Friday, June 27, 2014

Start Media Responds to Questions on Purchase of Whiskey Creek Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Shortly after I posted my article about Whiskey Creek Press's purchase by Start Media, and the new contract terms being offered by Start, I received a response from Jarred Weisfeld, President of Start Publishing.

I think it clarifies some of the concerns expressed by WCP authors--including what, for me, was a major question: what will happen to writers with current WCP contracts who don't choose to sign Start's letter of agreement. That, by the way, is information that should have been provided by Whiskey Creek Press in its letter announcing the sale. In my opinion, WCP was seriously remiss in not addressing that issue.

The cut in royalty rates is still going to be hard for authors to swallow (it was a major sticking point when Start took over Night Shade Books). While 25% of net is--regrettably--"standard" for larger houses, it's not typical for small presses.

I also question why, if Start is saying here that rights reversion is automatic for books that fall below the minimum sales threshold, they don't simply include that language in the new contract.
UPDATE, 7/16/14: I incorrectly assumed that Jarred's assurance (below) that "there will be no termination fees in the new Whiskey Creek Agreements" meant that termination fees would be waived for existing Whiskey Creek authors who requested early termination. I provided this interpretation in email to at least one Whiskey Creek author. In fact, I've learned, termination fees will not be waived for existing Whiskey Creek contracts. It's only new contracts, going forward, that won't include them.

My question: who is getting the money, Start or the Womacks? Either way, it seems awfully petty for Start to keep imposing this crappy contract requirement (termination fees suck, and their appearance in a publishing contract is always a red flag).
With permission, I'm reproducing Jarred's email in its entirety below.
We're very excited by the opportunity to develop lasting relationships with Whiskey Creek Press's many talented writers. We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from the authors with whom we've spoken and as we have gotten to know many of these authors, we're impressed with the body of work they've cultivated and their knowledge of their audience. We're looking forward to learning from them and working with them to reach even greater milestones than they have done thus far.

We wanted to address the questions regarding the new terms we have offered WCP's authors to help avoid any confusion.
  • Both the royalty rate and the length of copyright terms we are offering are very common, typically considered "standard" in publishing. Our view toward licensing a work for the term of copyright is that we have an opportunity to continue supporting title sales well beyond what might otherwise happen if the terms were to end after only a few years. As our marketing capabilities continue to grow in scope and complexity, we'll look forward to extending the active life of titles many years beyond their initial release. We're excited to be able to do this with such engaging titles and looking forward to finding innovative ways to market them.
  • For those authors who prefer not to sign on under the new terms, that's absolutely fine and we'll continue to honor the terms of their contract as they already stand. When their license has expired they are free to go elsewhere if they wish. They're also free to exercise their termination clause if they'd like to get out before the end of the license period. (Please be advised there will be no termination fees in the new Whiskey Creek Agreements)
  • Any titles with licenses that expired previously whose authors don't want them to remain with Whiskey Creek Press will likewise be released as per the contract stipulations.
  • If you do not sell the number of copies in our reversion clause you will get your rights back immediately.
  • Please note, we have given authors non-recoupable advances as part of this process. The amount of the advances has varied per author and sales and was a significant amount in aggregate.
We've had great phone calls and emails with some of the authors who had questions about the arrangement going forward. We will continue to engage in this type of dialogue and welcome any concerns any authors may want to bring up to us. We want to make sure all of our authors are happy to be in a partnership that we're excited to begin. We're looking forward to creating a lasting brand and connecting new, engaged audiences with Whiskey Creek Press's authors' dynamic content.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

He's full of it. He's rude, condescending and all manner of other--bull. He's also lied, tried to intimidate and other areas. He flat out lied to me, twice. And 25%? No, that's not standard for ebooks. 35% was low. Most are 40-45%. That 25% is for print books or, as he put it to me, what it's like to sign with a 'major publishing house'. Start is not a major publishing house.

And if he's honoring terms, why are those of us who had those terms violated having to fight to get our rights back? And if there were advances given, I sure didn't get one or was offered. Unless that was the one dollar they offered. No shot. He was blowing smoke your direction because no one I've talked to got an email that polite or well worded. In fact, most I've talked to say he needs a lesson in grammar.

