“Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down”

September 15, 2011

No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.  ~Russell Lynes

By: Stacey Purcell

I’m sure a lot of you have read about author Kiana Davenport’s trouble with a large traditional publishing house. In case you haven’t, I’ll do a short re-cap. This author signed a deal for a book that she wrote which was due to come out in 2012.

So far, so good.

Ms. Davenport has won numerous awards, been previously published and by all rights is a wonderful writer. She is also a fashion model who lived the high life and spent most all of her money. She submitted and was accepted by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin books. The terms for her new contract were less than what she used to command, but she needed the money that the advance would pay.

Just prior to this arrangement, she came across Joe Konrath’s blog about self-publishing and turned to him for help. With a bit of guidance, she sold a collection of short stories and was successful! She then published a second collection and  the proverbial poop hit the fan!

 “The editor shouted at me repeatedly on the phone.  I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of ‘blatantly betraying them with Amazon,’ their biggest and most intimidating competitor.  I was not trustworthy.  I was sleeping with the enemy.”

Kiana Davenport immediately hired a lawyer. (Good for her!) He pointed out that the first collection was published before she signed the contract, so they turned their attention to the second collection and demanded that she take it off line, erase all mention on the internet about her short stories and that she submit in writing that she would not publish any of her back log items while her current book was with them. (That would represent a good two or more years of her life.)

Can you say straight jacket?

She refused. (Yay!) They terminated their contract and demanded her advance back. They are also holding her novel hostage until she sends them the money. That’s the whole sordid affair in a nutshell.

My first response to reading about her plight was disbelief. I simply couldn’t believe that an established business under the banner of an even bigger company would resort to classic bully tactics fronted by their legal department. After spending several hours researching articles posted by several amazing bloggers (lawyers included), I can say I was wrong. Do they not realize writers have blogs? Stories like this WILL get out and spread like wild fire.

Authors are urged to remember they are “professionals” in most every writing group out there. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it ad nauseum to always be on my best behavior, remember this is a profession, dress appropriately etc. etc. etc. So I ask the question, “How professional was it that the editor screamed at her over the phone? How professional was it that they called her agent offering treats so she would move forward in the right spirit?” I would also answer the questions by saying that they seem to be on shaky legal ground.

I haven’t seen the contract, I can only interpret the actions by both parties. If the publisher thought they had an iron clad legal stand, there wouldn’t be such an emotional outburst on the editor’s part, and they wouldn’t have tried to offer incentives for her to agree to their terms.

“The vice president and publisher of that house called my agent, offering extra little sweetmeats if I would just capitulate and ‘adopt the right spirit going forward.’  This somewhat sinister and semi-benevolent attempt at mind-control fascinated me.”

I think someone at Riverhead omitted the clause about what they would allow her to publish or not publish during the tenure of their agreement. I also think that if all of the above is true, then they are in breach of contract. By terminating the contract and demanding the advance back, on baseless grounds, they are now in the wrong. I believe they are bluffing by demanding the advance back and I’ll bet that her lawyer is telling her much the same thing. **Remember, I’m not a lawyer and am only expressing my thoughts.**

This whole story makes me sad. Not every publisher is a bad guy, some actually support the idea that the author is out there drumming up business and making their presence known on line. It seems to me that it’s a win-win situation and a model that would help traditional publishers stay afloat in this tumultuous time. Scenarios, like this, hurt everyone and I hope that the coming days as the landscape dramatically changes in our business, we will see calmer, more rational behavior from all.


A Lesson In Paranoia…They Really Are Watching

March 31, 2011


The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.  By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.  ~Mark Twain

 

I believe that anyone who is involved in the writing world has heard about the incredible meltdown an author had after a critical review. I don’t want to talk about that. We can all agree that she didn’t handle it well. We can all agree that she damaged her career. Enough said.

What I do want to discuss is that I found a few interesting items sprinkled throughout the 307 comments. (Yes, I slogged through every single one.) The first thing that caught my attention was the side argument rippling through over the idea of indie publishing.

What is indie publishing?

It is a gloriously vague term. Being so, it is open to interpretation. Many of the folks felt there was a distinct difference between being a self pubbed author and being an indie pubbed author. For them, the word indie refered to small, independent presses that accepted submissions and then published. Righteous indignation ran amuck when a different understanding was applied. “There’s self- publishing and commercial publishing, all the rest is smoke and mirrors.” Those in this camp think self published writers are using this word to give credibility to their work when, in fact it isn’t good enough for traditional publishing. Ouch, that’s harsh.

Others weren’t bothered with the interchanging of self-published and indie. Many thought it was a buzz word flung about in an attempt for writers to equate themselves with the hip alternative music scene that brought us great music from artists like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. However, the buzz behind the word was that it was still an attempt to bring more credibility to the arena of self pubbed authors.

There were a few who offered a concrete definition for both. “Indie was one who publishes without the aid of any sort of publisher and self-published was one who publishes with the aid of a pay-to-publish company.” A commenter who has a doctorate in language forensics states that terms in culture shift and that direct publishing is now considered indie. It may have been used differently before, but the meaning is expanding and encompassing all meanings- like it or not.

The best comment: “It doesn’t really matter though, no one cares except other writers. Readers just care if the book is good.” Enough said.

Besides arguing over the meaning of a word, a more serious notion was raised. Did she only harm her career? The answer is no. There were agents, editors and other book reviewers that chimed in on this debacle. Let’s start with the agent. “…as an agent actively looking for clients who has the manuscripts of some of the posters here, I have been turned off from all of you. Furthering this discussion is as unprofessional as beginning it.” Ouch again.

Just because you weren’t the one having the temper tantrum, joining in on the condemnation just got you sucker punched. The lesson here is to not stoop to a level that is obviously not professional.

Book reviewers were out spoken when it came to the topic of self-published authors. “I’ve sworn off reviewing self pubbed because I had two writers that did that. It’s a shame, but burned twice and I had enough.”

Readers also jumped in. “You and others like you have long since turned me off to indies forever.” How about another? “I’m now on an all-indie boycott.”  Still another. “This is the very type of behavior that will continue to tar self- published authors as hobbyists.” Big ouch!

What you put out there on the world wide web will come back to bite you in the tushie because they ARE watching. Agents, editors, our readers, book reviewers, librarians, and book store owners are reading blogs, tweets etc. Be professional. Be courteous. Be intelligent with your comments. Working at your keyboard, you are standing on a world stage. Enough said.