Tag Archives: Harlequin Class Action Suit

Less than Minimum Wage for Authors?





Traditional Publishing Contracts – Part One of a Series

You might remember an article How Harlequin Publishing Deceives Their Authors from last summer in this blog, about the planned class action suit against the publisher. Today I stumbled about a sequel of J.A. Konrath’s blog: Harlekin Fail, Part 2, where he explains the contract practices of the trade publishers in general, and how they deceive their authors. From today on we will look more closely into these practices.

When offered the opportunity to publish traditionally, about two-thirds of self-published authors are interested. The supposed prestige of a traditional publisher, the wide distribution a publisher can generate and help with marketing, are the reasons, cited in surveys.
However the perception of traditional publishing is often not up to date in public, as the way of book marketing (and the whole traditional publishing business) has totally changed. Only celebrity authors get full promotion, other writers have to fend for themselves, and they often do not even know that their books have only a maximum of three months to survive on bookstores shelves until they will be returned to the publisher or discarded. Read also What Publishers Won’t Tell You.

In the last hundred years, the only way to get published, or better said, get distribution for a book, was to sign a contract with a publisher. Writers had almost no choice, then to accept the publishing contract terms – until the advent of author-publishing, which was the norm since about a hundred years ago.

Imagine, an agent / publisher offers you a publishing contract.
Best advice for any author is to know what they get into, to understand the publishing contract and to consult a contract lawyer before signing the papers.  As wrote: “While it is difficult to see how your publishing agreement will play out in the long term, the decisions you make today could have profound, long term consequences.”

This will be a series of articles, trying to bring some light into the murky waters of these universally unfair and mostly, non-negotiable publishing contracts. Disclaimer: Nothing in these articles can or should be taken as legal advice.

What are the subjects / paragraphs of a publishing contract? Let’s look in detail at

  • Duration of the contract
  • Rights granted by the author to the publisher
  • Territory for these rights
  • Manuscript Delivery
  • Advances and Royalties
  • Statements and Payments
  • Publication
  • Competing Works
  • Unsatisfactory Material
  • Out-of-Print Termination
  • Reversion of rights

Even if you are still eager to sign a contract, you should at least know what you (and maybe even your heirs) get into, and what the contract clauses really mean. This series about details in publishing contracts will also help you to ask the right questions when you meet with a lawyer, specialized in publishing contracts / contract law.

The entire publishing industry is using boilerplate contracts and universally, one-sided clauses to exploit authors – same as it has happened (and often still does) in the music industry – until the dawn of Indie Music … and now the music industry is in deep trouble, as many artists became their own producer and distributor. Which will ultimately happen with parts of the publishing industry. Look at all the mergers of publishing houses, that happened recently!

Their system is designed to take advantage of Authors’ naivete and their lack of bargaining power, and it uses the promise of book publication as a carrot to get them to accept biased terms. However, there are a few authors who managed to have at least one or the other of the contract clauses changed.

Who fights for better publishing contracts? No one does …

Authors have no one to fight for their rights.
Authors won’t help each other, they don’t band together. The successful ones do not want to compromize their bestsellerdom. Newbie authors and aspiring writers are eager to become published, even at less favorable terms.

Agents really work for the publishers.
And even if they would have the courage to fight the status quo, chances are their authors wouldn’t back them – out of fear to form a united front against publishers.

Publishers certainly won’t change. 
Because they have no incentive to. They can pick and choose among millions of manuscripts. And they can, or had, certainly theoretically only ;- ) arranged for universal contract terms and royalties among their peers …

Let’s look into the details of publishing contracts in the next two of the series, in order to find out and to realize what these contract clauses mean for authors. Stay tuned, and spread the word, re-blog these articles, so that as much writers as possible learn about the tactics of the publishing industry.

Sources / Read also:

Author Beware of Scams


Negotiating Your Book Contract

Ten Key Negotiating Points

Comments on Unfair Contracts (by a lawyer)

Quick Guide to Book Contract Trouble Spots

Negotiating Book Contract Terms and Royalties

What Not to Miss When Negotiating Your Book Publishing Contract




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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Marketing


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Did Harlequin Publishing Deceive Their Authors?

Yesterday I read this article on J.A. Konrath’s blog:

“Three authors have just filed a class action suit against Harlequin publishing, which belongs to TorStar Corp., a Canadian publishing company.

One of them, Ann Voss Peterson wrote a book that Harlequin published, and she made 2.4% royalties per e-book copy sold. One of the reasons for this was:

While most of my books are sold in the US, many are sold under lower royalty rates in other countries.

In this particular contract, some foreign rights and – ALL e-book royalties – are figured in a way that artificially reduces net by licensing the book to a “related licensee,” in other words, a company owned by Harlequin itself.

Here’s an example: Harlequin has an e-book it lists for $3.99. It sells that to Amazon at a wholesale price of $2.00. The author should make $1.00 for each $3.99 e-book that Amazon sells. But instead of selling directly to Amazon, Harlequin sells the e-book to Company X for 12 cents. So the author only gets 6 cents. Company X than sells the same e-book to Amazon for $2.00, but because they are a sub-licensing company, they don’t have to pay the author anything.

Sub-licensing is common. This is all fine and legal. So why are authors suing Harlequin? Because Harlequin and Company X are the same company!  No publishing company would ever sub-license rights for a paltry 6%, unless it was selling the rights to itself. Does Harlequin really expect a judge to believe that it sells a $3.99 e-book and only makes 6 cents? And according to the complaint, the 6% was not equivalent to the amount reasonably obtainable from an unrelated party, as required by the publishing agreements.

Do publishers have such a sense of entitlement, and do they believe that authors are so beneath them, that this is a fair and honest business practice?” Read J.A.Konrath’s full story and the court complaints. It makes for an interesting reading!


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