Thursday, October 13, 2011

Breaking My Silence on Aspen Mountain Press

Originally, I'd planned to write a completely different blog post from the one I am now putting out there.  I was going to trace the history I have with Aspen Mountain Press and the disintegration of the business, ending with how and why the senior staff all walked out at the end of July.  But after a very disturbing post by AMP's owner, Sandra Hicks, on the AMP Authors yahoo loop this morning—a loop I and other authors to whom AMP owes a lot of money were banned from because we were too outspoken—I think it's better to just cut to the chase and then to go through some of her responses.  I believe it's essential that what is happening at AMP is brought fully into perspective.   And, since I have kept every email correspondence, every royalties report from AMP and third party sites, and chat transcripts of every staff meeting with Ms. Hicks this summer, I'm in a unique position.

I'm one of the few people in the world who knows exactly what happened to AMP and has the documentation to prove it.

The disaster at AMP was a drawn-out affair, one that several people tried to address.  At this time last year, Lori Basiewicz was the managing editor of AMP and I was the head editor and solely in charge of the Aurora Regency imprints—a line I'd built and worked on myself.

My first indication that anything was wrong came when one of my authors at Aurora Regency—a writer who was in my writing group, who was a dear friend, who was someone whose integrity I trusted absolutely—wrote to me in concern because she hadn't received her royalties.  Lori and I struggled to find out what was going on, pleading with Ms. Hicks to address the problems with royalties that were starting to build up with our authors. None of the authors received regular royalty statements after August of 2010, so there was no way to determine if they sold any books or if there was an oversight.  This was resulting in an atmosphere of serious distrust—an atmosphere Lori and I bore the brunt of because Ms. Hicks wasn't answering any emails.  Eventually, last March, Lori couldn't take the lack of communication anymore.  She resigned, and I was the only visible face for the management of AMP.

To be perfectly fair and up front, Ms. Hicks WAS dealing with several physical ailments that rendered her unable to maintain the day to day activities of a publishing house. That is not in question and never has been. 

I'd been scheduled for serious surgery, one with a recovery time that was long enough that I knew I needed to make arrangements for the operation of Aurora Regency in my absence.  So, I emailed the owner, Sandra Hicks, and held off scheduling my surgery until we had agreed upon how Aurora Regency would be handed in my absence.  When over a week had passed with no response from Ms. Hicks, I got angry and sent an email to her, forwarding the message to the entire senior staff.  Here's part of it, from June 19, 2011:

Because of your inattention, you have lost staff, authors and books. And the flood is not only continuing, but growing rapidly. As a result, my income is going to drop substantially. I've lost three authors and their books in two months--*author names removed*. All three of them have devout followings and readerships. AMP can't afford the loss of any authors or books, particularly since Aurora is now responsible for roughly half of AMP's releases which was not the intended purpose of the line. I wasn't supposed to have to carry the release schedule.

As a result, here's what I expect to happen during my three months' absence, which is now effective immediately. I expect my royalties paid on time every month, both as a writer and a editor. I expect statements with those royalties so I know what I'm being paid for. I expect the Aurora releases to come out on time and in good shape, for my authors to get copies of their books upon release and for THEM to get their royalties on time and with royalty statements. If, for any reason, these conditions are not met, my leave of absence will become permanent. I will not return to a big old mess. 

I've come to the conclusion that the only way you're going to bestir yourself enough to care about AMP and its writers, editors and staff is to return to the days when you have to do it all yourself. And the fact you didn't even respond to an email as important as the first one I sent is insulting.

I demanded these things because they hadn't been happening at AMP for some time.  That email got the rest of the senior staff involved—involved to the point that Kelly Shorten, our art director, telephoned Ms. Hicks who was in a panic.  The result of that conversation was that Ms. Hicks would immediately turn over running of the company to the senior staff, that a qualified bookkeeper would be brought in to straighten out the mess of AMP royalties, and that we would have the power to do whatever it took to bring the company back. We also made a pact among ourselves, the four of us: if, for any reason, we found something that would make us consider quitting, we would all quit.  We would not enable Ms. Hicks any further. We were staying for the authors, to make sure they were paid what they were supposed to be paid on books that went out well-edited and packaged, on the scheduled release date and uploaded to third party sites. I personally would get as much done editorially as possible and stabilize the company, so that I could have my surgery and be reassured that the company wouldn't go under due to no management in my absence.

What we discovered when we took over was a nightmare: 

Hundreds of emails in all the AMP accounts, gone unanswered and unopened from authors and staff.  The customer service email account alone had over 500 unanswered emails over the previous eight months.  That took two people working eight hours to resolve—and in the process, we discovered a frighteningly large number of AMP books that had serious formatting problems for a long time.

Authors who were contracted and never heard back from the company, leaving their books unpublished and their rights tied up.  I found books from two years previously that were still stranded by AMP, the authors begging to just get a response from somebody…anybody.

The royalties were such a mess that the bookkeeper, Kerry Mand, elected to concentrate on just getting that month's royalties out and working on some of the most pressing cases before working backwards through the books and auditing a year's worth of royalty spreadsheets and reports--a course of action I agreed with.  We discovered that in previous months, only portions of the royalties had been paid at any given time.

Two weeks from the time that we took over, the only releases scheduled at AMP were Aurora Regency books—books that I was personally handling and scheduling.  Nothing else.  The last scheduled AMP book for release was on July 18.  The rest was all Aurora Regencies and one Christmas title at AMP, scheduled by Lori before she left.

The submissions account had not been opened since Lori had resigned three months prior.  I went through all those submissions and answered every single one since March of 2011, even connecting with authors who'd been contracted before Lori was the managing editor and forgotten.  I got all those lost books on the release schedule and to editors, who I hired.  The books were edited, proofed by me and uploaded to a special file where ready-to-be-published books were kept. 

Yep. Everything was an absolute nightmare. We worked seven days a week, up to twenty hours a day. And we made positive changes to AMP.  We got over a year's worth of books uploaded to the third party sites.  We updated and improved the website.  We planned and scheduled a new imprint for only speculative fiction.  We created new emails for author concerns and staff concerns, keeping those emails out of the submissions account.  We developed a policy between the four of us that NO email at AMP would remain unanswered for longer than six hours.  We released a chunk of authors who'd been trying to get their rights back in the previous months.  The owner initially balked at that but I pointed out that unhappy authors would be detrimental to what we trying to build and eventually, reluctantly, she agreed. I got all the contracted books on the release schedule and to editors, who I hired.  The books were edited, proofed by me and uploaded to a special file where ready-to-be-published books were kept. 

We scheduled AMP through the end of the year, with multiple releases each week—and many of those books were the ones that had dropped through the cracks.

After a couple of weeks, things were starting to look up. The authors were happy again, beginning to believe in AMP once more.  And in that first month of our leadership at AMP, we posted a huge increase in sales.

But as Kerry got further into the royalties at AMP, the more concerned we all became.  The art director and bookkeeper asked for—and were empowered to use—the AMP Paypal  and bank accounts. All four of us were working with those accounts and past royalty spreadsheets so we could try to match payments to sales. In other words, to make sure all the authors were paid for every single book sale.

Kerry had managed to get the royalties done ahead of schedule, and sent the royalties to Ms. Hicks to pay.  On July 15th, we were all so relieved.  The royalties were done and the authors would be paid on time.  But by the 18th, we started to get a lot of emails: the publisher didn't pay the darn royalties!  AMP paid only a few authors and then stopped.  So I emailed the owner. No answer. I called her. No answer.  I texted her. 

Finally, she responded.  When I asked her why the royalties hadn't been paid, she said that to her knowledge, they all had been.  We were online IN the bank account and Paypal, trying to match authors (and pen names) to amounts to see who'd went unpaid. And as I asked her about a specific author, we watched the payment go out from that account. Then she texted me back each time and said that I was mistaken, that author had been paid.

