Discussing Damnation Books with Angela Meadon

Posted: April 1, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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It seems writers are more and more vulnerable now than ever before. With most things being done through e-mail and online these days, and with so many smaller presses popping up around the world, it’s hard to tell which ones are there for the writers and which ones are there for themselves.

Let’s not kid ourselves for even a minute here: businesses are designed to make money. If they’re not making money, then they are losing money, and if they’re losing money, they won’t be around for long. The publishing business is just that: a business. And publishing companies, large and small, want to turn a profit like any other business out there.

Things are a little different with publishers. They have two sets of clientele. The first set of clientele is the readers, the people who will purchase the books from the publisher. Without the readers spending their money, books don’t move and when books don’t move, the publisher takes a loss. The other set of clientele? The writer. As important as the reader is, without the writers there is nothing for the publisher to sell. The writer is vital to the publisher. Without them, publishers close shop, go home, do not pass go and do not collect two hundred dollars.

So, why is it that so many publishers don’t do right by their authors? I’m not going to get into all of the Permuted stuff today. That’s a dog that’s snapped its chain and bit the mailman quite a few times over the last couple of years. But what I am going to get into is a blog post by Angela Meadon. You can find the blog post here: http://meadon.co.za/go-to-hell-my-experience-with-damnation-books/. I encourage you to go check it out, before or after you read the following interview with Mrs. Meadon.

Here’s the set-up for you: Mrs. Meadon’s book A Taste of You was published in December of 2012 by Damnation Books (DB going forward). At the tail end of 2013 she receives a royalty check from DB (instead of having the money deposited into her PayPal account, per the contract). She receives three more checks at one time. The problem? For her to cash the checks it would cost her money. A back and forth takes place between DB and Meadon and to make a long story short, she hasn’t received some of the royalties due her. If you want all the information, please read her blog, as linked above.

If you need to go ahead and read Meadon’s blog, do so now. We can wait.

Let’s get started.

AJ: At the beginning of your blog post, Go To Hell: My Experience with Damnation Books, you state “I want to break this down for you though, so that you can see how an author can do all the right things and still make bad decisions that end up hurting her in the long run.”

During this experience, where do you feel you made bad decisions that ended up hurting you?

AM: My biggest mistake was signing with Damnation Books in the first place, but I’ll go into that in detail in response to your next question.

I’d say another way I went wrong was in not sending those checks back to Damnation immediately. I didn’t trust DB to pay my royalties correctly after I received those checks. So I hung onto them for too long in the hopes that they would serve as a backup plan. I was wrong. They are worthless scraps of paper to me. I couldn’t deposit them because of the fees to do so. I should have sent them back.

My other big mistake, I think, was not seeking legal counsel for this matter. I felt like the case was fairly obvious, that DB was clearly in breach of contract, and that Kim Richards would do the right thing. I was wrong. But, legal advice costs money and how much are you prepared to spend to recover $50?

AJ: I asked that question first because, upon doing a bit of research, it appears DB doesn’t necessarily have the cleanest resume out there. It appears they have a bit of history with not treating their authors well. They had a spotty history up to that point and you considered that history before making your decision to go with them. At any point before signing the contract did the thought come up that maybe you shouldn’t go forward with them?

AM: Absolutely.

I saw a call for submissions from their “Submissions Editor” on Linked in and knew that A Taste of You fit the bill, I read up on them in all the usual places; Absolute Write, Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware. It seemed to me, at the time, that DB’s biggest problem was enforcing kill fees in their contracts and releasing books with bad covers.

However, from the responses that DB had given in these forums, it seemed like they had gotten their house in order. The complaints were more than 3 years old, and there was nothing recent that was cause for worry (that I could find). I decided that I would submit and see what happened. I wouldn’t be committed until I signed the contract, and if I wasn’t happy with the contract I wouldn’t sign. Simple, right?

The contract I have with DB is a solid, fair contract. I didn’t see any problems with it when I signed it, and I still don’t.

