Last week, authors logging into the Parliament House Press Facebook group found a surprise announcement: Parliament House had a new owner, and a host of other changes were in store.
In its current form, Parliament House Press will be dissolved due to a combination of personal and economic considerations from our founder, Shayne Leighton. Shayne has spearheaded the publisher since 2016 and has been a force in bringing this small indie press to a larger stage. Shayne will continue to work with our team in a design capacity. In her stead, Malorie Nilson will take over as the CEO of a reincorporated Parliament House Press. Business will continue uninterrupted, but several essential changes will transpire during this transition.
All existing author contracts will be dissolved and replaced with new contracts, as is required by law, but there will be no interruptions to the day-to-day functions of the house. Unfortunately, due to the increasingly competitive landscape of the industry, we will not be able to offer contracts to all existing authors. Many of our current projects were brought on under a different team and different leadership, forcing us to take stock of where we are and what we are able to accomplish. We want all our authors to be successful, including those who will no longer be with us. Unfortunately, we are currently unable to serve the entirety of our catalog, so we are forced to downsize to ensure that we can give every book the attention it deserves. If you are not offered a new contract, please know that it is not because we don’t love your work, but rather that we do not have the capacity to give everyone the attention and care they deserve. We are working hard to bring more opportunities to our authors, which means narrowing our enterprise’s scope.
We will continue our partnership with IPG for digital distribution, as well as our work with the Seymour Agency to sell subsidiary rights. Furthermore, we will be moving our entire print catalog to Ingram, which will give brick and mortar stores the ability to purchase books through Ingram’s distribution program. Finally, we have revised our contracts to align with industry standards as we begin working more closely with literary agents for future acquisitions. As we invite authors back to the Parliament House Press, we will review the new contracts with you (which we have updated to reflect industry standard for royalties and terms) to ensure that each of you is comfortable moving forward. Of course, with the dissolution of the existing contracts, you are free to part ways with the Parliament House Press and seek other opportunities if you wish.
The abrupt announcement was a shock. But it didn’t come entirely out of the blue.
Founded in 2016 by Shayne Leighton and Chantal Gadoury, Parliament House Press (PHP) is “a small traditional publisher, working with authors to produce brilliantly bizarre, original, and moving stories with an edge.” It has better-than-average distribution via the Independent Publishers Group, and its subsidiary rights are represented by the Seymour Agency.
From 2018 to 2021, I received a handful of questions and complaints about PHP, and had the opportunity to see several copies of its contract. The contract wasn’t bad overall, though I did have some concerns: ambiguous print royalty language (royalties were said to be paid on “gross profits”, but that term was not defined), a burdensome royalty payment schedule (monthly rather than quarterly, which means lots of extra work for whoever does the books–more than one publisher has gotten into trouble this way), an early termination fee (susceptible to abuse and also exploitative, since demanding that authors reimburse production costs ignores the fact that at least some of those costs will have been recouped via sales), and, following a social media furor over a PHP author’s tweets and the subsequent cancellation of the author’s contract, the insertion into at least some contracts of an “ethics clause” of the type that’s strongly condemned by organizations like the Authors Guild.
As for author complaints, they primarily focused on weak editing and marketing. Although troubling, there weren’t enough of them to really establish a pattern.
Whether because of loyalty, hope, fear of reprisal, gaslighting, or a dozen other reasons, problems and grievances often accumulate in silence, until they reach some kind of critical mass and complaints flood forth. For PHP, the dam broke this past July.
Typically I hear mainly or only from authors, but in this case, the first to contact me were employees and former employees. Some told me they hadn’t been paid for months or even years of work on multiple books; others said that they were forced to repeatedly contact then-CEO Shayne Leighton in order to chase down outstanding payments and reports. Like many small presses, PHP was paying editors and other staff royalties on the books they worked on (7% of net for digital and 5% of net for print, according to an editorial contract shared with me); this is a fairly common way for publishers to reduce cash outlays by shifting financial risk to staff, who essentially work on spec–but it can backfire, leading to high staff turnover for publishers whose sales are poor.
And indeed there have been multiple staff departures over the past year or so, including one of PHP’s founders–though this seems more likely to have been due to the payment issues, as well as what several staffers described as a toxic work culture: little direction, ill-defined work roles, huge workloads, and bullying. At an hours-long staff meeting in 2021, for instance, staff were reportedly harshly questioned about their loyalty to PHP and their dedication to publishing in general, and were called upon to commit aloud to dedicating time to PHP.
