Back in January it was a fairly open secret that Stephanie Laurens was poised to leave Avon and pursue self publishing with the hope of signing a print only distribution deal. When I dug deeper for confirmation, I was told to wait and see.
Laurens is the author of one of my favorite historical romances, Devil’s Bride, and has been publishing books since 1992. Devil’s Bride launched the Cynster series which has been Laurens’ mainstay for nearly fifteen years. Devil’s Bride, at the time, presented the hero in pursuit which was a large departure from many romances that featured reluctant heroes who had to be dragged to the altar. Reading it now may not see revelatory but at the time, back in the late 90s, it was quite a change.
Many publishing houses are leery of print only deals. Most indie acquisitions have translated into poor print sales and the few print only deals that have been struck have been, for the most part, disappointing. There’s a definite divide between what sells in print and what sells in digital (although the Venn Diagram definitely has its overlapping areas where authors sell buckets in both such as Nora Roberts). But for many indie authors with no history of print sales, publishers are reluctant to buy print only rights.
Last week it was shared with me that Ms. Laurens had struck an innovative deal with Harlequin, a deal brokered between Nancy Yost, Laurens’ agent, and Tara Parsons, Editorial Director of Harlequin Mira.
The deal is as close to a controlled experiment that either the publishing house and the author could ever hope to achieve in this crazy market. The deal is for seven books in total. One hardcover and six mass markets. For three of the titles, Ms. Laurens will release the digital format under her own banner with Harlequin releasing the print format simultaneously. For the other four titles, Harlequin will be charged with releasing both the digital and print simultaneously.
Essentially Laurens will digitally publish three titles as Harlequin concurrently publishes the same three titles in print. Both the publishing house and the author can see what the benefits are to both indie publishing and traditional publishing. It behooves Harlequin to outperform Laurens’ self publishing titles if they hope to strike another deal with her again.
It’s not that every author can do this deal. Laurens is a prolific author and is able to write multiple books a year. At certain echelons, the print component of an author’s revenue stream is significant. For historical authors, often the print component can make up greater than 60 percent of their revenue and sometimes even higher (into the high 70s and 80s). Both the publisher and the author are taking a chance here, but its a smart one that allows both parties to see what kind of hybrid deals make sense going forward.