Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Harlequin Fail

This is a guest post by my friend Ann Voss Peterson. But it's more than that. It's a call to arms, a cautionary tale, and a scathing exposé.

Don't believe it can be all those things? Read on...

Ann: In this world, there are a lot of things I can't afford to do. A trip around the world, for instance, although it would be amazing. Remodeling my kitchen. And until recently, sadly, braces for my son.

There's one more thing that I find valuable and enjoyable that I can no longer afford to do, and that is write for Harlequin.

I published my first novel with Harlequin's Intrigue line in August of 2000. My twenty-fifth was released in November, 2011. I had a lot of fun writing those books--taut, page-turning, action-packed romantic suspense staring a myriad of different heroes and heroines and a boatload of delicious villains. I had four editors during that time, and all of them were great to work with. The senior editor has a strong vision for the line, and that vision appeals to readers all over the world. My books were in bookstores and Target and WalMart, and my office overflows with foreign copies from countries I've never visited. I have around three million books in print, and Harlequin throws the best parties in all of publishing, hands down.

But as lovely as all that is, I can't afford to write for them anymore.


If you do a (very) little digging into publishing companies, you'll discover that while the industry standard royalty rate for mass market paperback sales is 8% for US retail, Harlequin pays its series authors only 6%.

The royalty goes down from there.

All Harlequin series authors know that US retail royalties are going to be lower than industry standard going in. We also know that Harlequin pays rather low advances. My largest and most current advance was only $6,500 per book, but here's the kicker; the books are widely distributedand sell a lot of copies. I have NEVER failed to earn out in my first royalty statement. That's right, ALL of my books have earned out and then some.

So why can't I afford to write for them any longer?

Let me share with you the numbers of a book I wrote that was first published in January, 2002, still one of my favorites. My life-to-date statement says this book has sold 179,057 copies so far, and it has earned $20,375.22. (bold text by Joe) That means the average I've earned is a whopping 11 cents per copy. If you use the cover price to calculate (the number used in the contract), which was $4.50 at the time of release, I've earned an AVERAGE of 2.4 % per copy.

Why is this?

First, while most of my books are sold in the US, many are sold under lower royalty rates in other countries. In this particular contract, some foreign rights and -ALL ebook royalties- are figured in a way that artificially reduces net by licensing the book to a "related licensee," in other words, a company owned by Harlequin itself.

Harlequin uses the Wholesale Model (not the Agency Model) with retailers, including Amazon. So the money Harlequin receives is determined by the list price, and retailers can set any price for the consumer that they want. This is how the numbers break down when Retailer X lists the ebook for $4.00 (doesn't matter what they sell it for).

Retailer – $2.00 (any discounts are taken from this amount)
Harlequin's related licensee – $1.88
Harlequin - $.06
Author - $.06

So Harlequin makes a total of 1.94, and I make .06.

Six cents is 1.5% of the list price of $4.00. It is 7.7% of what most publishers define as net earnings, (in this example $1.94).

To make things worse, the reversion clause is also onerous. It requires the book to be totally out of print everywhere in the world in every format for 5-7 years before an author can request reversion. After the request is made, Harlequin has another 18 months to release the book in any format anywhere in the world, and it gets to keep the rights. The book in my example is not eligible for reversion because it was issued as an ebook in Spain in 2009; a license which has earned me a total of 33 cents according to my most recent royalty statement.

So why publish with Harlequin in the first place?

In the past, Harlequin brought a lot of value to the table. Like I said at the beginning of this post, my books are in the big box stores. My books are published all over the world. Harlequin's paper distribution is valuable. Another value is the Harlequin brand, probably the only publisher that readers recognize and seek out. But distribution doesn't matter with ebooks. And while Harlequin does have its own community and ebook store, they have yet to show their brand sells ebooks. I have sixteen Intrigues available digitally, and my independently-published books consistently outsell all of them (a fact made even more dramatic if you figure out how many more Harlequins they would have to sell for me in order to equal the amount I make with the indie books).

Harlequin has offered an amendment to the ebook clause of past contracts. It raises the ebook royalty to 20% of net for US, English language ebooks. However they refuse to define net in the contract, among other problems, making it impossible to determine whether the amendment is a better deal for the author or not, and as a result I have not signed.

In the end, all these points make my business decision of choosing a publisher clear. The 70% and 35% rates offered by Amazon and others are a better deal than 6% of cover price, 2.4% of average cover-price-based earnings, 1.5% of cover price and even 7.7% of what most publishers define as net earnings. I might not sell 179,000 copies of a book, but in ten years (the length of time they've had that 2002 book, ACCESSORY TO MARRIAGE), that number is more than possible. And if you look at the money instead of the number of copies, I need only sell 10,000 copies of a $2.99 book to reach 20K.

Now to be fair, I have many books I want to write that don't fit Harlequin's publishing program, like the CODENAME: CHANDLER stories I'm writing with Joe and my new solo novel PUSHED TOO FAR, which has some romantic elements but is a thriller. However I like writing romantic suspense, and when I write another, I won't send it to Intrigue, because now I have a choice.

It comes down to a business decision. I can choose to write for Harlequin (high paper distribution/low royalty rates) or some other New York publisher (likely hit-or-miss paper distribution/slightly less low royalty rates)—or I can have my son's teeth straightened.

For me, that choice is a no brainer.

Joe sez: I met Ann a few years ago at a writing convention. She's a terrific writer, and has a better grasp of story structure than nearly anyone I've encountered in this business.

The way she's been treated by Harlequin is disgusting.

Even worse, it isn't just Ann being treated this way. Harlequin has been screwing romance writers for decades. Some of the most prolific authors on the planet write for Harlequin, and they're forced to be prolific because the only way to make a living is to pump out multiple books as fast as they can.

Since discussing numbers with Ann years ago, I've been appalled by her tiny income versus her worldwide reach. She's outsold me in paper by at least a factor of 5 to 1. Yet there hasn't been a single year we've both been in the biz that I haven't earned at least triple what she has, while writing fewer books.

Something that disgusts me even more, not only in Ann's case but in the case of all writers being bled by Harlequin's company store, is the fact that they can't get away.

There have been some notable exceptions. Romance authors who managed to escape Harlequin's stranglehold and eventually become huge bestsellers. I'm friends with many of these ladies. While they admit they're doing much better financially with their current publishers, they each acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Harlequin for giving them their start.

Sorry, but that's just awful. They were used and treated unfairly, and their books caught on so they were able to make the leap to higher royalties. But you really shouldn't thank the company that subjugated you.

Naturally, Harlequin lauds these successes and rereleases these authors' old backlists (which it still controls) with new covers, confusing their new fans. Many readers have been burned thinking it is a new thriller release, only to find out it is a misleading repackaging of an old romance, which leads to one star reviews and hate email, and the authors can't do a thing about it. Nor can they get better royalty rates on these old titles, which are piggybacking off their recent successes.

Harlequin wants all writers working for them to believe: "Someday, if I work hard, I'll be as big as (insert any Top 10 NYT bestseller here who once worked for Harlequin.)"

But here's the kicker. In order to put food on the table, Ann and her peers have to turn out books quickly, leaving them ZERO TIME to write that standalone which could break them out.

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.

Now, it took a great deal of guts for Ann to leave Harlequin and become a fulltime self-published author. It also took a lot of guts for her to write this guest blog at my request.

But that's Ann. She has guts. Her terrific self-published ebook thriller, PUSHED TOO FAR, is going to be free for the next few days. Download a copy. You'll love it. Tell everyone you know to also download it.  Retweet this, help me spread the word. I really want to see PUSHED TOO FAR rocket up the freebie list and hit the Top 100.

Unfortunately, many authors aren't as brave as Ann. They won't give up a guaranteed paycheck, no matter how small, for the uncertain risk of going it alone.

Even as hundreds of authors bemoan their treatment by Harlequin (the single biggest group who thank me for preaching about self-pubbing are romance authors), there are still newbie authors by the scores eager to sign with Harlequin because they don't know any better.

Well, now they know. Link to this blog, post comments, post your own experience, make sure EVERYONE knows that earning 2.4% is unacceptable and that no author will take those miserable terms.

And Harlequin? I challenge you to do right by your authors, and by your own seemingly tiny conscience. Here's some obvious ways you can:

1. The royalty rates of the Big 6 are lousy. Yours are repulsive. Change them. Then backdate those changes and give all of your authors a nice, fat check.

2. Give out-of-print titles back to your authors. I just had a long conversation with a friend of mine (not Ann) whose publisher won't give him his rights back because they state even though they no longer sell the paper copies, they are still selling them in ebook format. WTF? If that's the case, why does every contract have an out of print clause? Show me an ebook that has ever gone out of print! I offered to pay my buddy's legal fees when he sues the hell out of those assholes, because he'll set the precedent that frees us all. 

3. I'm no lawyer, but licensing rights to yourself and calling it a separate company doesn't seem kosher. I have no horse in this particular race, but I urge those with horses to do something about it.

Harlequin isn't the only one to blame, here. They're a company, interested in making money, so naturally they try to get the best terms.

But shame on the agents who vetted these pitiful, one-sided contracts and then encouraged their authors to accept them. You have consigned thousands of books to a monstrous, voracious black hole. Harlequin NEVER should have been allowed to wield this much power, to control this much of an industry. You could have stopped them, and helped your authors. You didn't. 

Everyone fears Amazon, because they someday may give authors less than 70% royalties.

Less? Like the 2.4% Ann earned on a book that sold almost 200,000 copies?

Hey, Amazon! Are you reading this? You want to corner the market on the biggest selling genre in the world? Start courting Harlequin writers. They're eager to jump the Harlequin ship. Offer them a lifeboat and you'll become the biggest romance publisher in the world.

As for Ann? She and I just signed a three book deal with Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint for our CODENAME: CHANDLER series. Ann is going to do just fine.

But Harlequin, and all you publishing pinheads who seriously believe you can continue to keep screwing authors--I'm counting the days you have left. There will be a mass exodus of authors leaving you. There will be civil lawsuits. And the DOJ is going to--rightfully--crucify you yahoos, as laid out in this terrific post by Kris Rusch.

If you are a publisher, be afraid. Be very afraid.

If you are an author, share your stories here, warn each other, and band together. There is strength in numbers, and this revolution is about to draw blood.


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Jack Badelaire said...


It's amazing how many of these dirty little secrets are coming to light. I'd never heard of Ann Voss Peterson before today, but I'll pick up PUSHED TOO FAR right now on general principle.

Bob said...

I made a comment in San Diego that Harlequin was the Darth Vader of publishing. And an editor from HQ actually confronted me later, demanding to know if I was Bob Mayer and if I had something negative about HQ. I said yes and yes. She said what did I have against HQ. I said: your contracts suck. She said they were standard in the business.

First, that's not true. They are worse than the business standard.

Second, pretty much all legacy contracts suck with regard to reversion and eBook royalty rates.

I don't blame HQ. If I could have thousands of authors clamoring at the gates to get published, I'd lowball too. Well, no I wouldn't. We unilaterally raised our royalty rates at Cool Gus Publishing because we felt it was fair. We'd started at 40% of gross and felt that was too low.

So far I've had half-a-dozen #1 NY Times bestselling authors email or speak privately with me about how digital publishing works. How the money works. The rates. What are the advantages of breaking from NY.

Print sales and long contracts they've already signed will keep most in place for a while longer. But the future is going to be a very different place.

Jen Talty said...

I've never been published by NY and am very happy publishing with my business partner Bob Mayer. I have a lot of friends published with HQN and even more desperately trying to get "in". The emphases is on the word desperate. Five years ago I might have signed a contract with them, but today I don't see the point. Not because I don't believe they bring value to a writers career, because in a way they do depending on the writer's goals, but more because I have my sights set on something bigger. I don't know where NY publishing will be in 2 years, but I have a better feeling of where I will be in two years and I can do with partnering with other opportunities.

DED said...

Ann's story is brutal. Thanks for sharing it.

Heather Hildenbrand said...

Up-and-coming authors benefit from hearing this. I benefited from hearing this. Thanks, Ann, for your honesty. Loved the nudge at Amazon to go after those romance writers! Biggest genre out there. Smart idea!

JA Konrath said...

I had the opportunity to hang out with Bob Mayer for a bit, and his grasp of the current publishing climate is startling. He gets it. He's smart.

Bridget McKenna said...

This is even worse than I thought. I'll be sharing, and thanks for the opportunity to help bring down Darth Vader.

Unknown said...

Just not sure how it is that people aren't becoming more aware of the similarities between the music and book publishing industries.

Both are powerful (though this power is diminishing), both are losing money hand over fist, and both are terrified by the growing realization that their ancient and outdated business models have no defense against the democritization of publishing which the internet has now made so readily possible.

At some point, it just feels like putting these sad, bloated industries out of their misery would be the proper and merciful thing to do.

But until then, I'm just going to keep writing (and publishing) my own books.

Thanks for speaking out, sir. And thank you for sharing Ann's story.

Norma said...

No wonder my agent advised me not to sign the Harlequin contract amendment. She's always right....

I published nine romances through Silhouette, also part of Harlequin. In the late '80s-early '90s, I was getting $7500 advance per book. I'm told the royalty rate was the same for everyone. Figures.

They've issued ebook editions of the books of mine to which they still hold the rights. The others have reverted to me. I think I'll self-pub them....

Anonymous said...

"So Harlequin makes a total of 1.94, and I make .06."

Nothing personal, but the math isn't accurate. A publisher has many, many costs involved in bringing a print book to market, not the least of which is actually printing the book (which takes $), mailing it to distribution points, There are also returns (stipped copies that cost money to print and ship and netted nothing in return), etc.

To really evaluate the math and support an argument that the author was underpaid, you need to include ALL the costs that come into play. You also need to remember that no publisher ever held a gun to an author's head and made them sign a contract. Finally, you need to remember that ten or 12 years ago the world was much, much different.

Jason Aydelotte said...

You should only be afraid as a publisher if you treat your authors like indentured servants and pay them as close to nothing as humanly possible.

If you treat authors with respect, involve them in every step of the process, and pay them good rates, then you, as a publisher, should have nothing to worry about.

I'm not worried about my company, anyway. My authors are rabid fans of the way I do business, since I involve them in it and respect them.

