Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

February 16, 2017

Red Flag Alert: Loiacono Literary Agency, Swetky Literary Agency, Warner Literary Group

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


In the late 1990s, when Writer Beware first started up, the digital revolution was just peeking over the horizon. Traditional publishing was still the only path to publication, and literary agents were the principal gatekeepers.

As a result, there existed a huge and lucrative subculture of dodgy literary agents, who fed on writers' hunger for publication and turned the (false) promise of access into money. Upfront fees, editing referral schemes, vanity publishing scams: the list was endless.

No more. With the enormous growth of small presses and the expanding number of self-publishing options, agents are no longer the be-all and end-all of a writing career, and fewer writers decide to seek them. Writers are also more savvy these days about proper business practice. This has been bad news for the predatory agent subculture, which has shrunk to a sickly shadow of its former self. Fee-charging agents, once the most common of all literary pitfalls, are now relatively rare.

That's not to say they don't still exist.

LOIACONO LITERARY AGENCY

There's an impressively large list of book placements on the website of Loiacono Literary Agency (motto: "Where 'can't' is not in our vocabulary!"). In this case, though, size isn't everything, because apart from a handful of sales to larger publishing houses, most of the books have been placed with small presses that don't require authors to be agented. For most of the publishers Loiacono has worked with, the authors likely could have placed the books on their own and saved themselves a commission.

This isn't why you hire an agent. Another thing you don't hire an agent for: hooking you up with vanity publishers. A very large number of books on Loiacono's list have been placed with Argus Publishing. Argus, which has also done business as A Better Be Write, A Book 4 You, and A-Argus Book Better Book Publishers, has offered "investment" contracts requiring up to four-figure fees (Writer Beware has received a number of documented complaints). Its owner is a former tax preparer who in 2005 was permanently enjoined from tax preparing by the US Department of Justice, which found that he had filed fraudulent returns.

Despite all of the above, I probably would not have bothered to post a warning about Loiacono, had it not been for a recent change in its author-agent agreement. From the email Loiacono sent to authors at the end of December:
In the current contract, the only charges are for any expenses that may incur (postage, foreign exchange, etc.), $250.00 per year, which has not been used for any author so far, and a $500.00 cancellation fee should the author wish to terminate contract before it expires or the publisher cancels, which breaches the LLA contract.

In the new contract, for any new Work(s) there will be an administrative fee of five hundred dollars ($500.00), made payable to the Agency upon signing. This is a one-time fee, unless the Work(s) do not contract with a publisher and require renewing after one year. Renewals are two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00) per year. Upon publication of the Work(s), only the LLA 15% shall apply.
Charging administrative fees is old-school predatory agenting. But the "cancellation fee" is a new wrinkle. I've gotten a lot of complaints about publishers that force authors to pay to terminate their contracts early (this is a potentially abusive practice)--but this is the first time I've encountered an agency that penalizes its clients for such termination--and does so even where the termination is not the author's fault. Wow.

Upfront fees, contract termination penalties, multiple placements with a vanity publisher: the Loiacono Agency is a trifecta of "writer bewares".

SWETKY LITERARY AGENCY

The 25 or so book placements claimed by The Swetky Literary Agency (don't you love that dawn-of-the-web vibe) is much, much smaller than the list claimed by Loiacono.

In other ways, though, it's similar. There's a handful of placements with reputable independent and specialty presses; the rest are "sales" to vanity publishers (Koehler Books) and small presses that authors can work with on their own. Also, even if every one of Swetky's book placements were impeccably reputable, 25 sales over the nearly 15 years the agency has been in business is a pretty sad track record (this blog post from a publisher to whom Swetky offered a completely inappropriate book offers some possible insight as to why).

The agency's apparent lack of commercial success is certainly reason for caution. But it's not why I'm posting a warning.

I've heard from multiple writers to whom Faye Swetky offered representation or the possibility of representation, and then told them that their manuscripts needed editing. Fortunately, she knew a terrific editor who might be willing to work with them: David J. Herda, a much-published author of nonfiction.

It's no secret that Swetky is Herda's agent; that info is right there on the agency's website. What is a secret--at least from the writers who contacted me with their stories--is that Swetky and Herda are either married or romantic partners. Among other things, they share an address (the image below is public record; note that it matches the address on the Swetky Agency logo, above):


This connection was not acknowledged to any of the writers who contacted me. To make matters worse, Herda charges enormous fees (I've gotten reports of low five-figures) and some of the writers I've heard from have not been satisfied with his services.

This is a textbook editing referral scheme--common in the old days, but something you almost never see anymore.

WARNER LITERARY GROUP

Sarah Warner, principal of the Warner Literary Group, has an impressive background as an acquisitions editor. It would seem to be the perfect set of qualifications for a successful literary agent.

And yet, Warner's track record is tiny. Since the agency's founding in 2011, she appears to have made just 12 deals. Seven of these are with solid publishers--but the rest are books by agency clients that have been placed with the agency's own publishing division, Hedgehog & Fox. In fact, with the exception of one book authored by Ms. Warner herself, the whole of Hedgehog & Fox's miniscule list appears to be made up of agency clients.

Something else agency clients have in common: lawsuits. Warner Literary Group has been sued by three of its authors--a huge percentage for such a small agency.

In 2012, Derek B. Miller sued for, essentially, substandard representation (his very detailed complaint can be seen here); he later won a motion for declaratory judgment terminating Warner as his agent (she had refused to allow him to cancel the agreement). Firoozeh Dumas sued in 2016, also for substandard representation (her complaint can be seen here); ultimately the arbitration clause in Warner's agency agreement prevailed, and the parties were directed to arbitration. A third lawsuit filed last October is from client Karla M. Jay, whose books Warner published with Hedgehog & Fox. Jay alleges that Warner withheld royalties "in order to pay other expenses of WLG", and, as with Miller, refused to allow her to terminate the agency agreement.

That agreement, by the way, has a problem. Here's the first sentence of the agency clause that's supposed to be inserted into any book contracts the agency negotiates (my bolding):
The Author irrevocably appoints Warner Literary Group, LLC, as the Author’s sole and exclusive agent (the “Agent”) with respect to the Work for the life of the copyright (and all renewals and extensions thereof)
This is known as an "interminable agency clause," and it entitles the agent to represent a book not just for as long as a contract is in force but for the whole duration of the book's copyright (in the USA and most of Europe, the author's lifetime plus 70 years). Major authors' groups warn about such clauses; I've written about that here. This is red-flag language; you do not want to find it in an author-agent agreement.

