Facing the Hydra

The buzz in the world of publishing this week has centred around the contracts being offered by Random House’s new digital imprints Hydra, Alibi, Flirt, and Loveswept. These contracts mark a departure for a genuine, non-vanity publisher, in that they put the costs – all the costs – of publication on the shoulders of the author, and pay no advances whatsoever.

What’s more, while these are digital-only imprints, the publisher retains the rights in all formats – digital, print, audio – in every language, across the entire world. For the duration of copyright, which is the life of the author plus 70 years. This gives the author no opportunity to sell the book in other markets should it do well. Let’s not talk about the automatic option they have for the next book you write.

So this is a terrible contract. Possibly the only good thing you can say about it is that you don’t have to pay anything up front – all the costs are covered by the publisher, and you just don’t receive any money until the revenues from the book cover all those costs.

Not surprisingly, writers have not been happy about this. John Scalzi tore the contract apart on his blog, and the Science Fiction Writers of America have declared that Hydra is not a qualifying market – basically, that it’s no different from a vanity publisher or a self-publisher, and if you’ve been published by Hydra it doesn’t really count.

It’s a terrible contract. I’ve already said that, but it bears repeating. It’s truly awful. But today I received another rejection for The Chimney Rabbit and I started to wonder how many more rejections it would take for the contract to start to look just a wee bit attractive.

For years I wrote primarily for myself. But when I decided that I’d spent enough decades being a dilettante about writing, and it was time to a) complete an entire novel and b) take it through several drafts, it was clear that there was a c) in the list – to try to get it published.

Publication is the validation that you’re not just kidding yourself. That you do have some ability. It wasn’t easy for me to take the step of sending my query to an agent for the first time – I felt terribly exposed and nervous. But as the weeks have gone on, and the rejections have piled up (slowly – oh so slowly) my emotional investment in being published has increased, rather than decreased. I’ve put my work out there – now I want to see it on a shelf.

There is something magical about seeing your work in print. At school, when my pastiche of Kafka’s Metamorphosis made it into the school magazine; at university, when my series of humorous fantasy stories were printed in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Society magazine Sirius Moonlight; when my first short story appeared in Exuberance magazine; even when my first technical manual came back from the printers – there’s something about seeing your own words in another context, in stark black and white, and knowing that other people can read them too… It’s not a feeling that gets old.

If Hydra or Alibi or a similar imprint were to offer me their standard terms for The Chimney Rabbit, not for a digital-only publication, but a physical print run, would I accept? Would I be able to turn down the opportunity to see my work in print, on a shelf in a bookshop?

I really don’t know.



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