KelseyB said...

I have a Nook-Color. Can I still download this? I would love to read it and would love even more to help push the numbers up to the top!


P.J. Morse said...

Ann, thank you for being honest about your finances. If more authors spoke up about how much they were really making, they would have more leverage against bloodsuckers like Harlequin.

Congratulations on your new publishing plan, and may your son enjoy straight teeth!

Epistemy Press said...

Joe- The "related licensee" issue is usually hidden inside one of the "Definitions" clauses. Here's an example:

"Dollar receipts" are U.S. dollars earned and received by the Publisher less discounts, taxes, bad debts, customer returns, allowances and credits and excluding sums charged separately to the customer for shipping. Sales or licenses made to any subsidiary or affiliate companies will be treated as though made to unrelated parties.

Publishers will fight like hell to keep this boilerplate. Not just because of the money they make off of it, but because the accounting tricks this allows them to play with global revenues and taxes are hugely important as a public firm.

Todd Trumpet said...

Joe said: "If you are a publisher, be afraid. Be very afraid. If you are an author, share your stories here, warn each other, and band together. There is strength in numbers, and this revolution is about to draw blood."

"Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!"

Viva la eRevolution!

Now if we could only get Joe to run for political office...


Unknown said...

Granted, a publisher has fixed costs, but they wouldn't have any costs if they had no material to sell.

It's a lot of time ,energy, and hard work to write a good novel and authors should be rewarded properly.

Brian January

JA Konrath said...

I'll play.

To really evaluate the math and support an argument that the author was underpaid, you need to include ALL the costs that come into play.

Really? Should we then also include Ann's costs? Her home office. Computer. Supplies. Utilities.

Should we put a cost on the time spent away from her family while writing?

Of course not. That's absurd.

Just like it's absurd that a company printing and distributing books gives the PERSON WHO WROTE IT 6 cents per copy.

You also need to remember that no publisher ever held a gun to an author's head and made them sign a contract.

I agree. Instead of pursuing her dream and following the only option available, Ann could have worked at a factory instead.

Hmm. A factory. Didn't something happen in recent US history about deplorable factory conditions? Weren't laws changed to fix those conditions? And those factory owners had the same lame defense: "If you don't like it, go work somewhere else."

That didn't end well for those companies.

Finally, you need to remember that ten or 12 years ago the world was much, much different.

A decade ago, authors were being screwed. They're still being screwed. But now they have a choice, and no longer have to be screwed if they want to write for a living.

Anonymous said...

I walked away from Harlequin (Sheryl Lynn, HQ Intrigue author). They are busily locking up my back list in ebooks that do not sell. I made more money in three weeks selling a 17yo novella than I earned in a year from eight back list titles being sold by HQ.

Nope, nobody held a gun to my head to sign those shitty, shitty contracts. They'd have to hold a gun to my head to ever make me sign another. They are not a good company to do business with. Are they crooked? I'm beginning to think they are.

Shannon Donnelly said...

There's an added dark side -- Harlequin has started Carina press to continue on with low royalties, this time via ebook only to start with and then dangling the carrot of print (where you may make a little bit more, but it's unlikely).

But it's really hard for a lot of folks to look at the numbers instead of the allure handed out of being in print.

Harlequin isn't alone here. Let's add Dorchester (who is still screwing over authors), and Kensington's not much better with their practices (they have some give in their contracts, and you can earn out advances, but I made more money in one year of ebooks than I made in five with Kensington).

It's big business in American, meaning they view their writers as cogs and widgets.

The really amazing thing is everyone could make a lot more money with a little more cooperation and fairness.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget you can also help by tagging the author's book and adding your honest review to the 3 there at the moment. Tags are an easy way to show your direct support now and will help the books drive up the charts some.

Anonymous said...

Here, Joe, this should amuse you and your readers: http://jwmanus.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/dear-harlequin-your-suckitude-awes-me/

Photos of a royalty statement from Harlequin.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

"So Harlequin makes a total of 1.94, and I make .06."

Nothing personal, but the math isn't accurate. A publisher has many, many costs involved in bringing a print book to market, not the least of which is actually printing the book (which takes $), mailing it to distribution points, There are also returns (stipped copies that cost money to print and ship and netted nothing in return), etc. "

You missed the part in my post where I stated that this clause that I'm addressing pertains to ebooks being published now.

"To really evaluate the math and support an argument that the author was underpaid, you need to include ALL the costs that come into play."

As a professional author, I have costs, too. They are not taken into account in this business deal.

" You also need to remember that no publisher ever held a gun to an author's head and made them sign a contract."

The contract in question says that the author -me- receives 50% of net. In this case, Harlequin has licensed these rights to its own company. As a result, the 50/50 split has become this breakdown. 1.94/.06 is not anywhere near a 50/50 split. This licensing practice was not something authors or agents were aware of. This is something Harlequin did internally.

I was aware the other royalty rates were below industry standard, as I said in my post. I did sign for those substandard terms. This is not a whinefest. I take full responsibility for signing the terms I was able to be aware of. But that doesn't mean other authors shouldn't be aware. I'm hoping this post accomplishes that.

" Finally, you need to remember that ten or 12 years ago the world was much, much different."

It was ten years ago, and my books that have these contract clauses are still being published by Harlequin. Six of the ten have been digitized in the past five months and are now offered for sale on Amazon, eHarlequin, Barnes & Noble, etc.

Unknown said...

I've heard from other Harlequin authors that the royalties were terrible, but seeing it laid out like this makes me angry. I'm so glad Ann has taken control of her career and is now self-publishing.

I just downloaded her book as I love romantic thrillers, plus, I live in a small town in Wisconsin. With a lake. O.o

Alison Kent said...

I'm no longer writing for Harlequin for the same reasons as Ann (though I don't have to pay for braces for anyone *g*). I wrote five books for their Temptation line, fifteen books for their Blaze line, and a handful of special projects for other imprints between 1995 and 2009.

A year or so ago, I self-published three backlist titles originally released from other houses, and for which my rights have been reverted. And having just received my most recent royalty statement from Harlequin, I'm flabbergasted that these three backlist books sell more in a DAY individually than HQ reports my titles with them selling in six months COMBINED.

I'm now writing for one of the Big 6, but I'm also writing for Amazon's Montlake romance imprint. And I have plans to do more self-publishing. But I don't have any plans to return to Harlequin. Like Ann, I can't afford to.

Unknown said...

>>Anonymous said...
"So Harlequin makes a total of 1.94, and I make .06." ...To really evaluate the math and support an argument that the author was underpaid, you need to include ALL the costs that come into play. You also need to remember that no publisher ever held a gun to an author's head and made them sign a contract. Finally, you need to remember that ten or 12 years ago the world was much, much different.<<

Seriously??? So the author should make even *less* than $0.06 per sale? Why don't you just ask them to give it away? Honestly, as an author, I don't care about a publisher's cost. If it costs them too much, then they need to look at how to streamline their business. It shouldn't be up to the author carry all the burden. It seems like I keep hearing about how advances are going down because it costs so much to prepare a book for publishing, but why is it that the increased cost is only passed on to the author to cover? Why don't the publishers do POD and save the cost of returns? They could, but they choose not to.

Russell Blake said...

You know, it's interesting, because many many moons ago I almost did a deal in the music business, but after talking to some of my friends who were platinum selling artists, I couldn't for the life of me see how it made any sense - the $100K of recording time came out of the artist slice, the cost of the videos came out of the artist slice, the cost of the tour came out of the artist slice, the merchandising went to the company with a few shekels thrown at the artist as a "royalty." By my calcs you could sell a half million CDs and still be destitute. I couldn't believe it. Since then, most of my buds who were big names got day jobs, with not a lot to show for their years of success besides a scrap book and some social diseases.

The book publishing biz sort of struck me the same way. Now, I understand if I got a trad pub deal, and lightning struck, and I sold a million, I'd be making lots of money. But that seems like a lottery ticket. When I looked at giving the author thing a try, I looked at all the models, and couldn't for the life of me see how self-pubbing with even modest success wasn't a better deal for me than chasing NY for a hope and a prayer. Since I published my first book last June, I've been fortunate enough to find an audience for my thrillers, and am now making a nice living, with 14 titles released and 6 more coming this year.

It breaks my heart to hear stories of an artist who is put through the sausage machine and winds up penniless. But that is the norm. It's just the way the arts tend to work. It's not right, it's not fair, and it's not good, but it's the industry standard. We're living in an extraordinary period, thanks to Amazon, where artists can benefit financially due to disintermediation of the existing supply chain. I hope things continue in this direction, although I'm always quick to look at history with trepidation.

Donna Fasano said...

Ann, thank you for shining a light on a very dark subject. Like you, I can no longer afford to write for Harlequin. I spent 20 years writing romance and women's fiction for HQ, publishing 32 novels under my own name and my pen name, Donna Clayton. My experience mirrors yours. I loved my talented editors and hated the pay.

While attending an RWA conference, a friend of mine stood up and asked a panel of HQ editors and other 'suits' how they expected their authors to live on the paltry wages they paid. Their blunt answer, "We don't. We warn authors not to quit their day jobs. Don't ever expect to earn a living as a writer. This is a hobby, not a career." I was stunned and saddened. Consequently, after my friend spoke out, she never sold another manuscript to the company.

On a brighter note, I have found great success self-publishing 6 of my backlist titles and one original work of fiction (The Merry-Go-Round). I have sold over 100,000 copies of my self-published books. And I see more sunshine and happiness on the horizon as I have 5 more backlist titles to which I hold the pub rights. I have also completed another original romance novel I plan to self-publish. I only wish there were more hours in the day!

I have learned that I can sell myself and my books better than anyone else ever could.

Ann, please know that you aren't alone. There are many, many of us out here. I will support you any way that I can. I will download/read/review your book. I will tweet and share this message. I host a blog called Kindle Romance Novels, and I'll be happy to promote any romance novels you have written that are available for Kindle. We're in this together; we have to support each other.

I wish you astounding success! I know you will find it because you didn't leave the company empty-handed; you walked away with your talent.

Kay Stockham said...

I lurk. A lot. But I have to comment on Ann's post and be brave enough to step forward myself. I published fourteen books with Harlequin since 2005 and last year made the decision to walk away because--at that point--despite good numbers, despite contest awards and wins, despite high rated reviews--I wasn't earning enough to make it worth my time. And my last royalty check? I could earn more working at McDonald's part-time--and that includes the recent release of a new series being taken into account.

I'd heard the rumors, knew the checks being received weren't good, but when I opened mine I truly felt ILL. That was my payment?

I've published two indie works now, taking care to have them professionally edited etc, and I will continue to do so because I love to write, but I want to be paid for my time. I have bills, a family. But more importantly I--we as authors--deserve to be paid fairly for our work and the only way to be paid fairly at the moment is publish via Amazon, Pubit etc.

As I've told writing friends, the goal used to be get a big-name agent, publish with NY. But now the goals have changed. At least mine have. Now I want to make a living while publishing and I'm on the way to doing just that.

What would I do if Amazon courted me? I'd love to find out.

bettye griffin said...

Harlequin dropped me back in 2007, which was the catalyst for me to begin indie publishing. I was fortunate to have gotten back the rights to all 10 of my novels, which they held (due to acquiring them from my previous publisher through sale of the imprint) even though only the last one was published under the Harlequin brand. I've been busy producing new material and have only gotten around to reissuing one title as an eBook, with another to follow shortly. But before they returned the rights to me they dangled a carrot in front of me...if I left the rights with them, they would republish my backlist as eBooks "with the added benefit of the Harlequin name" with a royalty rate somewhere in the range of 8%. I pushed that carrot away (after I finished laughing). Like "the Harlequin name" was worth paying them 62% (from the 70% I'm getting directly).

I have long been suspicious of my royalty statements from them. My final book for them, A Love For All Seasons, remained in their top 15-selling eBooks for years until I got the rights back, but yet I made no money from it. My success as an indie writer continues to grow; my latest, Isn't She Lovely? was #40 on the Top 100 Bestselling Multicultural Romances this morning.

Harlequin, for me, is a thing of the past.

Anonymous said...

The contract they offer their writers at the "digital first" imprint, Carina, is absolutely the worst of any of the e-pubs.

All rights, seven years, and while originally they offered 15% of cover price for 3rd party sales and 30% of cover for sales through their site, the NEW contract is 50% of the net on their site and 40% of the net on 3rd party. Sounds great... only they don't define net, and they reserve the right to make your book a freebie.

On the bright side, out of print for Carina authors is now defined as "fewer than 250 copies sold in all formats in four consecutive quarters."

I too was once thrilled that HQ gave me my start, but I would do anything to have the rights back to my best novel - the one in the wrong category with an insanely off-putting cover.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Got your book, Ann, thanks.

Slightly O/T, but not really; my husband has written computer books for many years. About eleven years ago, advances dropped overnight. His take on this phenomenon? GW Bush was elected president and a wave of willful ignorance swept the nation. “If someone that dumb can be president of the United States, why am I bothering to better myself?”

I’m not sure I go along with that explanation, but it is an interesting theory.

Are folks really reading less? The last time I was in a B&N (weekend), the YA section was crawling with youngsters.

gniz said...

Hey Ann and Joe--awesome post. But Joe, I do want to say, for all your vitriol against the Big 6 practices (which I agree with wholeheartedly)--don't think for a SECOND that Amazon wouldn't do the same at some point if it made sense for them.

If they ever get the chance to give authors a 2.4% royalty rate without somehow losing authors to competition, they would do it too. Amazon saw an opportunity by giving the higher royalty rate of 70 % and it's working.

But someday they really just might go down to 7% or 2% if it suits them. Amazon is great for now--but at a core they are just a company who wants what's best for their bottom line.

In the past, companies like Harlequin had a stranglehold on the romance market and so they were able to leverage that and pay pennies to their writers. You think Amazon won't ever stoop so low?

Think again.

Anonymous said...

It was only a matter of time until Harlequin authors got mad enough to speak out in public--it's been a long time in coming, though, as many feared retaliation from what was once one of the only games in town. And I do have to admire Ann's marketing savvy in coupling a post which will no doubt go viral with a new book release. Go Ann!!

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Very informative, as usual.

JA Konrath said...

