“Education is when you read the fine print.
Experience is what you get if you don’t.”
Pete Seeger, folk musician.
I’ve learned from my mistakes.
- I’ve learned that, if something looks a little bit too good to be true, then it most likely is too good to be true.
- I’ve learned that contracts should always, always, always be checked out by a solicitor.
- I’ve learned that contracts, no matter how clearly they’re written, can be interpreted differently by the parties involved.
- I’ve learned that contracts can be completely ignored by some people, rendering them worthless.
- I’ve learned that letting someone else publish your book via an internationally accessible self-publishing outlet, rather than doing it yourself, is not only stupid, but also a waste of time and money.
I’ve learned a lot in the last two years, and I’m very grateful to Night Publishing and their subsequent reincarnations for giving me that very valuable education.
I want to make it clear at this point that I’m not happy about writing this post: I’d rather not be writing it at all. But, although I feel that the issue I’m sharing here has been settled in a reasonable (if not entirely professional) manner, after more than a year of being ignored, I feel it’s time to stand up against what I believe to be unacceptably unprofessional behaviour. I’ve recently learned that other authors have been questionably treated by the same person, so I’m sharing this now in the hope that no-one else will go through a similar experience.
Until last year, a website named Night Reading held monthly competitions in which authors were invited to submit the first chapter of their novel; the entry that received the most votes would win a publishing contract with their sister site, Night Publishing. Both sites were run by an individual whose name has changed at least four times in the last two years; I’ll share his initials – TR / TH / THR / THLeR – and will refer to him as TR. Neither site now exists, but if you’re curious, then Google is your friend.
I entered the competition in July 2010, and won; I received my contract by email on 4 August 2010 and was assigned an editor in November that year; after a few minor alterations, ‘New Beginnings’ was launched on Amazon on 8 June 2011.
I realised some time later that the ‘publisher’ was actually Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing platform, which I could quite easily have used myself (but that’s another story).
On 30 March 2012, I received an email with an attached spreadsheet which gave my paperback sales details as at 30 September 2011 (7 copies sold). The second page of the spreadsheet showed sales breakdown details for a different book (17 copies sold), so I requested details for my own book. The spreadsheet was reissued to me, without the second sheet, on 31 March 2012. No royalties were paid. I requested payment, and the sales breakdown details, on 5 and 15 April.
On 5 May 2012 I received an email, giving my paperback sales details from 4 August 2011 to 12 December 2011 (13 copies sold), but without the second sheet breakdown. No royalties were paid at that time, either.
On 16 May 2012, TR announced a change of ownership and management of Night Publishing with effect from 15 June 2012. Authors contracted to Night Publishing were transferred to Taylor Street Publishing, or That Right Publishing. I don’t know the criteria involved in deciding which author went where, but my book has been featured on the That Right website since its launch. The Night Reading community were transferred to Nin; I believe there are similar additional social sites for Taylor Street authors, but I have no access to them. I’ve included links here because I continue to support the authors who are showcased there, and I wish them every success; there are some excellent books on both sites, all of which are well worth a read.
On 6 October, 2012, I emailed TR to request full sales details for the period June 2011 to June 2012, and to request payment of my royalties for that period. I sent the same email to TR’s second email address on 9 December, 2012.
Because I’d begun to suspect that my emails weren’t reaching TR, I also contacted him via the NinWriters site. I requested my sales details and royalties by private message to TR on 20 October 2012, 23 December 2012, and 30 April 2013. He did not reply.
On 16 August 2013, I responded to a forum post on Nin by the publicity manager, who invited members to contact her by email with any queries, as TR was very busy. This is the email I sent to her:
I’ve been trying to contact T for quite some time, via email and also via the message service at Nin Writers. Obviously he’s busy, so I welcome the opportunity to contact you in the hope that you can help.
T published my book on Amazon in June 2011. In March 2012, Tim sent me sales details for the period July-Sept 2011. I queried the information in the spreadsheet, which T has never answered (he sent me an amended spreadsheet, from which with the erroneous details had been deleted, but did not answer my query). I’ve been emailing and messaging him infrequently since then.
Despite my requests, I’ve not received sales figures for June 2011; I queried the sales figures for July-Sept 2011, but I’ve had no reply; I’ve not received sales figures for Sept 2011 to date; I’ve not received any royalties.
I appreciate that T has been very busy, and I fully support him in that because it will benefit everyone, but I feel my patience has worked against me and I don’t feel I should be expected to wait so long for my sales details or royalties.
Please can you help me resolve this?
I had to contact the publicity manager on Facebook (where I advised that friends were suggesting I ‘name and shame’), and then I had to send the email a second time, but that finally prompted a response from TR: he sent me my sales information from June 2011 to date. After a few more emails, he also paid my royalties to date.
Income from the Amazon sales of this paperback version of ‘New Beginnings’ were paid to TR for over two years (June 2011 – August 2013) before he paid me my share, despite my several requests. Granted, the sales were minimal – the other versions* are far more popular – and my share will just about feed the cat for a week, but that’s not the point. The details of our contract were ignored for over two years, and it took the implied threat of being named and shamed for the contractual agreement to be honoured, somewhat grudgingly. On 2 September, I asked for my book to be removed from TR’s CreateSpace portfolio; although he agreed to do so, the book is still there.
Why am I telling you all this?
I’m sharing this information to warn other authors against involvement with any ‘publishing’ outlets who use self-publishing sites like CreateSpace to publish their books. I’ve nothing against CreateSpace – I have an account with them, and with other self-publishing sites – and my personal dealings with each of them (and with Amazon) have always been exemplary. However, a person who calls him/herself a ‘publisher’ but who uses a self-publishing website to publish your book is simply controlling the process and the income, which is easy enough to do for yourself. Granted, if your publishing contract includes marketing etc, then – assuming the contract is honoured – you may save yourself time and money by letting someone else do that for you, but most self-publishing sites include marketing in their package options anyway.
My point is that, generally speaking, a ‘publisher’ who uses the same self-publishing sites that you can use for yourself is not a publisher, but a very unnecessary middle-man.
I realise that, in sharing all this, I may be setting myself up for accusations of “sour grapes”, but I feel that that’s a small price to pay if it saves other authors – particularly those new to the business – from being treated in such a disrespectful, unprofessional and unscrupulous manner.
I was incredibly naive two years ago; I’ve learned a lot since then.
* Just to be clear: the other versions of ‘New Beginnings’, together with the two subsequent titles in the series, and the Kindle versions of all three books – listed here – are not involved in this dispute.
Update: 17 September 2013
Because the Night / That Right paperback was still displayed on Amazon this evening – at the ridiculous price of $1999! I wish I’d taken a screenshot – I contacted the Copyright Agent at CreateSpace (see here for more information on the Copyright Agent’s remit). Within an hour, they’d removed TR’s version of my book. The paperback that’s now displayed there is the correct version.