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Digital first publishing and the troubled fortunes of digital first publishers

The rise of self publishing hasn’t just affected traditional print publishers. In fact, with the rate of ebook adoption slowing many observers suggest the numbers indicate we’re reaching a plateau. One of the less publicized victims of the sea changes occurring in publishing is the digital first publisher.

While reports of financial instability has plagued Ellora’s Cave, one of the oldest digital publishers around, for years recent rumors place Samhain squarely in the spotlight as well. Long time readers of Dear Author are familiar with the rise and fall of digital publishers back in the mid to late 2000s. It seemed that everyone with a passing knowledge of a WordPress template felt comfortable setting up shop.

Through it all Ellora’s Cave and Samhain have endured.

Recent reports from authors, however, suggest that both companies are struggling. Ellora’s Cave is undergoing several months of non payment of royalties stemming back to October 2013.

In response to the late payments, the owner of Ellora’s Cave sent out a group email in February explaining that royalties were late because a new program had been installed but the software program needed fixing resulting in the EC staff having to calculate royalties by hand.

Ellora’s Cave is supposed to pay monthly but even after this email went out, several authors report still not receiving their royalty payments or receiving lower than normal royalty payments. Purportedly Ellora’s Cave is hoping that the signing of celebrity authors like Farrah Abraham of Teen Mom and the James Deen sex tape is going to save their ship.

"CONTRACT" Tag Cloud Globe (agreement signature law legal form)

Samhain doesn’t have money problems. From all accounts, the company is still flush but experiencing some downturn in sales. No, the complaints about Samhain have to do with author contacts and contract terms. These more restrictive terms seem inspired to keep more rights within the company.

There are the general complaints that Samhain is slow to respond to any inquiries. But more disconcerting for authors is the change in several policies.

It used to be that obtaining a reversion of rights was fairly simple. Any author could request a reversion of rights after seven years. Combined with robust royalties of 30% off the retail and 40% off sales direct from the publisher, Samhain was viewed as one of the best and most author friendly contracts around.

Tides are turning. Currently Samhain is being non responsive to reversion letters. Samhain, in response to an inquiry, simply says that it is being thoughtful in the way that the requests are being processed.

A new contract clause is being inserted. The boiler plate language is Metadata with respect to the Work shall be considered work made for hire to the Publisher and Publisher shall own all rights to such metadata.”

According to the IDPF (Independent Digital Publishing Forum) who sets epub standards, metadata includes all of the following:

2.2.1: <title> </title>
2.2.2: <creator> </creator>
2.2.3: <subject> </subject>
2.2.4: <description> </description>
2.2.5: <publisher> </publisher>
2.2.6: <contributor> </contributor>
2.2.7: <date> </date>
2.2.8: <type> </type>
2.2.9: <format> </format>
2.2.10: <identifier> </identifier>
2.2.11: <source> </source>
2.2.12: <language> </language>
2.2.13: <relation> </relation>
2.2.14: <coverage> </coverage>
2.2.15: <rights> </rights>

When pressed, Samhain clarified that it wanted only to keep tagline, cover copy and sales hook. Unfortunately when the modified contract came back, it still included the above language allowing Samhain broad rights over the metadata and some authors are concerned that the lack of specificity could cover author pen names (creator/contributor) or the type of format (epub/kindle/pdf) and so on. Samhain asserts that this clause is negotiable, but the clause as written is very broad.

Because reversion of rights is becoming so important, these metadata clauses need to be worked out. It’s understandable for a publisher to want to seek to protect its own work but using the overly broad term “metadata” without an exhaustive list of what that term includes may very well endanger authors.

Perhaps the final straw for some authors was that when the reversion was requested, a new contract was sent to the authors that would bind them to additional terms along with the original contract signed.  Samhain asserts that this language could be negotiated as it was the result of an overzealous attorney designed to protect Samhain’s rights. However, a reversion of rights is a contractual right. A request to get the right to that work returned to the author should not be met with new contract demands (unless there is more money involved).

Nonetheless, the changes appear overreaching. There are already exchanges between authors on private loops warning others away from these two big digital publishers because of lack of payment, slow payment, slow response, poor contract terms, and reduced sales.

Self publishing and even new digital publishers are hammering away at the base of older and established digital publishers as more and more authors are determined to forge their own path. It’s unsurprising that there are both financial troubles and contractual issues arising out of this.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

54 Comments

  1. library addict
    May 11, 2014 @ 06:11:29

    I quit buying Ellora’s Cave titles long ago. I hope the authors who are due money get it soon.