But someday they really just might go down to 7% or 2% if it suits them. Amazon is great for now--but at a core they are just a company who wants what's best for their bottom line.

I think Amazon is doing a good job so far.

If someday they stop doing right by authors, I'll be there to chastise them.

Tom Johnson said...

Thank you, this was quite an eye opener! I write for several publishers, and have been making good royalties (I thought). But some time back I really looked at what I was getting per book. Curiously, though the contract stated 50/50 or 60/50 in some cases, I was actually getting 2.5% of the price of each book sold. That threw me into a head spin. I have since started publishing on Kindle, and even commissioning artists for my own book covers, I think I'll make more through the self-publishing route.

gniz said...

I know you will be there to chastise them. That's not really my point, which is that sometimes your rhetoric doesn't reflect the full reality of this situation.

You talked about Harlequin not having a conscience as if that's part of what differentiates them and Amazon--that Amazon at a core wants to "treat authors right."

They don't. Companies exist to serve their bottom line, to serve the stockholders and make more money every single year.

The drive to constantly grow and make more profits each year creates this "lack of conscience" whereby, if necessary, almost any company will sacrifice fairness or good treatment of their employees and even their customers if it means they can make more money doing so.

I don't see where Amazon is any different in this regard. Amazon, the company, doesn't have any more of a conscience than Harlequin does. Amazon is doing great business and treating authors well because right now it makes them money to do so. They will steal authors and further cement their dominance in the market.

But again, it has nothing to do with Amazon being more fair to authors due to the company being somehow more benign or having better intentions. Amazon will absolutely do the same thing if it makes them money--they are a company and they want to turn a greater profit every year. Period.

Sometimes I feel that rhetorically you downplay this fact. Amazon is great FOR NOW--yes--mainly due to happenstance. When and if conditions change they will have no more concern for what you and I make than any other publisher ever did. You should know that, don't just treat it as a remote possibility.

KT Grant said...

I've heard great things about Harlequin but I know more than a few authors who have left because of very low digital royalties.

Thanks for speaking out, Ann. As a digitally published author I was thinking about submitting to Carina. Now I won't.

Claire Merriam Hoffman said...

They don't call romance writing the Pink Collar Ghetto for nothing.

One of the reasons that Harlequin and the other Romance Publishers have been able to get away with substandard royalty rates is because of the attitude exemplified by what that HQ Suit said to Donna Fasano's friend at RWA National. Writing Romances is suppose to be a hobby for the little women. It's just pin-money. Because we aren't REAL Authors and therefore we don't need real money like the men who write more important books. Even if the books they write books would be considered romance if they had a women's name on it. Part of the .77 for every dollar a man makes mentality. To bad HQ authors can't sue under the Lilly Ledbetter Act. :)

I had a book that Mira/Harlequin wanted and I just couldn't give it too them. After 12 years as a member RWA I knew what a pittance they would give me and then ask me for another. I just couldn't do it. Call it self-respect but I had been paid decent money as an editorial writer and knew what my words were worth.

Now several years later, I am getting my book ready for the E-Pub world and I couldn't be happier. And I have you Joe and all the others who have preached the gospel of Self-Publishing to thank.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I think I probably met Ann at the same convention you did, Joe, and she's not only a great person but a wonderful writer.

You, Ann and many others who have taken the plunge into independent publishing have given this formerly diehard "Big 6" guy a change of heart and I've now decided to release my next book independently.

Thanks to you and Ann for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Gniz makes a fair point re:

"You talked about Harlequin not having a conscience as if that's part of what differentiates them and Amazon--that Amazon at a core wants to "treat authors right."

They don't. Companies exist to serve their bottom line, to serve the stockholders and make more money every single year."

I don't believe Harlequin has 'Evil Intent' any more than Amazon has a conscience. It's business, bottom line, and right now there is opportunity for Harlequin series authors to walk where the might not have been before. I'm just surprised Harlequin has not been smart enought to realize or adress this sooner by making it more attractive for their author base to stay.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Way to go, Ann! Just downloaded Pushed too Far. I'll be watching for Codename: Chandler too :)

J. H. Bográn said...

I think the most important thing is that if Ann is happy where she is now, then I'm happy for her.
Pushed Too Far seems awesome. Will look it up.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

That cover is outstanding, too.

Anonymous said...

Why get the free copy? That doesn't help her. I'll wait until it's switched back to paid and then I'll buy to make sure she actually earns some money. Isn't that the whole idea of the exercise?

JA Konrath said...

Companies exist to serve their bottom line, to serve the stockholders and make more money every single year.

I agree. But the genie is out of the bottle now. Authors have choices. With choice comes companies who want to woo talent. Those companies will have to pay, or authors will go elsewhere.

I recently opted out of the Amazon Select program because its benefits didn't equal the money I was making on other platforms. If Amazon wants me, and many others, back int he program, they'll have to offer me more.

In the past, authors had no choice. I believe it is in Amazon's best interest to keep authors happy, lest they leave.

C R Myers said...

Thanks for sharing! Your experience is a real eye-opener. Re-tweeting, and on the way to get your book. Best of luck to you! ...Cat :)

M.F. Soriano said...

I feel like I'm hearing more and more traditionally-published writers coming forward to denounce the traditional-publishing system. And it seems like the few author voices you hear still supporting it are doing so partially out of fear of what "might" happen if Amazon is given too much power.

But one thing I've been wondering about: is there a way to use the traditional-publishing system to an author's advantage, say as a springboard to a larger audience? I'm pretty ignorant of the issues professional authors deal with, and maybe single-book contracts aren't all that common, but would putting one book out with an established publisher make sense just to build an audience for later self-publishing? I mean, getting a book in all the Targets and Walmarts might be considered a good investment in future earnings, even if the publisher cheats the author out of the earnings for that one book.

William Kendall said...

You know, it sounds like indentured servitude. Thanks, Joe, for posting, and Ann, for being so forthright about it.

Barbara Silkstone said...

Joe, Ann, Donna,
I'm loving your new math!

Claire Merriam Hoffman said...

Anonymous said:"I don't believe Harlequin has 'Evil Intent' any more than Amazon has a conscience. It's business, bottom line, and right now there is opportunity for Harlequin series authors to walk where the might not have been before. I'm just surprised Harlequin has not been smart enough to realize or address this sooner by making it more attractive for their author base to stay."

Anonymous, sorry if I am repeating myself, but as long as HQ thinks it's writer base is a hobbyist they aren't going to change. Advances have gone down and this past fall one of their editors told our RWA chapter that they were loosing money on Ebooks. I'm sorry to say that a number of usually smart writers swallowed that bunk. Meantime, they have done everything they can to grab and hold onto everyone's rights.

Business maybe business, but at the very least Amazon treats romance writers as professionals.

Anonymous said...

@ Claire Merriam Hoffman ... I think we are actually singing the same song here: Good business vs bad business. If Harlequin doesn't change it will hemorrhage authors.

gniz said...

I do agree that there is probably an element of actual disdain for writers that motivates the Big 6 practices.

The mentality that writers are "a dime a dozen" and should just be thankful for the scraps they throw our way, is pervasive in the legacy publishing industry.

Amazon does not appear to share that viewpoint and perhaps soon a new view of writers as real talent and real necessities will become the norm.

That would be nice. It still won't change the fact that writers are only going to be paid well for as long as it serves the publishers' interests to do so.

Mary Stella said...

Best of luck to you, Ann, in all of your new ventures.

I'm glad that you were, at least, able to keep your name. Years ago, Harlequin not only owned the rights to the books, they owned the authors' names and pseudonyms, too!

P A Wilson said...

Shades of the music industry contract scandals. This post is another example of the crazy world of traditional publishing. Yes, the contract must have been a great deal when signed, but the world has changed. One thing the Big 6 need to remember - they need authors.

Kelly McClymer said...

I have never written for HQ, but I have many friends and fellow writers who have. You stated much more baldly what I have told them. It is one thing to recognize that HQ gives you worldwide distribution and guaranteed money. It is another not to recognize that they expect indentured servitude in return. GRATEFUL indentured servitude. Having descended from folks who used indentured servitude to get to another country and have a chance of a better life, I get it. But it isn't a permanent lifestyle choice. Or it shouldn't be.

Sariah Wilson said...

Whenever I hear the "but whatever will Amazon do to us in the future???" I have to say that it doesn't much concern me. Mainly because Amazon doesn't own me. They don't own my books. They don't have a non-compete clause. They don't "license" (which in most cases actually means retain forever) my copyright. In short, Amazon is allowing me to do whatever I want, and if they fall short in any respect, I have the complete freedom to go somewhere else.

If Amazon starts trying to give authors 2.4% royalties, a newer, faster, better competitor will open their doors and I'll just go there instead. If Amazon starts hemorrhaging authors the way that the Big 6 are, I think they'll make a course correction and do what they have to in order to retain content. But if not, we can just leave.

The same, however, cannot be said about traditional publishers. We can't sell the works we sold to them anywhere else. We can with Amazon.

Even if Amazon is the Big Bad and has a monopoly, I still have my rights. Maybe down the line they'll make a grab for them--and I'll leave. Maybe down the line they'll try to give me as poor a royalty as the Big 6 do, and I'll leave.

It really is as simple as that.

gniz said...

I agree that hand-wringing about what Amazon might or will do in the future is silly and somewhat useless.

That being said, understanding clearly that what separates Amazon from Harlequin is only time, place, and opportunity is important. It is not that Amazon is a nicer, kinder company that "values" authors in some ingrained, benevolent way.

And I think the distinction is important, because more than anything authors need to see clearly what is. Amazon is a business that currently is giving authors great opportunity. That is all they are. It's an amazing thing, but it's nothing more than that.

Amazon is not the devil (as some would suggest) nor are they our savior (as others suggest). Amazon is a company trying to dominate a market and right now, we as authors are benefiting from what Amazon needs to do to gain market dominance.

We need to be careful not to turn it into Amazon worship, and vilifying all the evil Big 6 corporations, etc. The only difference between Amazon and Harlequin is time and place and opportunity.

I'll phrase it yet another way. Amazon would LOVE to be able to do to authors what Harlequin did, and make tons of money subjugating them and throwing them table scraps.

But Amazon knows that now is not the time and place to do it, so they're doing differently. Just like they're taking a loss on certain titles, giving deep discounts that hurt their competitors. They don't do it out of the kindness of their hearts, and as soon as they've crippled the competition, it will stop.

gniz said...

As far as competition goes, I also agree. The more competitors in this market, the better. I'm hopeful the competition between the big players will last a long time and I will make lots more money while the big guys beat each other up.

But again--Amazon is distinctly trying to crush their competition and gain market dominance. As well they should. That's how business works.

I think Amazon is so much smarter and further ahead of the current competition that I wonder just how long the fight will last. How long can B&N survive, will Apple ever really get into the game, or Google, etc?

Because if things keep going this way, I think in maybe 3 years, Amazon will stand mostly alone. And I'm not very comfortable with that scenario, personally.

Bethany said...

Tweeted! This is just awful. Shame on Harlequin. I was doubting going it alone, but now I'm glad I tried Kindle first. I have precisely 24 sales - at least I get to keep a significant portion.

Mark said...

Yo, Joe. What's the T&M deal? Aside from the royalties.

Laura Resnick said...

I sold about a dozen books to Silhouette, a division of Harlequin, which were released 1989-1994. They dumped me after that, but I remained on cordial terms with them, and despite having signed the typical poor contract terms of the house, I felt well-paid for the work I did (my books were very short and I was very new and initially relied on a lot of editing, and I earned a total of $14K-$24K per title). It was not a relationship of unmarred perfect happiness, but it was a good place for me to start my career and, yes, I was grateful to them. Because I was being paida full-time living to learn my craft in those days.

I also sold a book to them released around 2005 in their Luna program... and they dumped me AGAIN. (I sound like a woman who keeps going back to the wrong man, don't I? Well, lesson learned after being dumped TWICE by this house.)

I got all my rights reverted on all my various Hq books as soon as possible, watching the calendar carefully. At the time, it was still relatively easy to get rights reverted. I re-sold the Luna book, and I am self-publishing the old Silhouettes.

And I am VERY glad to be in charge of my old Silhouettes, to edit and repackage them well (in contrast to how Hq is handling its thousands of backlist titles), to control distribution, and to get a 70% royalty on trackable sales instead of the miniscule royalties and suspiciously low "reported" e-sales that Hq writers have been telling me about for some time now.

BTW, I STRONGLY recommend that anyone who ever wrote for Hq or its imprints do an occasional sweep of a few e-vendors to make sure Hq isn't e-publishing a book they reverted to you. This happened to me. When I approached Hq about it, treating it as an honest mistake on their part which we could promptly fix in a businesslike manner... the company behaved like sulky, recalcitrant teenagers. They wouldn't answer my calls, emails, or letters. I wound up having to hire a lawyer, and they made a very good effort at trying not to communicate with the lawyer, either--and they spoke in tongues when they did bother to answer her. I was STUNNED by how unprofessional their legal department's behavior was.

Probably, I should have just sued once they made it clear that they wouldn't behave in a businesslike manner. But I just didn't want Hq in my life for that long. I just wanted them to STOP TOUCHING MY STUFF and =GO AWAY=. We got it sorted out in the end. (After I spent a few hundred on legal bills with Hq did not reimburse me for.)

If it ever happens again, I WILL sue. They've demonstrated that reasonable businesslike behavior is not part of their repertoire, and I don't want to spend MORE unreimbursed money on legal bills to clean up THEIR mess.

In any case, keep an eye out, if you've ever written for them. (And do indeed consider sueing if they violate your copyright.)

Pamela Clare said...

Ann, thank you for your courage and honesty in sharing your story.

Joe, thank you for running it and for being a voice for authors. You have a new admirer.

It's nice to see the truth stated so plainly.

I've never written for HQ, but I started writing for Dorchester. Combine vague royalty statements that never made sense with 6 percent royalties, and what I had wasn't so much a writing career as a nonprofit or hobby, despite the fact that my titles always had above-average sell-thru.

As my father said to me, "I've never seen anyone work so hard for so little compensation."

Thanks, Dad.

I write for one of the Big 6 now — I love my editor — but I also publish digitally. I can't afford not to.

