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When small presses go bad

Being traditionally published isn’t always a fairy tale. When small presses go bad, they can go very, very bad.

ChiZine Publications (CZP) published some sci-fi and fantasy but focused on horror stories. The experience of their authors reads like one.

CZP is accused by multiple authors of withholding royalties, creating a toxic workplace for authors and employees and failure to uphold their publishing contracts. CZP co-owners Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory stepped down from their roles as publisher and managing editor on November 11, but the future of the publisher remains unclear.

Victoria Strauss investigated these claims for Writer Beware.

“CZP authors and staff began to come forward with their own experiences--a tsunami of serious allegations including non-payment (some staff say they were never paid for years of work), extremely late or missing royalty payments (years in arrears in some cases; many authors report having to fight for what payment was received), erratically-produced royalty statements (CZP breached at least some of its own contracts by sending out royalties once a year instead of bi-annually--more on that below), missed pub dates, broken marketing promises, and financial mismanagement--especially concerning, since a big chunk of CZP's budget comes from grants and subsidies."

Strauss found that the publishing contracts were very lopsided in favor of the publisher. The contract gave small advances, delayed payment for over a year after publication and withheld 50% of royalties indefinitely in case of returns. The industry standard is closer to 25-30% withheld for one royalty period.

My heart bleeds for these authors. They thought that getting a publishing contract was the answer to their dreams. Watching as their book releases were mismanaged and their royalties were delayed or embezzled must have been a nightmare.

There are two ways for you to avoid a mess like this. One, publish independently so you are your own boss. Two, if you are offered a traditional contract always secure the services of a reputable literary agent. An agent can recognize an awful contract, advocate for you and steer you away from publishers with a bad rap.

Even the best small press has limited distribution, a small marketing budget and needs to take a large percentage of the book revenue to cover their overhead. A good one has staff that believe in your book, offer guidance and follow through on their promises.

Would you risk signing over your rights to a small press?

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