Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thursday, July 7, 2016

An Open Letter to Samhain Publishing

Dear Christina Brashear,

You were one of the good guys. Samhain was the gold standard of epubs.

Somehow, in six months, that's all gone down the drain. And last night, with that email you sent out ostensibly for clarification, you've got a whole lot of authors feeling not just worried and disillusioned, but gaslit. As if we're expected to believe that we imagined the whole thing and Samhain never intended to close, or as if we're stupid for being surprised or upset that Samhain didn't close and isn't closing.

In case you've forgotten, this was what you told us in Feburary:
Saying goodbye is always hard. I will miss working with all of you. Samhain has been my greatest adventure and I’m bereft at having to give it up. Please accept my thanks for all the trust you've invested in Samhain and I hope you understand that this choice to begin the wind-down to close is made to honor that trust.
Those are your words, copied directly from the email which you titled The Long Goodbye. Your intentions were clear -- Samhain was closing, which meant authors needed to think about what happens next. And suddenly what happens next is that Samhain is back and never intended to leave? I'd expect this of a furniture store in the 1980s that is always having a Going Out of Business Sale, but not from the gold standard of romance epubs.

You were one of the good guys, but that's changed now. Authors who, by and large, were happy and even proud to be published by Samhain are angry, scared, and exhausted. For nearly six months, many of us have been sitting back and watching our books on at best a sinking ship, at worst a roller coaster. We've alternated between cringing that it's going to derail at any second and raging because the damn thing is still going when people really just want to get off.

I for one want to get off.

At first, I was okay with the plan to wind down slowly. Avoiding bankruptcy is good for all of us. But then things changed. Suddenly there was a possible Hail Mary. Then that was gone, and the winding down continued. Then suddenly Samhain was staying open after all. In fact, you were just voicing frustrations, not voicing any intention to close.

To reiterate...
Saying goodbye is always hard. I will miss working with all of you. Samhain has been my greatest adventure and I’m bereft at having to give it up. Please accept my thanks for all the trust you've invested in Samhain and I hope you understand that this choice to begin the wind-down to close is made to honor that trust.
Your words. Not mine.

But somehow, here we are, with Samhain remaining open. I can see how you would think this was a good thing for authors. It isn't. Because the damage is done. I don't trust that the company is stable. Sure, there's better cash flow and lower overhead. Sure, things are looking better. But how do we know this isn't just a dead cat bounce? And what happens when you have to start paying editors and cover artists again? How much of the change in Samhain's financial status has to do with not producing new books for the last few months?

And for that matter, the end result is that my trust in Samhain is gone. I'm angry because this has affected me on numerous levels. My production schedule for 2016-2017 went out the window because those books weren't going to be published anymore. 28 of my books -- fully 1/3 of my backlist -- have been in this roller-coaster-shaped-limbo, and at times, partially unavailable, with paperbacks vanishing from Amazon.

Through it all, my subrights were still being sold, and I was expected to be thrilled to find out one of my books had been signed to a ten-year audio contract. While I understood the need to bring cash into Samhain to pay down creditors, this angered me. It infuriated me. Mostly because it sent extremely mixed messages. You're closing, but you're selling off my subrights? What?

But it doesn't end there. This long game winding down process hasn't just been a source of stress and frustration. I can't speak for other authors, but it has actually cost me money. 

For one, you bailed on us for the RT book signing. As you well know, for that signing, we have to sign up months ahead of time and tell the bookseller which books to order for us. In previous years, Samhain titles have been ordered, and when we arrive at the signing, they're waiting for us on our tables. At the end of the signing, we can leave them there, and the bookseller deals with returns.

About two months ahead of RT2016, an email came out that suddenly Samhain wouldn't be providing those books after all. Of course this is long after the deadline to tell RT which books we're bringing, but fortunately, the organizers graciously worked with us. Still, authors were left scrambling to get books for the signing. Suddenly the already expensive RT is costing us all an additional chunk of change for books, not to mention getting those books *to* RT.

This wasn't a small inconvenience. I live in Spain, so you can imagine the cost associated with not just acquiring ~40-50 books, but either shipping or transporting them to the convention. Between ordering them, shipping them, eating the hotel's handling fees, and shipping the remaining copies home, I can conservatively estimate that just to have books for the signing cost me -- on top of all the other costs associated with RT -- around $500.