I'm a writer, not a monk. I never took a vow of poverty. I never wanted to starve for my art. I expect to be fairly compensated. And so should we all.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

" but would putting one book out with an established publisher make sense just to build an audience for later self-publishing? I mean, getting a book in all the Targets and Walmarts might be considered a good investment in future earnings, even if the publisher cheats the author out of the earnings for that one book."


Diversification is a good idea. Many of my author friends are doing just that, and it makes sound business sense. I am diversifying, too, but I've chosen to go with Thomas & Mercer.

But to do this, an author has to watch out for non-compete language in their contracts. I haven't heard of Harlequin using this in contracts, but some other publishers do. Writer beware.

Renee Mimms said...

Shared with my friends on Tumblr, one of whom is a romance writer. Hopefully it will get shared widely over there.

Karen Woodward said...

Ann, I've blogged and tweeted about your post, thanks for sharing! Hopefully other Harlequin authors will follow your example.

Joe, I woke up this morning and checked your website on the off-chance there would be a post, and there was! Just wanted to say that it's great to hear from you again.


Anonymous said...

OMG...I wrote an article about this exact thing...the shameful royalty rate Harlequin was giving its authors. I even quoted my own numbers off my one and only sale to them to use as an example of the LESS than 1% royalties I was earning on "foreign" sales to Canada, where I happen to live and where Harlequin's headquarters (at the time) happened to be. When did I write his article? OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO!!!!. I wrote it for the RWA magazine and was instantly attacked for being judgmental and erroneous in my numbers reporting. Erroneous??? I sent them a copy of my royalty statement. I also told authors at a conference shortly thereafter that they were like sheep going to the slaughter. I had never, in my previous years of writing, seen a contract that locked the author in so tightly her knickers would squeak. They wanted the rights to my NAME, and to any future contemporary books I might write. Thankfully I write mostly historical books, but just in case, I added a middle initial to the "Harlequin name" so that if I ever wrote another contemp under the name Marsha M. Canham, they could get their nostrils flaring. Hasn't happened, but there's a clue to how to get around their stupid ten page contracts. I'm just happy to see, even though it's coming 20 years later, someone else willing to say in print what everyone has been thinking for years but too afraid to say or admit or acknowledge out loud. And until and unless more authors DO take a stand against Harlequin's practices, it could well be another 20 years before anything changes.

kathie said...

Ann, thanks for the post. It must be sad and hard to have experienced what you have. I'm so glad that now your prolific writing habits will yield the money you deserve. Thanks to Joe for hosting Ann.

Alice Duncan said...

Wow. Loved your article, Ann. You and Joe are inspirations for a whole bunch of us. I'm contemplating going it alone but am scared. No confidence, I reckon. However, when you're me, there's not a whole lot to lose, unfortunately!

Maryannwrites said...

Wow, maybe I should be glad that I have not heard from Harlequin about the paperback edition of my mystery, Open Season. This was a very helpful article.

And congrats, Joe, on your new deal with Amazon for the series you will be doing with Ann. I bet it will be outstanding. I enjoy your books a lot and look forward to reading this freebie from Ann. Thanks.

Donna Fasano said...

@marshacanham ...For 20 years I wondered what that strange noise was! Now I know it was the sound of my knickers squeaking! LOL

Becca Mills said...

Reading Ann's story makes me ... I'm sitting here trying to think of a word that combines "deeply angry" with "totally disgusted." Why should the work of someone who's clearly brought so much pleasure to so many readers be so grossly undervalued? Sure, most companies are driven by the bottom line, but this is so egregious it should defy belief. It should, yet it doesn't, unfortunately. Good for Ann for going indie. I'll buy Pushed Too Far. Damn straight.

Unknown said...

..."has sold 179,057 copies so far, and it has earned $20,375.22. (bold text by Joe) That means the average I've earned is a whopping 11 cents per copy"

Every time I see numbers on this blog my brain goes into emergency broadcasting static, however this unfortunate statement caught my attention and the math is pretty simple. It's appalling.

Thank you Ann for your honesty & thanks Joe, for posting this and for keeping the light bright.

D. D. Scott said...

Wavin' atchya, Joe and Ann!!!

Thanks to you, Joe, I went the Indie Epub Route, and am now both an Amazon and Barnes & Noble Top 100 Bestselling Author with over 100,000 copies sold and over 150,000 Free downloads too!

And, Ann, I admire your courage in sharing your real Harlequin numbers. Thankfully, I was put through a horrible very public rejection by let's just say one of Harlequin's biggest editors at RWA in DC. I now thank the powers that be every day for that experience because I would never be where I'm at today - with the audio books too ready to be released by Audible - if that editor would have signed me.

I didn't know better then...but damn I'm glad I do now!!!

Cheers to u both and thank u!!!

Cynthia Cooke said...

Ann, you rock! I'm right behind you, girl. And since they'll be keeping our rights forever, we can still be dancing partners at the HQ party!! ;D

AstroNerdBoy said...

Reading this piece, suddenly, I'm again thankful that my earlier attempts in life to get published via the big houses all failed.

Hairhead said...

I'm going to give an example of the RIGHT way to do things, from the music industry.

Q: Why are Sting, Andy Summers, and Miles Copeland of the Police all rich and secure?

A: They were managed by Miles' brother, who was the son of a CIA Section Chief. Early exposure to such skullduggery was useful because this is how he ran their career:

1) He put them on a minimal allowance and saved as much money as possible from all their early gigs.
2) When they had enough money, they went into a studio, paid for studio time, engineers, tape, EVERYTHING and produced their first LP.
3) Copeland then took that LP around to various labels. Who loved it. And who then had to pay very large sums of CASH for the album. Even then, the record company didn't own the album; they only licensed it. And every subsequent album of the Police was paid for, by them, owned, by them, and only licensed to the record label.
4) Copeland continued to book the Police's shows, keeping all the money made completely away from the record company.

Ownership of your artistic product, THAT is what success and financial security are made of.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

I feel like I dodged a bullet.

In 2002 my book, Jake's Kidnapping, won HQ's Intrigue contest. HQI requested the full after paying me $1000 for winning the contest, but then rejected the book after revisions. It war requested again and rejected it again by another editor. They requested it a third time as KIDNAPPED, an RWA GH finalist book in 2006.

So after publishing a book with Ellora's Cave, with whom I am very happy, I decided to try my hand at self publishing for my older, non-erotic manuscripts.

KIDNAPPED, (yes the thrice rejected by HQ book) was published on Amazon.com and B&N the last week of March. It is already in the top 100 paid list for Amazon's Kindle RS books, All RS books and the Kindle Contemporary books.

Ellis Jackson said...

Wow. I have been writing my second novel and was seriously thinking about trying o pitch it at a "proper" publisher, as my indie sales have been less than stellar (picking up on B&N mind you, but less than I would of course like), but those numbers really put me off. Particularly that junk clause about "Out of print for 5 - 7 years worldwide" - how the hell is that legal? It sure ain't moral. Thanks for sharing your story with us - it's a brave thing to do.

This story shouldn't be consigned to just a blog (however popular this blog is). To really shame Harlequin - and other publishers that are screwing the writer around - this story needs to be put in every writers magazine out there.

Sadly, the publishers own those too...

Merrill Heath said...

gniz said: The only difference between Amazon and Harlequin is time and place and opportunity.

I'll phrase it yet another way. Amazon would LOVE to be able to do to authors what Harlequin did, and make tons of money subjugating them and throwing them table scraps.

I don't agree with this perception simply because Amazon has not shown a proclivity for this.

I understand your argument that Amazon is a big business that wants to increase their profits. But currently they are being benevolent toward authors and they're benefitting from it.

The fact that Harlequin did this does not mean that Amazon will. That logic is flawed.

gniz said...

"The fact that Harlequin did this does not mean that Amazon will. That logic is flawed."

I never said they WILL do this. I said if the opportunity arises, I have no reason to believe they wouldn't do it.

And that's an important point, because we can start to think that Amazon's treatment of authors is because they love authors. Actually it's just part of their current business strategy. They feel they make more money and gain more market dominance with this strategy over the long haul.

But if their calculation changes, they wouldn't be averse to shrinking our royalties down to almost nothing. You think they'd feel bad for us? You think they'd care either way?

The bottom line is what they care about, which is fine. I'm not complaining. I just think people seem to be confusing a pleasant intersection of business interests with some kind of inherent benevolence.

gniz said...

Furthermore, the reason Harlequin has done what they've done--which I totally agree is shameful--isn't because they hate authors.

It's because they could do it. They had the opportunity, they had a stranglehold on romance, and they took advantage of it.

I'm as disgusted by this as the next writer, and grateful that ebooks have changed this (at least temporarily).

But we confuse things when we pretend that this is a case of Amazon (the good guy) vs Harlequin (the bad guy). Amazon is working in the new era, and they're trying to break apart the old ways of doing things.

Amazon's tactics have absolutely nothing to do with fairness to authors and absolutely everything to do with what they feel will make them money and destroy their competition.

These tactics, especially royalty rates for authors, will change over time. I think we can be almost certain these 70% royalty rates will go by the boards in the next three to five years.

Merrill Heath said...

Maybe there isn't some kind of inherent benevolence...but maybe there is. We'll just have to wait and see. Not all businesses are the same or have the same motivations.

I read somehwere that ebook sales are a very small percentage of Amazon's overall sales. I'm sure they make way more selling Kindles than they do the books people read on them. To further promote that technology, it makes sense that they would want to have tons of books available to be read on those devices. That won't be the case if they start raping the writers of those books.

No doubt, it's an interesting time for writers.

Merrill Heath said...

gniz, in regard to the royalty rates I completely agree with you. But I expect them to level out around the 50% mark. I expect that to become the industry standard - which means traditional publishers as well as Amazon will be hovering around that mark. Competition in the market will drive everyone to a reasonable point.

Zoe Dawson said...

Ann and Joe, thank you for this post. My eyes were opened by a friend of my who's self-pubbed and I've decided to go that route as well. Good luck and keep writing.

lisekimhorton said...

I thank you for laying out so succinctly the case against Harlequin (which even with my math-challenged mind I can figure out).

As for the issue of those sub-licensee distributors? One of the big 6 was just filed against with a class-action lawsuit by authors because of that very same practice. As I can't remember now which house, I won't guess.

I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to stress business facts of life and industry information for the members of my RWA Chapter of which I am President. To no avail. Posts on industry events garner no comments. Explanations about legal remifications of contracts garner me admonishments to "think positive" and not make critical comments. So I hope that some of those people I haven't reached read this post. And learn a little something important about this BUSINESS. Thank YOU both!

Scott Daniel said...

Here's hoping you sell about 3 billion self-published e-books, Ann.

As for Harlequin, I think I speak for the majority of writers when I say, EAT SHIT AND DIE!

Linda Pendleton said...

This is among the reasons many of us have chosen to self-publish-- POD and ebooks--with Amazon. And in addition it gives us freedom to choose our price, design our covers, title the book, etc., and I love it!

Russ Crossley said...

Thanks, Ann and Joe. I'm not an HQ author and never wanted to be. Truthfully it was never about royalties it was the structure of the books that threw me. I felt confined by their guidelines and that's not me. I have sold three novels and some short fiction to traditional publishing, but I have over 100 titles indie pubbed.

I did discover the royalty issue when a friend sold to Carina Press. The e-book rate is actually lower than the other NY houses! This made zero sense to me so I won't be ever submitting to them.

I still think for newbies HQ is a way to practice and learn (see Laura Resnick's comment as an example) but I think once you gain experience writers must move on.

I also think before any writer signs with HQ they should run the contract by a IP lawyer and watch for key clauses like reversions and competition. (among other things) And they must be prepared to walk if HQ will not move.

Great post, thanks.

Cathy Clamp said...

I came to romance publishing through a different publisher but met a lot of H/S authors in the process. I found the history of Harlequin very interesting, and very instructional as to how a lot of their royalty issues came about.

Harlequin came about at a time when books weren't sold in grocery stores (or "secondary markets," which is one of the industry terms). Harlequin was primarily a book club, an order by mail club that people signed up for like Columbia House records or Doubleday Books. But the beauty of Harlequin, for the authors, was that the book club members had no choice on what books they received. They would sign up for a CATEGORY of books (hence, "category romance.") You could select suspense, or historical or contemporary and the publisher would dutifully send you whatever books were published in that line that month. It gave debut authors the exact same clout as bestselling ones and secured a ton of new fans that a debut author might not otherwise enjoy.

It was during this time that they partnered with grocery stores with the unique concept of treating books like . . . well, GROCERIES. The books would "shelf lives" where the publisher's distributor would rotate stock on a weekly or monthly basis--saving the store from having stale stock.

While this initially led to lots of sales, because readers who didn't join the book club would be ravenous for new books. Your local store, if Harlequins were carried, would always have new books. It was a goldmine! Authors I've talked to said that during this heyday, the average royalties on the books were $25-30K. So it didn't really matter if they had a low up-front advance. Plus, Harlequin paid monthly for some titles, so it was closer to a living wage.

But . . . well, you can imagine what happened. Book clubs fell out of favor. Dropped like a rock, really. Routine print runs of 50K dropped off to 15K. Grocery stores were no longer the favored place to buy books and Harlequin couldn't change their practice fast enough to keep up with the new leader in sales--the internet.

Unfortunately, the business model never changed to keep up with the change in methods of sales. Authors left when they realized the guaranteed print runs that would keep them on the bestseller lists went away with the slow demise of the book club. One author told me they started many of the single title lines (with corresponding larger advances) as a way to keep some of the bestselling authors from jumping ship.

It worked, partly. Many of the romance bestsellers do still continue to pub with HQN or Mira or others. And there's a never-ending stream of newbies who want to publish with the leading name in romance. Harlequin, for their faults, still IS the leader in romance for books less than 100K. And there are still a lot of readers who like the category lines. There likely always will be.

I considered writing some stories for the Nocturne line (since paranormal romance is my thing) but I have a hard time writing "short." My novels generally use 100K as a bottom number, rather than a top, and many of the category lines are 90K and below.

I can't speak to the actual royalty figures since I've never seen one of their statements. But I know a lot of authors who miss the "old days" of writing for H/S. It makes them sad to see what's become of the company.

Donna Carrick said...

