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When Publishers Completely Suck

6 January 2016

From Author Allison M. Dickson:

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.

. . . .

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 f****r 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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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?

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at Because Writing and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Here’s a link to Allison M. Dickson’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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23 Comments to “When Publishers Completely Suck”

  1. Wow, you really have to check these things out and no signing contracts that smell funny. I think this is good when writers out these publisher so other writers are aware of it.

  2. A post title is helpful.

  3. Odd that there doesn’t seem to be a Kindle edition available, but most of the reviews are labeled “Format: Kindle Edition.”

    • If you read the whole article, there’s a link to a post on the editor’s blog with more background. The editor says the Kindle editions have been pulled.

  4. So, to review:

    You signed a contract that did not stipulate when you get paid,
    and you took the publishers at their word about when they would pay you? You didn’t have a lawyer review the contract, you signed it despite these misgivings you had about it, and now your complaining? Is your publisher not living up to the terms of the contract you signed?

    And I’m supposed to have some level of sympathy for you in this situation? Because you signed a contract with no payment structure in it, and took them at their word.

    I’m sorry, but WTF color is the sky in your world? How is any of what when on during those negotiations not a clue, better yet a big flag waving back and forth in front of your eyes, faor any author really, NOT TO SIGN THE DAMN THING IN THE FIRST PLACE?

    If anything, this is an example of what not to do as an author. Her post shouldn’t be entitled “Why Publishers Suck”. We all know they suck. It should be entitled “How Authors get Rogered, Willingly.” or some such, and should be added to the pile of examples of why publishers aren’t your friends.

    You signed a contract, the publishers are adhering to it.

    Want to blame someone for that.

    Find a mirror. Look into it, for a long time.

    Drew

    • Thank you Drew! You’ve enlightened me. I thought the piece was a warning to other writers not to do what she has done. Now I know it was a polemic against publishers.

    • Drew – Your rather long rant is focused only on her complaint about the royalties, but she was also warning of other issues with this publisher: such as reneging on the hardcover edition, introducing errors INTO their manuscripts, not providing acceptable editing to fix said errors, etc. It’s nice that you felt the need to get up on your high horse, but maybe you should look down and realize it’s sitting on quicksand.

      • She willingly entered into a bad contract. She outright admits this in her post. Oddly enough, she was unwilling to sign it if a reversion clause wasn’t included, but no explicit royalty clause was OK? Ragnorok is in Kentucky, so that states laws would apply where the royalty issue is concerned, right?

        With regards to the editing issues, they’ve happened at other publishers as well. In looking around, it’s not something that’s been publicized about Ragnorok. Writers Beware mentions them about a crowdsource issue, a search of their other writers blogs doesn’t mention such editing issues. If it was a problem endemic to the companies publications, there’d be some noise about it.

        What it comes across is that an offer was made to contribute to an anthology that was on a short deadline, the original editor of the anthology left after the process had started but before it finished (this is a guess), no one really took responsibility for getting it out, the contributors stories were compiled “as is”, and the anthology was published “as is”. Could have happened at any publishing company, has happened at a lot of them

        On the hardcover issue, she obviously has a legal leg to stand on, Ragnorok is clearly in breach, and has been for nine plus months. And in suing for breach, she could probably get paid too. I wonder why she hasn’t done that already?

    • You didn’t have a lawyer review the contract,

      It was a short-story sale to an anthology. Any decent IP lawyer’s fee would have eaten up the entire payment for the sale.

    • Someone didn’t actually read the article in which she specifically says:

      “And please, everyone, use me and my misjudgment as an example of what NOT to do with a publishing contract.”

      and

      “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.”

      She knows she made a mistake, but it goes far beyond the problems with the contract. And the whole point of the article is a warning to less experienced authors.

      • Sarah, that’s what I was about to say.

        It’s as if, at the end of “8 Mile,” Clarence mindlessly repeated all the self-deprecatory stuff Jimmy had already just said about himself. Someone take his mike away.

    • Wow. This is a hugely dickish comment, especially when she states in the post (and in PG’s summary) that this is a lesson to other authors out there NOT to do what she did. She ADMITS she didn’t do the right thing, and is not asking for sympathy. While you’re over here kicking her while she’s down. Unbelievable.

  5. Drew, you’re mistaken. If you take the writer’s post at face value, the publisher is now in breach with her work on two issues: (1) failure to pay royalties as scheduled; (2) failure to release hardcover as claimed in the contract.

    Twice a year means two times in a calendar twelve-month period. This is what they committed to, and she can prove it.

    The hardcover release was scheduled, per their written statement, for March 2015. It didn’t happen.

    She has a paper trail if she wants to take action of any kind.

    Yeah, it was a faffed-up contract to start with, but any publisher who doesn’t abide by the terms even of a bad contract is STILL IN BREACH.

    The contract could’ve been a model of good, solid terms, and this house would STILL BE IN BREACH.

    I suppose in your eyes that, too, would be the author’s fault somehow.

    Face it, PVers. Sometimes (Ellora’s Cave, anyone?) writers simply get screwed. No matter how brilliantly concrete the contract.

  6. So my question for those who have been published by others, especially in anthologies (because I’m assuming anthos are friendlier): Is there a clause in the contract for proper editing / proofreading? Because I’d want to pull any story bearing my name that’s filled with misspellings, typos, dropped sentences etc. Especially if I gave them a clean copy to start with!

