Hyphen Hate? When Amazon went to war against punctuation.

•December 14, 2014 • 133 Comments

10520828_935072746511716_41317665270618143_nThis is a really strange blog post to have to write, simply because the situation is absurd. It would be comedic, really, if the situation was not costing me money and resulted in one of my best-selling books being unavailable in the run up to the busiest time of the year.

Let me tell you a little story.

I was sitting in front of my computer on Friday night, as is often the case, talking to friends on Facebook, randomly browsing things that seemed interesting and, in this particular case, attending the launch party for Chantal Noordeloos’s latest Coyote book, when I had an email notification arrive in my inbox from Kindle Direct Publishing.

The email was titled rather ominously as
Kindle Quality Notice: High Moor 2: Moonstruck – B00BVC7MKW

Now – Moonstruck has been out for around 18 months now. It’s done well for itself and, at the time of writing has around 123 reviews on Amazon.com, the overwhelming majority of which are four and five stars. Even the few people that have not liked the book have not had a go at the editing – and for good reason – I spent well over £1000 on getting that book edited, using the best editors I could find. I was more than happy with the product, so was bemused by this email. When I clicked on it to take a look inside my confusion grew.

Apparently Amazon had received a complaint from a reader about the fact that some of the words in the book were hyphenated. And when they ran an automated spell check against the manuscript they found that over 100 words in the 90,000 word novel contained that dreaded little line. This, apparently “significantly impacts the readability of your book” and, as a result “We have suppressed the book because of the combined impact to customers.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. This had to be a wind-up. Surely. An automated mistake, generated because some fucking clueless moron had a little moan over something they didn’t understand.

So, chuckling to myself, I sent back a response pointing out that the use of a hyphen to join two words together was perfectly valid in the English language and included a handy link to the Oxford English Dictionaries definition page which described its usage.

That, I felt, should have been the end of the matter. A fuck up was made. I explained the fuck up. Fuck up goes away.

Does it fuck.

The next day I got a response from Kindle Direct Publishing. It was signed by a Melania G – which is either the name of the particular automated response bot I was directed to, or the person reading from a script in a call center, which amounts to about the same thing.

You can read the response below…

Hello Graeme,

Thanks for contacting us and giving me the opportunity to help you. I will be more than glad to assist you with your inquiry.

As quality issues with your book negatively affect the reading experience, we have removed your title from sale until these issues are corrected. Books with serious errors that are not corrected after 60 days will have their product detail pages removed from the website. Your book will still appear in your Bookshelf, and you can update it and resubmit it at any time.

Once you correct hyphenated words, please republish your book and make it available for sale.

Erm – what the actual fuck? Are we now considering hyphenated words to be unacceptable? Are there people out there so fucking mind-bogglingly stupid that the inclusion of a – between two words confuses them enough to be torn from the story and ruin the reading experience so much that they felt obliged to write to Amazon and complain?

What’s next? Will we start getting penalized for using words of more than two syllables? Is the semi-colon also headed for extinction? Is J.K Rowling going to have to take down Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until she sorts out the blatant hyphenation in the title? Is Cormac McCarthy going to have to go and put in punctuation to The Road?

OK – clearly I am being a bit sarcastic here, and what is happening here is style enforcement by automation. And in some respects I have to applaud Amazon for at least trying to address the sea of utter fucking garbage that is available on Kindle. Do they need to do something about the quality of the ebooks on their device? Oh yes. Absolutely no question about it. However I really would have to question whether their time would be better spent looking at the 10 page automatically generated “books” that are flooding the kindle store to game the Kindle Unlimited algorithms, or the impending tidal wave of Nanowrimo first drafts that are about to hit us, than waging war on a professionally edited novel that had the gall to use hyphens to join words together.

If I was a suspicious sort, I may even wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that I unchecked the “automatically renew this book’s enrollment in Kindle Select” tickbox a few days earlier.

I am fairly confident that if I manage to speak to someone who is not reading from a script or is an email autoresponder, that this situation will be sorted out quite quickly. However, with over £1000 worth of paid advertising coming up over the Christmas period, I really can’t afford to have one of my top selling titles out of circulation, and so I will, reluctantly, start preparing a version of the book with all the hyphens removed.

And then some clever bastard will probably complain to Amazon about the lack of hyphenation and it will get taken down again.

