Another small press disaster came to an ugly conclusion last week.
In mid-2012, I began getting complaints about Silver Publishing, which started up in 2009 as a self-publishing facilitator, but in 2010 transformed itself into a “traditional royalty-paying press” (I put that in quotes because, these days, it means so little).
Reported problems included poor editing, delayed and missing royalty statements/payments, royalty reductions due to claimed “overpayments,” arbitrary changes in royalty payment schedules, and lack of communication–or, alternatively, rude responses to authors’ questions and concerns. (See the Silver Publishing thread at Absolute Write for examples.)
All signs of a publisher in, if not terminal disarray, at least trouble.
Silver’s owner, South African-born Lodewyk M. Deysel, made an appearance at Absolute Write in August 2012 to aggressively deny negative reports. By November of that same year, however, he was admitting in company email that there was “a deficit when it comes to paying our royalties”–in part, apparently, because he’d spent royalty income on business and other expenses. His solution: putting authors on a “partial payment plan” or giving them the option to terminate their contracts–contingent, in at least certain cases, on payment of a fee. Other authors, fed up, took matters into their own hands and hired lawyers to negotiate the return of rights or to compel payment.
Silver limped on through 2013, despite a lack of improvement on the financial front and mounting author dissatisfaction. Then, in March of 2014, Deysel abruptly announced that Silver’s “South African division” would be closing* and its “US division” had been sold. The purchaser? A company called Empire Entertainment, LLC, a Wyoming corporation registered less than a year previously. According to an email sent to Silver authors by the alleged new owners, Empire was “new to the publishing industry and excited about the future of the company.”
Is this starting to sound familiar?
Not surprisingly, authors were suspicious. Why, they wondered, did Empire Entertainment have no website and zero web presence? Why was it registered with Wyoming Corporate Services, a company specializing in the establishment of shelf corporations, that was the subject of a damaging Reuters expose? Who would pay good money, anyway, for a publisher in so much financial trouble?
Well, we all know what happens when authors start asking inconvenient questions. On April 8, Deysel announced that the (probably entirely bogus) sale had fallen through “due to the unrest among the author base which represents Silver Publishing LLC’s value.” Uh huh. Deysel claimed to be consulting with Silver’s attorney to figure out what came next.
Apparently, “what came next” was absconding to South Africa. Just a few days later, Silver author A.J. Llewellyn broke the news: Deysel was gone. With him went any hope of payment for Silver authors (though at least it appears that rights reversion letters are going out). A notice on Silver’s website indicates that it will go offline permanently on May 1; it’s being left up only so that people who bought books can still download them.
A.J.’s lengthy blog post unpacks the whole sordid story of Deysel and Silver, including illegal entry into the USA, spending sprees with authors’ money, secret deals to pay some authors but not others, altered royalty reports, and more. I can’t corroborate most of the information cited–unlike the recent debacle with Entranced Publishing, and unfolding problems at another press I’ll be blogging about shortly, I’ve heard from only a handful of Silver authors, and no former staff members–but given what I do know, the allegations seem plausible. A.J. has posted a followup that references Deysel’s alleged prior legal troubles in South Africa. A group of Silver authors plans to pursue Deysel in hopes of bringing him to justice.** I hope they succeed.
So what’s the takeaway here?
Silver was in business long past the “wait a year” precaution for small press publishers. Looking at it from the outside, authors could reasonably have assumed it was stable. Also, complaints didn’t really start surfacing until well into 2012, nearly two years after Silver started up–so at least at first, authors trying to research the company wouldn’t have found anything (and once complaints did start surfacing, authors trying to go public not only received pressure from the publisher, but were apparently pilloried by their fellow Silver authors, so there were probably fewer complaints to be found than there might otherwise have been).
However, for approximately half of Silver’s existence, multiple reports of problems existed online; and if you’d contacted Writer Beware, we would have given you a warning. So for at least part of the time, the information was there to be found. Yet authors kept signing up.
Any publisher can go bad. You can’t always predict which ones. And if a bad publisher is diligent about quashing complaints, or has a firm base of loyalists, it may not be easy to find out about even substantial problems. But that doesn’t change the vital importance of thoroughly researching any publisher you’re thinking of using–and just as important, researching it BEFORE submitting, rather than waiting until later. Don’t trust your ability to say no to a contract once it has been offered. I’ve heard from too many authors who delayed due diligence, and, in the flush of acceptance, closed their eyes to warning signs.
* Was there ever really a South African division? The company was originally registered in South Africa, and Deysel claimed that it was based there–something that, as he was no doubt aware, made legal action for his primarily US-based authors difficult–and that he was based there as well. According to A.J. Lewellyn, however, Deysel was living in the USA from 2006 on–and from 2011 on, Silver was registered in Michigan and Delaware.
** Will Deysel, like so many bad publishers, start up again under a different name? He may already have been contemplating doing so back in 2013, when Gia Press (its website is gone, but its domain registration remains; note the name server) popped up on people’s radar.
