Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Farrah Gray Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

When publishing relationships go bad, the writing was often on the wall long before the author signed on the dotted line. Perhaps there were nonstandard business practices, such as a hidden fee or a book purchase requirement. Or there might have been a large body of author complaints, easily found by doing a basic websearch. Maybe there was an association with an unsavory parent company, or a name change to escape bad press. Or the publisher may simply may have been too new to have proven itself--a major risk for small-press writers, given the high attrition rate for new small publishers, especially if the owners don't have a professional writing or publishing background.

Other times, though, those obvious red flags aren't there, or, if they are, they're offset by apparent mitigating factors. Either way, the real problems don't become clear until after the contract has been signed, and it's too late for second thoughts.

That's what Rhonda Frost says happened to her and her daughter/co-author, Shanae Hall.

Frost and Hall found their publisher--Farrah Gray Publishing, an imprint of well-established Chicken Soup for the Soul publisher Health Communications Inc.--serendipitously, through a series of chance encounters. When "the call" came,
We listened and waited for the offer of a royalty advance, [but] there was none. We jumped for joy nonetheless, we were about to be published authors! This was a dream come true.
It wasn't long, though, before things started to go wrong. According to Frost, she and Hall never received a properly executed contract. Requests to the publisher to sign and send one went unanswered. Then, a few months before the publication date,
this Publisher would call and ask us for 100K to market and publish our book....We were taken aback. He told us, if we didn't, he wouldn't be able to get us "programs" or otherwise market our book.
This despite the fact that the contract--which I've seen, and which is nonstandard in several respects, including a life-of-copyright rights grant with no provision for reversion by the author--includes no specific mention of publicity or marketing fees due from the authors. (For regular readers of this blog, I hardly need to say that expecting writers to pay for their publisher's marketing efforts is not exactly typical practice in the trade publishing world.)

Frost and Hall couldn't pay the $100,000, and told FGP so. Nevertheless, publication proceeded, and their book, Why Do I Have to Think Like a Man? appeared in October 2010. Then came the first royalty statement--which, Frost told me, showed that $33,000 in royalties had been withheld to pay for publicity, and that she and Hall owed FGP an additional $66,000 in marketing expenses. When Frost and Hall challenged the charges, FGP sent them a bill for $93,230 (I've seen the bill; you can see it too, along with other supporting documents), listing such publicity strategies as Twitter tweets and Facebook updates, but failing to supply any details of the marketing campaigns or any breakdown of individual costs. A subsequent payment demand by FGP in June (which I've also seen) upped the amount due to $78,320, and threatened litigation if Frost and Hall didn't pay.

Frost and Hall also have questions about their royalties, since, according to Frost, "we can't seem to get accurate statements from FGP. We have no idea how many ebooks we have sold, or what our numbers actually are."

As a result of all this, Frost and Hall are taking legal action. They've filed suit against FGP for fraud and breach of contract in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and have subpoenaed sales records from HCI. FGP, meanwhile, continues to publish. Its latest is a memoir from CNN anchor Don Lemon.

At the end of Frost's blog post, there's a series of red flags and suggestions for new authors, all offered in hindsight. Good advice--but was there anything Frost and Hall could have done differently, going in? There were warning signs--no advance, even though FGP is an imprint of a large commercial publisher; FGP's newness (Frost's and Hall's book was only the second FGP had signed); and a nonstandard contract, with language and clauses an experienced literary agent would certainly have questioned. But Frost and Hall were new to publishing, and had no real literary agent to advise them--and even if they had, there was no way for them to anticipate the gigantic marketing fee, since the contract made no mention of it. And then, of course, there was the HCI name. Surely, reason to trust that their book would be in good hands.

That's the hard truth of publishing: in the end, and with every possible precaution, what looks like a duck will sometimes turn out to be a turkey.

29 comments:

Morgen said...

That's such a shame. FGP should be ashamed of themselves....

behlerblog.com said...

