1.04.2016

When Publishers Completely Suck

UPDATE #1: As of 1/11/16, Ragnarok Publications has still not paid us any royalties owed for the sale of GRIMM MISTRESSES. They're aware of this blog and the others written by contributors, and they've waged a defense of their own where they're attempting to deflect responsibility by calling this a "misunderstanding" or a "contract dispute." Basically, we're just a bunch of hysterical females waving our tampons around. Never mind that we have a paper trail. Never mind that the folks at Ragnarok had never communicated with us about a royalty schedule in the 11 months since the book has been published until their asses were against the wall and they said December we would be paid (hint: it didn't happen). Never mind that other authors under the Ragnarok umbrella have not been paid either. I can't name names on that front, as those people have to fight their own battles, but let's just say there has been a lot of discussion, and GRIMM MISTRESSES authors are only a small handful of the authors Ragnarok is stealing from. (And yes, if you are pocketing money for the sale of someone else's work and not paying out their fair share, you are stealing).

UPDATE #2: I have not enabled comments on this blog, because I've watched these very same rodeos happen with other colleagues of mine. I know there are loyalists out there eager to be the first ones to step up and defend their fiscally incompetent brothers in arms as well as shame me for not doing everything right. Of course as you will see below, I do more than enough owning up for my mistake of signing a contract I knew was imperfect. I fucked up by assuming the best about a person and an organization and ignoring my instincts. I still don't see how this absolves Ragnarok for using the glaring hole in their own contracts to steal authors' money. It's victim blaming 101, and I don't allow that bullshit on my page. Anyone with questions or concerns is free to email me.

I will update this page again when I have received payment. If we haven't received payment by a certain deadline, we plan to file grievances with certain organizations.

                                                                      ******
First, I want to state that I am writing this piece of my own accord and am speaking for myself and my experience only. I do not intend to drag any other names into this screed with me, but if you do happen to share my beef either directly or indirectly, you are welcome to share it as you see fit.

Let me start right away with the incident in question:

In the summer of 2014, I was invited by a (now former) editor from Ragnarok Publications to contribute a story to an anthology called Grimm Mistresses. You probably saw me talk about it here. At one point, I even had the cover of the book listed on the sidebar with a link to purchase it, but that has since been removed, and for good reason.

At the time, I'd known a few very respected authors who worked with Ragnarok, and they seemed like they were up and coming and putting out some decent work. The editor in question is also a friend of mine and I like her a lot, so I was happy to come up with a twisted take on a Grimm fairy tale for the book. A few months later, I wrote the story "Nectar," which you can now find in my newly released collection, THREE.

During the early planning phase of GRIMM MISTRESSES, things were looking pretty great. They had the cover done already, and it was gorgeous. There was a limited edition hardcover release in the works as well, which was going to be pretty awesome, since I'd never had my work in a hardcover before.

But then I got the contract, and that was when I got my first whiff of something not being right. And please, everyone, use me and my misjudgment as an example of what NOT to do with a publishing contract. When a contract does not explicitly state a royalty payment schedule, you tear that fucker up and either say "give me a new contract" or you walk. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I did contact the publisher about this glaring omission and was assured that royalties were paid twice a year. I was still not completely satisfied with this, because I wanted it in writing. I'm generally a stickler and I know what to look for in publishing contracts, but at the time my thinking was, "Meh. It's just a short story. I'll have rights back in a year (at least that was explicitly stated, and if that part hadn't been, I definitely would have walked). And the royalty split won't be all that much anyway, so no biggie."

In other words, I ignored my intuition, signed, and let the whole thing go. I knew I wasn't going to get rich. I figured even if I made at most a few bucks, it would still be fun, and I'd release it myself once I got the rights back. It wouldn't have been the first time I contributed to an anthology for that very reason.

But again, please do not sign a contract you know doesn't pass the sniff test. Don't be a stupid dummyhead like Allison M. Dickson.

