Romance

Do Romance Authors Receive Worse Treatment from Publishers Than Anyone Else?

25 April 2018

PG is trying to extricate a client from a nasty publishing contract with a large romance publisher. Both the client and the publisher shall remain nameless.

PG is frustrated. The client is frustrated.

PG has conducted extrications from enough publishers to have come to a conclusion.

Across the broad range of different types of books and different varieties of publishers with which PG has dealt, as a group romance publishers are the worst. Worst contracts, worst behavior, worst attitude towards writers.

A public event PG can talk about began in 2012 when a class action was filed against the company on behalf of Harlequin authors who signed book contracts with Harlequin between 1990 and 2004. The suit was filed in 2012 and settled in 2016. You can find information about the settlement of the class action at Harlequin Class Action Settlement.

The lawsuit was based on Harlequin’s practice of sublicensing e-book rights through a Swiss subsidiary, which resulted in authors receiving 3% to 4% of net profits from their works rather than the 50% Harlequin agreed to pay in its publishing contracts.

PG has previously blogged about this case. You can see prior posts, including some court documents, by Clicking Here

Basically, the story was that HQ didn’t mention ebook royalties in its publishing contracts. Those contracts included a catch-all clause which essentially said HQ could license other rights and split the proceeds on a 50/50 basis with the author. The contracts also included a provision which said if HQ licensed the other rights to an affiliated entity, the royalties paid to the author had to be equivalent to market rates for licensing those other rights to a company not affiliated with HQ.

When ebooks appeared on the scene, rather than asking its authors to sign new contracts or ebook addenda to their existing contracts, HQ decided to license ebooks to a related Swiss company for a royalty of 6% of the cover price. The Swiss company then sublicensed each book to HQ print and ebook companies to distribute, so HQ-Switzerland kept 94% of the ebook proceeds and paid 6% to HQ-SorrySucker.

Under the “other rights” clause in the publishing contract, the author would be paid 50% of the amount of the license fees received by HQ-SorrySucker. HQ-SorrySucker paid the authors 50% of 6%. Even English majors know that results in a royalty paid to the author of 3% of the cover price each ebook.

This was at a time when Amazon would license ebooks from authors under KDP for royalties of 70% of the cover price. If HQ-SorrySucker had taken the normal route taken by other publishers, HQ authors would have received royalties at the rate of 35% of the cover price.

The following is from an Amici (the plural of Amicus or Friend of Court) Brief filed in the case by Romance Writers of America and the Authors Guild:

In the spring of 2011, Amicus The Authors Guild began receiving reports from its members that their e-book royalties from Harlequin were extremely low. These members believed Harlequin was self-dealing by licensing e-book rights to one of its corporate affiliates for 6% of the cover price (i.e. suggested retail price). Because the royalty payable to the author under the “all other rights” clause is 50% of the amount received by the publisher, a 6% royalty to the publisher results in a royalty to the author of only 3% of the cover price – far below the customary range for sales in secondary media. The Authors Guild contacted Harlequin to voice these concerns and to request a copy of Harlequin’s inter-affiliate license agreement. Harlequin declined to provide the document on the ground that it was proprietary.

During the same timeframe, Amicus RWA was also in communication with Harlequin regarding e-book royalty issues. Harlequin  provided to its authors, RWA, and other industry participants the following explanation of Harlequin’s inter-affiliate licensing practice:

Our authors contract with Harlequin Books SA (“HBSA”), our related Swiss company.  HBSA licenses  the right to publish an author’s work in print and digital to our operating companies and to third-party publishers, which then bring books to market in their country (incurring costs of translation, production, distribution, marketing, branding, etc.). In return, HBSA receives a license fee.

The NAR [net amount received by the Publisher] is the license fee. For editions where the author is to be paid 50% of NAR, the author’s royalty is therefore 50% of the license fee received by HBSA. The license fees are expressed as a percentage of cover price. Historically they ranged from 6% to 8%. The author’s 50% share of that fee would then equal 3% to 4% of the cover  price.

