The big news today is the latest development in the Random House Hydra/Alibi/Flirt/Loveswept ebook imprints saga. It would appear that Random House blinked. Or, at least, they proved not insensate to the displeasure of multiple writers’ organizations. Victoria Strauss writes,
Based on strong criticism from writers’ groups, authors, and agents, Random House has decided to make major changes in its digital contract… Authors will now be offered their choice of two options: a re-worked profit-sharing arrangement and a traditional advance-and-royalties deal.
Please go read the Writer Beware article for an extensive break-down of the changes made to the profit-sharing arrangement. You might also read John Scalzi’s immediate thoughts on the contract changes. It’s important to note that the profit-sharing option’s boilerplate still requires heavy changes before it can be considered 100% author-friendly. We have as yet no proof that Random House will make the same marketing effort for authors who take the advance-bearing deal as they will for authors who accept the profit-sharing deal which Random House so clearly prefer. This isn’t Happily Ever After. But it’s equally important to recognize that Random House, when effectively called on the carpet, made a show of mending their ways.
This is why writers’ organizations are so important, y’all. And why making a scene in public is useful. Individual writers on their own would be unable to effect this sort of change; Random House are the heavy-weight in the room. But writers’ organizations — writers coming together to form larger groups acting in members’ interest — can begin to match them pound for pound. And when they do, it doesn’t just benefit members. It benefits anyone who might sign a contract with Random House Hydra or the rest. Writers’ organizations are beneficial to all writers, not just those who currently qualify for membership and choose to pay dues.
The question that remains unanswered, of course, is whether Random House would have made this change without the public hue and cry. If Strauss hadn’t made public the deal terms once she saw them, if Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America hadn’t publicly announced their delisting of the offending imprints, if the Horror Writers of America and Romance Writers of America had not also begun pounding on the door… if all the writers’ organizations involved had not known the others were involved… and if big-name blogs such as Boing Boing and Scalzi’s Whatever hadn’t boosted the signal to their not-inconsiderable audiences, if the signal hadn’t then been relayed through Publishers Weekly, The Guardian, I09, and more… would Random House have felt sufficient pressure to move them from their position?
(Note: Scalzi wants it known that today’s big news shouldn’t be attributed to him, but that many others deserve as much or more of the credit. This sort of thing is always a community effort, and it’s next to impossible to disentangle the different factors and assign each an accurate percentage of responsibility for the happy outcome.)
The question remains unanswered because it can’t be answered. “No one is ever told what would have happened,” as C.S. Lewis had his Lion of Narnia tell us. But here’s one thing that would not have happened if the writers’ organizations had kept it quiet, and their members also:
We wouldn’t have known. We wouldn’t have been warned away, nor told why it was such a bad deal.
(Well, OK, those of us who are SFWA members and the like would have heard about it from our organizations. But one shouldn’t have to be a member to be informed. And not everyone who needs this kind of warning and education qualifies yet for membership!)
When writers’ organizations and other watchdogs make a scene about predators, we all benefit. Don’t let anyone tell you different.