Up until that moment, I believed that all the problems at AMP were unintentional, and that there wasn't a chance of dishonesty on the part of the owner.  But that, when considered along with everything else, made me suspicious for the first time.  After that, we couldn't believe Ms. Hicks when she told us she'd paid for something. So we began to monitor the bank account.  It was essential that we knew what the financial situation of the company was before we did or said anything to the authors about their royalties.  We'd taken over and were so proud of the fact that the royalties were done—and correctly—and then the payments weren't made, which made us look like we were incompetent.  It was then that we starting noticing some peculiar activities in the AMP bank account.

The owner was using the business's bank account for personal expenses. 

Kerry worked backwards through the bank accounts and spreadsheets, arriving at the amount of back royalties an author was owed, the owner would go behind our backs and tell the author that WE were wrong and the author had already been paid most of that amount.

In the meantime, we were seeing these personal expenses—for food, souvenirs, car payments, doctors visits—coming out of the AMP account.  We decided to confront the owner about this in our weekly Skype conference—a system I preferred to use because we could keep transcripts.  When we pleaded with the owner to separate her personal expenses from the company's, to set up a monthly draw account that would be a percentage of profits—so that we wouldn't have the appearance of impropriety—she refused.  She also implied that we had used her Paypal account without her knowledge to pay a long overdue bill for advertising—when we'd mentioned multiple times during that conversation that we were doing so AT THE TIME. REAL time.

We were all so angry at that time that Dominique suggested we stop the meeting, take a deep breath, think things through and meet again the following day when everyone was calmer. 

Unfortunately, even though we tried, the owner would not budge.  She apologized for what happened the day before, assuring us that she didn't mean to question our use of the Paypal account to pay an advertising bill as dishonest or inappropriate.  But she wouldn't budge off the personal expenses. She said the income of AMP was too irregular to establish a draw account for a percentage of the income. 

At that point, I made an offer to buy AMP. She replied that she wouldn't sell for less than a quarter of a million dollars.  I tried to purchase the two imprints I'd built—the Aurora Regency line that was nearly a year old and the Aura speculative fiction line that was scheduled to launch in October.  She refused.  So there was nothing left to do but announce our resignation from AMP to the authors, turn over everything we'd done to AMP, and leave.

As a result of all this, we decided to open our own publishing house, Musa Publishing, where we would address all the issues we had with AMP in advance. Ms. Hicks had assured us she was going to close AMP because we had left, so we wanted to create a haven for AMP authors—a house where their books could be reissued as soon as possible.

Once we'd left and were building Musa as fast as we could, Ms. Hicks contacted me again to offer me the chance to buy the Aurora Regency imprint and AMP.  We agreed on Aurora and she dropped the price for AMP down to a more realistic but still high number.  The four of us discussed the amount and refused the offer.  We had put our financial resources into Musa and couldn't afford to take on AMP with all the lingering problems there.  She then offered to sell us individual contracts/books.  So we considered it, added up the amount of back pay and royalties AMP owed us, and offered an exchange: we would forgive our entire back salary and all my future earnings as an editor who'd done 75% of the books released by AMP the previous year in exchange for approximately 65 book contracts.  Our plan was to immediately release those authors from their contracts.  We would offer contracts to Musa to each author—an offer they were not obligated to take.  The four of us thought it was worth forgiving the money owed to us in order to free as many authors/books as we could.

But as soon as Ms. Hicks  received our check for the Aurora Regency imprint, she abruptly decided against the deal we'd been working for the individual contracts—a deal that was HER initial plan. She cashed our check for AR immediately, and then proceeded to breach the remainder of the contract.  The website was not turned over by the agreed-upon date. The books were not removed from the third party sites; we ended up doing that ourselves.  Aside from the communications with us, which she terminated as soon as she got some money, she made very few attempts to communicate with the authors in her company.

Until today.

Today, Ms. Hicks finally answered a post on the AMP Authors loop from a stranded AMP author—an author I contracted as managing editor, an author who has no editor, no cover art, no publication, and has had no answers.  His post--minus his name—and Ms. Hicks' replies are below. My comments are in between each section.


 Author) Do you intend returning answering queries, letters etc? What is the time
span involved so we know when to expect an answer from you?

 Ms. Hicks) In all fairness, I can't tell you what sort of time frame to expect an answer
in, except to say that I am working on them. It takes time to respond to
THREATS such as the one Wells made and take care of other business matters AND
attend to my health needs and the work that must be done in raising my son
The *threat* Ms. Hicks is referring to occurred when the author in question, Charles Wells, served a DMCA notice to the domain host and the AMP website was taken down temporarily.  The website that, by the way, AMP has not paid the designer for. AMP authors have served similar notices to AMP's third party distributors.  AMP books are coming or have come down at many online retailers, particularly the large number of out-of-contract books that up until now, AMP has not removed from their home website or third party retailers despite numerous attempts by the affected authors.

 Author) Do you intend returning rights to authors who have asked for them? 
Ms. Hicks) Not in all cases. All who've asked will be getting a personalized letter from
me through the mail system explaining what I am deciding and why.

A personalized letter through the mail system would have to go through her post office box, where scores of unaccepted registered letters and snail mailed demands to take out of contract books off the AMP sites or notices of breach of contracts have been accumulating dust and not been answered. That address is a Mailboxes storefront a few blocks, I understand, from the owner's home. 

Author) If YES,when can we expect to have the documentation? 
 Ms. Hicks) When I get to the requests, I am writing a letter and mailing it to the authors.

Author)  If NO, can you please use this Loop to advise who yes and who not? If NO, can
you please explain why you intend holding on to authors that have lost faith in
 Ms. Hicks) Losing faith in a company does not void a contract. Any business matters are
between the author and AMP. If the author wishes to make those matters public,
they will. I won't violate their privacy in that way. It is their own
Additionally, I'd like to tell the members here that this is not a business
MEETING loop. I've posted a few announcements in the past, and participated in
some general chat, but I don't use this for meeting purposes.

"Losing faith in a company does not void a contract."  And yet, let's take a look at the breaches of contract all AMP authors are experiencing.  Unpaid royalties. No royalty statements. No books published in nine weeks and only two since the end of July—and they were late. A website that is out of date (and not paid for). No web presence, since one needs to actually participate in conversations to be considered a presence.  No response to emails, snail mailed letters or registered letters.  Out of contract books still being sold at AMP and on third party sites while the authors don't get paid for them.  No editors. No art staff. No signature pages signed by the publisher for contracts. 

Those things DO void a contract.

And after months of not responding to communications by email, text, phone call, or certified letter, why wouldn't the authors bring up issues regarding the publisher at a Yahoo loop designed by the company to discuss issues within the publisher? 

Author) Do you intend paying royalties AND supplying sales statements in toto as per the contract? When can those owed money expect to be paid? 
Ms. Hicks) Yes, I will be paying royalties and statements, but as of the moment they are on
the back burner
as I deal with all the other threats to the company, and the
requests to relinquish contracts.
*bolding mine*

Wait a second—paying royalties that will be three months past due on October 15th is on the back burner because of threats to the company and all the reversion of rights letters?  So what Ms. Hicks is saying here is that as long as the AMP authors are in active rebellion against her, she will continue to NOT pay royalties. Paying authors and staff the money due them should be the TOP PRIORITY here, regardless of whether the author/staff member is speaking publicly about what happened as AMP.  She's holding authors' money hostage, the same way she's holding their books hostage, until they shut up and sit down.

That's my take on the situation, at least. I could be wrong. If someone can put a different interpretation on this for me, please do.

Author) Do you intend removing out of contract books from the AMP web site and
within what time frame? Bear in mind many third party sites have already done so
on request from authors who have provided documentary evidence of the end of
 Ms. Hicks) Yes, but again, I can't provide an exact time frame. Interestingly enough, some
of the authors who have sort of provided evidence have also negatively affected
authors that wish to remain with AMP. Any of the threats that are coming from
in force contracts can cause issues for the authors. This especially is true in
light of the clause to redress breaches. A scanned copy of the clause with the
authors signature eliminates the DRM violation claims.