In fact, if you get a contract for a short story and it is offering you a royalty split rather than a flat payment, just walk away, because honestly, splitting a 50% royalty with however many other authors are in the collection is like working for free. Find a better publisher. One who can actually AFFORD to pay authors in full for their contributions either at acceptance or at publication. Don't dick around with piddling royalties on short story collections that 1. Will never sell all that many copies to begin with by nature of the niche offerings they are, and 2. Will never sell that many copies because it's a micro press. A tiny crumb of an already tiny slice of a minuscule pie is not how you make money as a writer. There are very, VERY few exceptions under which I'd take a royalty split on an anthology. The reputation of the publisher has to be without a single blemish, and a very big name has to be involved in the project. Like Neil Gaiman or Stephen King big. Otherwise, there are better ways to publish short stories, trust me.

So anyway, the contract was signed. The end of February 2015 was the release date. Things seemed to be cutting it close, like end of January and into early Feb, and I still hadn't seen any edited copy. That seemed weird, but I had enough going on at the time that I didn't make a big stink about it. After we pestered and finally did get electronic proof copies, I was hugely displeased to find my story contained numerous errors, and actually had errors put INTO it by way of deletion of nearly every comma in the text. Again, red flags went up.

The other stories also contained a lot of typos and other proofing mistakes, and it became very clear that no one had actually done any copy editing or proofing on the book. Again, I was feeling a little uneasy, but we were assured that a clean book would be going to release and that we should just send them whatever errors we found to make sure they caught everything. That was mildly reassuring, but again, the vagueness of the communication was off-putting, and I was getting the sense that things were not going very well behind the scenes. And in case you're wondering, the editor who invited me was not responsible for the editing issues. The publisher had used someone else to proof (very badly) and then told us he would handle the actual editing, and then he flaked out. Unfortunately, the one who invited me to the anthology is still listed as the editor, so guess whose name gets to be hung out there to dry while the ones actually responsible for putting out half-baked copy get to hang back?

In fact, read her complete story if you want to get even more info on what happened behind the scenes.

Also check out C.W LaSart's blog post on the matter.

So as you can imagine, a polished copy did not go to release. While it was improved from the version I initially received, as far as I could tell, the only corrections that were made were ones that we the authors scrambled to find at the 11th hour before publication, and I know there were numerous other ones we probably didn't find. In other words, putting out clean work did not seem to be a priority for the publisher, and that put a really bad taste in my mouth. Was this a regular thing with them, or were we just an unfortunate exception?

In spite of that, the book received good reviews, and we did a good bit of publicity. Twitter chat, podcasts, a few interviews, etc. "Nectar" is not my favorite work of mine, but I was proud to be standing next to some fantastically talented ladies, and get my name in front of people who hadn't heard of me before. The sales rankings also looked decent on release, so I figured hey, maybe I'll make a couple bucks off my story after all, and any minor kinks in the works will be worth it in the end.

But then more kinks kept showing up. We were also promised in the contract contributor's copies upon publication. After substantial pestering from us to the publisher, we got them MANY months later. I feel if there hadn't been considerable pressure put on the folks behind the scenes, they never would have coughed even those up.

Then came the matter of the limited edition hardcovers. Months and months passed, and there was still no word of when they would be released, despite them initially saying late March of 2015. We kept getting one excuse or brush-off after another. People I know who had ordered hardcovers were coming to me asking where their books were. We'd also never received bookplates for the authors to sign so that the books would be signed as promised. These people had paid their thirty bucks months ago, and they had nothing to show for it. Finally, after considerable pressure put on the folks at Ragnarok to explain why there was no hardcover, they said they didn't get enough orders and then refunded the money to people who had ordered. Which, you know, awesome, but if there was going to be a reneging on the hardcover, it should have happened back in the spring.

And finally, the royalties. As of January 4th, 2016, nearly a year after the release of GRIMM MISTRESSES, I have yet to receive a single dime for my story. The book has sold copies. I have no idea how many, because along with no payments, we have received no statements or communication on # of units sold. I do know that upon its release, it did sell some copies because the Amazon rankings were pretty indicative of that.