Vic, this story is just so sad. The fact that they're an imprint of an established publisher is downright scary because it's one of those lifelines that authors rely upon when making their decision.

What about HCI? Why would they have such a ruinous imprint? What's in it for them to allow this kind of abuse?

Me said...

What's the problem? It's well known that Twitter feeds and FB comments cost a huge amount. After all there's the ... er, you know that thing that needs to be done, and that doesn't come cheap.
Tut, some people just don't understand the publishing business and then question the 'professionals' that do.

K. Victoria Chase said...

@Me-LOL "...you know that thing that needs to be done and that doesn't come cheap." That says it all.

This is so awful. So many people are waiting for "the call" and for their first experience to be so painful, and expensive-I hope they recoup their legal fees because this one sounds like it will take a little while to resolve.

K. Victoria Chase
Serial Games-Mar 2012 Desert Breeze Publishing
Marked by the Mob-Nov 2012 Desert Breeze Publishing

BuffySquirrel said...

Yowser.

*is speechless*

Rogue Mutt said...

93 grand for Tweets and Facebook posts? I'm in the wrong business.

mmshaunakelley said...

This is really, really sad. Not every non-standard cause is a huge warning sign. I had to buy 100 copies of my first novel (which I would have done anyway), but otherwise my small press was a dream. I have no regrets.

Now, for my second novel, I wouldn't do it, and am very appreciative of this blog for the warning signs.

Claude Nougat said...

As always, you do a great job on this blog! And I immediately tweeted about it!

But the comments thread is disturbing: is there really ANOTHER side to this story? Could you investigate it?

I'd love to hear what the true story is!

S.M. Carrière said...

My heart goes out to those two. It must be so upsetting.

Thank-you again, for your tireless efforts at keeping us in the know. You truly are a gem.

Victoria Strauss said...

I've just removed two anonymous comments attacking Rhonda Frost's and Shanae Hall's characters, without offering any substantiating evidence. Alternative points of view and _documented_ opposing evidence are always welcome on this blog, but personal attacks add nothing to the discussion.

The character of the individuals involved is not the issue, anyway. The issue is that FGP billed Frost and Hall for a gigantic amount of money for marketing their book (you don't even have to take my word for that; there's a link to a screenshot of the bill in my post)--even though such fees weren't specified in the contract, and even though it is not accepted trade publishing practice to require authors to foot the bill for their publisher's own marketing efforts.

Rhonda said...

Victoria, I am so glad I didn't see the personal attacks on us! I do understand that there are FGP staffers who follow everything I post on Twitter and FB so it wouldn't surprise me if they had someone write those. My RedRoom blog and article says only what can be proved in court. I appreciate all support here and from those we are getting from our followers on FB, Twitter and readers of our book. I wish it weren't true or real, but it is. Keeping the faith that justice will prevail! Lessons learned!

JS said...

Holy cow. I am so sorry that these folks have to pay legal fees to deal with this bizarre and predatory situation. Best of luck to them, and I know they will eventually prevail.

Jane Smith said...

Blimey. I've read quite a few accounts of bizarre publishing experiences but this one is in the top three.

I hope that Frost and Hall get a decent resolution to this. It's dreadful.

JS said...

is there really ANOTHER side to this story?

There can't be another side where Farrah Gray is legitimately owed money because they delivered $100,000 in promotion and marketing services without a contract being signed to that effect.

First of all, that figure is out of line on how much is spent on promotion and marketing for the average book by Big Six publishers by a factor of 10.

Leah Griffith said...

Thank you for posting this story. I really hope justice is served. There seems to be no end to the bloodsuckers waiting to make money off of a writer’s hard work.

Nancy Beck said...

This is so disgusting that I can't find enough words to describe how I feel right now.

I really, really hope Rhonda and Shanae win...and big! :-)

Shawn James said...

This is crazy. Authors having to pay an established publisher? ??? Everything is turning so shady in publishing since the industry collapsed in 2008.

In some ways Publishing is becoming as sleazy and shady as the music business.

Victoria Strauss said...

