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November 25, 2019

Publisher Alerts: Complaints at Month9 Books, Nonstandard Business Practices at Black Rose Writing


In mid-2016, I wrote about YA publisher Month9 Books' abrupt decision to scale back its list, reverting rights to as many as 50 authors across all its imprints. Explaining the culling, Month9 founder and CEO Georgia McBride cited her own health problems, along with staffing issues and the company's "substantial growing pains" over the past six to nine months.

McBride's announcement triggered a surge of complaints from Month9 authors, who described a host of serious problems at the company, including late or missing payments (for staff as well as authors), problems with royalty accounting, delayed pub dates, broken marketing promises, overcrowded publication schedules, communications breakdowns, and harsh treatment and bullying by McBride.

According to authors and staff, these problems were not new or even recent, but had been ongoing for a long time. Why had authors kept silent? Almost every writer who contacted me mentioned their fear of retaliation--along with the draconian NDA included in Month9's contracts. I've rarely encountered a situation where authors seemed so fearful of their publisher.

Things quieted down after the initial flood of revelations, as they often do. Month9 survived and kept on publishing, though its list continued to shrink: between a high point in 2016 and now, the number of titles appears to have fallen about 50%. Apart from a handful of additional complaints in late 2016 and early 2017 (similar to this one), I didn't hear much about Month9 in the years following.

Until now. Over the past few weeks, I've been contacted by multiple writers who say they are still suffering from the same problems that surfaced in 2016: primarily, late (sometimes very late) royalty and subrights advance payments and statements (in many cases received only after persistent prodding by authors and their agents), and allegations of irregularities in royalty reporting.

The intimidation level, too, seems not to have changed. Most of the authors told me that they feared reprisal for coming forward, and asked me specifically not to mention their names or book titles. (Writer Beware never reveals names or other unique identifying information, unless we receive specific permission from the individual. That disclaimer is included on our website and in our correspondence.)

If you've been following the recent ChiZine scandal, you may be feeling some deja vu--notably, in the alleged existence of a toxic culture within the publisher that makes authors fearful and and helps to keep them silent. It's disappointing to learn that even if the issues that thrust Month9 into the spotlight three years ago have gone quiet, they don't seem to have eased. Writers be warned.

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I wrote about Black Rose Writing in 2009, in connection with its requirement that authors buy their own books. Writers who submitted were asked how many of their own books they planned to buy; their response was then written into their contracts. (Book purchase requirements are back-end vanity publishing: even if writers aren't being asked to pay for production and distribution, they still must hand over money in order to see their work in print.)

Black Rose got rid of the book purchase requirement a few years later, and claimed to be a completely fee-free publisher. I had my suspicions that money might still somehow be involved, though...and as it turns out, I wasn't wrong.

I've recently learned that new Black Rose authors receive a Cooperative Marketing Catalog that sells a range of pay-to-play marketing and promotional services, with costs ranging from a few hundred dollars to four figures. For instance:


It's true that purchase is optional (though I would guess that authors are heavily solicited to buy). But reputable publishers don't sell marketing services to their authors--and in any case, much of what's on offer are things that other publishers, even very small ones, do for their authors free of charge, as part of the publication process.

That's not the only way in which Black Rose authors are encouraged to pay their publisher. Owner Reagan Rothe is a self-described "financial partner" in two additional businesses: the Maxy Awards, a high entry fee book competition that donates "a large part of every entry" to a charity (how large? No idea; that information is not provided); and Sublime Book Review, a paid review service.

Though Mr. Rothe's financial interest in these businesses is not disclosed on the business's websites, both businesses are clearly energetically promoted to Black Rose authors. On Sublime's website, nineteen of the first 20 book reviews are for Black Rose books. There's also this, from the marketing catalog (note the lack of disclaimer):


As for the Maxys, thirteen of the 17 winners and runners-up for 2019 are Black Rose books.

Mr. Rothe does admit his relationship with the businesses in this recent email to Black Rose authors--though only to afford them yet another opportunity to give him money:


6 comments :

PT Dilloway said...

I suppose the advantage of self-publishing is you only have to deal with Amazon's nonsense.

Anonymous said...

well a tale of caution about how thing can go wrong for self publishers and the company doing the self publishing buyers beware applies to many things

Anonymous said...

BRW is not "self publishing." It is a royalties-paying publisher and there is NO demand for orders or any outlay of money by the author. I have been pleased with the quality of the product, which I feel to be superior to most self-pubbed books I have seen. If you are a newbie to the biz, some help with marketing, while not required, doesn't hurt. Unfortunately, the small guys don't have the budget to advertise in publications that would really get their (our) books noticed (Kirkus, ALA, etc.).

I have another trad publisher which doesn't offer marketing assistance, and that book's sales are way behind the BRW book. Even someone published by a mid-size company is going to have to do their own marketing and promo. If your name's not King or Patterson, that's the nature of the game these days.

FYI, International Thriller Writers recognizes BRW as a "professional publisher."

Bottom line--let BRW publish your book (if they accept it, as they have a submission process like any non-vanity press) and sit back, if that is your choice. You've spent nothing, and have an attractive product for sale on the usual online venues.

Unknown said...

I have to agree with the above. BRW is easy to work with and I haven't paid them a dime. Problem is small publishers rarely put books on Netgalley etc because it's too expensive. I DID pay Netgalley to put my book up and a pretty expensive publicist not affiliated with BRW. Small publishers have pros and cons, a con being that you will do a lot of leg work for marketing. They are NOT a vanity publisher. I think I got one email offering that marketing stuff.

Allen F said...

"... there is NO demand for orders or any outlay of money by the author."

but

"If you are a newbie to the biz, some help with marketing, while not required, doesn't hurt."

So no 'demand' but strongly suggested then? ;-)

And a suggestion to Anonymous at 12/05/2019 10:33 AM
and Unknown at 12/05/2019 10:39 AM

If you're trying to make it appear to not be the same person agreeing with themselves you might want to add a bit more delay. (It doesn't help your cause that they also both sound like ads for BRW, short and sweet would have sold it better.

MYMV (may your mileage vary) and you not be duped by the con artists.

Reagan Rothe said...

I was a financial partner helping great organizations do great work for literacy and helping others, raising money for the Home of the Innocents and those less fortunate. I did not make any decisions on the judging or reviewing, which I am open about. There's nothing hidden there. Thanks for sharing this article, it was very well done. We market our titles with or without an author's assistance. But any author who thinks a New York Times Bestselling author hasn't spent a dime on their own marketing and efforts and made it to that point is being mislead.

 
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