January 18, 2017

The Continuing Decline of "Assisted-Self-Publishing" Giant Author Solutions

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A little less than two years ago, I wrote a blog post that focused, in part, on Author Solutions' declining share of the so-called assisted self-publishing market.

According to a report by Bowker on ISBN output in the self-publishing market between 2008 and 2013, the number of ISBNs issued by AS dropped 15% between 2011 and 2013, from an all-time high 52,648, to 44,574.

(ISBN output is not a meaningful method for assessing the self-publishing market as a whole, because so many self-publishers don't bother with ISBNs. But it is an effective way of tracking Author Solutions' activity, because all AS publishing packages, even the ebook-only ones, include ISBN assignment.)

At the time, I speculated:

We'll have to wait for 2014 stats to know whether this trend will continue, but my guess is that it will. In part, ASI is reaping the fruits of its poor reputation and the large amount of negative publicity and commentary it has received in the past few years (see, for instance, David Gaughran's The Case Against Author Solutions). Beyond that, though, I think that its business model--print-centric, high-priced, with outsourced operations (much of ASI is based in the Philippines) and an extreme emphasis on upselling--is simply becoming less and less relevant in this age of free-to-cheap digital self-publishing solutions.

Well, Bowker recently issued another report, Self-Publishing in the United States, 2010-2015*--and boy, was I right. Here's a screenshot of part of the special section devoted to Author Solutions (Archway Publishing, which AS runs for Simon & Schuster, is missing from the list, but is included in the bigger listing of self-pub platforms):


Total Author Solutions ISBN output for 2015, including 657 Archway ISBNs not shown in this section: 24,587.

2015 output did grow slightly at WestBow, by 275, and at Archway, by 37. And Wordclay, defunct for years, inexplicably popped up again in 2015 with 14. But for all other AS brands, including its very first "imprint," AuthorHouse, issued ISBNs fell by hundreds or thousands. Overall, AS's 2015 ISBN output was less than half its 2011 high point, and represents a 45% drop over 2013.

Even allowing for some inconsistencies in the data, that is a really precipitous decline. Pearson, which bought AS in 2012 for the surprisingly low price of  $116 million (surprising because then, as now, AS was the largest of the assisted self-pub providers, and by all appearances was still growing), unloaded it in December 2015 to a private equity firm. Looks like that was a good decision.

Meanwhile, DIY platform Createspace--where authors don't have to use ISBNs or can provide their own--continues to be king, with 423,728 ISBNs issued in 2015, an increase of 131,545 over the previous year.

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* Thanks to Jane Friedman for alerting me to this report, via her excellent article Looking Back at 2016: Important Publishing Developments Authors Should Know.

December 30, 2016

All Romance eBooks' Sudden Closing: Many Questions, Few Answers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This post has been updated.

On Wednesday, December 28, All Romance eBooks--a romance-specific ebook distributor and publisher that also distributes general fiction and nonfiction through its OmniLit imprint--dropped a bombshell. In mass emails to customers and authors, ARe's owner, Lori James, revealed that her company was closing, and that in lieu of full payment, authors and publishers would be offered a fraction of what they were owed.

The exact why of the ARe closing remains a mystery (the emails make generic references to losses and poor financial forecasts, but provide no specifics). As to the what, here's what we know so far.

- The ARe website is going dark at midnight on December 31, 2016. Customers were given just four days to use their credits, download their purchases, and backup their libraries. Authors were given just four days to decide whether to accept ARe's offers of "settlement".

- ARe is offering just 10 cents on the dollar to authors whose books it distributed. Per the email, "We will be unable to remit Q4 2016 commissions in full and are proposing a settlement of 10 cents on the dollar (USD) for payments received through 27 December 2016."

- ARe is offering no payment at all--zip, zero--to authors whose books it published. In a different email, published authors are offered rights reversion on condition that they consider this "a negotiated settlement of your account to be 'paid in full'.

- In order to receive these settlements, ARe is requiring authors to waive their right to pursue legal redress. They must agree that "no further legal action be taken with regards to the above referenced commissions owed."

- ARe is staying open until December 31, but is offering settlement only on payments received through December 27. Romance Writers of America, in a statement on the closing, calls this four-day no-payment zone "unconscionable."

- ARe is saying nothing--publicly at least--about reimbursing 2017 advertising purchases. Just days before the closure announcement, ARe sent out an email soliciting ad buys. Many authors took advantage, or had already bought ads.

- ARe is doing all of this because, it claims, it wants to avoid filing for bankruptcy. "It is [our] sincere hope that we will be able to settle this account and avoid filing for bankruptcy, which would undoubtedly be a prolonged and costly process." Yes, it would--and it would also make ARe accountable to its creditors.

I've been contacted by a lot of ARe authors over the past couple of days. By all accounts, the company's implosion came completely out of the blue. Some authors did tell me that they'd noticed sales declines and ad price increases over the past year, but others saw their sales go up, and there were none of the classic warning signs--no late payments, no payment errors, no communications problems, no website glitches. Until Wednesday, ARe authors and customers had no reason to suspect there was anything wrong.

It looks like there is a lot of money involved. ARe claims close to 1.2 million titles across its two retail sites, and works with hundreds of publishers as well as individual authors. A few authors told me that they are owed relatively little--less than $100--but the majority of those I heard from are owed in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. For many, ARe was their largest source of sales after Amazon.

I've also heard from a publisher that used ARe to distribute its books; it told me that it is owed five figures, and is planning on making its affected authors whole out of its own pocket. A number of other publishers are reportedly planning to do the same.

It's worth remembering that editors and other staff are caught up in the implosion too. As are readers, whom ARe will not reimburse for purchases or pre-orders. Some authors and publishers are offering to honor pre-orders or purchases themselves, for readers who send them receipts.

Many of the authors who've emailed me plan on refusing ARe's settlement offer on principle--even if it means they get nothing, or risk having their ARe-published titles assigned to another publisher, as Lori James has apparently said she may do. On a private Facebook group, ARe refugees are talking, among other things, about the possibility of legal action.

So what to think about all this?

Even if we give ARe the benefit of the doubt--assume it is really in dire financial straits, and that its pennies-on-the-dollar offer is a good faith effort to provide at least some payment, rather than to stockpile cash by lowballing authors--it has handled the situation in a notably arrogant and unprofessional manner. I'm reminded of Booktrope, which also went out of business abruptly with few signs of trouble beforehand, leaving its authors high and dry--but Booktrope at least gave authors and customers a month to tie things up.