So please, Amazon, in the unlikely event that you are listening – quality control is a good thing. However you should not take the word of some random fuck-wit that something is wrong. You are screwing with peoples livelihoods here, and you owe it to everyone involved to look at these issues on a case-by-case basis.


UPDATE: The book is now back on sale. Common sense seems to have prevailed 🙂

Guest Blog – A Fan Letter to Readers from Chantal Noordeloos

•November 18, 2014 • 3 Comments

10806387_10152456496371088_3290938985989135879_nNot since Romeo and Juliette has there been a romance so great as that between a writer and a reader.

*coughs* ehm… okay, that’s utter nonsense, sorry about that. I went for a nice dramatic opening… artistic license and all that.

First of all, I don’t think Romeo and Juliette are all that romantic. They were very young, barely knew each other, and if my memory serves me correct, Romeo was trying to get it on with some other bird first. Also… it resulted in unnecessary death, which sounds rather foolish to me.

But I digress. What I’m trying to say, in my own rather clumsy manner, is that readers are very important to the author. We’re always telling each other that we need to write for ourselves, but we don’t really… we write for an imaginative audience.

I have recently released my first full length novel. A horror book called Angel Manor, through Horrific Tales Publishing. This meant I had to do that which I dread most: get my book noticed. It really got me to think about readers, and how absolutely vital they are to writers; we can’t live without them. The same way that readers can’t be readers without writers, writers are really not worth much without readers.

Finding an audience is a challenge for us. Unless we’ve broken through and have made our claim to fame, the writers have an ongoing quest to search for the holy grail: their readers.

We’re a funny lot, authors, most of us (not me) are introverts who prefer to stay well away from the public eye. Yet at the same time, we want our books to be read by millions. Not just for the money, mind you. Though getting paid for… you know… work… is quite pleasant. We really want readers because they breathe life into our stories and our worlds. A story is a flat entity until it gets an audience. Look at what the readers of Harry Potter have done. Without his public, he wouldn’t be what he is today. There would be no theme parks, no movies, no merchandise, nothing. Just words on a page that no one has read.

That wasn’t JK Rowling who created the hype. If we writers had that power, all our books would have their own theme parks *sits back and fantasizes about Coyote world* and movies. It’s the fans that make all this magic happen. Their combined love for a book can move mountains.

We writers dream about readers. We talk to them in our work, hope to seduce them, lure them into our realities, and we want them to love us. We have a bit of an exhibitionistic streak in us. Not that we’ll end up flashing people our naughty parts (some might, but most of us prefer to stay fully dressed), but we like to ‘flash’ our minds. One could argue that that’s a naughty part too *cheeky grin*.

Angel Manor Front CoverUnfortunately not all readers are kind to us. There are a good many Trolls out there who would quite happily destroy the career of a budding author, for whatever reason. We fear those readers. Writers whisper about them, the way children will talk about the monster under the bed. All of us know that not every reader can like your work, and we’re prepared for the one and two star reviews, they are a part of life. But on occasion you get that one star review that makes no sense, or that is just spiteful. One of my author friends has been openly attacked for having a racist character in his horror book.

Just because we write bad characters, doesn’t mean we’re bad people. It’s painful to be called names by strangers. Most of us take it to heart; we’re often extremely sensitive souls, we creative weirdos.

Authors thrive on reviews, they get us through the darker parts of the creative process. Writing can be a lonely process, and a review can make you feel very loved, or at the very least noticed. Plus they are vital, they actually help us make more sales. The best way to help us build our careers is to talk about us, recommend our work. This is what keeps us sold and keeps us sane. Luckily most readers understand this. It’s difficult to get people to write reviews, so when they do, we tend to be very grateful. I have to admit, there have been a few reviews that have made me cry happy tears. In fact, whenever I’m feeling a bit blue, I read those again. It’s like reading a love letter. They are a testimony of my words touching another human soul out there, and it’s magical.

So, in light of all these wonderful readers, I want to write a little fan letter. I know it’s usually the reader who writes to the writer, but I thought I would mix it up a little.

Dear reader,

I’ve been a fan of yours ever since I started writing. Though we’ve never met, I actually feel very close to you. We share something, an understanding of the world I created in my books. That’s pretty special to me.

