Tuesday, January 5, 2016

And sometimes you have to tell the truth...

This is a blog post that I’ve put off writing as long as possible. Why, you ask? For many reasons. The first being that it’s one bad spot in a year of otherwise positive happenings and I’d much rather focus on them. The second being I want to keep the blog post professional, but the feelings are very personal. It’s not just about shoddy business practices, it involved a betrayal of trust and the demise of a friendship (or what I thought was a friendship). So I’m not going to mention people by name, most will know who I’m referring too, but that’s to help me separate emotion from fact. So here is the story (bear with me, it's a long one)…

Once upon a time, star date 2014, a publisher realized she could no longer keep her business afloat. There was very little money coming in, she’d spent a shit ton of savings keeping it going, put in long hours, struggled, and things just weren’t getting any better. And if she was honest with herself, she should NEVER have been in the business to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, her heart was in the right place, she was good at certain aspects (but not so good at others), and she’d made some invaluable friendships along the way. But you can’t pay your own bills or anyone else’s with good intentions or friendship. She had good ideas, she was very good at working with people (authors, cover artists, other editors, other publishers), she was a good editor (and hopefully helped a few authors become better), she had a fantastic cover artist, help from her sister, and she actually had great math skills. But she did not have good business sense, unlimited amounts of money, or great marketing skills. Those three things are must haves for publishers, or, if you have the second, you can hire people who have the other two. She sometimes pushed book releases back, was sometimes a few weeks late with contributor’s copies, and was sometimes late with royalty payments, though she always paid them. 

So our publisher realized she would have to close up shop. She felt awful about books she’d recently released and one she was currently working on. So she looked around to try to find another publisher who might take these projects on. And she thought of friend who had just that year opened a new publishing company with a friend of his. Talks commenced and they agreed to buy (a word only, no money changed hands) her little company and make it an imprint. And then they asked her to come along and be the managing editor for the imprint. What a stroke of luck!! They were going to re release her latest projects (two novels and two anthologies), publish the upcoming ones (two anthologies and a YA novel (who's author later pulled her book)), and she had a job. Granted, the job wasn’t going to pay much, but a lot of their other employees were working for free, so yay! And her friend was going to be her boss. Problem solved. *sigh* Enter problems stage left.

Skipping back several months, the same publisher had put on her editor/author hat and come up with the anthology idea for Grimm Mistresses. She had a novella length work that had never been published, a modern take on the tale of the Pied Piper. She had an author friend who’d once subbed a modern Cinderella tale to her that could be lengthened. What if she asked three other female authors she admired to contribute modern retelling of Grimm fairy tales? What an awesome book that might be. HOWEVER, since she had a story she wanted to include, she didn’t want to be the editor, nor the publisher. That screamed “vanity press.” So she approached that same friend and his new publishing company and asked if he would be interested in the project. After all, they’d done several anthology projects together. And he was. He told her to go ahead and invite the other authors, and they had more talks and set up due dates and time lines. She invited CW LaSart (the author of the Cinderella story she already had), Allison M. Dickson, Mercedes M. Murdock, and one other author who later pulled out of the project. She discussed who they should invite to replace her and was told the publisher had someone in mind. The authors turned in their stories and assumed (yes, Dad, I do remember what you told me about assuming) that editing was underway. Meanwhile, our stories converge…

January 2015 the former publisher put on her editor hat and went to work for the company. Right away she was unhappy. She was named as managing editor of the imprint, but books were being published she hadn’t even seen. Now, maybe this is how it’s done in big publishing, and maybe she’s the one in the wrong, but she was upset that her name was on something she had no claim to and hadn't approved. And she wasn’t happy with the editing of said book. She sent the managing editor of the company a copy of errors she’d noticed in the published books. She was told they were subjective (since when is grammar and punctuation subjective?). She still wasn’t happy, but let it go. Then she was shown the publishing schedule and sent books to edit. And as she read through them she had to wonder who’d agreed to them. Because she didn’t believe in them. She asked the managing editor of the company and it turned out he hadn’t read them, nor had the other owner. They relied on slush readers and sometimes went with marketability over substance. If they thought the book would sell because of author's name, author’s friends in high places, etc., they signed it, unread. Now, this didn’t sit well with our girl, but she thought well, maybe this is how it’s done and set to work editing the material and working with the author to try to make it better.

Meanwhile, the book she was an author in was getting close to its publishing date. She finally got to read (because she hounded her friend) the other story from the author they’d chosen. And she was super pleased because while the story wasn’t really horror, it was so beautifully written that it was an asset. It would set off CW’s extreme horror, Mercedes’ gut wrenching emotionality, Allison’s sci-fi vibe, and her own story. But then all of the authors began to wonder where their edits were? Time was drawing near and no one had been sent edits to approve. Turned out that’s because no one really did edits. The pieces saw a copy editor, who everyone agreed actually put in a few errors. The authors pointed this out, cleaned up their stories and sent them back. But they were worried. Then the book was published. And our editor was dismayed to find her name in it as managing editor. Wasn’t that the very thing she’d tried to avoid? Her friend’s name was nowhere on it. But the book sold and started getting good reviews, and they did some interviews and such, and no one pointed it out, so she decided to just be happy about the book.

