Author Complaints at City Limit Publishing

From Writer Beware:

I first heard of City Limits Publishing (CLP) in September 2020, via a question about author-unfriendly guidelines in a contest it was running (simply by entering, writers granted “a worldwide royalty-free perpetual license to publish”). At the time, CLP had published just eight books, all by the same two authors . . . and was calling for submissions. 

To me, CLP looked like a self-publishing endeavor that was trying to expand into traditional publishing. This doesn’t always work out well, since not all self-publishers have a solid knowledge of publishing (or, necessarily, any business experience) and may unintentionally disadvantage writers with nonstandard business practices, or author-unfriendly contracts, or both. And indeed, CLP’s original contract had some problems. It included a transfer of copyright, a major red flag in a non-work-for-hire contract…

…that was directly contradicted by a clause stipulating the printing of copyright notices in the author’s name (not the publisher’s, as would normally be the case with a copyright transfer), as well as an extremely generous termination clause allowing authors to cancel their contracts post-publication at will for any reason. This kind of internal contradiction is something I see not infrequently in small press contracts, and is a red flag all on its own: it suggests that the publisher has a less than perfect understanding of its own contract terms.

CLP appears to have recognized this at some point, because the copyright grab disappeared from its contracts in September or October 2020 (the generous termination provision remains). CLP’s catalog has ballooned to over 40 titles, including those original eight, and it has big ambitions for 2021, with plans to publish more than 50 books in total. That’s a very large list for a small press–something that can (and often does) lead to trouble if staff and resources aren’t adequate to handle the load.

. . . .

UPDATE: Robert Martin, CLP’s owner, contacted me after this post went live to say that CLP has “never moved or delayed a publishing date. Ever.” The dates on the CLP website listings, he explained, are actually “pre-sale” dates [I assume this is the date the book goes live for pre-orders]; the reason they’re labeled “publish” dates is because “[t]he Shopify theme we purchased automatically uses the date we put the product into our online store as the Publish date.” CLP’s web developer is apparently working to change this.

When I asked why, if the books are available for pre-order on the CLP website, they aren’t also available on Amazon and other retailers, he told me “As for why they aren’t all on retail sites yet, we put them up as we are able and as projects come to a close, but I don’t feel like we have to explain ourselves for every little thing we do.”)

Also of concern: the multiple documented complaints I’ve recently received from CLP authors. These include late royalty payments, missed editing and other deadlines, difficulty getting CLP staff to respond to questions and concerns, free author copies and books ordered at author discount not received or received months late, books ordered by readers not received or received months late, formatting and other errors in finished books that authors struggled to get corrected (for instance, the author’s name spelled wrong on the spine), substandard editing and proofing, and copyrights not registered as required in contracts. Some writers reported problems with CLP’s heavily hyped online author portal–confusingly named AuthorCentral–which they said suffers from frequent crashes. I also heard from an audiobook narrator who told me that they weren’t informed when CLP lost the rights to a book the narrator was in the process of recording, posing payment issues for the narrator, who was working on a royalty-share contract.

Authors also highlighted issues of transparency: being told that copyright registrations had been filed and later discovering they had not been, claims that print runs of thousands of copies were being done when in fact CLP uses on-demand technology to produce books in much smaller batches as ordered.

. . . .

I contacted CLP’s founder, Robert Martin, for comment on all of the above. He gave me the following statement, which I have edited to remove mention of an individual author (not by name, but likely recognizable even so). 

When I started City Limits Publishing, I committed to full transparency and I’ve tried to provide that from the very beginning. Through our bi-weekly author newsletter to frequent direct updates and notices from me to all of our authors, I’ve kept them appraised of shipping issues related to COVID, updates to our financial systems, implementation of our new author intranet system that would provide them greater access to information and updates, as well as any challenges we’re facing as an organization. And, being a new, small press, there are many. The authors who have stuck with us have been absolutely amazing and their support is inspiring. Together, we’re building something great here. Many of our authors have emailed me thanking me for the transparency they’re getting and have been so encouraging even when receiving direct, unsolicited messages from a handful of authors on a war path.

