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April 25, 2018

Author Complaints Mount at Curiosity Quills Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


This post has been updated.

I first started hearing about Curiosity Quills Press in 2016, because of its unusual early termination fees. Not that early termination fees themselves are unusual (unfortunately): I see them fairly often in contracts I'm asked to evaluate (and they are always a red flag; here's why).

What makes CQ's fees unusual is that they're part of an annual event. This is outlined on CQ's website, and also in its contract:


On the surface this may seem like a publisher being flexible and author-friendly--a get-out-of-jail-if-not-exactly-free procedure that authors can follow in a guaranteed and orderly manner. In fact, such provisions often work to the detriment of both authors and publishers--publishers because escape clauses may incentivize early departure, including by authors they'd rather keep; and authors because the costs can be enormous (not to mention unverifiable, if the publisher charges a flat fee or provides no supporting invoices). Plus, publishers can and do abuse termination fees--for instance, by terminating the contracts of writers who've pissed them off and demanding the fee even though termination wasn't the writer's decision.

I have never heard that CQ does anything like that. But, based on documentation I've seen--and also by CQ's own admission in correspondence with me--CQ's termination fees can top $700 per book, which, for authors requesting multiple terminations, may add up to several thousand dollars. Also, because CQ charges the entire production cost back to the author--even though, in most cases, some of that cost has been recovered through book sales--the fees yield not just reimbursement for unrecouped expense, but some degree of profit...especially where the fees compensate cash CQ never actually had to lay out in the first place, such as design and editing work done by CQ's owners, Eugene Teplitsky and Alisa Gus.

I've also gotten complaints about inconsistent editing (there are some public posts about this as well). In general, though, complaints about CQ were few through most of 2016, and many authors reported being happy with the publisher.

In late 2016, however, things started to change. A trickle of reports of additional problems began to appear online: errors introduced into proofs, missed deadlines (CQ's contract includes an elaborate set of deadlines for editing, proofing, cover art, etc.), poor communications, and a lack of marketing support (reportedly a change from CQ's early days when it had an active marketing department).

By 2018, the trickle had become a flood. Authors began reporting not just the troubling issues mentioned above, but a host of others: revisions that never made it into published books, books published with uncorrected errors, typos on the covers of printed books, cover art received just days before the pub date, unanswered emails, book shipping problems, and late royalty payments, with some authors reporting that they hadn't been paid in months. A number of these authors had been with CQ for years and were reluctant to criticize it, but felt compelled to speak out because of the decline they perceived in quality, timeliness, and responsiveness.

Via email, CQ's co-owner and CTO, Eugene Teplitsky, told me that he was aware of the problems, which he attributed to "an overambitious release schedule and small, dedicated, but overloaded team". He says that CQ is working to improve things by hiring a new staff member and scaling back its new releases (based on a search at Amazon, CQ has averaged 73 releases a year for the past few years--a lot for a small press).

Eugene acknowledged the late royalty payments, but denied that they were tardy by more than a few days. When I mentioned that I've seen documented complaints of royalties that were late by months, he responded that "I can only go by what I see in our ledger," and invited authors to reach out to him for resolution. (Several authors who contacted me indicated that they had done this, and were not satisfied with the results.) To make accounting easier, Eugene plans to shift CQ from a monthly (!) royalty payment schedule to a bi-annual one (though I've been told by authors that other CQ promises to re-vamp its contract have yet to come to fruition).

I also asked why, when calculating termination fees, CQ bills authors for their books' entire production cost without factoring in money made on sales. Eugene gave me a couple of responses--most of the authors exercising the escape clause have low sales so production costs "were not even close to being recouped", the chargeback is less than what authors would pay if they commissioned the work themselves (!)--but didn't really address my question.

The potential for a secret profit isn't the only concern here. If an escape clause can make money for a publisher, the publisher may be tempted to encourage its authors to use it. For instance:


The screenshot above is from one of CQ's updates about its mysterious WishKnish project (more on that below). Authors are being told that they will be expected to shoulder a major amount of marketing for this project--and if they aren't happy about that, are being invited to leave. Which, of course, they cannot do without handing over quite a lot of money. Either way, CQ benefits: enthusiastic author-marketers or cash payouts. For authors, the advantages are less clear.

