Making a stink – know how, when, and why to do it

So Dorchester has promised to do right by its authors and pay them the royalties they are owed. Dorchester CEO Bob Anthony claims that Brian Keene’s call for a boycott of all Dorchester books because they’re selling e-books for which they don’t own the rights was “regrettable and not necessary to get our attention…”

Really?

While Dorchester was busy reinventing itself as an e-trade, they were happily ripping off countless authors by illegally selling their e-books. And those authors weren’t receiving any royalties. This abuse has gone on for far too long, without resolution. So obviously, the only conclusion one can infer is that Dorchester is stonewalling and ignoring their responsibilities to authors who are making them a lot of money.

It’s theft.

So what options are left to those who have sent countless emails and are continually are ignored? Make a public stink. There is no small amount of irony that Brian’s call to boycott coincided with Dorchester’s suddenly finding religion. There is nothing worse than being publicly called a thief or a cheat. The heat is now on them to follow through…and I hope they do.

This is definitely a double-edged sword because those who speak out carry some risk of blowback. As with any action, there can be an equally strong reaction, so one needs to be very cognizant of how, why, and when to make a stink.

Severity

I just had a very recent experience of my own where I had to go public with a serious problem with my own book. It gave me no pleasure because I hate discourse. But more to the point, I hate being screwed. My grievances were severe enough to take the step toward making an official stink.

Stealing rights, not being paid royalties…these are severe reasons to consider going pubic. Being angry because your publisher took your book out of print due to lackluster sales doesn’t meet the burden of severity. Go public with something like that, and you’re doing little more than waving your personal dirty laundry in public. No one cares or wants to see it.

The reasons should be of a contractual nature, where you can measure the severity of your grievance in dollars and sales.

Exhausting all options

But before you go charging to your local writer’s board, you really owe it to yourself and the other party to exhaust all your options. You email, or, if you’re in the same country, you call. You do this repeatedly in order to a) resolve the situation and b) set a foundation of abuse. If you’re able to maintain a dialog with the other party, then going public isn’t a good idea because there is at the very least, a line of communication. That it isn’t being resolved to your satisfaction isn’t reason enough to make a stink.

The caveat to that is if they’re bullshitting you. And by bullshitting, I mean that they are trying to re-define or re-interpret the terms of your contract. At that point, you’re at a crossroad because they’ve made it apparent that they are going to try every attempt to squeeze out of the problem via deflection. If this continues for lone enough, then it might be time for some stink-making.

Stay Calm

This is the hard part. You’re talking about a book that you sweat bullets over, and someone is messing with its viability. It’s hard to remain calm because you’re emotionally wrapped up in your book and your literary future. But you do yourself no favors when you come off like a screeching shrew and make wild personal attacks that don’t relate to the case at hand. If you truly have a legit grievance, then let those facts speak for themselves. Believe me, it’s hard to see the message through the vitriol.

Have your facts and proof

In order to make a stink, you need to fully believe that you hold the righteous and moral ground. That means you must have your facts straight and possess irrefutable proof. The first place you should go is to your contract. Language should exist that spells out the publisher’s duties and responsibilities. Your contract is your proof.

Make sure that you keep all your correspondence because it is the foundation of your claims.

The second place you should go is someone who is a very powerful, knowledgeable author advocate. They are often great resources for helping you make the right decisions in terms of recourse.

If you make a stink, expect that blowback will show itself with outrage and explanations from the other party. You need to be very certain you can refute their explanations to retain that moral ground. Let the facts speak for themselves. Anyone can explain anything, just like this ridiculous Dorchester article, to which my reply would be, “Sure. I’ll believe it when I see it.” In other words, talk is cheap. Actions are the only logical solution at this point.

Ask around, gather data

You will be surprised at the amount of information you’ll get if you ask around. “What have you heard/experienced?” are very powerful words because they verify that a pattern of abuse exists and you aren’t alone. Using my own recent experience as an example, I’d reached the point where there would be no resolution unless I made a public stink. All I had were my emails, that had been categorically ignored, and my contract.

