When Random House launched 3 new digital-only imprints (Hydra, Alibi, and Flirt) last fall there was little information which could shed light on how they would be run. But if there is any truth to a letter the SFWA sent out to their members today then I think RH has a vanity press on their hands.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is now warning their members that any title published by one of the imprint, Hydra, would no longer be counted by the SFWA as a legitimately published work (more on this after the letter):
Dear SFWA Member:
SFWA has determined that works published by Random House’s electronic imprint Hydra can not be use as credentials for SFWA membership, and that Hydra is not an approved market. Hydra fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable.
Hydra contracts also require authors to pay – through deductions from royalties due the authors – for the normal costs of doing business that should be borne by the publisher.
Hydra contracts are also for the life-of-copyright and include both primary and subsidiary rights. Such provisions are unacceptable.
At this time, Random House’s other imprints continue to be qualified markets.
Note: There's no information on the website for these 4 imprints that confirms the terms that Random House offers to authors, but there is a post on the Writer Beware Blog that lists basically the same terms and provides more details that reveal the contract is even worse than it first appears:
- It's a life-of-copyright contract that includes both primary and subsidiary rights.
- There's no advance. Net proceeds (defined as net income plus subrights income less the deductions detailed below) are split 50/50 between author and publisher.
- Deductions for ebook edition: "one-time out of pocket title set up costs" (editing, cover art, design, etc.), plus a "sales, marketing, and publicity fee" of 10% of net sales revenue.
- Deductions for print edition, if there is one: "actual direct out-of-pocket paper, printing and binding costs," plus 6% of gross sales revenue to cover freight and warehousing costs.
Update: John Scalzi got his hands on a contract from RH Alibi, and it is just as bad as the RH Hydra contract mentioned above.
So why is this a big deal? Well, you could look at the contract terms and be appalled, but the letter itself is an act of censure.
It has no real legal effect, but the market effect could be profound. The SFWA has stated, as a professional trade group, that the Random House Hydra imprint does not meet their standards of conduct for business ethics and that authors should not do business with RH Hydra.
Any title published by RH Hydra won't count towards the the 3 short stories, 1 novel, or 1 screenplay that a writer must sell before becoming a member of the SFWA.
To put it simply, RH Hydra is now on the SFWA's shit list. And that is a big deal.
This doesn't happen very often, and the last time I know that a major publisher was censured was back in 2009. The RWA (Romance Writers of America) put Harlequin on their negotia non grata list after the publisher launched Harlequin Horizons.
Harlequin has always been a trendsetter, and in launching Harlequin Horizons (since renamed DellArte Press) this publisher was one of the first major publishers to directly take advantage of self-published authors by launching a vanity press. Like S&S-Archway or Penguin India-Partridge, Harlequin Horizons was owned by a respectable publisher but was (and still is) actually run by Author Solutions.
Harlequin was censured back in 2009 simply because Harlequin signed a deal with Author Solutions. The censure appears to have been lifted when Harlequin Horizons was renamed and any mention of Harlequin was removed from the site.
Don't you wish the SFWA had done the same for all of Random House? I do.
In any case, Random House Hydra is officially on the naughty list.