So what is WishKnish? It seems to have begun as an effort by CQ's owners to establish a non-Amazon marketplace for CQ sales, but has morphed into an e-commerce website where sellers of all kinds, including CQ authors, can establish storefronts and make "coin-agnostic" (i.e., cryptocurrency-friendly) sales and purchases (the "knish" is WishKnish's own currency token). There are also social media and crowdfunding components.

If you look through the jargon-heavy website, it's clear this is a major project for CQ's owners--and equally clear that it has nothing to do with publishing. Many of the CQ authors who contacted me fear that the problems they're experiencing are at least partly a result of WishKnish eating up CQ staff time (seven of eight CQ team members--including Eugene and his wife--are also listed as Wishknish team members). Eugene denies that this is the case. While his wife is working full-time on WishKnish, he says, "the vast majority of my time is dedicated to CQ," and CQ staff are not double-timing. They're only listed at WishKnish "because eventually we will be operating both sides of the coin jointly."

I don't know how comforting--or convincing--CQ authors will find this.

The complaints I've received and seen leave me in no doubt that there are serious problems at CQ. It's also clear that Eugene is aware of the complaints, and his responses to me indicate a willingness to address them--but he and authors aren't completely in agreement on the nature of the problems (for instance, on the late royalties issue), and I'm skeptical that WishKnish is as minimal a distraction as he claims. I'm also--as I have been since 2016--concerned about what I consider to be the exploitative nature of one of CQ's core business practices, the escape clause and early termination fees.

I hope CQ can turn things around. In the meantime, writers who are thinking of submitting to CQ need to carefully consider the issues outlined above.

UPDATE 9/26/28: Months after putting this post online, I'm continuing to receive complaints from CQ authors who say they haven't been paid their royalties and are experiencing ongoing communications problems. It's disappointing to see that these issues are continuing.

UPDATE 10/24/18: Complaints of nonpayment are continuing, and authors cite almost complete silence from Eugene Teplitsky and Alisa Gus. Extremely disappointing, especially in light of the assurances Eugene gave me about addressing the problems.

Meanwhile, WishKnish is still in beta, and Curiosity Quills, which was issuing anywhere from two to five books every month, has published nothing since last August, and has just one release scheduled for December. It remains open to submissions.

UPDATE 11/27/18: CQ appears to be selling audio rights without notifying authors. I've seen statements from several CQ authors who say they only found out that their books were being, or had been, made into audiobooks through outside sources. CQ authors would be well-advised to check to see if their books are available at Audible and Tantor.

UPDATE 12/17/18: "My publisher is a mess. 'Stealing my money' a mess." CQ author Richard Roberts speaks out.

UPDATE 1/4/19: Things are not looking good. I'm hearing from authors that Clare Dugmore, the Marketing Director, and Andrew Buckley, the Acquisitions Manager, have left the company because of lack of payment, and that Eugene Teplitsky has completely stopped responding to emails, messages, and posts in the CQ Facebook group. Editors and designers are telling authors that they haven't had new assignments--or been paid for assignments they did do--in months.

CQ's website is still live. But authors tell me that as of today, emails to CQ addresses have begun bouncing, and putting that together with the other reports, it really looks as if CQ is effectively closed, or on the verge of closing. As yet, though, there has been no announcement, nor have authors had any response to their increasingly desperate requests and questions about rights reversion.

If indeed CQ is done, Eugene Teplitsky needs to do the honorable, professional thing: terminate all current in-force contracts, and revert all rights. Hopefully that's what will happen. Hopefully CQ won't just go dark, leaving its authors in legal limbo, like so many other small presses have done.

UPDATE 1/5/19: Through a staff member, CQ's owners are denying that there are problems--no bouncing emails, no plans to shutter CQ--in fact they're planning a "transition" that will focus CQ on ebooks rather than print. Meanwhile, CQ authors and staff continue to report that they aren't being paid and are not getting responses to their questions.

