The Gentleman’s Business Has Scumbagified…

So this blog post may not interest some of you, just sayin’.

The business of publishing used to be referred to as the “gentleman’s business,” meaning that it was (supposedly) filled with truthful, trustworthy folks who operated as much by a handshake as with attorneys and contracts.  I don’t know if this was ever actually true, but let me tell ya, on some level, it ain’t true these days.

Let’s begin by extracting the big publishing houses from this argument and let’s deal with today’s milieu of small press publishers, not only in horror but in most of the genres.  The general collapse of BIG PUBLISHING–or if you’d rather see it as a course change in the status quo of the publishing world at large–has led to an explosion of small presses and self publishing.  And in the small press world, there’s an entire spectrum of small publishers, from the fly-by-night, publish-a-book-or-two-and-then-die type all the way up to the established, professional-as-the-big-boys-at-least presses.  But, wow, there seems to be an ever-growing number of these…umm…less than professional publishers, shall we say.

So, yesterday I learned of a bombshell that’s exploded in the very heart of horror small pressdom.  It’s with a publisher called Permuted Press.  In the horror small publisher pond, Permuted is a bigger fish.  Bought out from its original owner a while back by some investors (one of whom is said to have extensive experience with one of the Big Boy Publishers), Permuted has had the reputation, recently at least, of signing up an extraordinary number of authors and publishing an extraordinary number of books–0n the order of 5 books per week.  Let that figure settle in for a moment.  Five books.  Per week.

Anyway, that’s its business model, so if it can do it, great.  But here’s the thing.  Evidently, authors were signing multiple-book deals with them in a feeding frenzy.  I’d imagine that some of these authors were overwhelmed to sign a book contract.  I know how that feels, man.  But evidently they weren’t looking closely at what they signed–or maybe they were and just didn’t understand or they didn’t care or whatever–and they signed away all rights to their works.  All. Most legitimate publishers offer contracts that stipulate that they own the work for a set period, some number of years, but that stuff like movie rights stay with the author.  Not Permuted Press.  They asked for–and got–all intellectual property rights to everything they bought.  And people signed these contracts, so there’s nothing illegal here.  Shifty, yes.  Not very ethical or moral, but not illegal.  Then the company recently decided to open a film division.  Why?  Because they were sitting on this mountain of intellectual properties to which they conveniently owned all the rights to.  You might be forgiven if you speculate, as many have, that this was all planned out in advance.

So, that’s asshattery No. 1.

Asshattery No. 2?  Well, recently the company decided to stop offering, for the most part, print books.  Its business logic was unassailable.  In the small press, at least, print book sales lag well, well behind digital sales.  It may be in the order of 80% or 90% weighted toward digital sales.  And there’s some additional costs associated with print production.  So Permuted decided, ostensibly, that it no longer made business sense to produce print copies for the majority of its authors. OK, fine.  Business decision.  I can get behind that.

But the way they’ve enacted this measure, the lengths that they went to to underplay it, to trickle the message out to avoid being called out for it, the mess they’ve made of a lot of authors lives (who signed contracts expecting–though let’s be honest here, not legally promised–print versions) is simply cold-blooded, unethical and immoral.  Again, not illegal, but just particularly scummy. And those authors who are aggravated enough to call them out on this with the desire to cancel their contracts?  Yeah, well, not gonna happen, says Permuted, unless, that is, you’d like to buy yourself out.  To pay, in effect, for Permuted’s douchebaggery.

I don’t have a dog in this fight…well, fuck that, I’m thinking this out as I type…I do.  Even though I’ve done nothing with Permuted, even though I stayed clear of them because I’d heard bad things about them for years, they are screwing with my peers and pissing in the larger cereal bowl of horror publishing in general.  That infuriates me.  I don’t know exactly what to do about it, other than to spread the word about this crappy company that thinks legal equates to ethical.  Others have called for boycotts and stuff, and while that’s OK, I don’t know exactly what it will solve, other than to take the individual authors down with the company.

Here’s the thing.  If you’re an author, you need to keep in mind that the creative side of the business is great.  But it is a business, and you need to pull your head out of the clouds every once in a while to pay attention to that part of it, particularly when signing a contract.  Don’t let your enthusiasm for signing an actual book contract overwhelm your common sense.  Don’t sign away all your rights to your intellectual property.  Not for anyone, not ever.  Why in the fuck would you do that?  It’s yours, you created it, sweat and bled it into existence.  Why, then, would you sign it away, basically turning yourself into a work-for-hire writer?  And at the paltry rates a small publisher would pay?  Come on!

That there are companies out there, seemingly like Permuted Press, that would prey on this enthusiasm and naivete and call it a “business decision” is not surprising.  Every industry has plenty of by-the-rules companies that aren’t ethical or moral.  There are a lot of not very nice people out there, folks, and some of them decide to go into publishing.  Sad but true.  It’s simply the way of the world.