EDIT: These are the actual costs, not counting purchased copies I pulled from my stock at home:


$181.93 (shipping books to RT)
$244.78 (books purchased from Riptide for the signing)
$84.00 (overweight baggage for carrying books on an international flight)
$114.38 (shipping books home from RT)
$625.09
 
That was just RT. In the weeks and months following the announcement of Samhain's closure, I realized that with almost 30 books published by Samhain, it behooved me to be proactive and start preparing to re-release them on my own. This meant cover art, re-editing some older books, formatting, etc. Again...not cheap.

It was more than a little unnerving to go forward with that process without a set end date, but during one of our email conversations, you told me that you hoped to wrap things up by the end of 2016. You weren't 100% sure if it would work out that way, but that was the goal, and it was the closest thing I had to tangible information about the future of my books. So I had to assume I would need to find homes for or re-release 28 titles at or around the end of the year. I couldn't contract them to other companies without a finite statement of rights reversion, so self-publishing was my best bet. Really my only bet at that point.

With that many books, it would have been stupid for me to sit back and wait before starting the process. Better to get them formatted and ready to roll so that when Samhain closed, I could re-publish them. I sent some of my older books to editors for a facelift. I started making new covers. I spent hours formatting ebooks and paperbacks. I poured time and money into making sure that when you closed your doors, my books would be ready.

What choice did I have, Christina? I can't have 28 books disappear from circulation overnight and not get them back out there in a hurry, and I can't edit/cover/format them overnight. I had to start right away so I could spread out the expense rather than coughing up the money to have them all done at once. Plus editing takes time, so sending them out sooner than later meant I'd get them back sooner than later.

Bottom line, I had to be proactive. I would have been stupid not to.

Then, with time and money sunk into that process, I find out Samhain is staying open.

And then, when I wasn't already exhausted and frustrated, last night's email comes out. Like many authors who have spoken up on social media, I've been left feeling gaslit, as if I'm expected to believe that I just misunderstood Samhain's intentions to close.

No, Christina. We didn't misunderstand. None of us did. We were told, explicitly, that Samhain was winding down and intended to close. You told me that your goal was to finish that process by the end of this year. I spent time and money preparing for that closure because I had no reason to believe it wasn't going to happen.

You were one of the good guys, but now I can't trust you. Not when a significant portion of my livelihood has been tangled up in a mess that I'm suddenly supposed to believe was my misinterpretation of your badly-communicated intentions.

No, I didn't misinterpret.

One more time for the people in the back:
Saying goodbye is always hard. I will miss working with all of you. Samhain has been my greatest adventure and I’m bereft at having to give it up. Please accept my thanks for all the trust you've invested in Samhain and I hope you understand that this choice to begin the wind-down to close is made to honor that trust.

You were one of the good guys. Now, I can't speak for other authors, but I want my livelihood off this roller coaster.

L.A. Witt/Lauren Gallagher

Thursday, May 5, 2016

NOW AVAILABLE: Werewolves of Chernobyl

So it started out innocently enough.

Well, not really. You see, last September, I was sitting in a steakhouse in Spain with Agnes and Kat (the duo who write together as K.A. Merikan), and somehow, we wound up on the topic of Chernobyl-related shapeshifters. Yeah, I don't know either -- it was one of those conversations that probably started out sort of normal, and went south in a hurry, and none of us could ever backtrack to figure out how we ended up where we did.

Bottom line, somehow the three of us were discussing the possibility of combining Chernobyl with shapeshifters. Enjoying a bit of schadenfreude, I was getting a kick out of the already-scheduled-within-an-inch-of-their-lives Merikans being assaulted by this plot bunny, so of course I was feeding it. Tossing little ideas at them, egging them on, etc. After all, what good is having writers for friends if you can't cause them to be consumed by rampaging plot bunnies.

I should've known who I was dealing with, though. They sent the plot bunny right back to me. And by the time we'd ordered dessert (Nutella crepes, of course), we realized what needed to be done -- we needed to write it. Together. All three of us.