And another CQ author goes public with her experience.
The worst part about the ending of this story is what feels like unprofessional and disrespectful behavior of the company towards me and the other writers. They've been ghosting the entire group....I'm so sad that what started as a grand adventure has ended with me feeling like I have an especially lousy ex-boyfriend who didn't have the balls to end it properly and let us both move on.
UPDATE 1/8/19: Publishers Lunch has picked up the CQ story (a subscription is required). They contacted Eugene Teplitsky by email:
[C]o-owner Eugene Teplitsky has confirmed to PL that the publisher is behind on authors' royalty payments and temporarily shutting down print operations with the exception of middle grade novels, citing "month after month" of dwindling sales as the cause. All authors now have the option to terminate their contracts, "no strings attached" (including the waiving of their contractual "termination fees"), Teplitsky wrote in an email. Authors who wish to terminate should "simply email us at editor@curiosityquills.com and we will revert rights to all who ask for it, no questions asked," he wrote. He is also giving authors the ability to shop their own subrights, "greatly relaxing" existing terms.
Teplitsky says he is focused on building "a leaner, more effective business model." He denies that CQ is shutting down.
To cut costs, a content strategist, marketing assistant, social media marketer, and acquisitions manager have all been let go. The remaining core team includes Vicki Keire (marketing), Tanya Yakimenko (production), Hans Tjakra (production), and Vladimir Makarov (development).
This all sounds very similar to what Teplitsky told me more than 8 months ago, when I first put this post online, and I don't imagine it will inspire much confidence in the many authors I've heard from who've been waiting weeks or months for payments or reversion letters promised to them. Or to the authors who found that their audio rights had been sold without notice--or payment--to them.

And why, despite what's clearly a crisis situation, and what sounds like a major reorganization of CQ's business model, is CQ still open for submissions?

UPDATE 3/4/19: Another CQ author speaks out: "Sheer and gross incompetence...and what the hell is WishKnish?"

UPDATE 10/31/19: This comment was just posted and it doesn't sound good:
As of now, the CQ site has pulled ALL books. There have been no updates since November, 2018, and even Alisa Gus's and Eugene Teplitsky's Facebook and Twitter pages are all quiet as of 2018. WishKnish, as well, appears dead in the water, for all the good it did.

This whole process with CQ rankled, and to see it just quietly fade off into nothingness with a whimper and not a bang is somehow even more depressing.

There was talking in early parts of the year about CQ transitioning to "ebook only" publishing--but really, what's the point? It doesn't seem to have gone anywhere.

Shame on Lisa and Eugene for doing this to their authors.
CQ's website looks active, but as the comment notes, doesn't appear to have been updated since November 2018. Ditto for its Facebook page and Twitter feed. The latest pub date for any CQ book on Amazon is December 2018.

Wishknish's Twitter feed has been moribund since June 2018, and its website looks neglected, but its Facebook page has been recently updated.

16 comments :

Anonymous said...

CQ is definitely not for me!

Lucinda Preston said...

I knew I couldn't trust that place. I do hope the authors who are owed money get it and that they don't have to pay it all back, plus more, to get out of their contracts.

Jennifer R. Povey said...

I have a friend with CQ. He tried to get me to submit to them. I took one look at the contract and told him I wasn't submitting to them and that he had made a mistake. It was a different red flag for me. Their contract? They wanted the movie rights so they could negotiate options and take a cut...potentially cutting the author out altogether.

I should probably drop him a note and see if he's okay :/.

Anonymous said...

I'm fine, don't worry. I don't have any contracts with them at this point, so it's a moot point for me.

Anonymous said...

As a current author trapped in contract with this company, I can say that the whole thing has been a very stressful, discouraging, and upsetting process for me. The marketing for my novel was pretty much nothing, and my emails and pleas for assistance went largely ignored--both literally in terms of unanswered messages but also figuratively in terms of CQ staff basically blaming my apparent marketing ineptitude for the lack of sales. Did I mention though that they actively hindered all marketing ideas I brought forward?