Authors’ complaints included the poor editing and lack of marketing that I’d heard about before–but also production issues (errors introduced in the formatting process, wrong documents uploaded to Amazon, shifting release dates, book listings pulled down by mistake), late or unpaid royalties, author copies and pre-orders not received or received late, the uncertainty and instability generated by frequent staff turnover and changing roles, and major communication problems: missed meetings, questions not answered, emails not responded to. Both authors and staff told me that Shayne Leighton had been largely MIA for some time, leaving staffers to deal with problems on their own, and authors to struggle–often without success–to get their issues resolved.
Based on all of the above, it’s clear that both authors and staff have suffered–though in ways that put them somewhat at odds with one another. Authors are angry and frustrated at the many mistakes and lapses that have marred their books and affected their sales. Unpaid, overworked editors and staff feel unfairly targeted by the complaints, given the chaos they had to deal with. Everyone is exhausted. The ownership change announcement seems to have let all those emotions loose, leading to mutual recriminations and finger-pointing. Here’s a public example. I’ve seen others, shared with me in email by both authors and editors…all of whom, in my opinion, have very good reason to feel cheated and misused.
So what’s in store for the Parliament House Press and its authors under its new CEO?
I’ve seen the revised contract that’s being offered to authors who are continuing with PHP. Much of it is the same as the old contract, but there are improvements, including clearer royalties language, better print royalties, a more sensible payment schedule (quarterly rather than monthly), and the removal of the auto-renew provision. The early termination fee is still included, but I’ve been assured this is an oversight and will be remedied (see below).
I reached out to new CEO Malorie Nilsen for comment. In the Q&A below, she describes how she is working to address the many issues and complaints detailed above, and her plans for moving forward in a way that will avoid the mistakes of the past. To fix problems, you first have to acknowledge them, and the new PHP seems to be taking that important first step.
Only time will tell, of course. PHP authors and staffers, please let me know how it’s going, either by emailing me or leaving a comment on this post.
I reached out to former CEO Shayne Leighton for comment also. As of this writing, I haven’t gotten a response.
MALORIE NILSEN: I am happy to answer the questions that you have included in your email. However, I think that before I answer, it is crucial to address the following as it pertains to the entire premise of each of these questions: The owner of Machovi, Inc, which was doing business as The Parliament House, decided that her path forward was to dissolve Machovi, Inc. and therefore the publishing house. It was necessary for her to do so for personal reasons that I cannot speak to. If you want more information about those specifics, you will have to contact Shayne.
Until this past Monday, August 16th, I have been an employee at The Parliament House and therefore privy only to information either shared with me by the owner or obtained through ordinary course in my role as the Editor-in-Chief (June 2021). As I am sure you can imagine, this has been a rather difficult week and a half for me as I am being made aware of much of this information for the first time, along with everyone else.
Shayne, the owner, brought her decision to me. After much deliberation on my part and consultation with my accountant—and while functioning under the information I had at the time—I chose to offer to buy out assets/branding and incorporate Parliament House Press, LLC with the enthusiastic support of Shayne. I got the impression that she was relieved that the authors would remain supported. My goal in making this decision was primarily to preserve the standing of as many authors as I could and continue their tenure as traditionally published with no disruption. I had also worked in a largely unpaid position (I have accumulated approximately $1,600 in payments over two years) with full knowledge of what that entailed because I wanted to see the house and these authors grow. Additionally, I have a considerable time, energy, and passion investment put into this house, and I did not want to see that effort evaporate.
WRITER BEWARE: I understand that you are dissolving all current contracts and issuing new ones. Why did you feel the need to do that?
MN: As I hope the above illustrates, I am not dissolving these contracts. Those contracts cease to exist when Machovi, Inc.’s dissolution is finalized. The reversion of rights to authors in the event of dissolution is written into Machovi Inc.’s author contracts. I am effectively offering new acquisition contracts to as many authors as I can guarantee to sustain.
WB: I also understand that some current Parliament House authors will not be invited to sign new contracts. Can you comment on the criteria you’re using to select the non-renewals? Approximately what percentage of PH’s current list will not be invited back?