Can we give ARe the benefit of the doubt, though, considering that it's proposing to pay its published authors nothing (this, which hasn't been much noted in the general outcry, is for me one of the most disgraceful aspects of the whole affair), appears to be ignoring the issue of ad buy reimbursement, is expecting authors to waive their right to legal redress without knowing any of the reasons behind the closing, and is giving them less than a week decide whether to say yes or no? Not to mention that troubling four-day gap during which ARe will continue to sell books, but will not remit payment.

I am not saying there is dishonest intent here. We don't know that. But the lack of professionalism and care is really troubling.

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The ARe author private Facebook page: P*ssed Off (former) ARe Authors

ARe authors are collecting data on money owed to authors and publishers. You can fill out a survey here. You can see results here; amounts range from less than $5 to more than $14,000.

UPDATE: SFWA members with books at ARe are urged to contact Griefcom at griefcom@sfwa org.

Other coverage of the ARe closing:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
The Digital Reader
Lilith Saintcrow
Mary Winter
Liana Brooks
KT Grant
Marilyn Vix

UPDATE 12/30/16: I don't know what this means, or if it means anything, but in March 2015, ARe co-owner and CFO Barbara Perfetti sued Lori James for a variety of causes, including breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment, alleging that James had improperly forced her out of the company in November 2014. Among other things, Perfetti alleged that James started paying herself a salary shortly after Perfetti was locked out of the company (previously, Perfetti and James had taken distributions, but had not drawn salaries).

According to court records, James never responded to Perfetti's complaint, and the case was dismissed in August 2016 for lack of prosecution.

The complaint can be seen here. To see the full court record, click here, select All Case Records Search, and enter the plaintiff's name: Barbara Anne Ulmer.

UPDATE 1/2/17: Just days before the closure announcement, Lori James contacted multiple ARe authors with an offer to market their foreign and audio rights (another "click here if you agree" email), and was also contacting agents about representing those rights at book fairs. These really don't seem like the actions of a company on the verge of shutting down. Curiouser and curiouser.

UPDATE 1/3/17: At least some authors report receiving full refunds for 2017 ad purchases. And the story has spread beyond the writing/publishing community: the Guardian did an article today.

UPDATE 1/14/17: A class action lawsuit on behalf of writers and publishers has been filed in the Circuit Court in Pinellas County, Florida, against All Romance eBooks and its owner, Lori James, by the law firm of Byrd Campbell P.A. The press release is below; you can read the complaint here.


UPDATE 1/23/17: The Tampa Bay Times covers the ARe story.

David Vandagriff, a Utah lawyer who represents writers around the world (none selling on All Romance), said...authors are probably out of luck if they think James was legally obligated to avoid commingling royalties with business accounts.

"That would certainly be a good business practice," he said. "But it's not required.

"What happens in these cases, the owners have a good quarter, so they assume the next quarter is going to be as good or better and they pre-spend money they don't have yet," he said, acknowledging he has no firsthand information on All Romance.

UPDATE 1/31/17: Multiple sources are reporting receiving the following email from Lori James (reproduced exactly as sent):
I wanted to take this opportunity to update all contracted publishers on some key elements involving the winding down of All Romance eBooks, LLC. First, we have completed the process of refunding all 2017 Pre-orders and Advertising. Next, all book files and images have been deleted. On Saturday, February 4, 2017 the remaining server content will be wiped. Once the server content is erased, you will no longer have access to the publisher portal (https://www.allromanceebooks.com/publishers/index.php). Please make sure to log in and download any reports you might need prior to that date. We remain on schedule to remit payments by February 28, 2017 of payment of the settlement amounts for those who agreed to accept our 10 % settlement offer. Finally, those who are due to receive a 1099 for the 2016 tax year will be receiving them via the post. Those who are due to receive a 1042 for the 2016 tax year will be receiving password-protected files via email. We will be sending a password protected document to the email address we have on record. The password to unlock the document will be sent via a separate email. As per our terms of agreement, we will be using the information that was in our database as of December 31, 2016. If you need to update any information for the 2017 tax form distribution, please send a request to allromanceebooks@mac.com.
Sincerely,
Lori James
All Romance eBooks, LLC

December 21, 2016

Questions for Vanity Publisher Austin Macauley Yield Few Answers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware



This post has been updated.

Over at The Writers Workshop, Harry Bingham is taking a look at UK-based vanity publisher Austin Macauley.
Are they legit? Or are they scammers?

I don’t know. I honestly have no idea. But I’ve heard some concerns raised about the firm and I think the fairest thing to do is ask the question.

If it turns out that the firm is an honourable one, seeking to do the very best for its authors, then fair play to them. I will take this post down and offer the WW as a platform for the firm to market itself. I will make it absolutely clear that we have no bad word to say about them, in public or in private.

And if they’re scammers – well, then, I hope they perish. I hope they perish soon. And I hope that those responsible for the company are deeply injured, financially and reputationally, by that collapse.
To try and solve this conundrum, Harry has formulated a list of questions that he has invited AM to answer.

Now, not to steal AM's thunder, but Writer Beware has gotten a lot of reports, complaints, and questions about AM over the years, and we've gathered a good deal of information and documentation. I thought it might be illuminating to share some of that, using a few of Harry's questions as a template. (Note that I'm not attempting to speak for AM, nor am I accusing them of doing anything illegal; I'm just sharing data that I've collected.)

Question 1: What proportion of AM’s titles are ‘traditional mainstream’ and what proportion are via ‘partnership agreement’?

This is an important question. AM does reveal on its website that it offers "contributory" contracts (using the newly trendy euphemism, "hybrid," to describe its publishing model), but it also presents itself as an "innovative independent trade publisher" and states that "we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal." This certainly encourages authors to believe that they have a good chance of a traditional offer.

But do they? Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn't have to pay for. By contrast, we've gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers (along with lots and lots of inquiries about AM's reputation and business practices; it's one of the publishers we receive the most questions about). Now, I'm sure that the writers who've contacted me represent only a fraction of those who've submitted to AM. Even so, the proportion of fee offers to no-fee offers does suggest--to me, at least--that the bulk of AM's business is pay-to-play.

You can see many many many many many many other author reports of Austin Macauley's fees online.

Question 3: What is the median cost to the author of these partnership agreements?

Fees in contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section is "Advances," except that this is an "advance" the author has to pay the publisher). Some authors are offered a choice of fees depending on which book formats they pick.

