Sunday, March 16, 2014

Show me the Money!

While tooling around on the internet yesterday, I ran across this story over at The Passive Voice.  I'll summarize for those who don't have the time to read the whole thread(trust me, it goes on for quite a while) - a woman named Vera Nezarian was running a small press for about 300 titles when she ran into difficult times in her life(mom with cancer, house being foreclosed, death of father, etc).  It sounds like this poor woman had about every shitty thing that could possibly happen to her happen over the course of six years.  I'm sure it was awful, and I would never wish something like this run of luck on anybody...and this will be the last bit of sympathy you ever hear from me regarding Ms. Nezarian.

During her difficulties, she failed to pay any of the writers she published their royalties.  During that time, she spent all of the revenue generated on her issues(it helped that she didn't have a separate bank account set up for the publishing part, so all of the income went into her personal bank account).  Now she's trying to hold a fundraiser and convince other people to give her money that she can ostensibly pay to her authors.

To me, this is theft.

An employers first obligation is to pay all of his or her expenses, and royalties due the writers that sold books through her is one of those expenses.  I can get the occasional problem with getting checks out on time, but this went on for years.

I'm sorry some people find themselves in bad circumstances, but that in no way justifies this level of fraud.  I wonder how many writers owed royalties had problems of their own the last few years and could've used some of that money to help themselves.  Further, do we give an out to a burglar who really really really needed the money when he or she broke into someone's house?  Not many judges allow that excuse in their courtrooms.

Of course, most astonishing of all is that many of those who went through this are sticking with her!  She says she has given rights back to those authors who've requested it, but some folks are staying with her as their publisher.  At this point, those saps are doing all of this to themselves, for you will be treated how you allow yourself to be treated.  However, this doesn't mean she doesn't owe those folks who reverted their rights back royalties as well.

This exposes two larger problems within the publishing world.  First, royalties are a joke in the traditional publishing world.  Most houses, big or small, pay them only about every six months.  I don't think this was acceptable 40 years ago when we paid via check through the mail, but in today's digital and high speed world, it's definitely not acceptable at all.  Unfortunately, many writers are so grateful to just be published that they're willing to let themselves get shit on in hopes they don't piss off the publisher.  How many of you would work for a boss that only paid you every six months?

The second problem it exposes, as beautifully illustrated in the comments section of the thread, is just how averse lots of writers are to paying attention to business.  I've commented before that writing is a business, even for those who don't like it being so.  Writing is the fun part; those that only focus on that part, though, are setting themselves up for a fall.  Ms. Nezarian herself admits that it was all just so darn hard to keep track of the business portion during her troubles.  Imagine if some of her authors had enough gumption to pay attention during this time.  We have to understand at least the basics or we'll get fleeced.  The world is not a nice place, and thinking that people will give you what's yours out of the goodness of their hearts is naïve.

Finally, when people wonder why some eschew publishers, regardless of the level, point them to cautionary tales like this.  If you want to work for free, that's your business, but be careful when money becomes involved.


  1. Definitely - I have been careful taking on projects that involved working for free. And even when I have worked for payment there has been disasters (not quite like this though). You have to be so careful when money is involved.

    1. I wish more writers took your caution into account. Unfortunately, too many think writing is only about writing.