When all was said and done, the only sold units of my novel were to my family, friends, and through my own efforts. Not to mention, when I wanted out, the kill fee was another nail in the coffin. My only consolation is that the contract is only auto-renewed for 48 months, and I'm well into the auto-renewal period now. I made myself a promise that I would NEVER publish with this company nor pay them a cent of a "kill fee", and though it has been a long journey, once my contract "expires", I will finally be free.

I am glad, however, that other authors at the company are waking up. In communications with CQ authors, the mood is tense, and in my opinion, the relationship CQ has built with its authors is irreversibly damaged.

Anonymous said...

Another former CQ author here. CQ is an absolute disaster. One of the owners seems to have established power over the company. He's a computer scientist, and is using the publishing company as a platform to launch a cryptocurrency/online marketplace that, somehow, is expected to be competitive with Amazon. Even when the focus was solely on books, the place was a total mess. Covers came out only days before launch with typos, misspelled author names, and illegible fonts. Editors and proofreaders feuded with one another, and made significant changes without consulting authors. Emails from authors to staff were either unanswered, or answered with obvious untruths. Marketing was non-existent - in fact, with my book they actually forget to schedule any events or contact any reviewers until a week before launch. Then there's the issue or royalties, which they will not pay out unless an author hounds them for weeks on end. They're hopelessly incompetent and disorganized and, due to the way they are constantly trying to deflect blame off themselves and onto third parties, unethical.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the former authors who complained about their kill fee in 2016. I ended up paying it for three of my titles, because I figured the lost royalties while waiting for my rights to revert after the contract expired would be a bigger waste of money. They are incompetent at best, predatory at worst. I wish I never paid them a cent. It would be nice to have the kill fee refunded, though I suppose success is the best revenge. My titles have done phenomenally better in my own hands, despite them blaming me for "not loving my books enough" to market them. Ha, losers.

Anonymous said...

Another former author here who had to pay a few thousand dollars to extricate my books from them. No invoices were ever supplied to justify the "kill fee" and it was punitive and made up. I have on going issues with them giving away free copies of my ebooks to anyone who asks, despite the fact they have no legal right to do so. My paperbacks are still for sale and they won't pull them down. I also have serious concerns about their reporting and suspect sales have been grossly under reported to authors for years, based on what I now know about rank:sales.

Anonymous said...

The trickle of authors leaving in recent months has become a flood. The staff people that I've dealt with have been marvelous—but the ownership has been mismanaging a promising small press into the ground. I was warned off of the company last year by an agent and I'm sorry that I did not listen to her.

Anonymous said...

I can confirm folks are leaving - it seems the last remaining staff member is the ONLY person who answer emails (and this person deserves to work for a publisher who does their job, vs. this questionable publisher). It still takes months to get a contract terminated. Eugene is months behind on sending royalties, and Alisa has more than separated herself from any operations there-in. This is a sinking ship. Avoid it at all costs.

Michelle Wright said...

I am steaming angry with them. No royalties for months and no replies to emails. It's a sinking ship with it's owners at the con artist helm! There are more and more complaints with each passing day and rumours that they have shut the door and run.

Kevin Craig said...

I left them too. I had two books with them. Burn Baby Burn Baby and Half Dead & Fully Broken. I loved the covers they created. I was happy with the editing process AT THE TIME. But I felt like I was pretty much abandoned soon after publication of both books (December 2014 and January 2015, I believe). The last thing that really stung me before I just kind of gave up and let things happen on their own was when Burn Baby Burn Baby was listed on the LIBRARY SERVICES FOR YOUTH IN CUSTODY 2016 IN THE MARGINS BOOK AWARDS LIST. I considered it a nice accomplishment. They contacted me and the publisher ahead of the announcement. The publisher sent, I believe, one email of congratulations. The official email from LSYC suggested we prepare for more potential sales, etc. I thought it would be a great opportunity for marketing. They literally did NOTHING with it. Not a single thing. That was the moment I realized I really was on my own...though I suspected it ever since publication dates. Also...they had promised brick and mortar distribution before I signed and that never ever happened. I feel like I threw those books away. All the great reviews amounted to nothing.