    I still regularly buy Samhain books, both directly from their website and via Kobo. I’ve always liked the funny warnings they give in the blurb. I can understand the company wanting to keep that, but would hope their legal team would spell out what metadata they have rights over in the basic contract. The author’s right to their name/pen name isn’t something that should have to be negotiated.

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  2. Lou
    May 11, 2014 @ 09:41:48

    This is really disappointing to read about. EC? Not surprising. But Samhain? Why on earth would they want to cause such ill will with their stinky terms amongst their own authors and any future author who wants to submit to them?

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  3. GA
    May 11, 2014 @ 09:56:26

    @library addict–re: funny warnings: Most of the authors currently asking for reversion wrote the back cover copy. It’s been (maybe) edited by Samhain but the words were the author’s.

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  4. Donna
    May 11, 2014 @ 09:58:57

    @library addict: In my case, at least, those “funny warnings” are written, in their entirety, by either myself or my co-writer. In fact, all of the Samhain authors I know write the cover copy themselves. That makes their desire to claim that stuff as their own far less reasonable.

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  5. Scarlett Parrish
    May 11, 2014 @ 10:33:53

    I’m a bear of very little brain with regard to these matters, so can I ask what is probably a daft question?

    If Samhain want to retain rights to cover copy, what about those instances where the author is the one who composed it? I’ve written all but one of my own blurbs and in those cases where I’ve re-sold books to another publisher, I’ve kept and used the same blurb. Is this the sort of thing Samhain wants to claim as its own?

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  6. Nadia Lee
    May 11, 2014 @ 10:38:51

    @Scarlett Parrish: Yes. So you’ll need to come up with a completely different version of the blurb if you want to sell the book elsewhere or self-publish.

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  7. Emily Ryan-Davis
    May 11, 2014 @ 10:53:54

    Hi Jane,

    I want to address the Ellora’s Cave “supposed to” statement you made – not because I’m supporting their methods (because I’m certainly not, and would love to receive my checks in a prompt and predictable manner), but for the sake of clarification. Contractually, Ellora’s Cave is only required to make quarterly payments. They have historically made monthly payments and sometimes state they do so “as a favor” or “as a courtesy”, but in contractual truth, they are only “supposed to” make payments quarterly.

    As for being behind on payments, they “missed” a month in late 2013. As far as I’m aware, they’re back on schedule, but it’s a NEW schedule that just sort of…ignored that missed month. The missed month’s money was issued about 30 days late.

    I can’t speak for individuals’ money gone missing (i’m fortunate that all mine is accounted for, as much as I can account for anything with their system) but in a general sense, that’s the story.

    Thanks for the write-up on both publishers. This is important information for authors to have.

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  8. Beverley
    May 11, 2014 @ 11:27:52

    I think the downturn in sales as more author test out their self-publishing muscles, was expected for digital-first publishers. However, the thing with Samhain is beyond the pale disturbing. From what I’ve been able to see what they’re doing is a) something I don’t think can even hold up in court (edited book is THEIRS? Really?) and b) unconscionable. How can a company try and make an author sign an amendment to a contract to get the rights to their work back??? So the initial contract was what, just a starting off place?

    Honestly, this makes me furious. FURIOUS.

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  9. Scarlett Parrish
    May 11, 2014 @ 11:55:47

    @Nadia Lee: Good God; well I won’t be subbing a manuscript THERE again in a hurry. (They’ve knocked me back three times, the last rejection coming I think three years ago. Wait, just checked my spreadsheet. March, June and November 2010, so four years. Three separate books. I was a glutton for punishment in those days.)

    Side note: I’ve written blurbs for other people who have published at Samhain. Wonder who owns THOSE blurbs?

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  10. Anonymous
    May 11, 2014 @ 12:20:15

    Personally, I’d be more worried about the title.

    If Samhain changes the title of a book, it would fall under the traditional definition of metadata as well as the “work for hire” definition.

    As far as I understand it, when an author gets the rights to a book reverted and re-publishes it, they keep all the old reviews…unless they change the title. If they change the title, all the old reviews are wiped.

    Imagine being in a position where you can EITHER reclaim your rights OR keep the reviews that you’ve built up over seven years. Imagine knowing that you’ve published with a company repeatedly–that you have years of work with them–so if you revert all those rights as the seven year window closes, you’ll watch all your reviews disappear book by book, until you’re starting from scratch.

    That’s deadly.

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  11. Voirey Linger
    May 11, 2014 @ 12:58:56

    While EC habitually pays monthly, the contracts specify quarterly. October – December 2013 payments will not be late, contractually, until July 1, 2014.

