Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ellora's Cave: It's Time to Speak Up

Greetings everyone! I know it's been a while since I've posted, but I hope you'll stick with me for a post that is certain to be long.

You may have noticed an uptick in former Ellora's Cave authors and/or staff speaking out about their experiences with a publisher that once rocked the mainstream publishing world with innovative, sexy, erotic, and adventurous oftentimes hardcore romances that broke the mold. For that alone, I say, bravo to Jaid Black, who decided not to kowtow to New York and write sexy stories about aliens from another universe, a result that launched EC into a huge financial success. Long before Fifty Shades of Grey, Jaid, along with many other erotic and erotica authors were venturing into sub-genres such as BDSM, Older Woman/Younger Man, Menage, M/M, and horror, just to name a few.

Many of those authors have gone on to become huge bestsellers on the New York Times, USA Today, Amazon, and B&N lists, and to them, I can only tip my hat.  Likewise, I continue to believe that Jaid's Trek Mi Quan universe is one of the most creative series I have ever read. Is it for everyone? Maybe not, but, again, props to her for writing what she loved, for sticking to her guns, and giving those books life through a lot of hard work and determination during a time when the concept of electronic books was as alien as her hot, sexy characters from a far away world.

Keep in mind, e-publishing has come a long way since the time of downloading files, printing them out or reading on a PC. With the advent of the Kindle, Nook, iPads/Tablets, buying eBooks is as easy as a 'click', and it's on your device in the matter of seconds. Self-publishing, of which I am now a huge fan of as a result of my last few years experience with EC, has become very popular and eBooks tend to be priced in such a way to make them affordable. Now, if I was J.R. Ward or Sherrilyn Kenyon, perhaps a reader would be willing to pay upwards of $6.99-$7.99, and at some third party vendors even higher, for a 100K+ novel on their iPad or Kindle. But generally, that's a lot to ask for a digital book.

That said, the following is my account and my experience with Ellora's Cave Publishing, and while it's not intended in any way to bash anyone or TPTB at EC, and I will not go into any contractual information that I have with them, I've had enough with the vitriol going on or being said about my fellow former EC authors and/or staffers and editors who are only telling their truths and their experiences. 

My first book was published with Ellora's Cave under the Cerridwen Press imprint, titled Seductive Persuasion, and was the first of an historical-paranormal four book series. Soon after the third book in that series, Sea Captain's Ghost, released, I learned that the imprint was going on hiatus. Eventually Cerridwen Press would become known as Blush. More on that in a bit. As I tended to write more sensual than erotic or explicit, this was awesome to me. But, I still had one book in the series left and wondered what would become of it. I debated turning it into an erotic story, however, given the time period it was written in, late-Georgian, and it just didn't seem to be right.

Instead, I set it aside and went back to a book I'd started a year before and stopped because it was 'out of my comfort zone', translation, erotic, featuring an older woman and a younger man as the heroine/hero. During an RT Convention in Columbus, Ohio, I'd attended an EC spotlight in support of my publisher and learned that older woman/younger man scenarios were selling very well, and, I immediately went home and wrote what would become Quarterback Blitz. To this day, that book is and continues to be very popular with readers, it won Best Erotic Contemporary from several online book review websites, and it launched a series of six books, a series titled Ink and Kink, Let me just say that I am proud of each and every story in that series, as well as those that I wrote separately or featured secondary characters in the Maddox brothers/Ink and Kink universe. In between, yes, I'd finally completed the Panthera series with Arrington's Claim for the Blush imprint.

Around the time the last Ink and Kink book was released, Switch Master, I'd begun tracking my royalty statements, primarily because sales dipped dramatically. I figured there were several causes, EC was releasing a lot of books, some re-releases, some in trade paperback per week. And, while that is their prerogative to release that many books in a given week, I also saw that more and more eBook publishers were on the rise, ditto for self-publishing, and the costs of those books were much more attractive to consumers than the pricey MSRP of my admittedly long stories. Yes, I write big books and I cannot lie. Yes, I think they are worth every penny, but I'd wished that the market would've been a bigger factor in the pricing.