As noted, the publishing contracts at issue require that in any affiliate licensing arrangement the “Publisher” must receive license proceeds that are “equivalent to the amount reasonably obtainable by Publisher from an Unrelated Licensee for the license or sale of the said rights.” Based on their considerable reservoirs of knowledge and industry data sources regarding royalty rates in the publishing industry, the Amici confidently represent  to this Court  that  the  6% to 8% royalty that Harlequin Enterprises elects to pay to  its Swiss “Publisher” subsidiary is a small fraction of the proceeds that the “Publisher” could obtain from an unaffiliated licensee in the open market for e-books.

. . . .

Generally speaking, a book publisher makes money by exercising the rights that it has licensed from the author of a given work, through the sales of books or sub-licenses of publication rights in various sales and distribution channels.

Historically, the primary sales channel for print book publishers was through retail book stores. In the modern era of e-books, publishers sub-license their digital copyright rights to online “e-tailers.” The most well-known e-tailers of e-books are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple, but there are many others in the field.

There is no hard and fast rule or convention in the publishing industry on the royalty rates or license fees paid by e-tailers to publishers for e-books. There are, however, numerous sources ofdata on the market’s behavior. In the experience and collective knowledge of the Amici, publishers are almost universally able to extract from an e-tailer at least 50% of the cover price of an e-book. A 70% split for the publisher is quite common and can be obtained even from industry power­ houses such as Amazon and Apple.

It is clear to the Amici that if the Harlequin’s Swiss “Publisher” subsidiary operated as a normal market participant, it could readily license the new e-book versions of its backlist for license fees of 50% to 70% of the cover price of each work sold. In this scenario, the 50% royalty payable to authors under the 1990 to 2004 publishing agreements would be 25% to 35% of the cover price of each work sold. Instead, however, the Swiss “Publisher” licenses the e-books to its parent, Harlequin Enterprises, for 6% to 8% of the cover price, and the authors’ 50% royalty is thus only 3% to 4% of the cover price. From the perspective of the Amici, it appears that Harlequin Enterprises has simply siphoned off 42% to 64% of the cover price before the money reaches the Swiss “Publisher” subsidiary, so this amount will not have to be split with the authors.

PG has calmed down now, but he still wonders whether romance authors are treated worse than other authors by the publishing establishment.

PG does know Amazon loves romance authors and it shows its love by paying them money.

PG has never had a client ask him whether he thinks the author can make more money from HQ than from Amazon.

PG was not a math major, but he could probably figure out his answer to that question without a spreadsheet.

8 Pride and Prejudice Sequels For The Discerning Jane Austen Fan

21 April 2018

From Bookriot:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader who finishes reading Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is in want of more to read. We already prepared one list of what to read when you want more Pride & Prejudice… and we still want more! What was married life like for Lizzie and Darcy? Whatever became of Mary and Kitty Bennett? Did Georgiana Darcy or Caroline Bingley ever find love… perhaps with one another? How would the story unfold in a contemporary setting? Or with teenage characters? Luckily, there is no shortage of options for the P&P enthusiast. Here are some of our recent favourite Pride and Prejudice sequels.

Pride And Prescience: Or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged by Carrie Bebris

Interestingly, many storytellers imagine Lizzie and Darcy’s married life will find them solving murders. In this, the first of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, the newlyweds begin their new amateur sleuthing career with a mystery involving their in-laws, the Bingleys. As the series progresses, the Darcys encounter mysteries involving characters from other Austen novels, too!

. . . .

Miss Darcy Falls In Love By Sharon Lathan

Darcy’s younger sister Georgiana played a small but notable role in the original novel; here, she takes centre stage. Embarking upon a concert tour of the continent, Georgiana finds her heart torn between two men she meets in Paris. Set in post-Napoleonic Empire France, this is a riveting love story that enters a world of passion where gentlemen know exactly how to please and a young woman learns to direct her destiny and understand her heart.