Speaking of AM's contracts, I've seen a number, both "contributory" and not. In my (non-legal; I'm not a lawyer) opinion, they are substandard. There's no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is "entirely at the discretion of the publisher." In effect, this is a life-of-copyright grant, with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. (I've written before about the vital importance of having a good rights reversion clause in a life-of-copyright contract.)

I've also seen a number of AM's acceptance letters. There are differences depending on the rationale for offering "contributory" contracts (new author, can't take the risk; previously published author, not successful enough) but other than that it's clearly cut-and-paste, with whole passages used verbatim in multiple letters.

Question 4: Partnership implies some joint sharing of risks and rewards. So, do you contribute a sum broadly equivalent to that contributed by your authors? If, for example, your launch costs for a book are expected to be £6,000, do you ask the author for £3,000 and contribute the other support yourselves? And if not, then, please, how does it work?

Obviously, I can't answer for Austin Macauley, nor would I attempt to do so. Speaking generally, however, many pay-to-play publishers promise or imply that they are contributing part or most of the expense, and the author fee is just a portion--but in fact, what authors pay is far more likely to cover not just the whole cost of publication, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well.

Also, since fee-based publishers' profit typically comes primarily from author fees and book purchases, rather than from book sales to the public, most have little reason to invest in professional-quality editing, marketing, and distribution. In fact, they have substantial incentive to skimp on these things, since they reduce profit.

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AM has responded to Harry (sort of) in an email that can be seen at the bottom of Harry's post, and also in a post on its own blog. Neither response comes close to addressing Harry's questions. Here's AM explaining why. (UPDATE: AM has objected to Harry reproducing its email verbatim, so what appears now is a paraphrased version.)
We would like to be as transparent as possible in answering your questions. However, as I am sure you understand, many of the details you ask for could potentially require us to break confidentiality, in terms of both our business and of our authors. We plan to discuss these issues fully with Austin Macauley’s lawyers, who will tell us precisely how much information we are able to divulge to you.
Color me unimpressed. I can kinda sorta maybe understand that AM might not want to spotlight particular authors (though if their books are bestsellers, I doubt they'd mind)--but there's no confidentiality attached to most of the information Harry is asking for. Other publishers have no problem providing public information about sales and revenue.

Harry isn't impressed, either. He sums up his opinion in a followup blog post, concluding: "I think [Austin Macauley] is a vanity publisher that trades on the legitimate hopes and excusable ignorance of its clients...if you’re considering entering into a partnership agreement with Austin Macauley, then don’t. Just don’t."

I agree.

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A few more observations:
  • Coming to America! AM is UK-based, but it is expanding into the USA. It has a glitzy new US website, and a brand new office in New York City--a virtual office, that is, on the 28th floor of 40 Wall Street. Basically, a PO box. (Am I alone in finding it hilarious that this is a Trump-owned building?) Just 73 AM books are listed on Amazon US for 2015; for 2016, the number is 474. 
  • The morning after I did the research for this blog post, I clicked into a couple of news sources I like, and discovered, yet again, the power of tracking cookies.


UPDATE 12/22/16: Harry Bingham's two posts have resulted in a demand by Austin Macauley's solicitors that he remove all mention of them from his website. He is not backing down. "In our view, the instant resort to threat is a classic telltale sign of firms whose business practices fall on the wrong side of the ethical tracks."

Author and writing teacher Jurgen Wolff also received threats of legal action as a consequence of posting information about Austin Macauley.

December 13, 2016

Torquere Press Is Closing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


This post has been updated.

Troubled publisher Torquere Press is closing. Owners Kristi Boulware and Joanna Talbot announced their decision yesterday in an email that will doubtless infuriate many authors, but probably won't surprise them:
We have thought long and hard about where things are with Torquere and made the very hard decision that we need to begin the process of closing this chapter of our lives....We have done everything we could to turn things around but with the saturation in the industry, the financial hardships we are in, my health in constant decline along with the negativity we have had hurdled our way. We feel like we are currently fighting an uphill battle.
Trouble at Torquere (which had been in business since 2003 with no problems) surfaced in early 2016, a little more than a year after Boulware and Talbot took it over. Reports of royalty payment problems began to proliferate, even as Torquere participated in Twitter pitch contests to find new manuscripts. During the summer, Boulware was arrested on a hot check charge, allegedly after payment to one author bounced. (UPDATE: the charge was dismissed on December 13 after Boulware posted a cash bond of $10,150.50.) In November, communication stopped completely, with neither Boulware nor Talbot answering authors' emails or responding to Facebook messages. Ominously, both co-owners removed "Torquere" from their Twitter handles and bios.

Now the other shoe has dropped. According to the email, which was sent to all Torquere authors, writers will receive rights reversions, a process Boulware anticipates will take at least 90 days. As for when (or whether) they'll get the royalties they're owed...well, on that issue Boulware is vague. "We are still looking at options on how to get everyone paid," she says. Hmmm.

The rights reversions will revert rights only to authors' originally-submitted text. "You will not be allowed to keep your cover art, ISBNs, or final edited versions of the books." Obviously ISBNs can't be re-used, and most publishers keep copyright to cover art (which they furnish at their cost)--but claiming copyright on edits is not the norm. Unfortunately, it's something I'm seeing more and more of in small press contracts--even though it's a pointless (how does the publisher benefit by keeping a death-grip on editorial revisions?), burdensome (since the author must re-edit an already-edited work), predatory (since revisions are typically done by authors themselves at editors' suggestion), and likely not even legally defensible practice. I consider it a contract red flag.

Is the copyright claim on editing even in the Torquere contract? I've heard of publishers that have made this claim on reversion, despite no contract clause allowing them to do so. Looking back through my files, I see that I've never actually seen a Torquere contract. Anyone want to share? I'd be interested to know if that language is in there.

Torquere authors, please let me know if you are receiving reversions--and if you are getting paid. All information shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence.

I'll update this post with any new information.

UPDATE 12/15/16: I've now seen several Torquere contracts, which do not include any copyright claim on edits.

I've also been informed by several authors that Kristi Boulware has offered some clarification on what's meant by "final edited versions of the books." Responding to questions in Torquere's Yahoo group, she confirmed that this doesn't mean the text, but rather the formatting--in other words, Torquere is not claiming copyright on edits, just the final formatting of the book. I don't know why this wasn't made clearer in the "we're closing" email, but there you go.

