behind the curtain

So people who are watching quite a specific sub-section of our quite specific subgenre are likely to have noticed the controversy surrounding a recent blogpost by Aleksandr Voinov concerning the non-publication of his novel Nightingale and his increasingly negative feelings towards the company he co-founded.

I want to start off by saying three things. The first is that, in the spirit of full disclosure, I write for Riptide and so I do, in fact, have a horse in this race. If people start boycotting them, they are, in a very real sense, going to be boycotting me and that’s, well, non-ideal from my perspective.  The second is that, despite this and also in the spirit of full disclosure, my relationship with RP hasn’t always been smooth and I’ve had my fair share of miscommunications with them. So, on some level, I can see where Voinov is coming from. And I understand the hurt and anger and sense of powerlessness you get when you feel like you’re being totally dicked around. Working relationships are complicated and, without playing too much into stereotypes, writers tend to be emotional, nervy, temperamental people, and that makes us genuinely hard to manage. It’s part of the reason agents are so important.

The third thing I want to say, though, cuts to the reason I’m writing this post which is that I feel this is very much an industry issue. Writing is a funny business because, especially in these days of social media, writers are extremely accessible and the way readers interact with books makes them feel they have a lot of ownership over them. But, in fact, the way that publishing works as an industry is really opaque to people who don’t actually work in it. It’s been a steep learning curve for me and I still mostly leave it to my agent, editors and publishers. The full details of what is currently going on with Alekesandr Voinov, Riptide and the publication of Nightingale are complex, technical and—in quite important ways—proprietary information.

The main thing that bothers me about the original post is that it’s framed as an explanation of why the book will not be published but it doesn’t actually communicate well to its audience what the situation really is. It goes into just enough detail about the technicalities to create an impression that could be construed as misleading and is likely to be especially misleading to readers who lack specialist information about the mechanics of publishing.

At its most basic level, whoever holds the rights to something gets to control how and when it is published. If, for whatever reason, you do not currently hold the rights to your work (and most authors won’t most of the time because those rights go to the publisher when you sign a contract with them) then that is simply the situation as it is. If your book is currently under contract with a publisher, you aren’t allowed to self-publish it, no matter what other circumstances may exist.  As Riptide’s statement makes relatively clear, Voinov offered a book for pre-sale knowing that he was not legally entitled to publish it. This was, at best, optimistic.

Taking as read that he did not intend to defraud his readers, he clearly expected that the rights would have reverted to him by the publication date but the fact that they did not is entirely his responsibility.  He chose to offer a product for sale that he was not, when he made the offer, legally entitled sell. It was up to him to make certain that he would be legally entitled to sell it when the time came. I know from personal experience that rights negotiations can be long and tricky because publishers do, in fact, have an investment in the books they publish. Rights are a resource—in fact, they’re a monopoly on a scarce resource—and people negotiate strenuously over them. This is not generally evidence of greed or malice on anybody’s part: it’s just how things work. Quite simply, if a person, institution or (to use Voinov’s word) “entity” controls something valuable, it is not reasonable to expect that entity to give up control of the valuable thing merely because it is convenient to a third party.

It would, theoretically, be in Riptide’s power to unconditionally waive all rights to Nightingale or simply turn a blind eye to its being illegally published but this would be a terrible, terrible precedent. Publishing houses stand or fall by their IP and if I can sell a book myself while a publisher still owns the rights, then that publisher’s entire business model falls apart. As best I understand it, RP has, in fact, offered to sign the rights to Nightingale over to Aleksandr Voinov for free as a gesture of good will. They have said they will do this once the partnership has dissolved. The partnership is still under negotiation. Now, yes, they could sign the rights over anyway but they are under no obligation to do so. Again, the only reason that the time at which the rights were handed over became critical was because Voinov—of his own free will—committed to a specific publication date.

If somebody offers to give you something that they own for free, you do not really get to complain that they have failed to give it to you at the time of your choosing. If you offer to give me your Back To The Future boxset and I, without consulting you, invite a bunch of friends around to do a Back To The Future-thon on the 21st October 2015 and you don’t manage to get the DVDs to me until the 22nd, it’s not your fault that my party failed. If you offer to give me your Back To The Future boxset and then we get into a massive argument about something and this contributes to your unwillingness to prioritise giving me your property for no return, I do not get to claim that you are using my Back To The Future party as a stick to beat me with. Expecting what amounts to a gift from a person, institution or entity while at the same time being actively and publicly hostile to that entity is simply not reasonable.

