Dropping the Legal Ball: A Publishing Nightmare Exposed

Midnight has passed.  Silence reigns. But I can be silent no more.  I (along with a passel of other authors) have been asked to keep something to myself that is completely illegal, violating the Copyright Laws of the United States of America — this is something I cannot do.  It is time the silence is broken.

The party performing these illegal acts has a tenuous, at best, right to request me to not say anything — I still have ONE valid contract (for another month).  However, she cannot stop Freedom of Speech, and should she try to sue me over the information I am about to divulge, she’ll find herself in MUCH worse straits than I, as she has been violating Intellectual Property laws for at least a year, now.

Of whom do I speak, you ask?

I’m talking about Aspen Mountain Press, and its publisher.

I’ve been waiting patiently for this publisher to make right things that should have been made right a year ago.  I’ve sent letters  that have been returned, unopened, marked “unclaimed” though they were sent exactly as specified in contracts that have been expired for a year or more.  I’ve sent e-mails, which have garnered no response.

And then, on Thursday, as if to rub salt in an already bleeding wound, this publisher posted a letter to the entire author body of her publishing house, basically looking for everyone who is upset to back off and not question her, anymore.  But the time for her to make requests, and the time for talking about where we plan to go from here, is over.  It was over a year ago, but I gave the benefit of the doubt, extended my waiting time, made excuses in my own mind for why these issues were not resolved,

The time for negotiation ended nearly a month ago, when my letter asserting what needed to be done was summarily ignored, and sent back to me, unopened and unclaimed.

The time for a still-amicable resolution expired at midnight last night, when the deadline for my final demand for resolution went ignored.

At the time, I promised that if it wasn’t resolved, the kid gloves would come off.  This was no idle threat.  I plan to make good on it, starting now.

Part of that letter sent to all of us authors stated that she wanted any issues kept “within the family.”  I wish I could respect that, but respect is something I believe is earned, not to be expected for nothing.  I’ve given a lot of respect over the past year, by waiting instead of hounding my publisher over contracts that expired and were never renewed, while the books remained up for sale.  I respected her by not demanding every penny those books made in the time since, as she had no legal right to be selling them.  And what did I get for the respect I was given?  Ignored, cheated, and finally told that I’m supposed to stay mute about it.

There’s no reason for me to stay mute.  There’s also no way I intend to respect the wishes of someone who’s done nothing but disrespect myself and a host of other authors, for months to years.  I’m trying to be fair-minded, to take into consideration as much as I can.  Part of me struggled against naming names even as I wrote this post, or doing anything that might be permanently damaging to a business or person in need of so much guidance and help.  I’m not a vindictive person, and I cringe from the thought of causing anyone pain.

But the truth of the matter is, the pain has already been caused by this publisher, and it’s been caused to myself and others, in a variety of ways.  I can’t speak for the other authors (that’s for them to do, when they feel the time is right for them), but I can speak for myself.  And, in the words of Paul Harvey, it’s time for “the rest of the story.”

Several years ago, I belonged to another publishing house (the now infamous Triskelion Publishing).  When that company went bankrupt, the world exploded for me.  It was the first time I ever faced the horrible truth of the publishing industry – as an author, the deck is stacked AGAINST you.  But the authors banded together, and went to the wall to get our rights back.  And, in the end, we succeeded.  Whether it proves true or not, I like to believe we set a precedent regarding bankruptcy in the publishing industry, that day.

Shortly after, I was approached by the owner of Aspen Mountain Press, wanting to publish something of mine. I was initially leery, but was promised that it would NOT be like  Triskelion.  Eventually, we struck a deal, and I started sending my Project Prometheus series.  The first contract was signed in 2007.  The second was signed the very end of 2007, and the third was signed in November of 2008. Each of these contracts had a 3 year expiration, and could ONLY be renewed by WRITTEN AGREEMENT between the publisher and myself at the time of expiration.

For the first couple of years, everything seemed fine.  I liked the publisher, and while sales were never great, I wasn’t expecting them to be huge, either (I’m a bit of a niche author… I know my work’s not to everyone’s tastes), and I was happy with whatever I got.

Then, in 2010, the first of my contracts expired.  I waited for the e-mail or letter to arrive, stating the publisher’s request to renew my contract.  At the time, I would have happily signed a renewal.  I saw no reason not to.

But no renewal request ever came.

2011 rolled around, and still I was waiting for a renewal request on the first contract.  Not a peep.  Now the SECOND contract was  expired.  No request came for that, either.  I sent an e-mail query regarding both.  No response.  I told myself that it was an e-mail glitch, that the e-mail was just never received.  And I waited.  Meanwhile, books were selling, and I was only getting my contracted royalty amounts when, as the contracts were expired, I SHOULD have been receiving the entire cover price.  But it didn’t really bother me.  I kept watching for the renewals, but I didn’t want to make a pain of myself, so I didn’t send any more e-mails or letters regarding it.