What authors wish to remain published by a company that doesn't pay them royalties? I'd like about a hundred of those--with bestselling books of course--to submit to me.  

Smart comments and pipe dreams aside, the clause in the AMP contract to redress breaches reads as follows:

A). Breach of Contract
If either party breaches this Agreement, the non-breaching party shall provide written notice by certified mail to the breaching party of the alleged breach.

Upon receipt of such notice, the breaching party shall have ninety (90) days to cure.  At the expiration of such ninety (90) day period, upon failure to cure, this Agreement shall terminate, except as otherwise provided herein or otherwise agreed in writing by both parties hereto.

 Author) Do you intend continuing business with AMP? 
Ms. Hicks) Yes. I put a lot of love and time into AMP. Am I ill? Yes. Is AMP ill, yes.
This situation has certainly given me a load of things to consider. What if I'd
had a heart attack or ended up in a coma? I have to develop a system to provide
back up for such scenarios.

She used to have a staff to provide back up for such scenarios—a staff that resigned en masse when she refused to remove her personal expenses from the company's. And now, it's going to be very hard to find a new staff when the old staff is owed thousands of dollars in back and future pay.  Why would anyone think that AMP would pay a new staff when they don't pay the old one or the authors? And, to be honest, the other staff members and myself were the ones carrying the load of AMP for a year before our resignation.  Lori Basiewicz, the managing editor before me, and I were carrying on without guidance or even assistance from Ms. Hicks for months. We weren't doing that for her, but for the authors who were relying on AMP's integrity with their intellectual property and income.

Also, let's be perfectly frank here.  Ms. Hicks hasn't had a heart attack or a stroke. Her health permitted her to make this statement today without any trouble or turmoil.  Her health permitted her to drive to the bank and cash a check. Her health permits her to do many, many things--but not, apparently, to answer an email, cut a check, type out a royalty statement, or anything that might benefit her authors and staff.

Author)  If Yes, please state when we can expend within what time frame it will do so
and also do you intend doing so with authors who no longer wish to be identifies
with it? 
Ms. Hicks) The first thing I am doing is reading and responding to authors. Each is
individual, case-by-case. Just because some authors no longer wish to be
identified with AMP does not negate their contracts. I and I alone will make
that decision, on a case-by-case basis as I look to the future.

What negates their contracts is months without royalties.  And when the author sends the registered letter as specified in the AMP contract, the publisher evades activating that 90 day period by refusing to accept the certified letters.

Also, these complaints have been ongoing for over a year. Is she saying that in all that time, she is only NOW reading authors' emails?  

Author) If NO, when can we expect the return of rights letters, payments, etc, that
will avoid legal action on the part of those owed money? 
 Ms. Hicks) As stated before it is one thing at a time. Having been an author, I know the
return of my intellectual property is more important than anything else. That
said, I would seriously consider how much attorney fees cost and weigh them
against what I believe I'm owed. Aspen has the money to pay its authors, but
being one person at this time, I have made the decision to handle the rights
requests first.

*bolding mine*

In other words, Ms. Hicks is threatening the authors, implying that it would be more expensive and a more lengthy process to force AMP to pay royalties than it would be to just shut up and not make too much noise about this, and that since they're complaining she's just going to work on the rights issues on a case by case basis, therefore delaying any attempts to pay the royalties. Aspen Mountain Press probably does have the money to pay its authors, seeing as second quarter royalties from the third party sites were just paid out.  She is electing, however, to ignore those royalties as a punishment for bad behavior.

And as an author who knows the return of intellectual property is more important than anything else, AMP's owner, who suffered as an author from the Triskelion debacle, is proving stubbornly resistant to returning anyone's intellectual property despite the numerous and egregious breaches AMP has committed on every single contract in the past 14 months. 
Author)  At this stage I think these are the main themes authors are worried about and
I  ask, on behalf of all of them to give answers as soon as possible. 
 While we all know about your personal problems and many have wished you the
best for them. You should also be aware that this situation have caused all of us to suffer anziety(sic), depression, and other problems caused by stress. Do you truly believe that it is fair, or worse still, legally defendable refusing to face up to this situation?
Ms. Hicks) Actually, yes, it is defendable as I have sought documented treatment for my medical issues as well as the depression. It is not a refusal to face the
situation, it is an inability due to depression. And for those that are
suffering anxiety, and depression, then I would surely expect them to be more
compassionate of the anxiety and depression I am suffering. Do I believe it is
fair? Of course not. I don't believe it is fair for a person to suffer cancer,
lose a loved one, get laid off from a job they've worked at for 20 years. Some
thing just have to be handled one thing at a time, one day at a time. Seems tome like there was a boatload of people who got paid just last month (and no,they did not get their statements, they are sitting in my flash drive) And as a clarification to many of you, right or wrong, I made the decision that it was better you got your money than the statement. Cutting the checks actually took less time than attaching the document and emailing it individually. Now, that said, some of you think I owe you money that I actually
did pay--you did not cash your checks. There is ample proof of that in the bank account. Will I send statements? Yes. When, not until I can get people paid.
Have I not answered emails? Yes. Why? Bad news upon bad news only deepens depression, doesn't help it at all. For those who have known me since the very early days of our writing careers and the beginning of this company, you knowthat I don't speak ill of others, and that I haven't treated you badly. Am I coming out of this? With professional help. I don't know what sort of time frame to expect for that either. Some days are better than others. Right now I've upped my work quotient to about 2 hours a day. Upped. Is that great...depends where you are. Right now for me it is-two years ago-I was
putting in twelve to fourteen hours a day and editing as well. I was also writing. Now compared to then? Bad. Perspective has a lot of power. 
 Even answering this post has zapped a lot of the energy I had for the day. Again, to all of you who've put in requests, watch the mail. You are getting signed hard copies related to your requests.
*bolding is all mine—not the author's or Ms. Hicks*

When I was sent this post this morning by multiple authors, I literally felt ill. Ms. Hicks actually thinks that she is in the right!  That NOT paying authors and staff is defensible! That a 'boatload' of people got paid just last month! 

That two hours is day is somehow work, when a few months ago AMP had people working 16-20 hours a day to try to save the company.

That due to her personal illness and her documentation of treatment, she has a legal defense NOT TO PAY THE AUTHORS TO WHOM SHE OWES MONEY?  I've never heard of a court anywhere that lets a contract employer refuse to pay people who have fulfilled their end of a contract because the employer is ill. Never.  And usually, if a legal entity like a company refuses to or cannot pay its employees, the doors are shut and all contracts are immediately terminated.  If I'm incorrect, I'd love to see a post from an attorney pointing out where my logic is wrong.

In the end, I don't know who got paid; I know who DIDN'T get paid—I know I didn't: either my regular author royalties, my editor royalties, my percentage of sales for Aurora Regency or my percentage of sales for my role as the AMP managing editor.  I know that Kelly Shorten, the web designer and art director, did not get paid the back salary and contracted labor (website building, maintenance and design, the database, shopping cart system) AMP owes her. Not a dime, when it's impossible to run on online business without those things—things AMP is still using even now I know that Kerry Mand, the bookkeeper we brought in to fix the AMP accounting didn't get paid the hundreds dollars AMP owes her.  I know that Dominique Eastwick didn't get paid the full amount of money owed to her for promotions, formatting and uploading books to third party sites. 

And yet, when our company bought the Aurora Regency imprints, we paid AMP  immediately. And despite her illness, Ms. Hicks was certainly well enough at that time to drive immediately to her bank and cash that check, but was not well enough to fulfill the remainder of the contract OR to pay any of us, authors, editors and staff, some of the thousands of dollars she owes us.

