what he calls “legacy” publishing houses (such as the Big 6) to be very one-sided and full of hyperbole. Calling them names (“Publishing pinheads”? Really?) only undermines his arguments and makes his statements come across as sulky and childish, and reeks of sour grapes. This is not a measured, reasoned argument, but a name-calling session that is not backed up by straight facts. Any sympathy I had for Ms. Peterson vanished after reading Mr. Konrath’s “addendum” to her post at the end.

Entering in opinions is fine as long as one clearly labels them as such, and doesn’t attempt to muddy the waters further by adding one’s own new, invented words and definitions to apply to industry terms. Mr. Konrath is not solely responsible for this, I am sure, but seeing as he poses himself as a “self-publishing guru” and new/aspiring authors look up to him, in my opinion it is deceitful and a huge disservice to call self-publishing and vanity publishing “indie” (they are not) and calling established publishing companies “legacy” or “traditional” in an attempt to belittle their image to people who don’t know any better.

While Konrath is a self-publishing success, he is one of very few, is not solely self-published (considering he had a book picked up by Hyperion and now publishes with Amazon), and what worked for him may not work for others. Bear this in mind and please, please, please, think for yourself and don’t use him as a sole source of information about the publishing industry or self-publishing. Take anything you read from an industry insider—-even my blog posts-—with a boulder-sized grain of salt, but don’t use us as your only source of information. Talk to people who are successful and unsuccessful to see what they do wrong/right, read industry articles, know your options, and decide for yourself what you want out of this business. Having a lot of followers doesn’t make someone right, it only means they are loud enough that plenty of people hear them.

Publishing, like every other aspect of the entertainment industry, is not easy to break into professionally. Even when you do, it is not a guarantee of success. Trying to make it on your own, without the backing of a professional organization that knows how to market and leverage your talents, is even harder.

With that in mind, whenever possible, try to look at things from every angle. Ask questions if you need to, and don’t be afraid to put the hard ones to people who should be able to give you the answers you need. Don’t agree with someone’s opinion about this industry because it seems “popular” to do so. Agree because you observe for yourself that what they are saying is truth.

Use your head. Be smart about this business. And take responsibility for your own decisions and actions.

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  • Chris Fellows

    No idea what this article was about but that tiger picture is hysterical. It shall become my new wallpaper. Just kidding. About reading, not the tiger. It’s as will.I.am would say seriously dope. Well spoken as usual. It never amazes me when people bite the hand that feeds them. If you don’t like the food, go somewhere else, don’t bitch about the chef. No wonder I like animals more than some people.

    /thedoctor1971

  • http://www.cassicarver.com Cassi Carver

    Great points, Jess! I haven’t read the original post you mentioned, but I’m eager to read it now. You picked the absolute best pictures. Sooo cute. :)

  • http://ktgrant.com KB/KT Grant

    All great points. Writers need to be smart, do their research and keep their eye on what’s going on.

  • Jess

    Thanks for stopping by, guys. Yeah, I think it’s important for every writer to do their research before jumping into making any kind of decision when it comes to getting published.

    And LOL, thanks Cassi. :) I love those pics, too!

    <3,
    -J