Mardi Gras: Not Quite A Party

Jane broke the news at DA that Mardi Gras Publishing was going belly up in yet-another e-pub bankruptcy.

While as of June of this year, Mardi Gras publishing folks were defending the fort the indication now seems that they’ll be filing for bankruptcy, though their site shows no indication of that. (Warning: MUSIC on site).

But then, anonymous Bitchery author sent me this link: Katrina Strauss, author and media contact for Aphrodite’s Apples tells tales of thievery and plagiarism when her book seemed to have been “heavily borrowed from” after she sent it for review to a joint list between AA and MGP. Anonymous author also has suspicions of similarities between a book she wrote and a MG book, though there wasn’t enough evidence to do much besides ponder and feel sick inside.

Now these are some big honking accusations, but I’m curious – anyone else hear rumors of nefarious deeds in the Mardi Gras business practice? While bankruptcy doesn’t allow those authors who believe they’ve been plagiarized much recourse, there seems to be a sense of ‘at last now I can say something.’ Pity they couldn’t say something earlier. But plagiarism, as we’ve discussed, can be terribly difficult to prove, not to mention highly isolating and unpleasant.

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The Link-O-Lator

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  1. 1
    Jane says:

    It seems that there are also accusations that Teresa Jacobs aka Teresa Wayne is opening a new site under “Satin Rouge”; that there is proof she has understated sales; that she owes staff members money; etc.

    I also find it incredible that some authors have to pay to have their book listed on the site in order for readers to buy it and that the contract is a NET one which, according to Emily Veinglory means that you only get paid royalties after all publisher expenses are met. 

    It sounds like that is standard in the ebook industry but the whole practice is starting to sound a bit shady – rights for life; pay to play; etc, etc.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    The “pay to be listed on the website” part just blew me away – and were I an author, it would send me running for the hills.

    In this month’s RWR there’s also a letter to the editor (I, of course, don’t have my issue with me) all about one author’s experience with Triskelion and the warning signs she encountered. But only after the fact was she able to speak up.

    Between that letter and this entry of “at last I can speak up,” I’m beginning to think that much of the standard practices being described are, as you say, shady.

  3. 3
    Nora Roberts says:

    I hope net contracts aren’t e-industry standard because that could never be justified to my satisfaction. Also to charge an author to have her book listed on the web site for sale? Huh?

    It also seems as if author fear and author silence is SOP in the companies that have gone under this year. As long as that remains another standard, writers are going to continue to get shafted by ‘publishers’ who don’t appear to know dick, and in no way support their authors, but in fact take terrible advantage of them.

  4. 4
    HS Kinn says:

    I said this on my own journal, which I’ve linked, but I’ll say it again here: at the time we were both startup publishers, and it seemed to us that since they were smart enough not to steal large chunks of Kitty’s book, it would be hard to prove.  We’re really not into mudslinging.  We’ve said nada about anyone else that’s gone out of business.  Then again, we’ve had no reason to do so.  The fact that she’s trying to re-open shop is really what prompted Kitty to speak out.  No one should have to go through this again.  And frankly, even if this didn’t involve a close personal friend, I would be offended that someone is dragging down ePublishing in this manner.

  5. 5
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~But only after the fact was she able to speak up~

    This continues to be a sticking point for me. Not getting paid, contracts not being honored, shit falling like rain, but the writer feels unable to speak up until everyone involved in covered with poop.

    Why?