This is what I know.

There may be some authors who got paid; I can't say that they didn't.  But I know for a FACT that the authors who have been the most vocal about AMP issues have not been paid. Not a penny.  Not since the royalties the senior staff sent out when we were running AMP. These are the same people Ms. Hicks banned from the company yahoo loop along with me, people who were unwilling to keep quiet about the  concern they felt for their books, their publications schedules, and their money.

In the end, the senior staff left AMP because we could not have our names and reputations associated with a publisher who put her personal needs above the needs of her authors and staff, who thinks it's acceptable to contract books and then either not publish them or not pay the author royalties on those sales, who believes that somehow SHE is the victim here and not the scores of people who've been left without income, who thinks that just by ignoring emails, phone calls and registered letters everything will just go away.

This publisher, once a leading ebook house with an owner/publisher whose integrity was accepted without question is the selfsame publisher now holding books and authors alike hostage, threatening to continue to NOT pay them if they speak out publicly against AMP because her two hours of work a day will be spent dealing with "threats" to the company.

I once said on this blog that I would never discuss the reasons the senior staff resigned at Aspen Mountain Press.  Now I have to consider that one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made.  But I—and the other staffers who left—had hopes that the publisher would do the right thing: reverting all rights to the authors, paying out the royalties due, and closing up shop.  In fact, we were told that was what would happen at our last meeting at AMP, the same meeting where we were told she would not sell AMP for less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

I have empathized with Ms. Hicks's personal situation. For a long time, I protected her because of it.  In other words, I enabled her to do exactly what she is doing right now.   For that, I've borne a terrible sense of responsibility when I listen to the authors at AMP and their distress and anger toward the publisher.  People are at AMP who would never have been trapped if I hadn't encouraged them to submit to MY publisher, the one publisher in the world I was certain would never cheat or deprive her authors and staff.

I hope this is all unnecessary. I hope that Ms. Hicks, who meant so much to me as a friend and mentor, will still manage to do the right thing.  But I don't condone holding authors' books and royalties hostage contingent upon their good behavior.  This is business, not a preschool. My money doesn't go to timeout because I acted out. There are a lot of ugly, legal terms one could use here—terms that I'm certain will be used in multiple court cases already peeking over the horizon.

So I think it's time to break the silence on this matter, time to let the world know once and for all what's really happened at AMP in my experience, in the hopes that somehow this knowledge might help to break the hold Aspen Mountain Press and its owner currently has on its authors and staff. I have documents to verify everything I've said.

 Publishers need to be held accountable for their actions.  It is time now for Aspen Mountain Press to pay what they owe.

 Give the authors their rights back.

Give the authors an internal audit of the books.

Pay the authors and staff what they are owed.

And shut the doors on a one-time great little publisher that is now the biggest cautionary tale of all.

And a special note to AMP authors, editors and staff--please post a comment on this blog detailing exactly the breaches of your contract.  Tell us the last time you were paid, the last time you got  a royalty statement. Let us know how you tried to contact Sandra Hicks, the owner of AMP, and how many times.  Let us know what she has said in response to you.  And I will continue to compile my articles and blogs about Aspen Mountain Press, complete with documentation, for publication at a later date.  I also encourage you all to report Aspen Mountain Press directly to watchdog sites and blogs.  Go to Preditors and Editors, or Piers Anthony's e-publishing blog.  Absolute Write has an active thread detailing the disintegration of Aspen Mountain Press.  Go to any writers guild you belong to, like SFWA or RWA.  

It's time for you to break the silence as well.


Marguerite Butler said...

I'll go first. I have received two statements in the last year. I haven't been paid since May of this year. In fact, I haven't received a single penny for my last book Death by Scandal.

I was one of the first to speak out and started the complaints on Absolute Write this summer. When some authors got paid in August? I did not.

Andy said...

My breaches are related to the royalty statements and the contract itself. To date, I've received five checks but only one statement and that went out when Kerry was going through the books.

Regarding the contract, I received the PDF file and printed two copies as requested. I initialed both where necessary, and also signed both copies of the signature page. I mailed them both with one of the initialed contracts to Ms. Hicks' attention, and about a week later she sent me an email stating she'd gotten the contract and had assigned my book to an editor.

When all of this was beginning to surface, I pulled my contract out and discovered I've never received the second signature page with Ms. Hicks' signature on it. I sent a letter via certified mail on Aug. 8 requesting the contract page, and an email on Aug. 17 for my missing statements. To date, I haven't received anything. I sent out a second letter on Sept. 20, giving her until Oct. 31 to rectify the situation. I still haven't heard one way or another from her, so I guess my next option is legal action of some sort.

Wayne Kernochan said...

I'm sorry you're all going through this. If it happened to me there would be holes in the ceiling

Berengaria Brown said...

I have one book at Aspen. It released in December 2010 and I've received one royalty statement and one payment.
I've asked for my rights back but received no answer.

Esther Mitchell said...

Even beyond a "breach of contract" I have had my Intellectual Property effectively stolen from me. Contracts on two of my books expired in 2010. No request was ever made by the publisher to renew said contracts. When I informed her of what I believed was an oversight, I was summarily ignored. Currently, she is violating Copyright law on two of my books, and soon will be on the third, as well, as the last book's contract expires in November.

I'm probably missing royalties, too, but I really couldn't care less about that small amount of money, anymore. I want the Copyright violations to cease. I want my books removed from AMP's site (I've already had them removed from the third party sites, no help or thanks to the publisher), and an official apology letter for her having sold my books without a valid contract since 2010.

Nya Rayne said...

I'll go third.

I signed a contract with AMP in July of 2010, but I was lost in the mist until January of 2011 (there was no meaningful contact with Ms. Hicks. My emails and update requests were basically ignored!!). My book was finally published, because of the fabulous four, in April of 2011. Since then I have recieved one royalty statement, which was grossly incorrect. It said that I had only sold one book, which couldn't be since I bought fifteen of them myself (yeah, you know how that is).

Anyway, I have been requesting an updated royalty statement and my monies since then and have to date recieved nothing from Ms. Hicks or her company. I have also not recieved another or corrected royalty statement and no more checks.

Now, I suppose, since I've posted this, my money will be put in time out for another six months or so.

Ms. Sandra Hicks if you're reading this, you turned what should have been one of the best decisions in my life into the WORST decision any person could ever make. I wish I had gone with my for thought and avoided you company like the plague.

Nya Rayne, one of many pissed off authors

Anonymous said...

I am an AMP author with two books being held hostage. For both books, I sent out the signature page of the contract for Sandra to sign on 6/27. To date, I've yet to receive the signed pages back.

Here are the timelines for my books:

Book 1:
- 9/15: My July royalties and statement were due. I never received them.
- 10/7: Sandra sent me an e-mail asking me where I wanted my royalties sent. I gave her my mailing address.
-10/13: I'm still waiting for royalties.

Book 2:
- 8/8: I submitted the manuscript per my contract. According to the editorial schedule, final edits were due 10/3 for a 10/24 release date.
- 8/17: I hadn't heard from an editor regarding Book 2, so I e-mailed Sandra asking her when I would be assigned an editor. I never received a response.
- 8/19: I didn't like the direction AMP was taking, so I sent a certified letter to Sandra offering to renegotiate the contract so I would waive my right to an audit and all royalties due in exchange for my rights back. I never received an answer.
- 8/22: Book 2 was listed in the "Coming Soon" area of the AMP website under my REAL name (not my pen name). I contacted Sandra every hour for the next 5 hours asking her to immediately remove my real name from the website.
- 8/30: 8 days later, Sandra finally removed my real name from the AMP website.
- 9/28: I mailed Sandra a certified letter notifying her that she breached the contracts for both Book 1 and Book 2. I listed each contract term she breached.
- 10/3: the final editorial deadline for Book 2 passed with NO word from an editor.
- 10/13: I'm still waiting for an editor. Obviously, Book 2 will not be released on 10/24.

