Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

June 16, 2016

Tate Publishing & Enterprises Slapped with $1.7 Million Lawsuit, Department of Labor Investigation

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Since putting this post online, I've received dozens of questions about whether there's a class action lawsuit against Tate. To my knowledge, the answer currently is no. I don't think that's the best option, anyway, because given all the complaints by authors and staff of non-payment, I'm guessing that Tate has few resources to tap for reparations.

Instead, I'd strongly encourage authors to file complaints with the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office and with the FBI. Individual complaints don't usually spur action, but a volume of them may, especially if they are received over a short period of time. The Oklahoma AG has already received a lot of complaints about Tate.

File a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office

Contact the FBI field office in Oklahoma City


This is a developing situation; see the updates at the bottom of this post.

Readers of this blog may be familiar with Tate Publishing & Enterprises--an Oklahoma-based publisher that describes itself as "a Christian-based, family-owned, mainline publishing organization with a mission to discover and market unknown authors."

Tate takes pains to depict itself as a selective traditional publisher that accepts "only a single-digit percentage of authors who submitted manuscripts for publication" (a claim that's a little hard to credit from a publisher that, if Amazon is to be believed, pumped out 3,000 titles in 2015). In fact, authors must pay nearly $4,000 to publish with Tate, with even more due if they choose to buy any of Tate's array of extras, such as "personalized author websites" and video book trailers. Tate also incentivizes author book-buying, by promising to refund the original fee once 2,500 books are sold and allowing author purchases to count toward the total--though only if made in bulk quantities of 300 or more.

There is no mention of any of this on Tate's website or in its videos. Tate doesn't disclose its fees until authors either submit a manuscript or request more info. For that reason, as well as the very large volume of complaints we've received about the company (many of them from writers who approached Tate in the belief that it was a traditional publisher), Tate is included on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publishers List. (For this and other comments we made, Tate claimed in a 2008 blog post to be suing us, but no lawsuit was ever filed.)

You don't have to take my word about the complaints, by the way. In 2015, Tate was the second most complained-about company to the Oklahoma attorney general. Many more complaints--not just about Tate Publishing, but about its vanity recording subsidiary, Tate Music Group--can be found online, including at the Better Business Bureau--where, despite 102 complaints over the past 3 years and what the BBB acknowledges as "a significant pattern of complaints", Tate has an "A" rating. (How do you get an "A" rating from the BBB despite more than 100 customers complaining about your service? Sign up to become a BBB accredited business and make sure you respond to everything.) (UPDATE: Sometime between me putting this post online and June 24, the BBB suspended Tate's accreditation and removed its rating.)

Tate got some unflattering news coverage in 2012, when CEO Ryan Tate fired 25 production workers in retaliation for an anonymous email about rumored layoffs at the company (the rumors were sparked by Tate's decision to outsource some of its work to the Philippines). Ryan Tate's nearly 20-minute rant, recorded secretly by an employee, went viral after it was leaked online. (You can listen to it--if you dare--here. You can also marvel at Tate's Employment Agreement, here.)

Now Tate may be in bigger trouble. Xerox Corporation, which leases some of the equipment Tate uses for its 24-hour-a-day printing facility, has filed a $1.7 million lawsuit against Tate Publishing and Ryan Tate, alleging defaults on re-structured lease and service agreements and on a promissory note executed to address previous debt, and seeking re-possession of $450,000 in leased equipment as well as a money judgment of $463,786.90 against Ryan Tate personally, as Guarantor on the promissory note. The full petition can be seen here.

The suit has spurred some local media attention, and Ryan Tate isn't taking it lying down. To The Journal Record (sorry--paywall) he characterized the lawsuit as intimidation. "[Xerox is] just positioning and posturing, trying to force us to sign some different long-term contracts we’re not interested in." To KFOR.com he downplayed the impact of the suit, describing Xerox as "really a small part of our manufacturing process.” To the Mustang News, he claimed that "We are in the process of filing our counter suits and Xerox is trying to force us to use their equipment for our shop on a long-term basis as well as they have failed to deliver on some major contractual elements in regards to service, maintenance, and equipment purchases." (Worth noting: according to this glowing 2011 "case study" on Tate's partnership with Xerox, Tate has been working with Xerox since at least 2007, and its production facility is set up with "all Xerox digital equipment.")