MN: Because of the nature of the transition, and the responsibility I feel toward authors, I knew going into this that the catalog would have to be smaller if I was to fulfill obligations to authors without perpetuating the issues that had occurred under previous management. Additionally, I considered the narrower scope in genre that I had implemented for all future submissions as Editor-in-Chief and what I feel equipped as an editor and marketer to service appropriately. I have also looked at which titles have already effectively completed the terms of their previous contracts. And finally, I have had to confront an issue with authors that mysteriously do not seem to exist any longer and are impossible to get a hold of.
As I expound upon below, these are, in a vast majority, works that I did not acquire for the house—in the role I assumed, I have been fulfilling contracts taken on by staff members that did not complete these projects before leaving for their own personal reasons.
The previous acquisitions team was a group of five that acquired what can only be described as a staggering number of titles. In 2020, when I came on as staff from my position as a contracted content editor, The Parliament House published over 44 titles (new acquisitions and sequels). In 2021, the house published 26 titles. Many titles were signed as series at the outset, so a large portion of this overload was due to many subsequent books that were difficult to market intermixed with debuts and new titles. This was an unsustainable model that I immediately began to work to improve when I assumed the role of Editor-in-Chief; I pushed publication dates into 2022 to reduce the number of titles to only 26 in 2021. That said, for an independent house, and starting essentially from scratch, I cannot repeat the pattern I identified and tried to rectify to the best of my ability as a staff member.
Of our forty-seven authors, we did not offer new contracts to eighteen (38%) in aggregate. Of those eighteen, I did not offer four (8.5%) contracts because they are unreachable. Seven (15%) were at or near the natural end of their contract term, and there was no intention to renew/extend the contract term with these authors irrespective of the transition. Therefore, seven (15%) authors (still in their previous contract term) of our total forty-seven authors were not offered new contracts. All authors whose rights are reverted are given cover assets stripped of company branding, vellum files (for generating book files), and their formatted manuscript files (epub, mobi, pdf, etc.) This was not a decision made lightly, but one that was the most practical and necessary. This has been a difficult decision, but I take solace in knowing that I could offer contracts to a majority where otherwise, all would have been without a publisher.
WB: The most frequent complaints I’m hearing from authors include lack of communication (unanswered questions, emails, etc.), production issues (such as errors introduced in the formatting process), unfilled book orders, and lack of marketing. What are your plans to address these issues going forward?
MN: I am saddened and regretful that there have been such negative experiences. It is of the utmost importance to me that these issues are rectified and not repeated. Still, I am happy that the feedback I have received most from authors as we navigate this tumultuous space is that they have been happy with my communication, which is ultimately what is most important to me. That is the best indication I can give of how communication will be different moving forward. To guarantee that, I am implementing a bimonthly author newsletter to keep them apprised of all house news, and I have an “open door” policy where people can schedule Zoom meetings or phone calls for any reason.
I have fulfilled all outstanding book orders made with Shayne immediately upon being made aware of them (this past week) and at my own expense. I honestly do not know why there were issues that resulted in books never being ordered on paid invoices, but I will not have that issue moving forward. As extra measures, I have created an email address in our internal contact directory specifically for orders, and I have implemented automated tasks for each step of the process to ensure fulfillment.
Regarding production, while I was never involved in production in my designated role, the individual responsible for production will no longer be involved in operations at Parliament House, LLC. After a book is formatted, authors are always the last party to see and approve the formatting in a final round of proofing. Beyond that, I am uncertain if these issues pertain to formatting done by the house or result from a printing error. Unfortunately, without specific examples, it isn’t easy to know what needs to be addressed here. However, I can confirm that there is a new individual responsible for production and that we will continue working collaboratively with authors to smooth out any issues well before publication. Additionally, with extended production/publication timelines, this should no longer be an issue.
I think a lack of marketing can be addressed by the previous mention of the number of titles acquired and published. There simply were not the resources, and these issues were present when I first came on as staff. With the sheer number of titles we were processing, many things fell through the cracks, and tools that had formerly been functional were shut down or removed entirely under the former Marketing Director. Because of this and the resulting struggle for all staff (including me) to keep up with the workload, I built an entire production schedule in Asana to keep a running record of all tasks that needed fulfillment. Unfortunately, this was wildly unpopular amongst other staff.
When the former staff at TPH left approximately six months after Shayne had brought me on full-time, it left a high volume of books that they had acquired and for which they had personally signed contracts without the staff support present when said staff signed them. That said, I will publish a new catalog of nine titles in 2023, which all have marketing budgets. All of my remaining efforts and resources will be implemented in marketing and supporting backlist titles. This sustainability comes with funding from an investor I have sought and investments I have made myself. No part of this transition was to my benefit financially, so I have had to come up with funding myself.
