Whatever Happened To Catstone Books?

Catstone Books logo

In April 2022, I was contacted by an author who reported being basically ghosted by Catstone Books after submitting a revised manuscript at Catstone’s request. Over the course of seven months–and after what the writer described as considerable enthusiasm from the editor–the author received no response at all, either to the re-submission or to polite nudges from their agent.

I hadn’t heard of Catstone before. so I took a look at its website (which no longer exists: that link is to an archived version). A nonprofit publisher registered in Georgia in February 2021 with a three-person Board of Directors, it boasted an ambitious slate of socially conscious programs in keeping with its mission of highlighting the voices of marginalized authors of speculative fiction, including a fellowship to help a writer from a marginalized community complete a project, a school donation program, and WinkBC, a book club supporting blind and visually impaired readers. It also sold memberships that offered various member-only perks, including reviews, short fiction, and giveaways, and had a literary magazine called Pharos.

There was something missing, though: books. Although Catstone had been in business for more than a year, and had announced two projects–a novel, Sargassa, and an anthology, Horror That Represents You–it had not yet actually released any titles. As for Pharos, the literary magazine, not a single issue had been published.

In another concerning sign, founder Joshua Demarest’s LinkedIn indicated that his most recent work experience was a three-year stint as Publishing Manager of BookLogix, a printer and self-publishing service provider–not an ideal background for transitioning to running a traditional publisher, which is a very different kind of enterprise. Demarest did have some past trad pub experience, as owner of a small publisher called Giles Press–but according to Amazon (as well as a Giles Press author who later contacted me), the company hadn’t succeeded: it had only ever published one book.

Back to the writer who’d been ghosted. About a month after they contacted me, they did finally hear back from Catstone, with an apology for the delay (staff turnover was cited) and a request to reconsider the writer’s ms. This resulted, in mid-July, in a contract offer, with a nice advance and marketing promises.

However, around the same time, it was becoming apparent that the second of Catstone’s two announced projects, the anthology, was in trouble. Opened for submission in December 2021, timelines had been repeatedly pushed back and now, in July 2022, shortlisted writers were still waiting for official offers and contracts. According to an email sent out by the anthology’s editor, the anthology was probably not going to happen due to these issues and Catstone’s apparent lack of interest in solving them–at least, judging by the fact that the editor couldn’t get Catstone to respond to repeated questions.

Social media blowback ensued, spurring the following statement from Catstone on July 12:

Catstone Books statement on "Horror That Represents You" anthology

It’s a worrying sign when one staff member’s absence can torpedo an entire project. The statement was quickly removed and replaced with another indicating that the anthology was going forward, with a new editor. Writers were invited to re-submit.

Then, on August 1–just two weeks after they’d signed the contract for their novel–the ghosted writer contacted me again. That day, with absolutely no warning, they’d received a call from one of Catstone’s editors letting them know that Catstone’s primary investor had abruptly pulled all funding. Without his support, the company couldn’t continue.

And just like that, Catstone was dead.

The ghosted writer wasn’t the only one who was blindsided by this news. Board Secretary and Editorial Director Ashley Ellis told me that she too found out on August 1, via email. She’d had no indication that anything was wrong. Acquisitions Editor Lauren Davila was in the middle of seeking submissions when she was informed of Catstone’s demise. She hadn’t been aware of any warning signs either.

There was no announcement or official notice. Authors–including those who’d submitted to the anthology, or who’d sold stories to Pharos, or written content for Catstone’s membership benefit–mostly found out via social media. Sophie Balaban, the author of Catstone’s only other announced project, told me that Demarest never contacted her, and she received no response to the notice of termination her agent subsequently sent to Catstone’s Georgia address. The recipient of Catstone’s Samuel R. Delany fellowship had no idea the company was gone until I emailed for comment on August 3.

Not until August 4 did Demarest publicly address the closure.

Tweete from Joshua Demarest about Catstone's closure

Unmentioned in the above series of tweets, and in another short thread that Demarest posted on August 7, was that the “primary funder” (or, based on what people involved with Catstone have told me, probably the only funder) was original Board member and Catstone Treasurer Bob Christian, who also happened to be the Democratic nominee in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District (I was told by several people involved with Catstone that they were not aware of Christian’s candidacy until after Catstone’s demise). According to campaign documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Demarest served as Christian’s campaign treasurer, and was paid a salary for at least some of his work. Briefly, Demarest’s LinkedIn showed him as campaign manager:

Joshua Demarest's LinkedIn with Campaign Manager title

That title was removed soon after Catstone closed down.


So what really happened? Why did Bob Christian decide to pull funding? Why did he choose to fund Catstone in the first place? Why the secrecy over his Congressional run, and Demarest’s involvement with that? What impact, other than financial, might this relationship have had on the decision to shut down?

I reached out to Demarest for comment. In an email, quoted in part below, he highlighted Catstone’s record as a nonprofit, while admitting the company’s failures as a publisher.

This was not a scam. I went into this project with the intention to help BIPOC and LGBTQ authors in speculative fiction. We had some successes and some failures, and I’m the first to admit that when we made the decision to close down, it could have been handled significantly better. The news was out and out of our control before we had even had time to contact everyone….