The original post asserts quite explicitly that RP are holding Nightingale “hostage” in order to apply pressure in the on-going negotiations. I can see why Voinov feels like this—I’ve felt like that myself, at times—but I also feel like this is a dangerous and potentially misleading way to characterise something that is basically completely normal. I mean, yes, technically if RP won’t release the rights to Nightingale until the partnership is dissolved, then we could say that RP are holding the book hostage to get the agreement they want but we could say with equal honesty that Voinov is holding the negotiations hostage to get the agreement he wants.  Hell, if we really wanted to push it, we could say that if I go into a Starbucks and order a coffee, then until the moment I pay, I am holding my money hostage to get the drink I want, while the barista is holding my flat white hostage to get my money. Put simply, all trades, exchanges and negotiations that are not completely unconditional can be described in terms of things being held hostage. The language is needlessly emotive.

When you get right down to it, a negotiation is just a highly structured and potentially expensive argument. And the thing about arguments is that everybody involved thinks that everyone else involved is being unreasonable. And, again, I should stress I understand why Aleksandr has had the emotional reactions he has had and why he has written about them in the way he has written about them. These sorts of processes are draining and frustrating and infuriating for basically everyone involved. But I think it would be deeply unfair to judge the ethics or the conduct of a company on which a number of people rely for their income on the basis of one man’s hurt and anger, no matter how genuine or justified it is.

Riptide is doing nothing wrong by insisting that Voinov not publish Nightingale while they still have the rights to it. They have done nothing wrong nor have they failed in any responsibility by not giving him the rights before the date that he chose to set for the book’s publication. I have seen no evidence that RP are actively trying to bury Nightingale or, indeed, that they have no intent to publish it. They have stated publicly that they would be happy to do so (just as they are equally happy to return the rights to the author). What we are seeing here is a glimpse into the always messy and often grubby world of asset management and contract negotiation. Everybody involved is a grown up. This is not David versus Goliath. This is not The Man picking on The Little Guy. This is an essentially private disagreement between the owners of a company that one of them has, somewhat bizarrely, chosen to make public.

I cannot help but feel that if I was in a similar situation and wished to write a blog post explaining to my readers why a book I had said would be published on a particular date would not be published on that date, I would probably say something like “I’m sorry for the delay in the publication of this book but I have yet to secure the rights from my former publisher. It will be released as soon as negotiations are completed.” Anything else would feel uncomfortably like an attempt to frame the narrative and drag readers into a dispute that I sort of feel it’s my job to keep them out of.

If you’re an author and this has made you concerned about selling to Riptide, I suggest you talk to other authors who’ve written for them. You could start with, for example, me. You could also contact Riptide directly. I’m sure they would be very happy to address your concerns.

If you’re a reader who isn’t sure Riptide deserves your support, then I’d say broadly the same thing. Talk to them, talk to other people who write for them. And, also please bear in mind that publishing houses, especially small digital publishing houses, are more than just their owners. When you buy, for example, my books, you’re not just supporting RP, you’re supporting me, my editor, my agent, the proofers, the artists and all of the other, hardworking invisible people who take a book from nothing to something.

If you really feel that Aleksandr Voinov has been badly treated (and I can completely see why you might feel that), the best way to support him is not to go after the other party in an on-going negotiation. It’s to buy his books, read them, talk about them, review them and tell your friends. Just like I’m sure you’re doing already.


31 Responses to behind the curtain

  1. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Yes, I think everything you’re saying here is entirely reasonable & this is a pretty balanced perspective. I haven’t been paying tons of attention to this whole thing, but I am aware of it. I was kind of thinking about it today & that’s the part that bothers me most, that any boycott would affect so many other people, all the authors & as you say, the less visible others involved in the work of publishing & marketing a book. People who, are essentially innocent bystanders who could be hurt by a boycott.

    Of course, you could say this is always the case in boycotts of businesses, but I guess what I personally would feel justifies a boycott in those circumstances is when there’s some sort of large scale wrongdoing being perpetrated by the business that affects large numbers of people. I’d have to think long & hard before I’d join a boycott of a business over something affecting an individual, unless I felt that individual represented an entire class. I mean, okay, granted, I might get personally angry at an entity (or person) I felt mistreated a personal friend & choose not to support or have any dealings with that entity or person, but a boycott seems a bit too extreme. Not to mention the fact that if you boycott every business that makes you mad, either on your own behalf or someone else’s, there wouldn’t be a business left in the world to patronize!

