Inexperienced publishers are one of the pitfalls of the small press world. They are far more likely to have nonstandard business practices, issue poor contracts, get into financial and/or logistical trouble, and go out of business after just a few years–sometimes without canceling contracts and reverting rights, or paying money owed to authors and staff. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll be very familiar with such stories. If you’re an author, you may well have personal experience.
So I wasn’t terribly surprised when, in mid-2017, I began getting complaints about late royalty payments and poor communication at Fiery Seas. Just a trickle…but enough, and similar enough in the details, to spur concern.
Then, on August 28 of this year, FSP authors received an alarming email from Williams. Due to “different events,” and “sales numbers not being where they need to be,” the company was re-structuring: eliminating paperbacks, switching distributors (from Ingram to Baker & Taylor), and re-vamping the royalty statements. If authors wanted to leave, they were free to do so. The email also acknowledged–indirectly–the communications issues I’d been hearing about.
Good morning,I wanted to take a moment and send an update on many things happening here at Fiery Seas and hopefully put some of you at ease.Due to the many different events that have taken place and sales numbers not being where they need to be, Fiery Seas will be restructuring our business.We have had major issues with our distributor and they are issues that are out of my hands. While I have had to explain this many times in the past little while. I want to make sure that everyone is aware. I have been going around and around with them for not replacing damaged books, messing up orders, not getting orders out on time, and more. We have had some issues with retailers not uploading and making our paperbacks available when all of that information is available to them. We could have all of them up on all other sites, but one and they have the same information sent from Ingram. These are things I can’t make them do. I call and I complain until I’m blue in the face, but I still have to wait to see what will happen. So, for this reason we will make some changes to the way we do things.First, we will no longer do paperbacks until a threshold is met, at that time we will look at print runs. This WILL NOT affect the books that are coming out this year or those that are already out. However, we will be changing our distribution channels starting now and slowly move all of our titles to the new channels.We will be working on more promotions to get our books in front of readers. We have new outlets we are working on for this to spread our reach. We will work on doing more genre-related promos, as well. We are working on these things already, but will hit them full force come 2019Our royalty statements structure will change to make it more updated and correct the current issues we have run into this year. Yes, we have seen the problems and only want to fix them and KEEP them from happening. This will be completed by the end of this year and everything will be ready for the New Year.We understand that many will be unhappy with our decisions and may decide to leave the company. We completely understand this and will do what we can to help the process or help with whatever you may decide to do. We will ask for 90 days to finalize everything and all proper accounting to be done, if you decide to leave us.We are starting this process now and plan to have it completed by the end of the year. This means things will be delayed, but we are working very hard on everything so it doesn’t happen again.This doesn’t fix what has already been done, but it will make things better. I started this company because I love working with authors and love the publishing industry. This is not an easy business and it takes dictation [sic]. Like many of you, I too work outside of Fiery Seas, but I pull more hours on than you know, even if you don’t always see my actions. I know I have a ton of emails to go through and that I will have more after this email. I think some of them get lost at times because I have so many. It is not because I’m ignoring anyone or that I don’t want to answer you. It is because I’m trying to get through them all. Working on issues along the way. So, just know that I will respond to you ASAP and I am listening to everything you say.There will be more updates over the course of this restructuring to keep you all informed. Questions will be addressed as quickly as possible.All the best,Misty WilliamsPublisherFiery Seas PublishingFSP authors, who’d been concerned for several months about problems at the company, began contacting me. Complaints included missed pub dates; delayed (by months) royalty payments and statements; absent royalty payments and statements (one author told me they had never been paid); royalty statements missing sales the authors could prove had been made; failure to register copyrights, even though FSP’s contract (unusually for a small press) requires the publisher to do so (I confirmed this myself via the US Copyright Office’s registration database); and difficulty getting firm answers to their questions. When challenged on the payment delays and lack of sales numbers, for instance, Williams blamed Ingram; at other times she claimed to be ill, overwhelmed with email, or “working on it.”
One author who pushed to be paid had their book pulled from distribution (the author showed me proof that they are owed several thousand dollars). Another contacted RWA to report the payment issues at FSP; an email to Willliams from RWA Executive Director Alison Kelley did produce a royalty check–but only for part of the amount due. I also heard from an FSP editor who told me that they had received payment for only six of the over 20 projects on which they worked.
I emailed Williams with a list of author-reported problems and a request for comment. She acknowledged that “we have had some issues”, and stated that FSP’s “main focus right now is to make sure that everything gets done and to the authors like is [sic] should be…we will make sure that all authors get what they are due.” She did not address any of the specific problems I mentioned.
FSP authors say they are still waiting for payment, and struggle to get a response from Williams. In another sign of turmoil at the company, FSP will soon be losing its marketing director: her contract ended in September and apparently will not be renewed. I’m told that the only remaining FSP staff are Williams and two part-time editors.
FSP is currently closed to submissions, which seems sensible given the circumstances.