To say the last two weeks have been difficult is putting it lightly. I have sobbed at my computer more than once, and not just over what has happened to me, but what has happened to twelve other authors who were once published by Vanilla Heart as well. It began with one author having the courage to leave, then another, and another. What was one became two, three, seven, eleven and now there are thirteen of us. Thirteen of us giving statements to attorneys. Thirteen of us talking directly with distributors. Thirteen of us comparing email threads and sharing what was said to us by Vanilla Heart. Thirteen of us documenting fraud, lies and excuses. Thirteen of us standing up to protect other authors from falling prey to the unethical and immoral business practices of Vanilla Heart Publishing. Sadly, but not surprisingly, our stories are very much the same in the sense that we were each manipulated, lied to and stolen from. Sadder still is the fact that we are not the only ones. If you read the comments about Vanilla Heart at Absolute Write Water Cooler, you will see that others have suffered the same fate.
As reports are rolling in from various distribution channels, the amount of money stolen is growing. Literally, thousands of dollars was never paid to me. I shudder when I think of how much was stolen from me and from all of us, collectively. It makes me sick.
The ever-present question is: How does a publisher get away with this for so long?
The answer is complex and yet simple. Fear. Publishers like Vanilla Heart prey on new authors…authors who would do just about anything to see their work in print. Then, once their books are made available, the excuses begin and so does the manipulation. Bluntly speaking, a new author is afraid to piss off her publisher, for fear that her next book won’t get published. Thus, she is inclined to let the excuses slide. These excuses range from blame-shifting to sympathy ploys.
Here are some priceless examples from Vanilla Heart:
1. The post office lost your royalty check. (If this happens then another check should be mailed immediately; but this happened three times and a check never arrived.)
2. I was going to direct deposit your royalty check but then my computer crashed and it’s going to take me at least a week to get everything up and running again. (I have emails from Vanilla Heart wherein she stated that her computer crashed six different times in less than three years. That’s a lot of crashes.)
3. The distributors haven’t sent me the reports yet. (I have numerous emails where Vanilla Heart stated that the distributors were always “months late” in reporting and paying royalties. This, according to recent evidence gathered from several distributors is an outright lie.)
4. I am sick (flu, sinus infection, fell in a hole gardening, food poisoning, etc.) and haven’t been able to make it to the post office to mail your check. (This happened so many times I finally switched to direct deposit and then, ironically, her computer started crashing all of the time.)
5. My husband needs another surgery so everything will be delayed a couple of weeks. (Sympathy ploy. I actually added her husband’s name to our prayer list at church and in my Bible Study group. Now, with all of the lies she has told, I doubt that he ever needed surgery at all. I was played for the fool.)
6. I have to take care of my mother-in-law. (Again, a sympathy ploy that makes the author think, what a good-hearted, wonderful publisher I have… a person who takes care of her in-laws in need. It’s a ploy. Don’t fall for it like I did.)
7. I can’t send out the royalty statements because my “stupid accountant printed them too small to read.” (Use a magnifying glass!)
8. The post office lost the ten books you ordered. I’ll have to track the shipment and let you know. (To this day, I paid for 10 of my books to have for a book club meeting and have never received them. She still owes me $97.50 and has not responded when I’ve asked for a reimbursement.)
9. Fifty-six copies of your book, House of Lies, were downloaded from Smashwords using the free coupon code. Someone must have gotten hold of that code and passed it around. (According to the actual distributor report, only 13 copies were downloaded free using the coupon code. The other forty-plus copies of House of Lies were purchased, paid for and royalties were paid to Vanilla Heart; but Vanilla Heart never paid me for any of those books.)
These are but a few of the many, many excuses that were given. If I listed them all, this blog would be endless and you would surely shake your head and wonder, as I do, how in the world people get away with this. It’s criminal behavior, and on-going criminal behavior with no sign of remorse is sociopathic.
Whether you dwell in the literary world, the sales world, the banking world, the world of technology, retail, medicine, law, etc., there are acceptable business practices and there are unacceptable business practices. Everything in life won’t be fair, but it should be ethical. Don’t let anyone manipulate you into taking less than you have earned, nor deceive you into believing they are due your sympathy for countless circumstances that have rendered them unable to do their job. One emergency or accident is understandable; ten is not.
Business is business and a good publisher shouldn’t have to prey on your sympathy to excuse her inability to give you the royalty statements and payments your hard work has earned.
Authors, you’ve invested your time, energy, emotion and money into creating your work of art. Do not let any publisher rob you of your rightful royalties on that work. NO excuse is viable.
Before you sign a contract with any publisher:
1. Visit the Preditors & Editors page on Warnings and make sure everything is on the up-and-up.
2. Talk to authors who have left the publishing company and talk to authors who are currently with the publishing company. If there is nothing to hide, all of these people will speak openly with you. If there is something awry, the ones who have left will be afraid to speak. (On that note: if upon leaving, a publisher asks you to sign an agreement that states you cannot speak about what has happened, don't agree to this. This is a major red flag and they have no legal leg to stand on.)
3. Ask questions and don’t settle for indefinite answers.
4. If you have any red flags, call an attorney.
The hardest part of this whole ordeal is to not allow myself to grow bitter. It’s no fun feeling used, playing somebody’s fool and having thousands of dollars stolen right from under your nose. It’s agonizing knowing that friends and family warned you and you ignored the signs because you were afraid to see the truth…afraid of what the truth might mean. Will my books ever get re-published? Will my work disappear forever? It’s scary, but if I have learned anything it is that I am not alone. There are ethical publishers out there. There are ethical agents and wonderful writer’s groups filled with people just like me and just like you. There is safety in numbers and wisdom in all of our minds and experiences meshing together. Don’t be afraid to speak out and let others know what is really happening behind the scenes.
If I can lend one piece of advice to a new author, it would be this: Talk to other authors. Listen to their wisdom. Join writing groups. Consult warning sites and realize that you do not have to settle for unethical treatment. You deserve better.
When we all join together, we can change the world. Right now, I'm calling that the "Power of Thirteen." ~