    That said, yes, payments are not only slower than usual, they are excessively low. According to EC accounting, my last release only sold five copies via their website during release month. With numbers like this, I can’t build my career through digital publishers anymore. I’m being forced to change my career plan.

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  12. library addict
    May 11, 2014 @ 13:42:22

    @GA: and @Donna: Thanks for the info.

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  13. Cynthia Sax
    May 11, 2014 @ 15:24:06

    I’m an Ellora’s Cave writer. They were late on a couple of royalty payments last year because they were switching accounting systems. We were warned this might happen. Being a former accountant and having led quite a few accounting system conversion, that is to be expected. Heck, that was only a couple of month was a reason for celebration. (You don’t want to know the FUBAR I waded through during my last system conversion – ugh).

    My sales at Ellora’s Cave are roughly the same. The number of units have increased but the earnings per unit have decreased because readers are buying from Amazon.

    IMHO… I think the biggest issue with sales at all of my digital first publishers is that, that readers have switched from buying directly from the publisher to buying at Amazon.

    Instead of competing with 4 other new releases at Ellora’s Cave, we’re competing with hundreds, thousands of releases on Amazon.

    Digital first writers usually earn lower royalty rates at Amazon than at their publisher’s site.

    AND they’re paid two months, maybe longer, later.

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  14. Ann Jacobs
    May 11, 2014 @ 18:02:32

    As other authors have said, Ellora’s Cave pays monthly even though it’s contractually obligated to pay quarterly. Payments have been later recently than they were previously, partly because of EC installing a new royalty accounting system and partly because of the huge volume of entries that get bigger all the time with royalties coming in from more and more sources all the time. Payments received during the last quarter of 2013 were slow, but the January numbers showed a decent increase for me. As for reversion requests, I sent in a couple that were answered within a day and are being processed according to contract terms.

    I wouldn’t think that blurbs, which I write drafts/suggestions for but which my editor revises and approves, would revert to me along with the manuscript–they belong to the publisher. Never having written for Samhain, I can’t comment on anything happening over there.

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  15. Cynthia Sax
    May 11, 2014 @ 18:11:21

    @Ann Jacobs:
    That’s what confuses me, Ann. It says in my contracts that the publisher is responsible for cover and back cover copy. My editors ask for my input with both (and I’m SO grateful that they do) but I’m well aware that, if they choose to use my input, it belongs to them.

    I thought publishers traditionally owned title, back cover copy and cover????

    I’m not published with Samhain though.

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  16. Anna Richland
    May 11, 2014 @ 19:01:50

    I don’t believe titles are copyrighted, unlike cover copy, which is why all the authors epub their own backlists CAN AND DO use the same title, and why you see dozens of books with the same title.

    That’s why publishers own/control cover copy – copyright – regardless of contract.

    But don’t give a publisher ownership via contract of things that are your copyright or that are not copyrightable (like title).

    My two cents. Lawyer who never practiced in this field, so if you would take your heart murmur to a podiatrist, feel free to listen to me.

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  17. Anonymous
    May 11, 2014 @ 19:03:02

    Re: cover copy.

    The problem is that they are reluctant to limit the metadata clause to JUST the cover copy, blurb, and tag line. If that were all they wanted, they would agree to make a clear, complete list of what they wanted to own.

    Instead, they use the term ‘metadata’. They explain it as a reasonable demand–just the cover copy, that’s reasonable–but then, on the back end, when authors are asking for reversions, they claim to own everything the contract gives them rights to. Which–if this clause sticks–would be a LOT more than the cover copy.

    If they’re trying to assert ownership over edits with an author who never signed a contract with that clause, imagine what they’d do to an author who agreed to it.

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  18. Sirius
    May 11, 2014 @ 19:08:58

    @Cynthia Sax: Just to offer a different POV (re: buying from Amazon). This is absolutely nothing personal against you – today is the first time I read your name, never read any of your works under this name, etc. In the romance department I am mostly m/m reader anyway. But I avoid your publisher with a very very few exceptions and I am talking that this year I bought one book from them on Amazon and this book was free, so I guess I should say I downloaded it. In other words, Amazon or not, I just avoid them. Now if it were any other publisher, I may have agreed with you if I were to judge my own buying habits. There is only one tiny m/m publisher from whom I try to always buy direct (and when I recently mistakenly ordered from Amazon I wanted to kick myself, but did not cancel the order). Otherwise I mostly buy from Amazon. Amazon had been very good to me as a customer.