None of us were strangers to co-writing, but one book with three authors sounded like it could be as disastrous as giving one cup to two girls. Still, the story sounded fun (and we were already giggling over our wildly mismatched characters), and none of us are the type to forego a challenge.

By the end of the night, we had a plot, three characters, and a delightfully pulpy title. Over the course of the next few months, we wrote and revised the story, and it turned out to be surprisingly fun and easy. Plus the story was just as mad and pulpy as we'd imagined it would be (with all the requisite smut of a shapeshifter menage, including knotting because of course there is).

And now, today, the result of that madness has been unleashed on the world. We give you...



Being kidnapped by two werewolves is an adventure after all, right? Right?

Quinn

If Quinn wants to get the best photos for his travel blog, no gate is too tall, and no ‘do not enter’ sign actually means he won’t go in. What he finds in a hidden exclusion zone by Chernobyl blows his mind. Mutants? Monsters? He doesn’t know, but he is bound to find out when not one but two of them break into his hotel.
Too bad the rules and attitudes they have toward sex don’t match Quinn’s at all.

Dima

Born with a disabled hand, smaller than the other werewolves, Dima is the lowest of the low in his pack, but when he meets the loveliest human he’s ever seen, he knows his luck has changed.
The last thing he expects though is his beloved friend Nazar turning on him once Dima’s affection for Quinn deepens, and he refuses to be mounted by Nazar anymore.

Nazar

Nazar is a high ranking soldier in his pack, but in his powerful body hides a gentle soul, and all he wants is to escape the pack with Dima. But once Dima claims Quinn as his, secrets Nazar has so far kept hidden rear their ugly head.
The werewolf language doesn’t have words to describe what they crave, so Quinn might be the only one to help them solve the puzzle of the desires that go against the rules of their pack.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Guest Blog - Contest Winner Cari Z on her First RT

As some of you may remember, about a year ago, I held a contest to pay someone's way to their first RT. The details were here, and the prize included a guest slot on my blog to talk about their experience at RT.

Well, last week was RT, and my contest winner -- Cari Z -- is here to report back!

***

So hey, I spent the last week in Las Vegas at RT! You all must be wondering how it went.
 
Okay, maybe not all of you, but some of you!
 
It went pretty fucking great, actually. Let me tell you why.
 
RT 2016 was my first really big conference. I've done local cons, but they came nowhere near the scale and scope of RT. Going into a big, crowded conference filled with other professionals and lots of sharp readers, especially when you've never been before and know almost no one by sight...well. I'm not saying I'd never have done it, because eventually I would have had to in order to hit another echelon in my career. But I'd probably have irritated the hell out of my fellow Colorado authors Marie Sexton and PD Singer, not to mention my long-suffering friend Tiffany, by being clingy. No one wants a clingy Cari. I'm like a spider monkey, but way less cute.
 
Fortunately for me, I won LA Witt's RT contest last year. The spoils included her covering my registration fee, taking care of advertising for me, getting me a spot in the book fair, covering my hotel costs, and basically being my conference sherpa. Not literally carrying me around, but rather taking away the burden of uncertainty. Which, let me tell you, is a huge fucking burden to carry around in a new situation surrounded by people you don't know. Where to go, what to do, who to talk to, how to spend down time, how to get the most out of the conference: this is what I learned from Lori, and without a doubt I got way more out of RT because I had that help.
 
Firstly, let me assure you that it's way easier to meet new people when someone else is introducing you to them. I felt like way less of an awkward fangirl meeting Anna Zabo, Vanessa North, Cecilia Tan, and Megan Erickson (among many others) with someone they already knew there to break the ice. Some people can do a great cold open; I’m not one of them. This part was invaluable—honestly, this aspect made the entire conference worthwhile to me in the end.
 
Secondly, and I didn’t think this would be such a big thing, but wow: the issue of what to do. “Oh, just go to whatever’s interesting, Cari!” Yeah, no, because there were always five or six panels going at once, and inevitably more than one of them was interesting. It was nice to get input on what was likely to be the most useful, which ones someone else would go to and I could ask about, and which ones were necessities.
 
