Friday, October 21, 2011

Breaking My Silence on Aspen Mountain Press--Part 3: Epilogue

I had to take a few days off and NOT think about Aspen Mountain Press. After all, I have my own business to think about and my own writing career.  But now, at the conclusion of a hellish week, I've decided to follow the links to my blog all over the internet and see what people were saying and thinking about what's happened at AMP.  As a result of that trek, there are a few things I want to discuss.

There seems to be a common thread among the comments that the AMP authors and staff are sitting back doing nothing.  That's about as far away from the truth as you can get.  

Stop and think for a minute. Would it be prudent or wise to discuss LEGAL actions on the internet?  Of course not. Why would anyone exploring legal avenues discuss their plans online, where not only people who are not involved can see them but the party against whom such actions would be taken?  Several of the AMP authors are attorneys, and an attorney had seen my documentation before I ever said a word.

On top of that, the AMP authors have been anything but passive.  Unlike previous small press implosions, this group of authors banded together and worked out a concrete strategy for dealing with AMP.  (And no, I wasn't the one who did that. I and the other staffers who'd walked were keeping our noses out of it as much as possible, in the hopes that our departure would galvanize the owner into rectifying some of the more serious breaches of contract.)  They managed to get AMP books taken down from third party sites pretty much across the board.  A few sites still carry AMP products, and they are now the focus of that group of authors.  

Anyone who's not involved can proffer advice to contact the FBI, the DA, the IRS, etc etc.  That's not a problem. What IS a problem is the assumption that these authors were too stupid or too scared to do that.  Whatever is posted on these blogs by AMP authors and staff is just the merest surface of what's going on.  

In the end, though, there are lessons to be learned here--lessons for every writer out there.  First off, there is NO SUCH THING as a contract that can't be negotiated.  In our eagerness to sign on the dotted line and get our works published, there are sections of the contract we rarely pay attention to.  The first publishing contract I signed, I never even THOUGHT about taking a look at the breach of contract section.  I just never considered it likely that the company would fall apart. I never thought to make sure there was an out clause for me if the company disintegrated.  I was naive. Many new writers are. 

Second, as soon as communication starts to become a problem--and particularly with a sole proprietorship--you need to address that issue IMMEDIATELY.  That seems to be the number one symptom of imminent implosion.

Third, I believe all writers at small presses need to have the mysteries of royalties eradicated.  When we started Musa, one of the key points for us was developing a database for our authors to be able to track their sales in real time.  We want our authors to know exactly what they're getting paid and when.  As far as I'm concerned, there is no reason to keep writers ignorant of how they're going to be paid.  Not one. 

Fourth and finally, if the unthinkable happens follow the example of the AMP authors.  Band together with other authors in the company.  Determine a set strategy. Follow through on that strategy absolutely.  When a retail giant like Amazon pulls a company's books due to complaints from that company's authors, you know the strategy will work.

This blog is the absolute last word I have regarding Aspen Mountain Press, its owner Sandra Hicks, and the resultant actions. Ever. And while I am still really pissed off that matters have come to this, I am also grieved as well.  Sandra Hicks was my friend and mentor. The health problems she is experiencing are very real.  Does that excuse her actions in my eyes? No, it doesn't.  She's not been ignorant of my opinions regarding sending checks out without royalty statements or her lack of communication. There's a year's worth of correspondence to support this contention. 

There are still questions that I and the rest of AMP need answers for.  Are our royalties/salaries going to be paid?  When?  Is AMP reverting all rights to the authors and closing down?  If so, when?  Are we going to be provided an accounting for the royalties we received--or didn't receive--over the past 15-18 months?  If so, when?

My opinion is that only a certified CPA can untangle the AMP accounts enough to make that accounting to the authors.That's not what bothers me.  What bothers me the most is that while AMP authors weren't getting paid their royalties, that money was being used by the owner for things that it shouldn't have been.  

That, my friends, is the cold, hard, unpleasant truth.

This week, I was asked by a journalist in AMP's home town for an interview.  After much thought, I decided that these blog posts were going to be my final statement about Aspen Mountain Press. I discussed this with the remainder of the senior staff that walked with me from AMP, and as one of them put it: "I think that is hitting below the belt.  You were trying to protect authors and help them.  Writing about her in her home town is a witch hunt."

That's a sentiment I agree with entirely. 

Let's be frank here--we're not talking about a multi-million dollar company here.  We're talking about a small publisher who, quite frankly, got overwhelmed at a time when her inexperience cost her dearly.  Once in the trap, she kept digging herself deeper until she couldn't find her way out.  To be honest, her biggest mistake was getting into the publishing business at all.  She understood the publishing--not the business. What needs to happen now between AMP and its authors/staff can be boiled down to the following:

1) The immediate and unequivocal release of all books and contracts still held by the company.

2) The immediate audit of the AMP books by an accountant who is not involved with the situation.

3) The immediate accounting of all royalties due to each author.

4) The remuneration of any and all unpaid royalties and salary to each unpaid author and staffer.

That's it. Period.  Once that happens, everyone--including the owner--can move on to a new chapter in their lives.  And then, AMP can be held up as another cautionary tale on the gate of the bone yard where small presses go to die. 

And THAT, my friends, is all she wrote.

No more Aspen Mountain Press.  Godspeed.

ETA--Or maybe not.  Today, my attention was brought to the owner's Facebook page--a page that's nothing but Bible quotes and updates about things like going to a concert.  So the owner is too ill to right the ship and two hours of work saps her energy, but she is still well enough to post on Facebook and attend concerts?

On top of that, an AMP author (book lost in limbo) contacted me today claiming AMP had written to HIM. asking him if he wanted his rights back OR if he wanted to publish with AMP.  Due to this new turn of events, I have to reluctantly conclude that AMP's owner has no intention of closing and will reopen the AMP website for business before the sixty day window stipulated in the contract has passed.