Publisher Alerts: Complaints at Month9 Books, Nonstandard Business Practices at Black Rose Writing

Month9 logo

In mid-2016, I wrote about YA publisher Month9 Books’ abrupt decision to scale back its list, reverting rights to as many as 50 authors across all its imprints. Explaining the culling, Month9 founder and CEO Georgia McBride cited her own health problems, along with staffing issues and the company’s “substantial growing pains” over the past six to nine months.

McBride’s announcement triggered a surge of complaints from Month9 authors, who described a host of serious problems at the company, including late or missing payments (for staff as well as authors), problems with royalty accounting, delayed pub dates, broken marketing promises, overcrowded publication schedules, communications breakdowns, and harsh treatment and bullying by McBride.

According to authors and staff, these problems were not new or even recent, but had been ongoing for a long time. Why had authors kept silent? Almost every writer who contacted me mentioned their fear of retaliation–along with the draconian NDA included in Month9’s contracts. I’ve rarely encountered a situation where authors seemed so fearful of their publisher.

Things quieted down after the initial flood of revelations, as they often do. Month9 survived and kept on publishing, though its list continued to shrink: between a high point in 2016 and now, the number of titles appears to have fallen about 50%. Apart from a handful of additional complaints in late 2016 and early 2017 (similar to this one), I didn’t hear much about Month9 in the years following.

Until now. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been contacted by multiple writers who say they are still suffering from the same problems that surfaced in 2016: primarily, late (sometimes very late) royalty and subrights advance payments and statements (in many cases received only after persistent prodding by authors and their agents), and allegations of irregularities in royalty reporting.

The intimidation level, too, seems not to have changed. Most of the authors told me that they feared reprisal for coming forward, and asked me specifically not to mention their names or book titles. (Writer Beware never reveals names or other unique identifying information, unless we receive specific permission from the individual. That disclaimer is included on our website and in our correspondence.)

If you’ve been following the recent ChiZine scandal, you may be feeling some deja vu–notably, in the alleged existence of a toxic culture within the publisher that makes authors fearful and and helps to keep them silent. It’s disappointing to learn that even if the issues that thrust Month9 into the spotlight three years ago have gone quiet, they don’t seem to have eased. Writers be warned.


Black Rose Writing logo

I wrote about Black Rose Writing in 2009, in connection with its requirement that authors buy their own books. Writers who submitted were asked how many of their own books they planned to buy; their response was then written into their contracts. (Book purchase requirements are back-end vanity publishing: even if writers aren’t being asked to pay for production and distribution, they still must hand over money in order to see their work in print.)

Black Rose got rid of the book purchase requirement a few years later, and claimed to be a completely fee-free publisher. I had my suspicions that money might still somehow be involved, though…and as it turns out, I wasn’t wrong. Here’s what I’ve recently learned.

Black Rose authors are still strongly encouraged to buy bulk quantities of their own books, at paltry discounts (unless they spring for 100 or more). Black Rose claims that this is how “authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling climbed to the top of the bestseller’s list”–which of course is not even remotely true. Plus, reputable publishers provide promotional copies for free.

Black Rose authors also receive a Cooperative Marketing Catalog that sells a range of pay-to-play marketing and promotional services, with costs ranging from a few hundred dollars to four figures. Purchase is optional–but it’s worth remembering that reputable publishers don’t sell marketing or other services to their authors, and in any case, much of what’s on offer are things that other publishers, even very small ones, do for their authors free of charge, as part of the publication process.

Authors also regularly receive emails offering additional paid marketing opportunities–such as Amazon ads or special NetGalley deals–or encouraging them to buy into various outside products and services for which Black Rose receives an affiliate fee or credit–such as DartFrog, which for several hundred dollars promises to place books onto selected bookstore shelves, or ProWritingAid, a grammar and style checker Black Rose uses as part (or all?) of its editing process.

Again, purchase is optional, but it’s something of a Catch-22:

Black Rose also seeks to drain its authors’ bank accounts in more stealthy ways. Owner Reagan Rothe is a self-described “financial partner” in two additional businesses: the Maxy Awards, a high entry fee book competition that donates “a large part of every entry” to a charity (how large? No idea; that information is not provided); and Sublime Book Review, a pay-to-play review service.

Though Mr. Rothe’s financial interest in these businesses is not disclosed on the business’s websites, both businesses are clearly energetically promoted to Black Rose authors. On Sublime’s website, nineteen of the first 20 book reviews are for Black Rose books. There’s also this, from the marketing catalog (note the lack of disclaimer):


As for the Maxys, thirteen of the 17 winners and runners-up for 2019 are Black Rose books.