    I’d add that I think it’s always risky for outsiders to jump to a conclusion about “right” or “wrong” in any complicated situation. And I would default to assuming “complicated” in most things because . . . well they usually are 🙂

    • Alexis Hall says:

      For what it’s worth, I should point out that Voinov has made it very clear in his responses to commenters that people shouldn’t boycott Riptide for pretty much all of these reasons. And I agree that in situations like this the only sensible conclusion you can reach is that it’s probably complicated and you don’t have access to all the information.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ok, this is a reasonable post on the matter.

    Disclosure: This is just my opinion based on both posts and I don’t know anyone involved.
    That being said, I am #TeamNobody on this.
    I think AV was in the wrong when he put book on preorder. You can’t put book on preorder based on hope/promise/expectation you are getting your rights back. From reader/buyer’s pov, I couldn’t care less I spent money- amazon system is quick to react and return money to anyone who preordered. This was simply incredulous to me because this is not his first book; and it’s definitely not his first rodeo in selfpub- he had to know that he has to own publishing rights to do that.. I am also in complete agreement with you about the way he constructed his post.
    As for Riptide, this is a bit more tricky. Anyone ifs free to make their boycotting decisions the way they want; but I am definitely not boycotting them over this. First, because when it comes genre this discussion is relevant for, I usually follow author to a certain publisher, not the other way around (the only exception to that rule is Blind Eye Books, I just buy everything they put out, but it’s a trust they earned).
    Second, because I don’t think Riptide did something that would warrant boycotting. That’s reserved for publishers who are keeping money to themselves and not paying royalties to authors and other people involved in the whole process.
    The reason i am team nobody is that statement. What you said about Voinov’s post- “that it doesn’t actually communicate well to its audience what the situation really is. It goes into just enough detail about the technicalities to create an impression that could be construed as misleading and is likely to be especially misleading to readers who lack specialist information about the mechanics of publishing”- same could be said about theirs. There are contradictions in that statement:
    Dissolving his membership status is a complete different legal issue from Nightingale rights. First is legal issue between members, second is issue between author and publisher. As Riptide statement says, he offered for rights to stay with them until the end of its contract (book contract, not the negotiations) because the book was already in the process of publishing with them instead of purchasing them back at that point (they have two options: to terminate existing book contract or they can wait for existing contract to end). But then Riptide ties those two issues into one in their statement and continue to write “he knew he was not supposed to put book on preorder before agreement was signed.” This is framed to make him look bad and that he is the one to blame book is not out . This is where I eyerolled. He is not suppose to put book on preorder because he has no rights. He has every right to refuse to sign the agreement he is not happy with and return to table to negotiate further. Two separate things.
    I read it this way : Basing on Voinov’s posts (and not just this post, but his previous posts about this book) and what I (didn’t see ) saw from RPs announcements, they weren’t involved in final process of putting this book out. They say in statement they were with “significant expense on the production and marketing” (Voinov is more specific on level of their involvement, but he said he was supposed to pay them from his royalties when it comes to work on cover their marketing department did which is not how this usually works if you are going through publisher instead of selfpub) , but this is all hearsay without the receipts. I am of an opinion this book wasn’t in Riptide’s publishing plans.
    Now, i understood their “gesture of goodwill” entirely different from you. How is ” you can have your rights free if you sign the agreement” different from “this is how much getting your rights for Nightingale will cost you” ? He is paying for them either way. This is the agreement he is not satisfied with and yes, I will defend his right to fight to get a better deal for him and not agree to their agreement just as much as I will theirs. They saw the opportunity and used the Nightingale rights for leverage in dissolution of a partnership negotiations. And I am 100% ok with that from legal stand because they got him and it’s not like he didn’t walk himself into it with release date and preorder time stamp. They watched him selling that book to readers for months before they pulled that move (timing is also very convenient) and they have every right to do it.
    As much as I understand the need for their response since some readers could have interpret Voinov’s post as call to boycott, I really dislike how they responded to it and the fact they felt the need to respond at all. Readers are witnessing them throwing dirt in each other’s faces which doesn’t make either of them looking good or professional. What does that mean for negotiations? they didn’t move one iota- the fact Voinov is relinquishing Nightingale is a signal he thinks they offered him a bad deal and mood is definitely worse after this whole fiasco. What does that mean for readers? Just a bad taste in mouth and no book in foreseeable future.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thanks for commenting – I think you raise some very good points. I do want to address a couple of them because, again, I think this is a complicated situation and it’s important to get things laid out clearly.