Anonymous said...

Ziiiiing. As hard as I'm sure this was for you to do it needed to be done. Love you mom.

C Pierce said...

My book was accepted around August '10, but not published until July '11. To date I have rec'd NOTHING in terms of statements or royalties for books I KNOW were sold.
Cassandra Pierce

Jenny Urban said...

Liz asked me to give you some clarification that came up as we were discussing the AMP situation, as I am a long-time postal worker and she doesn't know the fine points that I have dealt with for most of my professional life. :)

If in fact Ms Hicks uses a Mailboxes-style storefront for her address, then by renting a box from them she has authorized them to accept letters and packages on her behalf and to sign for them. In other words, they are authorized agents and if they accepted a certified or registered letter, it should, as far as I understand the legal end of it, trigger that 90 day clause, because the sender can prove receipt. If this is the case, her address is going to be a street address with a suite number. They used to use PMB number (private mailbox) instead of suite number, but I haven't seen that used in years. The UPS store here, for example, is suite 1, and so their customers have 123 Main St Ste 1-456, 1 being the actual store and 456 being their box number. The point is, it will be a street address.

If her address is a PO box, that's an official Post Office box. Things that need a signature are not accepted on behalf of the boxholder. Instead, a peach colored slip of paper is left in the box to let the boxholder know they need to sign for something. If the boxholder does not pick the item up at the counter, it is held for a few days and then another slip is left in the box. If the item is still not picked up, it is returned to sender. It's been a few years since I handled those letters, so I don't remember for sure, but I believe it's held ten days from the first slip and then returned. If this was the case, authors would have received the letters they sent her by return mail marked unclaimed.

People should check the certified number or registered number at and see what information it shows. (Certified starts with a 7, registered starts with R, and they are not the same thing at all. We were told once that certified is the only service that is accepted as evidence in a court of law - that may depend on the judge in question, I don't know.) Reading between the lines of the information you have, I suspect the letters have been accepted on her behalf by a legally authorized agent and have not been answered. I would not be surprised to learn that they have been picked up and are accumulating in her home rather than in the box, as the boxes do not have infinite space. I don't know the size specifications or the overflow procedures for private services. I don't believe their boxes vary greatly in size from the official post office boxes. Our overflow is governed by law. Once the box is too full for more mail, it is pulled and held for ten days, at which time it is required by law to be returned to sender, and the box closed.

In my opinion, it's worth looking into, because I think it's entirely probable that the 90 day clause has been triggered for every author involved.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but that is fraud and theft and you should report her to the relevant authorities. If you haven't reported it you are as culpable as her.

Desirée Lee said...

This is awful. I am not published with AMP (nor do I intend to be), but I am an author who's been in the fray of two failed publishers. I sympathize with the authors, et al who are held in limbo. It is not a fun situation at all.

Best of luck to you all. BTW, I found this through a link posted in There's an Ebook in the Room group on Facebook. Word is getting around.

Carpe Noctem,

Author Desirée Lee
Putting the Romance Back in Necromancy

Celina Summers said...

Big thanks to the AMP authors posting their experiences here. I know how hard it is, but getting what happened to you specifically out there to the rest of the world is important.

Unknown said...

My name is Samantha Combs. My book, The Detention Demon, was contracted and edited for publication for the planned new imprint Aura Speculative Fiction, and scheduled to be released 10-3-11. My editor, Erica Mills, was never paid, and I never received a cover artist.
Aura never launched on Oct 1st and three emails and an official request for the return of my rights to the work have been ignored.
My book is still being held hostage, has never published and I can't get the rights to it back.
Celina, I applaud your courage and those of your fellow warriors. Thanks to you all.

Celina Summers said...

Hi Jenny--

Yes, you're right. I mentioned that to the AMP authors who are working together on these problems a while back. When the publisher signed a contract for that PO Box, she essentially made the employees there agents acting on her behalf. As a result all of those registered letters are ticking time bombs, eating away at the redress of breaches clause in the AMP publishing contract. Unfortunately, since AMP has not been removing out of contract books from their website or third party distributors, that doesn't keep them from continuing to sell--and not pay royalties on--those books. Until the AMP authors in this situation began to serve DMCA notices, those books remained for sale despite the protests of the authors.

Celina Summers said...

" Anonymous said...
I'm sorry but that is fraud and theft and you should report her to the relevant authorities. If you haven't reported it you are as culpable as her."

On that count I'm going to have to disagree. Once communications with the publisher broke down completely, we made sure that we did our homework and did it well. The worst thing we could do would be to misrepresent the situation and possibly creating more negative consequences for the authors and staff. Jumping into the fray without the proper information would accomplish nothing. So we shared our records with attorneys and got their professional opinions on what we could and could not do, as well as what we could say and could not say.

I've done my best for the authors at AMP, as have my former staff members there. Until her post this morning, I believed--as did we all--that the publisher intended to do the right thing.

I already feel a personal sense of responsibility because of the number of authors I brought to AMP and the number I contracted and worked with. But I don't feel any culpability for the publisher's actions financially. And I certainly don't carry any residual guilt for verifying my documentation and conferring with experts in criminal, civil and intellectual property law before making our experiences public.

Everything that I wrote about in this post are things that I, personally, experienced or have knowledge of and that I can verify with documentation in not only my hands, but in the hands of the former staff members and an attorney. I may be guilty of having a healthy amount of caution before throwing my hat into the ring here, but theft and fraud?

No, I don't think so. But thank you for your comment.

SJ said...

Though I've never done business with AMP or had dealings with Ms. Hicks, my heart goes out to all of you for such unbelievable failure to meet basic legal obligations and commitments made between author and publisher. There is NO EXCUSE for this kind of behavior. NONE! I am truly sorry what what each of you has had to endure in this situation.

I truly hope you all get appropriate resolution for the injustices done to yourselves and your work, and find peace at some point.

As hard as this was to go public about, thank you for sharing with the rest of us. It is indeed time for this to become public record, so that responsibility can finally be taken... whether by choice on Ms. Hicks' part... or by force. If one does not choose to become accountable, then one ultimately will be forced to be by the law and threat of severe penalties and jail time.

Perhaps THAT real threat would give her ample energy and inspiration to meet her obligations to each of you. I sincerely hope it does. Speaking out IS the answer in this case.

Best of luck to all,
SammyJo Hunt

Mark Alders said...

I was looking at AMP during the summer of 2009 for my debut story. Thank the Lord above I didn't send them my MS and I found the brilliant team at eXtasy!


Kit Zheng said...

Thank you so much for this post. Disturbing, if eye opening, and truthfully by now unsurprising.

My experience: I signed a contract at the beginning of 2009 and at first was well-taken care of by my editor. But she fell ill and had to leave, and after that, despite promises from Sandra, my book fell to the wayside. She never reassigned me a new editor, and as I got more and more weary of writing her with slow and then no response, I started asking for my rights back.

Eventually I posted on Absolute Write following up on an author's similar experience and Lori helped me. She assigned me to a wonderful editor and marvellously my book was back on track! It came out and I was really happy. (I think this was when you guys took over.)

My book was released in May. I heard the news that you guys were leaving, and wasn't sure what to make of that. Then Sandra sent out the email in August saying people were getting paid. She also asked myself and another author to contact her.

Worried she didn't have relevant information to pay me, I contacted her immediately, but received no response. Attempts to follow up also resulted in no response.

As time went on I became very concerned, and I saw that other authors were not paid as well, and in fact hadn't been paid in ages. For me that was the last straw. I was already worried when I heard she was taking over, given her track record on responding to me. She was in breach of contract by not paying me, so I wrote her to ask for my rights back.

Since then I've sent several emails. I've tried to find out what she wanted, and then to ask for my rights back, and then clarified that I was exercising my right to early termination of my contract and was willing to pay for my cover art and editing if that was what it took.

