Thursday, April 3, 2008

Harper Collins' Radical New Imprint

Writers: NYT reports that book publisher Harper Collins plans a an offshoot imprint that will eliminate author advances and instead directly share profits with authors; and eliminate bookstore returns that turn unsold books into pulp. It''ll be publishing cheaper books, and digital's the whole story. Don't celebrate yet: Harper Collins is owned by News Corp., owned by Rupert Murdoch. He doesn't plan to lose money.

If because Hemingway got advances, you think you should too, please know that for the past 15 years most books, records, and even Hollywood films have been officially profitless -- for the writers and artists. Publishers may give an advance, but creative accounting ensures that authors don't get royalties -- normally 10 to 15 percent of any profits. I co-authored a book that sold 6,000 English-language copies, plus a publisher in Lisbon bought the Portuguese rights and published and sold the book over there. Our publisher's advance was $3500 (you do the math); officially, our book came in $42 short of making back its advance. Figures like that will make you crazy. Hemingway was not a happy camper.

I'm all for simplifying; but more so I'm for joining the musicians in creating our own independent fair-trade imprints and beating Murdoch at his own game. If you have another idea, please share it! Transitional periods are great for seizing the advantage. We're the creative ones!


  1. As a novelist who's published both traditionally (via Harlequin) and with a small e-pub (Hard Shell Word Factory), I can tell you that online sales are a miniscule part of my income. If bookstores refuse to carry my book because returns are not allowed (and refuse they will) I will be looking at a paltry return on my investment of time in writing that book. My e-book pub is fairly generous with royalties--how likely is it that Harper Collins will be so magnanimous?

    Regarding authors creating a fair-trade arrangement amongst themselves, it's lovely in theory. But book sales are driven by distribution. We could create the fairest, most fabulous contract for writers ever conceived. But if we can't get books into the hands of readers, it will all come to naught. I, for one, don't write only for the pleasure of seeing a book in print. I also write to get paid.

  2. Good to hear from someone with experience. Small publishers can use the big distributors, and they do. Bookstore shelf life is now "about the same as yogurt," 90 days max. That may be enough of a window for genre fiction but literary writers need an alternative. The future of literary work I think will be digital.