Link to the rest at Bookriot

The Billion-Dollar Romance Fiction Industry Has A Diversity Problem

15 April 2018

From National Public Radio:

The romance genre is a juggernaut that continues unabated.

It’s a billion-dollar industry that outperforms all other book genres, and it’s remarkably innovative, with a strong tradition of independent and self-publishing.

It’s also an industry that’s been grappling with a diversity problem. The RITA Award, the top honor for romance writers awarded by the Romance Writers of America, was awarded this week, and the organization acknowledged that in its 36-year history, no black author has ever won the prize. According to the RWA’s own research, black authors have written less than half of 1 percent of the total number of books considered as prize finalists.

“It is impossible to deny that this is a serious issue and that it needs to be addressed,” said the organization in a statement. “Educating everyone about these statistics is the first step in trying to fix this problem. We know there are no perfect solutions but ignoring the issue is that not acceptable.” There’s certainly no lack of black readership: A Pew Research survey from 2014 found that the person most likely to read a book of any genre is a college-educated black woman.

Alisha Rai, the south Asian author of the three-part Forbidden Hearts series and nearly a dozen other romance novels, has been reading and writing the genre since she was a teenager. She tells NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about her own experience with readers, publishers and writing about race.

. . . .

On systemic issues in the genre

I’ve heard horror stories from other authors [of color] about, you know, sitting at a table at the RWA national conference and people who are there will get up and walk away from them. In a lot of ways, it’s like going to a water cooler and being turned away from that water cooler. And when you’re in this industry, it’s a very solitary life. We write, and we keep to ourselves in a lot of ways; we’re a little bit like hermits. And this is our way to see our colleagues, is to go to these meetings and conferences. When you feel like you’re not a part of it, it’s very demoralizing.

The organization is composed of so many people, it is hard to get everybody together and moving in the same position, and I understand that progress can be slow. … This is the first year that I’ve even joined RWA, because I felt sort of a tentative hope that maybe we are moving forward, maybe I wouldn’t feel so left out constantly.

. . . .

On her own experience with publishers

Getting published was pretty tough. My first book was more sort of on the sexier side, and the heroine was south Asian. … You sort of fall into an internalized trap, all of my characters [before] were always white, and my heart just wasn’t in it. So I felt like, this wasn’t a book I hadn’t see anywhere, so I want to write it. … I shopped the book around [with different publishers], and I was told to change the characters’ ethnicities. “We can take this if you can edit it.” … It is disheartening to hear, “Well, we can’t really connect to her, but we can if you make her white.”

Link to the rest at NPR

PG suggests the problems of the romance industry must be laid at the door of the traditional publishers in the romance industry. They have decided and continue to decide which authors are published and which are not. Which material will be included in those books and which will not.

If asked which segment of the traditional publishing business has treated its authors the worst, without hesitation, PG would name romance. Exhibit A (there are others) would be Harlequin, which settled a large class-action lawsuit by its authors for substantial underpayment of royalties over several years.

Romance publishers are the single best reason for authors to self-publish. There’s a lot of money to be made in romance and indie authors are earning far more of that money than their traditionally-published counterparts.

Romance community be warned: Amazon is stripping rankings from titles

29 March 2018

From Hypable:

A big blow to the romance community has surfaced as romance and erotica authors are having their titles on Amazon stripped of their ranks and reviews.

Towards the end of March, the romance community began to notice romance and erotic novels being stripped of their ranks and/or reviews, without an explanation.

Although Amazon has yet to make a statement about what’s going on, it’s clear that any book that contains adult content could be stripped. Of course that’s devastating to both authors and readers. Both of these things allow authors to successfully sell their works and helps readers to find titles they would be interested in.

