Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why I Hate Publishers

Now, you may think "hate" is too strong a word.  I don't.  Not after today.

I've never had a great deal of respect for publishers, even when I was signing their contracts back in the 1980s and 1990s.  They were, after all, the only game in town at that time.  If you didn't sign a contract with a publisher, your only other option was to publish yourself, at substantial cost.  Most reviewers wouldn't review self-published books, and damn few bookstores would carry them.  Generally if you self-published -- or subsidy-published -- you ended up with a basement or garage filled with unsold and pretty much unsellable books.

And in order to get published by a publisher, you had to agree to their terms.  Unless you were a Stephen King or a Clive Cussler or a Mary Higgins Clark or a Nora Roberts, you took what they offered and were grateful for it.  Some publishers were better than others, some deals were better than others, but by and large you gave ownership of your book to your publisher for the foreseeable future.

In a way, I was lucky.  In January 1994 I signed a two-book contract with Pocket Books.  By 1996, when the second of those two books was published, I'd been completely burned out by the process and gave up writing altogether.  All I had ever wanted to be, from the age of about 11, was a writer, but producing two books for editor Caroline Tolley at Pocket destroyed any joy I'd ever had in writing.

Yes, I'm naming names.  I won't write anything libelous, and I won't go into the details, but ours was not a compatible professional relationship.  I felt Ms. Tolley treated both me and my books as unwanted step-children.  Both MOONSILVER and TOUCHSTONE received uninspired cover art and no promotion whatsoever.  I believed, and believe to this day, that circumstances over which I had no control led her to sabotage potential sales, thus ensuring the death of my career.  I was discouraged and demoralized by the time TOUCHSTONE was released in 1996.

Neither of the books sold very well, which didn't surprise me.  But I felt particularly dismayed by MOONSILVER, for a variety of reasons.

To begin with, MOONSILVER had been sent to Tolley as a partial in 1992.  She rejected it, but with such a glowing rejection letter that my agent told me to frame it.  Tolley loved the book, loved the premise, loved my writing, but had no room on her list for it for over a year and didn't want me to have to wait that long.  Ultimately, however, she did buy it, in December of 1993.  Before that, however, I had had to buy back a contracted book with Zebra, at considerable expense to myself, so that I would have no other obligations besides Pocket.  I did so, and on 7 December 1993, I accepted the offer of a two-book contract for MOONSILVER and an as-yet untitled historical romance.

I was told a day or so later that on the afternoon of 7 December 1993, Caroline Tolley boarded the Long Island Railroad for her commute home.  If you check on Bing or Google, you'll learn that that was the day a man by the name of Colin Ferguson killed six people on the Long Island Railroad.  I was told the car he chose for his massacre was the car Caroline Tolley was on.  I was told she was traumatized by the event; she was off work for several weeks. 

I do not know if the conjunction of my accepting the contract terms on the same day as the Long Island Railroad killings had anything to do with it, but Ms. Tolley's attitude toward MOONSILVER was far different after the book was contracted than before.

After the publication of TOUCHSTONE, I gave up writing fiction.  In 1998 I went back to college, ended up with a master's degree, and didn't really think about going back to fiction until about a year ago.  Oh, I've played around with it here and there, but nothing serious.  And this blog has more or less chronicled my return to it, especially via the digital self-publishing process.

Which, as we all know, is a whole new thing that's come along since 1993, when I accepted the contract with Pocket Books.

In May of this year, when I began to explore the possibilities of self-publishing, I wrote letters to the publishers of some of my books. requesting the reversion of the rights to those books since they'd been out of print long enough.  I never got a reply from two of those publishers, and so I've proceeded with my intentions to publish digital editions of the titles they printed. 

Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books, however, responded by telling me they were going to take their sweet time about determining whether they'd give me the rights back.  As far as I knew, both books had been out of print since their initial publication, MOONSILVER in 1995 and TOUCHSTONE in 1996.  I had not become a bestselling author in the meantime, and I assure you the sales of the digital edition of SECRETS TO SURRENDER have not made me a millionaire.  There was no reason I could see that Pocket would want to hang onto the rights to these two books.  But I couldn't do anything, because the contract terms gave them the right to take their time in deciding.

A few weeks ago, I got another letter from them, this time informing me that I would be happy to know -- their words -- that they were going to make the two books available to readers in trade paperback editions in a few weeks.  I said WHAT??? 

Why would they reprint two books that didn't come even close to earning out their meager advances over 15 years ago?  And for heaven's sake, why in trade paperback size?  This made no sense at all!

So I began to monitor Amazon for any reference to a reprinting of MOONSILVER or TOUCHSTONE. 

What I discovered was not what I expected.

I noticed some odd references to a "first edition" copy of TOUCHSTONE printed in 2004.  That's right -- eight years after the first publication of TOUCHSTONE, "first editions" dated 2004 were turning up.  One website I found seemed to indicate this was not an American edition, but I was never able to determine where it was published or sold, and I wasn't about to pay $10.00 plus shipping for a copy of it.  Not at that time anyway.