I began asking questions of other authors with this publisher, gathering data, just to make sure I wasn’t an isolated case. That information proved to be a huge eye-opener. Based on what others were telling me, I felt I had the proper backup to go forward with my public complaint. I had the confidence to say that this wasn’t just a problem with me, but with a number of others as well. It was an established pattern.

Why?

The logical question is “Why did I do it?” What did I hope to achieve?

I’m not normally a disagreeable character – despite what the beagle says. But just like Brian Keene, I’d reached the point where there was nothing left. I was outraged at my treatment (especially since I’m in the business) and had nothing to lose at this point. I’d already written off my chances of finding resolution to the problem, so this wasn’t about revenge. It boiled down to the fact that I felt others should be warned.

In my line of work, I see far too many authors who have suffered from the arrogance, stupidity, naivete, or thievery of publishers, and I hate this. Without you fabulous writers, we’d be slinging hash in some roadside diner while forcing our errant beagles into panhandling. You should be treated with respect and honored for your talents. So my intent was to get the word out of my experience so authors could make better- informed decisions.

Hello…is anyone home??

Other reasons for making a stink is to get the other guy’s attention – such as in the Dorchester case. Nothing else was working, so why not make a huge public stink that would shame Dorchester into responding. I admit this was part of my reason as well. And yes, I had an immediate reaction which resulted in an equally immediate and amicable resolution. I was pleasantly surprised because I’d already given up my attachment to the outcome.

Do I believe the excuses given to me for my treatment? Not at all – not any more than I believe Dorchester was going to honor these authors by paying them and taking their illegal e-books off the market. I pray the Dorchester authors have an equally amicable resolution.

Revenge

This is what happens when you don’t take the emotion out of your thinking. You’re pissed and want to attack and hurt the other guy. Tit for tat revenge is lame, so resist this. Personal grievances are equally lame. In truth, it’s not newsworthy and no one cares. Revenge is for the immature and unsavvy. You’re beyond this. If you’re not, eat some chocolate, have the beagle mix up some margaritas and consume at will until revenge has left your bloodstream. Yah, it’s that lame and damaging.

Is it worth it?

Stink-making takes precious time away from things that will garner far more happiness and success. To be honest, it’s a royal pain in the ass. But it can be worth it, too. So if you decide that you have no choice but to make a stink, you need to be honest about why you’re doing it, how to do it, and when to do it. In my case, I got exactly what I wanted, so it was totally worth it. I don’t have to chew the inside of my cheek in frustration anymore. I’m free. I’d forgotten what that felt like – and it’s damn nice.

But above all else, you MUST ask yourself if you’re prepared for the consequences of your actions. Consider what they might be and act accordingly. The one thing you don’t want to do is sully your own name in the process. Think about whether the other party is in a position to damage your reputation. It’s a fine line, and that’s why I say that you must maintain the higher moral, righteous ground based on facts and proof.

Don’t jump into stink-making on a whim because I promise you, it’ll bite you on the backside. And don’t make a habit of stink-making because you’ll be like the boy who cried “Wolf!” No one will believe you because you’ll be pegged as a Wendy Whiner. And no one likes a whiner.

On the other hand, no one likes being screwed. Handle this powerful tool with great care because you’re creating karma – and we all know karma can be a bitch.

Has there been a time when you were sorely tempted to make a stink and you didn’t? What held you back?

Or if you did, what compelled you to do so? How did it turn out for you and the other guy?

2 Responses to Making a stink – know how, when, and why to do it

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Oh yes, I was tempted to raise a stink.

    I didn’t, because I didn’t want the stink to blow up in the face of an editor who was innocent of all wrongdoing in the matter and treated even worse by the publisher concerned than I was.

  2. Indy says:

    Outside of the writing world, I recently found out two women were slandering me behind my back – they even went so far as to try and “poison the well” at the last conference I attended (and I still don’t know why). Of course I immediately wanted to defend myself – but in the end I decided that ignoring that type of behavior was the higher road. Others took up my cause for me, and made sure things got cleared up where it mattered – now these two people have lost some credibility in the writing world. I wonder if the blow-back to them was worth the damage they tried to do to me…I can’t imagine it is.

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