Experiments in Publishing

HarperCollins is trying a new model with an imprint that cuts out author advances in favor of a larger proportion of royalties and eliminates remainders (also known as returns) entirely. The industry has been debating the pros and cons of the move since the Friday announcement. As has been only sparsely discussed in the media, HarperCollins isn’t the first to try this business model. Millions contributor Ben profiled MacMillan New Writing last year:

No agents are involved, the publishing house accepts direct submissions, and writers get no advance, but earn 20% royalties.

Sounds good, no? But it’s not all upside. Not only are the writers’ contracts non-negotiable, but Macmillan receives all subsidiary rights to the book and a first look at the author’s second book. Critics have reacted strongly, calling the imprint “literary slave drivers” and “vanity publishers,” and indulging in apocalyptic predictions of the end of publishing as we know it.

And for a little more color on “remainders,” a much despised element of the book industry, check out a post of mine from several years ago explaining the curious life cycle of the remaindered book.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. Remainders are not returns. Remainders specifically refers to books sold at a deep discount by publishers (more than the usual discount given to wholesalers and/or booksellers). Remainders are usually returns, but they can also be books that were never purchased in the first place (i.e., if a publisher printed way more than the demand).

    A "no remainders" policy would not be a radical change. A no returns policy, however, is quite radical.

  2. A very old chestnut that MacM "literary slave trade": Sounds like 18th C Grub Street to me. Gin Lane, here we come.

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