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I recently co-hosted a book launch with my friend Vanessa Ricci-Thode. Her book, the Dragon Whisperer recently came out, and since the timing was in proximity to the release of the print edition of Konstantin’s Gifts, we figured we’d pool resources and launch together.

It was a really fun event–I had a great time, lots of people came, and it was a fabulous night of celebration, featuring live music, readings and some really really delicious cake! Thanks so much to everyone who attended or was involved, for your help and support and for coming out, buying books and all that good stuff!

It was a fully co-operative event, in which Ness and I both participated fully: she contacted the venue; I contacted the media; she looked into catering; I looked into music; she invited her friends; I invited my friends etc. You get the idea.

So, imagine my surprise when her publisher wrote the following about the event:

“Vanessa was able to manage her tight schedule of writing, editing, housework, and child rearing, with poise and cool. Right after the release, she put together a book launch event in her city of Kitchener. The book launch party held in Kitchener on June 18, was a hit! Voracious canvassing on her part brought together a large, supportive crowd. She signed and sold a number of books at the launch. Vanessa also read a part of the book to avid listeners at the launch party. The success of the launch was able to pique the interest of many reviewers. Press and media that Vanessa had contacted and invited to the book launch gave splendid coverage for the event.”

Did you notice what’s missing? Yes indeed: that would be yours truly! It seems I wasn’t at the event after all and that I didn’t actually co-organize it, contact the media, or do a reading in front of the assembled crowd.

Here is a picture of me, attending and doing a reading:

book launch Kat

Photo courtesy of EvR

I should pause here to point out that Ness has ALWAYS been great about putting out the word that this was a cooperative event. She’s a forthright person, and I didn’t–and don’t–see her as someone who would be passive aggressively trying to cut me out of it or something. That’s just not who she is. So, though I did give her a heads up that I was going to contact the publisher, I didn’t for a moment think that this was anything she had done.

I emailed the media person. My full email is at the bottom of the post, for those interested. It basically just expresses my surprise at being written out of the event completely, voices concern at the factual inaccuracies (some of the facts in the excerpt are simply WRONG), asks for an explanation and states that I plan to post about it, and will include any proffered response as part of my coverage of the incident here on my blog.

The response from Emily (with my highlighting of key passages):

“I’m sorry to hear that our coverage of Vanessa’s launch has upset you to this extent. The information that was posted about the event was the only information supplied to us by the author. We rely on our authors to give us accurate and thorough information about the events that they organize. We are not a newspaper, so we do not conduct fact checks on events as pedestrian as a launch event, because we believe what our authors tell us about such things.

“Allow me to clarify a few things. Vanessa had mentioned there was maybe another author involved, but it was never solidified, and that there may in fact have been a third author joining you as well. But that was where she had left it in May with me. When I asked for any other information about the event, or afterwards for information about it, that would have been a good time to update me. But, alas, this did not happen.

“The blog that we post on Iguana Books’ website is entirely our business as a company. It is not meant to be a news feed. We are not a newspaper.”*

(*to be totally fair to what Emily had to say, I have cited the full email below my first note to them. I don’t want to misrepresent them. My analysis of the email is, of course, just my opinion, but I want readers to feel free to draw their own conclusions).

By my reading, her response presents a classic example of a Mean Girls/Queen Bees and Wannabes-style non-apology: she states that she’s sorry I got so upset, but is evidently not at all sorry about the underlying reasons for my upset, namely the factual inaccuracies. Indeed, she is so far from being apologetic or upset about the factual inaccuracies that she:

1) proffers the mysterious justification that because Iguana Books is not a newspaper and their blog is not a newsfeed they do not have to be factually accurate,

2) is so unperturbed by the notion of factual accuracy that she does not offer to update or add an addendum to the piece, correcting the mistakes. Instead, she says Vanessa can write something else that talks about the event.

3) as a little side note, you probably noticed how she threw Vanessa under the bus right there, yes? Pulled a little “it’s not my fault, it’s Vanessa’s, and besides, we don’t care about getting the facts right because we’re a private company, not a newsfeed”. Not the best way to treat your clients/authors, to my thinking. When I saw this, I thought “Well that doesn’t sound like Ness. If it’s true, then it must have been an oversight by Ness during a busy time–but even so, surely it would be classier and more diplomatic to apologise to me and then speak to Ness privately about this rather than pointing the finger?” As mentioned, I had also made it clear that I would be posting about this, so she would have been pointing the finger having had notice that it was subject to public disclosure.

