Harlequin’s Dirty Laundry Flapping in the Wind

Today Joe Konrath has a guest blogger, Ann Voss Peterson. She has some fun (as in awful) stories about writing for Harlequin, and why she’s gone indie. The comments are filled with more accounts of pathetic royalties, shady accounting, evil contracts. Passive Guy also picked up the post.

Here’s Ann’s story:

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.


The horror stories shouldn’t be surprising to any romance writer who’s paying attention, especially now that many are self-publishing and speaking out, no longer terrified of being black-listed.

But seeing so many come forward today in such popular (and male/mainstream) publishing-centric blogs will make an impact. If not on the company itself, then on the writers currently under contract and the aspiring newbies.

I’ve never written for Harlequin, but I’ve been a member of RWA since 2007 and their presence there is ginormous. The organization couldn’t exist without it.

Which may be one reason RWA is dragging its feet on the move to digital. Self-published digital.

Big changes, getting bigger. I’m glad to have the chance to write directly for readers.

(Which I’m doing as soon as I finish this post. The Geek Who Loved Me, in which Mark from Love Handles gets his happy, will be available in June!)


E-book news summary: Sunday morning, June 2011

This week is the highlight for many romance writers: the annual national conference of Romance Writers of America. This year the conference is in midtown Manhattan, which has everyone especially buzzed about what’s going to happen.

Ebooks have changed everything. Most of the world doesn’t care about this, or hasn’t noticed; just ask the woman who waxed my eyebrows in Silicon Valley the other day. What is a huge deal to writers, agents, editors, publishers, and many readers is just a minor point of interest in the background hum of normal people’s lives. Like gay marriage, streaming Netflix videos, hybrid SUVs, intrusive airport security – it’s just one of the many changes in our world.

To most people. To writers like me, it’s huge. It means publishing yourself, or finding partners to go digital without being screwed in the process. That’s why we watch the news so closely, follow blogs, and polish our crystal balls: trying to ride this wave where we want to go, and not out to sea.

Here’s a summary of a few stories from this week:

HERE, SIGN THIS. OR DON’T. SAME DIFF. WE WIN: Harlequin’s emailed contract amendment.
The last couple days this story about Harlequin changing the royalty rates for current, past, and future contracts hit the blogwaves, in particular at Dear Author and Passive Guy. Though Passive Guy missed the point about what “series” and “single title” means in category romance (it isn’t the quantity of books that affects the writer’s royalty, but the line she or he writes for), he’s got some fun ex-lawyer passion flying about the dangers of this kind of “net receipt” deal that leaves the accounting hidden in a black box. Plus the joy in having a time-sensitive financial legal document sent in an email. I have no contract with Harlequin but I would hate to be caught up in this uncertainty. Best of luck to the writers who love writing for these lines but fear for their financial futures.

SPAM SPAM SPAM etc. on Kindle.
This story got picked up by many major news outlets around the world. (Here, here, and here, for instance.) Content farms, crooks, and spam kings are flooding Kindle with “books” in large quantities to rake in revenue from unsuspecting “readers.” This is a big story today, but I’m optimistic it is a short-lived one. Amazon is too smart to allow this for long. In the short-term, though, it means the smallfry independent books are buried under the quivering, heaping piles of spam, which makes it even harder to stand out.

This past month, Amazon has been flexing its muscles and making stars through their homepage placement and email marketing. First was the Sunshine Deals (which meant gloomy doom for the rest of us) which rewarded non-Agency trade publishers who had books under $3. And today, they’ve managed to push a large number of under-$3 self-published romances onto the top-ten Kindle list. Courtney Milan’s novella Unlocked flew to the tippy top. It bumped up against Stephanie Plum but is still in the top ten of all paid Kindle books. It was already strong (not sure about the rank, but it was up there) but Amazon’s touch was magic. They are a force, no doubt about it. Gatekeeper, perhaps?

Barnes & Noble has captured over 20% of the ebook market. People were calling the iPad the Kindle-killer when it came out, but legions of readers are quietly purchasing Nooks and loading it up with NookBooks (and the Yink likes to wink and drink pink ink). My own book, Love Handles sells as well on Barnes and Noble as it does on Amazon. I’m optimistic about future books, especially with all the great romance readers and writers over there. And the new Nook is getting great reviews.

This is just a sampling of the buzz this week with ebooks. There’s a lot of advice to keep your head down and just write, but it’s very hard with so much going on.

Can’t wait to go to New York.