Small presses and their life cycles

As a fascinated audience member in the audience at SF cons over the years I’ve heard some amazing horror stories about publishers, editors, artists, and writers.  You might think some are just tall tales, like raconteurs would tell in mid-century dinner parties.  Some stories spread further and some could be researched/confirmed later, but most were without names attached.  Small presses are notorious for folding.  They’re great for new writers, just getting started, as they are often more flexible and willing to work with rawer talent.  But along with that, there are publishers who are much younger, with maybe years of experience instead of decades.  Some, sadly, only talk big and are crooks from the start and pretend they are not vanity presses.

And then there’s the ones that fall on hard times like when the economy tightens, the market changes faster than they do, or they just plain mismanage their assets, both books and authors. Those are the geese that lay the golden eggs.  Starve the geese or don’t polish the gold eggs and you’re left with only straw.  This happens with regularity, and at least one known publisher seems to go down every year, with others already showing the same red flags.

As a frequent reader of the SFWA’s Writer Beware blog and occasional places like the Absolute Write Water cooler, along with a few authors and bloggers, it would be hard to miss the flailing of Ellora’s Cave publishing.  The reasons for alarm are clear: slow, incomplete and untrustworthy accounting of royalties. In an electronic publishing market, the author must be able to trust the publisher.  Trust is bruised at least when there’s large layoffs, tax issues, and silence.  Authors must pay attention to this because they have NO protection if the publisher goes belly up. (that should probably change and some point)

The thing is, that businesses fail. They fail a LOT.  Most of the great entrepreneurs have racked up failures before future successes.  But thrashing around and causing more damage destroys any good will or support when you decide to start over.  And suppressing lawsuit will expose the issue to far, far more people today than it silences… That is called the Streisand effect.

So Ellora’s Cave is suing the blogger who collected the growing problem as a warning for other writers, including public information and anonymous reports.  Isn’t confidential information part of the basis for journalism?  Just because this is groundbreaking small publisher, doesn’t give her any more right than it gave Nixon to know the sources.  There is fighting for your business’s survival,and then there is a scorched earth approach which never makes you the hero of the narrative.

Dear Author is facing this frivolous lawsuit and a hero.  Support your local truth-teller, even if it hurts sometimes.  The world doesn’t need more spin and flailing.