That's not the only lawsuit Tate is fielding at the moment. One of its authors, Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks, has filed suit for breach of contract, deceptive trade and marketing practices, fraud, and several other causes of action, alleging that she paid over $12,000 for a book that was published full of errors (twice) and never marketed. She's asking for her money back, as well as attorneys' fees and damages. Her amended complaint, which includes pages from her book showing the mistakes, can be seen here.

Summonses in both suits were issued on the same day, May 27. Tate has 20 days to respond. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 7/1/16: More trouble for Tate. Local news station KFOR reports that staff have been laid off from Tate's printing plant, and author complaints of non-payment are surfacing (Writer Beware has received similar complaints).

UPDATE 11/15/16: Per the most recent updates to the court docket, plaintiff Xerox has successfully re-possessed its equipment, but retained a cause of action for lease amounts still due. It has also discovered additional debts that weren't included in the original complaint. Accordingly, it has filed an Amended Petition raising the total money amount it's seeking from Tate to $1.89 million.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Labor has launched an investigation into Tate--an investigation that has spurred allegations of tampering from some Tate employees, who claim that Ryan Tate "coached" them on what to say.

UPDATE 11/30/16: Nobody knows the troubles Tate's seen...oh, wait, everyone does. News Channel KFOR reports that three new lawsuits have popped up this month: one by a musician suing over copyright laws (a customer of Tate Music Group, which also runs on a vanity model); one by memorabilia manufacturer Jostens, which claims that Tate owes it more than $13,000; and one by the property company that leases Tate its print shop (vacant now that Xerox has re-possessed its equipment), which claims that Tate owes nearly $20,000 in rent.

UPDATE 12/22/16: I'm getting a flood of emails and comments not just from Tate authors, but from Tate staffers in the Philippines (you can see some of the comments below). Here's what I'm hearing.

- Apparently Tate's Philippine workforce once numbered close to 1,000, but massive dismissals have seriously reduced this. The consensus seems to be that around 80% of staff have lost their jobs since October.
- Unpaid or part-paid salaries and bonuses; apparently corporate headquarters in the USA hasn't been wiring enough money to cover payroll.
- Staff complaints filed with the local Labor Department, citing salary disputes and dismissals without the required 30-day notice.
- Production halts and slowdowns have put books in limbo, since there's no longer sufficient staff to work on them.
- Resignation of high-level corporate staff in the US.
- Silence on these issues from corporate headquarters.

The Philippine staffers I've heard from are convinced that Tate can't survive much longer. Several have told me that they suspect that the Tates are shifting assets to a new company called Lux Creative Concepts LLC, which was registered in February 2016 by Ryan Tate's wife, Christy Kelley-Tate.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1/10/17: From the comments on this post, today--I stress that this is unconfirmed. [UPDATE:: at least one Tate author has received an email from Tate's marketing department confirming the closure]

"Tate Publishing has officially shut down their business in the Philippines today. Their main office in Cebu has been locked up by the Department of Labor and the owner of the building due to non-payment of the rent."

UPDATE 1/11/17: And another:

"I'm an ex-employee of Tate, and we were just at the Cebu office yesterday. Today is the the last day that the office is open, mainly for HR to furnish ex-employees with certificates of employment and other documents. The Department of Labor has officially ceased all operations and is taking stock of the company's physical assets.

We have been informed that, as of this writing, there is no official directive or announcement from the Tates that the company is closing or declaring bankruptcy."

UPDATE 1/12/17: More on the Philippines debacle from an Oklahoma-based blog that has published a lot of articles about Tate's shenanigans. A former Tate staffer in Tate's now-closed Cebu offices describes partial payment of salaries, non-payment of government-mandated bonuses, and other problems dating back months.

I've received many similar emails from Cebu staffers, one of whom shared with me the Department of Labor notice resulting from a compliance visit to Tate's Cebu offices on January 9. Findings:


UPDATE 1/14/17: Some Tate authors report receiving an email signed by Tate's Director of Production, Tim Kelley, claiming that Ryan Tate hasn't paid employees and "your book will never be finished." This email was reportedly followed, within a couple of days, by another email claiming that the first email was the result of "identity theft" and its allegations aren't true.

Okay.