Your kind / honest review has really made an impact on me, and I was thrilled to read it. I love that you made the time to give me your opinion on my work. That was pretty awesome.

I have to admit, I think about you a lot. Know that whatever I write, it’s all for you. I long for your approval. Nothing makes me happier than you smiling, crying, or gasping with horror when you read my work. If my words can reach you, can make you think or just provide you with some pleasant entertainment… I feel more fulfilled.

Thank you for existing, dear reader. You are so very special to me, and I feel a deep admiration for you.

With love,




Winter of Zombie Tour – Guest Post – Jay Wilburn

•November 5, 2014 • 1 Comment

It’s my pleasure to host another guest blog as part of the Winter of Zombie Tour. Here is a excerpt from Jay Wilbur’s collection. Enjoy


Sample from the collection with Hazardous Press Zombies Believe In You by Jay Wilburn – The sample includes the opening of the novella “White Pebbles” —


White Pebbles


The Woodcutter’s Son

Hansel’s face was in the wet sand under the overturned fishing boat. He stared at the white pebble he had placed on the block under the bow of the boat where he hid beside the shore of the lake. The wood above his head had been cut by his father and then fashioned by richer men near the docks. The boat had brought wealth to families that were depending on Hansel now. The wood was rotting as it sat abandoned for too long.

The monster’s blue feet marched through the sand past the boat within Hansel’s view. If it discovered him, Hansel was going to be eaten alive. He breathed quietly as he watched the footprints behind the dead creature. They filled with water below the sand which soaked slowly back below the surface just like the footprints of any living person would. These footprints were missing some of the toes.

zombie collection cover 2Hansel pulled the lines up over his shoulder on the ground in the shadow of the fishing boat. His catch for the day hung on the ends of each line. He did not have enough for everyone. Many of the animals in the forest had fled from the Twice Dead Plague. Both common beasts and enchanted creatures had abandoned the forests as the villages became the haunts of hungry death.

Hansel crawled forward to look under the rim at the docks and the catch houses. The rats on his lines dragged through the sand under him.

There were at least two of the moving dead under the dock. They were consuming something. It could have been an animal. It might be a human they were eating, but every survivor in town was waiting in the church now. There were other creatures that might have fallen prey to the cursed corpses as well.

On the boardwalk around the fishery house, others wandered as they searched mindlessly. They were driven by hunger and not thought. If they spotted Hansel, they would follow him until he was caught and they would eat until his bones were clean.

His father’s ax or an archer’s arrow could stir their brains and drop them permanently, but Hansel had neither of those weapons on this foraging trip.

He could see the red letters on the side of the long building facing the lake read, Bountiful Fish Market. It was past due for this season’s repainting.

He furrowed forward through the sand until he was exposed and rose up to kneeling beside the boat. He peered over the keel at the blue-footed cadaver as it advanced on its partners feeding under the docks.

He recognized the body now that he was out from under the boat.

The jacket had been fine silk, but now it was mired with filth and torn with bits of twigs and brambles. The linen pants were shredded and frayed around the cuffs. In addition to missing toes, the man had been bitten around his calves in a vicious manner.

His hair was uncharacteristically out of place. Tufts of it were missing around the back of his scalp for reasons that were not immediately apparent to Hansel.

Mr. Haber, who had run the fine articles haberdashery near the docks, had given up on caring for his clothes in death and had spent time in the woods and in the rain.

“Continue on to the docks,” Hansel whispered. “Continue your business there just as you did in life, Haber.”

He heard branches snapping in the trees that bled down the slope to his left up to the edge of the shore.

Hansel moved up off the sand and over the thick grasses to the dark gravel of the waterfront road. He did not look back, but continued up between the first buildings facing the water across the red cobbles.

He cut his eyes from side to side as he slunk along with the strung bodies of the rats bouncing against his chest and back. Most of the windows were broken out or shattered inward. Shingles were torn away and plaster was broken through where storms had inflicted damage that was no longer being repaired.

They began crossing the next street in front of him across the mouth of the alley. Hansel stepped back into the stoop of one of the taverns as he waited for the bodies of his dead neighbors to shamble along the street deeper into the village.

A bony hand reached through the lattice flicking out broken shards from the missing panes. The fingers closed over Hansel’s cords and tried to fish the rats into the tavern with the reanimated barkeep.