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  19. Voirey Linger
    May 11, 2014 @ 20:03:57

    Cynthia,

    I can’t speak for Samhain, but I’ve written all my EC cover copy. My editor went over them, tweaked a few words in one, but the descriptions are all mine. I haven’t double-checked my contracts, but I’ll need to do that. I don’t want to have to rewrite those.

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  20. Ella Drake
    May 11, 2014 @ 20:34:05

    As an author at both Samhain and EC, I can say that I’ve written all my EC blurbs in entirety. My Samhain blurb was revamped by the blurb writer, but my “warning” was all mine. From my understanding at the time I signed with them, it was customary (at that time) that the blurb might be re-written, but the warning was all the author.

    I have a huge problem with a publisher trying to change the terms of the contract when that contract has been fulfilled. I have a huge problem with a publisher saying that an edited version of my work cannot be used after rights are reverted. (See RWA’s take on this: http://www.rwa.org/p/bl/et/blogid=20&blogaid=68). I have a huge problem with a publisher claiming rights to metadata and not defining what that means. Jane, you listed the epub standards, but since digital books come in several formats and are distributed through websites, one could say that the term metadata could reach even further, to include keywords and series titles.

    If a blurb is not covered in the contract, then if the author writes it, I’d assume the rights to that would revert back with the book. The publisher did not create that content. What about the title? If the author creates that title, and the work reverts, what is the reason that the title wouldn’t revert? and the series title? I know there are several series at Samhain that are split. Some books within a series were published at Samhain, some weren’t. It makes no logical legal or business sense to claim rights of that book/novella title or perhaps claim rights to the series title because it’s part of the metadata.

    I simply could not sign a contract that insisted on rights to such a broad definition of metadata.

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  21. Cynthia Sax
    May 11, 2014 @ 20:55:23

    @Sirius: I have nothing against Amazon, Sirius. (big hugs) I’m sorry if I made it sound that way. Many of my readers are buying my books from Amazon and I’m very happy for this.

    All I’m trying to say is that sales from Amazon vs sales from a publisher’s site result in different royalty payments and present different challenges for writers. Buying habits have changed and a writer’s sales will change with this.

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  22. Sirius
    May 11, 2014 @ 22:03:31

    @Cynthia Sax: Oh I see, thanks for clarifying :).

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  23. Scarlett Parrish
    May 12, 2014 @ 02:06:05

    @Anonymous: I don’t know how any publisher could think saying “We own cover copy,” is reasonable because, as I said before, I’ve written my own. And I’ve written blurbs for other people who are published with Samhain. (Not that they’d ever admit to that; I once asked an author to correct a blogger who’d praised her for her original/amusing cover copy and she refused, which is why I don’t do it any more.)

    I won’t accept other authors passing off my work as their own, and I certainly won’t allow a PUBLISHER to do so!

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  24. Courtney Milan
    May 12, 2014 @ 06:57:14

    The thing that most gets me about a publisher laying claim to cover copy and edits is that this stuff has no independent value divorced from the book. Covers…well, Harlequin’s been reusing those for years, and there may be contractual/licensing issues with the creator that prevent you from licensing them to third parties, so I have no issues with the publisher holding onto the cover. And authors very rarely create the cover in the first place.

    But the cover copy? It’s not like you can slap that on another book. The edits? Ditto.

    So publishers that claim these things are taking items that have zero economic value divorced from the book from someone they’re in a business relationship with who would find those things valuable. And they’re doing it for no economic reason except to be difficult to authors who have chosen to work with them.

    It’s silly and it’s petulant. It’s also backwards-looking–it’s a publisher’s version of saying that it is more important to them to hold onto the rights they have than to convince authors to sign with them anew. And I don’t know why an author with a choice would want to work with a silly, petulant publisher who thinks that their best days are behind them.

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  25. Digital first publishing and the troubled fortunes of digital first publishers | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing
    May 12, 2014 @ 08:00:41

    […] to the rest at Dear Author and thanks to Amy for the […]

  26. Ann Jacobs
    May 12, 2014 @ 08:06:23

    A blurb isn’t part of a book. It’s a marketing tool, and no matter whether or not I have input on it, it logically belongs to the publisher who is contractually obligated to drive sales of that book with cover art, blurbs, and so on. As for edits, EC has never addressed (as far as I know) whether or not the edited version of the book reverts to the author, or if all that comes back is the original manuscript.

    It would seem to me that any author republishing a book should WANT to rewrite the blurb, even if she wrote every word of the original one. After all, her goal with reissuing the book independently should be to capture new interest, not recycle the old.

