Random House back-flip – a new beginning, or the beginning of the end for Indies?

My thanks to author Candy Korman for forwarding this email from RWA [Romance Writers of America]. Before I comment, please read the email yourselves. It’s in full.

‘Random House Adjusts Contract Terms for Digital Imprints

In response to discussions with writers groups regarding contract terms for their new digital imprints, Random House is adjusting proposed terms for authors with Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt.

According to Random House, prospective authors will be offered two models under which to publish: “profit share” or “advance plus royalty.” Click here to read Random House’s announcement.

As always, RWA cautions members to perform due diligence before assigning rights to any party.

Romance Writers of America’

The revised terms are as follows [again in full].


In response to recent constructive discussions with authors, agents and writers’ groups, including the Horror Writers Association, we are making adjustments to our proposed terms for authors with Random House’s new digital imprints, Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt. Prospective authors will have a choice of two models under which to publish: a profit share or an advance plus royalty.
Under the profit share model, there is no advance offered. Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt and the author will split profits 50-50 from the first copy sold. The term “profit” will be defined as net sales revenue minus deductions as follows: For print editions, deductions will include actual costs directly attributable to production and shipping of the book; for digital editions, Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will cover the cost of production. For both print and digital editions, Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will cover all marketing costs connected with general, category- or imprint-wide marketing programs. Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will also cover costs of marketing activities undertaken specifically on behalf of the book up to $10,000. Title-specific marketing costs above $10,000 will be proposed in advance to the author. If the author agrees, the incremental costs of such title-specific marketing activities over $10,000 will be deducted from sales revenue before profits are split. Cash payments owed to authors will be made quarterly.

Under the advance plus royalty model, authors are offered a more traditional publishing arrangement, with Random House’s standard eBook royalty of 25 percent of net receipts. These authors will be paid an agreed-upon advance against royalties, and Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will cover production, shipping, and marketing for all formats at 100 percent of cost.

Under either model:
Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt acquire rights to every book for the term of copyright, subject to an “out-of-print” clause, which provides for the author to request reversion of his or her rights three years after publication if the title fails to sell 300 copies in the 12 months immediately preceding the request.

Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt seek to acquire rights throughout the world and in all languages. This expands the author’s opportunities and earnings potential. Random House has publishing offices all over the world and has countless relationships with other foreign publishers. Earnings from subsidiary rights are split between the imprint and the author subject to the business model the author chooses. If we see opportunities with select manuscripts for performance or transformative digital editions (such as video games), we will seek to acquire additional rights, subject to negotiation with the author.

Each title will be given an individual marketing plan and be supported by the best-in-class services that Random House provides throughout the publishing process: from dedicated editorial, cover design, copy editing, and production expertise, to publicity, digital marketing and social media tools, trade sales, academic and library sales, piracy protection, negotiating and selling of subsidiary rights, as well as access to merchandising programs. Together, we deliver the best books to the widest possible readership, thus giving authors maximum earning potential.’

And last, but not least, a very diplomatic victory speech from John Scalzi, President of the SFWA and one of the most outspoken critics of the original Random House contracts :


My Comments

From my reading of the Random House response, and the lack of negative comments from those more knowledgeable than myself, I have to conclude that the new, improved contract models really are as fair as they seem.

But where will these new models leave those of us who are proud to be Indie? Will we rush to submit to these new Random House imprints? Will those who succeed become ‘legitimate’ authors in the eyes of readers? And will those who fail be tarred and feathered as crap writers?

Until today, there was a certain amount of cache attached to being an Indie. For starters, we answered only to the whims of readers, so we could write across genres, take risks, push the envelope of creativity. We were in control and could write what we wanted.

Then there was the issue of financial remuneration. Whatever sales Indies made were ours, and some of us at least, were making reasonable  money. We could say, quite truthfully, that when it came to ebooks, we were the smart ones.

Some of us bemoaned the lack of standards in Indie writing, and made half-hearted attempts to establish Seals of Quality, but none of them really took off. I think we missed the boat on that one because now the official Gatekeepers are back, and they will establish the Seals of Approval. As a result, I fear that today marks the beginning of the end of the Indie revolution.

Why? The answer to that goes back to the pattern established by the most successful of our Indie authors. As they became successful, they were offered contracts by established publishers. And they took them. Those contracts were far better, in most cases, than many new authors could claim, but they still brought those Indies into the traditional fold.

We all applauded Indie authors who succeeded, who were validated by contracts, because their validation was the Holy Grail we all sought. But now that validation will be open to far more authors, and it will be in the arena of ebooks. Our arena. The Indie niche.