Hansel grabbed the cold wrist and pulled the arm out to the knob of elbow that caught in the square of wood. The barkeep growled and pushed his lips and tongue against one of the slats.

Hansel looked out from the corner of the doorway. The mass of bodies crossing the opening of the alley were still thick.

He twisted the emaciated arm, but the owner didn’t register nor react to the pain.

It’s not a fair fight, Hansel thought.

He grabbed the fingers one at a time and peeled them away from the lines. He couldn’t afford to surrender any meat to the monsters that would never satisfy their appetites.

“Let go,” Hansel said. “She’s counting on me.”

He froze at the sound of his own voice. His eyes went wide as the barkeep’s teeth locked on one of the slats cracking the wood as the inhuman creature slowly chewed through the lattice.

Hansel looked around the doorway again. One of the bodies had stopped. She was leaning hard to one side on at least two broken bones. She looked up through her greasy hair at the second floor windows down the alley. Her eyes and head jerked from side to side as she turned toward Hansel.

He pulled his head back before she spotted him.

It’s already too late, he cursed inside his head over and over, now this dead girl is counting on you too, you fool.

The barkeep growled as he wiggled his lifeless fingers out of Hansel’s warm grip and clutched the front of the young man’s shirt. Hansel pulled back stretching the fabric as the lattice began to break away from the edges of the frame in the door. The barkeep’s elbow popped through the hole and the arm extended out to the boney knob of his shoulder. Hansel stumbled off the stoop into the alley in front of the doorway where the dead man held tight to the boy’s shirt. The man’s moldy sleeve was bunched up against the wood as he tried to pull Hansel into his snapping mouth.

Hansel heard her limping up the alley. Her damaged legs produced a swish, crack, clop … swish, crack, clop. She began screeching in long, breathy bursts of animal desire.

Hansel looked as he held the barkeep’s wrist with both hands struggling for his freedom. Others paused at the mouth of the alley and turned when they heard the woman screeching as she hobbled closer to Hansel. They began to follow her. Some were moving more quickly. They began moaning as they reached out for him with what hands and fingers they still possessed. Most were missing pieces. They were going to take pieces from Hansel too.

“I should have just let you take the rats,” he huffed. “Death shouldn’t be this strong … nor this active.”

Hansel pulled his knife from his sheath. He held it up as the bodies filled the space from wall to wall. They jostled each other as they advanced on him.

He looked down at the hand of the barkeep twisting his shirt.

“You can do this,” Hansel said. “You’re not a child any longer and people are counting on you.”

He brought the blade down and began to cut and tear in uneven hacks. Finally, the section of cloth ripped loose from his shirt in the barkeep’s clutches. The dead tavern owner brought the cloth too his mouth and began to chew the piece of material.

Hansel looked at the hole in his shirt as the leaning woman’s fingers brush over his sleeve at the front of the pack. He dashed back down the alley still holding his knife.

As soon as he stepped back out on the red cobbles at the edge of the dark gravel of the waterfront road, he saw the wave of bodies closing in on him. Some were thrashing forth from the forest. Others were climbing out and around the fishery. Mr. Haber shuffled out from under the dock at the sound of the commotion. He was still chewing.me (1)

Hansel’s eyes fixed on the shadows in the lake.

“Are the fish returning?” he asked aloud.

The tops of the skulls emerged first very near the shore. The wrinkled flesh bobbed forward on the surface and then the milky eyes rose above the water. The bodies did not heave for air like a living man would. The nostrils and mouths surfaced next. Dark water drained out as they opened their jaws. They were not opening for air. They were hungry. The stout frames and waterlogged beards slowly came into view as the dwarves marched out of their watery grave.

Some of them still had the jagged hunks of white stone chained across their chests. Others still had their wrists bound by leather cord in front of them as if they were praying before they ate.

The rock dwarves from the quarry bury their dead in the lake, Hansel shivered as he watched. They are coming back too.

Over the moans and gurgles all around him, he heard a swish, crack, clop, and screech close behind him.

“God will not forsake us.”

Hansel ran along the dark gravel looking for a path through the closing horde.

*   *   *   *   *

The stench of frozen rotted meat is in the air! Welcome to the Winter of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 10 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of November.

Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #WinterZombie2014


AND so you don’t miss any of the posts in November, here’s the complete list, updated daily:


The Morning After the Night Before: Some more thoughts…

•October 15, 2014 • 3 Comments

Having had an evening to think about this, and read through some other blogs on the subject, I’ve had a few further thoughts.

First of all, I strongly recommend that you read Gabrielle Faust’s blog. http://www.gabriellefaust.com/archives/7079

Then take a look at R Thomas Riley’s Post.  http://rthomasriley.blogspot.nl/2014/10/permuted-press-changes-tactics-and-says.html

Also worthwhile checking out Jack Hanson’s Facebook post.  Click Here to Read It.

And finally, for the sake of balance, read Jessica Mieg’s response to Gabrielle’s blog post on Absolute Write. Click Here to Read It.

All done? OK, then I’ll continue.

First of all, I kinda understand what Permuted are saying with regards to this (even if I disagree). POD paperbacks, even reasonably priced ones, do not tend to sell very well. Certainly when compared to the ebooks. I produce them for my own press with little to no expectation of making back the small investment on them. That, however is not the point. I produce the paperbacks because SOME readers want them. Often the readers who buy the paperbacks are those who have bought electronic copies first anyway, but want a copy for their shelves. Other times it’s friends and family members who have not yet bought an e-reader and want a physical copy of the book. Some of the bigger review sites do not accept electronic copies either, so having a paperback to send out helps with those all important early reviews. And it certainly helps a book’s credibility when there are multiple versions – paperback, audiobook, hardback etc on the Amazon product page, rather than just an ebook. I do giveaways on Goodreads for every new release which has so far proven to be invaluable in generating early buzz and demand, and they do not accept ebooks for this sort of promo.

However, there is another reason I produce the paperbacks. Author copies.

Yeah, now the contract from Permuted that I have seen states that they will provide ten copies for “promotion”. It does not specify what format but I am willing to be that up till now it has been paperback. No paperback = no physical author copies.

I’ll let you read that last sentence again.

One of those defining moments for us as a writer is that moment when we get a physical copy of our book in our hands for the first time. Hell, even the second or third time. Probably every time. By taking that away from the author, Permuted have committed something of a cardinal sin, which I believe is very much why there has been such an outcry over this, when people were not too bothered about the shitty contracts. Although I think more than a few of those authors wish that they had negotiated a little harder over their contract terms today. Worse, because they have the rights to the paperback, the author can’t even sell those somewhere else, or even put out their own POD version of the book. The message is clear – make sure your book achieves bestseller status or it will never see print.

Sure, they are saving four hours work on the production of a paperback, and they are saving some money on having to produce those pesky author copies. On paper, from an accounting perspective, it makes perfect sense. However it shows either a complete misunderstanding or a total lack of regard for what is important to both authors and their readers. Publishers are the middle man. At this point, ANYONE can do what Permuted are doing. They bring nothing to the table apart from an enormous rights grab, terrible contract terms and an increasingly large pool of dissatisfied authors.

Considering that their backers came from a Traditional Publishing background, you would think that they would have applied the best of the Big 5 mindset to Permuted, instead of the worst.

And then it all went “Boom”!

•October 14, 2014 • 5 Comments

Since writing my blapocalypseog post two weeks ago, I have been astonished at how quickly things escalated and then blew the hell up at the press in question. Those of you that follow or are friends with any of their authors will know by now that I was talking about Permuted Press.

How things went so badly, so quickly was not even among the reasons that I listed in my last post. Not directly at least. However the reasons for the atrocious contracts, vanishing advances and production delays are very likely share the same root cause as their decision to arbitrarily cease production of print on demand paperbacks this week. Money and Greed being primary factors.

Now, pretty much every author that I know who signed with Permuted did it for one reason, and one reason alone. Permuted had a track record of being able to get books into physical book stores, in the US at least. Many of us will have seen or picked up copies of their best selling titles – the “John Dies at the End” series by David Wong and the “Ex Heroes” series by Peter Cline. I know I have, and loved both books to the point where I grab new entries in the series as soon as they come out. Authors saw this as their golden ticket. After all, even though Amazon and the eBook trade makes up a significant portion of the market, there is nothing like being able to go into a chain book store and see your title gracing the shelves alongside the likes of Stephen King. Apparently 😉

It is, therefore quite understandable that these authors are fairly pissed off at the fact that Permuted are now not even offering their books as Createspace Print on Demand paperbacks, let alone mass market “Platinum” titles unless they manage to achieve bestseller status as an ebook. They feel that Print on Demand titles are “too expensive”.