Thirdly, and kind of the best part: the downtime. Yes, I would have liked to go for gangbusters the whole time, but that was impossible for several reasons. One, this casino was fucking huge. I wish I had tracked my distance walked, because getting from my room to the conference area of the hotel was a trek. I wore sneakers, and after a while I was still like, “Yeah, hey, I think I’ll just sit in this comfy chair in the coffee shop instead.”
 
Speaking of the coffee shop: you had to schedule downtime into your day regardless of intention in part because there were SO MANY PEOPLE vying for enormous plates of food, coffee and later on, alcohol, that if you weren’t either really patient or a very early riser, you were going to have some slack in your day at some point.
 
Downtime was spent talking, bullshitting, plotting, joking around, and basically having a great time. Again, this was way easier to do when I had people to hang out with.
 
This conference would have been useful even if I hadn’t known anyone, for the panels and the exposure and the book fair. With a guide, though, it was amazing. Worth paying for the privilege of flying on Spirit Airlines (and hey, screw you guys) to get to Las Vegas and marinate in a casino for a week, because the people I met were so fantastic (Riptide Publishing, I’m looking at you).
 
I came away from RT with new plans, updated goals, and the will to get shit done. I have a better idea of what it takes to be an actual part of the conference, not just a lost soul wandering from room to room, trying to find a place there.
 
Thank you, Lori, for being friendly, funny, and above all patient with a newbie
***

Congrats again on winning, Cari, and it was awesome to meet you!

And hey, if y'all are curious about Cari's work, check out her website.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lovely and Prompt Apology from The Colorado Romance Writers

I'm posting this because I want to make sure it's well-known that the CRW promptly and (IMO) sincerely apologized for what happened with my book in their competition. I greatly appreciate them addressing this in a timely and professional manner.

Dear Ms. Witt,
We the undersigned, representing the majority of the board of the Colorado Romance Writers chapter of RWA wish to extend a heartfelt and humble apology to you for the unauthorized removal of your entry Lead Me Not from the inspirational category of our 2016 Award of Excellence contest. Having reviewed all of the email correspondences, it is clear to us that you never gave permission to have your work shifted, nor should you have been asked to move your novel from the category it clearly belonged in. Our chapter’s mission is to support romance writers, no matter what they write, and in this instance, we have failed.

While no apology can ever fully undo the hurt this has caused you and other LGBTQ writers, please rest assured that CRW doesn’t in any way agree with nor condone discrimination or bigotry of any stripe, and we take this situation very seriously.  As the Board of Directors, we are ultimately responsible for oversight of the contest, and it was a grave failure on our part that we did not monitor our coordinators' actions more closely. Our top priority going forward will be to make sure this situation never again happens to any writer entering our contests.

If you would like, we are willing to post this apology publicly in the comments on your blog post, or if you prefer, we have not objection to you posting it yourself wherever you see fit. We will be posting a public statement regarding this incident on our website tomorrow.

Again we wish to express our deepest regret for the harm this situation caused, and we will work hard to rebuild the trust that was lost.
Sincerely,
Traci Morganfield - Vice President of Programs
Cheri Merz - Treasurer
Claudia Burgoa - Vice President of Membership

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On Writing Contests and LGBT Entries

UPDATE: I'm leaving the text up, but I also want to link to this entry in which the directors of the Colorado Romance Writers apologized for this incident.

I want to say right out of the gate that this is not about winning. In fact, I have asked for all of my books (including two that were finalists) to be removed from the remainder of the competition. Yes, I’m very competitive—and who doesn’t enjoy winning a contest?—but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about being reminded at every turn that even though the LGBT genre has made progress, we haven’t made enough yet. Even though we’ve made progress, there are still spaces where we remain unwelcome.

This isn’t about winning a competition. This is about being told “who you are is offensive.”

So let me get to the point—the situation that prompted me to post this.

Recently, I was contacted by the coordinator of the Colorado Romance Writers’ annual competition, the Award of Excellence. As I do every year, I had submitted several books. One of them was my gay inspirational romance, Lead Me Not. Naturally, I entered it into the Inspirational Romance category.

As emails are private correspondence, I won’t post the actual conversation, but I was told that the coordinators wanted to move Lead Me Not into the Contemporary Single Title category. Reason being—no one in their judging pool would read an M/M inspirational.

