Last week, as I was researching my blog post on the troubles at YA publisher Month9Books (which recently reverted rights to 40-50 authors amid allegations of non-payment and other problems), I reached out to owner Georgia McBride with some questions. Her responses are below. (You can also read McBride's interview with YA Interrobang, which published a long article on author and staff allegations.)
VICTORIA STRAUSS: Your email to authors [about the rights reversions] mentions that you fired an accountant who created problems for Month9, including missing and incorrect payments. Can you tell me more about what happened, and what steps you're taking to address the problems and ensure that staff and authors receive payments due them?
GEORGIA MCBRIDE: I can't say more than I have already said about the accountant, and really, I prefer not to focus on him. What I can tell you is that I am working to get everyone caught up and paid in full who is owed a payment. From the many books we've published, there are only about 7 or so outstanding payments actually due at this time. We've managed to get mostly everyone paid since the author email was sent.
VS: Communications I've received from both authors and staff indicate that payment problems go back at least to 2013. I've heard from staff who say they were never paid at all. Can you comment?
GM: I can't comment on what you've heard, since I am not privy to it. I'm also not aware of any freelancers who have never received payment for satisfactory work. There are however, several freelancers who delivered work extremely late or work that was not up to the standard and had to be redone by someone else in order to meet that standard who have not and will not be paid.
When we first started, I paid on a "commission" type basis where the freelancers income was tied to the book's performance. It was a good idea to motivate and encourage people, but I later realized that sometimes a book simply does not sell. And, even if it does, after distribution, printing, marketing, etc., there is little left to pay the editor. So, for those people, who may have worked on projects for little to no payments through 2014, I paid them all--even though I did not have to. Even though they signed contracts stating they would get paid only after the author is paid. In some cases it took almost 2 years to pay them all--but it was important to me to do it, even though I did not have to. Of course, no one is talking about that.
VS: Initially Month9 planned a small publishing list--8-12 books a year is what I've been told--but both acquisitions and the release schedule seems to have very quickly increased far beyond that, and in your Q&A with YA Interrobang you acknowledge that an overcrowded publishing schedule was the source of some of the problems authors are reporting. Why did Month9 ramp up its publishing schedule so quickly, and in hindsight, would you do anything differently?
GM: A publisher needs content to grow. It baffles my mind how anyone who understands the business and what it takes to launch a publishing company could question this. I have said many times that a good publisher not only has awesome books. But a good publisher must have reliable and qualified staff and a solid business foundation that includes accounting and legal counsel. At various points in our short life, Month9Books struggled in all those areas.
Acquiring books and publishing them is not just about the cover. If the compliance isn't there, or there is a lot of turnover in staffing, and or the accounting is lacking; you are going to have a BIG problem. This is where we faulted. And, because I have a habit of not wanting to micromanage, I got into a situation where we simply had too many titles to manage with the resources we had. The right thing to do was to put the brakes on, make some hard decisions regarding which books to release and take steps to solidify the business foundation before moving forward.
Cutting lists isn't new. I didn't invent it. In fact, we do it annually in October. Anyone who has been through it with us can tell you. That said, when my blood clot happened (I had been having bouts of Vertigo earlier in the year), I knew it was way past time to bite the bullet and do what had to be done. Not only were we understaffed in the areas that mattered the most, but now, I was not going to be able to work as much as I had. It would have been unfair and very selfish of me to try to keep all the books. Believe me, I wanted to. I wanted to because I hated disappointing the authors. I was sick to my stomach for weeks because of what I was about to do. But the thing that got me through it was knowing it was ultimately the best for everyone involved, even if it hurt like hell while going through it.
VS: I know this is a tough question, but...many of the authors who've contacted me describe an atmosphere of intimidation at Month9, and have told me they fear reprisals for going public. Does this concern you, and do you have plans for addressing this perception going forward?
GM: Not at all, but then again, I can't comment on what you have heard since I have no idea what you were told. That said, I am not at all concerned about these comments since many authors naturally feel scared about saying anything derogatory about their publishers or future publishers or agents, etc. This isn't anything new. But here's the thing, I have rights too. It's my right to protect myself, my family, my staff, my authors and my partners from anything that could potentially negatively impact my business. I have every right to defend myself and my company against libel and defamation. I will continue to assert that right, no matter who it upsets.
VS: What's next for Month9Books?
GM: You know what? We've been busy working! I have announced 4 audiobook deals in the last couple of weeks, a new reading club license with Scholastic, and we have our first China release coming in a few months! China! In the immediate future, we have an amazing slate of Fall books and are looking to publish our very first young reader series in early 2017. Thanks so much!