AJ: Let’s switch gears for just a second. DB stated they would market A Taste of You, but I’m guessing by what you wrote in your blog that they’ve done very little, if any, marketing. In your opinion, have they done any marketing for your book?

AM: They have listed it in a bunch of online book stores, and have sold a few copies at conventions they attend.

There was a poster at some point, which I think they used at a con, that had a whole lot of books by their lady authors on it.

I am not aware of any reviews they secured, or any other marketing they may have done.

AJ: The full basis of the argument between you and DB revolves around the royalty payment and how some of the payments were delivered. Instead of going into your PayPal account, according to contract, you were sent a check. I know you had a lot going on at the time and you didn’t think about it, but then you received three more royalty checks. Did this throw up a red flag for you? Or was it after you realized it would cost you about ten dollars a check to cash that you became concerned?

AM: I was concerned as soon as I received that first check, but I figured it would make a cute memento of my first ever published book.

Then there was radio silence for a long time, and I finally received all the checks in one go in the middle of 2014. I must point out that DB was never the best with timely royalty payments or statements. It would cost me $10 per check to cash them here. My bank can’t cash them all together. Cashing or depositing them would eat 80% of the value of the royalties.

Furthermore, I was concerned that cashing them would be tacit consent of receiving royalties by check. That was something I definitely did not want.

AJ: DB asked you to send the checks back and they would put the money in your PayPal account. Why did you hold the checks at first?

AM: As I mentioned in Q1, I mistakenly thought that having the checks might be a backup for me, in case Kim didn’t pay the royalties she owes me. I didn’t realize that Kim would withhold the royalties while she waited for the checks until she explicitly said so on the 12th of August. By that time our postal service was on strike.

AJ: Throughout the process DB asked you to send the checks back. You held onto them. Some folks might look at that as you being difficult, as if you held the checks ransom. Others, including yourself, would say you held onto them for leverage to make sure you received payment.

Eventually, you did send them back (around January 7th). Two questions here: Do you believe DB received those checks and are just denying it to keep from paying you what they owe you? Do you wish you had kept the paper checks, even though they were pretty much useless to you?

AM: I can’t speculate about what Kim is doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has received them, but I don’t know.

Actually, I wish I’d sent them back right at the beginning. All things being equal, that’s where I made my biggest mistake in this matter.

AJ: Do you think if you would have sent those checks back when DB first said to, would things have been any different? If so or if not, why?

AM: Again, I don’t like to speculate. In my heart-of-hearts I’d like to believe that Kim would have paid the checks to me, but my brain tells me she wouldn’t have.

She said she would pay the royalties all to me at the end of June. She didn’t. It took her until the end of October to pay royalties that were due in June, and September

I can’t believe that Kim is withholding these royalties simply for the paper checks. That doesn’t make sense when you consider that she could have cancelled them (I understand this would have cost her money, but she made the mistake and the onus is on her to rectify it) and I offered to void them and send her photographic proof.

AJ: At what point did you consider DB to be in breach of your contract?

AM: The minute she sent me royalties in check form without my mutual agreement in writing, which is the requirement in our contract.

AJ: In light of the issues a few years ago where authors were told they would have to pay a termination fee of up to a thousand dollars, did you consider trying to get out of your contract or were the possibility of termination fees in the back of your mind?

AM: That termination fee is in the front of my mind. I would rather wait out my contract than try and buy my way out of it.

AJ: You were accused of cyber bullying by DB. That’s a pretty heavy accusation. Do you think this was actually reversed, that DB was doing the cyber bullying?

AM: I don’t think that anybody was doing any cyber-bullying. I think that’s a buzz-word that DB threw in to the conversation to try and scare me into silence.

Since I released our email conversation, however, I know of at least one person who has emailed Kim to insult her and that makes me very unhappy. That was not my intention. I know I left her email address in the emails, but that address is publicly available on their website.

AJ: You brought this out into public with your blog. What do you hope to accomplish by doing this?

