Friday, June 27, 2008

More on New Concepts Publishing

In my previous post here, I talked about the statement author Sydney Somers posted on her website. Ms. Somers advised her readers that New Concepts Publishing had released her opening chapters as part of an anthology in which other authors completed her novel. She urged her readers NOT to buy the book.

The first time I read a publishing contract, I can remember the sinking feeling I experienced at the clause that said, in effect, if I didn't produce a quality work on time, my publisher could contract another writer to finish/write the contracted novel and I'd have to pay the writer. That sort of thing gets your attention.

Before I go further, let me remind my readers that I am not an attorney and am not attempting to give legal advice here. I am not an e-published author and have no insider knowledge of Ms. Somers' situation or of New Concepts Publishing. Therefore, I am going to describe a completely hypothetical case and then voice my personal opinion based on that hypothetical.

Let's say I found myself in a position where I had contracted with an e-publisher for a novel. Most e-published authors do not have agents. Being me, I would have had my attorney vet my first contract with that publisher. I'm just very, very careful that way. I would have made sure there was language in the contract that provided for arbitration in the case of a dispute. It's likely that the arbitration would have to take place in the state in which the publisher was incorporated, but at least there would be a process for dispute resolution.

Let's say I agreed to contract with the publishing house. Let's further say that I released two or three books with that publisher under similar contract terms. Let's also say that I have an open, as-yet-unfulfilled contract when, for some reason, I become concerned about the publisher. Perhaps I hear bad things from other authors under contract to the house. Perhaps I start to notice a pattern of late or missing royalty payments. Perhaps my emails are going unanswered. Whatever the case, I still have a legal relationship with the publisher. Every step I take must conform to the terms outlined in my contract.

I would first try to informally resolve the problem with my editor. If I went unheard or if my concerns went unanswered, I would probably try the informal route with the senior editor or even the publisher of the e-publishing house [Most e-publishers do not have large organizational structures]. I would retain my emails and would take careful notes of dates and times of calls as well as the content.

If things weren't getting better, my next step would be to return to my attorney. I know I'm going to get flack from e-published writers saying their income from writing does not offer enough revenue to justify retaining an attorney. However, my response is: ONCE YOU SIGN A CONTRACT, YOU OPEN YOURSELF UP TO ALL KINDS OF RAMIFICATIONS IF YOU FAIL TO ABIDE BY THE CONDITIONS OF YOUR CONTRACT. YOU NEED TO COVER YOURSELF LEGALLY.

You can't just walk away from a contract because you've heard bad things about a publisher. You must abide by the terms which you signed. However, the publisher has to abide by the terms to which s/he signed as well. If you are not receiving your royalty payments in the prescribed manner, the publisher could be in breach of contract. Paying $250 to $750 for legal advice is money well spent if you are facing a potential breach of contract situation on the part of either party.

I know enough to say that, once the informal process failed to achieve a resolution, all my further correspondence would be conducted in the manner outlined in my contract. Certified letters (vetted by my attorney) sent to a specific address. If those failed to get action, I would probably ask my attorney to send the next letter. Hopefully, by that point, I would have sufficient grounds to claim breach of contract on the part of the publisher. And, if all else failed, I would have the arbitration process in my contract to fall back upon.

My first concern would be to cover my backside legally so that I would not face some kind of repercussions for my failure to perform. Once the potential risks were dealt with, my second concern would be deciding at what point to let go of the matter. That is a cost effectiveness analysis. What is the potential return I could expect for the money I would have to expend in pursuing the matter? What is the personal cost I would face? By personal cost, I mean the time and the diminution of my positive attitude and spirit.

Back to Sydney Somers. Following Ms. Somer's post on her website, New Concepts posted their own "Public Notice" here.

Obviously, Ms. DePasture, the publisher of New Concepts Publishing, is following a legal script.

I gotta say, I have a problem with Ms. DePasture offering up the real names along with the pseudonyms of her former writers. This smacks of the same petty revenges she has become famous for among the writing community. It also makes me wrinkle my nose with distaste.

But, as I keep saying, publishing is a business. And business sometimes gets dirty.

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