Meanwhile, Tate authors are receiving this, also--apparently--from Tim Kelley:


Things are fine, folks, just fine. Never mind the mass layoffs of employees. Never mind the lack of payment and non-communication. It's all just a transition.

I'd love to hear from Tate authors who sign up for the portal. Have you received any results from your "new support ticket"?

UPDATE 1/16/17: There's now a forum for Tate authors to share experiences and support: Tate Publishing Help.

UPDATE 1/18/17: The Xerox lawsuit goes to court on Friday.

"Meanwhile, it was unclear Tuesday who is representing Tate Publishing in the case. The firm's attorney when the lawsuit initially was filed was Richard L. Hasley, of Oklahoma City. But in September, an order was granted allowing Hasley to withdraw from the case, as he was retiring.

Hasley was replaced by George H. Ramey and William D. Tharp, of Ramey & Tharp in Yukon.

On Dec. 1, Ramey & Tharp submitted an application to withdraw from the case as Tate Publishing's representatives, as well, saying the Mustang publisher had failed to meet its financial obligations with the law firm."


And...uh oh. This is what you get at 12:53pm on January 18 when you click on Tate's website URL:


YET ANOTHER UPDATE, 1/18/17: I've now heard from several Tate authors and former US staffers that Tate closed down today. Two people have told me that it is considering a bankruptcy filing.

BUT...

Remember how I mentioned suspicions that Tate was shifting assets to a new company called Lux Creative Concepts, LLC, registered last February in Oklahoma by Ryan Tate's wife, Christy Kelley-Tate? Well, get a load of this.

As many Tate authors know, Tate's Marketing Director is Terry Cordingley. Here's a screenshot, taken today, of the Mr. Cordingley's Blogger profile; it identifies him as Tate's Associate Director of Marketing, a position he says he's held since 2006:


And here's a cut-and-paste, also taken today, of Mr. Cordingley's LinkedIn profile, which identifies him as the Director of Marketing for Lux Creative, a position he also says he's held since 2006:


Draw your own conclusions.

June 9, 2016

BookLife Prize in Fiction

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've been getting some questions about the BookLife Prize in Fiction, a new award for unpublished and self-published novels. Prizes include a "brief critical assessment" from Publishers Weekly reviewers for all entrants (BookLife is owned by PW), a book blurb from "a bestselling or award-winning author" for semi-finalists, and a grand prize of $5,000 for a single winner.

BookLife claims to "[tap] the experience, integrity, and authority of Publishers Weekly to help indie authors achieve their goals." It offers a free submission portal for writers who want to submit self-published books for review, along with "editorial content—success stories, interviews, author profiles, how-to pieces, news, and features". There's also a Service Directory, whose DIY entries--some of which are paid ads--are subject to restrictions via BookLife's Terms & Conditions, but otherwise appear to be unvetted. For instance, there are listings for Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down List and long the subject of an Alert on Writer Beware) as well as SBPRA's "marketing" subsidiary, Author Marketing Ideas. As "endorsed" listings, they receive preferential placement. Problem is, in both cases, the "endorsements" are from SBPRA employees.

I've been skeptical of BookLife since its inception, in part because of the failings of the Service Directory, in part because much of its content is generic info widely available on the web, or else reprints from industry bloggers or PW itself. Also, although BookLife is free, the site promotes PW Select, which charges $149 for a listing in PW and "featured" presence on BookLife.

With its multiple judging rounds and the participation of PW reviewers and editors, BookLife's Prize in Fiction is reminiscent of Amazon's (now-discontinued) Breakthrough Novel Award, which was also done in partnership with PW--though the crowdsourcing element is missing (judging in the ABNA was partly based on votes from the public), and there's no publication offer waiting for the winners.

There's another difference as well. Entering the Breakthrough Novel Award was free. Entering BookLife's Prize in Fiction requires a whopping non-refundable entry fee of $99.

A big entry fee like this, as many of you know, is one of the signs of an awards profiteer--an organization that runs writing awards and contests not to honor writers but to make a buck (I've written a lot about such organizations on this blog). So I contacted BookLife to ask why the fee was so high. I quickly heard back from BookLife President Carl Pritzkat, who confirmed what I suspected: part of the fee goes to cover honorariums for the PW reviewers who'll be providing the critiques. But he also told me that "in terms of the entry fee we were modeling it after prizes like Forward Magazine's INDIES ($99 with an early-bird rate of $79), IndieReader's Discovery Awards ($150 for the first category of entry) and IBPA's Benjamin Franklin Awards ($95 per category for members; $225 for non-members)."

