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August 4, 2020

Small Press Storm Warnings: Filles Vertes Publishing


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Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I first heard of Filles Vertes Publishing (FVP) in late February of last year, when I was contacted by a writer wanting to know if I'd received any complaints. I hadn't--but a look at FVP's website prompted some concerns. 

On the plus side, FVP was distributed by Small Press United, the small press arm of Independent Publishers Group: a positive indication for a small press, as it can boost the possibility of getting books into brick-and-mortar stores. Pretty covers and an attractive website produced a professional impression.

But the bio of founder and owner Myra Fiacco did not suggest an abundance of relevant publishing or writing experience (FVP has removed staff info from its Our Team page--for reasons that will become clear--but here's how it looked last year). And given that FVP had been in business for several years, I was struck by how few books it had issued: just nine, according to Amazon: three in 2017, five in 2018, and one to date in 2019, with big gaps between some of the pub dates (you don't want a small press to rush out too many books and get into logistical trouble or become an author mill, but you do want to see a more robust--and regular--publishing schedule). Oddly, at that time only seven of the nine appeared on FVP's bookstore page, and the one book with a 2019 pub date was listed on Amazon as "unavailable".

I suspected that FVP might be having some production or logistical issues. If so, I figured I'd get more questions, or hear something through the grapevine. I didn't. Meanwhile, FVP modestly upped its 2019 production to six books, and its 2020 offerings to nine (four pubbed so far, with five more scheduled for later this year).

Flash forward to July 2020. As sometimes happens with troubled small presses, long-standing problems abruptly reach critical mass and news breaks all at once. In the past few weeks, I've received multiple complaints from FVP authors and staff that suggest a seriously troubled publisher.

Both authors and staff cite royalty and other payments late by weeks or months (most of those who wrote to me told me that this was not a one- or two-time issue, but a consistent, ongoing problem); delayed or missed publication dates (some authors had their pub dates pushed back; others told me that on release day, their books were available on the FVP website but could not be ordered elsewhere); missed deadlines for cover art, editing, formatting, and proofing; poor communication (both staff and authors told me it was often difficult to get Myra Fiacco to respond to questions and concerns, and authors cited communication lapses with some staff members as well); and various contract breaches, including overshooting the publish-or-return-rights window and failing to register copyrights.

Most of FVP's staff has resigned (hence the removal of staff info from FVP's website)--something that's complicated by the fact that several FVP staff members are also FVP authors. I'm told the total number of departing staffers is nine, though I haven't independently verified that (FVP also seems to have depended heavily on unpaid interns). 

Some resigning staffers have been asked to sign multi-page non-disclosure agreements. When I asked Myra why the NDAs (see question 2 of our Q & A, below), she indicated that two staffers who were also authors had been asked to sign NDAs "as authors" (I saw one of these NDAs, and it was, in fact, specifically for the individual's employment), but they'd refused, and negotiations were in progress. Later, she told me that "[d]ue to the misstep and confusion in the contracts involving authors that were team members, both authors have been reissued new termination agreements that are author specific and have been issued updates per their resignation with the company." This appears to be true--for those two author/staffers. However, I've heard from others who did sign NDAs, either as part of their employment or as a condition of rights reversion.

Along with staff departures, a number of FVP authors have asked that their rights be returned (and with its small catalog, FVP can't afford to lose too many). Initially, some were asked to sign reversion documents that included onerous liability releases and confidentiality terms, and potentially relieved FVP of the obligation to pay any sums still due and owing at the time of termination: 


Possibly because the authors balked (and also after I sent Myra my questions), there appears to have been backtracking on these documents, with at least two authors issued more conventional reversion letters that do not include language like that above. However, one of these letters includes a demand for a substantial termination fee. And Myra shared the letters with me without asking the authors' permission to do so (I confirmed this with the authors)--which in light of her concerns about confidentiality seems fairly ironic. 

I should note that I've also heard from a couple of FVP authors who say they've had a much more positive experience. But given the number and magnitude of the complaints I've received, as well as the document demands, the apparent confusion around staff and author departures, and what feels like general disarray, it seems clear that Filles Vertes Publishing is a company in trouble. 

Publishers do survive upheaval and financial stress. But right now, if I were an FVP author I'd be feeling pretty nervous.

******

I sent a list of questions to Myra Fiacco. She has given me permission to print her responses, and I reproduce them without comment.

1. As I mentioned, I've been hearing from authors and staff who say that they've been experiencing delayed or missing payments, going back months or longer. Could you comment on this, please? How are you addressing these issues? 

Yes, this is true and unfortunate. In the wake of recent setbacks, several payments have had to be deferred. As with many small businesses, we operate with tight profit margins and a small, rotating amount of operating capital. This year has been difficult for us, as it has for many publishers during this pandemic, but we are not giving up. We understand this unfortunate change of financial events have resulted in broken contracts and broken trust 

We have taken and are continuing to take all appropriate steps to rectify each situation accordingly. Payments are being made to team members within the parameters of their contracts and with applicable interest. All royalty payments to authors have been caught up. We are terminating two contracts as requested by backlist authors as a result. Additionally, we are negotiating with forthcoming authors whose contracts we have not broken but whose faith we have compromised, especially as the editors they signed with are departing from the company. We understand one of the largest contributing factors to signing a book with a small press is the team with which the authors plans to work as it drastically affects the outcome of the book. We care deeply about each book and want what is best for each author, even if it's not with us. 

