Tag Archives: publishing contracts

Bad Behavior in the Publishing World

booksI’ve been gone for awhile from my blog, and was going to come back with a tale of what’s been happening in my life. However, with recent upsets in the publishing world, and specifically Canadian speculative publishing, I feel I must speak up as well, for several reasons that will become clear.

In some ways, the world of the small press, even the big mega publishers, is often fraught with financial mismanagement and suspect deals or questionable contracts. The recent events in Canada were about long time Calgary speculative publisher EDGE Publishing and long time Toronto dark fiction publisher CZP or ChiZine Publications.

Bilodeau nigh 5-final

Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh series Book 5

Canada is rather small when it comes to population and even smaller with writing population. Most speculative authors know of each other and of any press that can publish speculative fiction. There aren’t many. Recent complaints by Marie Bilodeau not receiving more than one sales/royalty report and being blocked in other ways with the sale of her book started a discussion about EDGE. It spurred a minor rise up in the SF community and discussion on the SF Canada list, our own pro writers group. I believe the SFC executive managed to help in communicating with EDGE and Marie’s long outstanding case was resolved. EDGE has a reputation of not communicating, paying late or not paying and not getting contracts out on time. I’ve co-edited a Tesseracts anthology and been in various anthologies with EDGE. I was always paid, sometimes a bit late. I have received one contract after the book was published and a signed contract after another book was published. EDGE ran a risk that someone would pull their story without a signed contract and that would have meant the print run being pulled or face litigation. I was however, aware of the issues with EDGE.

When the EDGE accusations came out on SFC, people started mentioning issues they had had. I reported as I did above. This was not ever to say I didn’t believe other people’s reports. In fact, I very much believe them. It was only to report; I wasn’t going to lie. In this way people can determine that 75% of authors working with X publisher reported issues, or 100% did or 2% did. This is an important statistic and in any lawsuit that data would be used to show a pattern. It also indicates if a publisher is going through a tough phase, or if they have a regular habit of bad behavior. EDGE’s reputation is known but not everyone knows of it.

Kurtz

Angel of the Abyss by Ed Kurtz

Then out came ChiZine Publication’s debacle. It’s been all over the web, on people’s blogs, on Facebook and I cannot report it all here. (This will be long enough as it is.) However File 770 will give anyone reading here a place to start. It started with Ed Kurtz’s complaints about rights and payment. It spread like wildfire with many authors reporting no or late payments and statements. Then it spread to allegations of misconduct, of gaslighting, of ostracizing and even trying to break up relationships.

This was extremely shocking stuff, especially because I considered co-owner Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi friends. I attended their wedding many years ago. I read slush for CZP, did a bit of editing, hosted the Chiseries readings in Vancouver for 2 years, and was co-editor of the online poetry section of Chizine with Carolyn Clink. I live on the West Coast. CZP is in Ontario. I didn’t even see Brett and Sandra once a year and maybe talked via phone once a year. I knew of one fight between them and another friend but that can always be chalked up to differences of opinion or personalities. Other than that, I had no clue. One blog poster has said, “we told you but you wouldn’t listen.” However, whoever the “we” were didn’t tell the “you” that included me or most of SF Canada. It’s hard to “hear” when you’re not part of whatever group is considered the “you,” so in many cases geographic areas of writers might be very well unaware of what is happening elsewhere. Perhaps Ontario authors knew but most of us did not.

Yes, I was shocked. I was disturbed and I lost sleep over it. I read many of the posts by Michael Matheson, Sam Beiko, Helen Marshall, Beverly Bambury and others. I know most of these people professionally; many of them worked for CZP, and I have talked with them in the past. I was so surprised, but I believed their statements. Unless there is a mass conspiracy, I would have had to stick my head in the sand to disbelieve the sheer number of complaints. There may be nuances to tales that haven’t been revealed. That, I don’t know.

What ensued next was just as disturbing to me. I posted on SFC, probably within the first 24-48 hours of the wildfire, stating I hadn’t seen this behavior, only what I had worked on for them, but that I was also on the West Coast and was not physically in the vicinity. Again, as with EDGE, I only posted my experiences; I didn’t lie. I also said, let’s see what they post about these allegations.

