“Acclaimed horror author, indie songwriter and artist Gabrielle Faust” – and no I am not being the remotest bit snarky by quoting that – has just posted a pretty remarkable, and quite disconcerting, account of a recent alert that she and other authors had from publisher Permuted Press, the self-proclaimed “leading publisher of zombie and horror fiction,” who, according to her, has declined to print their books in future. On paper, that is. Unless they’re bestsellers.
Bear in mind when reading the following that some have dismissed all this as sour grapes. Others, however, equally authoritative, have not. Some are even calling for boycotts. So weigh up the words below and see what you feel.
I can’t do much better in summarizing the arguments and issues here than Gabrielle Faust has done herself. So here she is:
Nearly ten years and several publishers later I had truly hoped that this one, Permuted Press, would prove my jaded perception of the publishing industry to be false, that the horrific abuse of the Creative Class I had witnessed perpetrated by so many other entities calling themselves publishers would be laid to rest and rectified. Before Permuted Press I was, honestly, done with traditional publishing. I was simply going to self-publish (oh, the horror!) my work since it seemed having complete control over the process and end product was worth the time, money, and energy it required simply for the fact that it saved me the heartache and headache of battling for what I spent years of my life creating. I was done. Then someone championed how this publisher was different. They were going to change things. They were going to take care of the authors. They were going to do right by them and make sure each and every one of them was successful in their own right. Because they cared. Because they were honest…
That’s a true cry from the heart. And it’s a real shame to see it directed at an independent publisher in a genre I love. But to continue:
Apparently, over the last weekend of September, while some of the writers and the managers of Permuted Press gathered in Nashville at Wizard World, the announcement was made that it was now too expensive to create POD (print on demand) books so anyone who wasn’t a “best seller” would no longer have their book available in print format. Ebooks only from here on out. They kept this secret from the rest of us until two weeks later when they released a form email to the authors alerting us to this change in our contracts. We were all given the proverbial “pink slip”. This wasn’t what we agreed to. This wasn’t what we signed on for
Putting aside the author’s right to choose what format their work appears in, I can even imagine cases – poetry, for instance, or graphic novels – where changing the format would screw up the content. But Gabrielle Faust has more immediate concerns than that. “There’s also the looming question mark of what exactly the great expense is for creating POD books?” she points out. “No up front costs as far as printing. No storage. It’s all ON DEMAND. The only costs that go into the creation of a print version of a book is the formatting of the file. Which takes a few hours … But apparently, this is too expensive for a company that claims to be in publishing. So instead of finding a way to cover these expenses, they’re making the authors pay for it by denying them half of their original contracts.”
For those who don’t want to get all this from just one source, there is extensive further confirmation from writers’ discussion groups such as this one, which follows Permuted all the way back to 2004. Other authors there do take issue with Gabrielle Faust’s interpretation – but not necessarily in terms favorable to Permuted. “The contract gives the publisher the print rights; however, nowhere in the contract are they *obligated* to produce print copies of any of their books (just as they’re not obligated to produce audiobooks either, but they’ll take those rights also),” writes one. “Instead, it gives them the *option* which, until recently, they’d exercised until they saw that there was a disproportionate amount of time spent on paperbacks versus its investment return.”
That same author dismisses Gabrielle Faust’s comments as “borderline hysterical emotional rhetoric.” Maybe. But Victoria Strauss, she of Writer Beware, also writes on the same thread: “I’ve also been told that Permuted is offering to let authors out of their contracts – as long as they pay a hefty fee (four figures, in one case) to cover production expenses.” Other authors respond that this applies only to books already in production, and that writers otherwise are free to terminate the contract without payment, and there’s plenty more about Permuted’s own business issues.
But with these mixed messages going on, Permuted at the very least is doing an abysmal job of message management and author relations. And with even writers less critical of Permuted acknowledging that they have a right not to publish printed paper if they choose, the whole sorry exercise serves as rude reminder of how much creative control authors abdicate to their imprints – and how publishing economics may make publishers the assassins, rather than the defenders, of the printed word.
Now, anyone want to remind me again what those arguments against self-publishing are … ?