AM: I want people to see how DB flaunts contracts. The contract between an author and her publisher is the only thing regulating the relationship when all other avenues break down. If either party is unwilling to honor the contract, all kinds of abuse can take place.

DB has a long and sordid history of this kind of abuse. I want it to stop. I want other aspiring authors like myself to see how their excitement for their first sale can cloud their judgment. I want authors to know what they are getting into if they sign with DB, or any other publisher with a similar track record.

AJ: Are you concerned that by bringing this situation out into the public domain like this that you could be labeled as a difficult author to deal with?

AM: Of course I am, and I would absolutely hate for that to happen. I have learned from my mistakes here. I know what I’ve done wrong.

I think the fact that there are many other authors with similar stories about DB may stand in my favor though. DB doesn’t respond to politeness, or legally worded letters, or anything really.

AJ: We’ve seen this type of question before, but in light of your experience with DB, what advice would you give other authors when pursuing a publisher for their work?

AM: Besides the obvious (Google them and look at what Absolute Write, Preditor & Editors, and Writer Beware have to say), I’d say trust your instincts and don’t sign with somebody you don’t like and trust. Don’t let excitement cloud your judgment. I knew DB was a little off right from the start, but I was so thrilled at being offered publication that I rationalized my way into a deep hole of disappointment.

Don’t do that. If one agent/publisher is interested in your book, another one will be.

AJ: After this experience, would you consider working with other small presses again, and if so, how would you go about selecting one to publish with?

AM: I would, of course, if they would consider working with me.

I would follow my own advice: Research, and relationships, and a solid contract.

AJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?

AM: I’d like to thank everybody who has shown me support in this matter; your kind words have helped me keep my head up through it all.

Thank you Jeff, for this opportunity.

If anybody has any questions, you know where to find me.

Publishers and writers should be in this business for the same reasons: to give the readers a good product. Yes, we want to make money, but taking advantage of writers isn’t the way to go about it. Sadly, there are quite a few publishers who act like the writers need them, when in truth, they need us just as much as we need them. It’s a relationship built on trust and when that trust is gone, such as the situation Angela Meadon is dealing with, well, it’s difficult to gain it back.

As writers we have to remember that not all publishing companies do business this way. We just have to find the ones that do it the right way. Also, as writers, sometimes we make mistakes in this process as well. We have to recognize our mistakes, as Angela has done and as DB should, and move forward from there. As I said earlier, this business is all about relationships, as are most businesses. How we do business is how we will be known.

As always, until me meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

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Comments
  1. […] I sat down with AJ Brown to discuss my experience with Damnation Books. You can read the interview on his blog. […]

  2. **** says:

    Damnation books is nothing more than a book mill. They do no marketing. There are many unhappy authors. They pay late and who knows if the numbers are correct. The publisher, Kim Richards will not address problems or writers concerns, she just ignores their emails. Once she has you signed, she could careless about you or your book. Why should she they publish 12 to 15 books a month, they make their money the first 6 months a book is for sale. The company is run like it is a hobby not a business and Kim Richards is a miserable person to deal with.

    • mraemiller says:

      “The company is run like it is a hobby not a business”

      It seems to me to have a workable business model of sorts which is set-the-bar-low and publish a lot of cheap genre fiction. Then cling onto all the rights for the full 5 year term. This seems a valid business model to me.

      It has its problems. The writers at the top like Tim Marquitz are unhappy because they think they’d sell more outside the outfit. And the writers are the bottom are unhappy because they think it’s the outfit’s fault they are not selling. The outfit is often not happy because they think the authors don’t do enough promotion. However, it may be that it is nobody’s fault that some books don’t sell. Many may just be turkeys or the market is over-saturated with that type of book. It’s all very well to say authors could make more elsewhere but let’s face it some of them can’t sell to anywhere else. Still DB may have a function in …shall we say … experimental fiction. Then again if you want to be that experimental why not self publish?

