Small Press Storm Warnings: Lethe Press, Seventh Star Press

LETHE PRESS

Founded by Steve Berman in 2001, Lethe Press is an LGBTQ-focused independent publisher “specializing in the strange, the eerie, and the uncanny”. In a publishing environment where small presses come and go like mushrooms, it has been in business for nearly two decades, and has garnered awards and starred reviews for its books.

Unfortunately, it has recently also been garnering complaints.

Writer Beware has heard from multiple individuals who cite a variety of problems at Lethe, including contract breaches in the form of unpaid royalties (for both authors and editors) and late royalty payments and statements. Contractors (such as audio narrators) have also gone unpaid. Royalty reports I’ve seen are seriously lacking; among other things, they fail to state sales numbers for ebooks, showing only gross income.

Poor communication also seems to be a major problem. Nearly everyone who contacted me told me that they have had difficulty getting Berman to respond to questions and emails–or in some cases, to respond at all. Several authors told me that when audio versions of their books were released, Berman didn’t let them know. More troublingly, some writers cite retaliatory actions by Berman–for instance, taking a writer’s book abruptly out of print after the writer voiced concerns, or sending angry and/or belittling emails (I’ve seen examples). In one case, Berman posted a negative review of a writer’s (non-Lethe) book years after their dispute was resolved (I don’t want to out the author so I’m not linking to this, but I’ve confirmed that it exists).

Although the complaints are recent, the issues–particularly the problems with payment–go back years. Unlike many small presses that face a sudden eruption of complaints, it doesn’t look to me as if Lethe is on the verge of failing; I think it’s more a matter of long-standing issues reaching critical mass.

When I reached out to Berman for comment, he referenced the money challenges all small presses face.

Alas, like many small presses, Lethe Press operates on a small and limited cashflow and budget. And some authors have seen unforeseen delays with royalty statements and payments. I do try and do my best to make payments as fast as possible. Should any author request the dissolving of the business relationship, I return rights and pay any and all royalties due immediately. Yes, there has been some rancor, but many of our authors will attest that we publish in good faith and try and make amends.

If there are certain individuals who feel as if I have taken advantage of them, please let them know I am willing to pay them immediately.

Lethe authors, take note. And if you do contact Berman, let me know how you fare.

UPDATE 8/25/20: I’m still hearing from Lethe authors reporting non-payment. So the situation doesn’t seem to be changing.

There’s a Facebook group for Lethe authors: Survivors of Lethe. Members are sharing experiences and updates.

UPDATE 5/30/22: I’m late seeing this, but in an email shared in a December post on the Survivors of Lethe Facebook group, Steve Berman seems to be announcing a semi-retirement:

On the flip side, Lethe authors are still reporting the problems with payment and communication discussed above.

SEVENTH STAR PRESS

Seventh Star Press is a speculative fiction publisher founded in 2008 by Steven Zimmer. (Zimmer also runs a number of related enterprises, including the Imaginarium Convention and Seventh Star Studios, which develops TV/film and gaming properties.)

On June 6, Seventh Star author Frank Hall posted disturbing allegations to Facebook. Among them: allegations of harassment by Zimmer, as well as royalty payment issues.

The post has attracted hundreds of comments, both from defenders of Zimmer and from individuals who say they’ve had experiences similar to what’s described in Frank’s post. Sadly, there’s also a lot of victim-shaming, and some of the defenses are vicious. This may explain why, even though I and others have actively invited contact, I’ve heard from only a handful of Seventh Star writers (who do cite what sounds like a toxic culture). I wish it weren’t so common for small presses to develop a kind of cultlike atmosphere, where anyone who steps out of line is persecuted and those who’ve had bad experiences are too afraid of retaliation to speak up.

In late June, Frank Hall received this, from Zimmer’s lawyer.

The cc’s, which I’ve redacted, are to one of the individuals who shared their experience on Frank’s Facebook post, and another who shared the post itself–which seems pretty random, given the number of comments on the post. None of the three have so far complied with the letter’s demands.

For more coverage, see Jason Sanford’s Genre Grapevine post, which discusses the recent allegations as well as criticism leveled against Zimmer for his defense of right-wing troll Tommy Robinson.

14 Comments

  1. For no reason, after months of terrible communication, Berman at Lethe Press cancelled my book contract. He was surly and unprofessional throughout. This was several years ago and I have since published the work elsewhere.

  2. Lethe Press were bloody AWFUL at comms. Wouldn't answer query emails, refused to be chased up, blanked me on Twitter. I wouldn't sub there again. One of the first places I withdrew a story sub from.

  3. I had opposite experiences with Lethe and Steve. Not saying complaints are invalid, but all my dealings have been professional and pleasant. I'm sad to hear this has not been the case with all — but wanted to add a counter experience for consideration.

  4. Caren, I'm glad your experience has been a good one. Mine started off promisingly, but after a while, Steve became more and more disorganized. He never delivered the promised copyedits. He delayed payments to the cover artist and the person who wrote my introduction. When he did bother to communicate, he was increasingly obnoxious. Even years later, he randomly lashes out. I'm posting anonymously because the last time I spoke publicly, he threatened to sue me.

  5. Stories like these have been circulating about Lethe for years. Glad to see them being taken seriously.

  6. I've never received even a single statement from Lethe, in years. His request that people should reach out is ridiculous. What publisher doesn't even email sales statements?

  7. Caren, abusers commonly don't abuse everyone with whom they deal. They have to deal fairly with a certain percentage so they have someone to stand up and defend them when the majority of their deeds come to light. "Well, he's never done that to me!" You've played that part well.

  8. I have had only good experiences with Seventh Stat Press. I believe that the validation of a victim's allegations are not mutually exclusive with the presumption of innocence. I do feel that an online "mob" mentality has conflated politics and legal issues in a manner where hearsay has been taken as truth in an inappropriate manner.

    I think I should add that I am a Seventh Star author. You may or may not believe it, but if I witnessed truly inappropriate behavior on the part of the publisher or its editorial personnel, I would change my stance. But that is currently not the case, nor do I expect it to be.

  9. I just read your content about small press scammers and wonder if you've had any complaints about Yellow Bird Press/Lorna Hollifield in Summerville, SC. The publisher claims that publishing contracts are non-negotiable and that “when a book offer is made, that is the offer” and that “it should be respected.” She went on to say that my refusal to sign showed a lack of team work and bad attitude—making us not a good fit. The contract she sent was a boilerplate apparently taken from another publisher now defunct. It included restrictive stipulations not required by established book publishers and had terms that writing groups warn against. If pressed, she’ll admit to having published no books other than her own and to having just one writer under her wing. “I know this business,” she wrote in her last email to me, “I have been published (novels, magazine articles, anthologies); I have had high-powered NYC-based agents; I was President of The South Carolina Writer's Association. I have toured with writing conferences critiquing authors and guiding them. I have spoken on the subject throughout The Southeast.” Her claim that tell publishing contracts are NOT open to negotiation is pure bs. It conflicts with my prior experience having been published, the experiences of my published writing pals, and what is said by literary agents, writer advocacy groups such as AuthorsAlliance and AuthorsGuild, plus Writers Digest and even Forbes magazine. There were some other red flags too. For instance, although she claims to have been a past president of the South Carolina Writers Association, the current president says no one he’s talked to has heard of her. Have you run across other complaints about Yellow Bird or Lorna Hollifield?

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