    While I don’t think I’d ever accept in this electronic age that a book’s edits remain the sole property of the publisher unless this was clearly stated in the original publisher’s contract, Samhain is probably working from the “old” pattern by which an author never had access to the edited material except in hard copies of the book itself. I recall having had to manually re-enter edits from the old NY books I resold to EC along with additional revisions I wanted to make, before turning the files in to my editor there to be re-edited. I haven’t heard from anyone who has had edits rescinded prior to reverting EC books–or who has raised questions as to who owns the blurb copy. (I think most authors hold onto all edits of their books now. I know I do, to the point that I have huge folders for every book I’ve written since I once had to retype a NY book from hard copy in order to revise and re-sell it.)

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  27. Ella Drake
    May 12, 2014 @ 08:41:20

    I simply don’t agree that content an author creates, even for marketing purposes, somehow becomes the property of the publisher after the terms of the contract have been met–unless that sort of work-for-hire is detailed in the original contract. It’s not a matter of whether a blurb should be updated or not if an author goes on to self publish. It’s a matter of fairness. But the blurb isn’t the sticking point here. Not for me. It that were the only issue, I think most authors would deal with it. It’s the rights grab for all metadata. It’s the edits. It’s that a contract was already signed and the publisher wants to backtrack instead of living up to terms. Terms they expected the author to live up to. But somehow they don’t have to?

    Yes. I had that happen to me. But not from the two pubs mentioned here. My rights were reverted and the language of the letter doing so, detailed that I couldn’t use the edits. This was not in the original contract. Turned out not to be an issue for me since the edits were only a few misspellings here and there. I haven’t heard an author saying EC has this policy. It’s not in my contracts with them.

    As I said in previous comment, RWA has weighed in on whether or not publishers have the right to ask for edits. I left the link. I think if an author thinks it’s fair that a publisher claims rights to edits, they should go read that brief. And think about why we have copyright laws to begin with. Why in the world would this be a business position that would promote a future relationship? Why would an author remain loyal to a publisher who did not remain loyal to them? I see this over and over and I cannot fathom this position. “Be loyal to us, authors, but our contracts are not worthy of that loyalty.”

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  28. Emily Ryan-Davis
    May 12, 2014 @ 09:32:38

    Like Voirey, I’ve written every single word of the cover copy on my nine EC titles. Every single word. I was even told to write series cover copy when EC changed its website ~2 years ago and wanted blurbage for series pages.

    Anyway, the cover copy issue is pretty minor. The MAJOR issue with Samhain and rights reversion is an attempt to force authors into signing an amendment to their original contract in order to receive the rights originally granted. That’s a HUGE deal.

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  29. Courtney Milan
    May 12, 2014 @ 11:25:21

    I’m confused as to the logic that says a publisher owns a blurb written by the author. Blurbs are copyrightable subject matter. If the author wrote it, it belongs to the author unless there is a signed statement to the contrary. If the initial contract does not clearly state that it belongs to the publishing house, it clearly belongs to the person who authored it.

    Logic that assigns “ownership” without reference to the actual laws of ownership does not seem very logical to me.

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  30. Corrina
    May 12, 2014 @ 11:47:20

    @Donna: Well, I suck at cover copy blurbs. What happens with my Samhain books is that I send in my suggestions for the back cover copy and I get back something that’s much more polished and effective. Their people are *good.*

    I do write my own warnings. Those are fun.

    As for contract terms, I have an agent because I like having someone with more contract knowledge than I possess myself. But I’d do that for any publisher contract.

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  31. Corrina
    May 12, 2014 @ 11:49:40

    Samhain does have cover copy/blurb people. I give them a rough draft and they turn it into something much smoother and more effective. I figure since I’m with them, I might as well take advantage of that service though, of course, other authors might want to do it different.

    From what I know, most authors do write their own warnings.

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  32. Angelia Sparrow
    May 12, 2014 @ 12:33:13

    EC is not honoring their reversion of rights clauses. Should have known there’d be trouble when they went for “life of copyright.” We petitioned in August of last year for the rights to our work, all of which came under the “has not sold 100 copies in a calendar year” clause. We got 2 short stories back in February, but the rest is “still being checked.”

    My EC sales tanked in 2009 and never recovered. I’ve quit submitting there. The Life of Copyright contract was the last straw.

    Now it looks like I’ll be giving Samhain a miss too

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  33. carmen webster buxton
    May 12, 2014 @ 13:20:59

    This kind of detailed insider info is one reason I follow this blog!

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  34. Shannon Stacey
    May 12, 2014 @ 13:22:32

    Just as a point of clarification, since it’s been mentioned, the addition of a person to spruce up the Samhain blurbs was announced to authors in June of 2007. Any contracts with rights reversion currently being contested would predate that.