      I don’t think, for example, that their kill fees are about screwing writers for large sums of money so much as they are about trying to stop their back catalogue from going walkies. Of course there is the fundamental question of whether they add enough value to make them a better bet than self publishing. But some of their critics I think are a bit mean spirited and nit picky. I mean people should know what kind of outfit they are getting in with … if they haven’t done their research… well…

      Also I see nothing wrong in principle with what Victoria Strauss calls a “book mill”. I don’t think book mills are immoral. They serve a purpose and fit a function in the market. And they’ve always existed. What do you think Mills & Boon is/was? My granny had most of their novels. They were all formula crap but they weren’t pretending to be anything else. The likes of Barbara Cartland made a fortune writing a large number of low selling romance novels of dubious literary quality… but fair’s fair she wasn’t pretending to be Charlotte Brontë any more than Mills & Boon was pretending to be Victor Gollancz. There have always been publishers that specialise in setting the bar low and publishing a lot of crap alongside some good stuff. I also find it amusing that there are so many stories of bitter confict around the genre of romance …which is ultimately supposed to be about loyalty.

      What it seems to me has changed is that in the past a publisher would not hang onto the rights of books that didn’t sell because the physical cost of printing them was prohibative. In the digital age however where once the production costs of cover and editing have been paid there suddenly IS a commercial value in hanging onto poor selling material for as long as you can.

      Even if you only sell one book at the start and another 4 years down the line renouncing the rights half way will still mean than you only make half as much money with which to pay back the original overheads. Clearly the financial model is to cling on to the rights for the full 5 years in an attempt to recoup the production costs.

      Mr Marquitz made me laugh too when he complained that they wouldn’t sell him his rights back and this was wrong “because they’ve made their money and then some”. Terry Nation used to say he who trusts can never be betrayed only mistaken. I would say Mr Marquitz mistook a business relationship for a friendship. He protests on a highly amusing thread somewhere that he had always been loyal? Why? It’s not good business. Good business is to spread your risk amongst as many promoters as possible. Not that some aren’t nicer to deal with than others but it’s putting temptation in their way to give one person too much control over you.

      Anyway obviously so long as the books sell well DB will cling to the rights for grim death or all their other authors will bail. His allegation that they are clinging onto rights after they expired is a bit more serious and that’s another issue I’m not going to get into but …in general in most of DB’s arguments there are some grey areas if you ask me.

      The trouble with the Victoria Strausses of the world is they are moral entrepreneurs. There is a place for moral entrepreneurs in the world but the fact is that not everyone wants to be held to their sometimes ridiculously high standards. For example I saw her saying that cover artists shouldn’t be paid on a percentage royalty basis. And I thought who are you to dictate what people can sell their labour for? There are problems with paying people on doorsplit/profit share type deals …you can end up breaching NMW laws but … but let’s just say I think you can be too prescriptive… mind you maybe I’m being silly and it’s bound to cause resentment … but when she says that kill fees and clinging onto rights isn’t good for the publisher it was clear to me that she was just wrong.

      The truth is more there didn’t used to be a commerical advantage to clinging onto rights of low selling material until it became digital but now there is. Not that this is a particularly moral way to behave or an unexploitative way to behave but when she tries to argue that the publisher and the writers rights coincide I often laugh. A publisher is just a promoter. The promoter’s job is to push the price down. The artist’s job is to push the price up. These interests have and always will be in conflict.

      However, where DB’ve majorly cocked up here is that where there isn’t a grey area at all is non payment. Actually PAYING people is pretty fundamental to whether you’re a reputable or disreputable business. It’s one thing for people to not like your business model or way of doing business but it’s all nonsense in the end if you don’t produce the £s and produce them on time. If you don’t pay people what you promise who can trust you on anything?

      Also not paying bills on time suggests that there is someone seriously fundamentally flawed in their business model and they are likely to go insolvent which is another reason to be wary of them…

      • ajbrown says:

        Now that was a well thought out response. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and do so rationally. I don’t know the business model for Damnation Books–I’ve never done business with them, either buying or publishing books–but your points are valid on so many levels.