Right on, Joe.

Jon F. Merz said...

As much as I love Amazon for the volume of ebooks I sell, the fact is their publishing arm is still vulnerable to the same mentality that plagues traditional publishers - namely staffing it with editors and acquisition teams who formerly worked for other houses and don't get it despite being with Amazon.

I say this as their children's unit rejected a series of mine because it wasn't commercial enough for them. If you saw the series and read the first book, your reaction to this would have been the same as mine, "WTF?"

I realize, having had that project rejected, that this will sound like sour grapes to some. But I was really excited about the prospect of working with Amazon - and hopeful that they would actually see the incredible appeal of the project. But that can only happen if the team they had in place weren't of the same mentality as the other morons who told my agent that "boys don't read" and other priceless idiotisms.

So, I call "fail" for Amazon on this one. Regardless, I'll release the book myself and while it won't have the Amazon muscle behind it that I'd hoped for, I'm sure it will find an audience.

-Jon F. Merz

Bron said...

I have to agree that you need to look carefully at publishing models. I've almost made your $20k off one novella I've self-published on Amazon in four months! There are many options for publishing now and authors need to look at what they get from each publisher should they wish to sign with them. There is a cost/benefit tradeoff! Work it out and do the maths.

Anonymous said...

You think Harlequin is bad, try Academy Chicago. They give no advance, can't remember how many books were printed ("We have to look into that", they say.)but I know that the book has had more than one printing. I have received a total of less than a thousand dollars from them. Every once in a while, I get a letter saying that they owe me money, to expect a check in the mail. It never arrives. I did get my rights back, and got reviewed in the New York Times, and came to the attention of Poisoned Pen Press, a publisher who doesn't make any writer rich, but does make them fell loved. So all was not lost.

Anonymous said...

wow,a lot of blood,sweat and tears for .06 cents. A huge eye opener for me as a reader of all styles. I have known several people that have written for Harleguin to help out with costs. Most of them having given up writing as a result of Harleguins standards. Such a shame because we are not missing out of some damn good writers.

JoAnn Ross said...
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JoAnn Ross said...
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C. Amethyst Frost said...

Thanks for sharing this story. A good example of how "traditional" publishing has its flaws. Last month my first published book sold just 9 copies (I did it through a POD, which means it's way overpriced and doesn't sell well).

The 9 books at $4 a book earned me $36. Naturally, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. 36 bucks is crap. After reading this story, I don't know whether I'm comforted or horrified. At 6 cents per book, Ann would have to sell 600 books to equal my whopping $36.

The positive side is that you've made a name for yourself, Ann. Now that you've broken away from HQ and moved out on your own, you will no doubt soar in profits. Too bad for HQ and good for you. Let us know when you schedule that trip around the world.

editordevil.blogspot.com said...

One of the most important comments here was from another author who said that she'd have to "pay" the publisher the difference of what she *could be earning if she'd stayed with self-publishing.

That's the meat of the concept, folks. All the branding/marketing/distribution that you think is worth going with NY isn't valid anymore. They don't fulfill for most authors, especially not for debut authors. So go indie if you want to make a living wage.

If you don't mind working 2 or 3 jobs at once, go NY traditional publishing and let their CEO's have their nice NY offices and $200 lunches.

Thanks for the insights!
Christine M. Fairchild
a proud indie author!

Donna Shields said...

I am so glad I found this post. Ann is one of my all time faves from the Harlequin Intrigue line. No matter where her books call home, I'll be buying. And I'm glad I was rejected by Harlequin. Because I'm with a publisher who has theirs at 35%. A mere 2.4% is pathetic.

Unknown said...

Oh, those numbers make me cringe. Writers deserve much, much better than that. Good for you, Ann, for realizing this and moving on with your life.

Chantilly White said...

My dream as an author was always to go through one of the Big Six, and I had a sizable chip on my shoulder about publishing any way other than traditionally.

Luckily, I joined RWA and started regularly attending local meetings. I met a ton of authors, I listened and learned at their knees, and over the past year, especially, I embraced a sea change in my thinking.

I'm now very happily self-publishing short, spicy stories, for starters, while getting longer works in shape to put up as well.

I can't say what my sales will work out to be, or whether they will be better or worse over time than they would have been if I'd gone the traditional route. But I do know I'm happy with my decision. I'm glad not to be dealing with sub-par contracts, trying to get rights reverted, or dealing with any of the other draconian practices listed above. My heart goes out to all those who are still dealing with them.

My work is MY business, and that's exactly the way I like it.

With special thanks to my dear friend and guiding light, author Anthea Lawson, for showing me the way, and to you, Joe, and Ann, and every author out there brave enough to step forward and shine the light of truth on the publishing industry. You're saving the professional careers of untold numbers of authors on a daily basis.

L.L. Muir said...

5 months
3 books
More than 3x$ I would have received as an advance from Sourcebooks, and I'm still making money on them.

No brainer.

LL Muir

Cindy A. Matthews said...

I know a lot of writers who write for HQ and have wondered about submitting to them again (gave up a while back since they didn't seem to care for my cross-cross-genre stories), but this episode convinces me that my gut instincts were right. My gut kept telling me: Stay away from Harlequin--stay far away and keep your self-respect as an author.

L.L. Muir said...

I used to be embarrassed for people who self-published.

Today, I'd be embarrassed to say I work for one of the big six...

SPA's go braugh!

Melissa Schroeder said...

I have noticed quite a few twitter call outs and postings about Harlequin begging for submissions for several of their lines. Actually, I have seen a lot of publishers doing that lately. I have a feeling that enough of their authors are getting smart to self-publishing.

Melinda Leigh said...

Joe, Amazon is courting romance authors via their Montlake Romance imprint. Montlake published my debut book last November. They treat their authors extremely well. I'll be skipping to the bank with my next royalty check.

Congratulations, Ann. You're going to love being published by Amazon!

Brenda Hiatt said...

Ann, I'm adding my thanks for this very informative blog post. I'm another former Harlequin author who is being screwed by their smoke and mirrors accounting that magically turns the 50% of net in my contracts into 3% of cover price via their internal licensing agreements. There is NO way I could have foreseen this when I signed those contracts back in the early 90s. For one thing, the "related licensee" they use for this trick didn't even EXIST then. It was created after the e-book revolution began, at the same time they started spelling out e-rights in their contracts. (Mine are included under their sweeping "all other rights" clause, which of course was non-negotiable.) I was fortunate enough to get rights back to four of my Harlequin titles, but they slapped up e-versions of the other three and have essentially told me that if I don't sign their amendment I'll never get those rights back. Nice. And no, I'm not signing. I suspect the reason they're becoming increasingly pushy about getting authors to sign is because they KNOW they would never prevail should authors sue, so they want those old contracts amended ASAP. I'm not helping them, even if it means less money for me in the meantime. (I just received my first royalty statement covering the 3 books they digitized in October. For the 3 months of sales of those books, I earned a grand total of $8.11 which wasn't even enough to generate a check.) Meanwhile, the books I've digitized myself, including (so far) two of my reverted Harlequins, are selling quite nicely.

By the way, I have a preliminary report on indie author earnings up at my website and am looking to update it as more authors self-e-pub and as books are up longer. I'd love more figures for my next update, if any of you are willing to share. (Everything totally anonymous, ALWAYS. I don't keep names.) It's at http://brendahiatt.com/show-me-the-money/indie-earnings/

Oh, and thanks to Joe, too! Listening to your experiences at the 2010 Novelists, Inc. conference was what spurred me to jump into e-pubbing my backlist and I'm VERY glad I did!

Cody Young said...

This romance writer has already jumped ship from traditional to indie - and very happy with the decision. Vive la revolution!

Gary said...

Harlequin have not acted disgustingly. I am sure they did not send crack-heads round to Ann's house with pliers and blowtorches to get their contract signed. They are a business they are not going to just hand back rights they own because an author has a better deal elsewhere. Get real!
Sometimes you have to wipe your mouth and get on with things. We have all made mistakes and agreed to things we have later regretted. Ann is lucky enough to now be able to cash in on the exposure she has got from Harlequin and I wish her luck.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Gary, you need to reread the section about how Harlequin licensed e-rights to themselves. I could not be aware of the internal shell game they are playing with erights. See Brenda's post right above. She has a very clear explanation, if mine in the post didn't make sense to you.

That's the problem I have with Harlequin. The rest of the substandard terms, I was aware of when I signed. And now that I have another choice, I'm taking it. I just think other writers should know what they're getting if they publish with Harlequin's series lines. Not whining. Information.

And in a best case scenario, maybe they'll change some of these terms.

Jill James said...

I've read Ann's Harlequin Intrigues and I'll be following her writing wherever it goes.

Michelle Muto said...

Wow. Just wow. I hear of traditional writers who are jumping ship more and more often. Yet, stories like this keep driving the point home. I don't regret a single moment of going it on my own.
Thanks, Ann.

Gary said...

Okay, I will retract the not acting disgustingly bit:)
But I stand by the rest.

Michelle D said...

Joe, thank you for these posts. I only found you six months ago, but have learned so much. I write romance and fantasy, have won/placed in many awards here and in the US, and am at the point of R&R on fulls to agents and editors. The more I read, though, the more I ask myself if I really want to sell my soul just to see my stories in print. Things I would never have known about, or known to query - such as limited licensing, reversions and all those nitty-gritty things - I have learned about here and other blogs like Kris Rusch's. And truthfully, it scares the bejesus out of me that you can be screwed so royally. I live in Australia and we are told at our conferences that Harlequin and the Big 6 are the epitome of what we strive to achieve. But one of my best friend's debut launched a few months ago, and every single bookstore I enter and ask about her book, they dont stock, or cant order, usually both. I dont want to lose the rights forever to the work I love, the work I sweated blood to make as perfect as possible, just so I can say, "Oh, yes, I'm with X publisher". I want to make a living at this, and I want to make a viable contribution to our household income and relieve the pressure on my husband. Trad publishing is looking more and more like not the way to go.

And like Ann, I want to be able to get my kids braces if they need them. Thank you both, again, for this. It really makes you think.


Unknown said...

Ann, I downloaded the copy of your newest thriller but I would have rather paid for it and here is why... I know who you are as I have both the novel and the novella you wrote with JA Konrath.

I am also a mother with two children (a three year old daughter -- come the 19th of May -- and a 9 year old). I am divorced and my daughter also is going to need braces soon (*oh the horror!!!*).

This story made me want to cry because there are hundreds of thousands of writers out there who think if they can just get a publisher, they have won the gold medal. I have one friend who is miserable in her publishing contract but it's a three-book deal so what can you do?

I have read your story and so many others. How I wish the Big 6 would treat EVERY writer like James Patterson, Stephen King and Amanda Hocking but it ain't gonna happen. You have just given me another reason why I should be glad to stay indie (I just wish I could sell more books).

From one mother to another, do what you have to do and get your son his braces. F*ck Harlequin unless they plan on writing you a check (no loan mind you) to get your son's braces for you and we both know that is likely as us jumping off the Empire State Building holding hands and shouting "Tawanda!" (an old Fried Green Tomatoes reference).

Unknown said...

And yes, technically Harlequin isn't one of the Big 6 but they are a legacy publisher and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

To be honest, I think a lot of it is outright sexism. How many male romance writers are there in the world? It's always okay to pay women less. I wonder if the chairperson of the board at Harlequin is a woman and would she (or he) want her or his own daughter to be treated this way?

the hopeless romantic said...

As a new writer, and frequent Harlequin reader, this is so upsetting to me.

I was thinking about contacting HQ but now I'm so glad I didn't.

I have thankfully been put under contract by a smaller publisher in Oregon, Black Opal Books, and so far I feel like they have treated me very well. I have not received any money yet because my book isn't quite ready for release. But I have a fellow author friend who has worked with them and likes them.

Good luck to all and I'm so sorry for all of you who have been taken advantage of.

William J. Thomas said...

Everyone reading this post needs to download Ann's new ebook from Amazon for free. Then tell everyone you know to do the same.

Even if everyone reading these comments points 100 of their friends to get Pushed Too Far for free right now, that number would still only be the equivalent of a single hair on the Amazon Mystery/Thriller buying public's head.

Right now it's about getting the book a high Amazon ranking and a good volume of reviews. So when it goes to regular price it will be positioned to be NOTICED by Amazon buyers.

While it's admirable to want to wait to purchase the book to get Ann some $ for her work, I'm sure she really wants as many as possible to get it now while it's free. (Otherwise she wouldn't have made it a freebie...)

Anne Marie Novark said...

Back in the day, I was writing, dreaming and submitting in the hopes of becoming a Harlequin/Silhouette author.

Except, I've never been good at "submission." I don't know how many rejections I received, but every one of them broke my heart and nearly broke my spirit.

Now, I am SO thankful I never sold to HQ!!! I've self-published all the manuscripts that were languishing on my hard drive, and every one of those books have hit the Bestseller Lists on Amazon, B&N and Apple.

I love being an Indie Author!!!

Autumn Jordon said...

Ann, Thank you for being so open about your experience with HQ.

I’m an author sitting on the fence about submitting to NY. I’m a 2009 Golden Heart ®finalist and a 2010 Golden Leaf Winner with HIS WITNESS TO EVIL. I signed a contract with a small publisher before learning I was a Golden Heart. While my experience with them was good, I decided to pull my rights back and indie published the novel in March. I did not enter the select program, because I believe I should be paid for my work and not give it away in mass numbers. While I haven’t made into the top 100 yet, so far I’ve sold consistently.

The reason I’m telling you all this is why? Because while I believe I’ve put out a quality book at a competitive rate, my sales are not going to pay the mortgage, yet! Marketing is damn hard and takes time. You will do great as an indie because HQ has marketed you and you have a following. For someone like myself, who is unknown, it is going to take many hours of promoting the book and myself. Those hours are hours I could be writing. (FYI; I have two other books still with the small press)

If an author does decide to self-publishing, they must realize they’re starting a business, and be willing to wear many hats and work long hours, learning about industry and marketing as well as craft.

Do I believe I should give a publisher 98% of my earnings to do the marketing for me? No. I don’t think so. That is why I’m sitting on the fence after reading this. My plan was to put my eggs in many baskets. Now, I’m wondering if that is the best plan.

