There was a very interesting post put up yesterday by Ann Peterson on J.A. Konrath’s blog about why she left Harlequin Publishing. You can read it here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/harlequin-fail.html. She highlights some very unsettling information with regard to royatlies, and there’s even more worthy info in the comments section from other Harlequin authors. It’s definitely worth the read.
The post is about why she has decided to go to self-publishing, and the gist of her argument is that she just can’t afford not too. A breakdown on her royalty numbers for one of her books indicated that she was getting a mere 2.4% royalty per copy. Harelquin’s stated royalty rate on category books, of which this book was one, is 6%. So, how does this kind of discrepancy occur? One of the main reasons is a little known method through which the books get sold. Harlequin licenses out the book to by sold by a third party, and they take a fair chunk of the change from the book. The problem? Harlequin owns this company. So they get to keep their fair share while the author gets less than theirs. Is it any wonder that the comments in Ann’s post are from a number of other authors who have decided to leave Harlequin to pursue self-publishing?
Now, to be fair, I don’t know all the ins and outs of how and why the publisher functions this way. I imagine there are financial reasons for it that make it more beneficial to them. Is it purposeful with regard to short-changing authors? Probably not, but that is the end result. Frankly, 6% should be 6%, regardless of all the financial wrangling the publisher does to maximize and sell its product. Using Ann’s example, she sold app. 180,000 copies of the book since 2002. She made $20,000. She should have made $45,000 (these are approximate figures). Whatever the publisher reasoning, good or bad, this is a problem.
There is a growing tide of traditionally published authors that are moving to doing it on their own. Ann is fortunate to have a fan base already and I expect will do rather well for herself on her own. If you look through the comments on her post, you will see from some other authors how lopsided the results can be. It’s the difference between making a living and not making a living with your writing.
One particularly disturbing quote I read from someone who was at an RWA conference (romance writer’s association) who asked a Harlequin editor panel about this issue, was told rather bluntly that Harlequin doesn’t expect you to make a living from this. Don’t quit your day job. This is a hobby. Category authors write roughly 3-4 books a year. The time and resource investment necessary to do that does not make writing a hobby. That makes it a full time job and should be compensated as such. I should also point out that there are Harlequin authors who do make a living at this. I know one who was making close to six figures a year. They put out about 5 books a year. This still boggles my mind. That is a LOT of work.
The problem here is, you can’t expect professional, full-time work for hobbyist wages. One of the major issues that the rise in digital publishing has brought up is the problematic publisher-author relationship. It’s not working. If you are selling a product and the producers of the product are not happy with the relationship, it threatens your business. Publishing is an odd business however. Historically, writers have done and will do just about anything to get published. It’s the dream, and on a certain level, crappy terms and payments don’t matter. But now there is another avenue, one that is equally as challenging from an author standpoint, but one that is at least inherently fair. With the option given, who wouldn’t take a fair challenge over an unfair one?
Now, I do understand publishers have much to offer over doing it yourself. It’s a rather large service package you get as a trade-off for lower payment. You’re paying for editing, copy-editing, cover art, distribution, potential foreign sales, potential film/tv options, some marketing/promo. These services cost money. On your own they would cost a lot of money too. It has always been a take it or leave it ballgame, but not any more. Writing to publish with the intent to earn money is not a hobby, and authors should not be treated as though it were. It’s disrespectful to the art and the writer.
As an author, this is an important issue for me. Authors deserve fair and reasonable compensation. I don’t expect publishers to be finagling their methods to short-change me on that aspect. If we agree to 6% of the cover price as royalty, then it better damn well be 6% on my royalty statement. This is not an unreasonable expectation. Personally I want publishers to succeed. I like what they offer. I’m all for the full-service package so I can write stories and not worry about how and when I’m going to invest in all of the other elements of publishing. I don’t want to have to do that. It’s a lot of work just to produce a good story in the first place, and I would love nothing more than make a reasonable living doing so. Publishers, this is not too much to ask. Figure it out, please.