The problem with the downturn in the market, therefore, my royalties, which were starting to come later and later, or in one case, a new release's sales figures were not accounted for, though quickly and professionally corrected within days, had dropped to the point that I could not afford to attend the Romantic Times Booklovers Conventions or many other conventions with the exception of Ellora's Cave's conference known as RomantiCon, and my local RWA chapter conference. I also couldn't afford blog tours. Book reviews declined dramatically and eventually stopped altogether.

All the while, royalties declined, and I thought, I'll write more books and establish a back list. EC started a few marketing campaigns, such as 1st books in a series free for two weeks, and, yes, this helped, some. But readers will rush to get a free book yet when the next book is priced so drastically above other books of similar genre and length, they move on. Now, some of this is taste, not every reader or reviewer is going to like my books, and that's their right and opinion. However, pricing and affordability makes a difference in a consumer's choice when money is tight.

With the last book in the Ink and Kink series, I'd started a new series based on some secondary characters readers had been introduced to already. Those books simply did not sell well and while I understand that opinions vary, I began to think about making some decisions about my future. My favorite genre, in all honesty, is Romantic Suspense, and I really, really wanted to go into mainstream fiction.

In 2014, many things were happening, my royalty checks were coming very, very late, and while contractually EC was to pay quarterly,they primarily paid monthly. Checks came at odd times, likewise, they were dated a whole month before they were actually stamped and mailed. In two cases, there was no date on the envelope. Authors were told this was due to a glitch in the accounting software program. I have no idea if this is true or not, that's what we were told via an author email loop.

In August of 2014, the wheels fell off and my eyes were opened. While on a family vacation and very concerned because I'd not received royalties in a while and an email inquiry as to whether my check was lost in the mail or sent at all went unanswered, and in the midst of content edits for what would become the last book I've published with Ellora's Cave word was sent to the private author email loop that many EC staffers, including freelance editors, mine, too, were being let go due to a downturn in the market and blame seemed to be placed on Amazon. In my opinion, Amazon is a powerhouse in the eBook world and will remain so, and most of the sales I'd been making came from that vendor. I was devastated, not only for myself, but for the editors, especially my editor, whom to this day is one of my favorite people on the planet and continues to be my editor for my self-publishing ventures. For many reasons, I've chosen not to include her name in this post, though I'm sure she knows that I've the utmost respect for her. I'd also like to thank her for taking a chance on a newbie and helping me through the publishing process.

Within an hour, maybe less, of the announcement sent to the authors about the layoffs, an unknown party shared that same message on a public forum. I saw and read it on Absolute Write, but it was shared elsewhere and within a very short time, I received countless messages from readers and authors outside of EC sharing their concerns for the stability of the publisher. I had them too, but I wanted to believe it would be okay. My editor graciously finished the last round of edits for Pleasure Trove and the book received a release date within two weeks of the books final draft and FLEs, Final Line Edits, were done in a rush. Guess what? Despite blogging and doing as much promo as I could, the book tanked, I couldn't get it to sell, no matter what. A few of my faithful readers were concerned that I wouldn't receive the royalties and asked what they should do. I didn't know and did NOT EVER ask anyone not to buy the book or any of my titles. I still haven't done so. However, they have graciously purchased my self-published title, UnMAsKed, and are eagerly awaiting the next, also a Romantic Suspense titled Lipstick and Camouflage.

In September of 2014, I was attending a weekend writer's workshop in Connecticut. It was a great weekend, especially as I was able to get away from the stress of what was happening with EC. I had finally received a check dated in late July 2014 that arrived in my mailbox a month later, at the tail end of August. I was grateful. Yes, my checks were coming later and later, but they did come eventually. The problem was that EC became radio silent on our private loop, primarily, I believe, because private messages were being shared on public forums. For the record, I did not like that private emails were being made public and felt that this was hurting authors more than anything else going on. Again, my opinion.