However, on the publishing front, things were getting worse. Her “friend” was getting tired of her pointing out things she thought weren’t right. The co-owner of the publishing company stopped answering her messages at all (which suited her fine) and she was growing frustrated. So she turned in her project (a little late, she will admit, but she was beginning to wonder if anyone else was going to even go over it anyway), and told her friend she thought she’d better leave the company. They agreed she would still turn in the two anthologies she was working on and they’d still publish those.
Fast forward a few months. Things have not gotten better. The authors of Grimm Mistresses have not received their promised contributor’s copies. The signed hardcovers of GM have not been sent to the people who ordered them. And one of the authors confesses  the publisher is late with her royalties from other books she’s published with them. Grumbling ensues. Now our editor is worried about her upcoming anthologies. Will the authors even get paid? Won’t she be partially responsible should that happen? And she begins to drag her feet on turning in the anthology that’s due. She debates on pulling it and looking for a new publisher. And then the publisher pulls a move so heinous, her decision is made.

She had been messaging her friend about the cover art. He had told her he would let her see it as soon as it’s done. A month before the book is due out, an author emails her and asks why she changed the title. What? She didn’t change the title. He says it’s on the cover advertisement on the publisher’s website. She goes to the publisher’s website and sure enough, not only is the cover art (which she still hadn’t seen) been made public, but so has a new title that was never even mentioned to her. The editor is beside herself. Why wouldn’t they have even mentioned that they considered changing the title to her? The anthology is all her’s: her idea, her editing, and they’d signed it with no discussion of a name change. So the editor thinks maybe she’s overreacting and emails the Editor of all editors, Ellen Datlow. She asks if this is standard practice, without mentioning any names, and Ellen assures her that no, this is not done, and it’s rude in the extreme. So our editor messages her friend, who gets downright snotty with her and tells her he doesn’t have time for her attitude. That he was out of town and didn’t know the other guy was going to release the cover art. But he did know about the name change and when our editor states that it would have been common courtesy to have the name changing conversation with her, he suggests they just drop the anthology and not publish it if it’s such a big deal. She agrees. (I mean, she’s having doubts anyway) and states that she thinks it’s best to pull her other anthology also. Her “friend” says “fine,” and BLOCKS her. Yep, you read that right. He blocked her, because that’s professional behavior. No, let’s reconsider what’s going on here after we both calm down. No, we are adults and should be able to work through things. And then he fires off emails to all of the anthology authors saying the anthologies have been cancelled due to “creative differences.” And our editor emails those authors as well and continues the use of “creative differences.” Because, well, what would have been the use in telling the whole story? It’s he said/she said anyway. And she didn't want to be blacklisted as an editor, or labeled “hard to work with,” because she has high quality standards and expects courteous treatment. And so our editor has no further contact with the company.

Why am I telling this story now? Because the other authors have had enough. Because they want to tell their story and mine coincides with theirs. And because I feel responsible for pulling them into this mess in the first place. And to all the other authors who worked with me and thus thought these might be good guys based on my recommendation.I'm sorry, people. Apparently I am not a good judge of character.You can read Allison M. Dickson's blog post on the subject here. And CW LaSart's here.

To bring our story up to date, none of the authors of GM have received any sort of royalties, even though the book came out in February 2015. And I do know from other authors in the publisher's stables that books released after have had royalty payments made. But, we were the noisemakers from the start. Sometimes, the squeaky wheel gets ignored. I’m told the book was pulled (at least the kindle version) as of a few hours ago.

As an editor, I never received any payment either. It wasn’t much that was owed to me, but that’s not the point, is it?

The thing I find ironic in this whole mess is that my former friend sued a publisher for just such shoddy treatment.

And the thing I find the saddest, that I can still barely believe, is not that a company (though while small, had a reputation for putting out quality work) was engulfed, chewed up, and spit out, and I had a hand in it. A company I’d worked so damn hard to build. No, what I find the saddest, is that someone I genuinely liked, had poured out my heart too, and trusted implicitly, could turn on me and then shut me out completely. That shit sucks.

I'm not posting this for sympathy. I made poor decisions and I own the responsibility for making them. I don't need 15 minutes of internet fame over it. I'm not even posting this as a warning, though I hope others will heed it as such. Or as an apology, or an excuse. I'm posting it in support of my fellow authors who are pissed and decided to go public with their stories. I want you to know that their stories are true and relevant. They aren't just crying wolf. Watch out sheep and shepherds alike, the wolves are out there, and this is just one example. 



C.W. LaSart said...

I will add my own voice later. I'm glad you finally spoke up.

Frank's Horrible Book Reviews said...

Wow. I had no idea. This just saddens me greatly.

Jaime Johnesee said...

Don't put the blame on yourself. You didn't pull anyone into it. They're adults who knew what they were doing and I know not one of them would want to see you blame yourself for someone else's mess.

I'm so sorry this happened to you, sweetie. You have such an amazing heart. I hope 2016 brings only good news for you.

Unknown said...

Disgusting and unprofessional behavior. To top it off, it has to be ten times worse when you feel put out by someone you thought a friend.

Quinn Cullen said...

I was saddened to hear you’d been treated this way Stacey. Their unprofessional, inconsiderate, and downright caddy behavior is inexcusable. But you handled it professionally and with your unique touch of class.

Quinn Cullen said...

I was saddened to hear you’d been treated this way. Their unprofessional, inconsiderate, and downright disgusting behavior is inexcusable. But you handled it professionally and with your unique touch of class.