Immediately I was attacked and accused of ignorance, of negating the other reports and god knows what else. I stated again, that even in a court of law the accused gets a chance to speak. I reiterated that this did not mean I didn’t believe the statements. What ensued after was not pretty. Messages came out indicating that if you didn’t say anything then you were against the maligned authors, pretty much the black and white “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” belief. People were attacked, just because they were men or because of some statement about publishing or rights or this or that. If this were a street brawl there would have been bodies. There were members with their own agenda or trauma who will always see every statement through that particular lens. There were others who deliberately tried to misconstrue every comment, who intentionally dug into every word so that they could rise up in righteous anger. There was no asking to elaborate, just harsh judgment and accusations. Other people raised the torches and pitchforks. Some handed out blanket judgments of everyone on SFC or of this group or that group. Some people left the list. I’m sure some people unfriended me on Facebook. I don’t know so I can’t be offended but if deliberately misinterpreting my words is the way to go, then I don’t need them reading my posts.

What I did do was stop posting. After all, I was attacked once. I would now be seen as the enemy and attacked again. With the trauma and grief I’ve dealt with in the last year, this was triggering me and that’s partly why this post has come out several weeks after the initial event. I might never post again on SFC. I might let my membership lapse. I don’t know but I certainly don’t feel safe posting anymore. That’s a lot of fallout over one publisher and a lot of evidence of things that need to be fixed.

Burning-book-mrtwismBut are EDGE and CZP the only two publishers who have indulged in bad behavior? And is it only Canadian publishers? Absolutely not. I’ve experienced it myself more than once, from big companies to small.

I wrote articles for magazines called Best Whistler and Opulence. The first never paid me. The second was so far behind or just not paying writers that the writers rose up in force, contacted advertisers and formed a class action lawsuit. I helped get everyone in contact. I had played my cards close, having been burned by Best Whistler, and never let the amount they owed me get too high, also leaving enough time in between articles that they would often pay. Though before the mass uprising I had to threaten a lawyer to get my money and then leave. For that reason I didn’t join the lawsuit as I had no outstanding payments owed.

Even before that I used to copyedit for NY book packager Byron Preiss. They sometimes did work for other publishers and I was copyediting four related books in a faeries series. It was cancelled I think after book II but I’d copyedited book III. I spent a year fighting with them since they were arguing over who should pay: Penguin or Byron Preiss. In the end, I had to threaten lawyer to get less than $500 measly bucks. One of the biggest houses in SF exhibited disorganization when they lost not one but two copyediting tests I did for them.

Then there was Zharmae Publishing. Never heard of them? I’m not surprised. They were new. They gave me a massive contract that asked for all rights in perpetuity throughout the universe. Yes that was the exact wording. I sent them a sample of the SFWA contract. I figured they were earnest but misguided; we haggled the contract. “Tower of Strength” came out in the Irony of Survival. The true irony was surviving as a writer. I’m sure maybe eight people bought this anthology. For over a year after publication they never sent me my copies and they literally said the cheque was in the mail. The payment was $100, not very much and they knew it would be more expensive for me to get a lawyer.

What they didn’t know was I had a friend who was an entertainment lawyer and for free he had his assistant draft a letter. In 24 hours I had my pay but they still tried to wiggle out of the books. I had those in a week. These are just my stories of dealing with publishers. Publishing houses can still mismanage their operations, either intentionally or out of inexperience and bad business practices. I had other publishers disappear into the dark of night without ever responding on submissions or acceptances. That’s almost par for the course these days.

More recently I was invited to write for an anthology that was royalty based. I’ve not done this before and I will never do it again. There was no editing done on the stories and the publisher never gave any royalty reports. I never received a penny, or a hard copy of the book, only a PDF. I’m sure any sales that were done with the minimal marketing went to the publisher, and the editor who did nothing to deserve payment. But…I am unable to complain about this publisher. This is a case of me being a small pea in a pod, with little clout, not known well, and the publisher being a very well known member of a large organization. I don’t feel I would ever be heard or believed in such a situation. How does one complain to either SFWA’s or HWA’s grievance committees knowing that this person will probably have wind of it and that it could end up getting me ostracized in the writing community.

I need to mention that lawsuits and grievances have probably happened to many bookof the big publishing house’s. you don’t always hear of them because of NDAs. After all, entertainment lawyers make their money interpreting and looking for loopholes in contracts. Sometimes the publisher is to blame but sometimes an author can be to blame as well. There are notoriously difficult writers. If they’re famous enough, publishers will grin and bear it, but if they’re newer, then authors might be booted to the curb. It’s good to remember that not every complaint on any side may be founded and that it’s always best to hear both sides of the story. I believe this fundamentally, even in the workplace.

