Quick pointer to John Scalzi’s post Raptors at the Fences. For those missing the context, he covers the contract and deal memo language Random House is offering in their new imprints, Hydra, and Alibi, (and presumably their others) in previous posts.
Let me add a short note to what he’s saying, especially in light of what some of the commenters are saying. An abusive publishing contract is worse than no contract at all. It may seem like you could take Hydra’s genuinely terrible offer and parlay it into something worthwhile, but that just isn’t so. What actually happens is that you burn up however many months or years you spent creating something that story, and you feel dirty afterward.
I saw it happen over and over again back when PublishAmerica was running hot and heavy. Now RH seems to want to remake itself into something even worse than PA. It’s awful. It’s dispiriting. No one has to put up with it.
Here’s the point: If you write a book that readers will want to read (note that I didn’t say good just readers will want to read) then you have a very good chance of selling it to someone somewhere who is willing to offer you a decent, industry-standard contract OR find success self-publishing it. If neither of those things happen, the odds are strong that the book is not as strong as you think it is, and you’re better off putting it in the trunk while you create something new and better.
If the book is that rare wonderful piece of art that ought to be successful but gets overlooked (hey, it’s rare but it happens) then no worries. You’re still creating something new and better. Once that finds success, you can drag out your old trunk novels and look at them again.
No contract is better than an abusive one. Keep away from these new Random House imprints. If you’ve written a book that can succeed, you don’t need them.