Now – Createspace are not an expensive platform to utilise. I use Lightning Source for my own books, which has a £50 ish set up fee because I feel the quality of the product is better and they have better global distribution. Createspace don’t charge a penny to set up the title as far as I know.

So – what are the costs that they are talking about? Well, the cost of an ISBN is one factor, but its negligible really. If you buy big blocks of them they are no more than a couple of pounds each. And the formatting? Well, depending on how weirdly formatted the source manuscript is, it can take between four and eight hours to properly format and check a paperback. Time consuming, yes, but not exactly onerous.

But then, Permuted were not just putting out a few books a year. Or even a month. Since the start of this year they have published more than 100 books. Or, as some sources have stated – 5 – 7 books a week. Base that on even the four hours worth of paperback formatting and you are starting to get close to a full weeks worth of work for someone. And what a horrendous, mind-numbing week that would be. Of course, I have it on good authority that they don’t have to spend anywhere near as much time on their ebooks. Given the way they react when you try to use the text to speech feature of a Kindle, it very much looks like they just lob a word document at an autoconversion utility. Fast. Easy. Shite.

Release dates, even on the ebooks were being pushed back. In some instances, one poor author who was due to have their book come out this week as told that it had now been pushed back to next year.

So, yeah. It looks very much like they over reached themselves, grew too fast, too soon. Maybe the money started drying up. Perhaps they were just not able to give those 5-7 books a week the sort of publicity and attention they needed to rise above the sea of other books that are released each week. And because their investors didn’t see the sort of immediate return they were expecting, costs started being cut. Because, lets face it, even people who are fans of a particular publisher are going to struggle to buy 30 books a month, let along read them. You take a look at the sales ranks of the books they have put out there, and they are not exactly stellar. Most are, infact languishing. No money was being spent on launch publicity. No advertising They relied on social media and word of mouth, and then deluged their target market to the extent that the books fell through the cracks and were lost.

Which is a real shame, because now that they are no longer in a position to exploit anything other than the ebook rights, the fuckers are still grasping hold of every piece of intellectual property associated with a title like Gollum holding on to his ring.

I hear reports that they are releasing some authors from their contracts, but with caveats. Chief among these seems to be that they are intending to recoup editing costs. Remember that blog post I did two weeks ago? Where I mentioned that they were paying some editors a percentage of sales instead of actual money? Yeah. That’s the first thing that I thought as well. And apparently there is a gagging clause in the release as well, so that people can’t talk about how badly they have been treated.

If you are unfortunate to have a book contract with this press, I honestly urge you to get the hell out of it as quickly as you can. This is spreading like wildfire through the community – and lets face it, the horror writing world is not exactly a big pond. Before very much longer the brand is very likely to become toxic, and I suspect that things will start getting really nasty at that point.

That faint, two day old corpse stink from a couple of weeks ago has burst forth into a full grown, maggot infested stench. My advice would be put a handkerchief over your nose and run in the opposite direction as fast as you possibly can.


I had some more thoughts and linked to some other peoples post on this after posting this blog. You can read it HERE

We need to talk about…

•October 2, 2014 • 5 Comments

something-stinks_165Over the past year, something has been bothering me. It’s not something that has affected me directly, but it is affecting an increasing number of my friends. I need to be very careful about this blog post and I need to state up front that some of this post is speculation, because I don’t want an army of corporate lawyers descending on my arse. So, I am not going to name any  names and I will make very clear what the facts seem to be and my speculation on what this might mean.

In the middle of 2013 a very well respected small press changed hands. The original owner was highly regarded within the community, was trusted and respected. I actually dealt with him briefly before Moonstruck came out because he wanted the High Moor series, although I eventually walked away from the deal. This, it seems, was the best thing I could possibly have done because not only did the proceeds from Moonstruck allow me to expand Horrific Tales Publishing, but because of what happened with this press next.