Jen Talty will be speaking to my local chapter (www.PLRW.org) this Saturday, May 12, 2012, and I will be prying her with a ton of questions.

In the meantime, I’ll keep sending out my weekend tweets as AJordon; Support An Author. Buy A Book This Weekend.

Thanks again,
Autumn Jordon

Gabriella Edwards said...

It HAD been a "dream" of mine to publish with HQ since I was a kid. Up until a few years ago, I felt it was the true measure of success in romantic fiction. That opinion has steadily soured over the years on my road to publication.

I'm lucky to have published with a smaller, well respected house that now offers a higher royalty rate, yet self-publishing seems like the route to go.

Thanks for sharing Ann's story. I needed to read this.

Wisegoddess said...

These posts are so encouraging to a noob like myself, reminding me it’s going to be okay and I’m not crazy for going the alternative route.

I signed a really bad contract to get started (5%) and since then, I’ve gone the indie path – but still, unfortunately, I’m perpetually being told by people who’ve been in the business for decades that I won’t be able to support myself as a writer. It just can’t be done. I’m not sure why they insist on applying their limitations to my career except they are certain of their own failure, which I suspect was created and perpetuated by the very thing in this blog posting –unfair trade practice and artist exploitation.

What Harlequin and other publishers do to authors, how poorly they are contracted with, is sickening. It’s revolting and dishonest.

I’m really sorry for Ann and the many other writers like her who were/are taken advantage of, and I sincerely hope – they make a f*cking financial killing on their independent works!

*** Ann, I hope you go on to make whatever fame and fortune you have always wanted from your writing. Seriously. Knock ‘em dead and then enjoy a well-earned gloating fest.

Good luck!

Donna Ball said...

Dear Ann--
My name is Rebecca Flanders. I was a top selling author (with 75+ books) for Harlequin/Silhouette in the 80s and 90s. I lauched Harlequin American, Harlequin Intrigue, Harlequin Premier Edition, Harlequin Dreamscapes(which is credited with starting the paranormal romance genre). Several years ago I calculated that if all the books I had published with Harlequin had been paid a fair 8% royalty throughout the world they would now owe me only $7.4 million.

I could have accomplished a lot in the past 20 years with that money, including straightening my OWN teeth:). Which is why I am now starting my own publishing company based on what I have learned not to do from my wise teachers in New York and Canada.

Not that I have issues or anything.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

"If an author does decide to self-publishing, they must realize they’re starting a business, and be willing to wear many hats and work long hours, learning about industry and marketing as well as craft."

This is true of publishing with a publishing house, too. Self publishing is extra work, in that you have to hire the help you need to get the job done, unless you happen to be a pro in many areas. But the things you have listed are jobs an author has to do no matter how you publish.

Jen Talty is a great person to talk to about this. Talk about some lucky timing!

Anonymous said...

What type of compete clause does Harlequing have?

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Donna! You wrote The Key, Harlequin Intrigue #1! So glad to meet you!

Your own publishing company? That sounds intriguing.

Sorry, I had to go there. ;)

I'm looking forward to seeing where you take this. :)

Ann Voss Peterson said...

"What type of compete clause does Harlequing have?"

You mean no compete? I have not heard of one. There isn't one in my contracts.

Jude Hardin said...

Just read the first chapter of Pushed Too Far. Nice job!

Patricia McLinn said...

Another former Hq/Silh author lining up to thank Ann for sharing her experience, and to thank Joe for providing this venue.

23 books with H/S, 9 of which they still hold rights to.

Now 19 titles self-e-pubbed.

Guess which group I'm happier about.

"And there's a never-ending stream of newbies who want to publish with the leading name in romance."

That's another reason Ann's post is so valuable.

Any chance of Hq acknowledging the value of its authors through better terms relies on it not basing its business decisions on the conviction that any current or past author can be replaced at any time by 100 eager aspiring writers, each willing to accept worse terms.

Will Ann's post make Hq see the light? Unlikely. However,
Ann's post gives prospective Hq authors knowledge in straightforward terms. That's a tremendous gift.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Harlequin veteran, long-time association. I've written more than 60 books for them and was sent on publicity tours (no pay but nice digs), trotted out for interviews, touted at parties, the whole nine yards. I know Harlequin rather well. All this financial stuff aside, and it's sadly true, what about how they treat their authors otherwise? After a long association and many books on various bestseller lists as well as beaucoup awards all over the place, I was thrown away like a rotten fish. No nice phone call about how my numbers were down. (If they were, because I don't know if that was a problem for sure and certainly if I'd known it, I'd have taken a different and more favorable course in my writing for them.) I got along with everyone I ever met at Harlequin. I made it my business not to make enemies and not to burn bridges. My editor (my 15th or 16th there) got fired one day and emails to her went unanswered by anyone. Another author finally told me she was gone. I wasn't assigned a new editor. I tried submitting to other lines. No dice. Very polite, though. You would think that with their investment in my work over a period of I-don't-even-want-to-tell-you how many years, I could have had the courtesy of being informed that my editor was gone and that my work no longer was wanted. I was always top-notch professional in my dealings with them. They did not accord me the same. Stories like mine abound. If they're finding a lot of author resentment, maybe that's why. I've gone on to better things, but I watch this drama with mucho interest and great enthusiasm for what is to come.

Shelly Thacker said...

Ann, you are my new indie idol. Thank you for having the guts to say in public what has been whispered about in the romance community for years. I never wrote for HQ, but the Big 6 romance houses I did write for treated me almost as badly. Now that we have a better alternative, it's time for authors to rip up those "industry standard" contracts and use the most powerful word in our vocabulary: no.

I'll be promoting the heck out of your new release this week. Rock on, Ann Voss Peterson! I look forward to seeing your name at the top of the bestseller lists.

Joanna Novins said...

Romance is a cash cow and HQ is not alone in treating writers poorly--both in the way they pay and the way they "handle" authors. Have worked in many industries, and what passes for "professional" behavior in this business never ceases to amaze/horrify me. (There seems to be an assumption that when you hand over your work to an editor or agent, you're also supposed to hand over your brain...don't worry your pretty little head about that! Trust us!) Have been published by a big 6, and have worked for a publisher, and am now working to epublish my backlist and new work. The amount I have to learn is daunting, but stories like Ann's and others on this blog are what keep me moving forward. Thanks for speaking out.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Fantastic guest post; thanks Ann and Joe. The blinders fall from the eyes.

I've made almost three times a typical Harlequin advance in about four months on my self-pubbed novel. And I get to keep making money on it. So pleased that I took that leap of faith.

Everyone should read this.

Anonymous said...

Harlequin has since moved lock, stock, and barrel to Switzerland. And when asked this year if the authors were going to receive 1090s of our royalties for our income taxes, we were told they no longer have to abide by US tax laws.

Anonymous said...

Patricia McLinn said: "Will Ann's post make Hq see the light? Unlikely. "

I too am a Harlequin author, 27 books with them. And the thing about Ann's post is that she is publicly voicing what is being said in private and on loops by just about every single other Harlequin author I know. Maybe her post alone won't make Hq see the light, but it's the tip of a pretty big iceberg.

I stay anonymous here because I have two more books in my contract with them. After that, no more. As Ann said, I simply cannot afford it.

Kathleen Dienne said...

Autumn, if you're still reading: Stop! Do not promote your work! Don't spend time on anything except new books. The time and effort is completely wasted. You need a body of work before promotion will matter.

My early self-pub sales weren't exactly knocking my socks off, but now that I have seven stories available (well, one of them has disappeared, I have a help request in with Amazon right now), the numbers have been doubling every month with zero promotion on my part.

Just hang in there and write :)

Len said...

It's not personal,it's just business.

Why would Harlequin or the other publishers change such an advantageous arrangement? Good old competition, in terms of new distribution channels like Amazon might help. However, authors should be careful what they wish for and they may exchange one monopoly for another....

Anonymous said...

Years ago one of my series was BASKETED - a term I learned the hard way. Publishers know precisely how to cut costs - and wages, especially to their authors. Basketing is the practice of creating a contract for three or four books at once that in effect will not earn out until the final book, which means YEARS before the author might see a dime.

After this happened to me once, I insisted with any agent I worked that I would NOT accept a basketing arrangement on a book ever again.

When your agent wipes out whole paragraphs from the publsihing contract, you get a clear picture of just how much they want to fuck you over.

I now have an excellent relationship with my agent, ME, and my publisher, ME. Plus I am earning far, far more with kindle books than ever I did as a PauperBack Writer.

Robert W. Walker (Rob)

Anonymous said...

Years ago one of my series was BASKETED - a term I learned the hard way. Publishers know precisely how to cut costs - and wages, especially to their authors. Basketing is the practice of creating a contract for three or four books at once that in effect will not earn out until the final book, which means YEARS before the author might see a dime.

After this happened to me once, I insisted with any agent I worked that I would NOT accept a basketing arrangement on a book ever again.

When your agent wipes out whole paragraphs from the publsihing contract, you get a clear picture of just how much they want to fuck you over.

I now have an excellent relationship with my agent, ME, and my publisher, ME. Plus I am earning far, far more with kindle books than ever I did as a PauperBack Writer.

Robert W. Walker (Rob)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Authors I've talked to said that during this heyday, the average royalties on the books were $25-30K

This is, frankly, pretty low for a book, even back then. But also keep in mind that the royalties are often paid out over a number of years, so that money trickles in.

If you have a lot of books, I suppose you can do okay, but I find it pretty ridiculous that most authors—especially category romance writers—have to have day jobs in order to survive. It took me a few years to be able to quit mine, and I know many who still can't. Yet our books help pay the salaries of many people.

I was talking to my finance guy about this the other day, telling him about friends of mine who are making 30-40K per month self-publishing and how amazing I thought that was.

His response was simply, "Well that makes sense, doesn't it? That's all the cash the publishers usually pocket."

Ruth said...

I love category romance and have been a huge fan of Harlequin romances for over 20 years.

That said, it sounds like their refusal of my novel, Maid for the Billionaire, was the best thing that could have happened.

I've made about $130,000 since September 2011 by self-publishing two of my romance novels. This has allowed me to start writing full-time now and I'm loving it.

Change will come -- it always does. But hopefully, people like Joe will be here talking about what is happening and sharing their insights.

Thanks Joe and thank you Ann!

Anonymous said...

Harlequin has since moved lock, stock, and barrel to Switzerland. And when asked this year if the authors were going to receive 1090s of our royalties for our income taxes, we were told they no longer have to abide by US tax laws.

This is not exactly true. Harlequin has not moved to Switzerland. Their corporate offices remain in Toronto and as such, they have never had to send out 1099s or any other US tax document. (Perhaps they did when they were still operating as Silhouette in New York, but that's not the case anymore and hasn't been for a while.) I've been published with them since 1998 and I've never had a 1099 or any other tax related document. Means nothing to me.

Brava to Ann for posting!

Amy Valentini said...

Thanks for telling your story, Ann, as an aspiring romance writer, it's good to hear some truth about publishing. I have to say that I've never been a big fan of Harlequin and in only a few cases where I was a fan of a particular author did I even look at Harlequins.
I spent years as a Realtor and I can tell you that any time that you're dealing with commission split, it's the one doing all the work that gets screwed. If one of my clients complained, 'well, you're going to get 3% of the price of the house' I used to actually break it down into numbers for him/her. When I was done, they used to offer to pay me a huge tip which, of course, I had to refuse. 3% of a half million dollar home, try 1% out of which came all the marketing, the driving, the contract writing, the hours and the wear & tear on the car plus gas and paying Uncle Sam. No, there's working for yourself and then there's working to pay everyone else. Thanks for your bravery and for sharing. Y'all ROCK! Brava!

Melissa Douthit said...

Okay, Joe, I'll blog this!

Amy Valentini said...

@Kathleen Dienne, you said "Stop! Do not promote your work! Don't spend time on anything except new books."

Ideally, that's what every writer wants to do but if you can't afford to have a publisher do it, then what are you to do? I want to publish, I'm ready to publish. I write a blog to get my name out there. I've even thought about publishing some chapters on my blog to stir up interest. I know about marketing myself, I did it for yrs as a Realtor - your Broker doesn't do that for you, you do it because it's your business - but I also remember all the hats I had to wear and it makes for very long days and frankly, the pay ends up stinkin'.
So I ask you all, Ann, Joe, and Bob because you seem to have the best handle on things - what's an unpublished, aspiring writer to do?

JA Konrath said...

Two things:

First, Pushed Too Far is now #10 on the Free List. Thanks to all who downloaded it and spread the word, and congrats to Ann. I don't want to steal Ann's thunder and say how many copies she's given away in the last 24 hours, but it's a nice amount.

Second, the AAR just sent a letter to the DOJ, and I'm insanely angry about it. I wanted to leave Ann's post up for a few days on its own because it is important, but this AAR thing is also important, so I gotta blog about it as it's happening.

I don't want this thread to die. Keep linking to it. Keep tweeting. Keep commenting.

Rose said...

As always, thanks for the info and the encouragement.

Aric Mitchell said...

Guido Henkel: "Why get the free copy? That doesn't help her. I'll wait until it's switched back to paid and then I'll buy to make sure she actually earns some money. Isn't that the whole idea of the exercise?"

I've gotten to the point where if there's an author I like - yourself included, good sir - that I wait till it's off free to buy it as well. Makes me sick to see the THOUSANDS of copies of The Congregation that I've given away in the last few months. Just gotta keep reminding myself that maybe that exposure will count for something one day :).

Anonymous said...

Joe said:
"Everyone fears Amazon, because they someday may give authors less than 70% royalties."

I assume that by "everyone" you mean the mainstream media and some of the authors who still support the Big Six traditional publishers.

I doubt that they fear Amazon because Amazon might someday lower their royalties.

The mainstream media doesn't fear Amazon at all, it's the MONEY BEHIND THE MEDIA WHO FEARS AMAZON.

This is a case of OLD MONEY versus NEW MONEY.

Why the conflict?
Because the OLD MONEY doesn't want to lose money to the NEW MONEY.

The mainstream media doesn't care, they take their marching orders and carry water for whoever writes their paychecks and their allies.

This drama will play out by itself eventually...