Shawn, the situation described in my post is NOT the norm. At all. That's what makes it shocking.

thegracefuldoe said...

This reminds me of something that happened to me recently. A couple of months ago, after my MS was rejected by a big name publisher, I was contacted by an imprint of the same publisher and told my manuscript had been passed on to them and they'd like to publish it. I was surprised, but a little suspicious. I looked up the imprint on their website to find I would be paying for the books. When a follow up phone call was made by the imprint (where she even admitted she hadn't even read the MS) I politely said no. As authors we can be so excited at the prospect of being published, but we have to be so aware of what we're getting ourselves into.

Shawn James said...

It truly is non-standard. But this is why a writer can't be so eager to take the first offer. Money should go to the author, not the publisher.

Anonymous said...

This doesn't actually surprise me.

I have two friends with similar stories. Both had works published in their high school journal, one was a poem, the other an essay.The Chicken soup people contacted the high schools, not the authors, and proceeded to publish the works. One of my friends threw a fit and got her work removed. The other shrugged it off and went on with life. Neither were paid, which I suspect happens for most, if not all of the chicken soup stories.

It's seems to me this publisher has just found a new way to take advantage.

Chatten said...

I've had one encounter with HCI that left me wondering about the company. It was one of those things that could have been a coincidence, but they never responded to any correspondence with me after the contact, that they initiated. Rude and unprofessional at the very least.

I would love to hear what they have to say about their imprint.

eric said...

This story is funny cause i met the kid when Flavor Flav was doing his book tour. I'm a close friend of flavor flav and i hope this story is as false as fake teeth?

Anonymous said...

I'm very suspicious of Farrah Gray but I can't put my finger on it. I find it hard to believe anything he says and I think in time, things will reveal themselves.

Anonymous said...

you are surprised? you think farrah gray doent cherish money over all else? he built a persona. poor kid, big heart, worked hard..and lifted himself up. Pa lease. con artist. i got through the first cd of "get real, get rich" (at the library)and i thought what a crock of self promoting BS! all crap. junk and just self promotion.

Anonymous said...

I would like to correct a few statements in this blog. FGP publishing is NOT an Imprint of HCI. FGP publishing is a distribution customer of HCI. HCI has absolutely no control over how FGP deals with it's authors or how it promotes it's products,HCI is STRICTLY their distributor who makes money soley based on how many books HCI ships for FGP. HCI has no contact with FGP's authors and does not have anything to do with how they are paid royalies.

AS far as Chicken Soup For the Soul Books,HCI is the publisher not the author of the books that they have publishing right to sell. The authors are soley responsible for all content and properly researching who each story belongs to along with the payment to the orginal story author for the use of their work.

Anonymous said...

I would like to correct a few statements in this blog. FGP publishing is NOT an Imprint of HCI. FGP publishing is a distribution customer of HCI. HCI has absolutely no control over how FGP deals with it's authors or how it promotes it's products,HCI is STRICTLY their distributor who makes money soley based on how many books HCI ships for FGP. HCI has no contact with FGP's authors and does not have anything to do with how they are paid royalies.

AS far as Chicken Soup For the Soul Books,HCI is the publisher not the author of the books that they have publishing right to sell. The authors are soley responsible for all content and properly researching who each story belongs to along with the payment to the orginal story author for the use of their work.

Trinity said...

Typical ish regarding "non traditional publishers" they want YOU the author to pay for everything. If you have to pay anything out of your pocket then YOU BE THE PUBLISHER!!!!! Publish your own work because what they do for you, you can do for yourself. And you keep your own rights to your work.

- Crystal Hickerson, Author
www.crystalhickerson.com

Anonymous said...

OK, I had contact with FGP and plan to work with them, not as an author, but in another capacity, not books, or publishing itself, it' another task, but I did expect to fund stuff on them like this. I've seen good and bad on this company, but seeing as I'm not an author, and will just be working with them on other factors and workings of the company, this does not apply to me directly. Wish me luck!