Anonymous said...

I'm a former writer with CQ. Like the others before me, I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt when they pushed my debut as their center of attention and tanked. Obviously, I felt special and more than that, I trusted them. Over the last few years, they...
-Named their marketing head (who, by most accounts, was unhelpful, overloaded and missed key opportunities) the CEO
-Do not respond to agents...so much so, that unofficially, agents have begun to blacklist CQ as a potential publisher for their clients.
-Have not paid my royalties since JUNE of 2018.
-Do nothing in terms of promotion--I'm not naive enough to think a debut author or even an experienced one deserves anything, however if an author requests help in chasing a particular opportunity down, a company should be willing to provide assistance.
-Started producing both ARCs and print materials with typos in them.
-Missed every deadline stipulated in the contract.

Eugene Teplitsky is not only focused on WishKnish, he'd like to be the next Jeff Bezos, to the detriment of CQ and all the people relying on it. The company itself is disorganized and it's like being ghosted by a boyfriend on the altar. Stay away.

Save your writer's soul and take the time to go somewhere else. I never thought I'd see authors drop the F-Bomb in a public forum (a facebook group) at a company head for not answering emails and for dropping the ball on a release, but I've seen it multiple times with CQ. It's sad, especially given the hard work of all the authors involved, who held out hope that Eugene, Lisa and CQ would be able to pull it together. They lost the hardest workers--Clare and Andrew--and there is no doubt they will not survive this.

Jen Estes said...

My experience echoes what's already been said. I published my two-part Dreamwalker Diaries at a time when CQ was rising and everyone in charge seemed to believe the sky was the limit. But sometime between the release of FIFTEEN in 2015 and the publication of SIXTEEN in 2017, the atmosphere fizzled. I do appreciate being granted my rights back without delay or confrontation. I was also given my cover art, a pleasant surprise for which I am very grateful - both covers are stunning.

I hope that CQ can turn things around, but I don't think that can happen until they realistically acknowledge their situation, namely, spreading themselves too thin.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am a former author of Curiosity Quills Press, and I was lucky enough to see the ship was sinking before it got really messy. I had two titles published with them and bought my rights back—and ended up paying over $1,000! But I wanted to finish my series, and I loved the stories I'd written, so I saved up the money and thankfully was able to afford to pay my "fee."

Even in their "good day" though (circa 2014), they still had marketing plans, and Nikki was still in charge of the marketing. They provided us with a blog tour and live-streamed a few interviews with us authors, but then once their required marketing time had passed (the contracts mandated they do a little marketing), they stopped paying attention to me or my books. And then I pretty much did all the marketing myself. I got my own book signings. I paid for marketing materials. I paid my way to conferences so that I could sign alongside other authors. And never, ever did my earnings outweigh the money I invested.

Someone once compared CQ to a puppy mill, and it's true. They put out so many books so fast that the ship was sinking from the moment it started. They never had the manpower to give every book a good marketing push, and they never really cared what they published—or about the quality of what they published—because they just wanted to generate funds for themselves.

I feel pissed and robbed because now, that story I worked so hard to create will never be more than another self-published series on Amazon. I hate that CQ has caused me to generalize, but: I guess that's what happens when you choose to sign with a small publisher. If I could go back in time and tell myself to hold on to that manuscript, continue to write, and wait for the chance to sign with a large publisher (even if it meant I waited 10+ years to get published), I so totally would. Signing with CQ was the biggest mistake of my writing career.

Anonymous said...

As of now, the CQ site has pulled ALL books. There have been no updates since November, 2018, and even Alisa Gus's and Eugene Teplitsky's Facebook and Twitter pages are all quiet as of 2018. WishKnish, as well, appears dead in the water, for all the good it did.
This whole process with CQ rankled, and to see it just quietly fade off into nothingness with a whimper and not a bang is somehow even more depressing.
There was talking in early parts of the year about CQ transitioning to "ebook only" publishing--but really, what's the point? It doesn't seem to have gone anywhere.
Shame on Lisa and Eugene for doing this to their authors.

 
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