In an effort to try and save their reviews and rankings, some romance/erotica authors have taken to removing any keywords that might cause their titles to be stripped. For those that have published in the erotica category, it might prove even more difficult to protect their books from these changes.

Since Amazon isn’t being transparent about what is happening, it’s not clear why these novels are being stripped. Many authors believe it could be in response to the FOSTA bill, while others believe it could be an internal update from Amazon to push these books off the ranks.

The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) was touted as a bill to make everyone safer by creating accountability for internet companies. However, the bill was met with great backlash for many reasons, including the amount of censorship it would allow.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, the bill will “force online platforms to police their users’ speech more forcefully than ever before.”

One of the first major impacts of the bill was that Craigslist pulled down its personal ads section. And shortly after, the romance community started noticing abnormal activity on Amazon regarding erotica titles, as well as romance titles.

Link to the rest at Hypable

We Need More Books Without Romance

5 March 2018

From Electric Lit:

The genius of the Bechdel test is that it doesn’t sound like a challenge. How difficult can it be to write a movie with two named female characters who talk to each other, just once, about something that isn’t a man? Clearly, though, it’s more rare than it sounds. You really have to think to come up with examples of movies that pass the test — and it’s only when we’re forced to provide them that we realize it shouldn’t be this hard.

Such was my experience brainstorming novels without romantic subplots. In January, “Tired Asexual” wrote to Slate advice columnist Dear Prudence, looking for suggestions of books that didn’t include the pursuit of romance. Helpful readers responded with a short list, many from young-adult fiction, but, surely, the list of eligible novels had to be much longer.

. . . .

For my own test, I developed the following criteria:

  1. The novel is not young adult fiction or science-fiction/fantasy. (There are plenty of YA books without romantic subplots, both because intended readers are younger and because recent YA authors are more likely to incorporate characters along the sexuality spectrum.)
  2. The novel is not “about” romance, and romance — or yearning for romance — isn’t a major plot point even if it’s there. So, maybe there’s a couple, but their relationship is taken for granted and the book doesn’t focus on its evolution. Maybe someone goes on a date, but dating doesn’t move the story forward.
  3. The novel has no explicit sex scenes or sexual themes (including sexual assault, even if it’s not described).
  4. The novel doesn’t present romantic love as necessary and central to flourishing. This last requirement is crucial. Even if there are no sex scenes and nobody goes on a date, if the main character is constantly thinking about how he should be dating or what a loser he is without a romantic partner, the novel is disqualified.

Go ahead, see what you come up with.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

For the record, PG is in favor of romance and romance novels.

That said, he does not require romance in books he reads. There is little romance in accounts of the battle of Iwo Jima or the invasion of Gallipoli and even less romance in Title 17 of the United States Code.

Where are romance novels headed given the current state of women’s issues?

9 February 2018

From The Chicago Tribune:

Romance is a genre about women, by women and pored over by women — 84 percent of readers are female, according to Romance Writers of America.

It’s a $1 billion industry, and 35 percent of romance book buyers have been reading them for 20 years or more, according to RWA.

So after a year when persisting and resisting were the norm — what does this world of fiction look like? Have romance novels evolved given the current social/political climate? The answer to that is yes, but not in a “big boom” kind of way, said Joanne Grant, editorial director of the Harlequin Series.

“I think this is something that will continue to shape romance over time, but I also feel strongly that this is a conversation we’ve been having over the course of years,” she said. “It’s not a new thing for us to pause and look at our male/female dynamics: how we portray sex, consent, how do we keep the fantasy alive while making sure that the heroine is relatable in the 21st century?”

. . . .

Author Beverly Jenkins, who has made her name in African-American historicals, said such work is ongoing. The Belleville, Mich., writer whose first book was published in 1994, said current writers of romance are “bringing a different mindset, a different focus to the story,” where consent is the thing. But she also mentions that, as things evolve, the main purpose of romance is consistent. “Romance offers that comfort read, but it also offers resistance. You have a lot of feminists who are writing romance, Alisha Rai, Alyssa Cole, Sarah MacLean, and they’re all putting that kind of thread through their books. Resistance has always been there. Women have always had to resist in order to get what they want out of life,” Jenkins said.

