A Plethora of (Terrible) New Alternatives To Going Indie

The internet’s fairly bubbling over with news and commentary about sweeping changes in publishing, and most of it is not good for authors and aspiring authors.

On 5/4/11 on her The Business Rusch blog, Kristine Kathryn Rusch talked about the history of publishing contracts, and how recently she’s been seeing an increasing incidence of contracts with language that greatly benefits the publisher while greatly penalizing the author. She is particularly concerned about questionable terms being offered by the new agency-publisher hybrid companies springing up:

We used to recommend agents, but we slowly stopped doing that. Some of it was simple: we didn’t want to endorse any one we weren’t intimately familiar with.  But it became more complex than that. Some of our agenting friends had left the business. Others had moved to companies that had rather unseemly business practices, and still others had morphed their agenting business into something unrecognizable.

Rather than walk through the thicket of ethics, friendships, business partnerships, and individual monetary policy, we just stopped recommending any particular agent. Over time, we stopped recommending agents at all.

During that same period of time, we saw a lot of publishing contracts that were…dicey…at best.

In the same post Kristine offers a sort of history of publishing contracts, and it’s not a pretty story. In another post on 5/11/11, she discusses a disturbing new trend she’s seeing in recent contracts from publishers and agency-publisher hybrids: Draconian terms that make it virtually impossible for the author to ever earn a profit on his book.

Kristine also points us to a 5/10/11 post on Dean Westley Smith’s blog that takes a closer, and critical look at these new agency-publisher hybrids. He observes:

Because of sheer stupidity, writers once again are losing a major fight that they don’t even realize they are in…In today’s news there was an announcement of yet another agent setting up a publishing company “for their clients.” These agents, of which there are many around the world now, are settling on certain terms for their new publishing business. The terms from agency to agency are pretty much as stated in this new article today.

Three scary quotes from just today:

“…we are becoming partners with our writers.”

“…will recoup expenses first…”

“…then share net reciepts 50/50.”

In just the last few months many agencies have decided to go this way. Many others have been on this road for a time. One major agency has been doing this for over ten years now. In this new world this path is just about the only way agents can see to stay in business. Also, more head-shaking, a number of major bloggers have been pushing this for some strange reason as if it’s a good thing for writers.

Read the rest of the post to learn why this is most definitely NOT a good thing for writers.

Over on The Passive Voice, Passive Guy tries to help us poor authors out with an examination of the rights reversion clause that’s standard in publishing contracts, but can have far-reaching consequences of which authors should be aware. He warns:

A reversion of rights clause without a definite trigger is nothing but an invitation for an author to go begging to his publisher from time to time.

Then he goes on to share some recommended, more author-friendly language for such provisions.

The lessons to be learned here are many, but the bottom line seems to be this: if you’re considering going semi-indie by partnering with an agency or publisher that’s offering some kind of profit-sharing terms in exchange for handling your book’s production, distribution and/or promotion, watch your back and read the fine print. You may think going that route will save you a lot of time and headaches, but if it ultimately costs you the success of your book or overall career, you’d have been better off going it alone.