    I’ve been binge-reading Classics-Whose-Authors-Are-Dead and I kept wondering if the publishers could get away with those errors if the authors were alive.

    Allison’s situation reminds me of the old submission rules for magazines and book publishers: Read what they’ve published. These days, it’s not to know if they’d like your work; it’s so you can see the quality of their work. I wouldn’t want to team up with anyone whose ebooks look like crap. Or whose dead-tree books look like crap for that matter.

    Glad she named names. I hope she’s got screenshots or other proof in case she gets into trouble for this.

  7. I’ve been lucky. Of the five anthologies I’ve been a part of, there have been no major problems (a couple of small issues with one, which were fixed and weren’t very bad, all things considered).

    I took this as a “learn from my mistakes” sort of thing, not the author wanting to be mean or bring down the publishing house — though if this is indicative of their work ethic, they should close.

  8. I feel your pain, having seen everything from an agent’s bizarre contract, inexplicable “edits,” to cringe-worthy book cover mockups from hell. While these issues were ultimately resolved, it sure left me reeling. Next time, I’m going to self-publish! I admire your courage in sharing your experience with an eye to helping others. All best to you, Allison!

  9. “So, to review:”

    Allison M. Dickson “signed a contract that did not stipulate when you get paid,
    and you took the publishers at their word about when they would pay you? You didn’t have a lawyer review the contract, you signed it despite these misgivings you had about it,’ and now [sic] your complaining? Is your publisher not living up to the terms of the contract you signed?

    “And I’m supposed to have some level of sympathy for you in this situation? Because you signed a contract with no payment structure in it, and took them at their word.

    “I’m sorry, but WTF color is the sky in your world? How is any of what [sic] when on during those negotiations not a clue, better yet a big flag waving back and forth in front of your eyes, [sic] faor any author really, NOT TO SIGN THE DAMN THING IN THE FIRST PLACE?”

    I read the rest of this to some of the old boys here: This is their reaction. A man does not kick at a person who has fallen from a horse that turned out to be a ‘thrower’. Short ride, long ride doin’ fine, no matter. Only thing that counts is that there was a throw down and some degree of injury.
    Secondly, even good horse history — and writ contracts– are no guarantees of consistency, follow up, follow through. Thirdly: Gents help the person who’s fallen, back up. If one doesnt know to do that, they will find themselves ringtailed, which means no one will work with them… why should they share brotherhood/sisterhood, valourious praise, bad jokes, walking fence, good chow with someone who, if anyone becomes injured, that person will berate and not help nor encourage to go onward.

    Repent man, would be my .02. I can imagine you didnt mean to be so harsh. We all have ‘off days.’ I think you probably, despite the vulgarity, meant to say something better. Just that frustration got in the way. There are do-overs in our world. Either way, wish you well, man.

  10. I wish she’d left her comments open, but I understand why she didn’t. She’s right. People will rush to this publisher’s defense and shame her and call her names and as she stated, accuse her of being unprofessional.

    I don’t understand how it’s unprofessional to call out someone who owes you money, who contracted and agreed to pay you money for your work and then just blissfully walks away, never to think about you ever again. There’s so many people desperate to be considered a “real” author that they would sign any piece of paper put in front of them, and publishers know it. We can only hope to keep educating, like Allison is doing here, and letting other potential authors know that this kind of behavior is NOT OKAY.

  11. Ragnarok’s company policy is typically not to acknowledge posts that can be considered a smear or are riddled with untruths and/or misunderstandings, however I’ll touch on this as a favor to our authors and others who have come forward expressing support. The Grimm Mistresses publication collects a set of themed horror stories from authors Stacey Turner, Mercedes M. Yardley, Allison M. Dickson, C.W. LaSart and S. R. Cambridge, published by Angelic Knight Press as an imprint of Ragnarok Publications. A couple of these authors have recently written to express their discontent with the management of this collection, and with Ragnarok Publications in general. Foremost, Ragnarok offers a sincere apology to the authors of Grimm Mistresses for any mismanagement of this publication.

    2015 represented a time of excitement and opportunity for Ragnarok Publications, and in that excitement we overreached beyond what our small staff was able to accommodate. We rushed to meet deadlines, we missed a few schedule dates for payment of royalties (which have since been paid), and we weren’t able to meet some of our obligations. This was not a malicious attempt to harm our authors but merely an honest mistake due to being short staffed during a period of rapid growth for our company. In 2015, we privately and publicly committed to working with our authors to improve our business processes to prevent this from happening again, and we continue to honor this commitment.

    With respect to Grimm Mistresses, the perceived lack of payment is not in breach of contract. The payments for sales in Q1/Q2 2015 are due just now (Jan, 2016). We are in the midst of transitioning distribution to a major distributor, so contracts for 2016 and beyond will be set to a fixed period following the receipt of payments from our distributors. In respect to the Grimm Mistresses sales for the aforementioned period, the authors can expect payment of their royalties in the coming weeks in line with terms of their contracts.

    We are not a big publishing house with decades of experience. We are not an ‘author mill’ looking to take advantage of authors or other small publishers. We are a young and enthusiastic small press ourselves, just now approaching two years old. We have made mistakes during this time, we will likely make mistakes in the future, but we will always commit to taking full responsibility for our mistakes, to learning from our mistakes, and to improving how we do business so that we do not repeat these mistakes in the future.

    J.M. Martin
    Creative Director
    Ragnarok Publications

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