Q&A: Hydra Vice President and Digital Publishing Director Allison Dobson on New Author Contracts
This past week was a busy one for Allison Dobson, vice president and digital publishing director at Random House’s new digital imprints Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept and Flirt.
Hydra came under fire starting last week when the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America sent a letter to its members condemning the imprint’s publishing contracts. Random House responded with a letter of its own which the SFWA rejected. Bloggers and commenters took up arms, too, to discuss the issue.
Today, perhaps putting an end to the short but frothy saga, Random House announced that it would be making alterations to its contracts with writers for the above mentioned imprints.
I sat down with Dobson to ask her about the new contracts, the conflict and what’s next for Hydra and the other imprints.
Jeremy Greenfield: Can you walk me through the changes in the agreements?
Allison Dobson: The biggest change overall is that we are making it so that each prospective author gets the choice of two models: The first is a profit share; and the second is advance plus royalty.
Under the profit share, we have made some changes in the deductions that will be taken from revenue before the profit is determined. For digital, we will cover all production costs, and for both print and digital we’ll cover all of the marketing costs. We’ll also cover title-specific marketing activities taken on behalf of a particular book up to $10,000. After that, we’ll present any title-specific marketing costs over $10,000 to the author and if the author agrees to it we’ll deduct those costs from revenue before the profit split. On the print edition, there are deductions for actual costs related to production and shipping.
JG: It sounds like you’re giving authors a lot of agency to make decisions that can affect the profitability of a book.
AD: For these imprints, the author will be making some decisions. In all cases at Random House, we’re always consulting with the author and the author is the partner in all of our plans. In a profit-share model, the author will be the steward of the P&L [profit and loss statement] in a way because we’re asking the author to share in certain costs. In general, they also have an option to not worry about that specifically and take a different model [the advance plus royalty model] and that’s a much more traditional model.
JG: Can you tell me why you think these new contracts are better for Random House and authors?
AD: We heard some concerns from authors and agents and writers groups about deductions off the profit share. I think they were concerned because they didn’t understand our offering. This was an attempt to make it crystal clear — which was always the intention — what would and would not be deducted under a profit share agreement.
JG: Do you have any authors who are under the old contracts and have contacted you about having them changed? Have any complained?
AD: No. Actually, the response has been completely positive, although if this contract compares favorably for the author, we would be happy to amend any contract.
JG: What’s your pitch for why writers should work with you instead of going it alone or even doing a publishing deal with another house?
AD: First of all, there is no place better to publish these types of books. We want to build authors; we want to build brands for authors and we want to help them grow their careers. We are extremely dedicated and I hope that our responsiveness in addressing these concerns that were raised last week shows our commitment to building a program that authors want to be a part of and we think we’re the best place to build a career for an author.
JG: What’s next for Hydra and the other imprints?
AD: We have some great books we’ll publish throughout the year. We’re really excited to get those books into the marketplace. We’ll be launching some websites for the imprints soon and we’ll be at a number of conventions. We’re excited to be making some new relationships with authors and with fans and that will really benefit authors – when we can build relationships with fans and introduce our authors to them.