Background: Adelaide, which presents itself as a traditional independent publisher but has a long-standing practice of imposing extra-contractual book purchase requirements, has been the focus of author complaints for many years. These intensified in 2021 and 2022, with authors reporting a range of problems including lagging royalty payment/reporting, poor editing, production and release delays, and major communications issues, with questions and emails going unanswered.
In 2022 the Authors Guild got involved on behalf of members, and (after some initial difficulty getting him to respond) extracted some apparent concessions from Adelaide owner Stevan Nikolic: he agreed to revert rights for authors who wanted to get out of their contracts, to provide digital book files to those who requested them, to pay all royalties currently in arrears, and to refund authors who paid for books (remember, this was a requirement for publication) but never got them.
I say “apparent” because it now seems clear that Nikolic–who, with his wife, moved to Portugal sometime in 2022 and set up a new Adelaide without informing any of the old Adelaide authors–is not cooperating in any meaningful sense. Reports in the Adelaide authors’ Facebook group indicate that, while some authors who asked for their rights back have received reversion letters, others have not–and they and many others also have not gotten the promised digital files, the refunds, or the royalties they are owed and that Nikolic promised to provide.
The Authors Guild is still trying to put pressure on Nikolic, but they’re reportedly being stymied by various delaying tactics and responsibility-shifting attempts (for example, Nikolic is reportedly asking the AG to compile a list of rights reversion requests, even though authors say they’ve been contacting him about reversion for months).
The original Adelaide Books, which still claims a New York City address, is closed to submissions…but Adelaide Books Portugal appears to be accepting them–though it does say that the “publication calendar for 2023 is closed”.
UPDATE 9/1/23: To the complete un-surprise of anyone who is an Adelaide author or has been following this story, Stevan Nikolic is still not fulfilling his promises to the Authors Guild, and is not reverting rights or providing royalty payments or statements. This has earned him another article in Publishers Weekly–not, apparently, that he cares.
To add insult to injury, Nikolic published his own book in August, which he describes, without evident irony, as “the book that will forever change your understanding of writing and book publishing”. I think most Adelaide authors would agree that their understanding has already changed–and not in a good way.
Founded in 2012, Propertius Press describes itself as “a small, not-for-profit indie publisher of provocative, engaging literature, non-fiction, and verse for the discerning reader of any age or interest.”
In late 2022, I received complaints from Propertius authors who reported non-payment of royalties (among other unfavorable contract terms, Propertius pays and accounts royalties annually), delayed publication dates, and non-response to questions. (The Authors Guild reported similar complaints from members, and also received no response to its questions.)
Over the past few weeks I’ve heard from additional Propertius authors who say they haven’t been paid. They also cite poor editing, formatting issues, and/or serious production delays; and all say they’ve had major problems with non-response by Propertius staff. Some who received informal reports of sales numbers say they believe that sales have been underreported.
I reached out to Propertius owner Susannah Smith for comment on these issues. She admitted that “not all” authors had been paid, “although many have”, and cited “abysmal” sales since 2021, “an autumn [of 2022] beset by staffing and technical challenges”, various email problems, and her own recent health issues. She indicated that she was working on an update to be provided to all Propertius authors.
I’m always a bit leery of these kinds of “bad things happened” excuses, especially where the bad things occur in clusters–plus, the royalty problems date back considerably beyond the autumn of 2022. I’m also generally not surprised when problem publishers’ assurances fall through. But about a week later, the promised update landed in my Inbox. In it, Susannah summarizes the challenges mentioned above, says that she is looking for someone to take Propertius over, and addresses the unpaid royalties:
She also promises that authors can request rights reversion, which will be granted “promptly and no questions asked.”
Even so, and even if things can be set up so that retailers pay future royalties directly to writers (I’m frankly skeptical this can be done while Propertius contracts are in force: retailers don’t want to deal with authors unless the author is the publisher), this plan still leaves Propertius authors who’ve been waiting a year or more for payment without a timeline.
Propertius is, at least, closed to submissions. I’ll post updates as I receive them.
In the late 1990s and early and mid-oughts, when paper submissions were still the norm, a common M.O. for fee-charging literary agents was to levy submission fees: charges to supposedly reimburse the agent for the postage, envelopes, photocopies, etc. required to send mss. and/or queries to publishers. Whether billed per submission or charged as a flat monthly or quarterly fee, these charges were generally calculated to yield a profit–and an even bigger one if the submissions were never actually sent out, which did sometimes happen.
This is not, and never was, reputable business practice. Agents do expect writers to reimburse the costs of submission above and beyond normal business overhead–but reputable practice is to deduct these costs from advances and/or royalty payments, or to bill them as incurred–not to charge them upfront, and definitely not to pad them in order to make a profit. Nowadays, of course, pretty much everything is electronic, so submission costs, if any, will generally be minimal. But in the pre-digital era, paper submissions did represent a regular expense, and a less-than-scrupulous agent could leverage that reality into a nifty extra income stream by charging inflated upfront submission fees.