  6. 6
    Stella Price says:

    hey Ladies…

    I was one of the original authors to jump ship in may *actually i was the one that helped everyone figure out that she was in Breach of contract on NUMEROUS things in the contract while we were all at RT* and i have to tell you that i havent kept quiet for any fear of back lash i did it because i could care less. when we jumped ship, 15 went, all her big sellers off FW and the site (except for her pet who SHALL remain nameless) and her ONLY sellers in print. After we left, several authors got at us asking questions and made decisions on whether they should pull or not. Some did. Some got offered more money to stay, and btw, most NEVER got that money. Now this is happeneing and the original few find it odd rthat not ONE of the authors there now have asked any of us what to do or for the HARD EVIDENCE we have against her.
    Now i have heard that she is blaming POD for her shoddy business practices. While that might be true, it is her own damn fault. She put people into print that didnt care about selling books and didnt work at it. People like myself and a few others busted our butts to keep getting books in print, and were told that their books would have to wait for more print because she had other print to get done first. Most of those authors didnt sell ONE book on amazon (including Teresa herself with her book) yet I sold out of the first set at amazon in 2 weeks. Infact im the ONLY author from MGP to do so. I know atleast one author that went print in the first and didnt even bother doing anything at the MGP loop or with the company *which BTW it was MANDITORY to have the Author loop on individual mail and to participate in the loop* So she killed herself with the POD for making poor business choices.
    Since i left, i haven’t received any statements or $ for at very least 200 books i sold in print.i was a cover artist there as well, and made, when i left $3.16 for 12 covers that were all out. How thats possible i don’t know, unless she gave me 5$ of the TOTAL sold and not 5% of each book like pretty much EVERY publisher does.

    the woman isnt business savvy or trustworthy. I have hard evidence on the statements from the past, instances where checks bounced and she laughed them off with off color remarks to the authors, and gave some very BOGUS statments to several authors all under the guise of being “fair” nothing fair about screwing people out of money.

    And now theres talks of her opening a new company? Woe be it to anyone who signs on with her.

  7. 7
    SB Sarah says:

    This continues to be a sticking point for me. Not getting paid, contracts not being honored, shit falling like rain, but the writer feels unable to speak up until everyone involved in covered with poop.

    Why?

    That’s what sticks with me, too. I can understand not wanting to gain a reputation as a gossip-monger or a high-maintenance author or to shoot oneself in the foot as a writer when trying to go elsewhere, but when there’s money not paid and suspicions of plagiarism, what “safe” option is there from which to speak up?

    And frankly, even if this didn’t involve a close personal friend, I would be offended that someone is dragging down ePublishing in this manner.

    I’m not dragging down ePubs in general. I have no beef with ePublishing. But when two and three start failing one after the other, and there’s accusations of financial wrongdoing and theft, how do you not discuss it, even in terms of “how to tell the difference between Crap ePub and Legit ePub?”

  8. 8

    As I stated in my blog, at the time that my work was plagiarized, I was a new author, I was with an upstart company, and we had already seen the cattiness and gossip-monging that can be the e-pub girls’ junior high bathroom. Not to mention that the whole mindfuckery of it had me doubting myself. I assure everyone now that I am comfortable and confident enough in my career that should this happen to me again, I will come out swinging.

  9. 9
    HS Kinn says:

    I’m not dragging down ePubs in general. I have no beef with ePublishing. But when two and three start failing one after the other, and there’s accusations of financial wrongdoing and theft, how do you not discuss it, even in terms of “how to tell the difference between Crap ePub and Legit ePub?”

    I agree, Sarah, and I didn’t mean to imply that you were muckraking us.  Ms. Jacobs,  however, is doing just that.  As for why it’s not come to light before now?  People have tried, actually.  She was reported to Piers Anthony but she managed to finesse that to her advantage.  Most of us in ePub know that she’s been losing authors left and right for some time.  It’s the new authors that get shafted in situations like this.

  10. 10

    Which leads to my points in my blog, posted the day before news of MGP’s closure broke:  http://kayleighjamison.blogspot.com/

    There is something wrong, in my opinion, with an industry that will blacklist an author for speaking out about their negative experiences.  I realize of course that things could just as easily swing the other way, and any author who’s miffed about any little thing could forever sour a publisher’s reputation based on a misunderstanding, an unavoidable delay, and so forth.  (I functioned as EIC of Aphrodite’s Apples Press for over a year, I know the game). 