(I note that upon standing thusly accused, Ness proceeded to forward us the email to Emily from late May in which she explicitly stated that it was a co-launch, provided my name, and all the pertinent details.)

4) as a further side note, did you catch the whole reference to a book launch as a “pedestrian” event? I’m not personally upset about that–for me it was a fun party and a good way to celebrate and I don’t especially care that someone somewhere thinks it pedestrian. But for some writers, a book launch is a really big milestone that Emily, the media relations person at a publishing company, just trivialized. To me this is a worrisome indication of an underlying attitude towards authors and their milestones, including those she is working with. Though I may of course be wrong, and this might have merely been a slip of the fingers. That happens. Diction can be tricky–that’s the whole challenge of authorship, after all.

But regardless, my big picture concerns are on points 1 & 2 above. Again, it’s not personal. At the personal level, I ultimately don’t care all that much that I wasn’t mentioned in the blog post. I would even have been happy if she’d changed the post to read “Vanessa and another local author co-organized the book launch…” etc. A little petty to not mention the other author by name, but whatevs–at least it’s factually accurate.

But just Emily’s luck, she happens to have brought this factually-distortive practice to the attention of someone who is all hopped up on the principle of it. I went to law school –and I’m still idealistic enough to actually care about the ethics of (intentionally) misrepresenting facts.

Because sure. She’s right, strictly speaking. As a business, they can say what they want (so long as it doesn’t stray into negligent misrepresentation and/or fraud). They can make up whatever statements they please.

But from a credibility perspective? Problematic. Ethically problematic as well. A company’s credibility in providing accurate information ties right into its reputation. And reputation is so very, very important.

I for one, wouldn’t feel particularly comfortable dealing with a company that: 1) takes the position that their own blog posts on their own website–one of the key venues where they have full control over their messaging–don’t have to be accurate; 2) upon being told of factual inaccuracies, declines to correct them; 3) upon being told of errors, swiftly points the finger at their client. And of course, my discomfort stems not just from the three relatively minor issues of themselves, but the flags that they raise about deeper attitudes towards information, accuracy, accountability and diplomacy.

Thoughts? Reactions? Am I overreacting to this? Being hopelessly naive or idealistic?

A few further notes and context:

Re Iguana Books. For a bit of background, which may or may not change your perspective on things (e.g. why some staff there might be reluctant to mention the existence of a non-Iguana author on their blog), I thought I’d provide a bit more information about Iguana, as gleaned from their website.

They are not a traditional-model publishing company. Though they evidently screen the manuscripts they receive and do not accept every submission for publication, I note that the sample contract available on their website provides three options for funding publication: the author pays, a third party pays or they use “pre-publication sales” to fund the cost. The latter appears, for at least some proportion of the time, to actually consist of crowd funding the book, with the author campaigning to raise enough funds to finance it. The pre-publication sales in that case would presumably consist of the rewards that come at different contribution levels of the campaign. There is nothing wrong with these models. Indeed, I’m a great believer in financing your own work. 🙂

It is worth noting some implications of this, however:

1) unlike traditional publishing companies, Iguana, in requiring that authors pay or raise the funds for the cost of their book up front, is not bearing any real risk from what I can see. Given that, from a business model perspective, this looks a lot more like a self-publishing package deal, rather than a traditional publishing model. Again, nothing wrong with this–it simply is what it is, and that’s not traditional publishing (which is admittedly an endangered species at this point).

2) notwithstanding the fact that they screen the books, it can be illustrative to follow the money in order to determine who is the client. In this case, it would seem that a large amount of money is flowing from the author–be it via his or her fundraising, or out of his/her pocket–to the publisher. It therefore seems likely that the author is the client, here, not the reader. Again, this is fine, and I mention it simply because a reader of this blog, with no background about the publisher, might not realise this is the case with Iguana. There are a lot of publishing and printing companies that provide services for authors, including packages of services. This also makes it very different to the traditional publishing model: there, the client/customer is the reader, and that fact informs every level of the process, including the decision making process of what will or won’t be published. I can only assume the identity of the client drives the process here as well, though I have no details about the specifics of how it might do so in Iguana’s case.

