Monday, September 26, 2011

Trouble at Aspen Mountain Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

To all appearances, Colorado-based Aspen Mountain Press is an active and problem-free publisher. According to its Submissions page, it is currently seeking new fiction, and it recently launched a SF/fantasy imprint.

This attractive facade, however, is misleading. For a number of weeks now, I've been hearing from authors and staff about major troubles with AMP. Complaints (see this example, which is similar to the reports I've received directly) include nonpayment of royalties, continuing to sell books whose contracts have expired, delayed publication schedules, and lack of communication.

Word of problems with AMP first surfaced this past June, when an AMP staff member announced that AMP's founder, Sandra Hicks, was taking a leave of absence from the company and senior staff were assuming responsibility for all operations.

Apparently, those efforts didn't bear fruit. AMP's senior staff quit en masse in early August. Subsequently, Ms. Hicks became incommunicado, reportedly refusing to respond to phone calls, email, or paper mail. Scheduled books weren't released; scheduled royalty payments weren't made.

Ms. Hicks broke her silence in late September, promising to remedy some of the delayed releases (though apparently that hasn't happened yet). But many of AMP's authors, fed up and frustrated, just want their rights back.

Will AMP survive? At the moment, the signs aren't promising, though you never know. For now, authors considering submitting to AMP are well-advised to hold off until the current problems are resolved (if indeed they can be).

You can read much of the ugly story at Absolute Write. Relevant discussion starts on page 4 of the thread. Also see first-hand accounts by AMP authors Esther Mitchell, Celia Kyle, Grace Wen, and Andy Dunn.


29 comments:

Lillie McFerrin said...

Thank you for posting this. Great information for writer's. I hope AMP is able to get their stuff together and continue putting out great books.

Grace said...

Thank you for bringing attention to this. Correction: Sandra's last name is Hicks, not Holmes.

Danielle said...

Even if they were to get back up-and-running, I think it will take a while before the literary world trusts them again.

Victoria Strauss said...

Grace, thanks for the correction, and sorry for the brain fart--I've edited the post.

Lynne Connolly said...

Most of the writing community has been coping with this for a while, and the fallout hasn't been pleasant. I really don't know what's going on, but I do know several people involved in this, and not one is happy at the publisher.
The Regency line, Aurora, did some active recruitment and some of their authors signed contracts for multiple books. I have heard as many as six. But I understand that the previous management has bought the Aurora line and the author contracts. My fingers and toes and everything else are crossed for them.

Grace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grace said...

Also, notice that as of today (9/26), the AMP site has a promo banner for a celebration that occurred August 1-7. The site hasn't been updated since late July/early August.

Seeley deBorn said...

Considering that the senior staff who quit en masse actually left to start their own publishing company, it's really not surprising that this has happened. That they then went and purchased AMP assets makes me wonder why they didn't just buy AMP and maintain the existing brand, rather than having to build their own. After all AMP did appear to be a fairly establshed and stable, if small, player in the ebook scene.

I guess we can only hope that the same thing doesn't happen to Musa.

Dominique Eastwick said...

Seeley,

I can't in good faith go into the details of what happend with Amp and the senior staff what I can tell you is that after some talks buying Amp was not a feasible option.

Mr. Urania said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CA Summers said...

For the record, Musa Publishing did try to purchase all of AMP. When we couldn't arrive at a mutual price for the company, AMP offered to let us purchase individual contracts. We were in the midst of negotiating for those individual books/contracts when negotiations broke down unilaterally and permanently on their part. We had offered AMP forgiveness for our entire unremitted back salaries in exchange for as many contracts/books as we could get. But after AMP cashed the check we sent them for the Aurora Regency Imprint, AMP promptly breached the remainder of our contract with them.

So we did try--first to save AMP, then to buy AMP, and finally to free as many authors as we could from AMP. We succeeded with the Aurora line; To my sorrow, AMP refused everything else.

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

(Sorry, I posted this from the wrong account. Can't even blame it on a lack of coffee.)

I'm one of the former AMP Aurora authors whose contracts were bought out by Musa. I was then offered the choice of my rights reverting back to me, or to have those titles re-released by Musa.

It's awful to sit and watch these authors who are trying to free themselves, and see them being ignored. They're stuck in limbo and it has to be frustrating beyond belief.I'm glad to see word getting out to keep any other writers from falling into it.

Samantha said...

Hello, I ma one of "those authors" and I am indeed stuck in limbo. I have a brand new title, The Detention Demon, which was to release in exactly one week. It has no cover, no editorial approval, and no one from AMP has been in contact with me regarding my work for nearly three months. I have done no promotion because I know, there will be no release. It was to be my 3rd book, and my first horror novel, and my first in the middle grade genre. I am sick about it. Sandra Hicks has ignored my request to return the rights and I am, as indicated, stuck in limbo. The new ownership at Musa Publishing have bent over backwards to release me and more than 60 other authors from the same fate. They have been classy, dignified and generous. That they failed is NOT on them. I'll get my beloved work back, as well all will some day, it just won't be easy. In fact it may be EPIC, but it will happen. I can only thank the ethical gals at Musa for everything they did and learn my lesson. Thanks for letting me vent.

