This has been a watershed year for e-publishing in the romance genre, and not in a good way. A few of the bigger outfits publishing romance, Triskelion and Mardi Gras, have vanished into bankruptcy, leaving their authors in limbo about their work and the rest of us wondering if e-publishing is ever going to fly.
A little bit of background (and now I’m working off my fuzzy memory, so forgive me if I’m off a year or so). Around 2000-01, with the advent of portable electronic book devices, e-publishing was being discussed with more and more enthusiasm among author groups. Writers who couldn’t find print publishers because what they wrote didn’t comfortably fit a market niche, were exploring this possibility seriously. Writers in the romance genre, in particular, were enthusiastic about Ellora’s Cave, an e-pub who explicitly wanted spicier, riskier erotica romances and were doing very well, thank you.
So were their authors, if rumor was to be believed. The royalty rate was generous, the overhead low, and readers were getting more comfortable with electronic books. Ellora’s Cave had kicked open the door for e-publishing with a viable market plan. Others followed. Triskelion Publishing (sorry, this is the only viable link I could find) offered a home to orphaned Regency writers when the last NYC publisher discontinued the line. Romantica (a hybrid genre of romance and erotic coined by Ellora’s Cave) was exploding, and other e-pubs flourished like Silk Vault and Mardi Gras (no link). Triskelion and Ellora’s Cave had been officially recognized by the Romance Writers of America. Authors were getting a foot in the door to publishing. Everything seemed to be going good.
So what happened?
Nobody knows for sure, except that it boils down to money and as usual it’s the writer who gets screwed. Dear Author has a great post up regarding authors’ rights when a publisher files bankruptcy. Unfortunately, an author’s work can be seized by the bankruptcy attorney as an asset to help pay off the publisher’s debt. That’s right. The publisher gets their debt paid, the author gets nada.
I contacted Sherry Morris, an author who was caught in the web of Mardi Gras implosion. She’s still enthusiastic about e-publishing opportunities, but hers is a true cautionary tale. She shares it in the hope that others will be more wary when contemplating e-publishing:
“My novella, Wish Upon a Jinn, was contracted with Mardi Gras and scheduled to release August 4th. It was edited, had great cover art and was ready to pop.
“No books were released on the 4th.
“The publisher emailed the authors that releases would be delayed until August 8th, and she blamed the editors and authors for not turning things in on time. In very unprofessional language which offended me.
“She had been sending angry emails for several months, complaining about people leaking gossip to outsiders and she was tired of putting out fires and asked if anyone wanted to leave.
“We didn’t hear from her after August 4th. Later that week, one of her friends posted to the authors that the publisher’s computer crashed and it was in the shop and she’d be back online the next day.
“A few more days passed. Authors began getting suspicious. I did. Her friends again said the computer crash was temporary, books would all be released when she was back online.
“Eventually even her friends realized she had abandoned us. Checks were unsigned or bouncing. There were allegations of under-reporting sales.
“One author was told she sold one book, when she had signed fifty at an event.
“Teresa Jacobs aka Teresa Wayne finally emailed the group stating those with contracts but no books released were granted their rights back immediately. She indicated she will file Chapter 7, and added a rude paragraph blaming the authors and editors, then a paragraph wishing us well.
“If she files for bankruptcy, her releasing us is meaningless. The court trustee can go back six months and declare all contracts company assets to be sold to pay off creditors.”
Is e-publishing as a viable, money-making enterprise a concept that’s ahead of its time? Or is it another dot-com fad come and gone? Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that authors need to be super-cautious when contemplating e-publishing. Author Piers Anthony has been doing invaluable work in ferreting out legitimate e-publishers and outing scammers.
Admittedly this post centers around the romance genre. I’d be interested in hearing from writers from other genres who are/have published with electronic publishers. Please email me at writerunboxed (AT) writerunboxed.com if you wish to share your e-pub story. Please be forewarned that I might use it in another post.