Mr. Rothe does admit his relationship with the businesses in this recent email to Black Rose authors–though only to afford them yet another opportunity to give him money:

UPDATE 7/28/21: In yet another monetization effort–this time to extract some cash from writers it decides not to publish–Black Rose Writing is promoting the Maxy Awards in its rejection emails, suggesting that rejected writers enter their books because “winning an award like this would definitely help get your book published” (conveniently, the Maxys accept unpublished manuscripts). There’s no mention of the fact that Reagan Rothe is a “financial partner”. Rejectees subsequently receive this:



  1. I have two novels published with Black Rose Writing: The Paris Predicament, and Final Lullaby. The staff at Black Rose Writing are skilled, upfront, supportive, and professional. BRW, an independent publishing house that develops a strong relationship with their writers, is perfect for me.

  2. I signed a contract with Black Rose Writing. Expired May 26th but they’re refusing to give me my rights back until June 9th. I won their stupid Maxy contest and I was nominated for an Edward Hoff. But I don’t really care because they suck at marketing my book and I never made any money. In fact, all I did was pay them thousands of dollars to market my book and get royalty checks back for pennies on the dollar. I want my rights back! I canceled the contract in writing months ago. They know they can seal from me for an extra three weeks because they know I can’t get a lawyer to sue them for three weeks worth of my book. Black Rose Writing is a horror show. It’s a total vanity publisher that pretends to be a real publisher, stupid me… it was an awful decision for me to sign a contract with them and now, even though I canceled our contract, I still can’t get my own book back. you would be far better off self publishing, your own work.

  3. I am a debut writer. I bought one of the books published by Black Rose a while back. As a writer, whenever I read a book, I look to see who published it. In reading these comments, I know not to pursue with Black Rose. By the way…the book I read was chock full of grammatical errors and typos.

  4. BRW has published two books for me so far. When I had questions about marketing opportunities, they gave honest answers and didn't pressure me in any way. They respond quickly to emails with helpful and encouraging messages. I wasn't pressured to buy anything, but I bought copies of both books because I can sell them at local events and conferences. Writers need to do their research and make choices based on their own goals and expectations. I have been very happy with BRW.

  5. Sorry, but I think this article has crossed the line from being cautionary to just flat out vindictive – so I had to respond.

    I received an offer from BRW a few years back and I read the 2009 warning on this site – did my research and saw a lot of spite from fairly nasty-sounding people – who also had no actual experience with BRW. So I reached out to 4 BRW authors and received unanimously positive feedback. Now I'm on my second book with them.

    Could I make more money self-publishing? Probably, but I'm not writing for money. Maybe I’ll do it one day. Is BRW "scamming" me in any way? No. Yes, they have kickbacks from their marketing deals – they're upfront about this (that's also how the business world works in any supply chain with preferred suppliers – so I'm not sure why this is shocking). Do they force you into those deals? No. I've found the team to be nothing but co-operative when I've turned down marketing offers.
    And no, they don't price you out to exploit marketing dollars from you – I've had my book price reduced at my request. It's amazing how people are so willing to believe anything negative reported on the internet.

    Yes, it'd be great to be with a big publishing house with lots of cash, but that's not really a helpful alternative for most people. If you do a Google search you'll find some authors asking for advice on their offer from Black Rose only to have the internet sneering at them and telling them to wait for a "better" offer. Those people never seemed to get published and the internet never apologised for their bad advice – 'cause this is the internet after all.

    If you're genuinely interested then do what I did – contact their authors (they're very easy to find) and ask them direct. Don't rely on unverified stuff you read on the internet. There are plenty of authors on BRW with multiple books – so they're obviously making people happy. I'm really not sure why that continues to upset people

    1. It seems “Unknown” as to whether or not you work for Black Rose ;o) I’ve spoken to several of their authors. The list of unhappy authors who believe they’ve been screwed over and had their royalties skimmed, is beginning to add up.

  6. BRW is a legitimate publisher paying traditional royalties. The people indicating it is a scam are disgruntled writers that likely lost their contract because they didn't sell enough books… Like any small indie press, there are opportunities to further fund your endeavors beyond the norm, but that is all optional and never a requirement. Thus, this ends the discussion. Are there other options? Yes. Does that mean they are a better option? That's to be decided. Look up any variety of titles under their website and you'll see a slew of amazon reviews and bestselling books. Check your sources before you spread misinformation everywhere….