But then these 2004 editions appeared on Amazon, and I had no clue what was going on.  I decided the only source of information I might have would be royalty statements.  And as luck would have it, I had just got the most recent one from my former agent, Cherry Wiener.  Because yes, Pocket is still sending royalty statements, and still holding reserves against returns for books that have been out of print for over a decade.

To be perfectly honest, after about the year 2000, I paid no attention to those statements.  Neither book had earned out its advance so I knew I wasn't going to get any money from them, and it made no sense to go through the statements.  In 2005, after my husband died and I moved, I neglected to give Cherry Wiener an address change, and so several royalty statements are missing from my collection.  But after discovering this mysterious 2004 edition of TOUCHSTONE, I pulled out those ignored royalty statements and discovered that there had in fact been a "special" sale of 27,780 copies of TOUCHSTONE in 2004, on which I had "earned" $0.0225 per copy.  That's right -- two and a quarter cents per book.  Not 2.25% of the cover price, but two and a quarter cents per book.

Were these remaindered copies?  I find that difficult to believe; it would mean that when Pocket wrote to me in 1997 that they were disposing of all unsold copies of both MOONSILVER and TOUCHSTONE that they somehow overlooked 28,000 copies of TOUCHSTONE for seven years. 

At no point did I receive any communication from them as to the nature of this "special" sale.  And if the books were identified as printed in 2004 but were first editions, that suggests they were either unbound pages that were bound in 2004 or they were reprints.  I'd like to know how 28,000 reprints are considered a "special" sale.

But that was in 2004 and that still meant TOUCHSTONE had been out of print long enough for me to get the rights back, if Pocket wasn't going to reprint.  And MOONSILVER showed no such special sales or reprints.

Today, 30 October 2011, the "new" editions of MOONSILVER and TOUCHSTONE showed up on Amazon. 

There's no cover art for either book.  Even though the "publication" date of 5 December 2011 is roughly five weeks away, there's no cover art? Excuse me? 

And what's with the business of not listing the author's first name?  The original editions had "Linda Hilton" in nice big letters, and those editions are still listed on Amazon, even if only in used copies.  (Although suddenly today Amazon no longer even has used copies of MOONSILVER listed.)

I'll get to the issue of the prices in a minute.

After noticing that the used copies of MOONSILVER had disappeared from the Amazon site, I hit Google to see if somehow or other they'd all disappeared.  No, they were still floating around.  In fact, Barnes & Noble had it listed.  So I hopped over to to see what was going on over there.

Wow and WOW!  Both books are listed at B&N, too.  But instead of just having the author listed as "Hilton," with no first name, B&N identifies the author as "Anne Hilton."  For both books.

I looked at my contract.  Although my middle name is Ann -- without an E at the end -- nowhere on the contract is that middle name listed.

I have no idea what the hell is going on.

But remember I said I'd get to the prices in a minute?  Well, that's another shocker.

TOUCHSTONE has a cover price of $19.99, discounted to $13.59.

MOONSILVER has a cover price of $24.99, discounted to $16.49.

I'm not Nora Roberts or Courtney Milan or Loretta Chase or any other best-selling romance author.  There's no way in hell my books are actually going to sell at those prices.  No. Fucking. Way.

Not at the full cover price for damn sure, and not even at those discounted prices.  The books didn't sell well 15 years ago at $5.50; what in heaven's name makes someone at Pocket Books think they're going to sell now at three times that??

I don't think they want to sell them.  I think they know they're not going to sell any, and in fact I don't think they're even printing any.  Oh, they might have a print-on-demand deal if someone comes along and actually wants one, but I don't think they've actually put any trade-sized paperback books together to put in bookstores.

But by making the books "available" at outrageous prices they know no one will pay, Pocket manages to hang onto the rights to the books I wrote, at least for another twelve or so years.  Copyright law says the rights come back to me eventually, no matter what the publisher does.

In my opinion, they're slime.  They're bitter, greedy bastards.  They know the books won't sell, but they don't want to give me the rights back. 

I suspect these books will show up on some future royalty statement as "special" sales on which I "earn" two or three cents per copy.  (I should clarify:  By the contract terms, I get 5% of the "net" proceeds on those "special" sales.  Somehow or other, Pocket managed to sell 27,780 copies of TOUCHSTONE at less than 50 cents apiece, with a cover price of $1.00. . . . . somewhere.)

I hate publishers.  And I don't think "hate" is too strong a word.  Greedy assholes.


  1. I'm almost positive I bought a copy of Touchstone with a Dollar Store sticker on the front years ago--mid 2000s. I don't think I still have it unfortunately. I always wondered if the $1.00 paperbacks they offered were remainders or special editions. I know some of the Zebra ones had covers with the $1 price printed on them rather than just stickered.

  2. Dear Anonymous --

    I may have an answer to your question in a few days. The royalty statement does include the information that the cover price of the books for that special sale was $1.00, or at least that's the way I read the statement. And after seeing enough of these 2004 "first editions" for sale on Amazon, I broke down and ordered one. It should be here in a few days. I'll put up another blog post when it arrives.