I know that everything seemed to fall to shit very quickly, and there have been a lot of questions about it since it closed. I am more than willing to admit that the ultimate responsibility falls on my shoulders. I made the false assumption that our funding was secure for a long time, but I should have been more adamant about diversifying our revenue stream. The efforts made to bring in individual donations were not terribly successful and it should have been a higher priority. We also probably should have held off on publishing operations until our funding was far more robust. I want to apologize to everyone who was affected by the closure of CatStone, and know that my apology isn’t enough. I also want to point to the fact that CatStone’s legacy also includes tens of thousands of dollars given to BIPOC and LGBTQ authors, publishers, and projects. It is complicated and complicated is inherently hard to come to terms with. But what it isn’t is a scam. No author paid to publish. We never took money for applications, submissions, or services. We paid out thousands of dollars as an advance on our novel project and we’re active sponsors to several other projects. It was almost entirely self funded from me and our major sponsor.

As of this writing, he hasn’t responded to a series of followup questions about Catstone’s funding and his involvement with Bob Christian’s run for Congress.

I do think that Catstone’s intentions were good. The Samuel R. Delany fellow confirmed to me that they received the promised $10,000 stipend. Catstone was able to deliver on some of its funding promises, including a 2021 FIYAHcon sponsorship, sponsoring FIYAH literary magazine, and contributing funding to Bee Infinite Publishing, a Black-owned small press. I talked to a number of people who were promised payment, including writers who sold stories to Pharos or produced content for Catstone’s membership options, and all confirmed that they received it–although there’s some indication that at least some freelancers’ fees may still be outstanding.

Set against that, though, is the lack of transparency around the closure–not to mention the obfuscation, since “the Board” that supposedly collectively made the decision consisted of just three people, one of whom (Christian) had already decided he was done, the other of whom (Ashley Ellis) didn’t find out until after the fact. (Note: Ellis, who’d initially been promised a salary, told me that she worked pro bono for her entire time at Catstone.) There are also the things Demarest cops to above: the unprofessional way in which he handled the closure, the communications and other problems that preceded the closure–and, of course, Catstone’s failure over the course of nearly a year and a half to actually publish any books. Poor business planning is in the mix as well: it just doesn’t seem like a great idea to bet your entire company on the largesse of a single donor.

Catstone isn’t the only small publisher with a focus on marginalized and underrepresented writers that has gone bust recently. Brand-new (in June 2022) Sage & Sparrow Publishing was established by two individuals whose claimed experience couldn’t be verified because no specifics were provided. When a writer called them out on Twitter for a less-than-professional submission experience, they demonstrated a serious lack of social media smarts by responding with a long, angry, self-justifying screed (including legal threats) that earned them some mild dragging. Rather than step back and let the whole thing blow over, they chose to fold up their tent and go home–deleting their website and social media, releasing the handful of authors they’d already signed. (Little trace of Sage & Sparrow remains on the web, but this discussion thread at the Absolute Write Water Cooler will give you an idea.)

I mention this because I think it’s a worrying trend. The writers who are sought by publishers like Catstone and Sage & Sparrow are a more vulnerable group–in the sense that, with fewer opportunities available to them in the traditional publishing industry, they may be more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to publishers (and agents) that present as an alternative pathway, with promises to value and empower them, even in the presence of clear warning signs–such as Catstone’s lack of published books, and Sage & Sparrow’s lack of relevant experience. (There’s a parallel here to the Christian publishing market: Christian writers tend to be more trusting of publishers and agents that self-identify as Christian, which not only makes them more willing to give a pass to amateur and hobby publishers, but, to be blunt, makes them easier to scam).

I’m not alone in noticing this trend.

So, I’ve noticed a lot lately that small presses are cropping up with predatory practices, but they’re all couched in language of diversity and support for marginalized writers and I want to talk about it.— Tess Sharpe (@sharpegirl) October 5, 2022

I haven’t yet spotted an outright scam targeting marginalized authors, but I think it’s only a matter of time. In any case, in terms of damage, there’s not a lot of space between an incompetent publisher that screws over writers unintentionally and a fraudulent one that screws them over on purpose.

Bottom line: A mission statement is important, but don’t let what publishers (or agents) say about themselves cloud your judgment. Take a close hard look not just at the window dressing, but at the fundamentals. If there’s no relevant experience (or you can’t tell because that info is missing or unverifiable); if there’s no record of performance (i.e., actual published books–which includes brand-new publishers that haven’t issued any titles yet); if there are predatory practices (fee-charging, book purchase requirements, weird contract clauses, etc.)…move on.

For a discussion of why it’s so important that new publishers (or agents) have actual credentials to do the job, see my recent post at Writer Unboxed: When New Isn’t Better: The Value of Experience.


  1. It just feels like I’ve heard this story over and over:
    press starts out with enthusiasm and promises; authors sign on; a few things go awry but concerns are brushed off; then everything collapses and public announcements are made about medical crises, funding losses, etc.

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