We’re aware of the situation and some of the issues a small group of former authors have brought up. First, with regards to late royalty payments, we were delayed in sending out payments as we both moved to a new system and I had a personal matter that required my attention and took me away from work for a bit. The payments were made up in full with tracking and confirmation of receipt, along with my sincerest apologies, and a promise that our next payout, July 20, would be made in full and on time, with the exception of authors who have entered into final accounting after requesting to be released from their agreements. Their final payments are being made this month as agreed during termination discussions. We’re in the process of hiring a Business Manager that will take help ensure we are not late in the future. Our royalty statements were delayed in April as we made the transition to RoyaltyTracker (MetaCommet). Their implementation schedule caused us delays in sending out statements. We made a major investment in this new system so that going forward everything would operate more smoothly. With progress comes growing pains.

With regards to author copies, we have committed to making sure that our authors receive at least half of their author copies in the weeks leading up to their release, and half within 90 days of release. Author copies are a large expense for the company. We’re a small business trying to get started during a global pandemic. As for ordering problems, we admit that during our early months we faced many delays, especially with our original printer and our transition to the IngramIgnite program. Still, all orders were fulfilled, and we’re now shipping out daily with no delays.

With copyright registration, we did drop the ball on some of our earlier titles. Before we brought on a full team, I was working mostly on my own with operations. I’m human and did make mistakes with copyright registration of some of our earlier titles. Now, we have a system in place to make sure registration happens within 90 days of publication, as outlined in the agreement. And, we have made steps to help educate authors on the copyright registration process. It’s not a fast process, so we’ve made sure to provide information to authors on timelines and how that process works.

Other complaints mentioned: Our early editing process was not as refined as it is now. We were just getting started, and we really learned a lot. We’ve even gone back through older titles for extensive checks and proofing to ensure we’re putting out the highest quality of work. Authors complained about books going to print with errors, but we do require all of our authors to initial the bottom corner of every page of their book before it goes to print. So, respectfully, that’s a shared mistake, and one we’ve worked extremely hard to rectify, now having four sets of eyes on all works published. Additionally, we do still have a contract with ACX and with Audiobook Universe. We were temporarily suspended from ACX for a contract mix-up where exclusive rights were selected when non-exclusive was intended. We removed the book from our website (it had not sold any copies) and our contract was reinstated. With regards to our printing, we originally used an up-front printing method, but were approached by Ingram’s IngramIgnite program (a program specifically for small presses) about using their system. We transitioned to their system, but still process upfront orders of copies of books and fulfill them to bookstores in the US and Canada that are ordered directly from us through our marketing efforts. Additionally, we make sure our wholesale pricing is competitive to get our books listed with as many retailers as possible, and we’ve enjoyed great success with the help of our partners at Ingram.

Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Are we learning from our mistakes and putting in place processes to ensure they don’t happen again? Absolutely.(I’m not familiar with IngramIgnite; websearches don’t turn up any information.)

To his credit, Martin admits mistakes. But fostering an us-and-them mentality (hints of this come through in the statement, and it’s clear from my communications with Martin, as well as what CLP authors–both pro and con–have shared with me, that the complaining authors are being badmouthed internally), and blaming writers, if only partially, for mistakes such as poor proofing (authors certainly owe their publisher the duty of checking their proofs, but ultimately it’s the publisher’s responsibility, and not the author’s, to make sure books are error-free), doesn’t seem like the most positive way forward.

. . . .

Good intentions are all very well. But most of the publishers I’ve featured on this blog had good intentions, at least to start. Writers need to keep in mind that good intentions–like responsiveness, enthusiasm, praise, and all the other non-publishing-related things that so often entice writers into questionable situations–aren’t a substitute for knowledge, experience, qualified (and adequate) staff, and working capital–all of which are far more important factors in a publisher’s success. Just as new writers can get into trouble if they set out to get published without taking the time to learn about publishing, inexperienced publishers can run into difficulties if they start up too quickly and attempt to learn on the fly. 

In effect, such publishers are using their writers as subjects in a kind of science experiment. Sometimes the experiment succeeds, against odds and errors. Sometimes it doesn’t. But while unwary writers’ screwups harm only themselves, a publisher’s screwups harm its authors.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG noted the following in the publisher’s comments about the problems reported in the OP:

Author copies are a large expense for the company.