Still no response. I've recently sent a certified letter to her street address, but it has yet to be accepted (it's been a week since it arrived in her city, so...)

It's been extremely disappointing to say the least.

Cindi Myers said...

I had 8 books with AMP (thankfully now with Musa). In the year I was there I received One royalty statement -- and 4 or 5 very small checks. I did receive a few dollars in September -- first check since June. I've always felt the checks didn't represent what I was truly owed.

S.M.Bidwell said...

Out of six titles, three are out of contract. Can't recall when I last received a statement, except one before you resigned. If I'm not mistaken lack of statements voids all my contracts...oh...I'm not being paid royalties. Have received no responses to my attempts to contact Ms Hicks. I just want my works returned to me and to forget I ever heard of AMP.

Marialyss McKinley said...

As an AMP author I received 1 royalty statement and payment, nothing else. I am fortunate enough to be one of the authors joining Musa with the purchase of the Aurora line. I have absolute faith in Celina and the staff at Musa and couldn't be happier to be with them.

My heart breaks not only for my friends who have books still at AMP and but all their authors who put some much time and effort into their books and now are being denied their rightful royalties.

anieb said...

Brickwork RepointingWhatever happened to you is sad, but it was past and it is gone. I really appreciate that you came up and spoke your heart out. Because in this world it is very important to say what you want to!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous:

Celina is absolutely correct. In situations like this, the last thing you want to do is go in with guns blazing before gathering enough ammunition to last the battle. A healthy amount of caution is a wise thing before pulling the trigger. Any attorney would tell you that.

Unknown said...

I've received 1 statement in the last year and that was thanks to Kelly, who I believe was trying to fix a huge problem.
All emails and snail mail, certified mail has gone unanswered by Ms. Hicks. I've asked for the return of all seven books. I've also asked for an audit of all sales over the last 18 months as I feel my checks were grossly understated. With no statments how would one know. I wouldn't believe the statements at this point even if she sent one.
I also told her if she couldn't provide this I hire an attorney and sue AMP for breach of contract.
I've been send exactly 3 checks since the beginning of the year.
Seems I'm missing money.
I appreciate you coming out about these issues. I feel it's important for all authors to know that the publisher they believed in is falling apart.
Thanks to the four of you who tried to save us authors. I'll always be grateful to you Celina.

Sloane Taylor said...

Thanks for letting me sound off.:)

I have ten books with AMP. The three oldest went out of contract July 2010, October 2010, and March 2011. All three were still being sold on all third party sites, but AMP never sent me an extension form to agree to. I've had them removed from most of the third party sites. The other seven books are for seven calendar years, but each has contract breaches due to lack of royalty payments, statements, the AMP website being down, and the list goes on.

In 2011, I received one statement for the first quarter. It did not list all the books, which I assume means the non-listed sold no copies. I received monthly checks through April 2011. Since then, ZERO, including answers to my emails.

I want an official letter from AMP that all rights for all ten books are returned to me and that all ten books are removed from the AMP website.

Aline de Chevigny said...

I haven't received any royalty statements since September 2010, until the fab 4 sent me most of the missing ones. I'm still missing 3 that I know of, and to reach July 2011. And as I still have books up at Mobipocket that are still for sale, I also need the 3rd party sales statement for July and October 2011.

Every year since I signed on with AMP, I have asked for statements. I have 2-3 months worth of statements missing for every year I was with the company.

My last check was received in "I believe" August 2010 for April 2010 royalties. But I need to check my books when I get home to confirm tose dates.

I can say with 100 percent accuracy that I have not seen a dime since August 2010, and when I got an email from the fab 4 stating how much money I was owed, Sandra emailed me within minutes syaing that total was incorrect and tat she only owed me 1/5 of the amount stated and that she would need to check her bank account before she would send me my royalties.

Suffice it to say I have yet to receive said royalties and it's been 3 months snce my last contact with anyone.


Fiona Glass said...

I haven't been paid for my story in Shifting Perspectives 2 since mid-July, and that payment was already two months in arreas so effectively I haven't been paid since May.

The contract for the anthology expired on 1st October and one of my fellow authors had already let Ms Hicks know that we didn't wish to renew. I emailed on 3rd October to remind Ms Hicks of that fact and ask her to remove the book from the website; I received no response whatsoever and the book was still being sold from the AMP website and many third-party distributors. My fellow author has now contacted most of those distributors and they have kindly removed the book from their catalogues. It is still being sold by AMP (or was until the website went down) and I have still not been paid.

I consider myself lucky that I only have one short story tied up in this way and feel sorry for the authors with multiple book deals with the company.

Wendy Soliman said...

My contracted novel was due for publication in early August. It didn't happen, it's left in limbo, I've heard nothing from Hicks about an alternative date AND I don't actually have an enforceable contract since she never returned a signed last page.

Anonymous said...

I posted this on my two yahoo groups of which I own and moderate.

This blog post shows the nightmare authors can find themselves in when the above
is not followed. This I feel has set the epublishing industry back some steps
in terms of viability and fair dealings with authors, editors, artists,
marketing personnel, etc.

Many of the authors with AMP are fighting tooth and nail to get back their
stories. The editors, artists, and other personnel are owed thousands of
dollars. It has been a fiasco to say the least.

I sit and wait and hope for the best. Meantime, my stories Night Fantasies,
Stormbound, and the anthology story remain in limbo. As a widow on a fixed
income who pays for her medical, not to mention property taxes, income taxes,
and insurance premiums...this is not a good thing. Yet, I pray for all involve
to do the right thing for all of us who dealt with AMP fairly and had looked
toward a promising career in publishing.

Collette Thomas

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, this is a sign of the times. It's not right. It's not fair. But the fact is it's pretty damn easy to set up a publishing company. Corrupt, inept people with no business sense and no actual talent seem to excel at it. I've seen a lot of this shite in the 7 years I've been in this writing gig. And thank you for posting this. It's a good warning to newbie writers with stars in their eyes. Reality is watch the publisher like a hawk and trust no one but your own instincts.

Anonymous said...

I've suffered from debilitating, caused-me-to-neglect-obligations-that-shouldn't-be-neglected myself.

Her using that as an excuse is bullshit. Regardless of how depressed she may or may not be, the way she's chosen to use what energy she has demonstrates her priorities.

I have a lot of sympathy for people that are struggling to do their best to do right by people despite the limitations of a major depressive episode.

That's NOT what's happening here.

S Benton said...

My book was accepted by AMP in October 2010 and everything was fine. The release date was May 30, 2011 (which seemed a little long to me, but being new to this, I was okay). That date came and went with no word. I checked the AMP site regularly and finally found it, after searching specifically for it by title and author (it was quite thoroughly buried). It was not up on Amazon or any other sites. I sent an email which luckily coincided with the take-over by the 4. Everything snapped into gear: the book went up on the 3rd party sites, it was sent for reviews, I received a statement and one PayPal payment with help from Kerry. That was June.

And that was the end of any communication at all. When the 4 left I sent Dominique a thank you letter for all her help. It was amazing how much got done in the months they were in charge. It gave me some hope. I don't have much left now.

Haggis Chihuahua said...

My name is Steve Barber. My book, Blob and the Sous Chef, was published by AMP in September of 2010. Since that time I have received two small royalty checks and one statement.

I never received the two signed pages back from my contract. Given the number of people to whom this seems to have happened, it would be hard to argue this was not intentional on the publisher's part.

I have sent two emails requesting a full accounting of sales and payment of any revenues due me. They have, of course, been ignored. I will be sending one more email, then a certified letter by the end of the month. Once they have ignored that for three months, they will have been notified they are in breach and will have failed to rectify the problem. Then the rights become mine, as I understand it. This, by the way, would in no way absolve AMP from paying any amounts due and providing the accompanying accounting to prove the royalties reflect sales.

