This post has been updated.
Troubled publisher Torquere Press is closing. Owners Kristi Boulware and Joanna Talbot announced their decision yesterday in an email that will doubtless infuriate many authors, but probably won't surprise them:
We have thought long and hard about where things are with Torquere and made the very hard decision that we need to begin the process of closing this chapter of our lives....We have done everything we could to turn things around but with the saturation in the industry, the financial hardships we are in, my health in constant decline along with the negativity we have had hurdled our way. We feel like we are currently fighting an uphill battle.Trouble at Torquere (which had been in business since 2003 with no problems) surfaced in early 2016, a little more than a year after Boulware and Talbot took it over. Reports of royalty payment problems began to proliferate, even as Torquere participated in Twitter pitch contests to find new manuscripts. During the summer, Boulware was arrested on a hot check charge, allegedly after payment to one author bounced. (UPDATE: the charge was dismissed on December 13 after Boulware posted a cash bond of $10,150.50.) In November, communication stopped completely, with neither Boulware nor Talbot answering authors' emails or responding to Facebook messages. Ominously, both co-owners removed "Torquere" from their Twitter handles and bios.
Now the other shoe has dropped. According to the email, which was sent to all Torquere authors, writers will receive rights reversions, a process Boulware anticipates will take at least 90 days. As for when (or whether) they'll get the royalties they're owed...well, on that issue Boulware is vague. "We are still looking at options on how to get everyone paid," she says. Hmmm.
The rights reversions will revert rights only to authors' originally-submitted text. "You will not be allowed to keep your cover art, ISBNs, or final edited versions of the books." Obviously ISBNs can't be re-used, and most publishers keep copyright to cover art (which they furnish at their cost)--but claiming copyright on edits is not the norm. Unfortunately, it's something I'm seeing more and more of in small press contracts--even though it's a pointless (how does the publisher benefit by keeping a death-grip on editorial revisions?), burdensome (since the author must re-edit an already-edited work), predatory (since revisions are typically done by authors themselves at editors' suggestion), and likely not even legally defensible practice. I consider it a contract red flag.
Is the copyright claim on editing even in the Torquere contract? I've heard of publishers that have made this claim on reversion, despite no contract clause allowing them to do so. Looking back through my files, I see that I've never actually seen a Torquere contract. Anyone want to share? I'd be interested to know if that language is in there.
Torquere authors, please let me know if you are receiving reversions--and if you are getting paid. All information shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence.
I'll update this post with any new information.
UPDATE 12/15/16: I've now seen several Torquere contracts, which do not include any copyright claim on edits.
I've also been informed by several authors that Kristi Boulware has offered some clarification on what's meant by "final edited versions of the books." Responding to questions in Torquere's Yahoo group, she confirmed that this doesn't mean the text, but rather the formatting--in other words, Torquere is not claiming copyright on edits, just the final formatting of the book. I don't know why this wasn't made clearer in the "we're closing" email, but there you go.
UPDATE 12/18/16: Per documentation that I've seen, Boulware is not claiming copyright on the final edited text of published books whose rights she is reverting. She is, however, forbidding writers to use edited text if their reverted books haven't yet been published.
If your book is NOT released and you have received edits from your editor. [sic] Then you are expected to not use those edits. We are being billed for edits on manuscripts under contract and those edits should not be taken elsewhere when that contract was voided since it was never finalized with Torquere.