I started talking to my husband about what I should do going forward. Okay, actually, we'd been talking about this for a long time but things were heating up. Should I ask for rights back based on contract terms? Let it go and hope checks come as they were supposed to? But then at that same writer's workshop, everything got drastically worse. NOT because one of the ladies at Dear Author had written a very long 'writer beware' type of article titled The Curious Case of Ellora's Cave. That article is on DA's blog and I'm not going to go into specifics, except to say that the blogger corrected a few details recently, yet the majority of it remains.

What alarmed me and so many authors and reviewers and bloggers, as well as readers, was EC's decision to sue the writer of the post. I was familiar with Dear Author and similar sites, yet, I'm honestly not a frequent visitor or reader of it, primarily because it's a little bit 'mean girl' for my tastes. That said, the blogger had every single right to write what she substantially believed to be true, she'd researched court cases, looked at tax liens accrued against the publisher that are on public record, and listened to author accounts of not receiving royalties. That's called FREEDOM of SPEECH. It's part of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights. And, Ellora's Cave turned around and sued a blogger in what appeared to be a SLAPP suit. From there on the Streisand Effect took root. Readers and reviewers boycotted. The vitriol that resulted since steamrolled, more readers bailed on EC's books out of concern that we weren't getting paid, royalties came later and later and that all meant to me that the publishing company was in serious financial trouble.

A few months ago, EC also launched a new website. I didn't care for it visually, but I'm not a web designer by any stretch. Some say it's more user friendly, some say otherwise, and there appeared to be more than a few glitches that needed to be fixed. What I know is this, during the change something happened to all of the blurbs on my books on EC's site. They're not only missing commas and punctuation, they appear amateurish. Therefore, I have not asked my web guru to change the links on my website that directs readers to purchase my books from the publisher's site, nor have I any plans to. It seems to me that the responsibility for hunting down and correcting typos and punctuation errors is on whoever maintains that site.  

Honestly, I've no idea what the financial status of EC is. I'm not going to guess or take a jab at the ownership or current staff members, other than to say, that I absolutely believe the authors who say they haven't been paid or that their payments are way late or breached. At the time of this blog post, I have not received a check since February 2015's sales that came in September of 2015. Could a check arrive this week? I hope so, we were informed via the private loop that we would receive payment for three months in one check, yet even if it arrives they are still months behind. I hope they really do catch up, authors worked hard on their books and deserve to get paid.

Let me say that up until the last year or so, I've enjoyed my experience as an EC author. I loved RomantiCon and the friends I've made through the convention, both authors and readers. I adored the Cavemen models who danced for us, and I will miss Angelo forever. He was incredibly charming and charismatic and appeared on the cover of Field of Play, not only signing my cover flats to help the book to sell, but also one for me that's now framed and in a place of honor in my office. For those who don't know, Angelo was tragically shot and killed (for the true story I recommend the documentary produced by Joe Manganiello, from True Blood/Magic Mike, titled LaBare). To this day, my fellow EC authors and former editors remain my friends, people I respect, admire, and trust. They are speaking up, they are telling their truths. If they're asking readers not to purchase their books, respect their decision. It is not because their books are poorly written or they are ashamed of it. Despite what's being posted on social media by an EC principle and a few EC authors who are in her corner (that's their right, too), those who are speaking out or speaking up are not liars, they are not misogynists, Bad Apples, or bullies. To sick a very nasty troll after a group that follows a Twitter hashtag known as #notchilled, the same person probably best known for GamerGate, is, by my measure, very low and irresponsible and an another attempt to 'chill free speech.' That's the purpose of #notchilled, not to malign EC, but to come out in defense of a blogger's and anyone else's right to write what they believed to be substantially true.

It is because of the lawsuit that I have chosen not to write for Ellora's Cave any longer. Yes, the case settled, and there's a sense of letdown by all parties of interest, but an attempt to stifle free speech did not sit well with me, and still doesn't. That's why I made the decisions I have since August of 2014. I'll continue to write and publish mainstream Romantic Suspense, and I'm venturing into paranormal again. When or if I get the rights returned on my back titles, I'll heavily revise, re-title, re-cover, and set prices according to what is most affordable for readers. If I go with a mainstream publisher, who knows what's down the road, you can be certain that I will never sign a contract without a lawyer and hopefully an agent's assistance.