      On the conflation of dissolution and rights: you’re right that these are technically two separate things but they appear to be packaged together in this situation. This is does strike me as a bit odd but odd situations arise in contract negotiations all the time. I don’t think it’s fair to characterise the fact that the rights for Nightingale are now bound up with the dissolution agreement as a power play on RP’s part. If Voinov wanted to pursue them as separate issues he could have. Why he’s chosen not to, I couldn’t say. For what it’s worth, as far as I know, Voinov has handled all these negotiations himself rather than working through an agent. And I know from experience that using an agent (someone who does this sort of thing professionally and really knows what they’re doing) makes all these processes much smoother, more painless and less confusing. This might go some way to explaining how things have wound up in such a weird situation.

      On goodwill: you also seem to object to RP’s use the phrase “gesture of goodwill” to describe their agreement to hand over the rights to Nightingale once the dissolution agreement is signed. This is basically a semantic argument. It’s a bit like when something is on “buy 1 get 1 free” in a shop. It’s not really that you’re buying 1 and getting 1 free, it’s that you’re buying 2 for the price you’d normally buy 1 for. My assumption is that RP describe their agreement to hand over the publication rights to Nightingale on completion of the dissolution agreement as a “gesture of goodwill” EITHER because it is not formally part of the agreement itself OR because it was added to the agreement with no reciprocal concessions from Voinov. (I do not know which, if either of these, is the case). Yes you can argue that, as long as the transfer of rights is contingent on the dissolution agreement being signed that he is, on some level, “paying for them” in the same way that when you get a free gift with something you purchase, you’re paying for that. But, again, we’re now in a situation where I’m not sure where your concern is or what Voinov’s complaint is. RP offered to give him his rights back if he took a certain set of actions. He refused to take those actions but continues to act as though he has the rights anyway. And now seems to feel aggrieved that RP have not lived up to their end of the bargain despite the fact he has not lived up to his.

      On Voinov’s rights: I find this part of your comment a little bit confusing. You seem to feel by claiming that Voinov did not have the right to self-publish Nightingale until he had signed the dissolution agreement that RP were somehow claiming he did not have the right to negotiate over it. This is not what they were saying or what anyone was saying. He obviously does have the right not to sign anything he doesn’t want to sign. But because the situation that he has negotiated ties up the publication rights for Nightingale with the dissolution agreement, his choice not to sign would inevitably delay the publication of the book. This is once again, entirely his choice, his decision and his responsibility.

      On timings: Again, I don’t feel it’s fair to characterise the timings in all this as a power play either. From RP’s perspective, they were currently involved in negotiations, the outcome of which would be (amongst other things) giving Voinov full rights to publish Nightingale. So there’s no particular reason that they would need to be concerned for his offering it for pre-sale. If you’ve arranged to provide something for me by the 21st, and I’ve offered it for presale to ship on the 22nd, that’s all fine and above board. The problem arises when the 21st comes around and I haven’t done the things I need to do to get the goods you promised me. Right up until publication, Voinov wasn’t doing anything illegal or even particularly unethical (although it might have been mildly ill-advised). It was only necessary for them to step in once it got to the point that he was likely to start distributing something he didn’t have the right to distribute.

      On who paid for what: Once again, this is fiddly and complex and some of my information comes from personal inquiry so I might have to be vaguer than I’d like. Essentially the production of Nightingale has been unusual owing, as far as I can tell, to Voinov’s increasingly strained relationship with RP over the past year or so. My very rough understanding of this is that if he did, indeed, hire his own editor it was because he point blank refused to work with the editors RP provided. He says in his blog post he ignored the editorial feedback he received from RP. I’d point out that in this situation, RP have actually behaved a lot more accommodatingly than a lot of publishers would, in that they appear to have allowed him to pursue whatever process is best for his text instead of insisting things be done their way. However, the fact that Voinov ignored the editorial work RP did on Nightingale doesn’t change the fact they still did it. If I call out an electrician and then stand in my front room arguing with them for an hour and refuse to let them actually fix my electrics, that’s on me for not letting them do their job, not on them for not doing it, and I still owe them for their time and the call-out. He states that RP didn’t “alter a comma” of his book as if this is a failure on their part but it’s actually very clear (even from his own post) that they didn’t alter a comma of his book because he didn’t let them. And yet they were still willing to market and publish it for him.

