Home » Big Publishing, Romance » Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes


30 March 2016

From Nora Roberts:

For the past several weeks, I’ve been house hunting–publishing houses, that is. While publishing’s a business, a house is still a home, and moving is stressful, complicated–and for a creature of routine like myself–just fraught.

Exciting, too, because once you work through the fraught, there are new possibilities, a fresh page, a new start.

There were changes in the house I worked with, lived in, was part of for more than twenty years, and with those changes I no longer felt at home there. Home, for me, is the center, the core, personally and professionally, so I need to feel comfortable and in place. I need to fit and feel connected.

. . . .

I’m fortunate to have had choices, to be able look at the landscape, the architecture, the personality and foundations of what was available to me. Each had its own distinct appeal and advantages, and since I don’t move lightly, all had to be carefully considered–with the invaluable and level-headed guidance of my agent. Amy Berkower of Writers’ House has been my agent since 1980. Not only don’t I make changes lightly, but I know when I have the best and I hold onto it.

. . . .

For those reasons and many others, I’m unpacking my bags in MacMillan–St. Martin’s Press. Their landscape, architecture and personality all fit so well I already feel at home. I already know some of the family, and that’s a path to contentment.

Link to the rest at Fall Into The Story and thanks to Kelly for the tip.

Here’s a link to Nora Roberts’ books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Big Publishing, Romance

46 Comments to “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes”

  1. I wonder what made Nora decide to go public with this. Does she think readers shop by publishing house, not by author?

    • Warning other writers that things are not kosher?

      Also, I do think that “readers buy writers” generalizes a tad too much . There are houses I *don’t* buy from (Penguin, as it happens, is one), and houses that do have a certain extra in my decision.

      Take care.

      • My point is that I doubt readers buy with publishing houses in mind when looking for a Nora Roberts book (in other words, seeking a specific author). How many, in search of her books, would not buy if the books are published by a new house?

        I didn’t read the rest at the link. Does she name her old publisher there? If not, it doesn’t seem like she’s warning other writers.

        I see that you boycott Penguin and others. That’s interesting and I’d like to know why. Never crossed my mind to refuse to buy based on who published the book I seek.

        • I disagree that not naming them means she’s not warning writers. Most writers would notice the name of the publisher, especially the tradpub writers. They’d quickly Google one of her books, see who published it, and draw conclusions. Assuming that they didn’t already know the publisher, which they might if they’re in the same genre. The average reader wouldn’t look up that information, but it would be odd if writers didn’t.

        • She named them. Penguin Random House.

        • I see that you boycott Penguin and others. That’s interesting and I’d like to know why. Never crossed my mind to refuse to buy based on who published the book I seek.

          I had a similar discussion regarding another sort of business recently.

          By and large, I don’t care what leanings a corporation’s employees have, or even the corp itself. BUT I refuse to contribute with my money to businesses that actively insult me (and there have been several publishers) or, in this particular case, whom I consider complicit in severely endangering peoples’ lives (Penguin publishing M. Bisonnette’s ‘No Easy Day’; the pseudonym lasted all of…24 hrs?).

          Take care.

        • My own anecdotal evidence suggests that no romance reader I’ve ever met buys books based on the NY publishing house that publishes them. I could call my mother now and she would be totally unable to tell me who publishes Nora Roberts. Even though she’s read a million of Roberts’s books.

          Author-readers may (obviously) be much more aware, but an average reader usually has no idea who publishes what books.

          *And before anyone jumps in to tell me otherwise, yes, I know there are average readers who buy books from places like Baen just because Baen publishes them. But I think that’s the exception rather than the rule.

          • I’m not sure that’s as accurate as we think. By and large, likely. But I’m starting to think that the exceptions are not only *individuals* but *aspects* of every reader. That readers won’t give a damn who publishes someone… until they do. My Penguin distaste nonwithstanding (I’m mostly private about it, so I don’t call it a boycott), I didn’t check for publishers, by and large. Except… well, yes, Baen, and Daw. And Lynx eds [ornithology small press]. And… There are publishers we like. And, if not publishers, then imprints that are easily recognizable, that we try to avoid.

            By and large? Not. In particulars? Maybe often. And it just happens to be about those genres we enjoy and might pull other people in.

            …or out.

            Take care.

    • Her main point was to reassure her readers that the books she had scheduled for 2016 will still be released, and also to explain that switching to the new publisher will delay and shift releases in 2017.

