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April 22, 2016

Small Press Storm Warnings: Pegasus Books, Realmwalker Publishing Group, Spectral Press, Tickety Boo Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A roundup of publishers about which I've recently received serious complaints (all of them documented).

Pegasus Books

Pegasus Books of California (not to be confused with indie publisher Pegasus Books of New York or UK-based vanity publisher Pegasus Elliott Mackenzie or any of the several bookstores by that name) is the subject of serious complaints by authors.

Complaints include referrals to a paid editing service (Rumpelstiltskin Editorial Services) that's presented as an outside contractor, but is actually owned by Pegasus's publisher, Marcus McGee; poor quality editing/copy editing (one writer reports that editing consisted mostly of "the addition of hundreds of italics, em dashes and commas and correcting a few instances of passive voice"); various fees including fees for cover art (even though Pegasus's website presents the company as "a medium-sized traditional publisher" that does not charge fees to authors); pressure to buy finished books (authors are told that marketing is dependent on how many copies they purchase); missed pub dates; broken marketing promises; and unpaid royalties. Pegasus also offers a contract that's substantially based on the old PublishAmerica contract.

Here's one former Pegasus author's account of his terrible experience. Also, for your amusement, check out Pegasus's convoluted screed on why the bad old days "when savvy literary agents 'gifted' respected book reviewers with box seats at the Met and exotic family vacations in exchange for consideration and favorable quotes in newspapers and magazines" are gone, and it's fine for publishers to push authors into paying for editing.

Several Pegasus authors are banding together to try and bring suit against the company for fraud, despite the presence in the Pegasus contract of an arbitration clause. In the meantime...beware.

Realmwalker Publishing Group

In mid-2015, shortly after Realmwalker Publishing Group began publishing books by authors other than its owner, James Drake (who writes under the pen name Lee Aarons), I had a chance to see its contract. I don't often have the opportunity to say that a publishing contract is too author-friendly, but this one was, to the disadvantage of the publisher, with a huge royalty percentage (60% of net), a clause that allowed the author to terminate at will any time after publication, and a four-figure advance--way above average for most small presses.

Amazingly, when I saw another Realmwalker contract a few months later, the company had made things even worse for itself, increasing the author's royalty share to a truly insane 85-95% of net. Even many self-pub platforms don't provide that kind of payment. For added spice, it had created copyright confusion as well--a grant of rights that "exclusively grants, assigns, and otherwise transfers to the Publisher and its licensees, successors, and assigns, all right, title, and interest in and to the Work"--in other words, a copyright transfer--yet, later in the contract, a clause ensuring that copyright notices "in the name of the author" would be included in published books.

After noting all these problems to the author who'd contacted me with questions about the newer contract, I wrote:
All in all, this contract is a recipe for disaster, and I will be surprised if Realmwalker is still in business a year from now. Usually I hear about publishers that greedily try to cheat authors of rights and income, but in this case the publisher is cheating itself. In the long run, though, that works out just as badly for authors.
I mention all of this just to highlight the bizarre mixture of cluelessness and (I believe) genuine good intentions behind Realmwalker--a mixture I see all too often in the small press world, and that all too often leads to doom. I don't take any pleasure in being right.

In December 2015, James Drake posted a rambling YouTube apologia (to which I'm not linking, to spare Drake embarrassment beyond this blog post) for the ongoing logistical and financial problems at the company. When, on March 14, Drake announced the formation and development of six new imprints, authors might have hoped things were getting better--but this apparent sign of health was misleading, because by late March Drake had begun to discuss dissolving the company.

Realmwalker issued its last book on April 5. On his blog, author James Minty discusses the confusion, snafus, and excuses that accompanied release. Other Realmwalker authors report similar experiences, as well as royalty money owing. At least Drake seems to be doing the proper thing and reverting rights--cold comfort to authors who believed their books would be carefully published. Likely authors who contributed stories to Realmwalker's anthology, The Legacy, are similarly high and dry.

As of this writing, there's nothing on Realmwalker's website to indicate that it's out of business, and the webpage for the anthology is still calling for submissions. Writers be warned.

Spectral Press / Tickety Boo Press

I haven't received direct complaints about UK-based Spectral Press, but several Writer Beware readers alerted me to this long, documented blog post from author Simon Bestwick, which describes substantial, long-standing problems with the company. (Several other authors have also blogged about the difficulties at Spectral.)

Apparently, "it has emerged that Spectral is in debt to the tune of between £8,000 - £10,000 GBP. A good part of this consists of monies owed to their authors; in addition to this, many customers had paid for orders that had still not been received." The personal problems of Spectral's owner appear to have substantially contributed to Spectral's decline.