As for us being happy? He's sure not achieving this. All the ones I've talked to are infuriated at the way we're being treated and talked to.

So, sorry, not believing his smoke-screen... He can take his show elsewhere.

Victoria Strauss said...

I want to hear from _any_ WCP author who is having trouble with the transition to Start Media. I can't report on problems unless I hear about them from non-anonymous sources. All information shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence. My email is beware [at] sfwa.org.

About the 25% net ebook royalty: it's standard for larger publishers (unfortunately) but you're right, Anonymous--not for small presses. That low rate was a sticking point when Start acquired Night Shade, which had been paying quite a bit more.

Anonymous said...

People like him are the reason that Amazon is killing the small houses. It's easier to deal, up front, with them and know what you're getting rather than dealing with, how did they put it in the Village Voice when they described him...oh, yes! 'Scum sucking' people (reference here as that is not my wording http://www.mtvhive.com/2012/06/05/odb-dirty-white-boy-biopic/) that are out to get what they can and don't care about anyone else. Amazon might be a nightmare for the smaller houses, but it's easier to deal with and their terms clear. We also have a better shot with them than a house like this that pulls this on us. Because nothing, nowhere, inspired any kind of confidence to sign with them or even try to deal. When lawyers are telling you don't sign, you don't. That's the bottom line.

Anonymous said...

Breach of contract #1: "Royalties will be accumulated and paid forty-five (45) days following the end of each calendar quarter."
I know that I haven't received my payments in that timeframe. Hell, I usually had to inquire as to where the payment was because my ex-agent was under the assumption that I was holding his 15%, when in fact I hadn't gotten paid either.

Breach #2: "Publisher will keep accounts of all receipts and expenditures regarding the Work, and these accounts will be available for Author's inspection. Author may, on reasonable notice, through his/her designated representative, examine Publisher's records that relate to the Work. Such examination shall be at Author's expense, unless errors in excess of 5% of royalties or other sums due the Author by the Publisher shall be found in Author's favor. In that case, Publisher shall defray all reasonable costs of the examination and pay Author any sums due, up to the amount owed Author by Publisher, within thirty (30) days."
Really?! Then why do I receive nothing but radio silence each and every time I have requested DETAILED statements? Their version of a royalty statement is "You sold 178 copies this quarter and your royalties are $243.54" But where did I sell them? And why, if this book is ranking the same as one of my others that sells for the same price and same royalty rate, am I making so much less? Something smells rotten here! Might be why they are basically refusing to provide proof that we've been paid correctly.
And yes, the royalty change from 35% to 25% is complete crap! I have multiple titles out, all with small presses, and the rates are 35-50% for the one's I've signed with. This is like a slap in the face. "Hey, we're selling out and by the way, you are now going to be asked to take a 10% pay cut." I don't think so.

Author said...

Don't forget Breach#3:
WCP continues to sell our books long after the contracts have expired. That is 'willful infringement.'

Victoria Strauss said...

Just to point out that these breaches are by Whiskey Creek press--not by Start Publishing. Yet, at least.

As I said above, if authors have problems with Start that are similar to those they had with WCP--or problems generally, whether similar or different--I want to hear about it.

Author said...

"And why, if this book is ranking the same as one of my others that sells for the same price and same royalty rate, am I making so much less? Something smells rotten here! Might be why they are basically refusing to provide proof that we've been paid correctly."
They need to be audited. Two years ago a group of authors asked for an audit, they even had a Casper accounting firm all good to go, but were met with a wall of silence from the Womacks. You can read about it on Piers Anthony's site.

"August 2012 update: I heard from an author who is doing an audit. I will report on the result of that investigation when I learn of it. This could be interesting. October 2012 update: folk are interested in that audit, but the publisher is stonewalling and progress is slow. One writer is pushing the matter, but others have similar complaints. I will report on this at such time as I get any information."
http://www.hipiers.com/publishing.html#W1

Kevin Waleroup said...

that is why i start Blaster books.i'm going to keep it simple.

Author said...

