Under pressure from authors, Blushing has offered more transparency, and says that it is now providing monthly royalty payments, and that since the first quarter of 2020, it has used an automated royalty tracking system to generate payments.
A lawyer for Ms. Wills said that she “believes she has fulfilled her contractual duties to her authors and continues to do so” and that “Blushing wishes to move on from this small group of past authors and disgruntled past employees and put its energy into focusing on the talented and passionate authors they have the privilege to represent.”
The enormous appetite for erotica, a nearly $1.5 billion industry, has stoked a feeding frenzy among publishers for new content. Romance sales exploded in the past 15 years, following the rise of e-books and self-publishing, and the commercial and cultural juggernaut “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which brought hard-core erotica from the fringes into the mainstream. Romance readers — a majority of them women — tend to be voracious consumers who buy dozens of books a year. Romance accounts for nearly 20 percent of the overall adult fiction market, drawing the largest audience of any genre, according to NPD BookScan. Around 60,000 romance and erotica books were published in 2020, up from nearly 35,000 a decade earlier, according to data from Bowker, which tracks publishing trends.
On top of major companies like Harlequin, Avon and Berkley, which are owned by large multinational corporations, a constellation of smaller, independent romance publishers sometimes operate in a gray area between corporate publishers and vanity presses, which charge authors to publish their work. The independent presses tend to offer writers small advances of four to five figures but a higher cut of royalties, a share of profits. Often, they attract writers, mostly women, who have little professional publishing experience and aren’t represented by lawyers or agents who can help them evaluate a contract.
“Writers who really want to get published are so easy to take advantage of, and there are more and more people out there to take advantage of,” said Mary Rasenberger, chief executive of the Authors Guild.
While every creative field has horror stories about artists who are underpaid and exploited, the dynamics of the romance industry can be especially difficult to navigate. Despite the ascendance of erotica, there’s a lingering stigma attached to the genre, which is written largely by and for women, and is still sometimes dismissed as shameful or unserious. Many romance authors publish under pen names and keep their professional and personal identities separate, and some write in secret for fear of being judged for writing about sex, and more particularly about women enjoying sex.
Ms. LaPointe, 66, became disillusioned with Blushing after she discovered it had added clauses to her contracts without telling her. The additions included claiming rights to foreign editions, audiobooks, and film and television adaptations, according to contracts shared with The Times. Her royalty payments were erratic — she said she sometimes made $3,000 in a quarter, and other times Blushing would claim she owed the company money for advances that it hadn’t made back in sales. She recently started self-publishing and is making far more on her own, but Blushing still has rights to 31 of her books.