Scalzi: Hydra Imprint Has Appallingly Bad Contract Terms...

Ursa major

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Thanks for that link, FH.

As Scalzi says:
Hydra is a vanity publisher, in sum.
Exactly.

The only thing vaguely worth anything here might be the piece of text (in letter or email) offering to publish your work under the Hydra imprint, but only if - or while - another publisher (or an agent) believes Hydra doesn't accept books in the way a traditional vanity publisher would, i.e. (nearly) always saying "Yes, we'll publish you."
 

The Judge

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Horrendous terms. Thanks for linking to it, FH.

I'll move this over to Publishing, though, as it's of much more importance to our writers and those who browse there than our readers in GBD.
 

ctg

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It sounds like the publishing industry is taking poor aspiring writer ambition to get published for granted. And it's like with the music industry. The publisher gets most of the money while the artist gets none. So in long run I expect to see artists forming their own "labels" and offering "safe-heavens" to those they admire, while the big companies start to piss off the public with the ponzi-schemes like what you see today in MPAA and RIAA to name few.

Maybe better way is to do kick-start for the books and acquire a small sum of money against final products to get an editor, copy-editor and a cover artist. What do you reckon?
 

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So in long run I expect to see artists forming their own "labels" and offering "safe-heavens" to those they admire
The same kind of thought has occurred to me a few times over the past couple of years, sort of "collective self-publishing" enterprises. Reading Scalzi's blog last night (and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's, which he linked to) has almost convinced me that something like this has to be the way to go. If anyone gets an offer from Harper Voyager, it'll be interesting to see the terms offered in that. I know they said at the outset that it would be a no-advance deal, which Hydra also is.

I also wonder how many of these clauses the publisher would drop quickly if the author kicked up a fuss. Some of them seem as though they're "trying it on", to catch authors too desperate or not legally astute enough to object. It leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth.
 

Ursa major

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I could swallow the no advance - that only just breaks Yog's Law - but having to fund something without a preset budget (and where the company controlling the budget can only benefit - at a rate of £1 per £1 - by overstating the expense) and handing over all of the rights for a minimum of 70 years (plus however many years the author is alive) is ridiculously harsh. It's the kind of deal one associates with someone holding a knife to one's throat while promising that they'll dispatch, by the same means, all one's living relatives unless one signs the contract.

Apart from wanting one's body and soul - for a large fee that one pays them - I can't see really how the deal could favour them any more than the one they've proposed.
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
My first move, if I got something from any publisher ie an offer would be to seek an agent. I can tell this is bad, but I'm not well enough versed to be sure. Surely, we'd all do the same? And if you have a publishing offer an agent would look at you?
 

Ursa major

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I'm guessing that for the crime of offering this contact, Random House doesn't actually have an alibi.

I rather liked this Scalzi sentence (no pun intended, but what the hell) from Hex's link:
Indeed, if my worst enemy in the world was presented with it and had a pen poised to scratch his signature on it, I would smack the pen out of his hand and say to him, “I hate you, but I don’t hate you this much.”
 

HareBrain

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My first move, if I got something from any publisher ie an offer would be to seek an agent. I can tell this is bad, but I'm not well enough versed to be sure. Surely, we'd all do the same? And if you have a publishing offer an agent would look at you?
They're probably going for writers who think that the main job of an agent is to get them a publisher, and so, having got a publisher by themselves, they think an agent will be a redundant drain on their income.

How much more attractive a proposition you'd be to an agent if you had an offer from an ebook-only outfit like this, I'm not sure, especially since it seems the deal might largely be an accounting fudge to apportion fixed overheads over ebooks they don't expect to sell particularly well.
 

Ursa major

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One of the worst things about the contract - though there are so many bad things, it's hard to choose - is its open-endedness.

You sign the contract - possibly under the influence of Ritalin - to have your book published as an ebook. Fine, you think (in your bemused state), I've already word-processed my book, so all I have to pay for is an edit (which could be good), an off-the-shelf cover and the use of the software to turn it into an ebook.