        I believe in the relationship between publisher and writer. There has to be one, whether it is all business or part business, part pleasure, there has to be a relationship. Like every good relationship, it has to have some basis in trust in order for it to last. I believe the problem here is the relationship between publisher and writer. If your spouse cheats on you then there will be trust issues going forward. If your spouse lies to you, there will be trust problems. If your spouse doesn’t talk to you, there is an issue, and usually that starts with a trust issue. The problem for DB isn’t their business model. It seems to work for them. The problem for DB is their relationship issues. The more things like this pop up, the less other writers are going to be inclined to trust them.

        But it goes both ways. As Angela was quick to admit, she made a few mistakes in this entire thing. She said, ‘hey, this is what I did wrong.’ DB has yet to admit any wrongdoing at all. In business, any mistake you make can, essentially, ruin the deal. When people feel wronged a good majority of them become agitated and want immediate results and want to know why they don’t get those immediate results.

        Still, this issue is about money, and where money is involved things get dicey. They always have.

        Thank you for your well thought out response. It was very intriguing.

        • mraemiller says:

          The thing that gets me is the lengths DB seem willing to go to to defend their “points”. Take the Terri Bruce debacle

          http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/12/terri-bruce-stops-publisher-error

          Here’s one of the many errors she flags up…

          Their version: Irene looked down. The cat stared at her.
          My version: Irene looked down. The cat was staring at her.

          …well, part of me thinks unless the cat’s a major character …really who cares? I wonder how some of these delicate flowers would survive in journalism where editors and sub-editors regularly re-write, bung in their own jokes under your name even when they don’t fit with your voice and generally get up to all kinds of naughtiness when they’re not spiking things for political reasons. Okay … this is “serious” literature not journalism… but let’s say for the sake of argument that Terri Bruce was being a bit vexatious…

          …well, if it was me I’d just give up on the book and maybe not work with her again – lesson learned. As a promoter I sometimes sell tickets to vexatious audience members. They pay their money and they think that it gives them right to moan about absolutely every little thing. So as a solution I have a money back guarentee. I give them the money back and I don’t sell tickets to them again. People say to me …that’s mad …you can’t make a profit like that. But I do because there aren’t actually that many vexatious people about – most people aren’t bad people – and so those there are it magically takes the wind out of their sales.

          Okay it allows a tiny minority to be able to blackmail me but it’s money well spent to end the issue. They say they think they were ripped off …well, no they’ve got their money back …..so they’ve now got nothing to complain about.

          So …… it simply is beyond my understanding why someone would end up fighting a court case and gaining international negative publicity over an issue as trivial as correcting a book’s text? Simply in terms of time and effort it must surely be cheaper to just spike the book? Instead of which the management of DB would rather have an international slanging match that’s covered in national media on both sides of the pond? Surely whatever business model you’re working on that’s barking? Even if the costs of a failed edit cost $5000 or something surely that’s a small price to pay not to look like a nutcase in the Guardian. And not only that but they actually fought the case and lost it and presumably had costs awarded against them as well on top of all the negative publicity?! Creating even more negative publicity? This has got to have cost more time and money than simply not publishing the book would have?

          So is it all about money really? No, I think they’re just bonkers. It took me years to realise it but many people in entertainment are just bonkers. After all if it was just all about money there are easier ways to make money. I think this about personality. That’s the way they want to carry on. Fair enough. Perhaps it’s a cunning plan to get international press coverage on the “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” basis. I mean look at the cheque thing … if you take away the $40 cost of cashing the $49.58 cheques DB’s having a media row over the thought that someone might be able to steal $9.58 from them …or £6.44. Not to mention the time involved in that convoluted email exchange. Is it worth it? Clearly not but…

          …oh well …keeps us all entertained.