For PG (who may be wrong), this statement caused a large flashing sign to appear in his mind’s eye:

Undercapitalized

Once the presses start running for publication of a hardcopy book, a few extra copies are pretty cheap.

Here are Amazon’s published printing costs for KDP books:

Paperback specification: black ink with 110-828 pages
Amazon.com0.85 USD per book0.012 USD per page
Amazon.ca1.11 CAD per book0.016 CAD per page
Amazon.co.uk0.70 GBP per book0.010 GBP per page
Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.es0.60 EUR per book0.012 EUR per page
Amazon.com.au2.17 AUD per book0.0215 AUD per page
Amazon.co.jp175 YEN per book2 YEN per page

That works out to $3.85 for a 250-page trade paperback on a print-on-demand basis. Twenty free copies cost $77.

The OP says the publisher’s catalog totals 40 books. That’s a total expanse of a little over $3,000 for all the author copies in the publisher’s catalog at the price Amazon calculates its POD cost is.

If $3,000 is a “large expense” for the publisher, PG wonders how much working capital the publisher has available to pay its employees, rent, advertising and promotion costs, printers bills, etc., etc., etc., and afford all the other things any business has to pay for if it’s going to be successful.

From The Free Dictionary:

handwaving

Actions, words, or ideas that are meant to impress or appear convincing but which are in reality insubstantial or inconsequential.The governor has been doing a lot of political handwaving over the issue of immigration lately, but few suspect that anything will actually be accomplished in the coming year.

. . . .

See also:

  • airy-fairy
  • run on fumes
  • run on empty

Link to the rest at The Free Dictionary

Taskforce set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors

From SF Crowsnest:

A task force has now been set up to tackle Disney’s attempts to weasel out of paying its genre authors of their promised/contracted royalties.

The organisations behind the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force include the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Author’s Guild, the Horror Writers Association, the National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., the Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

The task force includes members such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig.

“Writers must be paid or given missing royalty statements; these contracts must be honoured,” said Mary Robinette Kowal, President, SFWA. “We urge all authors to review their statements to make certain they are in order.”

SFWA has told us that Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation payments have now been resolved. But about a dozen additional authors contacted SFWA with a request for help, including the authors of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones, and multiple other properties. SFWA has provided Disney with the names of authors who are similarly missing royalty statements and payments going back years.

Fox had licensed the comics rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dark Horse. After Disney purchased Fox, they withdrew those rights from Dark Horse and granted them to Boom! Comics. When one Buffy author contacted Boom! about missing royalties, they were told that “royalties don’t transfer.” Disney is the owner of Boom! Comics.

So, basically, if this is allowed to legally stand, any publisher can just sell their books’ rights internally in a shell game, voiding any further author royalty payments at all.

Disney is now being reactive rather than proactively working with the SFWA to address the significant issue they have brought to their attention. While in talks for Alan Dean Foster’s Alien novels, Disney was told that Alan was also missing statements and royalties for his Star Wars novelisations. They would not begin the process or resume royalty statements until Alan contacted them with a formal claim.

“SFWA wishes to create a cooperative relationship with Disney, but the corporation flatly refuses to work with us,” added Kowal. “They say they are committed to paying the authors, but their actions make it clear that Disney is placing the onus to be paid on the authors, while at the same time attempting to isolate the authors from receiving counsel from their professional author organisation.”

. . . .

There are now many verified reports of missing statements and royalties from LucasFilm (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.); Boom! Comics, and Dark Horse Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer); 20th Century Fox (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, etc.); MGM (Stargate); Marvel WorldWide (SpiderMan, Predator); Disney Worldwide Publishing (Buffy, Angel).

Link to the rest at SF Crowsnest and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Sales Report Issues from Barnes & Noble/Smashwords?

PG just received the following message from Terry:

Have any of your readers noticed lack of sales reports from Barnes and Noble on Smashwords lately? Since they were hacked, reports have been pretty slim on my end.

Feel free to respond one way or the other in the comments.

If anyone has experienced issues with late/non-existent royalty payments or royalty reports from anyone, PG would be interested in hearing about those as well. You can comment on this post (which will be public) or send PG a private email via TPV’s Contact button.