This is the power publishers and editors hold over writers. We want to be published. There’s more of us than there are spots to fill. People will often be paid peanuts for massive rights grabs by the publisher. The publisher can blacklist you. Big and well-known publishers and editors can spread enough word that you are a difficult author so that no one will touch you. It could be game over for whatever sales we can get. So yes, I’m still the victim of some publishing bad behavior that I cannot report on. And my rule is to always try to treat everyone kindly because you don’t how it can come back to bite you on the ass.

I’ve become more and more cautious and don’t get caught as much, and I’m a barracuda in going after my rights. I don’t care if I have to nag. I will keep on. But we don’t always know when a publisher might change or a new publisher might just forget to get contracts out or runs out of money. Even vigilance can’t save us all from getting caught.

There are various writers organizations such as the Writers Union, HWA, SFWA, etc. that can go to bat for authors but if one is not a member it’s not as easy. And as I’ve shown, membership won’t necessarily save you. There is no easy solution to all of this. Sometimes an author thinks they’re the only one that has the issue. I guess all we can do is communicate better, to grievance committees, to each other and listen calmly. We should be trying to hear all sides and not leaping to conclusions and condemnations without weighing everything. The era of social media means that judgment can come without knowing the facts. I just know I do not have the energy to be attacked by someone’s perceived assumption about my words. Try asking for clarification first. And publishers need to have better business practices. We’re probably going to end up with a gap in Canadian speculative publishing, which is already very slim. I guess we’ll see what the future holds.

 

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Writing: Bitter Writer?

Back in September I wrote the blog Writing: Things to Watch Out For https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=445 On my other blog I received a letter titled “Bitter Writer Syndrome” a while back but didn’t get time to comment until now. Well, I pissed off Mr. Hobbes, and he was correct in that I presumed he was the head of Hobbes End Publishing, but at the time when I did research through the internet I didn’t find that information. Hobbes End website now mentions that Jairus Reddy is the publisher. http://hobbesendpublishing.com/index.html

So let’s look at Mr. Hobbes’ comments. (I have posted his full letter at the end so I can’t be accused of unfavorable editing.) “Being paid for one’s writing (rare in the industry) is not prostitution, but professionalism.” It is a matter of perspective and really we can all say we prostitute ourselves whenever we sell something for money, whether our services or our art. Of course what I meant was, selling oneself too cheaply. And yes, new writers do need to start somewhere and $100 is decent for 1,500 words but not for 30,000. Being paid for one’s writing is not rare in the industry. Book publishers, respectable book publishers, do it all the time. Just ask Random House, Bantam, Tor, Baen or any of the big name speculative publishers (or mainstream too).

Then he says: “The reason publishers ask for all rights is something that might be above your understanding.” It’s very well within my understanding and what Mr. Hobbes does not know is that in fact respectable publishers, as the ones named above do not take all rights. In fact, you can look at many smaller publishers such as Edge Publishing, Bundoran Press, Nightshade Books, etc. and none of them take all rights. I think it is he who is under the veil of misunderstanding.

Next he comments that the anthology he is editing “will also be highly publicized and promoted, which I can say most publishers don’t do. Many thousands of dollars will be spent doing so. Also, since you have not read our contract, you wouldn’t know what offers we are making towards secondary rights.” Any publisher who wants to stay in business promotes. But let’s look at Mr. Hobbes’ (along with authors Benoit and Palmer) first book Exiles in Time: The Contrived Senator. I did a google search of his name and the two titles for the book. I found the publisher’s website and of course the book listed on various online bookselling sites, such as Amazon. Granted that advertising also means ads in magazines, other print formats and local areas, I can’t know how much the publisher has put into this book. But of the four reviews on Amazon for the book, two were by the Reddys, owners of Hobbes End. I could find no review anywhere else and certainly not on any of the normal SF review sites. So uh, highly publicized? I also have to wonder what could possibly be their “secondary rights” after they’ve taken all of the rights. That’s a mystery that Mr. Hobbes didn’t elucidate.