In the meantime I will do everything I can to let others know that AMP is to be avoided like the plague.

Thanks for speaking out, Celina. And thanks for going to bat for those of us not in the Aurora line too.

Darragha! said...

My step-father is an AMP author and has struggled with getting his books pulled down off the site, getting his rights back, and receiving royalties and royalty statements. It frustrates me, as I initially directed him to AMP as I thought it was a solid little house. Viva la Musa. Thank you for giving my step-father a "second life."

cynfulcharm said...

My situation with AMP started sometime at the end of 2010. Unaware of any internal problems at this point I submitted Demon Hunter 3 to keep it in the same publishing house as Demon Hunter 1 & 2. It took a very long time to even get back the signature page of the contract (which now I wish I NEVER received).

Months went by with me trying to find out the status of DH3. I only received random emails back saying it was being worked on with no evidence of that fact at all.

I believe it was almost 6 months went by with no action on DH3 whatsoever. At that time I emailed/snail mailed a letter to Ms. Hicks asking for my rights back to DH3 AND the first two in the series. She denied me stating DH3 would be out by August.

At this point I was extremely angry at the refusal but then the senior staff took over AMP and things began rolling. DH3 got edited, got an amazing cover, and a release date for August 29th, 2011.

After the senior staff resigned that release date came and went with no book in sight. I had spent quite alot of time and money for pre-promotion only to have the book not come out.

Furthermore, I have yet to see a single royalty check/statement since around February 2010.

I have sent Ms. Hicks a certified letter; a regular post letter, an email, and various correspondence on the authors loops citing breaches in the contract and once again requesting all rights back. I even supplied a "Rights Reversion Letter" and a SASE to make it "easier" for her to respond. To date I have heard nothing back.

Because of this I have had to pull my own work from my websites and halt all promotion on titles I worked very hard on because of this situation. I have also contacted attorney's on the matter.

Bottom line: I want my rights back to all three Demon Hunter titles.

Kim said...

Here's my experience:

1. For THE PURSUIT (published 7/10), I never received royalties or a statement for July, 2010, August 2010, September 2010, October 2010, April 2011

2. I haven't received royalties or a statement on PLAYING WITH FIRE (published 11/10)since February, 2011.

3. I did receive a laughable royalty check in August, but I don't know for which title, because there was no statement.

Uncle Sam said...

My God, what a mess. This is the worst I've heard of.

I wonder if the publisher is holding on, hoping another pub will buy hwer contracts. I remember after Tristilion folded, Siren eventually bought the contracts, but I believe that was out of bankruptcy.


Avery Flynn said...

Wow. I am so sorry for all of you having to go through this. What a bloody mess.

Lynn Chantale said...

I'm not an author of AMP, but my heart breaks for the staff and authors who have been wronged. I pray you all receive the resolution you deserve.

Pommawolf Emeraldwolfeyes said...

As I sat here and read this post my heart is literally breaking for all of you have been so horrible robbed.
I am simply a reader, but a former small business owner and cannot understand how she can expect any of you authors and former staff members to have 'PATIENCE" as you each have put your heart and souls into your work, and not received your due monies.
No business is run in such a fashion.
Is there a way that any of you can get together and hire an attorney to force her to comply without losing your work and due monies?
I tweet for many authors to help promote authors work as it brings me great joy to give back what little I can for what immense enjoyment you have given me as reader.
I send you all my love, thoughts and prayers and hope that you get all that belongs to each and every one of you.
You have been taken advantage of, and I wish there was something I could do to help.
Wish you all the best, and you all are in my thoughts.


Gillian Colbert said...

My heart goes out to you all. I am a self-published author, so not in the same boat. I hope that each of you is able to resolve your issue ... I did want to mention, however, that Ms. Hicks not signing for the letters doesn't mean anything. In general, the law considers a letter delivered as soon as you post it unless the contract explicitly states she must sign for the letter, so it was delivered the day you mailed it. They aren't time bombs, they've already exploded.

Best of luck to you all and Bravo for breaking your silence!!

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Celina, I can't thank you enough for explaining what was going on!!! I'm a small fish in this huge ocean of trouble. I have one book with AMP, and haven't received a statement for I'd say close to a year now. Since, my book never seemed to be a major seller, and I have others that are with another publisher, I just put the whole thing on the back burner because of my health issues. However, I sure would like my rights back, so I can re-release the book as Indie, or with another publisher.

I am so sorry to hear how the rest of you have suffered, and are still suffering. Yeah, the word needs to get out. I'll put a link on my blog to this post, and take down the link for my book. I don't want anyone purchasing it through AMP.

dpdsleafletdistribution said...

Wow. I am so sorry for all of you having to go through this.

Katrina Strauss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katrina Strauss said...

I can truly say I feel your pain. I once worked for a now-defunct e-publisher and personally witnessed the implosion from within. Like you, the EIC and I were placed in the uncomfortable position of liasons between disgruntled authors and uncommunicative owners. Our own frustrations led to our resignations just two weeks apart. (We wanted to leave at the same time, but privately agreed to space our exits lest everything collapsed at once.) The company folded about 6 months later. We spent another year trying to get everyone's royalties paid.

Four years later, I'm reading your post and I all I can think is deja vu, and not a vaguely familiar but downright spooky deja vu. Hang in there, because I can say with all honesty and experience that you WILL get through this mess.

Kimberly said...

It is a real shame that the website designer didn't leave a backdoor to shut it down in case payment wasn't received. Very sad story, and I feel for all the authors whose work is being held hostage and who are getting robbed by this miserable crook.

Kimberly said...

It is a real shame that the website designer didn't leave a backdoor to shut it down in case payment wasn't received. Very sad story, and I feel for all the authors whose work is being held hostage and who are getting robbed by this miserable crook.

Fenraven said...

This story and the accompanying comments scared the crap out of me. I'm a published writer, fortunately not with AMP.

Cautionary tale indeed! *shudder*

I've reblogged this and listed the source, so more people can read about it.

Anonymous said...

Anyone thought to try submitting your story to or another investigative news team?

As bookseller for over 14 years and a life long reader, I felt a deep sadness for all who have been touched by this avoidable tragedy.

Susan Kohler said...

I can't tell you how much I feel your pain at the open theft and deception of this publisher.

I thank God I found someone who suited my, and who I trust. I hop;e he feels the same way about me, since he only had a few books out when I came on board. Now he has many more books, and authors, but I still feel that I'm getting personal care from him.

Alexx Momcat said...

As a reader and wife of an author (not AMP) and editor I can empathize with all of you. Hubby has not gotten paid for his editing at one E publisher and the other seems to think that editors do not need to get paid as well. When you do the work you expect to get paid.

I so hope that this tale teaches others to do their due diligence and to pay attention to what is going on with their work.


Marcia Colette said...

I'm not an AMP author, but it pisses me off no less.

When AMP did a spotlight at RT (2010 in Columbus?), I had high hopes for the company, though I had nothing to submit to them. Everything said during that one-hour session was positive and honest, which is why I've been keeping my eye on them.

What a difference time makes.

My heart goes out to all of the AMP authors. Though I still remain skeptical of new presses, Musa Publishing has started off on the right foot and for the right reasons. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all continues to go well with Musa.

Thank you so much for bringing this all to light. More important, thanks for giving authors another option and renewed hope.

Lee Rowan said...

Good grief. What IS it about people who think that behaving like a 5-year-old -- crawl under the table and refuse to come out -- is a way to effectively deal with issues--that people will just write off the money they earned and need to live? She had FAR more help from all of you then she apparently deserved. It's a shame to see a once-respected press implode, but kudos to you for opening the abscess and breaking silence.

When Linden Bay sold out a couple of years ago, I considered submitting my books to AMP, but intuition said no. Whew.