      The other money issue you seem concerned about was the cover image, which (according to Voinov) he was asked to pay for out of his royalties. This again appears to be a complex and unusual situation. The input an author gets on cover image varies enormously from publisher to publisher and, as far as I know, every book published by RP gets a unique bespoke cover image, into which the author gets significant input. The image is commissioned by RP from amongst their stable of artists, and paid for by them as part of the cost of publishing the book. The image remains RP’s intellectual property. And, should the author wish to self-publish the book or move it to a different publisher at a later date, they will either commission a new cover or negotiate with RP for the cover image, independently of the rights to the book. From Voinov’s post, it sounds like he explicitly wanted to be able to use RP’s cover image on his self-published version of Nightingale. This is, in fact, a separate issue from both the book rights and the dissolution agreement. And does appear to have been negotiated separately.

      In short, from both my reading of RP’s statement and Voinov’s statement and my personal enquiries, it seems like RP paid for all the things they’d normally pay for with Nightingale but that Voinov a) chose to hire an outside editor, entirely of his own free will and b) chose to negotiate for access to the cover image. Again, this feels very different to me from the way his original post characterises the situation which is one of RP doing essentially nothing to support him.

      On RP’s intent to publish: as you say, all we really have is people’s word for this but I think it is worth pointing out that RP did have the book on their website until quite recently and they did send it out for industry review. (you can see the Booklist one here: I’m not sure why they would have done this if they were not intending to publish it. Also I’m a bit bothered by your assertion that in your opinion “this book wasn’t in RP’s publishing plan.” Whether it was or wasn’t is a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion. It was available on their website. You can find reviews of it online. It was edited, proofed and had a cover. What more commitment to publish it do you want?

      On RP’s response: finally, I’m somewhat confused that you’re bothered by the fact that RP responded to this because Voinov (who let’s not forget is actually still a co-owner of the company at this point) made a post which contained quite specific and quite damning accusations which have explicitly led readers to call for RP to be boycotted. I kind of feel it’s okay to respond to that? I don’t know what else RP could have done. They made one statement, tweeted it once, made sure their authors were contacted, and left it. That’s kind of how companies graciously deal with these sort of things. Obviously I agree that RP’s statement is very much from their point of view but I honestly don’t feel it’s misleading.

      Naturally, I’m sorry readers are upset by this but (and I confess that I’m somewhat biased here because of my professional connection to RP) I kind of feel they shouldn’t have been brought into it in the first place.

      • Anonymous says:

        We are actually agreeing that readers shouldn’t have been brought into this, but whereas you are somewhat biased because of your connection to RP, I am somewhat biased as a reader and instinctively taking the side of an individual against company in issue of publishing rights.
        It doesn’t mean we can’t have a discussion and I find your thoughts to be always worth reading.
        Thank you for providing the link, my observation that book was not in their publishing plans was based on news letters I received through email as subscriber of both RP and AV, and I stand corrected. They were honoring their contract.
        “I find this part of your comment a little bit confusing. You seem to feel by claiming that Voinov did not have the right to self-publish Nightingale until he had signed the dissolution agreement that RP were somehow claiming he did not have the right to negotiate over it. This is not what they were saying or what anyone was saying.” – nonono, that wasn’t what I was thinking and I am sorry for being laconic because I am in a bit of disadvantage since english is not my first language. This is what they wrote: “Despite knowing that he was not permitted to self-publish Nightingale prior to signing the membership transfer agreement, Aleksandr unilaterally chose to place the title for pre-sale. ” what I was thinking with that is that they framed their statement to sound like they reached the agreement but he had a change of heart and didn’t sign it before he put it on preorder. I find that part misleading, because they were/are still negotiating his exit package at that point. :\
        I am really not defending Voinov here and we’ll have to agree to disagree on the possibility that RP used this as a leverage (I only object you wrote that i am accusing them for using it as a a leverage, which implies i said they did something they had no right doing. I am not ; that’s perfectly normal legal move).
        Thank you for response, I am hoping they’ll reach some kind of agreement in the future and I’ll have the opportunity to read his book. Published through RP or self-pub.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          I really appreciated your comments – and thank you for stopping by to discuss it. I think we do actually agree on a lot of the details and I also agree that I am slightly biased in favour of RP here because I still have a working relationship with them. I can also see why people looking at this from the outside (especially those who feel loyal to Voinov) would be inclined to side with the individual over the company–although it might be worth pointing out that we’re actually a talking about a business with 3 co-owners and this is a disagreement between 1 of the co-owners and the other 2.