Not until this past summer.  Then, when I decided I needed to get the books taken down and acknowledgement of contractual expiration sent to me, I did exactly as my contract stated, and sent a certified letter requesting not only a letter of confirmation and the removal of the first two books, but also a reversal of the rights on the third book, which is set to expired in November (a little over a month away). At the same time, I sent an e-mail containing the same request.  No response.  Eventually, the letter came back to me, unopened and marked “unclaimed” by the Post Office.

And then the publisher stopped communicating with anyone who e-mailed her or sent her mail. For nearly TWO MONTHS!  She didn’t respond to the stirrings of first concern, and then panic, among her authors.  We were essentially left in limbo.

Like I said, I can’t speak for any of the other authors, but here’s what this whole ordeal has done to me:

The stress of it all put me into a medical tailspin.  I suffer from Acute Intermittent Porphyria, and stress is a major trigger of  attacks.  I’ve been in varying stages of attack (from almost unbearable pain to pain so bad I missed enough work that I’m now losing over $100 on my next paycheck, meaning I don’t know if I’ll make bills the beginning of the month, or not) for weeks now.

I’ve been frustrated enough that my ability to write (and  thus meet my contractual obligations with OTHER publisher) has been  hit-and-miss.

And yet, I’ve seen not one word of apology, not one attempt to make right the things that have broken the relationship between us.

Would I be willing to mend fences?  In most ways, yes.

Would I be willing to let bygones be bygones?  I don’t hold a grudge – but I’m not going to leave my books with someone I can’t trust to not do this again.  Holding onto anger isn’t something I want in my life, and I’m more than willing to let that go and wish Aspen Mountain Press and its publisher well.  However, I’m not an idiot, and once my trust is broken, it literally takes moving mountains to get it back.  My staying, once the trust is broken, is an issue not up for debate – it’s just not going to happen.

What will it take for me to mend fences?  An apology, for starters.  Not just some mealy mouth bunch of words, either.  I’m talking about a genuine, heart-felt apology, in which the publisher finally takes her full share of responsibility for the events that have transpired, and their effects on me.  And the removal of my books for sale, as well as a letter acknowledging that ALL THREE belong to me, again.  Nothing less will do, and nothing more need be done.  I’m not asking for the world – I’m asking
that the right thing be done.

Until the publisher is willing to face up to her own mistakes, and make amends to the people she’s wronged in recent (and not so  recent) past, I won’t be recommending this publisher to anyone.  In my eyes, at the moment, it’s a case of “Buyer Beware.”  If you’re planning to purchase any of my books, DO NOT PURCHASE THEM FROM ASPEN MOUNTAIN PRESS.  Two of the three books there are being sold illegally, in violation of Copyright Law.


9 thoughts on “Dropping the Legal Ball: A Publishing Nightmare Exposed

  1. Esther, I feel for you and totally agree with everything you posted. I’m caught in the same net as you, again. Deja vous sucks, my friend.

  2. Terri Pray says:

    Esther, you know you have my support 100%. I’ve always done my best to answer any questions you – or any other author has had – with UTM and I went through the Trisk mess as well though I only had one story tied up in all of that.

    You tried the soft approach, then the legally correct approach (as I understand it), so do not feel bad about how you’re handling it now.

    I hope, for all concerned, something is done about this. Is being a publisher hard work – HELL YES- but it’s not an excuse for this.

  3. What she said! I have a book supposedly contracted to AMP, although the contract isn’t legal. Thankfully it’s not yet published and I don’t want it to be. I just want my rights back. What do I have to do to make the woman listen?

  4. 1111 says:

    I, too, have a work caught in this mess, though it appears to have been taken off their site and all third parties, but no official release letter has come. I was thinking about when Venus Press did the same thing. The name of the author who really spearheaded the effort escapes me as it was several years ago, but because the publisher went MIA , we were able to get the website taken down so no further illegal sales could be made. Now obviously that’s a lot trickier here as there is a mix of us who have expired contracts/copyright infringements as you describe here and some who are still completely within their contract, though they may not have gotten any royalties, I don’t know if that is an action people want to take. But it CAN be done. Most ISPs in the US are very responsive to DMCA notices. I’m so sorry anyone has to go through with this.

  5. authorrainedelight says:

    I am so sorry Esther. I was one of the few lucky ones who got their rights back and though I lost the money owed to me due to shoddy accounting (according to the owner it’s the accountant’s problem), I feel grateful to have missed this mess by a mere few months in late 2010. My heart bleeds for you all dealing with this.

  6. […] Relevant discussion starts on page 4 of the thread. Also see first-hand accounts by AMP authors Esther Mitchell, Celia Kyle, Grace Wen, and Andy […]

  7. […] Esther Mitchell:  Dropping the Ball, A Publishing Nightmare Exposed […]

  8. […] Esther Mitchell ~ Dropping the Legal Ball: A Publishing Nightmare Exposed […]

  9. […] of AMP authors have come forward with their stories. Here are some of them: Charles E. Wells Esther Mitchell Andy Dunn Kimberly Nee Grace Wen Destiny Blaine Samantha Combs Barbra Custer Celia Kyle Also, a […]

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