Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

HarperStudio: Imprint...... of the Future

Last but not least in our Imprint...... of the Future (cymbals crash) series, following Vanguard and 12, is former Hyperion publisher Bob Miller's new imprint HarperStudio. I was lucky enough to attend a lunch with Bob this past Friday, and here are the deets.

HarperStudio combines some of the elements of other imprints of the future -- much like 12, HarperStudio will publish a small, exclusive number of books, in this case 24 books a year. And like Vanguard, the author is asked to take a lesser investment up front in exchange for more of a share of the (hopefully) success down the line.

What makes HarperStudio different is the publishing model. HarperStudio will pay authors no more than $100,000 advances, and instead of royalties, utilizes a profit sharing model that incorporates expenses on one side of the ledger (expenses will include publicity and unit production, but not editorial and overhead), and income on the other side. Profits are split 50/50, and accounting reports four times a year, translating to a break-even point at around 25,000 copies sold.

Miller hopes to publish the type of nonfiction that he specialized in at Hyperion -- some celebrity driven works and some high concept nonfiction (such as THE LAST LECTURE and DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF). And particularly since authors have a personal stake in the advertising, Miller envisions a very close, collaborative relationship between author and publisher.

And lastly, in a still-evolving part of the model, as other media outlets have reported, Miller hopes to incorporate some form of no-return sales and is currently working out some different scenarios to try and make this possible.

This venture is both an experiment in a new publishing model and a reaction to the two ends where publishers are getting squeezed -- for the big projects they are paying huge up front investments in the form of author advances, and then on the back end some projects are swimming in returns, creating quite a bit of risk for the publisher. Miller is hoping to chop off those two ends and build a brand around books that are safer bets.

To be sure, the model is for a particular type of author -- someone who either doesn't need the advance and is willing to wait for the profit share, or for projects that HarperStudio has creatively acquired for a smaller advance and sees promise in. But I'm always excited about people trying something new, and Miller has the intelligence, experience and vision in spades, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with this venture.






31 comments:

Jeff said...

I do like that people are trying new things. Are they non-fiction only?

Adaora A. said...

You know, it doesn't sound bad at all. I think the concern people had originally was 'not enough advance' which they see as equaling 'can't pay the bills.' But I think it would work for a lot of people. Celebrities are more then a little bit afloat, and the are pretty much a 'sure thing' when it applies to becoming a bestseller. Most people who have high concept NF under their sleeve are probably already holding down a job and can wait a little longer for the money to come in. I do like the sound of working closely for advertising. Sometimes it seems like things get out of your control when originally you came up with the story and you want it to be put out there in a particular way.

::Sniff Sniff:: Shall I bemoan the end of our imprint series? LOL!

Cheers.

Mark Terry said...

These are all interesting, and as you say, they're for a particular type of author...

Which probably won't prevent publishers from applying them to ALL authors, with the following scenario:

We give you no advance or, instead of the $5000 advance we were going to give you, we give you a $2000 advance, and instead of a 10% royalty you'll get a 25% royalty after you pay back your $2000 advance. Instead of us putting $0 down on promotion we'll put down.... okay, we'll still put $0 down on promotion, but we'll agree ahead of time that that's what we're going to do instead of pretending we're putting money into promotion. But you'll get more royalties, so it'll work out fine for you, don't worry.

Or something like that.

Adaora A. said...

^
Is it naive of me to kind of disagree? Is it even more naive of me to believe that you're agent is going to work to get the best deal that will suit you? I don't think that's going to be a sweeping way of things. I think it suits SOME projects, but it doesn't suit everything and everybody. I think whe you're not 'with agent' then you might not get as good of a deal as you would unless you know absolutely everything, but I mean, I can't see that happening for everybody.

A Paperback Writer said...

Ah, Mark's is an explanation I understand!
Nathan, I think you're too used to speaking the industry lingo because you confused me. But I suppose this is why authors want agents: to translate this sort of thing.

Jared X said...

The concept of profit sharing is a little scary because the definitions of "profit" and "expenses" are so malleable. Are agents from the world of royalties prepared to negotiate (and police) this type of arrangement for their clients? It's easy to imagine things like editorial and overhead sneaking into future versions of this arrangement and significantly eating into what authors reap from their work.

Mark Terry said...