Please note that this is my experience, another author or staffer's story may vary. It is not intended to sling mud, there's already too much being thrown around by both sides of the situation. Frankly, I hope the bullying on Twitter from sock puppets and trolls ends. I hope the vitriol stops and business-like discussions resume. I do not hope EC goes into bankruptcy, there are authors, staffers, publishers, artists, copy editors, you name it, who depend upon this publishing house. I do not wish ill upon Jaid Black, Patty Marks, or anyone else involved with Ellora's Cave, nor do I seek to cause trouble for them or create further chaos. It was simply time to speak out.

To authors who remain supportive of EC, I wish you success. To authors who have chosen to speak out or request readers not to purchase their Ellora's Cave titles, whether it's a business decision or something more personal, I support you unconditionally. To my readers, I hope you will continue to support my self-published titles, UnMAsKed is available at Amazon, B&N for Nook, Kobo, and iBooks. For information on this, hit me up in the comment section or check out the following page: http://www.francesstockton.com/romanticsuspense.html#unmasked           

Until the next time,
Frances Stockton

  
     



   

27 comments:

  1. Glad you felt comfortable adding your voice to the growing chorus of authors, editors and employees who are speaking out about their experiences. As a long time reader of your work and dozens or other EC authors the fact that a bad situation was turned into an untenable one is heartbreaking.

    EC was one of the early digital first publishers. As a lifelong romance reader I was delighted to discover the treasure trove of hundreds upon hundreds of stories by talented writers that were brand new for me. The ability to purchase and read directly on my laptop (pre Kindle, iBooks, Nook, tablets, phones) was a revelation. Many weeks I eagerly logged on on publication day and purchased almost everything available. I devoured those stories and recommended them to many, many others. The last thing I ever wanted to see was the Company in trouble and the pipeline dry up. I don't think anyone is dancing in glee over the events of the last year. It's frustrating, infuriating and sad. I hope each and every author caught in the middle finds new markets and readers for their words and I hope EC finds the balance it needs to deal with their content providers and workers fairly going forward.


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  2. Frances, your grace and class are boundless. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you get those books back and they sell as they should--many many copies.

    And as for your editor, I think it's safe to say that the feeling is mutual! Happy holidays! May 2016 be a blockbuster year for your RS titles.

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    2. My response seems to have been posted twice, my bad for using my smartphone. LOL

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    1. Thank you! Hugs and Happy Holidays!

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  4. Post 1 of 2:

    Frances, this blog entry was brought to my attention. For whatever it is/n't worth, I want you to know we sued for defamation (a decade's long history there) and not to keep people from speaking freely. I keep seeing all these claims that EC loves to sue people to silence them, but in 15 years we've sued 2 parties: Borders (who stole in excess of $1 million from us and something like $300 million from all publishers combined) and DA. Lawsuits are not fun, whether Plaintiff or Defense, so it's something we don't do until we feel we've been given no choice.

    A few issues I'd like to address:

    (1) I am not pubnt, I do not know who pubnt is, and I do not have any sock puppet accounts. Same goes for my mom. I'm pretty sure you're aware of my issues with anxiety (or maybe not) but stress is a huge trigger for me so I avoid it as much as humanly possible. Negative activities like doxing, setting up fake accounts to antagonize others, etc., does not go hand-in-hand with keeping the stress manageable. Even if I was the type to enjoy those things, which I'm not, there aren't enough hours in the day.

    (2) EC doesn't have any tax liens; I have a personal tax lien.

    (3) How would you react in my position, knowing you hadn't done any of the things you were accused of? I feel my public comments have been very few and far between, whereas ridiculing, belittling, dehumanizing, demonizing, and harassing me is done on a daily basis. I'm not saying that to be all woe-is-me, just stating a fact. It's a lot to endure. It's a lot for my children to watch their mother endure. And my mom... we've had 2 heart attack scares with her since this started.