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  35. Jackie Barbosa
    May 12, 2014 @ 13:33:55

    As Courtney rightly pointed out above, none of the “metadata” over which Samhain is attempting to assert ownership is of any value to Samhain once the book’s contents have reverted to the author. It may seem “reasonable” for a publisher to want to retain the rights to content that the publisher paid to have created, but even if you accept that this content is, in fact, always created by the publisher and not the author (which is clearly not the case), the fact that it has no worth when the publisher no longer has the right to sell the book tells you something about the reason for making the claim in the first place.

    To wit, publishers are trying to dissuade authors from requesting a reversion of rights when the term of the contract is up. If the author believes he/she has to start from scratch, with a new title, new tagline, new blurb, and complete editing of the manuscript as originally submitted, that author may well choose to leave well enough alone and not request reversion. That’s where the financial value is for the publisher, and that’s why this is happening. There’s just no other rational explanation.

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  36. Laila Blake
    May 12, 2014 @ 13:46:07

    I think the biggest issue with digital first publishers is that they just aren’t as attractive as self-publishing anymore, for both the writers and the readers. I was with one myself and got my rights reversed because I have a better chance going at it alone.
    I can’t speak of EL or Samhain, but in my experience, the editing was incredibly subpar, there was no advertising, and the cover was cheap and terrible. On my own, I was able to raise the editing level with the help of an editor and a LOT of time spent on the ms, I do all the advertising anyway, so I’d like to profit from it, and I was able to create a much more attractive cover. And, craziest of all – self-published titles sell better. Well, given the above issues, it’s no wonder. But especially EL, they’ve had the same terrible covers for years and years and it’s always deterred me from submitting to them – they just make the books look cheap and like a mass product nobody really cares about. No wonder others sell better.

    These days, I’m pretty much of the opinion I’ll either get a shoe into traditional or the ms goes into several rounds of editing for self-publishing. It’s sad, but the only small publishers I trust, are run by other authors I am friendly with.

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  37. Michelle Hughes
    May 12, 2014 @ 14:12:36

    I still don’t understand why self-published authors would choose to work with another company. Learn your trade from the inside out and pay for the services you need. Promotion on the internet is not hard to come by these days. There are dozens book bloggers if you feel you can’t handle your promotions on your own. Hire an editor. Pay someone to do cover art. By no means am I rolling in the money with my 50K yearly salary, but the opportunity is there. To me it’s just smarter to perfect your craft and let the readers decide if your next book is going to be a bestseller. Just my two cents on the subject.

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  38. Keri Ford
    May 12, 2014 @ 14:52:10

    Learning the trade is well and dandy but the business side of self publishing can be draining in every way possible. Market research is never ending and more time I spend puzzling out amazon complications, the less time I get to write.

    I’ll take more writing time which leads to more books released in year with the support of a publisher at my back.

    I know some can be totally shocked by the fact that some of us are willing to take less money to not have the headache of holding it all.

    But I’m not sure how any of that is relevant to this topic of publishers trying to over step their reach. Contracts are written, agreed and signed to protect both parties. Having one side of that party come along and hold the work ransom to get extra rights grabby is uncool to say the least.

    Meta data is a *broad broad* item that nobody has any business trying to claim. Not just in the sense already mentioned above, but even keywords in blurbs like “friends” and “lovers” are part of meta data. You can rewrite your blurbs all you want but if your old blurb contains such keyword then you can be SOL from using them if a publisher tries to retain the meta data.

    (Written from my phone. Sorry for any errors.)

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  39. Ella Drake
    May 12, 2014 @ 15:43:09

    Self published authors do work with another company (or companies). Amazon is an obvious one. All authors should be aware of contracts, should understand the business decisions based on those contracts, and should assume that business will uphold their end of the contract. It’s important to see the trends in publishing contracts and the pitfalls authors can face–with Amazon as well.

    Self-publishing is not an appealing option for all authors, but contracts are part of every published author’s career.

    Besides, some of the contracts we’re discussing above have fulfilled their contract terms. Meaning they were signed years ago before self-publishing became the option it is now.

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  40. Inez Kelley
    May 12, 2014 @ 17:17:15

    Your mortgage is a contract.

    The bank said we will give you this money. You have 30 years to pay it back at THIS interest rate. You agreed. Bank agreed. Everyone signed a legally binding document. All is good.