Let's keep in mind that for this type of model to-date, the authors involved at Vanguard, at least, have been people like David Morrell, Tom Grace and Elizabeth Bear. They have an audience, they sell really well, and in their shoes, they're very much (and yes, I spoke with Tom Grace at length about this last summer) interested in how a publisher will promote them.

I think the CONCEPT is awesome--that is, let's not treat books like spaghetti and throw it at the wall and see if it sticks. Let's actually give some thought to how best to promote EACH AND EVERY book we published, even if it means we have to PUBLISH A LOT FEWER BOOKS.

Hmmm....

So what does that potentially mean for the majority of writers and authors?

Conceivably... nothing. It would seem to reinforce the concept of the bestselling authors getting the most attention and promotional budget unless these imprints can manage to still do this and publish more than 12 to 24 books a year, which is unlikely without a huge staff devoted to promotion, which is typically the reverse of where most publishers have gone in recent years.

But yes, if you're a bestseller, it sounds awesome.

Adaora A. said...

what does that potentially mean for the majority of writers and authors? Conceivably... nothing. It would seem to reinforce the concept of the bestselling authors getting the most attention and promotional budget unless these imprints can manage to still do this and publish more than 12 to 24 books a year, which is unlikely without a huge staff devoted to promotion, which is typically the reverse of where most publishers have gone in recent years.


Hmmm you make a good point. The thing I have to ask is who decides who becomes a bestseller? The people do. The whole thing of focusing on 'bestsellers' seems a shame to me. It's the audience who finds a story they can connect with, the remember that feeling, and the follow the author who gave them that feeling. If new authors aren't given the chance to connect with the reader.....

That's why I think in a way it is great for them to focus on the bestsellers. That's fine. There are other avenues - other publishing houses and imprints - which will suit the debut author. And those publishing houses will work with the author, or maybe the author will hire an advertising firm...who knows. Whatever works works.

Bestseller's can continue to come out with knock out books, but debut authors can too. There are more then a few debut authors who knocked it out of the park (got great deals), and made it to the top with or without loving care.

Mark Terry said...

There are more then a few debut authors who knocked it out of the park (got great deals), and made it to the top with or without loving care.

Name 5, please. I'm not saying you're wrong, I just want to know.

JES said...

HarperStudio will pay authors no more than $100,000 advances... Profits are split 50/50, and accounting reports four times a year, translating to a break-even point at around 25,000 copies sold.

By "break-even," I'm guessing that's the point where the book is expected to earn out whatever advance was paid, no? (That is, it's the point where the publisher breaks even.)

In Mr. Miller's talk of the new model, did he get into some scenarios about its impact on authors?

For instance, let's say an author now gets a $5K advance (or whatever, I just need a number). The contract specifies a sliding scale of 10%, 12.5%, and 15% depending on various sales levels. If s/he gets the same $5K from HarperStudio, where would the "take-home" for the author fall at those same sales levels. given a 50-50 "profit" split? (Is this making sense?)

It's the end of the work day here so the math is a little outside neuronal range. Just curious how this breaks down for various scenarios of a book's sales, if those scenarios have already been worked.

doreen said...

I've been waiting for the most appropriate blog to ask this question and this looks about as close as I'm going to get. Are there any debut authors who have decided to self publish and then gone on to become bestsellers? If so, would they have needed an advertising agency or can word of mouth be that powerful and far reaching on its own?

Adaora A. said...

Jay Asher, THIRTEEN REASON'S WHY (love this book).

J.K Rowling (who got a small advance considering how huge the franchise is), with HARRY POTTER. No one believed a book about wizards would do well.

Sarah Prineas, THE MAGIC THEIF (an AMAZING book, which the big guy who owns this blog is reading).

....and I'm sure there are several more in other genres. Those are just the ones which leap to my mind. The point I was making is that you never know what is going to be a bestseller. It could be anything. No amount of pulicity or lack of it, is going to stand in the way of what appeals to people. Word of mouth, what connects to readers...it's all a part of it all in my opinion. I hope you get my meaning Mark Terry!

doreen said...

adaora,

I'm not sure if Mark Terry gets it, but I do. Thank you. :)

Dan said...

Presumably the logic behind publishing fewer titles is to produce *better* ones, but isn't this what most imprints want to do anyway? This doesn't strike me as drastically altering the industry (unlike the zone defense in the NBA).