"Just to point out that these breaches are by Whiskey Creek press--not by Start Publishing. Yet, at least."
If Start wants to set itself apart from WCP, all it has to do is let the authors out who want to go. This is common practice when there's this sort of takeover. We're waiting...and waiting...

Anonymous said...

I am a WCP author. I've had mostly positive experiences with them. I signed the new contract, but now reading all the warnings I am beginning to regret it. I went over the new contract several times, and I didn't see where it stated Start would own the royalties to my book for a lifetime.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous--the contract doesn't say Start will own the royalties of your book for a lifetime. It says that Start takes publishing rights for the duration of copyright--your lifetime plus 70 years.

As I explained in my previous post about the sale of WCP, this isn't to enable Start to hold your royalties hostage until long after you're dead (odds are Start won't even exist for anything like that amount of time), but for it to be able to keep on publishing for as long as your book is selling in decent numbers. However, to prevent a publisher from holding onto rights for some indefinite period after the book stops selling (which publishers these days are incentivized to do, since it costs nothing to keep a digital edition on sale and a publisher can make money even on low-selling books if it has a lot of them in its catalog), a life-of-copyright contract must be balanced by a precise reversion clause that ensures you will get your rights back once sales dip below a stated minimum.

I don't consider Start's reversion language adequate, since although it sets a minimum sales threshold for rights reversion, it doesn't make rights reversion automatic once that threshold is reached (again, see my previous post). In his email, Jarred Weisfeld has promised to promptly revert rights on request--so hopefully that will balance things out. Even so, the language of a contract is always more important than verbal promises--so take that into account.

I don't consider life-of-copyright contracts bad on principle, as many people seem to do, as long as they include the needed checks and balances. However, I don't think they're optimum for small presses. A limited term (for instance, 3-7 years) is preferable.

Linda Mooney said...

I just received an email from Debra Womack at WCP, returning the rights to MOST of my books. The ones still under contract are now with Start. Although I did not sign the new contract, Start refuses to release those books to me, regardless of what he wrote in his email.

Tory Richards said...

Please note, we have given authors non-recoupable advances as part of this process. The amount of the advances has varied per author and sales and was a significant amount in aggregate.

I didn't receive a penny! Nor have I had any contact from the new company. My email is toryrichards60@gmail.com

I also received the rights back from the Womacks to my older books where the contracts had expired. Waiting word on the last one now. That will leave 2 books with Start.

Jennifer Leeland said...

Well those of you who have received a response are lucky. I asked for the process to receive my rights back? Nothing. I've not seen a contract. I have received a check but I'm not cashing lest that give agreement to continued publishing by this company. I'm not against this publisher, but I don't deal with being completely ignored. Hopefully this will be resolved and I can move on.

Linda Mooney said...

Jennifer, I also got a check. And although Weisfeld said in email that the "for royalties and signing bonus" was for royalties only, I'm still reluctant, since I never signed their contract. I can't seem to get a statement for those royalties, either.

Sarah Brabazon said...

I signed a contract with Whiskey Creek Press in April 2014, based on the information from one of their star authors that 'something exciting' was happening. I took this to be a sale, and signed because the original WCP contract suited me well, particularly the 3 year return of rights, and reasonable royalty rate (I contacted some 20 of their authors before signing, and had positive replies from the vast majority). I knew that my contract would still be valid with the purchasing company, under the terms of the original contract. When I received the letter, offering me $1 to sign a new contract with Start Publishing, with the changes to the reversion clause and royalty rate, as mentioned elsewhere, I declined to sign it. Start are honouring my original WCP contract (as they must). My other problem with the Start Publishing deal is that they spin a great line in how much they plan to promote books, that they have a film studio (under the parent company--Start Media), that has Ron Howard currently directing a movie, the implication being that my novel will receive all that attention. However those promises are not in the contract, which is all negative to me in its terms compared to what I originally signed. Now, I hope, through my own efforts, that my career will take off, and that in five or seven years, that the sales of this novella will 'still be going strong.' I want to be the one receiving 70-odd% (or whatever it is at the time) royalty from Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc, not Start. Start Publishing sounds like a great place to work (as an employee), and I wish everyone who has signed with them the very best of luck. Ultimately, they did not suit my own business plan.