  3. ajbrown says:

    As a writer I would never be able to give up on a book I wrote. I would have to fight for that book, simply because it is a part of me. It belongs to only me. Sure, I may give up some rights to it over a period of time, but in doing so, I’m going to get proper compensation for it. After all, it is my work, my intellectual property (for the most part). I can see why Terri fought it in court. On top of that, I wouldn’t want a book that has my name on it to be changed and make me look like a total idiot. That is part of the principle of the issue here.

    It’s not always just about money. I believe this is relational, and as relationships go, one side has clearly done some things that should/could/would ruin personal relationships.

    And you are right, this may keep us all entertained, but I would take someone doing what’s right over being entertained. There is something wrong with this and I am honestly not sure if DB thinks they are doing something wrong and therefore holds tight to their guns, or that they know they are shady and are okay with it. Either way, it’s bad business.

    • mraemiller says:

      “On top of that, I wouldn’t want a book that has my name on it to be changed and make me look like a total idiot. That is part of the principle of the issue here.”

      I can see some of her complaints as valid but when for example she writes…

      “Their version: He chuckled softly. “No. And yes…mostly no. I am all things.
      My version: He chuckled softly. “No. And yes…but mostly no. I am all things.

      Again, the “but” in my version serves to soften the speaker’s response. The EP version comes across as curt or decisive. My version is meant to indicate the words are spoken gently, with less decisiveness. ”

      …I think she’s lost a bit of a sense of proportion a bit …the “but” makes little or no difference either way if you ask me. If an actor was to speak either of those two lines they could put all kinds of different emphasis on them. Still there’s nothing wrong with being a stickler for your original text. John Mortimer was …

      But in my experience all editors have obsessions. For example when I wrote poetry Roger Elkin used to obsess about where the line breaks are to the point of insanity …didn’t bother me …I just did what made him happy. A different editor rewrote one of my poems virtually line for line (there were only 12 lines) a week before publication and I had to reject the corrections by registered post which deeply annoyed me. Sometimes you compromise …sometimes you can’t.

      As to DB’s obsessions…

      Their version: Whenever Ian tried to kiss her, She had the same feeling as She
      My version: Whenever Ian tried to kiss her, she’d had the same feeling as she’d

      Her version is in the pluperfect (she had had) theirs is in the present. Now as it happens because they made me an offer I didn’t take up once I have a copy of the DB formatting guidelines. A long and complex document. Point 8 on page 2 reads

      “Passive voice is something we prefer to avoid. Please work with your editor to make those sentences active. Tell tale signs are abundant uses of the words, ‘that’, ‘had’, ‘could have been’, ‘would have been’, ‘to be’ etc.”

      They have an obsession with removing the pluperfect. I think it’s some idea about wanting everything to read as happening in the present rather than the past …so everything happens entirely in the present. It’s obvious to me that what’s really happening here is they’re trying to push her writing into their “house” style and it wont go. Some people can probably work within these limitations and it doesn’t bother them but she can’t …so they’ve tried to force her using their contract using a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. All very childish. But sort of interesting … Here’s another one:

      Their version: It only been a few—days? weeks?—since she’d been here.
      My version: It had only been a few—days? weeks?—since she’d been here.

      Again we’ve lost the pluperfect.

      What has happened if you ask me is that someone has said to the editor …go through and delete all the “passive voice” stuff and someone’s just mechanically deleted all the “had”s and as a result the sense has been lost.

      Perhaps there are just some authors who are destined never to work with them. Raymond Chandler for example…? In her manuscript the use of the pluperfect probably had a specific meaning or sense but what’s happened is someone “editing by numbers” has followed the formatting guide to the letter and just shifted a whole load of sentences from the pluperfect to the present without thinking about it. Other edits refect other different points in the style guidelines in different ways. Here’s an interesting one:

      Their version: No; there was none of that.
      My version: But no, there was none of that.

