By Robert Miller
NEW YORK: I’ve just read M.J. Rose’s editorial from last Friday, “Publishers Must Change the Way Authors Get Paid,” and I couldn’t agree more that it’s time to re-think the publisher/author relationship. M.J. deserves credit for moving this conversation forward; indeed, for years M.J. has shown by her own example how authors can and should be full partners in the marketing of their books. If anyone has earned the right to question author compensation, it’s M.J. Rose.
However, I don’t think that the solution is to have authors paid a higher royalty in exchange for their marketing efforts.
First of all, how would this be judged? What amount of marketing effort should be expected of the author before their royalty changes? Shouldn’t author and publisher alike be doing everything possible to make a book succeed, without needing to count up who has gone beyond the call of duty and who hasn’t and trying to calculate how that should translate into how they share the proceeds of their success? What if the author and the publisher have both made herculean marketing efforts, but the book has lost money? Should the author get a higher royalty, even as the publisher is taking a loss? (Similarly, I don’t see how publishers and authors would know how to apply the author’s marketing expenses to their advances, as M.J. suggests here.)
This approach reminds me of those group housing experiences we all had just after college, when inevitably the refrigerator would get divided up into separate grocery bags with cranky “this is mine, don’t eat it” notes on them. When that happens, the household stops being a fun place to live…and I don’t think it’s a good basis for sustainable publisher/author relationships, either.
I don’t think that this solution goes far enough. I believe that publishers and authors should be equal partners, sharing profits fifty-fifty, as we are doing in all of our deals at HarperStudio. The author brings their creative work to this partnership, and their commitment to do everything in their power to help their book succeed. The publisher brings their financial risk (under our model, the publisher puts up the publishing costs, including the advance to the author, from which the author can decide to help the marketing effort if they’d like, or not), their passion for the project, and their staff time (we don’t charge any overhead to the profit split; the authors don’t charge for their time spent marketing the book either).
This financial structure requires both parties to think responsibly about costs, since both parties will be charged for those costs at the end of the day. The result is that the relationship is much less adversarial.
The question each day is, “What should we be doing for this book?” not “What have you done for me lately?” It feels healthier to me.
So, M.J., got a book for HarperStudio? If so, we have a structure that I believe would reward you fairly for your impressive efforts, without turning us all into dueling accountants. The new chapter has begun.
Robert Miller is the president and publisher of HarperStudio, which he founded in 2008. The first books from this new imprint are published next month.
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