I’ve been relatively lucky so far in my writing career.  I’ve had some run-ins with highly unethical “publishers” who stole stories from me, printed stuff without my permission, didn’t pay, etc.  But in most of my dealings, I’ve been lucky enough to find good, honorable people to do business with.  One of those is Grey Matter Press up in Chicago.  They produce great books.  They have a fine eye for talent. Their editing and production work is impeccable.  But more so than any of this, they do what they say they’re gonna do.  They pay, and they do it on time and unbegrudgingly.  I’ve entrusted them with several short stories, my new collection of novellas, The End in All Beginnings, and some secret stuff that we’ll talk about later.  Why?  Because they are a joy to work with and you should support them wholeheartedly if you want quality horror available to you.

My other publisher, too, bears recognition.  Books of the Dead, based in Toronto, has been around a little longer than Grey Matter, and it, too, is one of the good guys.  James Roy Daley is the publisher, and he’s a hardworking, honest and ethical guy who also produces great books.  I’ve trusted him with three of my books already–Little Deaths, The Bell Witch and Kill-Off–and there are two more coming, Infestation and The Orpheus Box.  I wouldn’t publish all that with a company I don’t trust, or who made unreasonable contractual demands or who just plain didn’t live up to their end of the bargain. I trust Roy with my work.  He’s never let me down, never cheated me, never failed to deliver on a promise.  And he produces some great looking, great reading books, not just for me but for the dozens of other authors he’s worked with.

I don’t know if that’s a rarity these days or not.  But I hate to read stuff like what Permuted Press is doing.  It doesn’t increase my faith in either humanity at large or the publishing world.

Want to read more about this?  Well, veteran horror author Brian Keene has written a few blog postings encapsulating the hullabaloo in greater detail than I just did.  His postings also contain links to Permuted Press authors’ blogs recounting their problems.  It’s all very illuminating.  Aggravating, but illuminating.

I guess all I’m saying is that if you’re interested in quality horror, as a reader, support those publishing companies, like Grey Matter and Books of the Dead, that treat their authors with respect.  And in doing so, they also treat their readers–YOU–with respect.


UPDATE!!!  Tonight I spoke via Twitter with Jake Bible, another Permuted author who has taken issue with the statement that some authors are claiming that Permuted is forcing them to buy out their contracts.  Jake was adamant that this wasn’t so, and I can’t prove that it isn’t…or is.  I was just referencing claims from one of the very numerous blog postings by other Permuted authors.  So, I’d urge you all to not take my word or Jake’s or anyone’s…do the research, read what the authors are saying and form your own opinion.  I did.  And thanks to Jake for a good, clean argument!


UPDATE PART DEUX!!!  There’s been a lot of squawking about all this all over the intertubes.  I’m not weighing in any more than I have, because I’m not directly involved in all this.  All I know is what the affected parties are saying, and for the most part, it ain’t great.  And at least one poor soul wanted to post a negative remark here, disagreeing with my post.  Which is fine, and I would have approved the post regardless.  I’m fair that way.  However,  if’n you want to post on my blog, at least have the balls to attach your name to your post.  And….done!


About John F.D. Taff

John F.D. Taff is a writer, published author, raconteur and wrangler of angry stoats. He has more than 80 short stories and 7 novels published. He lives in the great, unspoiled vastness of the Midwest. He has a tremendous wife named Debbie, three pugs, Sadie, Tovah and Muriel, and three great kids--Harry, Sam and Molly. View all posts by John F.D. Taff

4 responses to “The Gentleman’s Business Has Scumbagified…

  • Sean Hoade

    Reblogged this on Sean Hoade — Puttin' It Out There and commented:
    The more I learn about what has happened at Permuted Press, the more relieved I am that I have dissolved my contract with them. I was one of the overenthusiastic authors who had signed away ALL rights in perpetuity, without even consciously realizing what that meant.

    • John F.D. Taff

      Sorry to hear that, Sean. But I don’t doubt you’re better off. I’ve been doing this for 25 years now, and never heard anything good about them as a publisher. Still, don’t like to hear this sort of thing. Good luck with your new efforts!

  • Brian W. Taylor

    I also terminated my contract with Permuted (it would have been my debut). While I didn’t sign away film rights (among other things), I am terribly disappointed with the day to day operations and the direction the company as a whole seems to be headed. I won’t go into specifics or any he said, she said. That’s not me. What I will say is that I sat down and made a decision based on what was best for me, and my career. I would expect every author to do the same, whether they’re signed with Permuted or not. All I can do now is learn from this experience and move forward.

    Best of luck, Sean!

    Thanks for the support, John!

  • John F.D. Taff

    Brian, sorry you had to do all that, but ultimately I think it will work out for the best for you. I think it’s important to remember that we’re not alone at there. There are plenty of authors who would be more than happy to answer questions or offer help when it comes to sorting through a contract. Best of luck, Brian!

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