Victoria Strauss said...

I want to thank the AMP authors who've contributed to this comment thread. It isn't easy to speak out about this kind of situation.

Dave K said...

How do you prevent this from happening in the future? Can you have a clause in your contract that reverts the rights to the author if the book is not published in a reasonable time frame? Would publishers accept such a clause?

Lili said...

Dave K, I'm pretty sure my contract (Big Six publisher) does have a clause saying that the book must be published within X amount of time. I'm not sure it says the rights would revert if that was breached, but it does mean that some publishers are OK with having a deadline.

Victoria Strauss said...

I always advise authors to look for a clause like that, Dave, and if the contract doesn't contain it, to try and negotiate it in. If the publisher refuses...walk away, especially if the grant term extends from the date of publication.

Publish-within-a-specific-time-period-or-else-return-rights clauses are pretty standard in the contracts of trade publishers; where they are missing, it's mostly in the contracts of smaller publishers.

Alexander said...

That is super information!! Thanks for sharing it.

Charles Wells said...

I'm also one of the Aspen Authors demanding rights back along with royalty payments in arrears since Jan. 2010. AMP is also holding three sequels that have not been touched in prep for publishing.. I am beyond understanding this owner's motives or reasons. All I can say is, don't touch anything with the Aspen Mountain press label on it..

Doug Brunell said...

This is distressing to hear.

BuffySquirrel said...

Ugh. What a mess.

Anonymous said...

This is highly reminiscent of another publishing company, this one UK based, called Hirst. They, too, have a track record for not paying authors, and the publishing world at large are not aware of this. Never mind the readers who continue to buy the books and support Hirst Publishing, unaware that for the most part their monies are going into some abyss that rarely includes the authors' bank accounts. It's a sad state of affairs, since other than a select few, most of the Hirst authors are relatively unknown and will thus not speak out, since for them this could be the only chance they have are seeing their work out there.

Dee Dawning said...

My God, This is awful. This happened to me once, but it was a cordial break-up. I know that many pubs are reluctant to look at reclaimed book rights, but we at New Dawning Bookfair would be pleased to look at any reclaimed books.

Keep that in mind as you proceed and good luck to all involved.

Dee

Anonymous said...

Any news on AMP. Its site is now down. I am one of the authors still waiting to hear from them. What is the news on the street about AMP currently? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Any news on AMP. Its site is now down. I am one of the authors still waiting to hear from them. What is the news on the street about AMP currently? Thanks!

Grace said...

The latest word is here. It's even worse than I thought:

http://kaantira.blogspot.com/2011/10/breaking-my-silence-on-aspen-mountain.html

Adonis Devereux said...

Great info here! Thanks.

Nancy Sanders said...

1) I contacted the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service (1-877-777-4778) who advised me to download “Form 3949A” from the IRS web site at www.irs.gov, fill it out and mail it to the IRS so that they may look into the alleged “co-mingling of accounts” or possible “tax fraud” by Hicks. I downloaded that form, filled it out and mailed it to the IRS. I have not received a response.

2) I spoke with the Colorado State Attorney General’s Office (1-800-222-4444) in their Consumer Complaint Department. The woman I spoke with recommended two approaches to me. One, hire a personal attorney to address the situation with Ms. Hicks in a Colorado court if we can afford it (not an option). Two, go to the AG’s web site at www.colorado.attorneygeneral/complaint, select the “Private Business” link, fill out that online complaint form and submit it to the AG’s Office electronically.

3) Two days after that submission, I received a very timely phone call from the AG’s Office stating that if “enough” authors contact the AG’s Office regarding unpaid royalties, they will look into the matter. They did not define what “enough” would be. Additionally, in that response the AG’s Office advised me to also reach out to the IC3 Center (1-303-866-4500) at www.ic3.gov, telling me that the IC3 Center is a multi-agency consisting of the FBI, Department of Justice and the National White Collar Crime Center, all of whom are charged with the prevention of cybercrime. I’m assuming this suggestion was made because as Aspen is primarily an e-publisher, non-payment of e-royalties could fall under the heading of cybercrime. I filled out the IC3 online form and submitted it electronically.

4) I was told by the AG’s Office that the AG’s Office works closely with the Better Business Bureau and I should also contact the Denver BBB. I snail mailed the Denver BBB a letter detailing the situation, mailing the letter to 1020 Cherokee Street, Denver, CO 80204.

5) Lastly, I spoke with the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office. I was directed to a man by the name of “Mason” (1-720-874-8500). It’s my understanding that it is the opinion of Mason that Hicks “hasn’t violated any prosecutorial statutes” and that this is, therefore, a civil matter. Mason recommends the authors band together and hire one attorney to get in front of a Colorado judge. I don’t understand Mason’s opinion. If Bernie Madoff can go to prison for ripping people off, I don’t understand why non-payment of royalties (and personally spending such non-paid royalties) would not be a prosecutorial crime. This makes me wonder are we are just “little fish,” not worth the effort?