    30 years have passed. You met all the payments. You file paperwork for your deed. The bank says,

    “Nope, not giving it you. If you want the deed, the thing we agreed on IN WRITING 30 years ago, you have to sign this NEW AGREEMENT giving us the rights to the pool you put in, the new siding and the basketball hoop in the driveway. Your old agreement was only for the house AS IS. If you don’t sign this new agreement, you are not getting your DEED.”

    Would you be upset?

    This is why authors are concerned.

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  41. Sasha Devlin
    May 12, 2014 @ 20:21:15

    What Inez said. To the 1476th power.

    I’ve written all of my blurbs for EC. And those Samhain authors I know have written their own blurbs and taglines/warnings.

    I don’t get how keeping the taglines and blurbs to things that no longer exist could possibly benefit the publisher in any way. What does this prove? It’s mean and it’s spiteful. It’s a bullying tactic.

    But what is truly upsetting is for those people, at both houses, who have fulfilled their contractual obligations and are still being jerked around. On what planet does that make even an ounce of sense? I hold up my end of the bargain and you just decide, “nope, I don’t FEEL like it” and I’m SOL?

    So @#$@%! messed up.

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  42. Kallypso Masters
    May 13, 2014 @ 12:58:13

    The only manuscript I ever submitted to a publisher went to Samhain (back in 2009 before the indie revolution started). I have never been more happy with a rejection letter. At the time, I thought it was a “good” rejection because they asked to see something else, just that my novella didn’t work for the anthology they were doing. But when I decided to publish two years later–and knew I needed to make a living at it–I saw that giving up my rights to any publisher, big or small, would be detrimental to my career in the end. And the stories I’ve heard from authors with publishers over the past three years bore that out.

    With all due respect, tho, DearAuthor, I have to say that 30-40% is not robust when you’re indie. Maybe I just got in at the right time, but my first full year publishing, I made 6 figures and those 6 figures doubled the 2nd full year. Even with the downturn in sales we’re all feeling since October (would love for someone to figure out what happened there), I’ll still make 6 figures this year.

    And I don’t have to compromise my writing style or stories to fit the more narrowly defined publishing rules. But I know a lot of writer friends who must be feeling the pain of what’s going on at these two places and others. I hope they’re able to get out and go indie soon, too, so they can make a living again.

    Kally

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  43. Anon
    May 13, 2014 @ 17:24:36

    Add Whiskey Creek Press, especially the Torrid line, to this as well. They are pulling the same thing with no response and other bits. They are also blaming new software for royalty statement ‘glitches’, such as sending authors statements for people that aren’t them and blank statements. And most can’t get a response, despite one of the co-owners coming on and expressing ‘concern’ that people think they aren’t responding to emails. Of course, she told everyone to email her, of which got no response, surprisingly enough…

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  44. Eva Lefoy
    May 13, 2014 @ 20:42:23

    Basically Amazon presents the one stop shopping experience. They also provide the instant gratification download and the platform to read the book on Kindle. They have cornered the market. The traditional ebook publishers are having a hard time offering enough of a service or a compelling reason to make people stray from Amazon.

    They could offer some books on their websites only but as most sales come from Amazon that would be a risky venture.

    It’s also risky for them to release the books early on Amazon. Some publishers don’t push to Amazon till a week or so later, trying to garner as many direct sales to their site as possible. Does it work? I don’t know.

    I foresee ebook publishers will have to change their pricing model or their royalty rates in order to stay afloat. If you based your business on a take of 60% but were only netting 40% you’d have cash flow issues for sure. That means IMO that publishers will want to pay less royalties if they possibly can.

    The other issue I’m already seeing is longer contract terms.

    I agree with Courtney and Jackie that there’s no real sellable value in the meta data. The only possible reason for contract changes would be again, to keep authors longer, or delay them from leaving. I seriously doubt the ebook publishers have the time and money to bring court cases over a blurb.

    We all know there are too many unpunished book pirates out there to believe that. So then, what is it but a mere scare tactic?

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  45. Marianne Stephens
    May 14, 2014 @ 00:11:07

    My first EC book was published in 2007. I’ve published 5 books through them. To date, I have never missed a month without a paycheck. Some aren’t large, but I haven’t had a new book in three years and still receive checks. I’m amazed at some negative reactions from EC authors.

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  46. Pamela Fryer
    May 14, 2014 @ 13:44:22

    @Courtney Milan: Thank you! Finally, someone said it.

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  47. L. Dee
    May 15, 2014 @ 11:57:41

    My EC editor has written most of my blurbs. They don’t have the meta-data clause in their contract, though, so I suppose that’s a moot point.