PG can’t claim attorney-client privilege for messages he receives from non-clients via the Contact button, but, if you want to send him something you don’t wish to be disclosed for his own information or something which PG can disclose without mentioning the source, PG is happy to do that.

Additionally, PG tends to delete emails that arrive via the Contact button pretty quickly after he receives them and (he blames Covid), he can hardly be expected to remember who sent him what after a couple of hours.

PG is certain that Mrs. PG can testify under oath (she’ll probably require a subpoena and neither PG nor Mrs. PG is inclined to waive spousal privilege) concerning PG’s memory issues.

Apple Slashes App Store Fees for Smaller Developers

From The Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. is halving the commission it charges smaller developers that sell software through its App Store, a partial concession in its battle with critics over how it wields power in its digital ecosystem.

The iPhone maker said that starting next year it will collect 15% rather than 30% of App Store sales from companies that generate no more than $1 million in revenue through the software platform, including in-app purchases. The fee will remain 30% for developers whose sales through the App Store, excluding commission payments, exceed $1 million—meaning the reduction won’t affect such vocal Apple opponents as videogame company Epic Games Inc.

Apple’s 30% take has been at the heart of complaints this year from other tech companies and some users over how it manages the vast digital world of people who use iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices. The policy is also central to a major legal battle with Epic, and to government examinations in the U.S. and Europe of Apple’s competitive behavior as a gatekeeper between software makers and the hundreds of millions of people who use Apple’s gadgets.

Critics have charged that Apple’s commission is too large, is unfairly levied against different companies, leaves customers footing the bill and leads to workarounds by some developers to avoid the fees.

. . . .

A tiny fraction of developers account for the vast majority of sales in the App Store, which is central to a services unit that brought Apple $53.77 billion in revenue in its latest fiscal year. Research firm Sensor Tower estimates that only about 0.2% of the 1.8 million apps in the App Store generated more than $1 million last year, and says that group accounted for an estimated 92% of Apple’s App Store revenue.

The fee cut, therefore, gives Apple ammunition to rebut claims that its practices hurt smaller developers, while leaving untouched the vast bulk of its App Store revenue.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG was interested in this article because apps and ebooks are really quite similar to each other (although a dropsy epidemic would rage through New York publishing if such a statement were to be uttered within hearing range.)

Apps are electronic code and ebooks are electronic code as well. Apps run on tablets, smartphones, etc., and ebooks “run” on the same devices. Ebook readers don’t use their thumbs as actively as people who play app games on their phones, but, fundamentally, both purchase software for their electronic devices.

Apps and ebooks are sold online through digital storefronts in exactly the same manner.

Unlike app developers, when it comes to royalties, more than a few authors may analogize the sales of ebooks to the sales of printed books with printing costs, shipping fees, physical stores, warehouses full of books, etc., etc.

From the point of view of those who are running ecommerce at Amazon and Apple, ebooks and apps are just two different file formats.

It would be interesting if the people running iBooks caught the spirit of their much larger and more profitable contemporaries in the App department and decided that indie authors are pretty much like small app developers and should be paid 85% of the purchase price of ebooks instead of a much small percentage.

On more than one occasion, PG has been accused of being an Amazon shill because he likes the way Amazon treats indie authors and says so.

However, PG thinks it would be a great idea if Amazon treated indie authors like Apple treats small indie app developers and reduced Amazon’s take on KDP indie ebooks so authors received 85% of the proceeds Amazon collected for their books. (Amazon could also get rid of its ridiculous “Delivery Cost for a Digital Book” charge at the same time.)

Authors Guild Statement on Delayed Royalty Payments

From The Authors Guild:

The Authors Guild stands with the Albert Whitman & Company (“AW&C “) authors’ demands for transparency and immediate rectification of past due royalties.

You may have seen tweets and other posts of AW&C authors recently complaining that they have not been paid their royalties. This is an ongoing problem with the publisher. Over the last few years, the Authors Guild has contacted AW&C on numerous occasions to convey members’ concerns involving delayed royalty payments and the accuracy of accounting reports. In April 2019, we had a phone conference with AW&C’s accounting team and leadership during which we discussed their consistent irregularity in paying authors and addressing the author’s concerns about the accuracy of royalty reporting.

