HarperStudio – Overview

Bob Miller, President of HarperStudio shares his views this week with PublishingPerspectives.com on how he sees the need for the relationship between publisher and author to become more of a partnership of commitment.

[…]”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).”[…]

The cynics will say that a 50/50 share of profits should also mean a 50/50 share of expenses in the publishing relationship between author and publisher. This is a fair and reasoned argument and in fact there are publishers pursuing this model of business like Matador and Pen Press in the UK, Moorsgates, an imprint of the now defunct Cold Tree Publishing tried it in the US (see article). Partnership publishers existed long before HarperStudio’s arrival in 2008, and it should be remembered that they are only just starting to publish the first of their imprint titles this year. But where HarperStudio and Bob Miller’s business philosophy and modus operandi differ to many preceding partnership publishing models is that the author is spared from reaching for the wallet, pulse or credit card. This is the first time partnership publishing under these kind of terms have been adopted inside the family home of ‘traditional’ publishing (HarperStudio being an imprint of HarperCollins).
Bob Miller, and much of the publishing fraternity, might baulk at the idea that paid-for partnership publishing is actually part of the traditional publishing industry–if perhaps, at best, being on the outermost peripheral–then, is all publishing not a partnership of a kind to greater or lesser degrees? Miller is content that the author keep their credit card tucked away in their jackets, but encourages and looks for perspective authors who have a unique book and voice and an understanding of how to sell both. Some of the debate following Miller’s piece in PublishingPerspectives.com centres on the shared responsibility between author and publisher. There are publishers with–shall we say–less than ‘nouveau’ ideas about the place for the modern author in the marketing and promotion of a book – believing they still know best. The changing world of publishing and a reeling global economy may soon see the last of the great publishing pretenders.
Sometimes a business model and philosophy can be easier to change and re-invent than a strident and steadfast attitude. There is a ‘call to arms’ in publishing at the moment, and change is often most directly coming from smaller, independent publishing houses who through sheer want of survival are exploring every publishing niche; maximising all they can from what e-publishing will yield; deep-mining regularly the estuaries and flowing waters of communication which have become the sea of social networking. The responsibility lies equally with author and publisher because the once viral highways of business must now share the opens roads with the new forward-thinking commuters as well and the inexperienced Sunday drivers out for a view of the scenery rather than the road ahead.
My own thoughts are that the borders of the publishing industry are seeing two distinct types of authors. Those who are naive and have little understanding of the industry and how it works, like adolescent teenagers–they look the part, speak the part, but their writing and actions show a distinct lack of streetwise nuisance. They may learn, but then, they may also continue to make the same mistakes and misjudgements over and over again. Then, we have the the new breed of self-published writers–versed in the dreams as well as the realities of being an author. Some of them–just a few–will not tire of the frustration and the rejection and every step along the way will be a seed and something more learned. This paradigm is not an ideal for being an author, but rather a framework to elevate and educate an author enough to become a part of what the publishing world is not at the moment–should be–and one day will be.
One of the strongest points brought up by the comments on Bob Miller’s piece for PublishingPerspectives.com is the analogy that publishers and authors do not approach the imminent launch of a book in the way a new film might be promoted. Certainly there is a strong argument that a film has a greater ‘wow’ factor due to its inherent visual medium, but then, that is the imagined vision, as, like all expectations and Christmas presents, we will only have been indulged in the snippets and teases of what is beneath the wrapping. The reading public is on a par with the cinematic-going public, and given so many crossovers, it is hard to see why publishers do not explore this kind of pre-publication promotion a lot more. When a forthcoming film is promoted, we are indulged in directors, producers, screen writers as well as actors doing their all in partnership for the good of the ‘product’. How might this work with a book? Can we see the day, when, in partnership, author, publisher, book designer, hell, even the editor and literary agent get to herald their stamp on the book project? What is so alien about this to us?
Publishing has become too ‘departmentalised’ over the years and through tradition rather than inspiration, we authors, publishers, designers, editors, marketeers, clink to ‘our piece’, ‘our offering’, never once seeing the creation and publication of a book as a wholly glorious partnership for us all. Ask any truly self-published author who has acted as business entrepreneur, played all the roles above, and they will pay testament to the critical part each and every one of them has to play in the writing, production and publication of a book.
What is important about the idea of author/publisher partnership that Bob Miller puts forward is not necessarily who does what or who pays for what, but that there is a fundamental understanding that the relationship of author/publisher goes beyond the ‘you do this bit and I will do that bit’, and never the twain shall meet. Good business doesn’t work that way. It is time both publisher and author looked beyond the confines of contract and tradition to a new understanding and partnership for the good of publishing, but more importantly, they should do it for the books and their readers.

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