UPDATE 12/18/16: Per documentation that I've seen, Boulware is not claiming copyright on the final edited text of published books whose rights she is reverting. She is, however, forbidding writers to use edited text if their reverted books haven't yet been published.
If your book is NOT released and you have received edits from your editor. [sic] Then you are expected to not use those edits. We are being billed for edits on manuscripts under contract and those edits should not be taken elsewhere when that contract was voided since it was never finalized with Torquere.
UPDATE 2/18/17: I'm hearing from authors who are still waiting to receive their rights reversions.

December 9, 2016

Trouble at Tate: Could it be End of Days for America's Most Prolific Vanity Publisher?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Since putting this post online, I've received dozens of questions about whether there's a class action lawsuit against Tate. To my knowledge, the answer currently is no. I don't think that's the best option, anyway, because given all the complaints by authors and staff of non-payment, I'm guessing that Tate has few resources to tap for reparations.

Instead, I'd strongly encourage authors to file complaints with the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office and with the FBI. Individual complaints don't usually spur action, but a volume of them may, especially if they are received over a short period of time. The Oklahoma AG has already received 155 complaints about Tate.

File a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office

Contact the FBI field office in Oklahoma City

This is a developing situation; see the updates at the bottom of this post.

It's hard times lately for "America's Top Publisher," a.k.a. Tate Publishing & Enterprises, a.k.a. one of America's most prolific vanity publishers.

Tate has been on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publishers List since the list was created. Not just because it charges enormous fees (an initial $3,990, with the option of paying hundreds or even thousands more for extras such as video trailers, custom websites, self-ordered books, and the like), but because it presents itself as a "mainline publishing organization" and doesn't reveal its fees anywhere on its website or in its promotional videos.

In fact, Tate's website specifically promises that authors do not have to pay to publish: "Tate Publishing does not charge a fee for publishing and absorbs all the cost of production and distribution of a book." But this is classic vanity publisher doublespeak. Deeper into the submission process, when Tate finally gets around to asking authors to pull out their credit cards, they are told that the money is for a publicist.

Clearly, Tate wants authors to assume that it's as traditional as traditional can be. And they do. Writer Beware has gotten hundreds of questions and reports from authors who approached Tate in the belief that it was not a vanity publisher.

We've also heard from many Tate authors who don't feel their money was well spent--and we aren't alone. In 2015, Tate was the second most complained-about company to the Oklahoma attorney general. Many more complaints--not just about Tate Publishing, but about its vanity recording subsidiary, Tate Music Group--can be found online. They make for terrifying reading--bad editing, shoddy production, constant staff turnover, books ordered and paid for but never received, delayed pub dates, non-payment of royalties, "marketing" that mostly consists of urging writers to buy their own books...the list goes on

The Better Business Bureau, which as of this writing has logged 134 complaints over the past three years, yanked Tate's accreditation earlier this year.

That's a lot of chickens, and they are now coming home to roost. This past May, Xerox Corporation filed a $1.7 million lawsuit (since increased to $1.89 million) against Tate, alleging defaults on service agreements and promissory note payments, and seeking re-possession of $450,000 in leased equipment. Tate has not had good luck with its attorneys in the case; the first withdrew in September, saying he was retiring, and the second is also seeking to withdraw, in part, apparently, because Tate hasn't paid him. (Maybe that's why Ryan Tate never got around to filing his promised counter-suit against Xerox.)

The Xerox lawsuit spurred layoffs from Tate's printing plant, even before Xerox began re-possessing its equipment in late July. And that's not all. Tate is facing at least four additional legal actions: a lawsuit by an author who claims that she paid over $12,000 for a book that was published full of errors (twice); a petition by a musician suing over copyright laws (a customer of Tate Music Group, which also runs on a vanity model); a claim by memorabilia manufacturer Jostens, which alleges that Tate owes it more than $13,000; and another by the property company that leases Tate its print shop (vacant now that Xerox has re-possessed its equipment), which alleges that Tate owes nearly $20,000 in rent.

If that weren't enough, Tate's employment practices are being investigated by the Department of Labor. (Some employees say that they were threatened and "coached on what to say" by CEO Ryan Tate before Labor Department investigators came to interview them; this would not be the first time that Ryan Tate has threatened employees.) And per an (uneverified) comment on one of my previous posts about Tate, Tate may recently have been evicted from its offices.

Are these the straws that broke the camel's back? Has Tate reached its very own End Times? Either way, it's not looking good for "America's Top [Vanity] Publisher."

Predictably, the honchos at Tate are pretending nothing's wrong. “There are a lot of issues that probably would be a little more important for you or your news agency or any news agency to deal with," company founder Richard Tate told local news station KFOR, "other than the fact that our company is doing a great job.”

Hmmm. I think some Tate authors would disagree.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 12/22/16: I'm getting a flood of emails and comments not just from Tate authors, but from Tate staffers in the Philippines (you can see some of the comments below). Here's what I'm hearing.

- Apparently Tate's Philippine workforce once numbered close to 1,000, but massive dismissals have seriously reduced this. The consensus seems to be that around 80% of staff have lost their jobs since October.
- Unpaid or part-paid salaries and bonuses; apparently corporate headquarters in the USA hasn't been wiring enough money to cover payroll.
- Staff complaints filed with the local Labor Department, citing salary disputes and dismissals without the required 30-day notice.
- Production halts and slowdowns have put books in limbo, since there's no longer sufficient staff to work on them.
- Resignation of high-level corporate staff in the US.
- Silence on these issues from corporate headquarters.

The Philippine staffers I've heard from are convinced that Tate can't survive much longer. Several have told me that they suspect that the Tates are shifting assets to a new company called Lux Creative Concepts LLC, which was registered in February 2016 by Ryan Tate's wife, Christy Kelley-Tate.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1/10/17: From the comments on one of my previous posts about Tate, today--I stress that this is unconfirmed. [UPDATE:: at least one Tate author has received an email from Tate's marketing department confirming the closure]

"Tate Publishing has officially shut down their business in the Philippines today. Their main office in Cebu has been locked up by the Department of Labor and the owner of the building due to non-payment of the rent."

UPDATE 1/11/17: And another:

"I'm an ex-employee of Tate, and we were just at the Cebu office yesterday. Today is the the last day that the office is open, mainly for HR to furnish ex-employees with certificates of employment and other documents. The Department of Labor has officially ceased all operations and is taking stock of the company's physical assets.

We have been informed that, as of this writing, there is no official directive or announcement from the Tates that the company is closing or declaring bankruptcy."