Every blogger has got to expose the OLD MONEY for the greedy money grubbers that they are.
J. A. Konrath and Barry Eisler are exposing them... but just think about how much faster the change would happen if the THOUSANDS OF BLOGGERS got behind them.

Get on your blogs!

River said...

Wow, I thought it was a bad thing that I took 20 years off (published by Crown Books once upon a time). I hated the contracts, the bad (and crazy) agents I went through, lack of any power. Although I could have had a backlist no doubt it would have been signed away--of course, I would have--it was all the choice there was back then. Getting back into writing now as self-pub is perfect, just perfect. I have all the power--to choose a cover designer (or do it myself), choose an editor and design and market everything myself--if I choose to. I love it. And no stinkin 6 cents per book even if I choose 99 cents sale price. Yeah, life is good.


Nina Bruhns said...

You go girl!

Like you, I loved writing for Harlequin (20 books For Silhouette Intimate Moments, Romantic Suspense, and Nocturne), loved every one of my editors, my 3 imprints, and the kinds of stories I was able to write for them. But when I found out the blatant deception Harlequin (unapologetically) perpetrated in their author contracts, I could no longer stomach working for the company. What other hidden clauses might there be still waiting for authors to discover?

As many others have commented here, I am making more in royalties each month indie-pubbing than I made on the entire earn-out for many of my books released by Harlequin.

And to add insult to injury, they stubbornly refuse to revert rights to our old titles. It is outrageous that they continue to hold hostage rights to books that earn less than a dollar per year for the author. The greed is simply beyond comprehension.

I don't have kid braces to pay for, but I did just last week pay off the last of my own college loans and CC bills which I've been forced to float all these years, barely making a dent in them, because of our endlessly miniscule HQ royalty checks. Thank you, Amazon!

Viva la e-revolution. :)

Tiffinie Helmer said...

WOW! I've known that Harlequin had the boiler plate contract and there wasn't anything anyone could do. That alone made me shy away. Your agent can't even negotiate with them. How is that not a red flag? Time to wave your own flag. Not only do you get to keep all the money, you get to choose your own name! Thanks for sharing Ann, downloading your book now.

Monya Clayton said...

I have never dealt with Harlequin, fortunately. I am published by a U.S. e-publisher with a good reputation, who print any novels over 65,000 words. The rewards have been small because at age now 71, and with health issues, I am quite unable to do the marketing and promotion required.

That's my own problem, but here's another; Amazon reduced my historical romance to $2.39 on Kindle a few years ago and it shot to #3200 on their Kindle list. My reward was about $110; they reduce the amount paid to the publisher who therefore has to reduce the amount of my royalties. Okay, par for the course.

Overseas writers (I'm Australian) face another dilemna. We need to have a U.S. tax no. to receive our earnings, small as they are. As well as the horrendous stacks of paperwork needing to be filed to get the ITIN, it costs anything from $300 up. I have earned about that amount in total royalties. Therefore, like many other international authors, am being paid in copies of my books. (My decision.)

I would go through the process to collect an ITIN if my earnings justified it. They don't at present.

I sympathise with you, Ann, that you've been treated so badly, and quite understand your decision to self publish. Hope you raise the cash for that boy's teeth!

Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Ah, but as many have stated before, HQN--with the continued abetment of the RWA--is the Holy Grail of romance publishing, and no matter how many longtime HQN authors jump ship to self-publish, there are many, many, many authors (especially those not residing in the US or the UK and only know that HQN brand) willing to dedicate their entire lives trying to breaking into category romance. The clincher is that both sides, jumped-ship and pro-HQN, will point out that without HQN, Romance Author X wouldn't have his or her career or platform to successfully self-publish. The first step is, IMO, is to divorce the notion of success from the wrongful treatment of authors and the continued support of this poor treatment by major writers' organizations. But, with the RWA so invested in traditional publishing, I only see the boat rocking if major names stand up without fear of retribution OR if this was pursued through legal avenues.

Anonymous said...

Monya Clayton, I just got an EIN as a canadian and it was free. I went to the Amazon walkthrough for an ITIN, printed it up, sent it, and 4 or so weeks later I got an EIN(instead of an ITIN) back which works. I sent it to Amazon and about 3 weeks later they emailed to say it was entered.

Here is Amazon's walk through, you can use it for Amazon or any other business in the US.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering whether anyone knows of someone who has successfully negotiated Harlequin's boilerplate reversion clauses before signing the contract.

I ask, because I have a friend who
signed with Harlequin in the days when one of the standard clauses in the contract prevented the author from using their author name for anything other than Harlequin publications (someone referred to this clause earlier in the comments). My friend requested that the clause be removed from the contract - Harlequin agreed - and my friend signed the contract.

I'm sure that my friend is not the only author to have successfully challenged a Harlequin boilerplate clause - but am willing to grant that the only reason she was successful was that the writing was already on the wall for that particular clause (anyone know the history of the removal of that clause from the boilerplate?)

Is it possible that the writing might be also on the wall for the unfair reversion clauses? Do Harlequin authors perhaps have more wriggle room in negotiating the boilerplate than is popularly believed?

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 6:37 AM: The RWA fought this clause in the early 90s, per this comment here. Laura Resnick/Leone explains the psuedonym clause on her website.

However, considering how many e-publishers have gone down in flames due to the Great Silence, and how Dorchester was allowed to spiral for years before it finally put itself up for auction, I just don't see the RWA moving against anything right now. In fact, I feel the open membership has become the organization's Achilles' heel: they have to prop up traditional publishing because a great majority of their members are unpublished. If the RWA and its chapters do not give unpublished authors a channel to agents and editors via conferences and contests, their membership numbers would probably dwindle. And so, the distraction within the organization is all about defining who is and who isn't published instead of giving tools for making money at this gig.

Janice Lane Palko said...

I pitched to Harlequin a few years back at the RWA convention in NYC, and they opted to review my complete manuscript. After holding it for several months, they ultimately rejected it because it didn't fit within any of their lines.

After reading Ann's story, I can say I'm grateful I was rejected! Thanks for exposing what an awful business strategy signing with a traditional publisher is. That "rejected" novel will be coming out this summer. I love being in control of my destiny.

Have never read any of Ann's books, but I just downloaded this one. Good luck, Ann.

Unknown said...

It's great that she's willing to come out and be specific about the situation she's in and what's so bad about it. As writers, I really think sharing information about earnings is the best way to try and hold the industry to a higher standard. As a romance writer, I got a lot of useful information from Brenda Hiatt's sales data that she's been collecting for ages now - http://brendahiatt.com/show-me-the-money/

Anonymous said...

Where should I start. Like everyone, I too was seduced by the Harlequin brand. After multiple rejections I got as far as a personal phone call from the associate editor who loved the book. But the senior editor nixed it. Said the hero wasn't heroic enough. Strange that when I published the book with another house and RT reviewed it they said the best thing was how heroic the hero was. WTF?

Then, dummy me, gave them another chance with what would be my 100th release. That was more than a year ago, I sold the book elsewhere and I still HAVE NOT HEARD FROM THEM.

When I first began writing in 2004 I received enough rejections to make a grown woman cry but I soldiered on. I chose to go with digital publishing, just then beginning to grow. I have been blessed with the most wonderful editors who really make me d brain gymnastics to polish my books and have taught me so much. I love my contracts, my percentages and most of all my royalties. I write for 5 houses, all of whom I love. I've been a best-selling author in Fictionwise for six months, two of my books (one a self-pub) are still kin Amazon's Top 100 romance categories, and one of my books just won a Holt Medallion.

I guess I should thank Harlequin for rejecting me because my career never would have taken off the way it did otherwise.

Thank you, Ann and Joe, for this wonderful blog which I am bookmarking. And Ann? I just downloaded your book and will be happy tp pimp it everywhere.

Oh, and I tweeted this blog.

Autumn Jordon said...

Kathleen Dienne said...
Autumn, if you're still reading: Stop! Do not promote your work! Don't spend time on anything....
Just hang in there and write :)

I am definitely reading. Thanks for the advice, Kathleen. I have three books out now, another RS ready and three more awarding works of different genres on my hard-drive. I hestitate putting them out because of establishing myself as an RS author. (That branding thing) But when I see authors such as Roxanne St Claire switch from RS to contemporary because the 'market is soft', I think why not me too. Readers are not dump. They know from the book's blurp whether it is RS or not.

I've heard agents and publishers say that the romantic suspense market is soft. Yet, I read the readers cries on Goodreads and Kindle boards screaming for more RS. I wonder who is making the RS market soft. hmmmm
Joe, I hope you don't mind a plug for Jen Talty and my chapter here. Delete this comment if you do.

If your readers live in PA, NY or NJ, Jen will be doing a 3 hr workshop for our chapter this Saturday on self-publishing. The cost is $15.00 for non-plrw (Pocono-Lehigh) members. We do have limited seating. Here is the link for more info; www.plrw.org

Thanks for posting.

DearHelenHartman said...

Applauding Ann. Amazing transparency in a time when so many rumors swirl about what will happen next in publishing. Here's a clue: Before I ever sold to HQ in the mid 90s a major mag told pretty much the same kind of story titled The Slaves of Harlequin.

I wrote for and learned from HQ (and many other major pubs)with my eyes open. While I did some of my best work in women's fiction there (for books they did nothing to promote and I will never own the rights to)I always thought of the romances as my 'day job'. Now I have a real day job and have been telling myself I don't have the time or money to invest in epubbing. Honesty like this makes me realize I don't have time or money to waste NOT doing it.

Hallee Bridgeman said...

This is probably the clearest article I've read that highlights the numbers this way.

I'm so happy I chose to self publish.

Thank you for sharing this information. So many authors simply are afraid to.

Hallee Bridgeman

Autumn Jordon said...

Joe said...Second, the AAR just sent a letter to the DOJ, and I'm insanely angry about it. I wanted to leave Ann's post up for a few days on its own because it is important, but this AAR thing is also important, so I gotta blog about it as it's happening.

So where can we read it, Joe?

Maria McKenzie said...

After several rejections from agents and publishers, I opted to self-publish with Amazon. I've been pleased with my decision! I've had decent sales and folks are reading and liking my book! That's better than having it sit on my thumb drive.

A writer friend just asked if I had given up on pursuing traditional publishing. I said I was undecided. However, after reading this post, I think I'll stick with self publishing! I like being in control of my work, and I also like the 70% royalties!

Ann Voss Peterson said...

" And the thing about Ann's post is that she is publicly voicing what is being said in private and on loops by just about every single other Harlequin author I know. Maybe her post alone won't make Hq see the light, but it's the tip of a pretty big iceberg."

Exactly. Harlequin would be smart to listen and change things for the better. Not for my sake, but in order to keep the authors they still have.

And as for the AAR's letter to the DOJ, doesn't it seem like everything happens at once sometimes? :)

Kathleen Dienne said...

@Amy Valentini: My comment was literal. Don't do anything but write books. That means four things - you write the books, you edit the books, you format the books, and you do covers for the books.

Nowhere on that list is promoting, blogging, tweeting, interviewing, or pimping.

I got that advice from Dean Wesley Smith's site. It works. Each book you have for sale is an ad for your other books for sale. It's the only sure way to increase visibility. Everything else is a crapshoot, so why play craps? Why not focus on the sure thing?

My top selling story right now has never even been tweeted. Across all platforms, it's selling 40-50 copies a month. Not impressive... except that it seems to be driving sales of my other six stories. So across all seven stories across all platforms, I'm moving a couple hundred copies. If you plot my sales since last year, the curve is exponential - and I'm getting ready to add a new short and a new novella.

I still have a day job. If I were trying to write new content AND do promo... well, I can't do it.

Anyway, don't worry about promo :)

Anonymous said...

Most "traditionally" published romance authors likely have similar stories. Add mine. I was published with Kensington, four titles, and though I liked my editor, little else about the process was fulfilling. Certainly the money was not a plus. I actually left without the thought of self-publishing. I felt I was simply leaving publishing behind. Writing novels and placing them under my bed was more enjoyable.

In the past six months, I have released my entire backlist, and unbelievably, made more money than I ever did with Kensington. Much more. I have control over marketing, well-packaged novels, and instantaneous sales information. And best of all, new readers!

I think any writer who has not traveled through the NYC machine dreams about it. And perhaps it's good for some.

Cheers to the indie movement!

Judy Teel said...

Being rejected by Harlequin (with a very helpful 2-pg letter from Katheryn Lye, by the way) was the best thing that ever happened to me. It launched my indie career.

Thank you for telling the truth that's out there Ann!

James N Cook said...

You're the man, Joe. Beat 'em down. Self-publishing is the future. The pages of history are littered with the corpses of fallen giants, and there's a nice big mass grave waiting for the Big Six.

Anonymous said...

Harlequin author here. Have to be anonymous because I have books left on contract. But I've been so pissed off lately with how Harlequin as a company treats their authors.

I have huge global sales and I love the reach to readers worldwide. I've been on best seller lists, including a major one. But I make five figures off my work every year. And that's making me more and more angry.

I work hard and write a lot of books. I'm on the Harlequin treadmill, and while I appreciate my editor and the work she does to help me make my books the best they can be, it's not enough to make me happy with the money.

Kudos, Ann, for doing something about it and for sharing your experience. I have the pleasure of having met you, and I know you're a dedicated, professional author. Best of luck to you in this endeavor. I'm following you just as soon as I can do it.

JDuncan said...

Eye-opening, Ann. Thanks for the info.

To new writers who see this kind of thing and think that they just need to plop their book up on Amazon and start raking in the profit, understand that self-publishing does not mean easy-publishing. You still have to put out a quality product if you want a chance at success. You still need to be able to put out more than one title every 6-8 months. You still need to get your work edited and copy-edited and get decent covers. To do it right takes resources. Take the time to learn and write. Write a LOT. Educate yourself on how this business works for those who do find success. The odds are still stacked against you, so don't believe this is an easy way out because the traditional folks didn't like your book. It still takes work and time and money to make this a career. If you want to do it on your own, be willing to invest in it. Take it seriously and have respect for the art of story. If you don't, it makes all of us out there who do look all the worse for it.

Ruth Axtell said...