    But MGP has been in trouble for a while.  Since before they opened, really, there has been unethical behavior.  I believe that at least part of the reason why they lasted as long as they did is because many authors were afraid to talk about their experiences.  And the few, brave that did were vilified.

    Look how many small presses have folded in the last year or so:  Venus, Trisk, MGP…more I can’t even remember.  Then there are the ones about which we whisper to each other that remain open because no one takes them to task save a select few.  I commend Jolie Du Pre for speaking out against Ocean’s Mist Press.  I commend Camille Anthony for speaking out about Silk’s Vault.

    Many of us are cross-published.  The nature of the small press e-book industry (and particularly the erotica genre) is such that it behooves us as authors to publish with more than one press so as to broaden our exposure to the readership.  I am fortunate enough to be extremely happy with all four presses I am with at the moment.  But let’s face it – we’ve got dozens of choices for where to send our work.  An aspiring author, who doesn’t have the social networking yet that some of us do, can easily fall into the trap of an unethical company.

    I’ve heard people say I seem to be on a crusade.  I damn sure am.  The more we shed light on these issues, the less places the bad apples will find to plant their seeds.

    -Kayleigh J.

  11. 11
    Tracy says:

    SB Sarah:  I am not HS Kinn, but I’m guessing when she said this “And frankly, even if this didn’t involve a close personal friend, I would be offended that someone is dragging down ePublishing in this manner.” I read it as MGP is dragging down epublishing with it’s practices. 

    Not sure if that’s what was meant or not, but that’s how I read it.

  12. 12
    HS Kinn says:

    Actually Tracy, that’s exactly what I meant.  Thank you!

  13. 13
    Jane says:

    That may not be what SB Sarah intended to say, but I’ll say it.  All these closings, the divulging of shady practices by epublishers, the industry practice of pay to play, along with these so called “net” contracts give epublishing a bad name.

    I do think that there are competent epublishers, such as Samhain, Loose ID or Liquid Silver.  I love the look of Drollerie Press and the quality of work that I’ve read so far seems to be high.

    But when the most news that you read about epublishing is the Triskelion incident and the number of personal accusations levied against the Studts for their shady business practices (even the reported ones look odd, such as the payment of 50K to Kristi Studts, much of it coming during a time that the company was struggling to pay bills).  We have Silk’s Vault non payment of royalties, MPB threatening bankruptcy and closing its doors, non payment of royalties again by Lady Aibell.  These things do all combine to give a very negative impression of epublishing.

    Do you think that RWA regrets the revisions of their policy now?  Hell no.  All of this serves to buttress their decisions much to the chagrin of legitimate epublishers.

    To me, many people saw EC making money hand over fist and said “I can do better than that.” and without a business plan, proper funding or business background, proceeded to open shop.  If the author is going to be an investor in the project by giving up her intellectual property to only be paid after the publisher’s expenses are covered, then she should know exactly the state of the finances, the five year plan, the marketing budget, the funding, etc. etc.

    I asked an epublisher to provide me with a list of things that an author should look for when signing with a publisher and I am going to post that article on Sunday but I wonder why I am the one asking the questions.  Shouldn’t the authors be the one to do that?

  14. 14
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~Shouldn’t the authors be the one to do that?~

    God, yes.

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    Ah! I misread “someone” – thanks for clearing that up. My bad.

  16. 16
    Stella Price says:

    See…

    Now I did that. I asked and I did research, even went to Piers with this. He “listened” and saw the evidence, but in the end, he sided with MGP and pretty much discredited everything we had went through. So what happens when the ones that are supposed to safe guard things and help the authors (like WB and Piers) side with the publisher? Noone else listens… You know?

  17. 17

    ~Shouldn’t the authors be the one to do that?~

    God, yes.

    Absolutely.  But, considering that a year and a half ago I was an unpublished author with nothing more than a dream, I can identify with the rush of exhilaration those new writers feel.  We are offered a chance to get our work out there and we jump at it. 

