Harlequin recently announced that it would be increasing its digital royalties to be more in line with what has become industry standard: from 6% – 8% of cover price to 25% of net for single title releases, 15% of net for category/series authors. Initially this looks like an improvement, and it may turn out to be so for some authors. But what is rather concerning is that the rather vague emails sent to their authors are supposed to constitute an addendum to their contracts unless authors decline the change by July 15. Nowhere in the letters did Harlequin communicate how net was to be calculated. What expenses, exactly, will be deducted from the gross to arrive at the net? Are Harlequin authors supposed to just trust that their publisher means only the best for them?
In the medical professions, the rule is: If it isn’t in the chart, it didn’t happen. Likewise, in a legal document that talks about my money, I want the specifics spelled out and written down. I’m cynical that way.
I have friends who sell regularly to Harlequin, so I’m interested, but this doesn’t affect me directly. If it did, I think I’d ask for an addendum to the addendum that says this is how the net will be calculated, and that the new royalties will never be less than what the old calculation produced. From what I’ve heard, Harlequin is not big on modifying their contracts. However, enough Harlequin authors have raised questions that the Romance Writers of America is consulting counsel for “clarification.”
So why is Harlequin making this change? If they truly will be paying more to authors, I doubt it’s out of the goodness of their heart. I suspect it may in part be because the ease of self-publishing is giving some of their authors ideas. Courtney Milan, an HQN author wrote on May 31st: In February, Harlequin offered to buy my next two books. They actually offered more money upfront than I was expecting–it was a very nice deal (in publisher’s marketplace terminology). But the royalty rate was stuck at 8%. I talked it over with my agent, the brilliant and supportive Kristin Nelson. We said, “no, thank you.” She plans to self-publish the third book in her current series.
I was pretty surprised when I first read about Harlequin’s rather vague addendum, but I shouldn’t have been. Kris Rusch and Passive Guy have been writing for weeks about how publishers’ contracts are changing. Why would Harlequin be any different? They’re the 800 pound gorilla in the romance room. They publish the majority of all print romance. Harlequin editors have openly stated that Harlequin’s goal is world domination in romance fiction. I see nothing wrong with that if they dominate through supplying superior value. They’re in business after all. I’m not thrilled with knowing that their supposed transparency is rather less than they pretend it is. When someone says, “Trust me,” it’s usually a good idea to keep your hand on your wallet.