    (4) I do not take issue with any author who chooses to self-publish or publish through multiple publishers. The issue I have is with using nefarious methods to get rights reverted on their back catalog at EC, specifically asking readers to boycott.

    (5) We didn't fall behind in royalty payments until a year after this started. I realize and empathize that everyone was in the habit of being paid monthly, but contracts have that 3-month padding for a reason. When we had to reduce staff because of the falling sales at Amazon (60-75% across the board for all publishers; very well documented by statisticians) the padding was needed. Accounting went from a staff of 5 to a staff of 2. It is now a staff of 1. At the same time, cuts were made in every department while our work grew exponentially. No publisher is set up to handle an unprecedented amount of reversion requests and frightened emails flooding in. From the time of the post to the 2 weeks after it when we filed the lawsuit, we received more reversion requests than we had in the (then) 14 years of our history combined. At that point, knowing we hadn't done any of the horrid things we'd been accused of, we felt we were left with no choice.

    (6) You have been an EC author for a long time, or were until a year ago. You of all people have to be aware that we've been taking hits from the very same people on social media for a decade. It's primarily 3 places, has always been those 3 places, and didn't spread beyond those 3 places until Courtney Milan convinced bloggers I was trying to stifle free speech rather than file a legitimate defamation claim.

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    1. I respectfully understand. Please know that I never meant any disrespect to you or anyone else at EC. I have seen a lot of posts and wanted to clarify why I decided to go the way I have.

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    2. I think I covered this previously, but I really never cared who created Pubnt, what I didn't like was that the group/entity/person, whoever they were verbally harassed people I consider friends, some of which where my readers, and some I became acquainted with after the #notchilled hashtag was created. I also honestly did not care for or like things that were posted by a person named Kevin most recently and my remedy to this was to not engage with him and block, block, block. Negativity is a surefire way to kill my creativity and I'm in the middle or edits for one book and writing another. Just my opinion.

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  5. Post 2 of 2:

    (7) I am not at the Home office so I don't know where in the queue you are, but checks covering multiple months are mailed daily. I am terribly sorry we got behind, even if I feel it was through no fault of our own. I realize a lot of side seat spectators disagree, but they are doing so without knowing all of the variables or caring to factor them in even if they did.

    What happened to EC happens to people every day. As an example, lets say you and your husband each earn 50k a year making you a 100k a year household. You're going to have a fairly good idea of what to expect in bills each month, plus save money, plus likely set aside emergency funds for things you didn't anticipate. Now lets say you lose your job and your household income drops from 100k to 50k overnight. Unless you find a job making equal money within a few days, your emergency funds are going to be exhausted almost immediately, leaving you 50k and your savings. What happens if you don't find an equal paying job within a month? Two months? Three months? What if everywhere you apply for work people show up and protest, demanding you not be hired or else? Your bills aren't going anywhere so little by little your savings will drain. You start making cuts where you can... cable TV, give up a hobby, etc. And when you do that the cable company and the craft store start protesting against you too. Meanwhile, everyone demands you pay them what they are rightfully owed while simultaneously telling people not to let you earn money.

    That is the situation EC is in. We are slowly but surely turning things back around, but it's not going to happen overnight. Money is a lot like trust: it takes time and effort to build and a second to destroy. Regaining either of those things doesn't come quickly.

    (8) I wish you all the luck in the world and hope your self-publishing venture goes well. I was sad to lose you, but I realize everyone has to do what's best for their families. So long as it's not being done at the expense of other people and their families, I completely respect that choice. A bit of friendly advice, human-to-human, and not former publisher to author: please don't put all your self-publishing eggs in the Amazon basket. They are great at courtship, just as they were with publishers for many years, but they've made no bones about the fact they want to be the only game in town. Without rehashing old news, let's just say I would expect that the closer they come to achieving that goal, the more power they wield over your life. Expect royalty % to slowly edge into their favor while the value of what you write continues to drop. If all your eggs aren't in that basket, it at least gives you something of a bargaining chip, though not much since they have such a huge share of the market.