3) given all that, I’m intrigued to note as an aside, that Iguana still gets a number of rights in the contract they have drafted, though they’re not actually paying for those rights–it’s the author who is paying them for services. This may be problematic, as a point of law. On the other hand, there may be a totally legitimate explanation for this and a workaround that makes it supportable and that I’m not expert enough to know about. These comments are just general observations that arise as a result of having taken entertainment law at law school. Also: I have not brought these to the publisher for clarification–it’s just that Emily’s response to my email prompted me to look around and dig a little deeper into what Iguana Books is all about, at least according to their website. If I were considering signing with them or representing as counsel someone who was considering it, I certainly would be asking about this. I’d also be asking about why, if they collect an up-front fee for publication, they are also taking an ongoing percentage off net sales? On the surface, this looks like double dipping, but again, there may be a reason. I just wouldn’t be signing anything with them until I understood and was satisfied by that reason.

4) As well, it would seem that according to the contract, even if the author pays all his or her costs out of pocket, if he provides notice of termination in accordance with the terms of the contract, then in order to obtain the files (book cover, laid out innards, e-book formats etc.) that the author has paid for himself, he or she must pay Iguana an additional $500, dubbed an administration fee. Let me just repeat that: author pays for book, author assigns rights without apparent compensation, if author terminates the contract then author has to pay $500 more to get access to files already paid for. Is this standard practice in these kinds of situations? I really don’t know. Should it be? Harumph. I’ll just say that I work at a law firm, and we don’t even charge that much for the multiple copies of massive report books we generate for clients after a corporate deal. Those take hours and hours (and sometimes days) to put together. So all’s I’m saying is, that’s a heck of a lot of administration for a few digital files and for de-listing a book from some e-book and print sites. I’m happy to concede that here again, I may be missing something that justifies this from their perspective. But if I were considering signing, I’d sure be curious about the answer.

Ah well, ’nuff said on that. When I emailed Emily and initially let her know that I wasn’t happy with the exclusion and was planning to post about it, I figured I’d just be writing something about how as an author, you do need to follow up and advocate about things like this. But her response changed things. For all the reasons mentioned above, I felt disturbed not simply by what she said, but by what that implied about the corporate culture. On the one hand, her position seemed a little short sighted and petty to me–am I to understand that only clients who bring in money get a mention on the blog, even if the basic facts have to be distorted order to avoid mentioning non-clients?

But more than that, because she is the media person, her response impacted not just her, but also Iguana’s credibility. It raised genuine concerns for me that prompted closer scrutiny. When I was in law school, I used to volunteer at a clinic that advised artists and creative people–and I saw enough to understand how problematic the industry can be, given that the publishers et al are usually perceived to be in a stronger bargaining position. In highlighting these points about the contract, I’m not saying that they’re out to lunch necessarily–just that particularly given the other credibility issues that seem to be arising, if I were considering signing with them, I’d want to get some explanations of the rationales behind some of these points before putting pen to paper. Of course, given their response to what is ultimately a minor error or omission–including the finger pointing at the client/author–I’d hesitate to sign with a company that follows such an approach if that were how I could look forward to being treated.

SO, for those few diehards out there who are still reading this absurdly long post, here is the promised email thread, cut and pasted directly out of the email exchanges but with contact info etc. removed.

Dear Emily,

I enjoyed your overall coverage of Vanessa Ricci-Thode’s progress and promotions of the Dragon Whisperer. She has indeed been impressively focussed and motivated in organizing promotions and events surrounding the book’s launch! Always great to see.
I was, however, disconcerted at the explicit and implicit factual innacuracies involved in the coverage concerning the book launch, which was a joint undertaking from the outset. It would seem that I have been written out of the coverage altogether, which is not just problematic from the perspective of professional courtesy, but also from the perspective of credibility. Facts are facts. Getting them wrong, or misrepresenting them so extensively, strikes me as being problematic at best.
Given that, I thought I’d follow up with you and seek some clarification of the reasoning behind the lacuna. I’ll be blogging about the event and your coverage of it–as well as my emotional response to being completely elided from an event in which I was a co-participant and for which I was a co-organizer.
In the interests of fair, thorough and factually-accurate coverage, I thought I’d seek out your comments, explanations and/or rationale prior to finalizing the post. I would love to hear back from you by tomorrow evening (namely, July 9, 2013, 6 pm). If I haven’t heard, I will note that I sought your response but did not hear back.
To clarify the facts: the book launch was a joint and co-operative undertaking from the get-go, with Ness and I meeting and discussing possible venues in May. Ness contacted the venue and catering staff initially. I finalized the catering order and the details surrounding payment and delivery. I initiated, and had sole and primary contact with, the media for this event–a direct factual innaccuracy in the blog coverage. Similarly, while Vanessa designed the promotional posters, I had input for the wording, printed them and put them up. We both promoted the event and the people in attendance were from my circle as well as hers. My husband, a professional musician, provided live music consisting of his own arrangements of SF/F themes, free of charge as a personal favour to me.
None of this is by way of trying to imply that one or the other of us did more work–rather it is to point out that it was a joint effort. I also note that Ness has always been great about acknowledging our joint efforts re the event.
Given that, it surprises me that the coverage doesn’t even mention that it was a joint launch, co-organized by the two of us, to promote our respective books, with at least a mention of my name and of Konstantin’s Gifts (my novel). I wouldn’t necessarily expect a link to my website, though of course that would be a professional courtesy.
The final irony, of course, is that for all that I was completely excluded from any explicit mention in your coverage of the event, the photo you posted was one that I took, after I had completed my reading and taken my seat.
As a side note, I’m happy to let you use it, of course, and give you permission to do so on a non-commercial, no-derivatives basis. Still, I’m somewhat surprised that as a publisher, who would have such a vested stake in proper and respectful use of copyrighted works, you wouldn’t be a little more careful about seeking out permission from the creators.

