Thursday, 18 September 2014

I suppose we should talk about the elephant in the room...

Not this one, although he is adorable and worth talking about.

So UNDERTOW has been out a few weeks now and it's picking up some awesome reviews (thank you, awesome reviewers!). And if you read those reviews, and the ones over on Amazon, you might notice a common theme occurring. People are talking about the series. As in, is UNDERTOW a standalone, the first in a series, or part of an existing series? Luckily, all the reviews seem to agree that UNDERTOW does stand alone, and certainly I think so, as do Ragnarok Publications, and we've labelled it the first in the Ethan Banning series.

But yes, there are other Ethan Banning stories. And no, I don't actively promote them anymore. They are available for sale on Amazon and wherever else you can buy ebooks (I think), but you won't find links to them here. Why?

Because they are published by Damnation Books and I, as well as other authors have concerns about, problems with, and in some cases legal rulings against Damnation Books and its sister company, Eternal Press. By and large, I'd decided to keep quiet and not rock the boat, because I'm not a fan of confrontation and I have neither the time nor the energy to devote to messy online/legal battles.

However, having been told in no uncertain terms by Kim Gilchrist of DB that she has no interest in renewing my contracts with them because A) I don't promote my work with them and B) I said a mean thing about them on Twitter, I kinda feel like, "well, why not?" Why not add my voice to the others? After all, somehow, DB is still in business and acquiring authors, and I feel like those authors should have all the facts available to them before they sign their books away.

So, let's address Kim's points first.

A) I don't promote my DB books. Well, no, not anymore. When I first signed with them in 2009 however, I promoted like a crazy person. I submitted my books to every possible reviewer and by and large got great reviews. I did guest blogs with other authors, engaged with my fellow DB authors to help cross-promote. I bought swag and did giveaways. I went to a couple of conferences. I tweeted, I blog-toured, I did interviews wherever I could. And if you check places like Amazon and Goodreads, you'll see my DB books are all rated pretty solidly. I don't think I'd have that if I hadn't been active at spreading the word about my books. I was proud of them (I still am proud of them) and I used every resource a broke part-time writer could muster to tell the world about them.

And I didn't reap any benefits for it. My royalty checks from DB have always been on time and they have always been poor. Initially, I received an actual check from them each quarter, and frankly they were not worth the cost of cashing them. After I'd travelled to my bank, paid the fees for having the money converted from dollars to pounds, and gone home again, I had no money left. I switched to getting payments via Paypal as soon as I could, and I'm delighted to say that once a quarter I am able to treat myself to a fancy chai latte from Starbucks with my DB royalties.

And that's royalties across four titles, plus a handful of novels and novellas I edited for them. So it's not just that my books don't sell. Those books I edited don't sell either, and I know how hard those authors worked to promote them too.

So yes, over time I became disillusioned with how little return I was seeing for my effort and I did stop promoting so hard.

At the same time, I was signing contracts with Evernight Publishing, and for various reasons I wasn't able to scream from the rooftops about my titles with them either. And yet my royalties with Evernight have grown every quarter and my books with them have consistently been ARe bestsellers, as well as cracking some bestseller lists on Amazon for their genres.

B) I said a mean thing on Twitter. Maybe? I don't remember it, but if so I apologise for hurting anyone's feelings. But honestly, it doesn't restore my faith in DB to think that they are monitoring their authors' online interactions to make sure nobody's saying anything mean.

Now, the other stuff.

Despite low sales with my first DB titles, I was actually pretty happy there initially. I love my cover art still - I think it's gorgeous and I feel lucky to have worked with some truly talented cover artists. I'd had good reviews on my books and I had no reason to complain about the editing I'd received. So I figured I needed to keep working, build a backlist, finish my series, and I'd see success. Rome wasn't built in a day etc.

So I submitted a couple more novellas to them, both of which were accepted. One actually went to Eternal Press as it was a sweet paranormal romance. And it remains the single worst editing experience I've ever had. This was a short book, probably not even 20k if I remember right. How bad could it be, right?

Well, when I got my line edits back (the weekend before the book was due to be published), I found changes I'd made had been ignored. One entire paragraph I'd added in was no longer there, with no word or explanation as to why. It was just gone. I was in the midst of trying to arrange promo for the novella and was pretty freaked out to discover that at the line editing stage, the book I was looking at was missing so many big changes.

It got fixed. But the panic remained, and it reminded me that my first novel with Damnation Books actually went to press with the entire final page missing from the published version. That got fixed too. Still, not great points in favour of a publisher, I feel.

The second novella, my editor and I went through and submitted back to DB six months ahead of publication. Six days prior to publication, the manuscript was returned to me with a list of errors to be fixed. Now, if my editor and I missed problems, that's fine; I'd rather they were fixed before publication. But six days before? When the manuscript had been back with the publisher for six months? Come on. Really.

Those two novellas taught me not to submit to DB again, more than the lack of sales did. I can look everywhere for reasons for low sales - I don't promote hard enough, I don't write fast enough or often enough, I don't push myself hard enough, I write in an over-saturated genre, I write in a dying genre, I write stuff that's too niche, whatever. That's probably all true. But the editing issues...No. That's not on me.

I could tell you more, about my experiences as an editor, but out of respect for the authors I worked with, I won't. I will say that I see, quarter after quarter, books that have sold zero copies, books that deserve to be selling lots of copies, books that I and the authors worked extremely hard on.

I once contacted Kim regarding low sales, asking her opinion on why sales were so low and asking what I and Damnation Books could do to raise the profile of my titles. I got back a snippy email (which I regret I didn't keep) placing the blame entirely on me. That was pretty much the last time I attempted to engage with anyone at DB until earlier this year when, after another dismal royalty statement, I approached Kim about releasing my first novel early. Given the consistently single-digit sales of the title, I didn't and still don't see how it benefits me or the publisher to keep this book out there.

I had to send several (very polite) emails before I got a response, which is when Kim told me she had no interest in renewing any of my contracts. Huzzahs! She did say we'd get the ball rolling for that novel this month, but so far I haven't heard from her. Granted, the actual contract doesn't expire until December, but would it have taken her long to send me an email to remind me of that?

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is: I have four great, well-received stories with a publisher I don't trust or respect, and two of those stories feature Ethan Banning. If you want to read them, they aren't hard to find. However, until I have the rights back (and believe me, I'm counting down the days), I won't promote them.


  1. Wow...what a forgettable journey. I'd say wise not to bite the hand that was supposed to feed you. Good luck when you get the rights to your books back. It must be hard not to promote your own work.

    1. Dean, apologies, I realise I completely misread the tone of your comment (that's what I get for reading it at 6am when I'd just woken up).

  2. I am in a similar situation with Eternal Press. I have two manuscripts signed with them, but after seeing their oppressive editing job -- which included lining-out whole passages that went against their made-up "company rules" as well as them inserting incorrect grammar and punctuation -- I asked for termination of our agreements. Kim's response (which took a week) was a very terse, "The answer is no."
    I've also had repeated communication issues with them since the day I signed, with it taking them weeks to reply to a simple emailed question.
    It sickens me to think I might have to endure five years (at least) attached to this company. This is not at all what I wanted for my stories and my future. I will continue to work on finding a way to get out of this horrible situation.

    1. That's crazy, Bill. It sounds as if they're getting worse! I'm sorry you're having to deal with Kim's...less than professional conduct and I hope you find a way out. In the mean time, keep writing and looking elsewhere - don't let the bastards grind you down!