I had a couple of books with Silver and never any complaints. I'm sorry to hear it turned out bad for other authors. However, I did have BAD problems with Noble Romance Publishing, who also shut down and to this day, I know I was not paid like I was supposed to be. I had several books with them, and in the 2 yrs I was there, I don't think I made $50.00. I did recall all my books that were out between 2005 and 2009 and got my contracts cancelled and books pulled due to my problems with Noble, but also due to the fact that after a wanting to only write sweet romance and told that erotic romance sells, which I didn't even know how to write, but learned quickly. After some things in my life occurred, I went back to my Christian ways like I should have been all along, and got rid of the disgusting crap I wrote. Yes, it was crap, pure crap. Glad it's gone and I'm where I am now! Nice article, thank you.
One of the attractions of Silver in the beginning was their advertising on their website that they paid a 60% royalty. Far more than any other small press. This was, of course, ridiculous as no pub could pay that much and stay in business. As Judge Judy says, "If it doesn't make sense, it isn't true." And this didn't make sense.
Not all small presses are bad. I've been with Secret Cravings for three years with no complaints. I know they would be glad to publish Silver authors who have received their rights back.
This has been a long and sad story. I makes me mad to have authors who put their trust in this crook end up so badly burned. I hope they all find good homes for their works and can write their own happy ending.
Thanks for a great article!
Sadly this is happening with other presses as well. The same types of 'stories'. Missing royalty statements (sent to you after constant emails asking for them – made up on EDITABLE xcel spreadsheets where the numbers and the $ do NOT match), statements not coming from an actual accountant, the owner suddenly having medical emergencies and so on. Having being burnt its hard. Very hard. Especially when you've been told that they would ruin you if you even said a word of what happened.
All I can say is – if something looks to good to be true, it is.
Look at the companies website, if it looks like a two year old created it stay clear. Look at current and past authors, talk to them and find out why they left or are staying.
Also, if a publisher tries to tell you who you can and can't be friends with – leave. Quickly. If they badmouth previous authors – leave, quickly.
There are so many red flags that should have been taken into account and I stupidly didn't. I pay for it today however.
Apologies for the mistake, A.J.–I've made the correction.
Andrew, about Ridan–your experience is very similar to that of Writer Beware co-founder Ann Crispin. She too was drawn in by Robin's purported marketing skills and apparent sales success. Ridan did design nice covers for Ann's STARBRIDGE series, and managed to release the first few books, but after that things stalled, with missed pub dates, no sign of that famous marketing, and incredible difficulty getting responses to emails. Then, finally, complete silence. Ann reverted her rights shortly before her death and self-published.
I had a somewhat similar experience with Ridan Publishing (now defunct). I had published my SF novel The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 through a reputable small press, Tachyon Publications, but they had never put it out as an ebook. Back in 2011, I met Robin Sullivan at the Nebula Awards Weekend in Washington, DC. I found out that she had been having major success with Ridan (primarily with publishing her husband's fantasy books), and that her "secret sauce" lay in her considerable marketing skills. I mentioned that The Good Humor Man had never appeared as an ebook, and she offered to put it out as such, given that my contract with Tachyon allowed for this. I realized I could've put it out myself, but I figured that Robin knew so much more about marketing than I did, the book would sell so much better with her pushing it that I would more than make up the difference between her lower royalty rate and the 70% I could've earned from Amazon Kindle. Well, months and months went by, and multiple publishing dates for The Good Humor Man slipped past. Finally, after about a year's worth of broken promises, I reverted my ebook rights and asked Tachyon to put out the ebook. Sales have been modest, but at least I've earned some royalties. Ridan went under just a few months after I reverted my rights.
Hi Victoria thank you for the post and the referral to my blog. Could you possibly correct the spelling of my name? I'd really appreciate it. It's Llewellyn.
That is part of the problem, Sue. We all want to get in on the ground floor of things, see it as a chance to get established. And there is no information to research on a startup venture. Going with someone new is always going to be a gamble. Whether or not to try is a matter of choice. I'm glad that all it cost you was time that your manuscript was sitting idle. (Bad enough!). I've had that happen as well. One publisher actually got my manuscript to galleys (tells you how long ago that was) before going belly up. She gave me the galleys along with the rights back, but it didn't help much.
Sometimes there's no way to research. If you get a recommendation, as I did, from someone you trust, you might take a chance. I'm not talking here about Silver. It was a former editor from a large company starting up her wn business. After commissioning a number of books with very strict guidelines(she was packaging for a Canadian education publisher) and sending the most horrendous contracts AFTER the books were written, she then was silent for some months after which she announced that due to the GFC her packaging contract had been cancelled and we could have our rights back, but with no compensation for all our work or even an apology.
My friend, himself a small press publisher who also writes, was also burned by this. As he said to me at the time, "She was okay when she was working for Pearson, but then it wasn't her money."
She didn't have a web site, BTW – still doesn't – and a Google of her name only produced an article from the Society of Editors saying she was leaving Pearson ad starting her own publishing company. I was suspicious, but it seemed like a good way to get in on the ground floor and he was known in the industry. I took a chance, was burned and have nowhere to resell it.
Researching before you submit is a biggy. I dont't know how many posts from writers I've seen on AW where they say, " I just submitted to XYZ Publisher. Does anyone know anything about them?" Especially when it's 100 posts in on a thread. Read first.