. . . .

From the 1972 book “The Flame and the Flower,” the romance genre was born on a mass market scale, and from its pages of forced seduction came the metaphor for the women’s movement, she said. “Most scholars of romance will tell you the arc of this book is kind of a metaphor for the women’s movement in general, meaning, if you look at the hero as society and the heroine as women, ultimately, equality is the goal between them,” MacLean said. What followed, said the author of “The Day of the Duchess,” were workplace romances of the 1980s, romance of the ’90s, where the good guy was born amid cultural satisfaction, and the world after 9/11 that saw the rise of paranormal romance. By the late 2000s, there was the economic crash, and we saw the rise of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and the billionaires, MacLean said.

“Literature likes to see women martyred, and they like to see people of color martyred, and queer people martyred and disabled people martyred, but romance doesn’t do that,” she said. “Romance has often been the only place in media where women can see themselves at the center of the story triumphing. … There’s a lot of power in happily ever after. In 2017, I think many of us came to a place where we realized that the best way for us to resist was for us to tell stories where we win, and the best way to show the other side that we will survive them is to show ourselves in happiness … because happiness is torture in its own way.”

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

With Romance Novels Booming, Beefcake Sells, but It Doesn’t Pay

11 January 2018

From The New York Times:

Jason Aaron Baca is good-looking, not handsome like the Ryans (Gosling and Reynolds) or rugged like Daniel Craig, who is fetching in a tailored Tom Ford suit. But when Mr. Baca, 42, slipped on a pair of dark aviator glasses recently, he looked remarkably like Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.”

He was dressed for work in a khaki military jumpsuit. And even though it was barely noon, he had already stopped by the gym to make sure his biceps and legs looked combat-strong. His assignment: To be a military helicopter pilot saved in a crash by a female rescuer with whom he once had a torrid affair. Now that they’re reunited, their passions have flared.

Mr. Baca is a cover model for romance novels. He has been on nearly 500 book covers, by his own account — one of scores of men like him vying to be heroic heartthrobs. Not since the flaxen-haired Fabio Lanzoni dominated drugstore book racks in the 1980s and 1990s, with his lion’s mane and bulging biceps, have cover models been in such demand.

“Look at me like you are really mad at me,” cooed Portia Shao, his photographer that day. “Show me your good side.”

. . . .

After a few more clicks of the shutter, he and Ms. Shao paused to examine his work on a 2-by-4-foot television screen. “It looks good because it has everything,” Mr. Baca said. The smoldering gaze. A glimpse of his six-pack abs. Mr. Baca had even thrust his pelvis forward, a trick he learned to make his stomach appear flatter and ensure the ladies looked, well, you know, there.

Romance writers and publishers, as it happens, are among publishing’s most innovative participants. They were early to digital serialization. Booksellers, too, now crowdsource ideas to find fresh writers. And if you want to explore a virtual relationship, you can try a romance-novel app.

. . . .

“I never thought I would say this,” said Liz Pelletier, the chief executive of the romance novel company Entangled Publishing. “But I am so tired of looking at men’s abs. I don’t know if these ones are sexier than those other ones.”

“It used to be that everyone wanted Fabio,” she added. Today, though, individualism prevails. “Readers don’t want every book to have the same face.”

. . . .

Sexy still sells. At Brazen, Entangled’s more risqué fiction line, Ms. Pelletier said book covers with male models sold three times as much as with a woman alone. And for new authors in particular, “the cover is really critical,” said Dianne Moggy, vice president for romance fiction at Harlequin.

. . . .