Some sort of formula/feeling determines what a 'safe bet' is - and other than the nuanced difference in editors, isn't this formula relatively universal? How many bestsellers does a major imprint produce, more than 12, 24?

The only 'new' thing seems to be the contract terms, which seem like they can be replicated by anyone with enough platform to hold negotiating power.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

I'd work on Spec... no problem at all. As long as there's a backend deal in place and no fuzzy accounting, all the I's are dotted and T's crossed... (wife's an CPA, BTW), and we're clear on what rights go where and to whom - I'd do it in a minute, or less! (Just as long as it's not a fly-by-night company lookin' to scam).

I believe in my talent, so put it out there and let the market decide. I'll show you mine, let me see yours.

Haste yee back ;-)

http://www.jacketflap.com/profile.asp?member=PYXX

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Oh, and I know the difference between first dollar gross, and net.

So be forewarned, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck!

Haste yee back ;-)

Mark Terry said...

The point I was making is that you never know what is going to be a bestseller. It could be anything. No amount of pulicity or lack of it, is going to stand in the way of what appeals to people. Word of mouth, what connects to readers...i

Essentially I agree, except you have to ask yourself this:

If it doesn't matter, why not skip the promotion and take the larger advance?

A Paperback Writer said...

Doreen,
Isn't that what the teen author of Eragon did?
I'm not a big fan of the book, but you have to admire a kid who could write it and promote it to the point where a big company took it on. He's done well.
(No offense to Eragon fans out there. It's just not my type of book.)

doreen said...

While you're all answering me, I feel compelled to ask a follow-up question. Is there a bad stigma in 'author world' if you do self publish?

Anonymous said...

But Adora --

re: ... you never know what is going to be a bestseller...


I agree, but the deck can certainly be stacked in your favor.

Jay Asher's "13 Reasons Why" sold at an auction and got a huge advance and a huge marketing campaign to go along with it.

It had lots of publicity by the publisher, which is what publishers do to "lead titles," so they can recoup their advance. I read and loved the book, but I do understand how word of mouth, in that and other situations, can be created by the industry "buzz" (high advance paid) around the book to begin with. A large advance IS publicity. Publicity leads to sales, or publishers wouldn't bother with it.

You can't get any more "loving care" than a high advance.


****

Doreen, not to sound harsh in any way whatsoever, but often in the publishing world, self-published works are not looked highly on. For instance, if you are self-publishing with the goal of a "traditional publisher" eventually publishing the SAME book, they usually don't.

Adaora A. said...

^
Indeed. But books with a lot of promotion and a lot of advance money have tanked in the past. A lot of it has to do with what the audience is looking for at any given moment in time. Don't you think?

@Mark Terry - Indeed. On the one hand, it's having the financial stability and the sort of book to hold out for the return of a bestseller. On the other hand, publicity turning and leading to more of a return doesn't hurt either.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 3:07 --

Yep, adaora, you are right, many books with huge advances tank as well.

Though probably not at the same rate as "non big advance books". Ugh, say that three times fast.

:)

josh said...

Advances are probably one of the things that I'm still most confused about when discussing book deals. I heard once that $10,000 is considered a "low" or "modest" advance, and they can range up to 7 figures.

I know that it varies greatly on the author, book and publishing house you're working with... but does anyone know, possibly, what kind of advance a fiction debut could get someone? Like the most reasonable idea on the lower end of the spectrum? It would be much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I'll take no advance and profit sharing. That's the nice part of being independently wealthy (hahahaha).

AstonWest said...

Paying out no more than a $100K advance...however will we survive?

HAHA!

Mark Terry said...

Well, let's look at it this way.

Your publisher says, Okay, we are really hot on your book. We can give you a $50,000 advance and put $50,000 into promotion--and by promotion we mean a big push with all of the money actually going into promotion, not just printing that on the back of ARCs and not actually spending the money (been known to happen, sorry).

Or, we can give you a $100,000 advance and do nothing.

Or, we can give you no advance and spend $100,000 on promotion.

Equivalent financially for a publisher, but which one has the effect of selling more copies.

Or, we can look at it this way.

Author A gets a $3000 advance.

Author B gets a $300,000 advance.