 Although making payments late is not preferred--and neither is the resulting fall out--it is preferred over shutting our doors, as many publishers have been forced to do since the pandemic. We will get through this tough time without compromising our commitment to the authors who have put and renewed their faith in us. 

2. I understand that you've been asking at least some departing staff to sign non-disclosure agreements applying retroactively to their employment with Filles Vertes. Could you comment on why you feel this is necessary?

I am happy to comment. This is not true. We have asked two members of the staff who were also signed authors to sign a non-disclosure agreement as authors. This was a part of the initial offer for negotiations to receive their publishing rights back. The goal, as communicated with each author, was to protect confidential information about the company including but not limited to processes, budgets, and terms we have worked hard to build over the last four years in business. The proposed terms did not require non-compete clauses, as we want authors to use their best judgment for their future writing careers. Both authors have refused and we are not requiring them to sign but are currently in negotiations with each author to find an agreeable solution that does not include an NDA. 

3. I've seen several recent author termination agreements that include confidentiality clauses and require the author to release the publisher from all liability. These aren't things that are typically included in publishers' rights reversion documents. Could you comment on why you feel this is necessary? 

As stated above, none of these termination agreements were final agreements, but merely starting points for negotiations with authors whose contracts were not compromised in any way. Although a request may not be typical for an industry, we don't believe there is shame in asking for additional protective measures to preserve what we have worked tirelessly to create as a company. The goal was and continues to be an amicable solution for all parties involved. 

4. I've been told that a number of Filles Vertes staff members have recently resigned. Could you confirm whether this is the case? 

Yes, we are in the midst of a significant team changeover, which is common in growing businesses. Not only has the previous few months been a time of duress for many members of the publishing community, but after several months of trying to make the team function to our highest potential, it became clear that we could not find a solution to differences, varied expectations, and vision for the company's future direction. As a result, multiple team members have chosen to take what they've learned with FVP and pursue opportunities elsewhere, which we encourage and support. 

 Each member of the team, past and present, has contributed to the company's current status; to the successes and the lessons learned. We look forward to rebuilding with a stronger, more unified team to continue serving our purpose; to produce "Fresh, Wild, and Different" books for our valued readers. 

5. What are your plans for the publisher going forward? 

Filles Vertes Publishing has continued production of our forthcoming books without any plans for delayed releases. We are building a stronger marketing and sales team and are focusing many of our efforts locally to better serve our community in the Inland Northwest. We are pruning away processes that have proven ineffective and replacing them with simpler and more powerful systems of operation that better serve our authors and negate confusion. We will continue working with authors from around the world and commit to providing world-class support, especially to those who are new to their publishing journey. Additionally, we are narrowing the genres and age groups we work with to better serve our valued readers. Although we won't reopen to submissions for a few more months as we focus on rebuilding our team, we look forward to contributing to a bright literary future for many authors. 

We have many lessons to learn from and look forward to a brighter future. We will continue to grow with sincerity and well-earned character and wish nothing but the best for our previous team members and authors.

UPDATE 8/5/20: Here's what Myra DM'd to a former FVP staffer, after they commented on Twitter about this blog post. (Note the further confirmation of FVP's practice of forcing departing staff to sign NDAs.)



UPDATE  8/14/20: Filles Vertes Publishing is closing down. Authors have received emails to this effect, and all books are listed on the website at half-price, as FVP looks to reduce inventory. 

UPDATE 8/25/20: Filles Vertes has announced its closing date: August 27, 2020.


5 comments :

Anonymous said...

As an author that has run like hell from this company, I can tell you that the recently departed team was actually fantastic. They were in sync, worked cohesively, and knew how to get things done. Every bit of failure can be attributed to the person that everyone had to answer to. Instead of being a guiding light and a business rock of stability she instead operates as a constant speed bump. Her only true mission seems to be self-sabotage, unfortunately it's at the expense, both financially and creatively, of anyone putting their trust in her.

Anonymous said...

I have several friends and acquaintances that have dealt with this publishing house in various capacities and I've heard concerning stories for a while now -- late royalty payments, lack of communication, and even an incident just this summer where the owner mysteriously deleted all of her social media accounts and even took herself off of the website? What was that about?

I do know that the few staff and authors I know at the house are all excellent people and writers, so I question the validity of what appears to be the owner now blaming her team. Seems from the outside that they were the ones keeping her afloat.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend at this publishing house and can verify she has had late author payments for as long as she's been an author there. There were also multiple mess ups with her book. Another friend didn't even have her physical book on release day. I had wanted to submit my book here before learning all this and I'm glad I didn't.

Ellie said...

Thanks as always for your work, Victoria!

FYI, in one of the screenshots at the end of this post, you blanked out two names. The same names are visible in the first screenshot.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for catching this, Ellie. I've redacted the names. (These messages were posted publicly on Twitter by the person who received them, so it's not strictly private info.)

 
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