The word on the internet was that this press had been purchased by a former employee of one of the Big 5. This person had years of experience behind him and the sort of contact network that most small presses could only dream of. This person brought in other seasoned business people. And they started buying up lots and lots of small press and self published titles. Lots. In fact, they seemed to be grabbing every title they could get their hands on. Authors were being offered multiple book contracts, with even single titles being expanded into trilogies at the very least. An absolute fuckload of money was being thrown at the business, and lots of authors were very happy.

This must have been a good thing. Right?

I have my doubts on this score. I’ll explain why.

I started hearing grumbles about the terms of the contracts. There were no reversion clauses in some contracts, and in others little more than a meaningless “out of print” clause that would never be fulfilled. If an author didn’t like working with them, then they were basically screwed because there was no way to EVER get the book back because they signed away their book for the length of copyright. That means its theirs for 70 years after the author dies.  Royalty rates were good, and some authors got advances, but increasingly it seemed that the risk was being pushed directly onto the author. Advances got smaller and then vanished all together. Release dates were nebulous and, in some instances, were YEARS in the future. However, the two worst problems were the “exclusivity” clause which stated that authors were not even allowed to TALK to anyone else about other projects outside of the ones they were contracted for. The authors had to give this press first refusal on EVERY project that they were even considering going forward. And worst of all, they did a massive, and I mean MASSIVE rights grab. All of them, infact. Every single right associated with the book in any format was licensed to this press for the length of copyright. Foreign translation, multimedia and even dramatic rights. Yeah, they paid a royalty on the “profits” but anyone who has ever had anything to do with book to movie deals will tell you that you should never agree to deals like that because companies have all sorts of ways of showing something never makes a profit on paper. The old $1000 per paperclip scenario.

It should then come as no surprise that this press recently announced a “movie” arm. Hell, they didn’t have to pay options on titles, or pay out the usual rate for licensing because they already owned the licences on hundreds of titles. The standard deal on a movie adaptation of a novel is that the author would get 2.5% of the total budget, usually capped at something like 100k. This way, the new “movie” arm would potentially never have to pay the authors a penny.

So – the net result of this was that a whole lot of self published authors in the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genre were no longer self publishing. They were producing lots and lots of books for a press that would then release those books at some point in the next couple of years. Probably, although there was no guarantee in the contracts. Which meant that a lot of the mid list self pubbed horror authors were not going to have any new stuff coming out for the foreseeable future.

Then something else happened. The press started taking on editors. Some of the freelance editors who the more successful self pubbed authors sent their stuff to were now tied up working for this press – often for no money up front and for a percentage of the titles earnings.

Rumours began to circulate – like the ex Big 5 employee who bought the company may not have been quite as “ex” as people thought. Especially when it became apparent that the cream of this presses books were being licensed to that Big 5 company, although in those circumstances the terms given to the authors did not change because they had given away all licensing rights.

Now, this is where I am going to start speculating, but it seems to me that if, for example, a big company wants to kill off self publishing in a particular genre, or at least hamstring it, then one fairly effective way of doing this would be to remove all of the authors from the pool in the short term, and then start taking the editors that they use out of the picture. This would, in essence, get rid of many who “did it properly” and prevent the others from utilising the editorial resources, therefore creating a gap in the quality of the product. And because a lot of this is being done on a royalty only basis, there is very little financial risk to the company involved. They can just chuck these books into limbo, maybe release them after a while and hey, if they make money then great. If not, they only really lost the price of the cover art and the book formatting. Certainly, on the titles that have come out from this press this year, I have not seen much in the way of advertising, and these books Amazon sales ranks are not really anything to shout about at all.

This is, of course, pure speculation. The press in question may have nothing but honourable intentions and a really shitty contract, but something about this whole set up sets my spider sense off in a big way. It’s like a two day old corpse. There is a bit of a smell, but it’s not quite gone rotten yet. At the very least I will say this. Don’t allow your enthusiasm for being a published author mean that you will sign any contract. These things should be up for negotiation and if they are not, or not to the extent that you feel comfortable with, then you should never, ever be afraid to turn your back and walk away. And while some of the early authors were able to negotiate some of these terms out, apparently the press have now said that it is not their “policy” to negotiate these terms any more. If you have a shred of common sense, your policy should be to tell companies like that to go and fuck themselves.