As a reader, I have stumbled onto many brilliant Indie authors this last year, but they were hard to find in the sea of not-so-great Indie offerings. If these new developments result in those authors gaining the recognition they deserve, I will be very happy. I will be happy for them, but I will also be happy for myself because I will be able to find quality writing more easily.

But what if those brilliant Indie authors remain unknowns because they don’t fit into any convenient niches or categories? What if my standards for quality are not the standards by which these new imprints judge success or failure? And yes, you hear a very selfish, personal fear in my tone as I’m an Indie author too.

Back in the golden era of traditional publishing, publishers had a vocation, and that vocation was to discover new, innovative talent. Okay, perhaps that is just my romanticized version of how things used to be, but I know for a  fact that in the last twenty years or so, publishing stopped being about innovation and became a business run by accountants.

Has that changed? Are the new Random House imprints [and those that will follow from other publishing houses] going to be different in a qualitative sense? Will they take a chance on books that don’t fit some best-seller mold?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions but I fear the worst, both as a writer and a reader. As a writer I fear my work will be dumped in the no-hopers basket, and as a reader I fear that the era of super cheap ebooks is ending as published ebooks rise in popularity, and cost.

My comments are very much gut reactions, and probably not as well thought out as they could be, so please tell me what you think. Is this the start of something great? Or is it a sad ending?



About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

12 responses to “Random House back-flip – a new beginning, or the beginning of the end for Indies?

  • Chris James

    Excellent post, thanks for sharing. I really enjoy your well-reasoned observations… But yes, the landscape is going to change.


  • lorddavidprosser

    Much improved terms but still a little worrying. For print editions, ‘deductions will include actual costs directly attributable to production and shipping of the book’; I fear that if the publisher controls all aspects of production at least.they can set prices to allow themselves a healthy profit on that side before sharing the nett takings thus giving themselves two bites of the cherry. I would expect the cost of production and shipping to be taken out at cost so their profit on the deal s the same as the authors..


    • acflory

      Good point David! I suspect Scalzi et al will be itching to get their hands on one of these new, improved contracts to see exactly what the details are how. The devil is always in the details isn’t it?


  • Tasha Turner

    I don’t think it’s going to have a large impact on the indie authors. I think what Bella Andre and Hugh Howey are going to have a larger impact on both trad publishing and they’ve already changed the way indies are being viewed. But I don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future. I just read blogs of a number of successful authors from across the spectrum. Would I take a deal with these imprints as the contracts seem to stand? No I’d either self-publish or go with a small press specializing in my niche.


    • acflory

      I’m a huge Hugh Howey fan, but he seems to be straddling the traditional and indie worlds, and getting the best of both. Perhaps that’s the way of the future. Perhaps there will be room for both kinds of publishing. I hope so. 🙂


  • candy korman

    I don’t have answers to any of your questions — only more questions and caveats. It’s true that with a solid contract and a supportive conventional publisher there is the potential to read a wider market BUT (and this is a big BUT) conventional publishing houses are under-staffed and focused on a bestseller paradigm. They are unlikely to put money, time & effort behind the work of a new author.

    I suggest a reality check on expectations — both on the indie, writer-takes-all idea AND on the big daddy publisher takes care of the writer ideal.

    Personally, I hope to gain some traction as an indie and make myself a viable author for a conventional, and supportive, publisher. Right now, if you are not a star of some kind with an obvious hook for selling books, they aren’t going to put much behind your projects.

    Also, as their staffs have shrunk they have fewer and fewer people on staff to even proof read your manuscript — let alone offer the kind of professional editing and guidance that helped nurture great literature in the past. I’m sure I’m not the only one picking out typos in both indie and conventional ebooks. That’s evidence of the threadbare support system within the big houses. Look at which books get ads in the Sunday book reviews — are they for new authors without newsworthy backstories? Nope…

    The improvement in the Random House imprint contracts is good. But it’s not a ticket to paradise. Manage your expectations.


    • acflory

      That’s a great reality check Candy. Whatever may happen some time in the future, the here and now is exactly as you have described.

      Hopefully by the time the paradigm is established, and working properly, we will be established too. 🙂


  • Carrie Rubin

    So interesting to watch all this unfold. The industry is changing rapidly. Who knows what will be the norm 3 years from now? Thanks for the info.


  • Kathryn Chastain Treat

    Thank you for sending this out to all of us. As a beginner who is just in the process of getting her book out there, I don’t know where this puts us/me.


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