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  48. Pamela Fryer
    May 15, 2014 @ 12:38:01

    Because I will be requesting my rights back from Samhain on my first published book in 2015, I want to be sure I understand this correctly: “A new contract clause is being inserted…” and “when the modified contract came back…”

    Are we talking about contracts going forward for new authors, or modifying existing contracts for previously published books? Because I have heard nothing from Samhain on a “modified contract.”

    Is it even legal to insert something into the contract that we both agreed to four years ago, and tell me I have no choice in the matter?

    Honestly I don’t really care about the tag line or cover copy because they rewrote what I had originally (and I liked it a whole lot less) I just want my book back with a minimum of headache.

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  49. Jackie Barbosa
    May 15, 2014 @ 12:50:04

    @Pamela Fryer: @Pamela Fryer: My understanding is that authors who request reversions are being sent a letter “clarifying” which rights are reverting to them. The author is being told she must sign the letter agreeing to these terms or the rights won’t be reverted.

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  50. Madeleine McDonald
    May 15, 2014 @ 14:37:12

    Red Rose Publishing is another company that does not respect the contracts authors sign. I told the company I wanted my rights back because I no longer received statements or royalty payments, despite repeated polite emails. Instead owner Wendi Felter threatened to “peruse (sic) this thru legal channels”. She warned me to expect a visit from “Scotland Yard, Interpol or some other law enforcement of Great Britain” (sic) for making false claims of copyright. Unprofessional behaviour on top of no royalties!

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  51. Anna Richland
    May 16, 2014 @ 22:04:47

    A few people on here may know better – but it seems to me most of the metadata isn’t actually something that CAN be copyrighted in itself – it’s not the written expression of antyhing. For instance, the word count, number of pages, language, etc are mere facts, not the expression of any “original work of authorship” and thus not able to be copyrighted.

    Title 17, United States Code Section 102(a) grants copyright “in original works of authorship” and Section 102(b) basically says there’s no copyright in any idea, process, system, etc.

    Long and short of it, only metadata that is “works of authorship” – could be copyrighted. Similarly, it would be an uphill battle for a publisher to say that their edits were original works of authorship – correcting punctuation is not authorship. Even giving suggestions to do X or delete Y leaves it up to the author to do it (none of these digital publishers are actually DOING the edits on the documents, are they?). Hard to believe they would be successful with a claim that “I told you to delete Mr. X secondary character, and because you did delete him, I own that change…” Changes aren’t copyrightable, near as I can tell, especially if the author is the one who made them (keep drafts!)

    The blurb is about the only thing in the metadata that could be copyrighted by anyone (titles are not copyrightable, which is why you can use someone’s song title in your book, but not the lyrics if you don’t have permission).

    So, given that almost nothing except the blurb is copyrightable – any statement by a publisher that they own copyright on anything else (seriously? on the word count? Tell me they don’t think they own that bit of metadata) is either a sign of gross incompetence in their legal advisor or just plain old bullying.

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  52. Mikaela
    May 17, 2014 @ 09:40:16

    Thank you for this post, Jane. This article sums up why I’m planning on selfpublishing most of my novellas. The future is simply too uncertain for me to be willing to sign a contract right now. Plus there is the fact that I write fantasy novellas, and they are hard to market :).

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  53. Edna Curry
    May 18, 2014 @ 16:06:34

    What Madeleine McDonald said about Wendi Felter at Red Rose Publishing is so true. She refuses to give us our rights back even though she violates her own contract by not paying royalties or giving us true royalty statements. When you follow her contract’s reversion of rights clause to the letter, she claims it only means you can ask for them, she doesn’t have to give them to you. Many of her authors have resorted to DMCA letters to vendors and her ISP to get our books down, which works, but she won’t give us reversion of rights letters. Then there are her screaming, swearing phone calls to endure and her threats of lawsuits when she doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. I got a few statements, but never a penny in actual cash from her. Fair warning.

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  54. Rochelle Weber
    May 18, 2014 @ 16:26:03

    @Madeleine McDonald: I, too, have dealt with Wendi Felter at Red Rose Publishing. As both an author and editor, she never paid me for any sales. In fact, I ended up paying her for e-books I sold on disk at a convention, and I’m pretty sure I greatly overpaid her for those sales, but she threatened to sue me for fraud. At the time, I believed her threats. When I realized she was in breach of contract for not having sent galleys to me, I was one of the few people who actually got my rights back. That’s because I started the RRP Implosion Yahoo group and I think she hoped I’d close the group and go away. The group is still open several years later and has 77 members, all of whom have had problems getting paid and/or retrieving their rights from Red Rose. WENDI FELTER IS A SCAM ARTIST. SHE WILL RIP YOU OFF.

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