    1. I was a BRW author. I ended my contract because I know there are shady things going on. It’s not a question of whether or not they have best-selling authors. It’s a question of whether or not those authors are actually receiving the royalties they’re owed, as well as whether or not they’re being coerced into buying into marketing schemes designed only to make BRW money. My book had over a hundred reviews on Amazon and my royalty check was $10 or less every six months for two years. That doesn’t add up. I tried to ask Amazon about my sales, but they won’t talk to the author, because the author didn’t publish the book to their site. They’ll only talk to the publisher, which puts me in a crappy position. Also, Reagan’s contracts say that he’ll copyright your book, he doesn’t copyright them. He’s been doing this for a long time. He’s not an idiot. He keeps adding new tricks to his repertoire. The list of authors who left BRW for the exact reasons I mentioned, is long, but there are also several authors who are happily oblivious. If you aren’t in this to make a career and a name for yourself, then by all means, go with Black Rose, but do not buy into their marketing. I did learn things from them, which I would never change, but I know my value, and I deserve better.

  7. So, I feel so stupid now. I entered the Max Awards. They just sent out the finalists and, just as you say, the majority of the finalists are black rose writer authors.

    So the Maxy awards are a scam. I wish I knew that before I wasted my money on it.

  8. This is simply not true. Reagan has asked, me an author, to buy the design of my own book, when I picked the cover, one of my photos, and made all of the chapters. In essence, made me purchase his font. After our contract was up, he continued to try to sell the audio of Amazon, upping the price to over double, and trying to keep my photo up. Illegal.

  9. Hello Anonymous, I am very concerned about some of the comments I have seen here, most notably, that BRW will not take your book down from Amazon once the contract has ended, and continue to sell the book and receive 100% of the royalties. Do you have any examples of that happening? I am unsure if I should move forward with this publisher or not. Thanks!

  10. Based on the time and efforts put forth, it would seem to me that self-publishing may be a better route to take, rather than signing on with a publisher that takes 80% of the royalty and does nothing to market or promote the book. If the author pays for all the advertising, all the promotions, all the editing, all the reviews, all the contest submissions, all the cover updates, throws forth all the energy to set up book signings, pays for boxes of books at a "Discounted Price" the same price you could buy a brand new Stephen King book for and then turns around to pocket 20% for everything put in, one could do the same in self-publishing and collect a fair take in the end. It's incredibly easy to sell a starving artist a dream. After all, writers are dreamers. It's obviously a viable market for some publishers out there looking to profit off the author and not their work.

  11. Sublime Book Reviews – Owned by Reagan Rothe who then flogs it to his authors. If that's not suspect, I don't know what is.
    Maxy Awards – Was the person for whom this award is named after not a relative? Kind of tells you a lot about what you're dealing with when you sign on with Black Rose
    Writer Beware – There is more money to be made by these small press publishers in marketing and dubious awards than there is in selling books to the public.

  12. Guys, BRW is a scam. Run the other way. Not only is it filled with lies, as stated above, there is also shady tactics when it comes to receiving your royalties (pennies). The amount actually purchased vs the amount disclosed is NOT accurate. There is no editor. You are given a simple sheet to go figure it out yourself. You would think a publisher taking 80% of your sales would at least put some work into your book in order to receive this cut? Nope. Newsflash: a lot of the best cover designs on BRW are actually NOT designed by their cover designer. The author goes to pay for their own cover, which makes it look more commercial than what they could ever do. 80% for a cover you bought yourself… and: formatting is a nightmare. Again, the author does all the work, and even still… the majority of their books are riddled with errors. Nobody there actually reads them. Not to mention, a lot of authors that leave BRW are stuck with their books still being sold online, because BRW doesn't take it down. They are pocketing 100% of the money now, since the contract is over and you are stuck watching your book continue to be sold, and receive nothing from your hard work as an author. Run away.

  13. Am I seriously supposed to believe that Reagan Rothe did not make the Anon comment above???? Come on.
    BRW is pay for play. There is little to no disclosure. He doesn't tell his authors how much he makes on all these marketing packages.
    There is the rub. He might claim every author has to spend money on marketing (Not exactly true) bit even still what he won't tell you is how much of a cut he gets from their sales. There us a strong effort to try and make out he's selling this stuff at cost with no profit to him, though that is not the case.
    In short he makes plenty of cash from marketing, when he is supposed to be a publisher. If he was honest he would disclose his profit on every singe thing he sells because it's an absolute guarantee he's creaming it from the top.
    As for his claim he his nothing as regards Maxi Awards and Sublime Book Reviews, again that is a lie.
    He never at any stage told his authors the Maxi Awards is a for profit business. In his internal forums which the public dies not see he makes out it's a charity, 100%
    With Sublime Book Reviews he uses terms like 'They' and so distances himself as the owner. A person above board does not use They when referring to a business he owns
    So, disregard the overwhelmingly positive nonsense at the tip of these comments. They were written by Reagan Rothe to deflect from the fact that he's been found out.
    He sold Third Party independent book reviews to his own authors without disclosing his financial interest in Sublime Book Reviews.
    He made out the Maxi Awards was a charitable non-profit, when it wasn't
    He sells expensive marketing packages where he does not reveal the cost he receives them for versus what he sells them for.
    BRE dies nothing in terms of marketing unless you pay for it.
    I would suggest people read the excellent blog on Author Beware concerning small presses and their repeated claims about having to pay for your own marketing because the top authors do as well. It's simply not true. Big publishers will not leave you on your own. BRW will and if you want marketing, they'll make sure to profit off you too.