The publisher can earn back their $3000 investment in the author by selling 1000 copies or possibly even less, or, if they have contracted this way, by selling the foreign rights or audio rights (depending on splits) and may make the $3000 back. In fact, since they expect to sell so relatively few copies, most marketing campaigns will cost more than the advance--AuthorBuzz goes for almost $1000, an ad in a magazine like Mystery Scene might run $750 on up, or a small ad in USA Today could cost $10,000. So really, it's not worth it, because they expect they'll sell 1000 copies just by putting them in their catalogue and sending out a handful of advances, expecting the author will be able to hand-sell at least a couple hundred with any luck.

But, if the publisher has already ponied up $300,000, first, they're going to let everybody know--Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, Wall Street Journal, because they're saying, and loudly, THIS IS A HOT BOOK, hoping that at the very least those review outlets will pay attention enough to review it or write a feature article about the author and his rags-to-riches story about how he was slaving away at McDonalds and now is going to be a bestselling author. Why not, that doesn't cost anything. Then, because they need to sell, approximately 100,000 copies to break even (or just to pay back the advance), they know they can safely spend more money on ads in the New York Times, USA Today, LA Times, etc, and still come in under $100,000 in hopes they'll sell enough copies to break even.

And with all due respect to JK Rowling, I remember rather vividly doing a book signing in a local Borders store about a month before the 4th or 5th Harry Potter novel came out, and right there in the children's section was a giant cardboard sign about four feet by three feet hanging from the ceiling advertising the book. And I asked the manager, Who paid for that, Borders or the publisher? He shrugged and said, the publisher, they were delivered by the bookstore. How much do you think a couple thousand of those signs cost, plus shipping? And how much do you think Scholastic paid Borders to for that real estate?

Which is where the real financial involvement of publishers comes in where they can drive a book onto bestsellers lists. They pay co-op, which is where they get the real estate--on the New Books tables at the front of the store or on the end caps of the sections, in the windows of the stores. You want advertising? Forget the NY Times. Whenever someone walks into a Borders or B&N, there's the book right by the door, face out with another stack of books.

You want advertising? How about Wal-Mart or Sam's Club or Meijer or Kmart, YOUR BOOK, right there among, what, a dozen others if that? Face out on the shelf. Right there next to the cash register.

Publishers pay for that placement.

Anonymous said...

Completely unrelated to the post:

I think I am going crazy in my agent research work. I have dreams where agents are my friends. Last night it was you Mr. Bransford. Just some chit-chat and lunch. Nothing freaky. Although my work is YA urban fantasy, something I feel doesn't really interest you may be its because of my reading your blog everyday. So far its been two agents in my dreams. I wonder who it will be tonight.

- KJ

Anon. Acct. said...

I have to agree with Jared. Accounting is a slippery field, and you often find profits disappearing with a few keystrokes. Hollywood is famous for this, cheating actors out of money that was to be calculated as a percentage of profits. Who is going to police the accounting practices of publishers? Note that much of it can be perfectly legal, but a contract that spelled things out in the necessary detail would be enormous.

storyknife said...

Small and regional presses have been giving low advances and larger royalties for years, and the cannier ones are doing pretty well(Chronicle Books, the Poisoned Pen Press, for two). Looks like the big houses are sitting up and taking notice.

Mark Terry said...

mall and regional presses have been giving low advances and larger royalties for years, and the cannier ones are doing pretty well(Chronicle Books, the Poisoned Pen Press, for two)

Well, sort of. I'm not sure PPP has larger royalties, but they do have smaller advances. And a friend of mine has written for them for some time, happily, but has told me that Barbara and Roberts' (the owners, publisher, editor, etc) original expectations was that their authors would grow and move on to larger publishers, but that essentially hasn't happened. Apparently they've adjusted and are happy to publish the people they do with the sales figures they have, but it's tough to compare even a successful small press like PPP to Bantam or Hyperion.

And from a writer's POV, the likelihood of actually making a living off your novels from a small press is even less likely than it is from a large publisher. And small presses just don't have the kind of money to invest in big ad campaigns.

rooruu said...

@ doreen

There's a self-published book here in Australia for which the authors couldn't find a publisher. It's a bestseller, reprinting and reprinting. It's a cookbook, hundreds of recipes containing no more than four ingredients. Here's its website: http://www.4ingredients.com.au/.

Although maybe it's the exception rather than the rule. (And oh, I don't have shares).

@nathan: could you define "high concept nonfiction" please?

Thank you.

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