UPDATE 1/12/17: More on the Philippines debacle from an Oklahoma-based blog that has published a lot of articles about Tate's shenanigans. A former Tate staffer in Tate's now-closed Cebu offices describes partial payment of salaries, non-payment of government-mandated bonuses, and other problems dating back months.

I've received many similar emails from Cebu staffers, one of whom shared with me the Department of Labor notice resulting from a compliance visit to Tate's Cebu offices on January 9. Findings:


UPDATE 1/14/17: Some Tate authors report receiving an email signed by Tate's Director of Production, Tim Kelley, claiming that Ryan Tate hasn't paid employees and "your book will never be finished." This email was reportedly followed, within a couple of days, by another email claiming that the first email was the result of "identity theft" and its allegations aren't true.

Okay.

Meanwhile, Tate authors are receiving this, also--apparently--from Tim Kelley:


Things are fine, folks, just fine. Never mind the mass layoffs of employees. Never mind the lack of payment and non-communication. It's all just a transition.

I'd love to hear from Tate authors who sign up for the portal. Have you received any results from your "new support ticket"?

UPDATE 1/16/17: There's now a forum for Tate authors to share experiences and support: Tate Publishing Help.

UPDATE 1/18/17: The Xerox lawsuit goes to court on Friday.

"Meanwhile, it was unclear Tuesday who is representing Tate Publishing in the case. The firm's attorney when the lawsuit initially was filed was Richard L. Hasley, of Oklahoma City. But in September, an order was granted allowing Hasley to withdraw from the case, as he was retiring.

Hasley was replaced by George H. Ramey and William D. Tharp, of Ramey & Tharp in Yukon.

On Dec. 1, Ramey & Tharp submitted an application to withdraw from the case as Tate Publishing's representatives, as well, saying the Mustang publisher had failed to meet its financial obligations with the law firm."


And...uh oh. This is what you get at 12:53pm on January 18 when you click on Tate's website URL:


YET ANOTHER UPDATE, 1/18/17: I've now heard from several Tate authors and former US staffers that Tate closed down today. Two people have told me that it is considering a bankruptcy filing.

BUT...

Remember how I mentioned suspicions that Tate was shifting assets to a new company called Lux Creative Concepts, LLC, registered last February in Oklahoma by Ryan Tate's wife, Christy Kelley-Tate? Well, get a load of this.

As many Tate authors know, Tate's Marketing Director is Terry Cordingley. Here's a screenshot, taken today, of Mr. Cordingley's Blogger profile; it identifies him as Tate's Associate Director of Marketing, a position he says he's held since 2006:


And here's a cut-and-paste, also taken today, of Mr. Cordingley's LinkedIn profile, which identifies him as the Director of Marketing for Lux Creative, a position he also says he's held since 2006:


Draw your own conclusions.

UPDATE 1/19/17: This was just posted to the Facebook page of The Lost Ogle, a blog that covers Oklahoma matters and has devoted a good number of posts to Tate:
Tate Publishing Closes
By Traci Chapman

What looked like a fork in the road turned out to be the end of it for Mustang’s Tate Publishing this week, as it closed its doors for the last time.

The news came Wednesday, just days after Tate co-founders Dr. Richard Tate and Rita Tate announced a consolidation of the company’s operations – the shutdown of its Philippines office and layoff of 50 employees there and a new focus on the company’s home base in Oklahoma.

Tate’s Mustang office employed about 30 people as of Monday, Rita Tate said then....

One of Tate family members’ primary concerns during the planned restructuring, and then as they faced the closure of their company, remained the company’s approximately 35,000 authors, they said. Work to help those authors make other arrangements was already underway and would continue as Tate worked with its attorneys to complete the closure process.
I suspect most Tate authors will find that last paragraph bitterly ironic.

ANOTHER UPDATE, 1/19/17: Tate's website now claims that it's "experiencing a transition period." There are links to click; if you do, you're taken to a release form requiring you to release Tate from legal liability and from providing "any refund or monetary compensation whatever." For authors whose books have already been published, there's the option of paying (!!!) a $50 "processing fee" to get final book-ready files.

UPDATES 1/21/17: Terry Cordingley has deleted his Blogger profile and changed his LinkedIn profile. "I previously worked for Lux Creative Concepts as the Director of Marketing, assisting authors with marketing, promotion and publicity for their books. Prior to joining Lux, previously operating as Tate Publishing LLC..." (my bolding)

The bolded wording is interesting, because I've learned, via a former Tate employee, that Tate was issuing Lux Creative Concepts contracts simultaneously with Tate contracts during the final year of its existence. According to the employee, the Lux contracts cost a few hundred dollars more than the standard Tate contracts, and were for authors who wanted more media "extras".

I've also learned, via an article published yesterday in Oklahoma paper The Journal Record, that yet another lawsuit has been filed against Tate: this one by Lightning Source, to which Tate routed its printing business in June of last year (the complaint can be seen here).

Lightning Source, which alleges that Tate failed to pay for services rendered, is seeking $1.8 million: $722,000 (which it paid to Tate "for the exclusive rights to print and distribute at least five million, five hundred thousand (5,500,000) non-returned units of titles") plus an equal amount in damages, plus late charges. The lawsuit also names Ryan Tate, who signed a Personal Guaranty agreement by which he "absolutely and unconditionally guaranteed the full payment of all amounts due from Tate Publishing to Lightning Source".

The timeline here is...interesting. Tate signed the agreement with Lightning Source on June 28 of last year--after Xerox, from which it had been leasing printing equipment, filed suit against it for non-payment and threatened to re-possess its printing equipment. Tate was probably desperate for a cash infusion at that point; it's hard not to suspect that it knew, when it signed the Lightning Source agreement, that it wouldn't be able to pay. Also... $722,000 is a sizeable chunk of change. What happened to it?

As with the Xerox lawsuit (which is in court today), it's not clear who will be representing Tate, since both its previous lawyers resigned due to lack of payment.

UPDATE 1/22/17: Quoth Richard Tate, according to this report from News Channel KFOR, "We love our authors. We are not going to abandon them." He also claims that "while [Tate] represent around 39,000 authors, this closing mainly affects the few hundred that have books not yet published" (forgetting, apparently, about the many who do have books published and haven't received royalties and/or book orders), and, in an apparent trip back in time to 2008, attributes the company's closing to "the downturn in the economy".

