Q&A: Hydra Vice President and Digital Publishing Director Allison Dobson on New Author Contracts

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hydraThis 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.

Jeremy Greenfield

About Jeremy Greenfield

Jeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World. Opinions presented here are his own. Read more of his work here.

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2 thoughts on “Q&A: Hydra Vice President and Digital Publishing Director Allison Dobson on New Author Contracts

  1. My take, with little information and most of which I have to process, is this an attempt to move forward. To build a new business model which publishing is desperately in need of. It might not be that. It might be the ‘vanity model’ RWA and SFWA went after (and I did to an extent). Within hours of announcement.

    But I really think we all need to slow down and take some time to let all the facts sort out. I know it takes me at least an hour talking face to face with an author to get them to really understand what the value Cool Gus, with no advance, and royalty sharing, brings to the table. The first reaction is “why should I let you take a percentage of what I can do myself?”. A totally valid question that takes a long explanation.

    This was a short explanation, but it’s headed in the right direction.

    I just think we all need to calm down and be professional. Myself first in line.

    • As you know, Bob, maybe better than most, the book publishing industry inspires a lot of passion. And passion isn’t always productive when thinking through complex issues. So, I second your comment.

      That said, those who don’t heed what you wrote may find their passion hurts them in a way. It’s minor, but did you notice in the RH announcement that the Horror Writers Association was called out as part of the reason RH changed its contracts? As we all might suspect from following the news, it was the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America that drove the change.

      I suspect misplaced passion, however, in the form of the SFWA outright rejecting RH’s entreaties to talk, likely kept SFWA off the announcement.

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