Sunday, April 15, 2007

Another Cautionary Tale

I had lunch this week with a fellow writer. We were comparing notes and gossip when she brought up a name I hadn't heard in a while: Dara Joy. And it occurred to me that although most romance readers and writers recognize the name, others may not be as familiar with her story.

Dara Joy exploded on the romance scene in mid-1996 with a story that appeared in an anthology titled Lovescape. She quickly followed that debut with another story in an anthology called The Night Before Christmas and with her first novel, Knight of a Trillion Stars, a futuristic. Readers loved her very hot romances, and Dara took pride in the fact that she wrote in multiple genres. Rejar was a time travel, High Energy was a contemporary and Tonight or Never was an historical. She rapidly built a strong fan base of devoted readers, won a number of awards and began appearing on best-seller lists.

All of Dara's books were released by Dorchester, an independent mass market publisher, through their Leisure and Love Spell imprints. By 2000, Dara Joy had released two anthologies and six full-length romances. That's when things began to go wrong.

According to Dorchester, which actually posted their side of the story on their website here, "In 1996, Dara signed the contract, promising us three books in 1998 and 1999. But we never got them. The deadlines were extended to 2000, 2001, and 2002; but we still never received her books."

Dara's contract also had a options clause requiring her to submit her next romance to Dorchester. According to Dorchester, she sold her next book to William Morris where it was published in 2001 as the hardback Ritual of Proof. Dara claimed it was a sci-fi novel.

At this point, let me add a personal note. By 2000, erotic romance had revived my interest in the romance genre, and I was actively searching for any erotic romances I could find. I had read Knight of a Trillion Stars and judged it to be an okay romance. But I really liked the second novel in her "Matrix of Destiny" series, Rejar. Because of Rejar, I was willing to spring for the full-priced hardback of Ritual of Proof.

Ritual of Proof was actually very risky for a romance writer. It turns the male/female stereotypes on their ear. On the moon Forus, women are the dominant sex. Marquelle Green Tamryn is a noblewoman who offers a marriage price for virgin Jorland Reynard, whom she wishes to make her name-bearer. Green is the sexual aggressor while Jorland tries to show his independence from a system that represses (and coddles) males, who are relegated to breeding or to giving pleasure.

I liked the book a lot, if just for the quirky premise and satirical tone. However, I loaned it to half of dozen friends who were completely turned off by a woman as the dominant partner. As an aside, Ellora's Cave editors often say that they are not interested in novels featuring dominant women.

Aside from all that, I think Dara was kidding herself if she thought she was going to pass this book off as a sci-fi novel. Sci-fi is generally thought to be an Earth-based genre. Even when the protagonists never set foot on planet Earth, the science and culture of Earth are the foundation upon which a sci-fi is built.

Ritual of Proof gives lip service to Earth. There are a number of references to indicate that the colonists on Forus originally came from Earth. However, the novel is pure fantasy. There is no Earth-based science.

Of course, Dorchester noticed. And then sued.

In the explanation posted on the Dorchester website on 2/10/05, the publishing house said:

We know this has been going on for a long time, and we don't like litigation. It is expensive, time-consuming and in the end, no one really wins. So why are we doing this? Because the fact remains that Dara still has not given us the three books she agreed to write when she first signed her contract and misled us in categorizing Ritual of Proof as a science-fiction novel, solely to avoid submitting it to Dorchester and to gain more advance money from another publisher.

Naturally, Dara did not agree. She posted her side of the story on her website. Tellingly, her version was titled "Dara vs. Goliath." She referred to the contretemps over Ritual of Proof only in an oblique way. She said:

I must make perfectly clear that I did not initiate this lawsuit. It was my inquiries into unreported editions and unreported royalties that impelled Dorchester to file a lawsuit against me as a means to bleed yet more work out of me without having to account for their misdeeds.

Initially, Dara's fans were sympathetic and supportive. They mostly wanted to see the Dorchester lawsuit settled so that Dara could get back to turning out her novels. Harper Torch released the paperback version of Ritual of Proof in June, 2001. There was a long dry spell in which fans only heard sporadic mention of the lawsuit. In the summer of 2004, an American attorney by the name of Keith Halpern posted an ad on a public forum in Australia, looking for proof that her books were or were not available in that country.

Then, in 2004, Dara surfaced again, this time to announce that she was self-publishing the novel That Familiar Touch. Loyal fans flocked to buy the book; its cover had been designed by Dara herself. You can see the cover and read an excerpt here.

Fans were divided on That Familiar Touch. Although many disliked the cover, some loved the book while others hated it. Its Amazon.com reviews averaged out to a 3 1/2 with half the reviews giving it a 5 and the other half giving it a 1 or a 2. My reading of the excerpt left me with the impression it was very poorly edited and its tone and structure seemed to be written for a YA audience.

The real problem came last year with Dara's second self-pubbed title: The Amazing Tales of Wildcat Arrows. You can see the cover and read an excerpt here.

While you could order the book from Amazon.com, Dara's webmaster Cory was responsible for fulfilling all the orders. And, in some cases, it took over a year for fans to receive their copies. Cory gave Hurricane Katrina as an excuse and then a death in the family. There were so many angry readers who believed they were being gypped out of their money, that a website grew up here for them to share their anger and their complaints.

To make matters worse, when the books were finally received, there was almost universal agreement that both the cover and the writing were sub-standard. Here are a couple of comments from Amazon.com:

The hero looks like . . . some other trailer park trash and he has some photo shopped goofy looking head gear that is quite retarded looking.