I don't suspect BookLife of being an awards profiteer. Apart from the huge entry fee, other warning signs aren't present. But honorariums or no honorariums, $99 is a lot of money, and in light of the large number of cynical awards schemes that seek to profit from aspiring and self-published writers' hunger for recognition and exposure, I have to wonder why BookLife would choose to model itself after IndieReader and its ilk.

The grand prize is a nice chunk of change, and given how much writers have to struggle to obtain worthwhile feedback, author blurbs and reviewer critiques are certainly tempting. But I'd suggest that writers who are considering  this contest do some serious thinking about whether it's worth handing over nearly $100 for a few sentences of feedback and the slim possibility of winning $5,000.

June 3, 2016

Back From Hiatus: Why I Went Away

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I don't often post about personal stuff here. But I wanted to let you all know why I vanished abruptly at the beginning of May (which is also why, for the past couple of years, this blog has been idle for weeks at a time). My mother, Alice Fellows, died on May 14, after a long illness.

Probably taken in the early 1950s,
when she was in her 30s
Who was my mother? There are many ways I can answer that question. I can say that she was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1926 (or possibly 1928--she was famously cagey about her age) in a house that is now on the National Historic Register. That she attended Hudson Strode's famous creative writing class while at the University of Alabama; that the novel she began there, Laurel, was published by Harcourt Brace when she was just 22, to praise from the New York Times and Kirkus, among others. That, eager to escape the South, she moved to New York City in the early 1950s to attend graduate school at Columbia University, where she met and married my father. That in the succeeding years she gave up writing fiction, but earned a masters degree and did much of the work for a PhD. That when my parents divorced in 1977, she moved back to New York and, not having held a job for more than two decades, landed a secretarial position at a publisher and eventually worked her way up to Senior Editor with Frommer's. That in her later years she returned to fiction writing, completing a historical novel about the Jacobite uprising of 1745.

The historic Tuscaloosa home where she grew up
I can say that my mother was one of the most intelligent people I've ever known, and also one of the most stubborn, independent, self-absorbed, secretive, and fearless. That she loved to travel more than anything (in her 70s, after retiring from Frommer's, she landed her dream job: freelance travel book writer). That for most of my life she was my closest friend, the person I could share everything with and tell anything to, my best-of-all-time movie-museum-concert-shopping buddy. That she never really forgave me for writing genre fiction ("When are you going to write a real novel?"), but even so was my go-to beta reader, with a sharp editorial eye that shaped all my books. That I regret the semi-estrangement that grew between us in the last decade of her life, as she became increasingly obsessive and bitter about the state of the world and the indignities of aging--and more and more angry with me for the worry I couldn't hide about her obviously declining health. I tried once to tell her that the people who love you are going to worry about you whether you want them to or not, and you really need to just forgive them. She didn't want to hear it.

On the birthday she claimed as her 90th,
though it may actually have been her
87th or 89th
I can say that her final illness--a diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer in 2013--changed everything (our semi-estrangement vanished as if it had never been) and nothing (see stubborn, independent, self-absorbed, and secretive, above). This nearly three-year ordeal was extraordinarily difficult not only for her, but for family and loyal friends, as we banded together to make it possible for her to go on living independently in her home, as she wished. Because we honored her, we honored her decisions, even where we felt they were bad ones. Not until the very last week of her life, for instance, did she finally yield to our pleas to accept in-home and hospice care.

I can say all these things. But they don't really add up to a picture of my mother, or help me figure out how I feel now she's gone. I'm sure that many of you reading will be familiar with the tangle of relief and grief that comes at the end of a loved one's drawn-out illness, especially where there is suffering. I still catch my breath every time the phone rings. When I forget that her struggle and ours is over, I'm still stalked by the worry and dread that, over the past three years, have been my daily companions.

I do know that I am not yet able to imagine the world without her. In my mind she's still in her New York apartment, reading or writing or researching, attending operas and concerts and dance recitals, going to lunch with friends, planning that trip to India she always wanted to make--living a life that was lone but not lonely, always full, and always, always on her own terms.
 
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