In May 1984 I signed a contract with Dorchester for the publication of my historical romance Legacy of Honor, my first published novel. It came out in mass market paperback the following March.
One of the events that prompted my return to writing was a notice last spring that I stumbled upon at the All About Romance site relative to the boycott of Dorchester/Leisure that was being encouraged by author Brian Keene. I didn't think much about it at the time, but it did get me to thinking about my own experience with Leisure.
When just shortly after that, I started to resurrect my career, I never went after the digital rights to Legacy of Honor last spring, even though I knew about the problems and knew about the boycott. The main reason was I also knew I didn't have the time it would take to transcribe the book from hard copy to the computer. All my other books were in digital files, but I'd written Legacy in the early 80s before I had a computer. Between the day job and the arts and crafts and general day to day chores, when was I going to find time to re-type 150,000 or so words from the tiny print Leisure version?
So I didn't go after the rights, and now Dorchester is folding and for all I know they could license those digital rights -- yes, they're in the contract covered by one of those "any means now known or developed at any time in the unforeseeable future 'til the sun implodes" -- to some distributor, collect the money, and not pay me a thing.
What makes me more angry than just about anything is the way RWA could have made a huge difference years and years and years ago. Once again, it's rubber stamp time:
Back in the early 1990s -- I'll have to do some research to determine the actual dates -- Leisure Books was going through one of their frequent bouts of financial distress, a condition that has plagued them off and on since at least the early 1980s. (They were, in fact, just emerging from bankruptcy or something close to it when I signed that contract with them in 1984.) I happened to stumble across a copy of a book that was to all intents and purposes a Leisure product in that it had the same cover art, the same text, the same author. But the publisher was listed as "BMI," or Book Margins, Inc., not Leisure. I was eventually able to acquire at least a couple of these duplicate copies, which, if I can locate them, I will scan in for this blog.
Because I was active in RWA at the time, I turned immediately to them. Research was done and the determination was made that Dorchester/Leisure had licensed BMI to produce and/or distribute deeply discounted copies at prices so low that no royalties were due to the authors. I'll try to find the letter I received from Magaret Brownley with this information. Needless to say, the affected authors were never notified of these deals. How much BMI made off them is a good question, and Dorchester/Leisure may have reported the sales on royalty statements, but I don't know.
About the same time, early to mid 90s, Kensington/Zebra was doing the same sort of thing: Arranging deep-discount bulk sales to distribution points such as Sam's Club, Price Club, and others. Authors were not notified and received little to nothing on these sales. RWA did nothing, but you knew that, didn't you?
However, it was this experience that allowed me to recognize the similar action conducted by Pocket Books when they "sold" 28,000 copies of my book Touchstone as a deep discount to. . . .someone. My royalty on that "sale" was $0.0225, or 2 1/4 cents per copy. Had this been a regular retail sale, my 8% royalty rate on a $5.99 cover price would have been 48 cents per copy, and even at a cover price of $1.00, I should have received 8 cents. Now, we understand that distribution of 28,000 copies of a $1.00 book is probably good advertising, but since I had no other books in the pipeline with Pocket in 2004 when this fake first edition/deep discounted rip-off was printed, there was no benefit to me at all. Pocket made out all right, but I got virtually nothing.
None of these shenanigans require any notification to the author. The terms are all folded into the arcana of the contract language and the author
has had no choice but to sign. The rights of the publishers were sacrosanct, protected not only by those egregious contract terms but also by the "professional" writers' organizations.
Romance Writers of America never was and probably never will be a "professional" writers' organization, imho. When I let my RWA membership lapse in 1998, the membership was at least 80-85% unpublished. Although there were (and apparently are) still internal subdivisions such as PAN (Published Authors' Network) and PASIC (Published Authors' Special Interest Chapter, and more about that later), much more of RWA's energy was directed at keeping the unpublished members happy so they would continue to pay dues and attend conferences and enter contests -- all of which swelled RWA's already fat coffers. Therefore, whenever the published authors brought up issues complaining of the behavior of publishers -- everything from failure to pay royalties on time or to push book club royalties down to virtually nothing -- RWA stepped back and proclaimed its inability to do anything. The perception was that the unpublished, who saw ANY publisher and ANY contract on ANY terms as the brass ring, would not tolerate any criticism that might diminish their chances of achieving publication. And of course the publishers themselves offered all kinds of defenses.
I politely requested Pocket Books to revert my rights to me, including digital rights that they held but could not exercise. They responded by making my titles "available" in $25 print on demand trade editions. I'll be looking forward to the huge royalties on those.
Tomorrow I will politely request Dorchester/Leisure to revert my rights to me, including digital rights that they hold and could very easily exercise without paying me a cent.
I have reached the point where I am almost ready to sit down and transcribe the 556 pages of 8-point type and put Legacy of Honor on Amazon myself, and the hell with getting the rights officially and legally reverted.