Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Sordid Tale of Damnation Books

While this will be a long post, I hope everyone sees it a warning message to other online authors. Bear with me, there is a happy ending.

I first met Kim Richards Gilchrist, currently the CEO of Damnation Books, in an group called Dark Fiction Guild back in 2009. The DFG has since moved to Facebook and it's no longer the active discussion group it once was. It happens, the internet moves fast. Kim had made an announcement in DFG that she and her husband William are starting a new ebook company called Damnation Books. She invited authors in the DFG to submit. I spoke with her directly, asked if a story like Eden Fell would be of interest. She said she might be interested so I sent it along.

I always did find it weird to get an acceptance within two weeks of submission. I wrote the story in 2002 and honestly expected a rejection. But I figured, okay, I guess it's ready. So, I made a full commitment to editing and preparing for publication, whatever I had to do, I was willing. I loved the idea of supporting a mom and pop shop right at the beginning then watching them grow. Then... shit hit fan.

There's been problems with Damnation Books from day one. I'm not the only author. I wouldn't wish this publisher on my worse enemy. A few authors have since made their woes public. Tim Marquitz, Mark Edward Hall, Terri Bruce, Alex Smith. There might be others, but they haven't made it public, and I respect their privacy. Yet it's my hope that more authors will come out and stand up for themselves.

The following is my personal experience dealing with Kim. I never met William, he doesn't seem to really be there. It's not so much what Kim does, it's the way she does things. Kim doesn't communicate. Ever.

The first thing I told Kim, would you prefer the story rewritten in American English? It's loosely set in an unnamed Canadian city and you are based in California. She said, “No, the Canadian English doesn't distract from the story.” Odd thing to say, I thought. That wouldn't have occurred to me. I was thinking more so consistency and marketing, but whatever, less work for me. So I shrugged it off.

When I received the first round of edits, I was given two weeks, and what was the first thing I saw? Corrections of the Canadian English. I sighed and thought, fine, she does want it in American English after all. But when I reached the half-way point with the first round of edits, I reached my boiling point. So much had been inserted into the manuscript. The ignorance of these mistakes was offensive. I thought, this is ridiculous, I have to say something.

I sent an email to Kim, expressing my frustrations. She lectured me and said, “You signed a contact! You have to do the edits!” Also, she attempted to convince me I was just gripping because the story was cut to ribbons. One, I never said I wouldn't do the edits. I just had a serious problem with inserting another person's obvious mistakes. Two, not even a two letter word had been cut. No editing whatsoever. So, I offered a compromise since at least one of us had to be an adult, and said, I'll finish the edits and put in notes showing why and how the mistakes are wrong. In essence, two rounds of edits in one, in a measly two weeks, despite the fact my contract says a max of two rounds of edits, I ended up doing a total of three. Kim saw what I had done and said she'll pass it on to another editor, as if she was doing a big favor to me.

In the second round of edits, I was given a week. Kim ignored each one of my notes and had them all removed. In this second round I was sent a form to fill out, numbering each correction that was needed. I found over 180 grammar, spelling, punctuation, and inconsistency errors that Kim had inserted into the manuscript. I found only two of my own tiny typos that I hadn't caught before. Seeing the story shredded to ribbons would have been easier to deal with than that. I let go of a lot of little things and just kinda... lost heart. I never received the chance to improve the story. At least the other editor agreed with all of my corrections and the majority of mistakes were removed.

Still, I soldiered on, hoping to sell at least a few copies. I meticulously went through the list of reviewers Kim had provided. 75% of the links were dead. One reviewer responded, said in no uncertain terms that he ever reviews ebooks, then weirdly asked me to send the PDF ARC. A couple of weeks later he destroyed me in a review, using me as an example to show that ebooks are oh so bad. Humiliated, I shared the review in the Damnation Authors Yahoo group Kim had created. She mocked me for the review and didn't take any responsibility for the fact she had provided that list of reviewers in the first place. I gritted my teeth and ignored. I kept trying to get reviews... or something... without any support from the publisher.

Through the internet grapevine I heard about Bitten by Books, a popular and well-respected reviewer of paranormal books. I submitted and crossed my fingers. They accepted! I received a wonderful 4 star review that was very fair. The reviewer mentioned the grammar and punctuation errors, and I'm glad she did. I wish more reviewers were that honest. Excited, I shared it with the authors group. I thanked the reviewer for her honesty on the webpage for the review. A little while later, Kim showed up and also posted on that webpage, stating that she thought the story is suppose to be this way. She... trolls... reviews.

I stopped all promotions. Hell-bent on sabotaging her own authors? Screw it. I'm not playing that game. In the five years Eden Fell was published by Damnation Books, I've earned maybe $30 in royalties. The book died before it had a chance.

There's a rather long list of other problems. Lies about the print version, lies and arguments about distribution, horrible formatting, refusal to fix any problems, all kinds of useless drama, and overall a lot of unprofessional childish behavior. Working with Kim is like working with a petulant child. Then word came that Kim and William had decided to buy two ePublishers that had gone bankrupt. One of them is still alive, Eternal Press. Shortly after, Damnation Books was registered as a corporation. That mom and pop shop I wanted to support? It became a vanity press, complete with kill fees of up to $1000. And it's all fake.

I needed to share the full history in order to explain my next statements. Those who have read Eden Fell, for the most part, liked the story. Not long after Damnation Books started, the popularity of online self-published books exploded. Also, this weird idea that everyone has to support indies under penalty of death. Well, while I'm grateful for nice reviewers, the truth is, every nice review made it that much harder for me. And I couldn't say anything until my contract expired. I got full blame for all the mistakes. I was patted on the head and given a patronizing, good job! Not everyone, but enough. And Damnation Books has yet to take responsibility for their own screw-ups. Why should they? Authors get the blame and Kim can keep trolling along as a vanity press, making money from charging authors unjustified fees instead of book sales.

Over-indulgent reviews can hurt authors far more than the worse one star review.

I decided to wait until my contact expired. Since I was part of the first batch of authors, there aren't any kill fees in my contract. I had other things to work on, other projects, and, you know, a life. I was never dependent on Eden Fell to be some kind of launchpad for my writing career, nor did I ever think the story would become a best-seller. It's dead weight, so I waited. As of Sept 9th, 2014, last Tuesday, my contract has expired. I am no longer connected with Damnation Books and will never deal with them again. Eden Fell is now out of print, any new copies sold are illegal. If anyone wants a copy I suggest searching for used copies or contact me and arrangements will be made.

And now for the good news! *trumpets blare* The essence of the story will be republished on my website as.... wait for it... a graphic novel! The new title is The Ash Garden. I've set a tentative date of October 1st. Full issues with be self-published with comixology, hopefully all will go smoothly. Stay tuned, big things are happening very soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy the mock up of the new cover for The Ash Garden!

1 comment:

  1. Wow...happy you're out of Cruella's grip. Hope the re-launch is a huge success for you!


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