SFWA Response to Hydra Letter

sfwa_square_logoThe following is a response by SFWA to a letter submitted by Ms. Dobson of Hydra, an imprint of Random House. For background please see this post by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware.

Dear Ms. Dobson:

Thank you for your letter regarding Random House and Hydra, and your interest in speaking with us.

Unfortunately, there is very little to discuss. SFWA has determined to its own satisfaction that Hydra does not meet our minimum standards for a qualifying market, as its contract does not offer an advance. Additionally, your attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher is, simply, outrageous and egregious. The first of these things alone would disqualify Hydra as a qualifying market. It is the second of these things, however, that causes us to believe that Hydra intends to act in a predatory manner towards authors, and in particular toward newer authors who may not have the experience to recognize the extent to which your contract is beyond the pale of standard publishing practices.

You extol your business model as “different”; the more accurate description, we believe, is “exploitative.” We are particularly disappointed to see it arising out of Random House, a well-regarded, long-standing publishing firm. Bluntly put, Random House should know better.

If Hydra is willing to assume the costs long assumed by publishers rather than attempting to shift those costs to authors, and is willing to pay advances in line with SFWA minimum rates at the very least, we will be willing to reconsider it as a qualifying market, and as a suitable home for writers. Until that time, however, we cannot do either, and will warn writers about Hydra.

Additionally: Our president has seen a contract for Alibi, the sibling imprint of Hydra, and has noted that it features the same worrying lack of advances and attempts to set the costs of publication onto the author, to the advantage of the publisher. For that reason, the board has voted to keep Alibi from being considered a qualifying market for SFWA membership. If we learn that the standard contracts for Flirt and Loveswept, Random House’s two other eBook-only imprints, feature similar language and actions, they will also be excluded.

The contracts of these imprints mean that SFWA will now be watching Random House very closely. If the egregious features of Hydra and Alibi’s contracts begin to make their way into the contracts of Random House’s other imprints, particularly Del Rey and Spectra, we will be required to act, up to and including delisting Random House as a whole as a qualifying market for SFWA.

We urge you to reconsider your business model for Hydra and Alibi. It is bad for authors, it is bad for the publishing industry, and it is extraordinarily bad for the reputation of Random House as an equitable partner for writers.


The Board of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

21 Responses

  1. Bud Webster

    Well done, BoD. “Predatory” and ëxploitative” are dead-on descriptions, and SFWA is absolutely correct to refuse them as qualifying markets.

  2. Mike Cooley

    Thanks for responding to these predatory practices that target new writers. There is a lot of this going on, and it is very difficult to get beginning writers to understand their options when it comes to publishing contracts. It’s nice to know that SFWA is making a stand to defend us from such tactics.

  3. Jonathan Vos Post

    That is precisely the sort of message from SFWA to Random House which I urged on a Facebook page, or the President’s blog. I had contemplated a latter from SFWA’a attorney, but I am glad that The Board of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has more clout that just one voice. Right on!.

  4. Jonathan Vos Post

    Sorry, what’s word from seeing a typo just after you click “Submit Comment”?
    That is precisely the sort of message from SFWA to Random House which I urged on a Facebook page, or the President’s blog. I had contemplated a letter from SFWA’a attorney, but I am glad that The Board of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has more clout that just one voice. Right on!

  5. Chuck Rothman

    Considering their letter to SFWA did nothing to address the concerns, this is exactly what you need to tell them.

  6. Cathryn Cade

    Thank you SFWA, for speaking up for all authors.

    The Hydra is not just a mythical monster, apparently! It’s a new publishing ‘model’.

    Aptly named? They said it, I didn’t.

    gratefully yours,
    Cathryn Cade

  7. David Niall Wilson

    I wonder why we don’t mention, at the very least, the “life of the copyright” line and the scope of the rights being sold in this agreement, as I find them much more upsetting than the lack of an advance.


  8. Marissa Farrar

    It’s so great to see someone sticking up for the authors. Thank you for this. I suspect newbie authors, lured by the name ‘Random House’ are sure to fall foul of this terrible contract. I hope those who are offered a contract will have the sense to Google Hydra and hopefully pull up this page. Thanks again!

  9. mark roth


    As a lifelong sf fan, I heartily applaud your response to Random House.

    They expect you to believe that they’ll “share profits equally”? In the music industry, Janis Ian, recording since the sixties, on her page againt DMCA from ten years ago, mentions that she is charged $11 per CD for her to sell at concerts. I have also heard Arlo Guthrie say that it took ->30 years<- for him to see one cent of royalties from Alice's Restaurant.

    You should expect Random House to treat authors differently? Without giving you the right of an annual independant audit?


  10. Scott Seldon

    Right on the money. The thing that really gets me are the way the contract appears to handle rights. From what I’ve read, it has a very vague reversion clause. Considering this in an ebook imprint and there is little reason to take an ebook title down, it will never be out of “print” which could make regaining the rights very difficult. Plus, as a self-published author who is adept at all the layout and conversion needed to craft an ebook, they would charge me for things I would normally do myself. There are outfits out there who offer these services to self-published authors who then have to pay up front for them. This is kind of an uncomfortable halfway point that is not what I would expect from a big publishing house. The combination of rights grab, unclear reversion conditions, charging for publisher services, and splitting royalties just adds up to a bad business plan. I haven’t heard of the small ebook publishers acting like this. I think this warning is very justified.

  11. nick

    Sounds like RH is trying to become the music industry – new artist contracts give an “advance” – but it’s actually a loan, and you have to pay for everything yourself out of this. Guess what happens if you don’t make money (hint: starts with the initials “you’re fucked” and ends when you’ve finished paying off the loan, with interest)?

  12. Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

    As a reviewer, a writer and a fan (as well as in my role as president of a union local who has help negotiat a number of contracts) I salute your courage and forthrightness in repudiating this loathsome and unscrupulous power grab by a once-respected publishing name.

  13. Karen Robinson

    Excellent letter. I’m not a writer, just a reader, but I find this action by Random House utterly outrageous. I will not buy any ebooks in either the Hydra or Alibi lines unless RH backs off from this exploitative “business model”.

  14. Robert Laughlin

    Thank you, SFWA, for valiantly defending the interests of writers everywhere.

  15. Far-is

    These description of the contracts from Hydra and others is similar to the corporate world trying to figure out how to make their profit rise even though over time there has to be a point where things level out. Other corporations first try to cut costs, then employee benefits, then get the employees to support some of their costs (the trend to ‘bring your own equipment’), and then they try to figure out how to get clients / customers to pay more. So since authors appear to be ’employee’ level, the associated corporates are only trying to get their employees to bear some of their costs which makes their bottom line look better. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in my opinion. Glad that SFWA stands up to this trend. I am just a reader but plan to avoid all RH books (ebook or paper). Small contribution, but if enough of us happen to do this practice, it could be a big impact.