    1. I love anonymous commenters. They hide behind secrecy and spout accusations.

      I am a BRW author. My novel did ok for the first year+ in release. I spent money on book copies that *I* wanted and did a few promos on my own (not BRW costs).

      Having been published previously by a small publisher…BRW did leaps and bounds more in marketing than my prior one (who also was a legitimate non-vanity/independent publisher).

      Does BRW solicit a lot of marketing things to authors? Sure. Are authors naive enough to think BRW doesn’t get a kickback? I suppose some but that isn’t dishonest, that is simply how the world works. Look, they are a small company. If they put the effort in to find marketing avenues, it’s okay if they get a kickback if they find customers for those avenues.

      The idea that somehow that screws authors is stupid. They are trying to stay in business. One person wrote they only received $5 in royalties. Well that is because your book simply didn’t sell! I know it’s hard to believe that your work of art is simply not valued by others. Trust me, I know.

      In 2020, nearly 99% of all books published in US sold under 5,000 copies.

      Cry me a river, to the other commenters, that you are somehow one of those 1% who had better success with a publisher.

      I usually take posts like these that they (a) aren’t really trying to be helpful more provocative and (b) somehow believe that you should only get published by one of the Big 5 or their affiliates.

  14. Should have mentioned that BRW books are priced above the industry standard which makes it hard to sell. That is the motivation to have the packages, author pays to price them in a range that can sell.

  15. I was a financial partner helping great organizations do great work for literacy and helping others, raising money for the Home of the Innocents and those less fortunate. I did not make any decisions on the judging or reviewing, which I am open about. There's nothing hidden there. Thanks for sharing this article, it was very well done. We market our titles with or without an author's assistance. But any author who thinks a New York Times Bestselling author hasn't spent a dime on their own marketing and efforts and made it to that point is being mislead.

  16. "… there is NO demand for orders or any outlay of money by the author."


    "If you are a newbie to the biz, some help with marketing, while not required, doesn't hurt."

    So no 'demand' but strongly suggested then? 😉

    And a suggestion to Anonymous at 12/05/2019 10:33 AM
    and Unknown at 12/05/2019 10:39 AM

    If you're trying to make it appear to not be the same person agreeing with themselves you might want to add a bit more delay. (It doesn't help your cause that they also both sound like ads for BRW, short and sweet would have sold it better.

    MYMV (may your mileage vary) and you not be duped by the con artists.

  17. I have to agree with the above. BRW is easy to work with and I haven't paid them a dime. Problem is small publishers rarely put books on Netgalley etc because it's too expensive. I DID pay Netgalley to put my book up and a pretty expensive publicist not affiliated with BRW. Small publishers have pros and cons, a con being that you will do a lot of leg work for marketing. They are NOT a vanity publisher. I think I got one email offering that marketing stuff.

  18. BRW is not "self publishing." It is a royalties-paying publisher and there is NO demand for orders or any outlay of money by the author. I have been pleased with the quality of the product, which I feel to be superior to most self-pubbed books I have seen. If you are a newbie to the biz, some help with marketing, while not required, doesn't hurt. Unfortunately, the small guys don't have the budget to advertise in publications that would really get their (our) books noticed (Kirkus, ALA, etc.).

    I have another trad publisher which doesn't offer marketing assistance, and that book's sales are way behind the BRW book. Even someone published by a mid-size company is going to have to do their own marketing and promo. If your name's not King or Patterson, that's the nature of the game these days.

    FYI, International Thriller Writers recognizes BRW as a "professional publisher."

    Bottom line–let BRW publish your book (if they accept it, as they have a submission process like any non-vanity press) and sit back, if that is your choice. You've spent nothing, and have an attractive product for sale on the usual online venues.

  19. well a tale of caution about how thing can go wrong for self publishers and the company doing the self publishing buyers beware applies to many things

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