I talked about our staff last time, now I wish to talk about our authors, or four of them in particular. I'm friends with Victoria Strauss and I read Writer Beware's blog and the posting on the public pages for SFWA. Sometimes I stumble upon one in Victoria's tweets and decide to make it a cause.
For years before I reached that point, I had been helping authors break contracts with bad publishers. The small press is rife with them. Some days it seems like everyone believes they can be a publisher or editor, just because they can write a half-assed sentence. Others simply have no idea of how much time and money has to be invested into a company over the long term and then drop out of the small press when they fail to see instant riches with no sweat.
Most writer's organizations, like SFWA, have a model contract that can be viewed by the public. These are meant as a tool to help the unwary newcomers see what is right and wrong about what they might be potentially offered by a publisher. There is no one size fits all, but it's a good measuring stick.
Blue Phier is a Louisiana small press owned by an attorney, which when I went up against them had a terrible contract more suited to a slave owner toward his slaves than a publisher toward his authors. The victim in this case was Jane Timm Baxter. Bernoudy, the owner, may have been an attorney, but had no knowledge of publishing law, which is very specialized. We are bringing out Jane's collection, Flashes, in the Fall. Meanwhile, she's agent shopping with some wonderfully quirky novels.
Ambiguity is the scammer's friend when it comes to contracts. That and double speak.
I met Paul Johnson on a long gone poetry site, ThatPoem, six years ago. Two years ago, he submitted a book to us that I rejected because it was so padded it was boring, but had good bones. I told him that I loved his short stories and he ought to put together a collection for us. Then just over a month ago, I got an SOS concerning Paul from a mutual friend. In a moment of depression and desperation (he had been collecting more rejections slips by that time) Paul had sold it to a notorious (in the horror community) publisher, Open Casket Press.
OCP is run by Anthony Giangregorio, popularly referred to as Tony G. A year ago, Tony G. totally changed and rewrote without consultation the work of two women authors he bought stories from. When they complained, he threatened them. He told Alyn Day that he was driving over to her home to have a little talk with her. Nick Mamatas has a screenshot of that threat up on his blog. But the community rallied on behalf of Tony G's victims and issued a huge smack down.
In rescuing Paul, I emailed Tony G that he was in breach of contract, pointed out the places and gave him three days to remove all material from both Amazon and his website. When this did not happen, I got a signed contract on the book from Paul and sent both Amazon and Go-Daddy (Tony's web host) a DMCA and taught Paul how to do them. The book, Deadmoney, (our new title) is coming out in the Fall. Paul had sharpened the book up, taken out all the padding and made it great.
Desperation and depression seem to play a huge part in why writers will sign a contract that they know in their gut is not right. Paul certainly knew it was a bad contract. The most naive among them never realize that there is anything else out there, or they buy into the glamour talk of the scammer. It makes me want to scream "GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND!!!!"
Writer Beware gave Phoenix Fire Publishing a bad mark after I spent months coaxing and protecting a bunch of frightened paranormal authors in to talking to Victoria. They say that they are in the business of "making writers dreams come true." I got hold of a copy of their contract and posted it on my curmudgeon blog and then took it apart piece by piece. They charge authors for everything and then they require authors to pay them if they want their rights back. The owner's then boyfriend used to threaten the women with violence. The owner/publisher/editor Tabetha Jones writes under the pseudonym Zoey Sweete. She's only semi-literate, but a fast talker. When I spoke to her on the phone, she sidestepped most of my questions about her business practices, said that the authors would have to negotiate with the bf, and then rattled off what a good christian woman she was and how wonderful her children were.
I did not have time to record it, so I grabbed two of my staff who were on Skype at the time and put Tabetha on speaker phone. When I had had enough of the circular motion of the conversation, I hung up. Tabetha immediately called back. This time my roommate answered and informed her I was not available, and that roomie was the service station attendant from next door and would be happy to take a message.
Needless to say, that did not go over well.
Phoenix Fire Publishing was originally Mystic Press. I showed people that the contracts were identical. The key people involved were the same. Among other charges are the fact that they are using artwork for their covers that they do not have the rights to and this has come close to getting them sued.
I bought books from two of the rescued authors. Let's start with Thea Larson, whose YA space opera Trust, is one of our Fall titles. Thea's story is fairly typical of what went on when PF was MP. Thea, who is in her early twenties, was under the impression that most small presses and definitely the majors would not consider a first novel, that her only hope was the pay to play method. Tabetha bought her book (not the one I bought), took her money and then told her the book was a piece of shit and could not be published. And, of course, the money was never returned.
My investigation of PF started when I saw a tweet from Victoria that led me to Emily Suess's blog. I made a post about it and seven days later got my first comment, which was from Tabetha. But, I'm going astray here. I met Thea's mom in the course of the campaign against PF, and agreed to take a look at the book. Thea was a basket case at that point from the level of hostility she was still receiving from Tabetha. Thea is now doing great.
My other rescue was from PF also, but the action was different. Beth Wright's two erotica titles were carried over from MP to PF without a signed contract for the new company. Tabetha and her BF had scared the unholy hell out of Beth with both threats suggestive of violence and lawsuits. When they heard that I had picked up her books, they tried to force me to pay them $700. That's what led to the phone call.
These are not isolated incidents, they are merely the ones I have personally experienced. This kind of thing happens all the time.