Here's a glimpse of how much Tate loves its authors (one of a number of screenshots shared with me by a former Tate employee):


UPDATE 1/23/17:Those of you who are considering giving Tate the $50 for your digital files should read this comment I just received: My book was ready to be printed so I made some serious attempts to convert the PDF to Word. Impossible. Tate uses a type of PDF called Acrobat reader DC and is proprietary to Tate. I have been doing a very slow page by page copy and paste finding out they have hidden tabs, margins, font and spacing. It takes about an hour to do one chapter that is presentable to my new publisher in Word 2010. Going through the copy and paste I find out I have 2 Chapter One's and several with no chapter numbers. After doing 5 chapters I found over 300 errors so the book wasn't worth printing any way. They use a Philippine font that is hard to change when you do a copy and paste.

UPDATE 1/24/17: Here's the latest iteration of Tate's website, which is now calling itself the Tate Publishing Transition Information Center:


The Current Clients page still offers the release forms, and notes,

We are currently in negotiations with a number of publishing houses to find the best possible new home for all clients and titles we represent. Our primary objective is to find an appropriate home for our authors to ensure their success. In order to ensure successful negotiations, we are unable to comment further at this time.

What does this mean? Is Tate seeking to sell its contracts? Will the new publisher or publishers honor existing contract terms? Will more money be due? Will authors (and musicians, since this affects Tate Music Group as well) have the opportunity to refuse? These are important questions with big implications.

Please, everyone, keep the emails and comments coming, so I can continue to post updates.

UPDATE, 2/2/17: Beware sharks in publishers' clothing.

There are plenty of pay-to-play publishing services that are angling for Tate authors' business, not all of them very reputable. I've heard from authors who've been solicited by Nydus Publishing Consultants, which sells hugely overpriced publishing packages, and by LitFire Publishing, which was set up by ex-Author Solutions employees in the Philippines and is also seriously overpriced (see my blog post). And that's not all. This is a screen grab from today:


Lulu.com is okay, but Dog Ear Publishing is expensive and I've gotten a number of complaints about Outskirts Press's quality and service.

If you're solicited by a publisher or publishing service, could you please let me know? I'd like to keep track. I'll also be glad to check my files to find out if I've gotten complaints about any publisher or service you're considering using.

UPDATE 2/6/17: Worth repeating: this comment from today. If you've paid anything to Tate via credit card, dispute the charges (this goes for PayPal, too):

I'm not sure if you have covered this already, and I apologize if you have, though it may be worth mentioning again - If you are a former recent Tate Authors who paid fees upfront with a credit card, DISPUTE THE CHARGES. I just got off the phone with Discover, who I paid all of my payments adding up to $900 with, and we are disputing all charges from July through November of last year. They investigate, and if they can't get contact with Tate (Lord knows they won't since no one can), then I win. The money will be returned to me. I don't know how other credit card companies handle disputes, but I will always use Discover if they get my money back...

UPDATE 2/11/17: To no one's surprise (well, my surprise, anyway), Tate has failed to respond to the summons in the Lightning Source suit. From an article at NewsOK:

An attorney who represents a Tennessee-based printing services firm suing Tate Publishing in federal court for nonpayment filed an entry of default in the case on Friday.

Attorney Evan Vincent, of Crowe & Dunlevy, said the entry of default was filed after the Mustang publisher and its president and CEO never responded to a summons they were served on the case in January.

The entry of default clears the way for Vincent and his firm's client, Lightning Source LLC, to ask a federal judge to grant a motion of default in the case and to award Lightning Source the $1.845 million, plus interest, it seeks from Ryan Tate and his firm.



Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. It's not looking good, especially since you signed a personal guarantee as part of your deal with Lightning Source.

December 1, 2016

Small Press Storm Warnings: Torquere Press, Caliburn Press, Month9Books

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


This post has been updated.

A roundup of publishers about which I've recently received serious complaints (all of them documented).

TORQUERE PRESS

At the end of 2014, the founders of Torquere Press--a well-regarded small publisher established in 2003--turned the company over to new co-owners: Kristi Boulware and Joanna Talbot.

Before the change in leadership, Torquere had been trouble-free (or at least, not generating author complaints). It didn't take long for that to change. In early 2016, a little more than a year after the new owners took over, reports began surfacing of royalty payment problems. More reports showed up over the summer, even as Torquere participated in Twitter pitch contests to find new manuscripts. Also during the summer, Kristi Boulware was arrested on a hot check charge, allegedly after payment to one author bounced(UPDATE: the charge was dismissed on December 13 after Boulware posted a cash bond of $10,150.50.)

In an early September email to authors, Boulware admitted that Torquere was suffering "financial setbacks since losing several of our top-selling authors." Funds were "the lowest they've ever been" and the company was "trying to obtain some business funding to assist with meeting all of TP’s financial obligations." As of late September, things hadn't gotten better...but, per an update posted in the Torquere authors' Yahoo group, "We are staying positive and will be sending out at least partial payments as we are able to."

Those payments never showed up, according to multiple complaints received by Writer Beware (allegedly, Torquere owes one author more than $18,000). In November, communication stopped completely, with neither Boulware nor Talbot answering emails or responding to Facebook messages from authors asking about money owed or seeking rights reversions (Torquere apparently has responded to some reversion requests, but ignoring others). Both co-owners also have removed "Torquere" from their Twitter handles and bios. No matter how you look at it, that's not a good sign.

Meanwhile, Torquere remains open for submissions, with active anthology submission calls. Given the serious and apparently escalating problems at Torquere, I'd advise authors to stay away.

UPDATE 12/13/16: Torquere is closing. They promise rights reversions but are vague on when (or if) writers and staff will be paid. Details in my followup blog post.

CALIBURN PRESS

Caliburn Press consists of seven imprints. Only three appear to have actually published any books--including Damnation Books and Eternal Press, which Alan Leddon, then of Spero Publishing, acquired from former owner Kim Richards Gilchrist in 2015. Leddon then consolidated Damnation and Eternal with his other imprints under the Caliburn name.

Damnation/Eternal was a problem company. Writer Beware received many complaints about its lack of professionalism, with authors citing poor editing, minimal marketing, uncompetitive pricing, and, late in Gilchrist's ownership of the company, missing royalty statements and payments. Damnation's contract paid royalties on net profit, and imposed huge early termination fees--both red flags that I've warned about repeatedly on this blog.

I posted a warning about Damnation in 2013 after one author sued the company for inserting hundreds of errors into her published book and refusing to publish a corrected version. Here's another author who had to take legal action. And the Damnation Books thread at Absolute Write is loaded with complaints.