Yet despite having notice of these complaints for years, AW&C continues to neglect its obligations to issue timely and transparent royalty statements and render accurate royalty payments, as is required under its book contracts. The irregularities are not limited to one author or one instance, but multiple authors with multiple complaints. 

. . . .

AW&C’s CEO John Quattrocchi recently stated in a blog post that the publisher will be “making necessary changes to create more honesty and transparency” in the company and setting deadlines to get the authors paid up. 

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Typically, deadlines for royalty payments are set forth in the publishing contract between an author and a publisher.

PG wonders if salaries are being paid to AW&C executives and employees.

Book Tours – Analyzed

The post that appeared immediately prior to this one included a video in which the author was performing a video substitute for a physical book tour. When PG posted the video from YouTube, it had received 2,594 views.

PG is of the gigantically, perennially and irrefutably humble opinion that traditional book tours where a publisher sends an author out to visit a number of bookstores for an event in the bookstore to which anyone who learns about the event can attend.

Typically, the bookstore staff sets up some chairs for the audience, has several stacks of the book being promoted spread around the store and provides the author a table and a chair.

Thereafter, the author makes a short speech about her/his book designed (almost always by the author) to induce members of the audience to buy a copy of the author’s book. After completing the pitch, the author sits at the table and autographs books that members of the audience have purchased, often with a trite phrase, “I hope you enjoy my book!” or something the purchaser requests, “For Lurlene from her loving granddaughter, MaryJoJean.”

After chatting with strangers and signing all the books that are purchased, the author packs up, thanks the bookstore staff (perhaps leaving them some candy) and exits the store to travel to the next bookstore on the tour schedule. On a large tour across the US, airplane travel and hotels are involved.

For a really, really, really bestselling author, the publisher might send a minder to help schlep the author around from place to place.

To PG, this sounds like a mid-Twentieth-Century marketing strategy. (“Housewives! Have we got something new to brighten your humdrum day! The latest scientific innovation in kitchen cleaners!”)

Let’s break the thinking behind what passes for the marketing strategy behind a book tour.

  1. The author’s time costs the publisher nothing.
  2. We will send one of our authors to a physical bookstore. We’ll have the bookstore create some sort of poster announcing a book signing by Arthur Author for his latest book.
  3. If the publisher is feeling really generous, it might pay to have some cheap promotional brochures printed and shipped to the bookstore so the store will have something for an employee to sprinkle around for most of its customers to ignore. If it’s colorful, children might pick up a brochure to leave in the back seat of the car when they get home.
  4. The bookstore will have its employees set up chairs and a signing table, unpack a couple of boxes of books, place a few books around the store and stack a bunch on the signing table.
  5. In advance of the designated time, the author will leave an inexpensive hotel room, drive a rental car to the store after cruising around a strange city for awhile, walk into the store and start meeting total strangers.
  6. The introverted author who hates speaking to groups of people will thereafter speak to a crowd of strangers which will always be smaller than the author expected to show up.
  7. After trying to be interesting and entertaining for 15-20 minutes, the introverted author will then have to talk to a stream of strangers for about 60 seconds each, try to appear to be enjoying the process of acting like a homecoming queen, and write something trite in each copy of the book.
  8. Emotionally exhausted, after the last customer has left, the author will then effusively thank the book store manager and staff for their efforts, glance at the large stack of unsold books, and stumble out to their means of transportation and try to remember where the next book-signing is scheduled and when she’s supposed to be there.
  9. If the author is sufficiently depressed, she may estimate how many copies of her book were sold at the book-signing, calculate the royalties she will receive from those sales and realize that each of the store employees earned more on a per-hour basis than the author did for the time she put into preparation, travel, getting dressed up, undergoing the introvert’s torture of talking to a bunch of strange people (including some who were stranger than others) in the store, then more travel.

Perhaps PG is missing some giant financial or psychological benefit that accrues to a typical author as a result of a traditional book-signing or series of book-signings, but he doesn’t think so.

Then, let’s consider that Amazon sells more books than any bookstore or chain of bookstores in the world.

And, the author earns a higher royalty when Amazon sells an ebook than when Joe’s Books and Bait Shop sells a paperback.

But, as always, PG could be wrong.