I seen a lot of tweets today about the Random House digital-only imprints – specifically Hydra. Right on the heels of the Writer Beware post that revealed details about the contract they seem to be offering writers came SFWA’s announcement that they will not consider Hydra as a viable publishing credit for entry into the association. If you want more explanation as to why not, John Scalzi explains things with his usual efficacy.
I think, at this point, it’s pretty obvious who Random House was trying to snag with these digital imprints: unagented writers who are:
- Hungry for publication
- Frustrated with the traditional process
- Considering indie publishing
- Yet still are somewhat attached to the idea of traditional validity and the desire for a “Big 6” label
In other words, writers like me.
I remember hearing about the launch of these imprints back in November. I remember staring at the Hydra page and thinking, “Oh my god, this is it. This could be my in. My way to be published by freaking RANDOM HOUSE.”
I didn’t have anything ready to send to them at that point, and this has turned out to be a good thing. But for those who did and who signed that contract… Well, Hydra, the word “predatory” comes to mind. But when you pair this with news items like Pearson/Penguin Group purchasing the notorious Author Solutions, then it just drives home one, clear message:
The best advocate you have is you.
Even if you have an agent. Even if you have a GREAT agent. Your writing career is 100% yours and the only one you have. There is no one else who depends on the success of your work quite like you do. And it is work. It’s a business. Which means anytime you partner with anyone, you should investigate the shit out of that person or company.
You’ve heard “no agent is better than a bad agent”? Well, that’s true. Trust me when I say that it’s fun being able to tell everyone you have a literary agent, but it loses its luster if you end up knee-deep in a mess of incompetency or extortion or worse.*
Y’know what else is true? No publisher is better than a bad publisher. It seems strange and a bit sacrilegious to say that, but for reals, people. It’s not worth signing on the dotted line just to get your work out there if they’re going to bend you over a table in the long run. Not these days; not when we have other options – direct-to-consumer options – available to us.
Which, speaking of, if you go indie, it’s the same shit, different day. It’s your book, your product, so don’t just hire any ol’ person to help you put it out there. No cover designer is better than a bad cover designer. No editor is better than a bad editor. Repeat it to yourself. Do your due diligence. Make sure they’re going to help you put out something quality, something you’re proud of.
I’m not trying to be self-righteous. I’m an impulsive person, and if I had submitted to Hydra back in November and gotten a contract in December, I probably would’ve signed it. Because I want my books out there and because I would’ve trusted Random House.
I would’ve trusted them, and they would’ve screwed me. Not because they hate me personally but because they’re a business trying to get a slice of the sweet self-publishing pie. Because their goal is to advocate for themselves. It’s their job.
And our only defense against the predators is to advocate for ourselves just as hard.
*Note: Just to make it clear: I adore literary agents. I would love to have one of my very own someday. But not everyone who calls themselves a literary agent is one or is a good one, so make sure you don’t just like the agent personally. They also need to be an effective business partner.