Sheri Williams of the Williams Literary Agency one of dozens of submission fee-charging agents about whom I got complaints in the early days of Writer Beware. From 2001 through 2004, I received multiple documented reports of Williams’ monthly billings. Described in the agency contract as a monthly expense cap for postage expenses (“no more than” $45 or $50 per month), in practice this worked out to a fee at or near the cap every month. Writers received an invoice with the names of around 10 publishers and a fee of $4.52 per publisher: $3.50 for postage and $1.02 for a SASE (a self-addressed stamped envelope, for those who don’t recall those ancient times)–a serious upcharge given that a stamp back then cost 37 cents and an envelope much less than that.
Williams did make some sales to smaller publishers, and claimed to have stopped charging fees around 2004. Sometime between 2006 and 2008, she closed the Williams Agency and set up a new agency called Red Writing Hood Ink. Red Writing Hood Ink still exists–no longer as an agency, but as a paid service division of TouchPoint Press, which Williams founded in 2013.
The above may seem like a long-winded way to get to the point–but I believe that context is important.
Starting in 2015, I received a handful of complaints about TouchPoint from authors who cited production delays, royalty reporting and payment delays, unanswered emails, and generally slow process and communication (similar complaints can be seen here). Not trivial complaints, by any means, but it isn’t always clear whether a trickle of adverse reports over several years indicates a pattern, or simply a series of isolated incidents.
Now, though, a pattern does seem to be emerging, with recent author reports of books failing to be published by contract cutoff dates, contract offers not followed by any actual contracts, and TouchPoint staff citing internal communication problems. Writers inquiring about the delays have received a familiar roster of excuses: Covid, a system crash, staffing shortages.
Sometimes when such complaints start to appear they indicate a sudden crisis–but just as often, they attest to long-standing problems that have reached critical mass. I reached out to TouchPoint for comment, and quickly heard back from Sheri Williams:
Answering author inquiries would seem to qualify as part of “publisher duties”. But that’s just me.
Per its website, TouchPoint Press is currently closed to unagented–which does not necessarily mean all–submissions.
UPDATE: As I noted above, the emergence of complaints about a publisher can indicate a sudden crisis, or long-standing problems that have reached critical mass. It appears that the latter is the case with TouchPoint Press.
Almost immediately after I published this post, TouchPoint authors began contacting me to share their experiences. In addition to the issues mentioned above–sitting on books without ever publishing them, making offers but failing to send contracts, failure to respond to emails, phone calls, and social media messages, royalty payments in arrears–authors report little or no marketing, lagging payment of licensing income, missed publication dates, failure to release books in contractually required formats (for example, releasing an ebook but no paperback), distribution problems (failure to list or long delays in listing with Ingram), staff departures and work stoppages, deletion of critical posts in the TouchPoint authors Facebook group, failure to respond to rights reversion requests, and more.
At least one author has filed a lawsuit in Sheri Williams’s home state of Arkansas.
The additional complaints confirm that all of these issues were happening at least as far back as 2021 (and maybe even farther). Yet Sheri continued to acquire books at least through February of 2023. In 2022 alone, per Publishers Marketplace, she signed 28 books–all while failing to release multiple books signed in previous years.
Sheri’s statement above mentions wages. In fact, TouchPoint staff are not paid wages in the conventional meaning of the word: like authors, they receive royalties. This is a common way for small publishers to shift financial risk to employees (and a recipe for dissatisfaction and high turnover, since editors and others are essentially working on spec, even where the publisher doesn’t have problems paying). This has been confirmed to me by TouchPoint staff (who also report not being paid) and additionally by this employee review on Indeed.com.
I’m sure there will be more updates. Watch this space.
UPDATE 9/17/23: Things aren’t looking good.
- The Touchpoint author who filed a lawsuit against Sheri Williams on June 12 won a default judgment in August thanks to no response to the lawsuit by Sheri.
- Also in June, Touchpoint authors contacted the Authors Guild about the situation and to ask for help. Although the Authors Guild initially had trouble getting Sheri to respond, she reportedly assured them that the payment problems would be resolved. They have not been. (Shades of Adelaide Books, above.)
- Multiple Touchpoint authors have filed complaints with the Arkansas Attorney General. I’m told that the AG has opened an investigation.
- In August, Sheri informed authors that she was in the hospital. Although she reportedly told the senior editor (who apparently is the last staff member standing) that authors were free to revert their rights and that the editor would be given the access needed to pay outstanding royalties, neither apparently has happened. According to the most recent reports, Sheri is saying she is still hospitalized and unable to conduct business.
If you’ve had problems with any of the publishers discussed in this post, please email me or leave a comment here.