      Maybe if some commenters had passionate, invested readers, they’d understand the purpose of this post better.

      Yes, she’d likely make more by self-publishing, but she is well-established in traditional publishing. If she wants to keep going, more power to her! Having time and freedom to write what you want, and to spend with your grandchildren, as she mentioned, is wonderful, and I’m happy for her. Not every elderly writer wants to shift career direction and start a business.

      As time goes on, I’m sure we’ll see some bestsellers make the switch, but right now they don’t have as much incentive to re-learn their entire way of working. Even Kris Rusch posts often about her struggles to make mental adjustments, and she’s been ahead of the curve.

      • Her main point was to reassure her readers that the books she had scheduled for 2016 will still be released, and also to explain that switching to the new publisher will delay and shift releases in 2017.

        She’s lucky she CAN write and publish them. I’ve heard that some publishing houses own the rights to characters in a series, and won’t allow new work to be added to those they control.

        I’ve never been in that trad pub situation, so I could have heard wrong.

        • They can and do, most often part of the ‘no compete’ section. Throw in having to give them the first option to take all the time they want to reject any work you do, and they can keep a writer from getting any stories out …

          • Having fallen foul of character/setting ownership clauses many years ago, I changed subsequent contracts to give me control over those elements. The original contracts said I needed publisher’s permission “which would not be unreasonably withheld.” When it was very unreasonably withheld, I made darn sure it couldn’t happen to me again. It was seeing how some publishers treated the remarkable Nora Roberts that reminded me, nobody’s indispensable and it’s up to us to look after our own interests.

  2. So… can we presume they’ve changed their behavior?


    Let’s see. They’re getting a new reader, anyhow, one that didn’t buy the (Randy) Penguin. Still, I’m curious: did those changes Mrs. Roberts experienced come from the fusion?

    Take care.

    • For the last 20 years, La Nora has been good for thirteen books sold every minute (over 136 million books total). I suspect that St. Martin will turn themselves inside out to make her happy …

      What’s most interesting to me is that she left ol’ Randy after all this time … and, from her publication schedule, did so with only four books left in the Penguin pipeline.

      I wonder how many heads will roll at the Penguin now that she got pissed enough to walk away …?

      • Good points.

        • I wouldn’t expect any publisher to “turn themselves inside out” to make ANY author happy. Nor will heads necessarily roll. It’s more like c’est la vie…next! It’s up to us to make ourselves happy, whether that be with indie, tradpub or wherever. Nobody else will do it for us.

          • Nora Roberts isn’t “any” author. She a consistent best-seller. I know one woman who buys her books in hardcover, standing order.

            Now that she’s gone public, at least so far as the insular world of New York publishing is concerned, Randy Penguin’s reputation took a hit. All it takes is for one publisher to sidle up to the RP publisher at a cocktail party, cock an eyebrow, and whisper, “So … Nora?”

            Then heads will roll.

          • Nora Roberts is the equivalent of a “franchise player” to use a sports reference. Most publishers would bend over backwards to make her happy and keep her in their “house.”

            OTOH, we don’t know what her demands were, either. As they say: “No matter how think you slice it, there are always two sides.”

  3. “Landscape and architecture.” She mentions it twice.

    Not the first things I’d look for in a publishing house. I’d be looking for trapdoors and jail cells myself, but then I’m a self-pub shill.

    I wish her luck with her new owners.

    • They prefer to be called masters …

      One does hope they’ve sharpened the shears properly, dull shears can pull when they’re shearing their pets too closely.

      (and her friend the agent wouldn’t hear of her trying that self-pub thingy!)

  4. I don’t know her situation, but it feels rather like the high-minded senior butler in a Downton Abbey-style house in 1924 leaving the place because they’ve cut the staff (editors) below his standards, asked him to work with subpar equipment (loss of amenities, lower advances, not bringing the books out to her standards), and told him to take on duties that were beneath him or out of his skills set at his age (marketing). So he sets out to find a place that still operates in the manner to which he has become accustomed not realizing that the entire way of life is crumbling. Or maybe he realizes it, but just wants a place to land long enough to reach retirement because he doesn’t want to start over from scratch in a whole new world at his stage of life.

    I could be wrong, but looking at the big picture of the industry . . .

    • …but it feels rather like the high-minded senior butler in a Downton Abbey-style house in 1924 leaving the place because they’ve cut the staff (editors) below his standards, asked him to work with subpar equipment (loss of amenities, lower advances, not bringing the books out to her standards), and told him to take on duties that were beneath him or out of his skills set at his age (marketing).

