Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Traditional publishers are the subject of lots of news reports and blog posts these days. Other writers have explored those topics more eloquently, but--having added my two cents last week on a similar subject--I’ll add a few more words to these threads.

A respected publisher of non-fiction, fiction of all types and children’s books for more than seventy years, Penguin recently announced the purchase of Author Solutions for $116 million. It’s no secret to professional, or even many (maybe especially) newbie writers, but they are the parent company of the vanity presses Author House, iUniverse, Trafford, and Xlibris. For exhorbitant amounts of money, any of these companies will provide publishing services to writers. What they seldom do, however, is sell books. Two-thirds of their income is from fees paid by the clients.

The average client--Author Solutions has a total of 150,000 writers on its lists--pays $5000 for their services and sells fewer than 150 books. Writer Beware has seen thousands of complaints and warns writers to avoid them.

As author David Gaughran wrote in a July article, Penguin has seemingly bought a company which milks writers. In his example he points out that Author House charges the “bargain price” of $1,199 for a press release and that the author could get more promotional value if he simply set fire to the money on YouTube.

So why did Penguin do it? To give them the benefit of the doubt, I don’t believe they intend to exploit writers. In my opinion, they plan to use Author Solutions’ lists of wannabe authors to find the next Amanda Hocking or E.L. James before they become household names. Penguin may hope to find gold in the slush pile, publish it and then keep 78% of the profits themselves.

But I could be wrong.

I hardly need to point out--especially to my fellow RWA members, they’re the largest romance publisher in the world. As I see it, the class action suit brought by three writers last month boils down to Harlequin failing to live up to its contracts. Instead of paying authors a promised 50% of e-book royalties, they paid 3%. If, for example, an e-book sold for $4.00, the author should get $2. Harlequin, by licensing the book to another entity--which, guess what? they own--the author gets 32 cents. Ouch.

I‘m not a Harlequin author, but the case intrigues me. What will happen to Harlequin? Will they go bankrupt? Will their authors flee to other publishers or Amazon which already has its own romance imprint? Amazon has already purchased Avalon Books (who published my novel Southern Star) and is buying Dorchester. The outcome of this won’t be known for some time, and my guess is eventually Harlequin will settle for somewhere in the millions of dollars, especially if guilty and a judge adds Punitive Damages.

As I’ve said before, this is an interesting time to be a writer. What do you think? Would you query Penguin or Harlequin today?

Southern Star
Barnes & Noble
 Marilee Shaw's inheritance, the yacht Southern Star, is in default to the bank. To save it from the auction block, she decides to honor a Caribbean cruise planned for two couples. But with no captain available, she's forced to approach Gary Pritchard, a man she once loved but refused to marry. He agrees to skipper the cruise, but only if she comes along as crew. In addition to the danger of succumbing again to Gary's charm and good looks, she has other problems. Trying to sell the yacht, the discovery that her customers are not what they seem, and the appearance of an unexpected visitor make the excursion anything but seaworthy. Will the romantic but rocky voyage rekindle their love or scuttle it forever?

David Gaughran
Writer Beware
Amanda Hocking
E.L. James
Southern Star


  1. Good post Phyllis! There are so many things to consider as an author. It's nice to have the benefit of others' experience.

    1. Dixie:
      Thanks for the comment. I always hope my blog posts are helpful to others. Paying back for all the help I got years ago.

  2. Interesting post Phyllis. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Larissa: Thanks for the comment. Glad you ejoyed it.

  3. I value the freedom of being an indie author, but I'd like the experience of being traditionally published. Penguin or Harlequin? I'd like to see what happens in this latest trial.


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