Unlike the Fabio era, when covers were painted by hand, today they are more assembly line than art. Consider Daemon Black, a space alien with dark curls and emerald green eyes who is the hero of Entangled’s Lux series, written by the New York Times best-selling author Jennifer L. Armentrout. In 2011, Pepe Toth saw a photograph of himself and his then model girlfriend, Sztella Tziotziosz, on the cover of “Obsidian,” the first in the Lux series, published that December.

Mr. Toth, 26, then living in his native Hungary, had been transformed into Daemon Black without his knowledge. “I thought, what kind of book is this?” he said in a recent interview.

. . . .

 If covers were hand-painted in acrylic back in the Fabio era, the tool of the trade today is Photoshop. Heads are cut off midface if a model is overexposed. Parts of different photos can be pieced together like a Picasso portrait. Toes, too, are deleted if they clash with the book’s title.

For Mr. Baca’s helicopter-pilot shoot in Santa Cruz, Eileen Nauman, a writer better known by her pseudonym, Lindsay McKenna, emailed a series of guidelines. She wanted to see him looking alert, with a “slight, playful, teasing smile” and, she wrote, with his “flight suit open to sternum, showing off your great body, but nothing too flagrant or obvious.”

. . . .

 Few romance models, if any, make enough money to eke out a living. Mr. Baca, for example, works at the Housing Authority of the Santa Clara County, Calif., as a customer-service clerk. And although he has an agent, he said he earned only $20,000 in his best year. This, despite the fact that he is a tireless self-promoter who fancies himself the next Fabio. Industry executives say it will be difficult to topple the king. “Nobody did it better than Fabio,” said Allison Kelley, executive director of the romance writers group. “He really did create the brand.”

Link to the rest (yes, with pictures) at The New York Times

Ripped Bodice’s Racial Diversity in Romance Report Reveals Grim Numbers

9 October 2017

From Book Riot:

Romance publishing has a serious diversity problem and we now have the data to prove it. Readers of the genre know the challenge that finding traditionally published romances by authors of color can be. However, up to this point, there hasn’t been actual data on the issue. Enter the lovely ladies of The Ripped Bodice, the only romance specialty store in the country. Bea and Leah Koch crunched the numbers and published their first “The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing” report, based on 2016 new releases. It’s pretty startling stuff. The report looks at racial disparities in mainstream romance publishing and is accompanied by some pretty rad infographics to show readers just how completely horrifying their results were.

The Koch sisters say that they became “increasingly aware” of the problem of racial disparity in romance publishing through their interactions with customers of The Ripped Bodice. People were coming into the store looking for books by authors of color that were traditionally published, but Bea and Leah were running low on suggestions.

“We have found it difficult to continue the conversation about diversity in romance without hard data,” says report co-author Leah Koch. “For many years the common refrain from publishers has been ‘we’re working on it.’ Every year we will track industry growth and see if that promise rings true.”

 “Honestly we were shocked at how abysmal the numbers are,” says Bea Koch. “We thought they would be bad, [but] we didn’t think they would be this bad.”

Twenty publishers were invited to participate in the process. More than half of those invited actively engaged in the process and contributed statistics and information on racial diversity for the study.

. . . .

“While many groups are still woefully underrepresented in the romance genre, including people with disabilities, marginalized religious groups, and members of the LGBTQ community, we had to start somewhere. This is a difficult subject to discuss, but racial discrimination is one of the largest barriers to equality in any professional industry. Publishing is not immune.”

. . . .

“It’s too important. We have to start with laying out the facts. This is the genre we love and have devoted our lives to. We all need to do better. The traditional romance publishing industry is going to collapse if it doesn’t start hiring authors that reflect the current U.S. population. We’re hopeful that by contributing this data to the discussion, we will start to see real change.”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG says the traditional romance publishing industry is already collapsing because more and more romance authors have learned they can give up their day jobs and/or earn a better living by self-publishing.

And none of the indie publishing platforms discriminate against authors on the basis of race.

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