      Point 6 of their style guide reads “Avoid sentences beginning with a conjunction (and, or, but) unless absolutely necessary”…

      …you get the picture. Of course it may be that all these rules didn’t exist when Terri submitted her manuscript … and there may be some logic behind them but … really all sounds a bit overbearing to me. Then again …as I say it may not bother some people … like Elkin’s line break obsession never bothered me. Editors are weird. But the real problem is not their rules but that they make the changes after the author signed the contract …not before…

  4. ajbrown says:

    I know this may be nitpicky, but I don’t want changes made to my stories without my approval. I once had a story accepted to a well paying publication. They wanted me to take out one sequence, which was only four or five sentences. The problem with this? If I took out that sequence, then I had to rewrite the rest of the story from that point on because those four or five sentences were pivotal in what happened going forward with the story. I explained that to the editor and he said, rather emphatically, either I take out the sequence and do the suggested rewrite or they wouldn’t publish the story. We parted ways pretty quickly and I ‘gave up’ around $400 by doing so.

    To me, the integrity of the story I told was more important than the payday I could have received.

    I had another editor accept my story and we went through it together and the necessary changes were made. We disagreed on one sentence of dialogue because he thought I should use the ‘F’ word in it to make it more realistic. I told him no, that I stopped writing coarse language in my stories because if I didn’t use the language in real life, then I wasn’t going to write it in. He said that was fine. When the story came out, that F word was in there. I was fit to be tied over that and had a strong exchange with the editor of the publication. This was a story I was totally proud of, but because of that one word (and this has been within the last three years) I refused to tell anyone about it and it’s not listed on my Publications page.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude. I use some language in my stories, but after Along the Splintered Path came out and I realized just how many F bombs I had used in it, I cringed. I love the three stories in the collection, but I hate that it has so much language in it. I told myself I wouldn’t use that type of language in anything I wrote after that, and other than that publication, I have been true to my word.

    Sometimes your integrity and the integrity of the story is more important than the money.

    • mraemiller says:

      I see your point. II’ve certainly felt blackmailed by some editors while others I feel have improved things I’ve written but most of the time I just feel “yeah whatever” about it. A lot of things when I’ve finished them just suddenly become the past to me – I’ve spent so long thinking about them I just want them to go …for better or worse.

      However, … the thing that’s interesting to me is … Victoria Strauss describes an Author Mill thus…

      “… a company that publishes a very large number of authors in the expectation of selling a hundred books or so from each (as opposed to publishing a limited number of authors in hopes of selling thousands of books from each, as commercial publishers do). Author mills don’t require authors to make any financial expenditures at all, hidden or otherwise. However, they do rely on their authors as their major source of income (through books purchased by the author for re-sale, or sold to “pocket” markets the author him/herself is responsible for identifying), and so can be defined as vanity publishers, despite the lack of upfront or other charges. Also, author mills tend to share a business model with vanity publishers: no editorial screening of submissions, no meaningful pre-publication editing, no meaningful post-publication marketing or distribution.”

      So by this definition is DB an “author mill” or just a bad publisher?

      Well… it would be interesting to know if anyone has actually been rejected by DB but I suspect they might reject the totally unreadable and incoherent… so they have some standards?

      Also when she says “no meaningful pre-publication editing” well, they obviously do do some editing because we’re discussing it. Indeed they seem prepared to go to court over editing disputes for right or wrong. They have opinions about it. So it seems to me they’re not ENTIRELY about wringing cash out of authors. I would suggest that while one may not approve of all their methods one cannot complain both that they are bad editors and that they are an “author mill”. The two points of view are contradictory. They clearly are doing some editing even if it only involves trying to resolving mechanical errors and pushing stuff out of the “passive voice”… etc Removing all the mechanical errors from an 80,000 word manuscript is not mean feat and difficult to do on your own. Not impossible but difficult and time consuming. So it seems to me that they are trying to extract commerical value from the material not just extract commercial value from the author …so this is not the vanity publishing Strauss tries to smear it as.