    Clearly, that isn’t the right way to handle the situation, but it’s how most will.  And then we have sources, as Stella said, but they aren’t always correct.  Just this last June Piers Anthony backed MGP and Teresa Wayne, calling her “an honest person” and MGP “one of the good ones.”  And there sat a small army of us who had seen first and second hand the unethical behavior, shaking our heads in disgust. 

    -KJ

  18. 18
    SB Sarah says:

    It is beginning to seem that there are two types of ePubs:

    One, a venue for those writers whose work has an audience but not a vehicle for publication from established print houses:  erotica, a few years ago anyway, BDSM, gay romance, etc. Self pub and ePub may have been the only ways to go until established houses caught on that there was a market for writing that pushed the envelope, so to speak.

    The Other: a venue for easy profit from writers who got turned down from other publishing houses, who are inexperienced and uninformed, and who are then subject to peculiar requirements – as Jane just mentioned: pay to play, financial mismanagement, required participation in email loops, and a threatening culture that stifles dissent and keeps authors from speaking up.

    Sadly, the Other makes the first one look beyond bad.

  19. 19

    I’ve devoted most of my blog this in the last couple of months to competent epublishing and what writers should look for.

    Regular publishing websites

    Epublisher websites

    Researching publishers

    When to discount what other authors say

    Warning signs to look for, when there are no other warning signs

    Interviews on the business of Epublishing:

    With Treva Harte

    With Raelene Gorlinsky

    With Tina Burns

    I’m not trying to plug my blog here, but I’m very proud of the posts and think the information provided is important.

  20. 20

    Sarah,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your statements. For every legitimate e-house that wants to push boundaries and give talented authors a chance for their voices to be heard outside of the cookie-cutter print industry, pulp fiction author mills and thinly-disguised vanity publishers abound. This is another reason my associates and I at Aphrodite’s Apples decided it was irresponsible to remain silent regarding our experience with MGP. We not only seek to promote our own e-publishing company, but we are working jointly with other companies through EPIC (such as Freya’s Bower and Red Rose Publishing, with whom we have close working relationships with members of their staffs, because we really aren’t interested in “competition”) to improve standards in e-publishing and promote the medium as not only a viable option for readers but a safe venture for authors.

  21. 21
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~cookie-cutter print industry,~

    Now, now, I’ve been writing for print for a really long time. I don’t cut cookies—nor do many, many, MANY others who publish in print.

    We don’t have to slap at one hand to lift up the other.

  22. 22
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~But, considering that a year and a half ago I was an unpublished author with nothing more than a dream, I can identify with the rush of exhilaration those new writers feel.  We are offered a chance to get our work out there and we jump at it. ~

    Though it was LOTS longer ago, I remember very well what it was to be unpublished and have that dream. I remember the rush. But even way back in the day, I took a good long look before I jumped.

    My question for those who just blindly jump would be is it just for the rush, or is the goal—the dream—for a career? If it’s a career, it starts with those first steps.

  23. 23

    Miss Roberts,

    No offense intended! I have been reading print authors since, well, I learned to read. I cite bestsellers like Anne Rice as major influences on my own work, while one section of my bookshelf is devoted to the hotness that is Roarke, I mean, um, your In Death series. ;) Perhaps I should be more specific in saying that I take issue with agents, editors, and marketing departments that are reluctant to take chances on work that steps outside of established formula. (Though due to the ripple in the pond started by Ellora’s Cave, we see that changing!)

  24. 24
    Cat Marsters says:

    …pay to play, financial mismanagement, required participation in email loops, and a threatening culture that stifles dissent and keeps authors from speaking up.

    It’s the last point that gets a lot of people.  I know of authors who have been all but forced out because they spoke up against the publisher—often on a private publisher loop, not even to the general public.  If standing up and saying you don’t like the way they do something on an internal loop can get you smacked down, imagine what saying it in public will lead to?

    The problem is, especially for new authors, you just don’t know what’s acceptable and what’s not.  Not the big stuff, like non-payment of royalties because that’s an obvious red flag, but the little things, like lack of communication and delays.  Is that the stuff you should warn other authors about, or is it just something you have to put up with?