I, too, am one of those authors who can no longer afford to write for Harlequin. Thankfully, I didn't have too many titles at stake. I've heard years ago, authors could make a decent living writing for Harlequin. But in recent years, Hq. has started so many new lines and upped the number of books in each line released each month, so that they, the company, makes more money, and we the authors get a smaller and smaller slice of the pie.

Kelly Nomad said...

This reaffirms my decision to self-publish. Thanks Ann and Joe for speaking out.

JA Konrath said...

I don't want to step on this thread, so I'll post my AAR blog tomorrow.

Until then, Passive Guy has begun to touch on the matter.


Louis Shalako said...

I've been offered four contracts by publishers. There was no advance. There was no reversion clause. The real kicker was the clause where they could renew their license by publishing a new edition in another language or format. No mention was made of actually doing anything with other rights, but they wanted all of them. Why would they need film rights? Anime? Lunch-bucket stickers? For the low-down on suspicious publishers, readers can check out 'Absolute Write Watercooler,' or 'Preditors and Editors,' etc. Seller beware.

Jan S. said...

Thanks, Joe and Ann. Ann, I've downloaded your book to my Kindle. Looking forward to reading it. :)

And Joe's post/Ann's post - wow. I'm so glad that Ann and all of us who are writers now have self-publishing alternatives to that kind of treatment.

And the comments have been as valuable and educational as the post itself. It's like the post taught the lesson, but the comments have really hammered it home. ;) Much food for thought.

Nina Pierce said...

Thank you Ann for confirming what many of us have suspected for awhile. It's honesty like this that helps other authors make informed business decisions.

Nancy Beck said...

So I ask you all, Ann, Joe, and Bob because you seem to have the best handle on things - what's an unpublished, aspiring writer to do?

Write. Write some more. Then write some more. (You get the drift...)

Read Dean Wesley Smith's blog (Google his name), and you'll see he advocates NOT marketing/promoting until you have a LOT of books up. (Read the blog comments, too, because you'll learn even more.)

You can do the free stuff, like tweeting, if you find it fun. (That's my philosophy, anyway.) But don't get too carried away. The more books you have out there, the more of a chance that a lot of people will find and like/love your stuff.

It just takes some time.

And don't be afraid to learn how to use a graphics program like Photoshop Elements or something similar. I've always found that sort of stuff fun, so it was a no brainer for me to find a couple of low-cost courses on using Elements. (There are also YouTube and other videos around.)

And learn how to upload a crisp copy of your manuscript to Amazon and other sites. It sounds daunting, but it really isn't - even when you mess up like I did (solved by using the Nuclear Option to clear out all the crap Word introduces). Get the Smashwords style guide (free!). Need a free word processor like Word? Try LibreOffice (same as Open Office, but it's supported). Then get the Open Office formatting ebook that I recommend to everyone (it's on the Smashwords site for about $2.99 or so), because it WORKS VERY WELL.

Sometimes you have to take certain uncomfortable risks in order to move forward in your life. I'm glad I did that last July, when I uploaded my first novella.

Good luck! :-)

Jill James said...

It has been sad to see so many comments of 'you didn't have to sign', and 'they didn't force you'. When you want to get published, especially in category romance, there was no other game in town. So did you want to get paid doing what you loved or just put another manuscript under the bed? Hearing "Yes, we want to publish you" is pretty strong incentive to sign after a lifetime of rejections.

JA Konrath said...

Hearing "Yes, we want to publish you" is pretty strong incentive to sign after a lifetime of rejections.

That's what is so insidious about this situation in particular, and publishing in general. Exploiting a group of talented people just because you can is wrong. It's human nature, but wrong just the same.

We all want the best for ourselves, and often get it at the expense of others. But publishing is a controlled, systematic subjugation of an entire group that has no real choice.

At least, they didn't have a choice until Amazon came along.

Cheryl Tardif said...

Hey Joe and all,

Harlequin and most of the other publishing companies that have been around for decades will either have to change with the tides or get sucked into the undertow. Gone are the old ways of doing business. In with the new. And that includes new publishing companies with fairer terms and better treatment of their authors.

Imajin Books, my company, happens to be one of them. We don't follow the old rules. We've created a unique way of doing business, one that treats authors with the respect they deserve. We don't lock them into horrible contracts and no-compete clauses. We encourage them to expand their horizons. If that means they self-publish on the side, good for them.

I'm also an indie author. I've had much success, especially in the past few months. In March I was noticed by a leading lit agent when my thriller CHILDREN OF THE FOG made it to #4 on Amazon's Top 100 PAID Kindle bestsellers list, right under The Hunger Games trilogy. That's out of ALL ebooks. I'm still reeling.

The agent wanted my print/ebook rights. A few years ago I would have been thrilled beyond belief to have an agent come to me. But this time, they wanted a piece of MY pie. I'd sold over 10,000 copies of that book and earned over $42,000 with all my sales in 1 month. Yup, they wanted my pie.

I did not sign with them. In fact, I found a foreign rights agent instead and she's working on translation deals for me as I'm too busy to handle this side. I have a number of works in deals now. But I handle all my English language print and ebook rights.

I "fell" into publishing after being approached by authors who wondered if I'd publish their books. At first I said no. But being a smart business person and someone who has always supported other authors, I realized there still is (and will be for some time) a need for a different kind of publisher, one that works WITH authors. Not a subsidy, but an advance & royalty paying publisher that gives authors a say on the creation of their book.

I work very hard for my authors and the feedback I've received has been very rewarding. And if one of our authors decides to go on to self-publishing, I'll be the first to applaud them. Imajin Books will be a home for some authors for a while and a stepping stone for others.

So while I agree that most of the "old style" traditional publishers will fade into non-existence if they don't find a way to adapt and treat authors fairly, not all publishers are bad.

P.S. As an indie author, I made over $42,000 from KDP Select. Check out my book on how I did it. :-)

Cheryl Tardif
International bestselling author & publisher at Imajin Books

Hope Welsh said...

The first book I wrote nearly 20 years ago went to Silhouette (a division of Harlequin)

It made it quite a way -- before it was finally rejected.

I was very disappointed, of course. That book is still sitting in my computer waiting on me to revise to 'modern" day.

I can certainly understand why writers are leaving. Linda Wisdom, a great writer and a Harlequin writer, has put many of her books out on her own with her own company. Her backlist.

It's a shame they won't do a 3 year contract and then give the rights back.

My only complaint with being an indie is that I will never be on a bookshelf in Wally World or any other bookstore. That saddens me.

Still--I'd rather make the money I make each month than the $6k most authors seem to make on a book.

They aren't the only ones, though. I made more this MONTH with my book LINKED than I've made in THREE YEARS on another title with a small publisher.

I wouldn't even consider a publisher at this point, I don't think. It just doesn't pay--on many, many levels.

A.R. Wise said...

My series, Deadlocked, came out late last year and has already earned me FAR more than your standard first novel contract. And that's in just five months on the market! From this point forward, any money I make off of those books (which I have 100% of the rights to) will exceed the amount made by most authors off their first book. Simply amazing. I have the ebook revolution to thank.

Anonymous said...

Joe said: "I met Ann a few years ago at a writing convention. She's a terrific writer, and has a better grasp of story structure than nearly anyone I've encountered in this business."

Any advice or websites where we can learn to get a better grasp of story structure?

Seriously, if she's the best you've ever met as far as story structure, please share with us how to get better. :)

Ann, maybe you can give us some advice too. :)

JA Konrath said...

Ann, maybe you can give us some advice too. :)

Yeah, Ann! How long have I been bugging you to blog about that? Didn't you promise you'd write that for me?

Anonymous said...

She needed the "at arms length" clause in her contract!

I can't believe it's not there or that her agent (if she had one) didn't insert it.

It basically prevents a company licensing or selling to itself or a branch of itself or a group-related company and paying pitiful royalties on those tiny amounts.

It's quite a basic clause and one that is vital in the era of multinationals.

This seems like some variation of self-dealing to me. I'm sure a lawyer could dig into this more. If this was allowed to slip by, many companies would be doing it.

Company A sells to branch company B. They take profit, company A struggles along making nothing. Anyone have examples of where this has been found and crushed under the law?

Suz de said...

Ann did not mention, possibly because it's outside her main topic, that the payment schedule used by the major print publishers all include the practice of paying royalties only twice annually and long after the money is actually earned. That made sense when everything was done on paper via snail mail. Now, most businesses have gone digital. I'm sure that Harlequin has sales data and $$ far more promptly than, say, ten or twenty years ago. And yet, there's a minimum six month lag between the issuance of a royalty statement and a check and the period when that money was actually earned. What they're doing is hanging onto our money while it earns interest for them.

shsh said...

This is truly opprobrious and even though I'm not a novelist I'm horrified. I've picked up the "free for now" PUSHED TOO FAR on Kindle, bought another of Ann's books just for the halibut and then also bought FREE, for another halibut.

So there, Harlequin!!!

Unknown said...

Joe said ---

3.” I'm no lawyer, but licensing rights to yourself and calling it a separate company doesn't seem kosher. I have no horse in this particular race, but I urge those with horses to do something about it.”

I did do something about it, Joe.

Although I had originally been published by Headline in the UK, some years ago I signed up with an Irish publisher that sought me out - very keen to get me and my books. I was flattered. I gave them “Tread Softly On My Dreams” and “Fire On The Hill” and my just-completed novel “Ghosts In Sunlight.” The top man himself dealt directly with me and I felt very favoured.

Until I started to receive very low royalty statements and very large numbers of letters from readers all over the world. When I queried how my books were doing, I was always told “not very good.”

Then one day I saw “Tread Softly On My Dreams” listed on Barnes & Noble’s site, published by an American company I had never heard of, nor ever signed a contract with.
I queried it with my publisher who said the American company was “part of us,” and no, I would not receive an advance for the US rights because they owned 25% of the American company – an affiliation that had started AFTER I had signed my contracts. So, in short, that company had been given my books for no advance to the author, and no contract either.

After days of thinking “this can’t be right,’ I made my decision. My Irish contracts were subject to Irish Law so I started legal proceedings in Ireland and went straight to the High Court because I knew that in lower courts the lawyer who plays the cleverest game often wins – but in THE HIGH COURT all cases are decided solely on the LAW

If I had lost my civil action our house would have had to be sold, but my anger was beyond compromise – for four years when my children were asleep I had researched and written “Tread Softly On My Dreams” all through the night, sacrificing sleep and social life – and now my publishers were acting as if it was not MY intellectual property, but theirs – to do with what they wished.

Lord O’Neill. the judge, got straight to the crux of the matter when he commented that not one of the contracts seemed to have a “get-out clause”. My barrister confirmed there was none – the publisher had sewn up all rights in my works for ever.

“Slavery was abolished more than a century ago,” Lord O’Neill commented; and the case we had expected to take three days was over in just one afternoon – with an order that all rights in my books revert to me immediately.

I didn’t waste any time on savouring the victory, because I was still mad at the audacity of it – that any publisher should believe that authors should work like slaves regularly turning out books just to make a good profit for THEM – and there was still the matter of my low royalties against massive piles of readers’ letters to be equalised and explained.

A second civil case was started, resulting in the publisher offering me an out-of-court settlement of £50,000 (US $80,000)
On the downside, although I became a heroine in the newsletters of The Irish Writers Union at that time, I also had a sense that no other Irish publisher would dare to sign me, so I didn’t even apply.

But I’m glad I made the fight, as crazy as it seemed to others at the time; and it all turned out for the best because I was unable to do any writing at all in the years that followed, due to my teenage son breaking his back and needing my care for a long time. But we both got through it, and he is now a successful young actor (check him out as the lead actor in Sony’s VITA tv commercial in the US) and I am now back in my study writing my books and loving the freedom I feel publishing them on AMAZON!

Ann, I loved your post, and the very best of success in the future – same to you, Joe, and to all you Indie authors – the very BEST of selling success.


Ann Voss Peterson said...

Sorry I've been scarce this afternoon. I've been dealing with a bit of a crisis with one of my dogs. :( But I wanted to thank you for all the support, both for your comments and for downloading PUSHED TOO FAR.

It is now #1 on the overall Kindle free books list.

Thanks, everyone, and I hope you enjoy the book.

Thanks, Joe. And I'll get on that craft post. It took long enough for me to do this one. :)

BTW, the best way to learn structure is (in order):
1. read novels
2. watch movies

B Alvarez said...

I've been writing a book that I (had) planned to market to Harlequin through an agent. After seeing these figures, I may look elsewhere. Thank you!

Mari Stroud said...

Lord, that's awful. Thanks for blowing the whistle.

JD Rhoades said...

But someday they really just might go down to 7% or 2% if it suits them. Amazon is great for now--but at a core they are just a company who wants what's best for their bottom line.

And then someone will arise to offer a better deal than Amazon and we'll go that way. Or we'll figure a way to do it ourselves.

Right now, for me, publishing through Amazon is the best deal in town. If that changes, so will I. We need to realize we may have to adapt more than once.

*waves at Ann* Hey darlin'! Interesting post. Fortunately (I guess) for me, I always had about as much chance of writing for Harlequin as I have of writing for Zondervan. Thanks for the heads up. Off to get your book...

Sabrina Sumsion said...

A friend sent me the link to this article. I found Pushed Too Far this morning (before reading this post) and posted it to my Free Books Blog. Rock on Ann! Hope your break out is a long and successful one!

Beth said...

If you've received Ann's book for free then the polite thing to do would be to read it & write a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads... everywhere. Write a review on your blog & Tweet about it. Tell everyone you know about it. That's how you can repay her.

Also no one has mentioned that there are at least 2 e-first publishers that are actively acquiring category length books and packaging them to look like HQ category books right down to the covers & titles. These publishers pay 30-45% of GROSS not net. If you don't want to self publish your category length books (because not everyone wants to self publish) then look at alternative publishers. They're out there & they pay better.
Maybe some competition combined with authors leaving because they just won't take it any more will get HQ to change their practices.
Maybe... but I'm not holding my breath.

JD Rhoades said...

Any advice or websites where we can learn to get a better grasp of story structure?

Alex Sokoloff.



Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, some of the comments here aren't ringing true for me. Don't want to name names, but a couple of the people trumpeting their self-pub success currently have Amazon ranking numbers for those books at 1,000,000 and higher. Based on my own experience, that is code for "no one has bought this book in months."

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