Again, I don't expect these are huge riches by any means, but payment of even a few bucks along with an accurate accounting of books sold should not be too hard for any publisher worth their salt to produce when gently reminded one time. Ragnarok, however, has not produced anything of the sort. When asked repeatedly, they give the continual brush-off. I decided that after January 1st, if there was still no royalty check, even for as little as fifty cents, I was going to go public.

Personally, I've wanted to grab my soapbox and bullhorn a few times over the last 8 months or so, but I've held off because other people wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, and they were worried about blowback. I've been told how nice these guys are, and yes, by my personal interactions with them, I have determined that yes, they are nice guys. That doesn't mean, however, that they are good businessmen.

Others say they grew a bit too fast and are just scrambling and disorganized. Yeah, okay, I get that. To a point. Being a little scattered and disorganized might mean a few weeks of lateness on a royalty payment and statement. It does not mean months and months and months of no payment, no contributor copy, no communication, no assurances.

They certainly have their defenders, and maybe other authors' experiences have been better than mine, but from my particular vantage point, I'm neither assuaged nor convinced. There is a difference between being a tad disorganized and being completely negligent and at fault. Is Ragnarok malicious? Are they an author mill in the business of acquiring other people's work and living off other people's money? I can't say for sure if it goes THAT far. I will allow that the people at Ragnarok probably aren't con artists. But I do believe they are caught in a downward spiral of their own disarray, and it's beginning to have an effect on the very people they're counting on to keep them relevant as a publisher. Regardless of the origins of their delinquencies, enough is enough and I've reached my limit.

Some say it's unprofessional to drag a company's name through the mud in public, and I will undoubtedly receive some flack for this. Neglected writers love coming to the defense of their abusers for some reason. Maybe it's cognitive dissonance. No one wants to believe they misjudged a publisher's character and signed the dotted line on a bad deal. Believe me, it's not easy for me to admit I could have walked at the first sign of something wonky and signed anyway, but I'm a first believer in admission being the first step to fixing shit. I admit I should not have signed that contract, but that does not excuse Ragnarok for catastrophically failing on their end of the deal.

I ask any author who is about to step up to defend this bullshit to value yourself more and realize the reason a lot of publishers do this kind of thing and why stories like this are so very common in the business is because they're more or less given permission by the authors themselves by way of not speaking up. Many writers by nature are reclusive and shy and they suck at advocating for themselves. It's why agents exist. But we have to get better at sticking up for ourselves. Our livelihoods depend on it.

I consider it unprofessional to remain unpaid for work I delivered on time. I consider it unprofessional for a publisher to pocket money that doesn't belong to them and use it to do God knows what while the people who gave them said work don't ever see a dime.

I'm also tired of watching Ragnarok announce new projects, acquire new imprints, release new books, and sign new authors all the while knowing several of their current authors were never compensated and are many months (or more) behind on royalties even as I write this. It galls me in particular because any author who knows this system knows that Amazon, the main hub of sales for most small presses, delivers royalties to publishers every month on the dot. Why this money is not properly accounted for and then distributed Ragnarok's authors is a huge mystery to me. I've worked in this business long enough to know that as a publisher, particularly as a small publisher where your revenue streams are limited and the accounting is a whole hell of a lot simpler than that of a big house, that aside from decently packaging and selling books, your first order of business is to PAY YOUR GODDAMN AUTHORS.

If you can't manage that much, you should not be in the business of publishing other people's work. It's that simple. I want no excuses, because there are none that are good enough. At this point, apologies are not good enough. The only thing that is good enough is the color green crossing my palm. Writers make so little as it is, even when they are paid on time. To be forced to grovel for pennies is a slap in the face, and I'm just done.



By the way, if you would like to read "Nectar," please purchase THREE and not GRIMM MISTRESSES, because I would like to be paid for my story in some form. The same goes for the other contributors in this anthology (C.W. LaSart, Mercedes M. Yardley, Stacey Turner, and S.R. Cambridge). See about contacting them directly for other means to access their work. I would like to see them actually getting compensated, and as of right now, they will not be if you purchase GRIMM MISTRESSES. Please don't put money in the hands of publishers who hoard it for themselves.

All proceeds from sales of THREE go directly to author. What a daring concept!

No comments:

Post a Comment