Why Being Responsible Matters

This past week or so has had a lot of negatives, and as McKay pointed out in her post, it’s made writing more difficult. We’re pushing through it, because we have a deadline, but I admit it’s sapped a lot of joy and energy out of our  process. But what I want to talk about isn’t the election, although in a way there is some resonance with what’s on my mind. Specifically, I want to talk about Torquere Press, LLC, how their failure to own up to their responsibility to pay has affected us beyond a loss of money — and why it matters to us.

To be a publisher is to be in a position of trust. Authors bring the fruits of their labors to a publisher, and trust that, in exchange for a percentage of the profits, the publisher will market their work, collect the revenues, then reimburse the author in a timely fashion. This is, in many ways, no different than how it’s managed in my day job. I work for a company that pays me by the hour for my efforts. In exchange for a percentage of my billable rate to the prime contractor, my company collects the revenue from the prime, and passes my percentage on to me. I trust my company to properly bill the prime and give me my cut, just as McKay and I trusted Torquere to collect from the distributors and pass our money on to us.

It was Torquere’s responsibility to pay for certain things out of their half of the revenue, just as it was our responsibility to deliver things according to their schedule, and help promote our own work. Just as we wouldn’t expect Torquere (or any publisher) to assume responsibility for the expenses we incur in writing (for instance, the cost of internet access, computers, or the food we eat while writing), it’s not our responsibility to assume their expenses for running their business. They’re supposed to know what their expenses are and plan accordingly. If things go badly for them, in no way does that give them the right to dip into the profits that belong to the writers and use them for anything else. Period. That is the only honest way to run a business. Using the author’s share of revenues for anything else is irresponsible and dishonest.

Now, I fully realize that there are expenses incurred before a book makes a dime of profit. Editors, artists, ISBNs, etc, all cost money, as does marketing. These are up front costs similar to those in any business, and tend to be an issue more for a company that is starting up, not one that has been in business for years. But my major complaint against Torquere in using that argument to justify not paying us is that in our case, is that it’s pure bullshit. All of our titles except the most recent one were well past the point of recouping the up front expenses, and at any rate, the vast majority of our works were published under Torquere Press, Inc, not Torquere Press, LLC. Which means that the previous owners of the company paid the up front costs for twenty two of our twenty five titles, and Torquere Press, LLC, was just collecting profits off of us. Any expenses they incurred, or losses they suffered, were not and are not our responsibility. If they took risks on authors whose work didn’t pay off, that was not our fault, and we shouldn’t have to pay for it from the money our work earned. If they had medical expenses, or took vacations, or spent too much money on something they shouldn’t have bought, or owed legal fees… again, that is not our responsibility. As professionals, we fulfilled every obligation to Torquere Press, LLC, that we contracted for. They, however, failed us by not paying us.

Which brings me to the subject of our profits. They owe McKay and I each almost $1400 just for 2Q2016 (which includes 1Q2016 from most of the distributors), and I know from tracking our sales ranks that what we’re owed from Amazon sales for 3Q2016 (earned in 2Q2016) is just as much, if not more.

In the grand scheme of things, what is owed to McKay and I might not seem very much. But there is more involved here than just the financial aspects. When Torquere failed to fulfill their responsibility to us, it meant that time we would normally have spent writing was suddenly taken up with other things. Like getting our rights back. Well over 75% of our totally back catalog was with Torquere, which means that we have taken a very large financial hit over and above just the money we’re owed outright. And while we’ve managed to place some of our stories with another publisher, and will be self-publishing others, it’s taking up time and effort that we’d prefer to put into  writing new stories. It’s robbed us of momentum, we resent that almost as much as the loss of revenue. Multiply our feelings and experiences by the dozens of authors Torquere has failed, and it’s a horrible breech of trust.

We do understand that as writers, the failure of a publisher is a risk we take. It makes sense for authors to spread their stories around to different publishers, just to lessen the impact if any one of them fails to live up to their contractual responsibilities. But it’s galling for a publisher to blame the writers for the company’s problems, and even more than that, it’s immature and irresponsible. If a company has problems, it is only professional to own up to them, not place blame everywhere except where it belongs. Not to lie and try to pretend things are fine. It’s irresponsible to ignore problems and hope they’ll go away. It’s immature and unprofessional to ignore emails and other attempts at communication. It’s wrong to make others pay for your own mistakes. It’s appalling that they seem to believe they can walk away unscathed, having misappropriated money that wasn’t theirs. It’s extremely troubling the lesson they are teaching their children by their actions.  They have violated their position of trust — if McKay or I were to do the same thing, we’d lose our jobs. And rightfully so.

We hope Torquere Press, LLC, will step up and take responsibility for their actions and their debts. It’s the right and responsible thing to do, and the only way they can salvage their reputation. But if they don’t, no doubt Karma will catch up with them eventually. It has a way of doing that.