      Nice metaphor. I must admit I assumed that Nora’s editor had been fired and that there were similar changes to other departments as well.

    • I’m not sure that’s fair: expecting a writer on her level to go indie is a bit like expecting a king advocate a republic.

      Take care.

    • one would have to be on the inside to see the lay of Nora’s land.

      I can say this; it’s not about NOT being treated like a queen. It’s not about advances [although no doubt st. martin’s sweetened the pot likely now or in laddering] It’s not about loss of ‘privilege.’ Its not about some hoity toidy expectation. It’s about clamping down on an artist’s creativity. Oh Mick, play Jumping Jack Flash for the billionth time and we will reward you. Oh Stephen, write another book like It and the Shining… this other stuff you brought it is nice, but you know, your ‘audience’ really likes ONLY x. Oh Julia, you cant write a book on Iranian Cuisine, no no you are KNOWN for French only. Oh no, you cant kill off the most sympathetic figure in your quadrology.

      It is like suddenly being treated as though you are living in your humorless parents’ house again, that you are infantilized, and one day, you realize your joy in writing is no longer, for you are sitting at your desk with a noose around your neck, the other end held by a know-nothing higher up who thinks you are livestock instead of a person with literary gifts.

      Study the Chinese invasion of Tibet and their sudden ‘ordering’ of everyone’s agri life. Like that. Very very like that. Sucks the life out of the ones who know their ways for decades. Puts them in harness, or else. Required to report quotas set by not the farmer, not the village headswoman, but some head far away who has soft hands and wouldnt know a yak from an ox. Halves the joy of being alive, even under the gorgeous Tibetan sky. One is no longer free to follow the known seasons, let alone one’s own seasons in the ebb and flow of creative life.

      Harness. Livestock. Infantilizing. Controlling. Produce according to those unqualified to have a say so, or be not met with welcome. That’s no home. That’s prison.

      • Thus the qig5 and they keep their authors in pens and only take them out to shear them … 😉

        (But some are learning to jump the fence, some never sign their rights away, and some find comfort in a new pen with fresher grass and a shearing that doesn’t bleed them as badly.)

        • you sound like one of the good country people Allen who knows about the care with shearing which long ago was only to harvest the top wool, but not to the skin. The long topwool spins just as well, the subsequent cloth and old time saddles, etc were just as warm, just as strong. One of my old friends who is ancient and says he likes it that way, lol, says about the old way of shearing “And the animal walked with self respect afterward, instead of hiding his nekkidnis.’

      • I didn’t mean she was being treated like a queen in the privilege sense, if at all. I do mean that the TradPub system is financially geared towards the big seller, and she is one. Indie would allow her extra freedom? Sure. She does have freedom (she left, and got a new contract she liked in the bargain).

        Take care.

        • Ferran, I’m sorry, I dont think I was replying to anything you said. Actually was replying to various comments over the internet which suppose diva-ness. I dont think it’s that for Nora who’s pretty down to earth person. [ And sometimes I cant quite figure out which reply button goes where on this page… my eyes are old Im afraid.]

          I was just remembering Ferran, when Judy Blume, the very much published children’s author, stood up on the stage at the huge international BEA and announced to all publishers and booksellers and authors present [tens of thousands from across the world,] that her publisher was an obstructionist x and y, and she was looking for and would entertain any new publisher. People were shocked, and yes, she left her big publisher and found several finer suitors and went with one of them who respected her and her work.

  5. I imagine that she was offered a new contract with terrible terms, and her agent was competent benough to advise her not to sign. Just a guess.

    • I also got the feeling (from another posting by her somewhere – maybe facebook?) that she was getting pressured to just repeat previous books and wasn’t allowed to stray too much from a previous success. In this blog post she said: “I could do good work and be satisfied settling into other houses, one could be a real home, a place of contentment and creativity, one that suited my wants and needs at this time in my life and career”

      I know she’s said publicly that while she admires self-publishers, she just wants to sit in her office and do nothing but write and not have to worry about other things. And she’s more than successful enough to get away with that.

