Read Part 2
“Those whom the gods would destroy, first they make proud.”
— Ecclesiasticles the Tempurpedic, c. 500 BCE
“If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
— Extremely pessimistic Minoan folk saying
“Those who would put off writing a painful blog entry, first they stuff in a bunch of unreliably attributed epigraphs at the beginning.”
— King Haypulmafinga, Feb. 30, 1852
Well, this sucks.
For the majority of 2014, I have been waxing philosophical (if that phrase means “doing the happy dance while bragging”) about my 10-book contract with the formerly respected publisher, Permuted Press, who had taken me on after I submitted Deadtown Abbey kind of on a whim.
The owner of Permuted himself called me during an NFL playoff game and I went in the other room to take the call. I repeat: this was during the game. That is how serious this was to me. And oh, the delights that this gentleman filled my PTSD-shaken mind with:
- Permuted was the original publisher of one of your favorite books which was made into a movie, John Dies At The End!
- They wanted movie rights, audiobook rights, e-book and print rights—they wanted everything! YAY!!!
- My books in stores! Such as at Barnes & Noble! Or, like, Target!
- They want to publish my series(es)! They demanded all my ideas so that they could contract with me for those, too—that is how much they loved Deadtown Abbey!
- My books. In actual stores without having to work out some third-party arrangement like Al Capone trying to launder his money through publishing. My books. In stores.
- They pay an advance. Of money.
- If I go into a bookstore after my book is published, there would be a good chance that my books would be in them.
- “I want you inside me, Sean’s books.” — Bookstores, allegedly
- Essentially they would be the State Lottery giant check that would be move me out of the self-publishing ghetto and into a dee-luxe apartment in the sky.
Which would come pre-furnished with sassy neighbors.
This utterly intoxicating conversation was followed up by communications with the director and contracts person at Permuted Press, and ultimately we worked out a $350 advance for each book on each of 10 goddamn books, three series(es) and a standalone zombie book. (For those of you who don’t know, Permuted made its bones [HA!] on zombie books and was now reaching out to embrace the incredibly hot apocalypse genre in general, which I thought was aces since I love that stuff.) A 10-book contract. I had never even heard of anyone getting that size of a contract! OMG, I MUST BE SO INCREDIBLY AND WONDERFULLY GREAT! AND SEXY!!!
There are probably several elements of that list that might give pause to a non-middle-aged-desperate author. Two of them appeared to me early on (but after the ink was dry), with the angel Gabriel ditching his trumpet to play a sad trombone.
As opposed to a rusty trombone, which could never be sad.
- The advance was on publication, not on acceptance. This kind of betrays the concept of an “advance.”
- However, I just figured I would use the advance to buy a bunch of author-discounted print copies to sell at Cons and send to reviewers and such. No biggie—probably a better deal for me, since I’d just blow an earlier advance on shit like food and shelter and stuff.
- I didn’t realize at the time that they never had to release any book of mine. They had no advance invested in me, everything was electronic—even the contracts which were emailed to me, with me paying to send back to them by mail the signed papers. They literally had no financial incentive to do anything.
- After the entire debacle, this last realization hit me. And oh, it hurt. Anyway, moving on.
- These 10 books were to be delivered by August 2016. That meant me turning in a finished manuscript every four months. Far from impossible—hell, Stephen King hisself says that no one should spend more than three months on a first draft—but these weren’t supposed to be first drafts (although a peek through the PP catalog shows that many of their novels were just that). These were supposed to be polished and ready to go after an alleged copy editor ran her eyes over it.
- I should mention that I felt like the production schedule was more of a challenge than a dealbreaker. I did Deadtown Abbey in several months leading up to a zombie Con in Atlanta, and I got Reviva Las Vegas! done on schedule as well. This was while I was otherwise unemployed, however, and I once I got started working at a job that paid actual money, my productivity took a punch to the groin that proved … daunting … to my zip-zip-zip novel assembly line dreams.
Pictured: Stephen King’s brain.
Before I tell you of the dick moves of Permuted Press, you should know that they were termed “fuckery” by horror luminaries like Brian Keene and garnered the following from amazeballs author and promoter Gabrielle Faust:
I’m so incredibly beside myself with outrage at this inexcusable betrayal of the trust of so many talented writers, you can’t even begin to imagine.
Allow me to put this in perspective for you: Gabrielle Faust was Permuted Press’ fucking Director of Marketing. She had no idea what the Powers in the publishing hotspot of Franklin, Tennessee had planned for their hundreds of authors. (More on that bullshit below.) They canned her, saying they needed a “butt in a seat” at their hopping headquarters, something that now boggles the mind because what PP had in mind for its authors was this, and this is a direct quote from their middle-of-the-night email to all its authors:
We will be ceasing the production of print-on-demand books.