Just my opinion, of course 😉


Since writing this post, things have kinda blown up. You might have heard something about it. You can read my thoughts on the current explosion HERE and HERE

Fantasycon 2014: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

•September 7, 2014 • 1 Comment

Another Fantasycon draws the a close, and I find myself sitting in my hotel, waiting for the inevitable hangover to hit, and reflecting on what was something of a mixed bag of a convention for me.

The Good:

Well, in some respects this was one of my favourite conventions to date. York is a beautiful city that has a bewildering array of craft beer and real ale pubs, including one very reasonably priced one right outside of the convention hotel. I did my first ever panel – on How To Get Noticed – and despite bricking it before hand, not only was able to contribute to the discussion, but had people coming up to me for the rest of the convention telling me how valuable they found my contribution to the discussion. Which was nice. Chris Barnes, who narrates the High Moor audiobooks did a joint reading with me from High Moor 3 (video on the book facebook page) and it went down a storm. I met Chris and Jim Mcleod from Gingernuts of Horror for the first time and got on like a house on fire with them both. This was by far the most social convention I have attended to date, because I got to spend most of it down the pub with old friends and new.

Yes. Down the pub. Not in the convention. Which brings me on to the bad.

Where to start with the bad… Well, I would not exactly say that this convention was overburdened with organisation. The whole thing was slap dash, half arsed, badly implemented and clearly rushed through at the last minute. Reading slots were crammed into 20 minutes and then ended early instead of running into the night. There was no early arrivers meeting or early registration. No “dead dog” party at the end. The programming was basically of no interest to me for the most part because it was fantasy oriented and even then, mostly obscure and seemingly a bit pointless – there were two panels I was vaguely interested in going to, and one clashed with my reading, and the other with the panel I was on. So I didn’t go to anything apart from the very successful launch of the Spectral Book of Horror (for which I am so happy for Simon Marshall Jones and Mark Morris) and the launch of Gary McMahon’s new book “The End”, which he was kind enough to scrawl abuse into. There was no raffle, or much in the way of entertainment apart from the disco on Saturday and karaoke on the Friday night. The schedule was not included in the programme, so was basically just a sheet of A4 stuffed in the bag. The dealers room was tiny, with very little that interested me, which may have been due to limited space of the excessive cost of the dealer tables. Most damning, however, was the fact that apparently the banquet table for the volunteers, which they get every year as a thank you for all their hard work, was removed at the last minute because a few extra “paying” members wanted to attend. Which is shocking. Piss your volunteers off at your peril, boys and girls, because next time they might decide not to bother!

To be fair, it was the organisers first crack at it, so most of the above can be forgiven. They would have done better to look at a programme from Fcon2012 and see what was expected, but none of these are things that can’t be sorted out for next year. And none of them were enough to spoil the convention, even if it was a little disappointing at times.

However, there was one thing that really stood out as so fucking awful that it deserves its own heading.

The Ugly.

By which I mean the convention hotel.

Now, The Royal York is a very conveniently placed hotel, right beside the train station. However to say that it was pricey was putting it mildly. The convention rate on rooms was about £150 a night. So an awful lot of people ended up having to stay away in B&B’s. To be fair, this is par for the course to an extent. Lots of people don’t stay at the convention hotels, even when they are relatively cheap dumps like the Albion in Brighton. No, the big problems and the thing that almost killed the convention was the cost of food and drink, along with the attitude of some of the staff.

A tiny cup of acrid coffee  £3.95. £8 for a glass of wine. £4.40 for a pint of lager. These prices are not cheap at all, especially when you consider that the pub right outside had some gorgeous craft beers for £3 a pint. To add insult to injury, while the convention had negotiated a 10% bar price cut on certain things, the hotel seemed to take this with very bad grace and did their level best to charge full price for everything. One little tosser in particular would lie through his teeth and cop a massive attitude when you pointed out that yet again he had not applied the discount to the bar bill. Sometimes you would get the money back. Sometimes he would flat out refuse.

What this meant was that a lot of people spent a lot of time away from the convention hotel, in some of the many excellent pubs and restaurants nearby. Which meant that the convention had no focal point and it was not always easy to catch up with the people you wanted to see.

So, while I have really enjoyed this weekend, what it has been is three days of chat and sustained alcohol abuse with my friends in a beautiful city. The convention side of things was almost irrelevant.