“You mention, over and over again, magazines. However, this is not a magazine. This is for a novel.” That’s even sadder, taking all rights on a 30,000 word story as opposed to a 200 word article, not that one is better than the other. And I did, in my post, talk about publishers of magazines and books, who really don’t take all rights except for a few exceptions. He also says: “The financial risk is to the publisher—the opportunity is to the writer. Unlike a magazine, which is taken off the shelves monthly, this one will stay in publication indefinitely.” Except the writer also has a financial risk in trying to sell their work and get paid what they’re worth. And Mr. Hobbes is wrong. Books in chain stores also get taken off the shelves monthly or even after two weeks. Places like Chapters will keep a small smattering of some titles. Privately owned bookstores will keep books longer on the shelves and likewise for magazines that may not be monthly; some of them will keep these till they sell them all. It varies. The only guarantee is to have your book on Amazon, listed with thousands of others, whether self-published, small press published or major book published.

Mr. Hobbes added: “However, I have seven more [books] coming out next year, three of which are through major publishers.” I did a search and have found nothing listed but I no longer get the sneak previews into the upcoming  lists as I did when I was a book buyer. However, nothing is listed except the co-authored books on the Hobbes End site. I’ve found no other info. I have no idea what the quality of the writing is in these books or where else he’ll be published. Eventually, I’m sure we’ll see the lists and it’s up to each person what they think of a story. That is very prolific and Mr. Hobbes should be congratulated on completing three books plus the co-authoring of the others (which he didn’t mention they were co-authored).

He ends with a good thrust: “It sounds as if you suffer from ‘Bitter Writer Syndrome’. It happens to the best of writers who don’t seem to understand the risks publishers take to make it in the industry. Blaming publishers for not paying them ‘what they are worth’ is curable. If you want to ‘make it’ in this industry, I suggest you research before you post such nonsense.”

 Bitter writer? Nah. I’ve published enough and work on my novel. I’m about where my energies have taken me. And I’m afraid I understand the industry much better than Mr. Hobbes does and I know that buying all rights is not the norm nor fair. Buying all rights in perpetuity for a hundred bucks is not something I would ever do, even if I was selling my first piece. And over the years of selling pieces I have been careful not to sell to such rights. It’s one reason I pulled my poem from Sotto Voce, because I could not agree to their selection of rights.

As I said before, each person must make their own decision on what to give away and what to sell, and for how much. I do apologize to Mr. Hobbes for saying he owned the company but I would also suggest that perhaps he was just a bit bitter himself about my comments. And in reality, it all boils down to taking all rights which I caution writers to think more than twice about before they do it. But I don’t think I’ll be submitting to Hobbes End, not that they’d buy anything from me now anyways. 🙂

Bitter Writer Syndrome?

In response to your blog, “Things to Watch out for”—

You begin by stating that $100.00 is not a fair price. Everyone who has submitted thus far has had no issue with making money for their writing. Few writers do, and the intent with this project is to help out first time authors. Being paid for one’s writing (rare in the industry) is not prostitution, but professionalism.

The ad is clear and any writer who has a problem with ‘all rights’ is welcome to not submit. The reason publishers ask for all rights is something that might be above your understanding. The financial burden taken on by publishers is insane. Editors, printing, distribution and promotions add up. A writer is always welcome to self-publish if he or she worries about such things.

Each of our writers for this anthology will receive credit for their work. They will also be highly publicized and promoted, which I can say most publishers don’t do. Many thousands of dollars will be spent doing so. Also, since you have not read our contract, you wouldn’t know what offers we are making towards secondary rights.

Hobbes End Publishing is not a new publishing company. And your comment about ‘pros not submitting’ is uncalled for, since the point of this project is not for the pros, but for new writers.

You mention, over and over again, magazines. However, this is not a magazine. This is for a novel. It will receive major distribution and advertising. This will not only give authors opportunity to break into the industry, but give them the chance that other publishers, and magazines, don’t allow. The financial risk is to the publisher—the opportunity is to the writer. Unlike a magazine, which is taken off the shelves monthly, this one will stay in publication indefinitely.

What you should be complaining about are the publishers who make writer’s pay for their work to be published.

I have had one novel published by Hobbes End Publishing, you are correct. However, I have seven more coming out next year, three of which are through major publishers.

Also, make sure to check your facts. I have no ties to Hobbes End Publishing, with the exception of writing for them. I am not an owner and in no way control their agreements amongst writers. Please check your facts before stating what you do not know about. The company was simply named after a story I wrote.

It sounds as if you suffer from ‘Bitter Writer Syndrome’. It happens to the best of writers who don’t seem to understand the risks publishers take to make it in the industry. Blaming publishers for not paying them ‘what they are worth’ is curable.

If you want to ‘make it’ in this industry, I suggest you research before you post such nonsense.

Sincerely,
Vincent Hobbes

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