          Basically I think the only place we need to agree to disagree is how we’re reading the line you quoted:

          “Despite knowing that he was not permitted to self-publish Nightingale prior to signing the membership transfer agreement, Aleksandr unilaterally chose to place the title for pre-sale.”

          I don’t want to labour the point but I very much don’t read this as in any way implying that Voinov changed his mind. To me, it very clearly states that whether Voinov intended to sign the agreement or not, he knew that his acquisition of the rights was contingent on it. That is, I feel, Voinov’s post creates the impression that RP saw that he had placed Nightingale up for pre-sale and then retrospectively decided to withhold the publication rights until he signed the dissolution agreement in order to apply pressure to him. This really would have been using them as leverage. But, as far as I can tell, nothing RP has said and nothing Voinov has said explicitly suggests that this is remotely what happened. Rather, this statement makes clear that he unilaterally (that is, entirely by himself) decided to offer for pre-sale a book that he knew he would only be allowed to publish once he had signed the dissolution agreement.

          This is a very different situation because, essentially, he means that he put himself under pressure to sign the agreement entirely avoidably. In his place, I would probably not have chosen to offer the book for pre-sale until I was certain that the agreement that would give me the right to sell it was one that I was happy to sign.

        • Susan Ford says:

          One thing I want to point out though. Riptide is a publisher, yes. But they are not a behemoth like, for example, Random House or one of the big 5. You can meet the Riptide owners/editors at any of the conferences they attend.

          So it’s not the author against a juggernaut. It’s about a handful of people, including Aleks, total.

          I am pretty saddened by this situation, and I will not take any sides nor boycott anyone. As has been pointed out, it was not something that needed to be made public.

  3. EE Ottoman says:

    Firs off disclosure of relevant info: I am on pretty cordial terms with both Riptide and Aleksandr Voinov, I’ve had disagreements with both in the past, I’ve had good experiences with both. I have no professional horse in this raise.

    That being said, the part of this that I’m most interested in is the part that has not been addressed really. That is, Voinov originally claimed there was no language in his contract that required RP to publish in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time (usually 12-18 months) from a set and pre-agreed upon date. Now obvious this is just academic at this point since obviously self publishing the work is a breach of contract and everything else seems to be pretty standard negotiations, contract law stuff, as you point out. From a legal stand point the any wording in the original contract doesn’t change anything, unless the contract itself was dull and void for some other reason, like written under coercion, which is highly unlikely. I do wonder though about that wording, but I won’t speculate about it in public. It is a piece I am interested in knowing even though it doesn’t change anything.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think you’re right that this is a very interesting point. I didn’t address it in this post for a couple of reasons. Firstly because I didn’t want to speculate about what was or wasn’t in Alek’s contract and secondly because my understanding is information about the actual contents of contracts is, to some extent, privileged information. I will say that I think that failure to publish clauses were not part of RP’s boilerplate but that they now are. I might also add that, ironically, my understanding that the early boilerplate that did not contain failure to publish clauses would have been written by, um, Aleskandr Voinov. I should also stress I’m working from incomplete information here so I might be wrong on one or both of these. Again, without disclosing too much privileged information, I will say that my recent contracts with RP have all had failure to publish clauses.

      • EE Ottoman says:

        We are all working from incompletely information I think, which is why I’m really not comfortable saying pretty much anything about this asides from that it seems to be a pretty cut and dry breach of contract with the added negotiations around him wanting out of the company (or whatever it officially is, shareholders?) I think that’s fair and supported by all the evidence. I also don’t want to speculate about the contract nor do I think we should.

        That being said really the only thing I kind of wanted RP to address publicly is whether failure to publish causes, this and others, was/is usually included in RP standard contract. Basically everything else is really none of our (being the general public’s) business.