Have you folks filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau in AMP's place of registration? I think that complaints from all the authors and staff would get their attention, and the BBB can sometimes resolve disputes. (Be sure to tell them that she agrees to take an action but does not follow through.)

Also, you could talk to the State Attorney General's office and see if you can, as individuals, file complaints for non-payment of debt. See what you can do without an attorney.

Good luck!

Jana DeLeon said...

I'm very sorry for all the authors (and staff) who are left in the wake of yet another business person who didn't give a damn. I fought this fight last year with Dorchester Publishing for the same reasons and finally got my rights back.

I would argue that if the publisher was still entering into contract already knowing they were in trouble and not going to perform their duties and issue payments, then fraud was committed. If breach of contract occurred (and it certainly sounds as if it did) and authors sent notification that they were claiming rights due to that breach, then it WAS illegal for the publisher to continue selling their books.

I also think the IRS would be infinitely interested in the co-mingling of funds going on by the owner.

I suggest every author who has a breach of contract situation send a certified letter stating that on ___ date, you will consider your rights reverted due to breach of contract and that lack of response will indicate agreement to such statement. Then I'd republish all of them yourself.

There is truly no excuse good enough for this kind of behavior. For every problem the owner has, there are staff and writers with worse problems. Get over yourself and do your job. You want sympathy - try doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has suffered with severe depression on and off over the last ten years (on for the last 15 months), I feel pretty disgusted by Sandra Hicks' excuses.

There have been times I've felt unable to complete things or felt too overwhelmed to meet family or frieds but I have always contacted people to explain or asked someone to do it for me. If I really cannot function, I have to take some time off because it isn't fair to people otherwise. Depression isn't a 'Get out of jail card' for neglecting your obligations. This is the real world and - like everyone else who suffers severe depression - you fight and find a way.

I have every sympathy for people who fight this disease. Unfortunately, it's people like Sandra Hicks who make it ten times harder because of how depression ends up being portrayed!

Well done on sharing your story. I wish you every luck with Musa.

My Summer Girl Books said...

Hicks' behavior is simply inexcusable. I feel horrible for all authors, editors and other staff involved. I hope Musa lasts and becomes a solid name in the publishing world and does not have any of the problems AMP did. Thanks for sharing your story warning authors and everyone else off of failing companies like AMP.

Michael Kingswood said...

This is just shocking to read.

It seems to me you folks need to go to the local District Attorney, the US Attorney, the Federal Trade Commission, local news, CNN, Fox News, NBC, CBS, and ABC with all of your documentation on this.

This is bordering on, and probably stepping over the line into, criminal behavior. Using business funds for personal purposes alone could constitute a criminal act, let alone the other things. Hoping that somehow this person will see the light doesn't seem to be working. Sounds like it's way past time to take action.

Just my $.02.

I hope this works out well for you all.

Michael Kingswood

Anonymous said...

I also want to extend my sympathies to everyone involved in this mess. I hope for the best for you all!

And as a small business owner myself, I find Ms. Hicks excuses and actions outrageous! Her sickness should not stop her from hiring an accountant. After having been burned by an unscrupulous epublisher she should know and act much, much better than this! Successful business ownership demands you make arrangements for the operations if you can no longer do it yourself, whether that means bringing in help or closing until you can resume, or shutting down entirely. We've had hurricanes, out of town projects and catastrophic injury and yet kept operating in all emergency conditions. Was it always smooth? No but we took care of ourselves, our customers and staff and lived to tell the tales. It's called business continuity planning.

I am no accountant but it seems to me this is also tax fraud and both she personally and the corporation are liable. If they can come after me for an honest mistake (regarding small amount of 401K income from an employer who had laid me off) that resulted in a tax penalty years after the fact, then I sincerely hope they audit her!

Sandra Rychel said...

I was hired as an editor by AMP in December 2010. Per instructions, I mailed out my signed contract to the head office, and the head office was to mail its signed copy to me. Standard procedure. By January, I still hadn't received AMP's signed contract, but I was assigned my first story by then managing editor Lori Basiewicz. I accepted to edit the story despite not yet having a contract from AMP in my hands, because I figured that with it still being the holidays and all, surely the contract was in the mail.

As weeks then months went by and edits on the story were well under way, I had asked Lori several times about my contract and if the company would send me a W-8BEN form, because I reside in Canada and a W-9 form isn't valid for me. I know Lori forwarded my emails about both matters to Sandra Hicks because she cc'd me on those emails. The only issue addressed by Sandra Hicks was that she would prefer to pay me through PayPal, no W-8BEN form needed. Nothing was ever said about my contract. At that point, though it was becoming clear to me that there was some serious mismanagement going on and that without an official contract there was little chance I would be paid for my work, out of respect for the author whose story I was editing, I did not walk from AMP. I completed edits on the story, and it has since been published.

When I read Celina's email to AMP's editor loop a few months later regarding her and her colleagues taking over the business aspects of AMP, I wrote to her about my situation, supported by my email exchanges with Lori. Celina with all sincerity assured me she would look into the matter of my contract. I was relieved and hopeful, but only for a short time, as barely a month later, Celina and her colleagues resigned from AMP.

So now, without a contract and, because I am not an American citizen, with no other recourse with which to pursue rightful payment for work completed, I have every reason to believe I will never see a penny for my work on that story. The only proof I have that I was an editor for AMP is my email exchanges with Lori, Celina, and the author, and the fact that I am credited as editor in the book. I am beyond angry about my experience with AMP and disgusted with Sandra Hicks in particular, but I feel most terrible for the author I worked with, because I believe this was her first experience with publishing, and from the comment she's left here, I see she's not received royalties due to her for her book.

Eden Elgabri said...

I have one book with AMP. About a year after it was released I asked why I'd never recieved any royalties. I was told I had. Um, nope, trust me I would have remembered that. Then I was told it went to paypal - I didn't even know I had a paypal account so I asked for it to be sent to me directly as per the contract. I was sent a ten dollar check. This was quite awhile ago and I never was sent anything else. For this reason I never submitted anything else to AMP. I did email Sandra to get my rights back and the email came back as undeliverable.

Unknown said...

Sadly, this isn't the only cautionary tale. I could add three more names to the "avoid at all costs list," cases documented by posts such as this. It's such a shame when simple communication could have avoided such a debacle. I wish the authors much luck. Having been through the stress and aggravation more times than I ever expected, you have my heartfelt sympathy. Thank you for sharing.

Byron Hays said...

Celina and Lori,

Thanks for fighting the good fight. I have appreciated your professionalism and assistance over the past months.

I have sent a certified breach of contract letter, and notified my attorney. The meter is indeed running.

What a shame.

Unknown said...

My first novel, Spawn of the Solstice, a paranormal thriller, was published by AMP (I suppose, because it was posted front-and-center on their website)on August 15, 2011.
My contract states I would receive a royalty check (if it sold zero copies, at least a royalty statement)45 days following that date--October 1.
I've sent several emails to Ms. Hicks inquiring about the royalty schedule, and have received no answers.

Erich Beller said...

Hi Celina, I can't believe I came so late to this unexpected party. But, since you asked, I believe the last time I received any royalties payment was in April, and the last communication I had with Sandra was during that time. I was trying to get my tax forms from her, and that alone was an extremely complicated process. I've since contacted her in regards to the rights to my two books, and I'm waiting to hear back.

Anonymous said...

My manuscript was accepted earlier this year at AMP, and I was set up with an editor named Angela. We got off to a really good, fast start. But then one day, she sent me an e-mail stating she was leaving the company due to trouble with the publisher. She didn't go into much detail, but I figured it had to be pretty bad if the main staff all decided to leave the company. Editing has only begun on my manuscript, and I've heard nothing from anyone on what's going on with AMP-until now. My book took me a very, very long time to complete, and is very important to me. Having it held hostage by a selfish, non-responsible child is an enormous insult to all the work I put into the story. Sandra Hicks should be thoroughly ashamed.