As an attempted fix to the troubles, it was announced in early January that Spectral would be taken over by a friend of Spectral's owner, Gary Compton of Tickety Boo Press. Just one problem:
Meanwhile, this article about Gary Compton had been brought to light [revealing that Compton, whose day job is as a designer/contractor, was the subject of a number of complaints of non-performance]. As was this link, which reveals he actually went bankrupt in 2015. And this link, according to which [Tickety Boo Press] has neither assets nor turnover.
The Tickety Boo info has been confirmed to me in private email; I've also seen a Tickety Boo contract, which includes some iffy provisions. Apparently, Compton has responded to authors' questions and concerns with anger, insults, and social media blocks.

What a sad fate for a once-respected publisher.

4 comments :

Gary Compton said...

I thought I would take the opportunity to respond the your post about me. First of all me going bankrupt relates to my company that went bust in 2006 due mainly to the crash in the home improvement sector that was badly affected by the downturn. I am discharged from my bankruptcy now but can I make the point Tickety Boo press Ltd is an entity in its own right and bankrupts are entitled to continue to work which is what I did. I was cover artist and acquiring editor.

Secondly, I have had a long run in for years with Ian Robson. He takes every opportunity to attack small businesses in the are while leaving the big-boys with even bigger lawyers alone. My business installed 800 kitchens and bathrooms per year and of course due to the use of contractors, there were complaints. We always tried to deal with them as quick as we could.

With regard to Spectral, I tried to help having been in a similar position as Spectral's owner who is a Tickety Boo author. God knows why I did as I have been subject to personal attacks, abusive behaviour from a small selection of former Spectral authors. I can fully understand their frustration but that should be aimed at the owner. Remember, I didn't create the problem, nor was I involved in any way.

I stepped in first week in January. I have successfully reduced the debt, (by getting rid of stock) fulfilled customer orders and paid several authors including Simon Bestwick. The work continues.

I have returned some of the abuse to attackers, rightly or wrongly. However, I work very professionally with TBP authors who in turn have been very supportive and professional. They are paid the day they are supposed to and info is always at hand.

The Tickety Boo contract which is negotiable was based on the contract negotiated by Molly Ker Hawn at the Bent agency for one of her clients and that's the same contract John Jarrold looked over for one of his clients and found nothing that jarred. I am not aware of any clause that is what you call iffy. Perhaps you'd like to enlighten me?

Regards Gary Compton

Victoria Strauss said...

Hi, Gary,

Thank you for your comment.

The bankruptcy petition referred to in my post (or rather, in Simon Bestwick's post) was filed in March of 2015, according to the public record. Just a couple of weeks before that, it appears that you stepped down as Director.

I do think that a recent bankruptcy filing is of relevant concern to authors who are published or are considering publishing with your company. I also find it troubling that in the one Micro-entity Balance Sheet filed for Tickety Boo, Tickety Boo's assets and capital are listed at 0.

I get that it's tough to try to turn around a troubled publisher, and that authors in such a situation can be volatile. But I question the professionalism of responding to such authors in kind, blocking them on social media, etc.. And I really wonder about the wisdom of one apparently troubled publisher taking on the problems of another.

Gary Compton said...

My own bankruptcy is personal it goes back to events in 2006. I have no intention of discussing them here or anywhere else! There is always 2 sides to a story.

The accounts were Jan 2014 to Jan 2015 – our first year where we did virtually nothing till the back end of the year (year end January 2015) apart from plant seeds. And as you know there is a 60-90 day delay in payments from Amazon so any revenue from those “seeds” in 2014 will show in the next years accounts.

I am not sure where you get us being in trouble from. That’s nonsense. All our authors are paid the day they are supposed to! All our editors are paid, cover artists paid, copy-editors paid!

Our contracts are negotiable and fair and we have had 3 top agents agree them without much negotiation.

All Spectral authors will be paid 1st week in May. I would’ve thought that you being a champion of authors you would applaud someone in their efforts to save a failed press. If left, the authors would have undoubtedly got nothing!

Tickety Boo is not a failed press, we go from strength to strength. Our imprints are headed by some very experienced people and our accounts run a very tight ship, plus several of our authors regularly get 4-figure sums in GBP in the royalty periods!

So, great chatting with you but this will be my last response on the matter. I have alot of authors to look after which will keep me busy all of this year.

Regards Gary Compton.

Anonymous said...

Dangerous con artists! Thanks for the warning.

 
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