  25. 25

    Ms. Roberts,

    You are absolutely correct.  Every author has the duty to do their research.  I, for one, did.  But I feel that if more information were out there, more authors would take the initiative. 

    At any rate, I am aware that you have also had your work plagiarized.  As a result, we have often looked to you throughout this ordeal as a role model.  It can happen to anyone, at any time.  And that is just plain disgusting.

    -KJ

  26. 26
    Randi says:

    This is a very interesting discussion, especially as it related to Piers. My best friend worked for Xlibris just as they started up-which was a heavily financed by Piers. The idea was great-publish you own book! But upper management was stealing money, the service was terrible, they had no support for older folks who didn’t know a PC from Mac-and were terribly understaffed. While I believe they are still in business, it was essentially a complete failure; mostly due fiscal irresponsability and NO business plan. At this point, I would be leary of submitting any work to a company that Piers is associated with.

    BTY-Ms. Roberts, I am impressed at with your attendance here and since you have been publishing for years, appreciate the fact that you are sharing your experiences and opinions. I too, am a big fan of Roarke!

  27. 27
    Ann Aguirre says:

    I wouldn’t sign with a startup. No matter how well intentioned, businesses often go under in the first three years. And some startups aren’t even well-intentioned.

    Writing can be lonely and it can be hard writing every day without any tangible validation, nobody saying, “Wow, you really are good.” But you can’t sell yourself short.

    Ask yourself—what are my goals? What do I want to accomplish in one year? Two? Five?

    I think if you examine your career plan (and you should have one) that signing with Just Setup A Website Press might not be the best move. It’s instant gratification, sure, but is that always the best choice?

  28. 28

    Authors have to look out for themselves first. Publishing is a business and no matter how friendly and chummy your publisher is you can never forget it or let it cloud your judgment.

    I was offered a contract with an e-publisher I won’t name about 6 years ago. I didn’t like some of the contract clauses but couldn’t get an agent to help me navigate all the fine print. I ended up contacting some of the authors who were signed with the publisher and a few others from Preditors and Editors while I also went back and forth with the publisher. They wouldn’t budge on their clauses (for instance, they wanted first option on EVERYTHING I wrote FOREVER!) so I didn’t sign. I was terribly disappointed at the time, but after the fact one of the authors told me that I did the right thing. In my gut I knew that.

    And I got my HEA too because I have since sold that book to Cerridwen Press. 

    I’m sorry for all the authors who are getting caught up in the trouble now when all they wanted was a chance at their dream. Not all e-presses are bad, but you really do need to check them out and stand up for yourself when things don’t go as they should.

  29. 29
    Stella Price says:

    Teresa was having Authors pay between 53-59 cents PER BOOK to be sold on her website and claimed it was for website costs and credit cards and such. I dont know ANY other publisher that does that as that is their fees out of the overhead. So basically, she was charging authors to sell, and charging them the 15$ fictionwise fee (which should have been part of her overhead) and THEN after taking the money, then taking the 60% and paying authors after that. So we figured it out and it came out to be that Authors were making 23-25 % on each book. Thats all TRUE and documented.

    I said it before, anyone that works with this woman isnt in their right mind. and if shes Allowed to open a new pubbie, which she shouldnt be because of the so called “bankruptcy” that she hasnt filed for yet OR done counciling for, which i understand you have to go through before you can declare Chapter 7… So something is fishy even more now because nothing has been officially documented.

    Something is very rotten in denmark!

  30. 30

    I would also like to add, sites like HiPiers and EREC are, essentially, AUTHOR-powered.

    I’m not trying to point a finger at anyone, but when you see things on those sites you don’t agree with, or you’ve personally been screwed, you need to report it. Piers may have concluded based on the evidence he had that MGP was on the up-and-up; would he have done so if every single unhappy author had presented their case?

    These sites only work if people speak up. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.

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