      “no meaningful post-publication marketing or distribution” Well, they clearly do some. Whether you think it is worth giving them your rights for 5 years in return for it is another matter. Leaving aside the tiny detail that they don’t seem to PAY out which is pretty fundamental they do seem to me to be offering people some kind of service. Therefore I feel tarring all people offering similar services as “vanity publishing” is a bit offhand and snobbish. I’d say it’s a case of choose your suffering. Everything in life has a price it’s just a question of whether or not you’re willing to pay it. It’s all very well to say “I could do it all myself” …okay I can but cutting out the middle men in society can have disadvantages.

      Also it’s a fundamental mistake made by most people who’ve never done promotion to think that you can solve promotional problems simply with money. You can throw vast sums or small sums at promoting something and come out with nothing. You have to think how best to sell it. I see nothing wrong with the author themselves identifitying “pocket markets” in principle the thing is that if you’re doing that what value is the publisher adding?

      In short the problem I have with the Victoria Strauss model of the world is it’s all totally black and white… where is in reality I see a lot of grey. Some things like NOT PAYING OUT are black and white …but other things are not.

  5. ajbrown says:

    There are plenty of grays here, but black, white, gray, green, yellow and all the other colors of the rainbow aside, it really doesn’t matter if they are a book mill or not. Everyone is going to have an opinion on that particular subject, and there will be plenty of disagreements on it. Sure, it may look like part of their model is all book mill and if someone sees it that way, it will be hard to convince them otherwise.

    And I honestly don’t know how they do their editing, whether they use a style guide or just wing it and take out and add what they like. That’s a problem, and one I would not be happy with. If I write, ‘he was an idiot,’ then that is what I want it to say. I don’t want to get the book after it is published and see, ‘he was an f’ing idiot.’ It may be apples and oranges to some, but for others, it’s contextual and that one word changes the strength and the meaning of the sentence.

    But when the dust settles–and it always does–are they doing what they said they would do?

    Are they marketing like they said they would? If so, great. Are they doing proper edits and getting consent from the authors as to the changes? If so, great (though it appears they may have taken some liberties with a few works). Have they paid their authors according to their contractual obligations? If so, then who are we to complain? The problem, regardless of their business models, kill fees or even how they treat their authors, is payment. It may only be 50 bucks, but it’s 50 bucks that is rightfully someone else’s. And for some people (myself included) 50 bucks is a lot of money.

    Again, it’s all about doing what they say they are going to do.

    • mraemiller says:

      ” It may only be 50 bucks, but it’s 50 bucks that is rightfully someone else’s. And for some people (myself included) 50 bucks is a lot of money.”

      More worrying to me than the $50 are the stories of authors (and at least 2 authors independently tell these stories) stating that they’ve kept material on their website and on Amazon and on B&N after the rights have expired. Having civil legal disputes and oweing money is one thing … copyright violations are verging into the area of criminal activity. One wonders why the Federation Against Copyright Theft haven’t been involved… to say they’ve got “a spotty history” is putting it nicely … however I find a certain perverse amusement in attempting to defend the indefensible…

      • ajbrown says:

        Defend indefensible. Sounds like the legal system as we know it.

        You bring up another good point. What about continuing to sell work that is no longer yours to sell? Those are definitely copyright violations and lawsuits have been filed over much less incidents.

        I go back to what I said earlier: if they are doing everything right, no one can complain, but if they are not, then they may not have a leg to stand on, and if they do, it’s a weak leg.

        • mraemiller says:

          “Sounds like the legal system as we know it”

          I’ve only ever had one major legal run in writing and that was a vexatious libel complaint. Managed to sort it out quickly with the help of http://www.mediadefence.org .

          Also I keep my Equity membership going for free legal advice… not a great believer in TUs but it’s worth £10 a month for the wonderful job they do of hounding bad payers and people witholding residuals to death. Presumably there is a comperable organisation offering free legal help for those who only mouth off on paper. The SWFA http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/legal/ seem to offer some help…?

          There is pro bono help out there if you look for it. Pro bono help in the UK is available here http://www.lawworks.org.uk/help-required if you’re poor enough or have a sufficiently plausible sob story and don’t find it too degrading doing the paperwork.

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