I applaud her frankness and her willingness to provide hard numbers to back up what most people who pay attention to the business side of things suspected or knew about publishing with Harlequin. It was great to see the bottom line of the number of books sold and the actual amount earned over various titles, and to see what the average royalty rate is (after sifting through all the various rates for different formats and different sales channels and different foreign markets.) I also applaud her right to make this decision and own it.
But what bothered me about some of the reaction out there in writer-land were the: "this is another example of publishers ripping us off!" comments.
Um. No. Harlequin isn't ripping authors off.
They aren't violating their contracts (like some publishers have), or failing to pay what they agreed to pay (like some publishers have)... They paid her what she was due according to the contract she signed.
To suggest that publishers are taking advantage of authors, infantilizes us. I don't know about you, but I consider myself a grown up. Immature, sure, but a grown up capable of making my own decisions.
Authors who sign contracts aren't (usually) idiots. They aren't being bamboozled. Yes, as that post illustrated, if that particular author had sold the same quantity of books on her own, or with just about any publisher, she would have made more money. BUT the big question is... Would she have sold that same volume of those particular books with anyone besides Harlequin?
It's kind of moot for her, because the self-publishing option wasn't viable when she published the books in question, so perhaps it's more interesting/relevant to wonder: if you're an aspiring author today, who's written a category-style romance, and you're trying to decide what to do, would you do better self-publishing or publishing with Harlequin? (Let's assume you've written a book strong enough that Harlequin wants to publish it and you're weighing the to-sign-or-not-to-sign question.
Only the crystal ball knows with certainty how things would turn out (and mine's in the shop), but especially for an unknown author who's written a short-format romance novel--a market that Harlequin virtually owns, owns globally--one would have to consider at least two major questions:
- Can I compete with Harlequin and sell as many copies of my book as they could and get it translated into as many languages and into as many markets?
- Would I rather make more money per book, or reach a wider audience?
In my mind, by publishing with Harlequin, you give up revenue per book sold in order to: a) get the wide distribution (that's enough for some people), and b) gain name recognition to possibly launch yourself elsewhere at some point in the future.
We all make bets. None of us can predict the future or guarantee how many copies of any title will sell. But the point I started out this post planning to make is ;) whatever you decide to do in publishing: own your freaking decisions. If you're published by Harlequin, or whoever, and not making a huge amount per copy, don't let the pundits talk about you as if you're a child who was taken advantage of by your publisher.
And don't be that child.
Read your contracts before you sign. Learn about the industry. Think things through. Know yourself (your strengths/weaknesses and how much time and money you're willing to spend on marketing/promotion) and then decide how you want to be published. Weigh the pros and cons of all the options as best you can with the information available right now.
Then, if the world changes tomorrow and you regret a contract you signed?--and at the pace at which the industry is changing right now, it's hard to believe we won't all sign a few contracts we'll later regret--then don't whine. At least not publicly. Instead, whine to your friends (within reason) and drink beer (without reason).