(Gilchrist couldn't be faulted for ambition. In 2010, with much fanfare, she and her husband took over long-running speculative fiction magazine Realms of Fantasy. In less than a year, they drove it into the ground,)

When Gilchrist unloaded Damnation/Eternal in September 2015, authors were hopeful that Alan Leddon would make a good-faith effort to fix the problems. Unfortunately, the situation only seem to have gotten worse. In early 2016, Writer Beware started getting familiar-sounding complaints of non-payment--not just from authors this time, but from staff. Other complaints included repeatedly-delayed publication dates, bad editing, high staff turnover, poor financial management (in an April email to authors, Leddon denied embezzling funds, but admitted that "some money is missing from business accounts"). To authors' fury, Leddon also attempted to expand the net profit royalty calculation in Damnation/Eternal contracts to enable him to deduct not just printing costs, but also cover art, ISBNs, copyright registration, and a raft of other expenses.

In April (the same month Leddon felt he had to deny embezzling company money), gobsmacked Caliburn authors got a solicitation to contribute a GoFundMe campaign set up by Leddon, through which he hoped to establish a brick-and-mortar "spiritual bookstore" where, among other items, their books would be sold. In a maybe-too-candid description of the campaign, Leddon revealed that he was "living on government benefits and an occasional few dollars from the publishing company that I started five years ago" and admitted to "years of my publishing company making less per quarter than the cost of a tank of gas". Not very reassuring for all the authors who had hoped their new boss had the resources and expertise to turn things around.

As of this writing, complaints continue to come in. Caliburn Press is still open to submissions. Writer beware.

MONTH9BOOKS


Last July, I wrote a long post on the troubles at Month9Books, which had just scaled back its author list amid multiple complaints of lack of payment (for staff as well as authors), delayed publication dates, broken marketing promises, overcrowded publication schedules, communications breakdowns, problems with royalty accounting, and alleged harsh treatment and/or bullying by Month9 owner Georgia McBride.

McBride pledged to work on the problems and make Month9 great again (sorry, couldn't resist). Unfortunately, Writer Beware is still hearing from authors who say they haven't been paid, haven't received royalty statements (or have received strange or incorrect ones), and have been on the receiving end of angry responses from McBride.

Two Month9 authors have filed suit against the company, alleging nonpayment and seeking return of the rights to their books.

Despite these issues, and the fact that overstuffing its publication list was a major source of its troubles, Month9 continues to acquire titles. Writer beware, again.

July 19, 2016

WriteIndia Writing Contest: When a Contest Sponsor Changes The Rules

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

NOTE: This post has been updated.

I harp a lot here on how important it is to read the fine print--in your publishing contract, on websites that host user content, in literary contests. Sure, it's tedious, especially if couched in lengthy legalese--but skipping this step can result in unpleasant surprises.

What happens, though, if the contest sponsor changes its guidelines while the contest is still in progress?

Last year, the Times of India--one of the world's largest English-language newspapers--launched the WriteIndia contest. Each month for eleven months, a well-known Indian writer provided a passage or a prompt for contest entrants to develop into a short story. Eleven winners were awarded a Kindle, attendance at an exclusive writing camp, and publication in a compilation of winners' stories published by TOI's publishing imprint, Times Group Books.

Major newspaper, eminent writers, publication--what's not to like? Thousands of writers entered the contest. The final slate of winners was announced July 15 on Twitter, prompting this question from one of the non-winning entrants:
To which the response was:
Wait, what? shocked writers demanded. How could that be?

When I put this post online earlier today, here's how the next few paragraphs read.
Well, because of the fine print of WriteIndia's Terms & Conditions:
7. OTHER TERMS AND CONDITIONS:

a. Participant acknowledge and agrees that [Times Internet Limited] shall have irrevocable, worldwide, exclusive right to publish and commercially exploit the story/content submitted with TIL, through any medium and channel for the period of two years from the date of completion of campaign. After two years exclusivity period, TIL shall have non- exclusive right to publish and commercially exploit the story, worldwide and in perpetuity. TIL shall have the right to adapt, edit or modify the story as solely determined by TIL. TIL shall not be required to take any further approval or to notify the participant or to pay any additional consideration for the grant of aforesaid rights.
Simply by entering the contest, writers granted TOI perpetual rights to their stories, whether or not they won--and not just nonexclusively, but on an exclusive basis for a full two years. TOI doesn't have to pay writers whose work they use, or even notify them.

I've rarely seen such a greedy rights grab in contest guidelines. If anyone had contacted me to ask about this contest, I would have advised them not to enter. On the other hand, TOI didn't attempt to hide or obfuscate the rights grab--it was right there in black and white for anyone to read. Problem is, lots of writers apparently didn't read it. So now, basically, they're stuck.
In fact, the above is not quite correct, as I discovered late this afternoon when I checked into what's claimed in the first comment on this post. When most writers entered the WriteIndia contest, the T&C were different from what they are today. Here's a screenshot from April 19 of this year, courtesy of the Internet Archive.


As you can see, the rights grab is still there (the last sentence in the shot), but in vague language that's much easier to miss or misinterpret, especially since there's no mention of irrevocability, perpetuity, or exclusivity. As the contest was coming to an end, TOI must have decided it needed something more precise, so it completely re-wrote the T&C--which it was within its rights to do because of this paragraph:
The Times of India reserves the right at any time without prior notice to add, alter, modify, all or any of these terms and conditions or replace, wholly or in part, this Offer by any other Offer, whether similar to this Offer or not or to withdraw it altogether.
It's not unusual to find such language in contest guidelines, but it's rare for a contest sponsor to make such wholesale changes while the contest is in progress. While writers who ignore or miss plain language in a contest T&C have only themselves to blame, and the mention of "commercialisation" in TOI's original T&C should have been a red flag, it seems to me that WriteIndia entrants were substantially misled by rights language that TOI's own alterations of its T&C acknowledge weren't nearly clear or comprehensive enough, and didn't adequately convey its intentions for the entries. In my opinion, this is pretty shameful.

TOI has attempted to allay one concern--that the stories might be published without writers' names:


Sounds good, but I have to point out that since neither the original nor the revised T&Cs mention the issue of moral rights at all, writers have no recourse if this pledge isn't honored.

In response to the flap, TOI's Director, Vinita Nawra Nangia, is now saying that "anyone who does not agree to the said terms and conditions, is free to withdraw from the campaign." (Contact info: writeindia@timesinternet.in.) TOI should go farther. It should formally relinquish any and all rights to any and all non-winning entries.
 
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