That was presented with the same offhandedness with which you would tell someone the relative humidity. That person being one who didn’t even have any interest in the hygrometer reading in the first place. In other words, Permuted was trying to make it sound like “Hardly worth mentioning, really, but it’s just a spot of bother” when to the people it was sent to it was completely DEFCON 5 WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY A MOTHERFUCKING GAME, JOSHUA.
Remember the quote about gods punishing pride at the beginning of this blog entry? It is in reality unattributed, but I had enough hubris (thanks, 9th grade English!) to think, “Well, this doesn’t 100 percent affect me, because the owner told me in no uncertain terms that my books would be available in stores.” Which POD books are most certainly not unless one has a relationship, probably involving either sex or the possession of legally incriminating murder photos or both of the store management. Permuted had a new arm called “Permuted Platinum,” which was books in warehouses available for stocking by booksellers without hoops and such.
My brain said, “Don’t freak out, man. This is a bad thing for many authors, but not for you. You had a promise. The owner didn’t call anybody else before signing them”—this I verified by asking every other PP author I knew if it had happened to them—”and so I must be safe. Whew. I must be a Platinum author. I’ll just send a little missive to the managing editor to make sure we’re cool.”
“Whew! Thank goodness I’m not in any danger.”
We were most definitely NOT COOL. It turns out that a verbal contract, even one executed during an NFL playoff game, truly isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Permuted gave many excuses regarding why this was a necessary step, and also said that if you look very carefully at your contract, you’ll see that PP had the option to publish your books in print, not an obligation to do so.
Holy shucking fit. They were screwing me—I was going to be “published” only in e-book format. They apologized but they had just signed too many authors too quickly—and were publishing five books per week now—and so they were going to all e-books for everyone but a very small elite of their authors who were already in the Platinum program. If the phrase “all e-books” doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, then you have never been an indie author.
“So this is where books go to die!”
Many wonderful books—heck, most books published these days by the Big Five in New York as well as more independent presses—are available in e-book format. Stevie King, John Grisham, the late Maya Angelou, the President of the United States—all have seen their books in e-format and sold a ton of books that way. Kindle and iPad are the wave of the present, let alone the future, and e-books are awesome. (I love to read e-books, for Chrissake, so this isn’t some weird Luddite rant.)
But you know these authors’ work because of print books. Paper, glue, cardboard, slick dust jacket. You may sell your work in many different formats, but print is what makes a writer—and a publisher, for that matter—look and feel legitimate in the literary and intellectual marketplace. That said, the traditional publishing model has long been lamented for its high costs and low, low margins of profit. It’s a well-known fact that most fiction books never earn back the advances paid to their authors.
“Oh God, here it comes.”
Permuted Press didn’t cancel its Platinum line (although some in the know say that it has failed miserably, with only about 10 percent selling to consumers and 90 percent going back to the publisher). It didn’t say “no more print books, period.” No, what they said was much more troubling and, frankly, a kick in the face to its non-Platinum authors. They announced that they would be stopping their print on demand books. You know, those that are produced only if someone orders one? You know, those that authors of any stripe can take to conventions, book fairs, farmer’s markets, bazaars, and many other places to sell? You know, those that authors can give as gifts or send out for review? You know, those for the majority of readers who don’t own an e-reading device and aren’t even interested in one? Yeah, those. Permuted said that it was investing
41.65% of our production team’s time … making print on demand versions of our books, but those products account for only 7.41% of our income. This disproportionate figure revealed the need to make prompt changes to our previous policy.
Some have questioned these figures. Permuted Press covers are very nice, especially compared to many self-published covers or those from other POD publishers. But they’re still essentially stock pictures and art with text laid over them. But think about it for a second: Instead of trying to bring those production numbers more into line with what they want or promoting the POD side of the business more, they essentially said, “You know what? Why don’t we just throw away almost 10 percent of our income as a company?”
Pictured: Permuted Press board meeting.
[Update: Permuted Platinum author Jessica Meigs corrects me: “In actuality, they’re only ‘throwing away’ 2% of the company income. You forgot to account for the bestsellers that will remain in POD production (which account for around 5% of the company’s income).”]
In fact, this makes so little sense that some commenting on the entire clusterfuck have speculated that something else is behind that unprecedentedly weird business move. PP did bring in a silent partner recently, and maybe that partner is one of those slash-and-burn types who want immediate profit.