        • EE Ottoman says:

          I will say I’ve seen a lot of heated feelings about this and it is nice to have a place to mention the things about this that worry/interest me without that being interpreted as taking a side

    • KJ Charles says:

      I have no comment on this dispute because a) it’s not my business and b) I do occasional freelance work for Riptide, and wouldn’t wish to seem possessed of information, bias or interest I don’t have. I have never even seen a Riptide publishing contract, and nothing below applies to them specifically.

      But just on the general point of the failure to publish clause, it’s incredibly common for it to be omitted from older boilerplate contracts by very many publishers. I worked for a publisher that had been going for years, and was bought by a super modern global publisher who were all about the well worded legal document, and both had boilerplates that omitted the failure to publish kicking around. Or boilerplates with useless clauses like ‘the Publisher will publish the Work within 18 months of acceptance’ with no indication of what happens if you don’t. (Companies very rarely do the boilerplate from scratch while consulting a publishing lawyer, they’re much more likely to be based on a previous existing contract, and you can get ones with egregious errors stretching back years.)

      I think it basically stems from the fact that failure to publish is terrible for the publisher. Traditional publishing: you pay an advance, you get a cover done, you put the book in the marketing process perhaps 13 months before publication–you’ve invested money and time you will literally never make back unless you publish. There is no advantage whatsoever to the publisher in squatting on a recently acquired and unpublished book. It sits there on the wrong side of the balance sheet like a malevolent toad and your boss shouts at you in every progress meeting because it isn’t published yet. And the obvious reasons not to publish are because the author hasn’t delivered or the MS is a disaster, both of which will be abundantly covered by the contract.

      Not to suggest that publishers don’t fail to publish, they do, especially now with how publishing has changed (so you can get fly-by-nighters setting up as ‘publishers’ with very little investment, not paying advances and paying a pttance for editorial work/covers, and this there’s not the same financial disincentive to leave a book unpublished). You should absolutely have this clause. But I would agree that (as a generalisation only) the reason for its omission from any given contract is more likely to be a boilerplate based on a boilerplate from a legacy publisher than anything sinister. It’s one of those things you don’t notice is missing till it bites you in the arse, unfortunately.

      • EE Ottoman says:

        I don’t think it is anything sinister. I also get what your saying that the need for this has come out of the way that publishing at changed. Also in US contract law it’s typical to start with pretty much nothing and the two parts negotiation for what they want in there.

        From a personal stand point though when you’re a small GLBT press coming out of m/m you got to know that most authors don’t have an agent, lawyers, or a background in law. Obviously even authors who have none of that can be really informed and careful, but I’ve heard the horror stories. We all have. I think it behooves smaller presses to think about what happens if an author signs a contract without understanding every part or changing anything. Or that authors sign it without paying attention because of “goodwill” or they are so excited to be published they sign it first and read it later (I’ve heard of that) or for whatever reason. I think it safeguards both parties from worst case scenarios if small publishers just always assume authors aren’t going to have a back and forth about the contract. Because then you’re covered even if every author you ever work with is contract savvy.

        I’m just surprised because I figured failure to publish was an easy one. The idea that it isn’t a traditional part of publishing contracts makes it make more sense to me.

        And I mean bottom line this is all academic anyway.

        • KJ Charles says:

          Oh, do not even START me on some of the small press contracts. I’ve had a couple of people send me contracts to decipher because I have a publishing background and it is horrifying what people sign, and are asked to sign, and sign without understanding. Ha. I did a session on rights at the UK Meet the other year. I asked everyone who’d signed a publication contract to raise their hands, and then said ‘keep them up if you don’t understand the grant of rights clause’, and so. many. hands stayed up. Sigh.

          As you say, not relevant to this situation at all. But authors and publishers alike should check contracts carefully, because mistakes and omissions happen.

          • KJ Charles says:

            By ‘small press’ I meant the tiny fly by night operations that go bust with monotonous regularity, obviously. Plenty of small presses are exceptional in their author care and probity, so that wasn’t a size based slam at anyone.

  4. Beverley Jansen says:

    As always, AJ a simple, accurate, analogous post that makes an issue clearer. Plus, on your own blog not in the public arenas of twitter, FB and GR.

    Personally, I do not wish to comment on social media about one author’s negotiation with his partners / publishers. None of which is my business. Likewise, I do not think social media the place for an author to conduct business and contract negotiations.