  6. This failure to keep one of their best selling authors happy doesn’t say much about Random Penguin’s business acumen.

  7. From reading between the lines, I think NR got somewhat burned by Silhouette, her first publisher, so presumably she has been careful to make sure she owns the rights to her characters and ongoing story lines when she became popular and powerful enough to write her own ticket. I think she might consider it unprofessional to disparage a former publisher, but I read a forward or something similar once that indicated hell would freeze over before she wrote for Silhouette (or its successors-in-law) again. I am also guessing that they were reissuing books of hers without indicating that these were reissues.

    • It was very common to get burned by Silhouette back in the day. There was a time when Harlequin, who acquired Silhouette, owned the rights to their authors’ very names. You had to choose a pseudonym and write only under that, which the house then owned in perpetuity. It got so egregious that RWA actually went to bat for the romancers.

  8. Penguin and Random and the rest have lost authors, many of them over the years. Julia Child, Steve King, many many .

    It usually has to do with either long time editor of author’s work being treated like s and let go, or author being treated like s, or yes-man management like imo, Gina Centrillo, the aging veep at Randy Penguin who goes on record [late last year] saying no one under her chicken shed part of publishing, will be a ‘star.’ If anyone, besides G. cruella wants to have their work be respectfully cared for, with input from author, and d hard work of author to go’on the road’ while Centrillo and her ilk imo, lounge around in their nyc cozy penthouses… theauthor is out of luck.

    Many of us pub’d by prh paid close attention when Centrillo barked that. Inside authors are leaving. We did last year. Others followed and will follow in the near future. Whispering among authors at prh has grown amongst ourselves, to a din. The atmosphere at prh is crass and ugly. It used to be gracious. Meaning basic polite decency toward authors.

    But prh and others of the trad glommed together conglomerates, corporate run, put in money managers at the top who could be selling tires or books or swampland… and they got rid of most editors and veeps who were gracious and smart. And put in place at prh, by Dohle in the main, ‘yes men’ who are pretty much like many of the ultra repulsive heads of some churches that turn away from the populace and only pursue the rich, smoke cigars, drink fine whiskey, live in lavish digs, take their limo/town car back and forth to work, and h with those who are the actual mules who pull the load and provide the money for their living high.How can it be that most midlist authors struggle to make mortgage or rent, take care of their kids.

    And those at top THICK layer of prh have a penthouse in the city, a place in the Hamptons, and their kids in private schools that cost more per year than the midlist’s author’s last 6 years of income at 10k per year…

    There’s a lot of talk, a lot, about ebks being the bomb that blew up trad pubs. Actually, it is the option of previous pub’d author’s having two things that has blown the gates off any wall trad pub tries to put up nowadays.

    One is, yes, one can go indie, esp with the MASSIVE boost of having been pub’d but more so, DISTRIBUTED over 1,2, 3,4,5,6 or more books by a big ny pub… THAT stays with the author and it is the enormous advantage the new indie author has to find other ways to accomplish. That HUGE boost to exposure and sales, also have allowed author to come to know through hard work, many indie bookstores -owners and staff by name– who will be happy to carry a pod or sell a nook ebk off their own platform, provide venue for free, hand sell.

    Nora Roberts imo, listened to the public statement of such hubris by many both in their interoffice memos often sent to us either by the headsman, or by certain editors, and also the hubriac statements to the press that are not welcoming, imo, not even barely civil

  9. Nora wrote: “There were changes in the house I worked with, lived in, was part of for more than twenty years, and with those changes I no longer felt at home there. Home, for me, is the center, the core, personally and professionally, so I need to feel comfortable and in place. I need to fit and feel connected.”

    Trust. It is true. PRH is no longer ‘home’ for most and many imo. Most authors who have a sense of self would rear up on their hind legs and claw to get out of there while the getting is possible. Flattery can only go so far, if there is no follow through as promised. Bragging on authors holds no water if all decent promises are broken. Ineptitude in editing by ‘the new’ yes men, imo, and those in publishing being coattail riders, as in being celebrity chasers instead of persons who value writing of many kinds…the rot is on the inside.

    Masque of Red Death is moving in stealth through big pub imo — the death of the old pubs is coming from the inside. Ebooks is the secondary opportunistic infection.

  10. If a publishing house is a home, then I guess that makes us self publishers the roving hordes of barbarians!

    • I prefer “nomadic.” I do unpack my duffle at a publisher’s tent from time to time, and wander in the s.p. grasslands the rest of the year.

  11. Due to the merger, Nora’s longtime editor was “let go.” Not a smart move on Random Penguin’s part, obviously, since Nora then let herself out the door, too. 😉

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