What has happened to Dara Joy - she disappears forever and then resurfaces with a slew of extraordinarily over priced and POORLY, POORLY (just sucks) books!!!!


The average of the 17 reviews on Amazon for Wildcat Arrows is one star--a remarkable drop from her first full-length book where 152 reviews averaged out to 4 1/2 stars.

There have been rumors that Dara's home in Massachusetts has gone into foreclosure.

I don't know who's right and who's wrong in the lawsuits. What I do know is that an author MUST know what she is agreeing to when she signs a contract with a publisher and MUST be prepared to live up to that agreement.

Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business.

9 comments:

David said...

An amazing story, and it's likely we'll never know who's in the right three.

Two lessons to be had: 1. Always have a contract, and 2. which you've already pointed out - always know what's in your contract.

My publisher, and I now use the term very losely, made me a slew of promises about promotion, distribution, stuff like that. Last week she sold the company. She wrote to other authors on her list to tell them about it. I read about it in her blog. Despite months of seeking a contract to get going on fully completed work she has and other projects, I didn't have one, so I'm left in the cold. My lesson from this is that the next time a publisher tells me all the wonderful things they'll do for me, my response will be "Show me the contract, and we'll talk"

Maya Reynolds said...

David: Amen.

I had a fair amount of exposure to reading and negotiating contracts in my former career. However, holding my first publishing contract in my hands (12 legal length pages with 10 pt font densely covering every sheet) TERRIFIED me. I was hugely grateful for my wonderful agent Jacky who, with her wonderful contracts person, led me by the hand through the process.

Marie Tuhart said...

Maya,

I followed the story for a while because I did like Dara Joy's books and wondered what was going on with Kensington.

When she began self-publishing, I went on alert. I briefly thought about buy the first book, but when I read the except I knew the quality wasn't as good and wondered how much editing had gone into her Kensington books.

I've forgotton all about her until your blog. And you're right how she though she could claim Ritual of Proof wasn't a romance I don't know.

Publishing is a business and it pays for us writers not to forget that. Like any company you sign a contract with, know what's in your contract.

David: Sorry for the trouble you're having with your publisher.

Maya Reynolds said...

Marie: I had exactly the same thought. She must have had one heck of a great editor at her publisher.

But I think you mean Dorchester, not Kensington, right?

BrennaLyons said...

I've actually been in a similar contract dispute (the one Dara ATTESTS that she is in). I've had a publisher refuse to provide my royalty accounts for me. I've had one that was slipshod in payment. I've had to threaten legal action to get my rights back, the books removed from third-party vendors and start over...and starting over screwed up my personal finances, so I am still digging out. From that POV, if the publisher did default in these respects, Dara has my complete support ON THAT MATTER. (Let me make that distinction clear.)

A contract is not one-sided. The publisher must meet the stipulations, just as the authors do.

What Dara doesn't have my support on is breaking her contract, even if the other party was also in breach. The right answer would have been to fight the breach.

An author is not without recourse. There are groups that will go to bat for the author, like RWA and Lawyers for the Arts.

Will it get you blacklisted, if you make a stink about your contract concerns? It's entirely possible that it might. Ask Piers Anthony about that one. He's experienced it.

Luckily for me, I had good relations with a lot of other publishers, at the time of my break with the one causing me grief. That meant that I had a fall-back that wouldn't believe what the publisher said without question.

So, my first thought is that Dara SHOULD have dissolved that contract with Dorchester BEFORE going elsewhere for anything promised in contract. I didn't sign the books released from publisher A to new publishers, until they were legally released to me.

I haven't read the book in question...Ritual of Proof. However, I find it interesting that you (Maya) state that it wasn't much of a romance but don't point out that the book might have legitimately been called a fantasy novel. (Not that I can state that for certain, having not read the book personally to give an opinion of genre.) If the romance is secondary enough, it might well BE a fantasy novel. Yes, Dara would have been wrong in calling it Sci Fi, though if the science is earthly enough, I might still call it Sci Fi, despite the lack of connection to earth, as we know it. If it's not science based, go for fantasy, by all accounts!

Brenna

Maya Reynolds said...

Brenna: Thanks for your comment.

I never said it wasn't much of a romance. It's clearly a romance, which is Dorchester's argument.

I said it wasn't sci-fi, which was Dara's claim.

Marie Tuhart said...

Maya,

Sorry, yes I meant Dorchester not Kensington (my mistake).

And in some ways I agree with Brenna about each party having to live up to their agreement.

There have been other writers who have fought for royalties and won, but then at the same time couldn't get another book published anywhere because of the royalty fight with the other publisher.

Michele Lee said...

I think the book sounds fascinating. I went and added it to my wish list on amazon. What a mess up! Even if it was completely the publisher (which I rather doubt, because I know others who have never had such a problem from Dorchester.) that's no reason to just ignore the contract like that. And then she had a perfect set up to make self publishing a success, she already had a fan base, and a loyal, hungry one at that, and then she messes it up with poor product and poor service? What a mess. What a wasted opportunity.

Maya Reynolds said...

Michele: I couldn't agree more. She had EVERYTHING going for her.

Of course, as an outsider, it's easy to make the assumption that she got greedy. While that might very well be true, I'm willing to bet she was not very sophisticated legally.

When you sign a contract, you are legally bound to comply with its stipulations.