  5. Dawn says:

    Well done Alexis. This is an excellent essay on a matter that should have really remained private. While I understand AV’s frustration, I believe how he went about “airing his dirty laundry” is in very poor taste. His initial blog post very much screamed boycott RP without actually saying the words. He has since backpedaled drastically and tried to make it better by saying that was not his intent. The mere fact that he’s spent so much time saying not to boycott RP, in my opinion, is a testament to the fact that his initial post did exactly that.

    I was very impressed with how RP responded. It was clear, concise and not in anyway used to badmouth AV.

    The bottom line to me is this is a business matter that should have been kept quiet and dealt with out of the public eye. I, for one, will continue to purchase books from the authors I love regardless of which company is publishing them.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I very much agree that this ideally should have been kept private. I will say, in Voinov’s defence, that it’s a lot easier than people think to create an impression you didn’t intend to create. While he intended to express his upset at and hostility towards RP (hell, he says that founding the company was one of the three worst mistakes of his life) I don’t think he necessarily intended for that have negative consequences for RP authors. And, obviously, you can make the case that he should have been more self-aware about that (in the sense that what affects RP will clearly affect people who write for RP) but I tend to try to apply Hanlon’s Razor which (in slightly less dismissive language) might be expressed in this case as never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to error.

  6. Jody-Anne says:

    I am not a writer, nor lawyer, agent, or publisher. I cannot know what it is like put a story that you have written, in a contract with a publisher, and know that you will not have the intellectual rights of it for many years, just to have it published. For me, that would be a blessing – that I might/will be published, and that, the thing that I have poured myself into, over whatever length of time will get into readership – or a curse because it is not MINE anymore. I just wrote, they now own it.
    I think it would hurt my heart. But, as your post points out, that is business, and the model. And, if you signed an agreement, it is binding, until negotiations can make it different.
    I enjoy Mr Voinov’s books, but you are the only blog that I follow, so I do not know what has been posted, nor the original reason of yours ( apart from that negotiation around a particular book seems to have come to a fork in the road, and that setting a date for release before you own the rights is not a good place to be).
    i do not have anything intellectual to add, only emotion. I am so pleased that, if this is how it goes, that any author that puts their work out into this realm, and I, as a reader get to see that work – respect.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      It’s a funny one – intellectual property law is a lot more complicated than people think it is. When we talk about rights here we’re actually talking about a very broad range of overlapping but distinct things. The right that matters in this context is specifically the right to publish. This is distinct from a bunch of other rights. For example, the right to be identified as the author of a work which is considered a moral right under IP law and can never be sold or transferred, and never expires. Charles Dickens is out of copyright so I can publish as many copies of Bleak House as I like but even if it weren’t a ludicrous thing to do it would actually be illegal for me to pretend that I wrote it.

      So it’s not entirely true that when you sign the rights to a book over to a publisher you no longer own that book. You just no longer own a set of rights relating to it. It’s sort of like renting out a room in your house. It’s still your house, you just can’t go into that room whenever you feel like it or randomly redecorate it.

      Which is to say that I personally (I can’t speak for others) don’t feel all that bad about the fact that the people who publish my books are the only people entitled to publish them. I don’t think it would be economically viable for the situation to work differently.

  7. Ingela says:

    I want to marry this post.

  8. “Needlessly emotive” pretty much sums up my feelings on this entire situation. Maybe I’m not enough of an artiste to appreciate the temperament.

  9. samantha says:

    I do not have a dog in this fight. Wow, it just struck me how bad a saying that actually is. I don’t know any of these peiple personally, I am not a writer or a publisher. I just want to public agree that it is unfortunate that This blew up in public. I don’t know if it is the oversaturation of social media or some quirk of the m/m community (there does seem to be a kerfluffle every week or so, doesn’t there?).
    maybe AV got emotional and posted too fast and RP benefitted from a lawyer (at that lovely firm that cosigned theiir statement) keeping them from their keyboards. @ at the end of the day, I think AV will get to publish this book. But it might take a while.

    Good post Alexis. You always seem so level headed

  10. Anne Tenino says:

    Great post, but I’d like to clarify one thing—your preferred drink is the flat white? I mean, I like it, but it’s basically a latte, yet (in the US at least) costs a hell of a lot more.

  11. Des Livres says:

    Flat whites and lattes are different in Australia. At least, lattes are served in a glass. No idea what else differentiates them. I drink a long black with a side serve of skim milk.

  12. willaful says:

    Thank you so much for spelling this all out. I find that it’s very difficult to find explanations of situations that don’t start with the assumption people already know WTF is going on!

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