Permuted Press: A New Age of Fuckery

There is a justified uproar about the business practices of Permuted Press right now. You can read all about it via Graeme Reynolds, Gabrielle Faust, and R. Thomas Riley, (three newer authors whom I have an immense amount of respect for) and William Miekle (who’s been at this I think as long as I have and knows the score). Update: And here’s one from another new author, Jack Hanson).

Authors have privately been asking me to look into this over the last few weeks, and although I’ve been dealing with a friend’s alarming health diagnosis, and an alarming health diagnosis of my own, and deadlines, and the every day adventures of being the parent of a six-year old, I have. I have looked into it and it is abhorrent. It is not, however, illegal.

Permuted Press should, on good faith to the community and their stable, revert those print rights back to the individual authors. That would be the right and moral thing to do. However, corporations seldom do the right or moral thing, especially when Intellectual Property is involved, and especially when that Intellectual Property can be strip-mined for film, comic books, television, merchandising, etc. And in the case of Permuted, they have no legal obligation to do the right or moral thing. Indeed. their legal obligation is to hold on to those rights, because as I understand it, the contracts their authors signed state that they can.

As I said on Laird Barron’s Facebook Page this morning, “Permuted has been dodgy since day one. I did an Afterword for one of their very early anthologies, got a glimpse at their contracts then, and stayed far away. A decade + later, nothing much seems to have changed, despite new owners.

But it’s also important to note that, unlike Dorchester, it doesn’t sound as if Permuted is doing anything ‘illegal’. Dodgy? Yes. Shifty as fuck? Yes. But from what sources have told me, they are going by contractual terms, and if the authors signed those contracts with those terms, then that’s not illegal.

Laird is absolutely right. You need to understand what you are signing and what it means for your IP. Take a community college business course (like I did), come from a business background, or get an agent (or ideally, all three). In this age, Intellectual Property is king, and the advent of digital means your IP can stay in print in perpetuity, and make other people a lot of money — unless you’ve got control of it."  

Let me be clear. I stand firmly with the authors in this fight, and I will personally boycott purchasing all Permuted Press titles until the company does the morally right thing (and I applaud you if you do the same) and reverts those print rights to their authors.

But we are going to see more and more and more stories like this, and at some point, boycotts and Blogs aren’t going to be enough. 

In the aftermath of Dorchester and others, and with the advent of respectable, responsible self-publishing via digital, and with the headline-grabbing stories of IP battles in comic book and YA publishing, there is absolutely no excuse for authors not managing control over their rights and their IP. The days of simply writing the books and letting others control the paperwork are gone. As an author, it is your responsibility to shepherd your IP.

1. Never, ever publish without a contract.

2. Never, ever sign a contract unless you understand it. If you are using an agent, make that agent explain the parts you don’t understand. If the agent doesn’t want to explain it, get a new agent.

3. Never, ever sign a contract you’re not comfortable with just because you are excited to be published or to be working with that publisher.

4. Never, ever give away the rights to anything. Make sure you are paid for them. If you are dealing with a book publisher, why would you give them your movie rights? Are they making movies, or are they publishing books? Never assume those rights won’t be used. For 20 years, I’ve retained the rights to things like apparel, toys, etc. for my books. Those rights were never used by anyone, yet I made sure I retained them. Now, there is a successful line of t-shirts based on my books being produced by a vendor. Had I not held on to those rights, I would have had to either split those monies with my publishers, or not made a cent off them at all.

You can’t just be a writer these days. I’m sorry. I know that’s not romantic. But it’s true. In addition to being a writer, you have to be a salesperson and a marketer and an agent and a lawyer. Or else you need to hire one of each and have them on your team.

Most importantly, you need to remember that quite often, your peers and readers will also be on your team. if you do get screwed, then you need to do as Graeme, Gabrielle, and R. Thomas have done above. You have the right (and I personally believe an obligation) to speak out publicly, stating the facts and letting the public decide.

Good morning.

UPDATE: Click here for a follow up.