    I've read more articles than I care to contemplate on the subject. Everyone screams for the DOJ to intervene, but I don't see that happening when Amazon is the major employer of postal workers now. Anyway, just wanted to put that out there for you.

    I won't be reading follow-up commentary because every time I post it tends to draw negative replies and my every word gets spliced, diced, analyzed, and taken out of context. Seeing that goes back to the whole stress/anxiety issue so it's best to avoid it :)

    Finally, I have no idea what google account this blog is pulling up for me to post under... I *think* it's one I don't use, but who knows. I'm not the most tech savvy person on the block so if it doesn't show and you haven't figured out this is Tina/Jaid (I'm sure you have if you made it this far!) this is Tina/J posting. Take care and best wishes.

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    1. Jaid, you don't seem to get it that the contracted percentage of "your" money that belongs to authors was never EC's to spend at all. The ethical, responsible way to treat money that belongs to authors would be to place it in a separate account and disbursed in a timely manner, whether quarterly or monthly but consistently as to payment dates...AND NOT TOUCH OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY for any purpose other than to pay THEM, not your own expenses which should be paid from YOUR share of what you've earned from other people's effort!

      What do you call Kevin Weinberg if not a hired or volunteer hatchet person for whoever you want to destroy? Just asking here.

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  6. Thank you Jaid. I appreciate your thoughts and opinions and post. I honestly never thought or cared who Pubnt is or wise but the group or people I consider friends were being harassed daily. I did and still think the lawsuit was wrong, that's my opinion and it hasn't changed. Props to you all and don't worry, Amazon is not my only vendor. Thank you for taking a chance on a newbie. May you have a good Holiday.

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  7. Apologies for any typos made in this post, or the replies to all of the above. Thank you to all who shared their thoughts. All. While I continue to stand by what I posted word for word and my reasons for making the decisions that I have regarding my career going forward, I do feel more positive about my perception. Perception,in my opinion, is a person's reality and truth. If there are multiple witnesses to a car accident or a terrible incident, each witness is likely to have a different account or version of what they saw. It isn't that those people are all wrong, it's what they perceive. That's my only addition to this blog post. Thank you all!

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  8. And paying quarterly means 4 times a year--each check should be THREE month's worth of royalties, not one month of royalties. Or if a check is paid once every two months, yep, it should contain TWO month's worth of royalties, again, not just one. ***That*** is what is "nefarious." In my opinion, of course.

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  9. A great and even-handed post, Frances.
    My journey was similar to yours. I signed that contract in full knowledge that it was the worse I'd ever signed, but the money was good. Simple as that. I did negotiate my way out of the non competition and next look clauses, but most of the rest remained.
    I decided to send EC no more books in March, 2014, and to ask for all my rights back in August, just after the majority of the staff was laid off. I couldn't imagine anyone but Briana and Jilly editing my books, but the main reason was the continuing drop in sales.
    So I'm to blame for signing that dreadful contract. But while EC is technically, legally correct, ethically, it's off the scale bad. All rights for life is a simple rights grab.
    I'm thankful to say I have everything back now, after buying back my last few contracts in return for giving up royalties from February to September, 2015. I did it, because, frankly, I didn't expect to see them anytime, and I'd have to do a lot of hassling to get them.
    Tension? Every author trying to get her rights back knows about that now.
    Amazon? I get regular sales reports whenever I want them, and they pay on time. That alone gives Amazon the edge.
    Jaid, you have no right to take issue with me. None. It's my career, and I will do what I want with it. It isn't all about you, it's about the 600 plus authors trying to build something with their careers and trying to break free from a company that belittles and denigrates them.
    Being called names? How about "bad apple," "bitch," "drone" (btw, drones are male), "c*nt," (that came from an acolyte, the aforementioned Wienburger person but I didn't see you contradicting him). Lots more of them.

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  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Lynne. Appreciate it and totally understand. Lesson learned in all this, don't put all my eggs in one publisher's basket. By nature, I'm a very loyal person, but at the expense of my career as an author, I will be careful where I put my stories.

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