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?
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…