Kat

Emily’s response:

Hi Kat,

I’m sorry to hear that our coverage of Vanessa’s launch has upset you to this extent. The information that was posted about the event was the only information supplied to us by the author. We rely on our authors to give us accurate and thorough information about the events that they organize. We are not a newspaper, so we do not conduct fact checks on events as pedestrian as a launch event, because we believe what our authors tell us about such things.
Allow me to clarify a few things. Vanessa had mentioned there was maybe another author involved, but it was never solidified, and that there may in fact have been a third author joining you as well. But that was where she had left it in May with me. When I asked for any other information about the event, or afterwards for information about it, that would have been a good time to update me. But, alas, this did not happen.
The blog that we post on Iguana Books’ website is entirely our business as a company. It is not meant to be a news feed. We are not a newspaper. We use our blog at times to say that we are proud of the activities that our authors are engaging in to help their own promotion. That was what that post was about, and any other publicity/posts or company newsletter covering the event. It was meant to celebrate Vanessa.
Vanessa tells me you were in charge of contacting the media? That would have been a perfect platform to make sure that the event was represented in the way you feel it should have been. However, I have also suggested to Vanessa that she write up a post that she feels more accurately depicts the true share of work that happened between the two of you, and we would be happy to incorporate it into another Iguana website post and on our social media platforms.
Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I hope I have answered your questions. I apologize if you feel our social media and website posts did not do you justice.
Emily
My final response to her which just reiterates the points made above:
Dear Emily,
Thank you for taking the time to respond and to clarify your position. I understand that you are probably very busy and have a lot of demands on your time.
I will certainly present your response when I write my post in the next day or so.
A few points from my end. Feel free to clarify if I’ve misunderstood any of the following issues:
1) I read your response as saying that because you are a private business and not the media, you do not have an obligation to be factually accurate about what you post on your website. While strictly true, this strikes me as troubling. Businesses are sustained by reputation. Part of reputation derives from credibility. Posting facts that are incorrect or that misrepresent events, is problematic from the perspective of credibility, to authors/clients and to the wider community of readers, potential readers and the public.
2) I also understand from your response that now that this has been brought to your attention, you do not intend to correct the facts by, for instance, adding a brief note correcting the inaccuracies and errors. Instead, you will leave it as is and have Vanessa write an additional, subsequent post with a more accurate depiction. See above at point 1), re: credibility. Another issue on the credibility matter here is that this is more worrisome: you now know that the facts are inaccurate but apparently don’t think this matters. I won’t lie in saying this mystifies me from a business model perspective.
3) It also troubles me that you are so ready to point the finger at Vanessa and blame her. Perhaps you are busy and so didn’t see the email about the co-operative nature of the book launch, when she sent it back in May. But even assuming you had not seen it, it took me somewhat aback to find that when I pointed out the inaccuracies, your response was to state that this was not your fault, and to blame your author/client rather than simply apologizing and contacting Vanessa privately to have a discussion about communications. I believe I had made it clear that I would be posting about this issue and so you would presumably have been aware in making it, that any response blaming Vanessa would form part of a publically available statement about Iguana Books’s position on this matter.
4) Though I’m not particularly perturbed personally, your reference to a book launch as being a “pedestrian” event does seem telling of an underlying attitude that raises concerns for me about how your authors are being treated. Obviously, I’m not one of those, but this–along with the issue at point 3), takes me a step further away from ever becoming one.
At any rate, those are just some quick responses. Thanks again for clarifying your position. I may not agree with it, and I will certainly be commenting on it, but I will also represent it as accurately as possible.
All the best,
Kat
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