[Update: Jessica Meigs informs me that this partner has been with PP since the beginning of the new management, and that he is quite rich and thus doesn’t need a quick buck. So my theory is shot full of holes, which leaves me wondering about PP’s actions: Why, then? WHY?)
(By the way, since the time that books were first published to be sold, everyone involved knew that publishing is not a get-rich-quick—if ever—kind of business. You do it for the love of books, authors, and reading. Money is there to be made, but it must be cultivated. This is a truth universally acknowledged by anyone who knows anything about publishing, including self-publishing.) This speculation about a greedy partner bending the company to his will is plausible, if not very likely. A person seeking profit is not going to cut off 7.41 percent of his new company’s income. S/he will make people work smarter or harder, pay them less or tie their pay to profits, but to cut off income for no apparent reason? Senseless.
Anyway, whatever the reason for Permuted’s odd move from POD, what’s done is done. They knew they were in deep doo-doo, because they sent out a message saying that they would allow any authors who wanted it to be released from their contracts. This is unheard, of but I got on that pony before you could say “What pony?” I was the first to dissolve my contract with PP, and a large contingent of their author pool has followed suit.
A Permuted Press author waits his turn.
It was only after I had cut my ties to these not-technically-lying-but-totally-lying sons of bitches that I started reading the blogs and Facebook postings of other authors and publishing wags about how much of a bullet I and my fellow ex-Permuted authors had just dodged. Here are the highlights, all of which applied to me as well as all the others:
- In the contract, Permuted stated that it was buying (for $350, mind you) all rights to the author’s work. E-publishing rights, natch, but also audio rights, movie/TV rights, toy and other ancillary rights, and any other rights one could think of. They would pay the authors as promised: a 7 percent royalty.
- These rights would never revert back to the author, his or her heirs, nobody. For that 7 percent royalty, PP was buying ALL RIGHTS IN PERPETUITY.
- This meant that any sequels, spinoffs or like whatnot would have to be either accepted and published by Permuted, the rights to do the sequel would have to be purchased from Permuted Press by the author or that new publisher, or never be published legally at all.
- According to Permuted, “We are pausing the release of most new titles until early 2015. This will grant us the time necessary to increase margin in our production schedule … When publishing resumes in early 2015, our release schedule will be less aggressive.” This was a huge letdown for their authors because some of us weren’t going to see our books published until 2018. Deadtown Abbey was due for release in February 2015, Reviva Las Vegas in October 2015, the three volumes of my Cthulhu trilogy in 2016, and so on. That was fine with me—I know the wheels turn slowly on the professional publishing machine—but now they were going to be “less aggressive”? What, did that mean 2019? 2025? Never?
- But here’s the real bitch about this “less aggressive” publishing schedule, which they also said was needed because they “now have a clearer idea of the production volume of our staff.” Wait, what? Didn’t you just fucking say that 41.68 percent of your production time was being cleared immediately? How long does it take to format a goddamn e-book, even including the cover and registration to sell on Amazon and such places?
It has been speculated that PP was actually trying to get rid of as many authors as it could by making these nonsensical, self-contradictory pronouncements. I don’t have any insight or information as to whether this is true, but it pisses me off so much even to think about that I’m just gonna let that one go. Stopping head explosions starts with yourself, people.
Fight it … keep fightinnnnnng … you can do eeeeet …
Now, as you all know, I am not one to mope or carry a grudHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA OMG I CAN’T BREATHE LOL. No, of course at the slightest setback I will mope like a tranquilized sloth who just fell out of his tree. And I literally still have not forgiven my (now deceased) mother for throwing away my EXCLUSIVE TO THE STAR WARS FAN CLUB 8×10 glossy stills from The Empire Strikes Back when she was cleaning my room when I was 11 years old. (YOU NEVER CLEANED SHIT, MOM! WHY THEN? WHY MY ROOM?!?) So no, fuck Permuted Press and I will feel that way until the day that I die.
Ah, dammit. He was so close.
However, I did decide to wait until I was no longer lying on the couch, staring off into space and mumbling “Why me?” to a woman who has been painfully crippled by rheumatoid arthritis since she was 7 fucking years old to write this blog entry. So you see that my compassion was at full power and in no way compromised by my experience of the past two weeks. Ahem. I thought it might be better to just wait for a bit before spewing venom all over your precious Internets.
Part 2: Some theories on what Permuted might actually be doing, and it is awful.
Part 3 (coming soon): What I have done to redeem myself and regain your faith in my awesome utterness as an author, a fighter—and yes, as a man.