These are a sampling of the marketing efforts I am implementing for new and existing titles:
- Cover reveals and pre-orders set up eight months in advance of publication
- Pre-order campaigns, including purchase incentives such as free goodies (bookmarks, bookplates, signed copies, art prints, etc.)
- ARCs will be available to readers six months in advance of publication, and a dedicated marketing coordinator will be responsible for recruiting potential ARC readers.
- Submission to traditional media outlets such as Publisher’s Weekly, Foreward Reviews, Library Journal, Booklist, and more.
- All forthcoming titles are listed on NetGalley through our digital distributor, IPG.
- Sending physical copies of forthcoming titles to our social media partners (particularly on TikTok)
- Submission to book subscription boxes with whom we have pre-existing rapport: Beacon Book Box, Nerdy Book Box, and FaeCrate.
- Reaching out to bookstores local to the author to arrange in-person launches and signings.
- We will capitalize on IPG’s marketing opportunities for the backlist, including Nook Daily Finds, various Kobo sales, Kindle Daily/Monthly/Goldbox deals, Bookbubs, and more.
WB: I’ve heard from several PH editors who say they have not been paid for work they’ve done, as well as from authors who say they haven’t received royalties due. Can you comment on how you plan to address the issue of outstanding payments? Can you commit to remitting _all_ outstanding payments, and can you estimate when that process will be complete?
MN: As a former editor for TPH myself, I can confidently say this was an ongoing issue. I was frequently not paid my royalties until I pursued payment from Shayne. I had thought things had improved because I had not received any additional complaints personally (I had received some comments in the past from editors that were still working with TPH, and I immediately contacted Shayne to rectify those issues). Shayne also had begun to pay my staff royalties promptly. I do not know what led to this, as I was not involved with paying royalties in any way, so I cannot answer to what may have happened throughout this process.
What I can say is that I have worked tirelessly since this has come to light to ensure that these royalties are paid by working directly with Shayne to account for the discrepancies. We have mutually committed to paying all outstanding royalties. I am confident that many people have already been contacted to resolve the payment of these unpaid royalties. Shayne is copying me on all communications and receipts for future records. I cannot estimate when that process will be complete, though I hope to have it completed by the end of this month. Unfortunately, that date will depend on Shayne, editors, authors, and the time it takes for responses. I will also say that, while I believe that Shayne has been negligent and inexperienced, her intentions are good, and she has thus shown a willingness to work through this with me and those impacted promptly.
Moving forward, I will implement a payroll system to ensure that both authors and staff are remunerated on time.
WB: Do you plan to continue paying staff via royalties on the books they work on? If so, will you be raising those rates?
MN: I do not plan to pay staff with royalties, or at least not a royalties-only model. I will not be taking on any additional staff unless I can pay them, and in future, I will be paying contract employees fair rates on clearly detailed projects with clearly outlined expectations. Royalties may be offered as additional compensation in the future for people who participate in a more traditional role.
WB: The new contract (which I’ve seen) is an improvement over the old, with clearer language and better print royalties. However, you’ve elected to keep the early termination fee (Clause III.L.: “Additionally, in the event the Author requests reversal of rights prior to the completion of the Contract, Author agrees to reimburse the Publisher for all editing costs and book cover fees.”) Can you explain why you require authors to make this reimbursement, especially since a book that’s been on sale for any length of time will presumably have recouped some of those costs?
MN: I completely agree. This clause was a remnant of the old contract that I had missed. Thank you for pointing it out, as I do not wish to include this moving forward. It has been removed, and I am working to amend contracts with authors that have already signed.
WB: Anything you’d like to add or share about the new company, future plans, etc.?
MN: The last week has been quite shocking for me, but in speaking with authors, I have been heartened by their enthusiasm and support for this transition. I want this to be a fresh start and an opportunity for authors to pursue the path that is best for them, and if that path is with me, then I look forward to championing their works with a new approach.
I am hopeful for the future and have confidence in my team and the authors, who are excited to move forward. Additionally, I am dedicated to providing a promising path forward rooted in transparency.
I hope I was able to answer your questions effectively. But, of course, please feel free to reach out to me if anything begs further clarification or if additional questions arise. I hope that Parliament House Press, as it exists now, will merit consideration as the new entity under new management that it is.