Um…no. This book meets the criteria of the category. From the website: “Romantic novels featuring a religious or spiritual belief system as an integral part of the relationship.” Nowhere does it say “…an integral part of the heterosexual relationship.”

So no, I was not willing to move it into another category. I expressed as much to the coordinators, mentioning that this made me feel unwelcome in the competition as a whole. If judges could refuse to read an entry because it was LGBT, even though the rules did not explicitly bar LGBT entries, then maybe this wasn’t the competition for me.

After several e-mails back and forth with various coordinators, though, I believed we had reached an understanding about the situation and come to an agreement about how to move forward. Some judges had been found who would read “pretty much anything,” and would agree to read the book and judge it for what it is (you know—a gay Christian romance).

At that point, I was still less than thrilled that it had even been an issue, but thought it was resolved. That was why I didn’t say anything publicly at the time.

Well, the finalists were announced yesterday, and Lead Me Not made it into the finals…

…of the Mainstream w/Romantic Elements category.

Whut.

Not only was it moved out of Inspirational, it was moved out of romance entirely and into “romantic elements.” (Spoiler alert – it’s a romance)

Upon contacting the coordinators, they insist they thought I was in agreement about moving the book into that category. However, nowhere in any of the emails did I say “Yes, move the book.”  I stated I was happy with the solution when the solution was “judges who will judge it for what it is.”

The coordinators insisted they had thought it was the best solution for “a book that didn’t fit comfortably into one category, but instead straddled multiple categories.”

Nonsense. Utter nonsense.

Lead Me Not is a gay Christian romance. It’s an inspirational to its very core. Calling it “Mainstream with Romantic Elements” is a tremendous stretch unless you’re also willing to put the other inspirational romances into the same category. Which we don’t. Because they’re not mainstream. (Seriously? A gay Christian romance qualifies as mainstream?)

I entered the book in the Inspirational romance category because I wanted it judged as an Inspirational romance. If it didn’t win… fine. That’s part of competing. You win some, you lose some. And I didn’t write this book expecting everyone to love it. Not by any means. But to be refused a shot at even competing alongside books in the same genre? To be unable to see how it stacks up against the rest of its own genre? I have a problem with that.

And I just can’t help feeling a sense of déjà vu over this whole thing, which is probably related to the fact that I’ve blogged about this subject before—clear back in 2012 when an RWA chapter announced that their annual contest would not allow same-sex entries.

One of the things I wrote in that blog echoes precisely what I’m feeling right now:

“I know, it's just a contest. It's not the end of the world. But you know what? It's these little things that add up to a culture that still can't offer more than lip service to the idea that being queer is okay. When an organization allows exclusion based on people being "uncomfortable," it validates that discomfort. It acknowledges that the uncomfortable thing is... well, that it's less okay than someone else's discomfort. They could have said "If you aren't comfortable with the material being submitted, with all brands of 'individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work', then maybe you aren't qualified to judge this competition." Instead, they've stated what amounts to, "Yeah, let's not include that, because... eww."”

Now, this current situation isn’t an entire competition excluding LGBT entries. This is a specific category within a larger competition, and it wasn’t an upfront ban on same-sex content. No, this was judges refusing to read what had been submitted, and the organizers deciding the best course of action was to ask the author to move the book to another category.

Basically, we’re still dealing with what was dealt with in 2012—the discomfort of judges taking precedence over the acceptance of people. Am I okay with people choosing not to read gay romance on their own? Sure! Read whatever you want. Am I okay with books being removed from competition categories because they have LGBT characters? No.

I can certainly appreciate that the LGBT and Christian communities have clashed. All it takes is a glance at the news or social media to see that there is still a tremendous amount of strife between the two. I’m not about forcing judges to read a particular topic, pairing, etc. What I object to is that when the judges wouldn’t read it, the solution was not “look for other judges.” It was “shunt the book over to another category.”

So what’s the point of all this rambling? In short, I want competitions to be explicit about what is acceptable and what isn’t. If LGBT books are not wanted—in the competition as a whole, or in particular categories—spell it out.  Save us the time and money that goes into entering if who we write—and in many cases, who we are—is not welcome.