The book sells reasonably well, and you are expecting some money. Soul-Rights Publishing contacts you: it has decided to put your book out as a paperback... in China, in Mandarin.

That's amazing, you think. (S-RP must be using something longer lasting than Ritalin.)

"We're putting your royalty payments aside to pay for this," says S-RP. That's reasonable, isn't it? "If there's a shortfall, we'll send you the bill."


There is, I suppose, always arbitration, or the law. And lawyers come so cheap, your royalty payments are bound to cover their fees....
 

Ursa major

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And also, just to clarify -- there's a small press called Hydra Publications, who are nothing to do with Random House and who aren't evil at all (as far as I know): http://www.hydrapublications.com/2013/03/06/we-are-not-random-house/

(also, they have a very cool logo)
And they also have an alibi....


Setting aside the puns, it must be truly awful to have your name linked to another company in your area of business, a company which seems determined to give itself a bad name, and one whose SFF imprint is not recognised as an approved/qualified market by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:
Dear SFWA Member:

SFWA has determined that works published by Random House’s electronic imprint Hydra can not be use as credentials for SFWA membership, and that Hydra is not an approved market. Hydra fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable.

Hydra contracts also require authors to pay – through deductions from royalties due the authors – for the normal costs of doing business that should be borne by the publisher.

Hydra contracts are also for the life-of-copyright and include both primary and subsidiary rights. Such provisions are unacceptable.

At this time, Random House’s other imprints continue to be qualified markets.
This letter (extract?) appears here.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I am astounded that a (hitherto) reputable publishing house would be willing to besmirch their reputation in this way. I would imagine that editors at their other imprints are feeling a little soiled by association and are not at all happy.

And the sad thing is that there are probably plenty of new writers out there who will jump at the opportunity.
 

ctg

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Some will jump, but I think they'll get smart pretty fast as not all of them are actually that dump to believe that it's good to get shafted. Another thing is that this thing has got quite a bit of publicity today. Boing Boing for example put it on their front page and other big ones will soon follow.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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But so many, many aspiring writers don't educate themselves, exchange information with other writers (in some cases, may not know any), or listen to good advice if they do get it. As Mr. Scalzi says, Hydra is simply a vanity press started by a big publishing company. And there are, and have been, vanity presses with terms as bad as Hydra is offering, and writers have signed with them.

In the past, the vast majority of books published by vanity presses may have been so bad that they couldn't have been published any other way, but now writers have other options. Not that I like the idea of millions of terrible, awful self-published writers flooding the ebook market with their terrible, awful books and making it nearly impossible to find the genuinely good self-published books amidst all the dross, but I like it marginally better than the idea of them being cheated and exploited.

And I am appalled at the idea of the merely naïve being abused in that way.
 

ctg

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Maybe it is exactly that they people to flood the market with crap, so that it's impossible to find good books, and then they will be seen as saviours by their "high quality" produce. Thing is this business model smells rotten to sky high.
 

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In fairness, I think I should post a link to this very nicely written letter from Random House in response to the SFWA declaring Hydra an ineligible market for SFWA qualification (because it doesn't pay royalities and it has some hideous terms in its contract).

I won't be dashing off to submit to Hydra (though I doubt they'll be weeping in the corner about that).
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
Hmmmm. Perhaps this is us starting to see the big publishers response to the change of demographics towards e-books. Are they seeing advances as too big a risk in a market that is swamped, no matter how big you are?
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I particularly enjoyed this part of their letter:

Profits are generated once those costs are subtracted from the sales revenue. Hydra and the author split those profits equally from the very first sale.
(Bolding mine.)

I mean, wow(!), talk about disingenuous. The first sale doesn't begin to cover the costs, there is no profit, and 50% of zero, unless I have been strangely misinformed, is nothing.
 

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