My Publisher’s Assets Have Been Seized

[reposted from my Billy Wayne Carter blog]

Cantarabooks may be in some trouble. Hopefully, it will be worked out soon, but there is a complicated legal situation and the company’s assets have been seized, including the publisher and editor’s personal assets–literally every penny they have in the world. Their rent money. Their grocery money. They are a small family business, and they own no property. This is all they have.

I don’t even completely understand it, but it sounds essentially like they are being harassed by a person that they made the mistake of working for several years ago. And how it affects me is only that I might not get my piddling royalty check at the first of January, and, worst case, I might eventually have to look for another publisher to put out Billy Wayne Carter in paperback, or publish it myself. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

More to the point, I just want to say publicly that my interactions with Cantarabooks have always been professional and reasonable. Sure, it hasn’t been perfect, but the whole e-book experiment and their approach to publishing is relatively uncharted territory, and I feel that they’ve done the best they could. I’m still honored that they thought my book was good enough to publish it, even though they don’t have the resources to do much promotion, and the book hasn’t sold as well as I initially hoped it would.

Moreover, at this time when mainstream publishers are all in panic-mode, it’s more important than ever that small, independent publishing houses have the support of the literary community. It’s vital to their very survival and to the survival of literature as we know it.

Another thing. According to my publisher, Cantarabooks has not actually been served with any legal judgment or even a lawsuit. How this person has managed to freeze their assets is, at this point, a mystery. More on this story as it develops.

Below is excerpted from an email I received from the publisher, Cantara Christopher.

Dear [authors]:

There has been a recent development that may for the moment affect our ability to pay you your quarterly royalty or advance on time. A former Cantarabooks author, John Edward Gill (Japanese Love Song, 2006) apparently has seized the assets not only of my company, but the personal assets of both myself and of Michael, your editor. How he managed to accomplish this is still a mystery to me, as at no time was I ever served with a notice of a judgment or even of a lawsuit. I need to make this point absolutely clear: At no time was I ever served with any sort of court order. I get my mail, I’m not hard to find, and you don’t ignore things like this.

Also, at this moment I have no idea of the actual claim. If it’s against Cantarabooks, then how was Gill able to seize Michael’s personal assets and our joint account? Michael is in no way legally attached to Cantarabooks – I am the sole owner and officer.

Because the amount of the judgment was so high, it swallowed up entirely every single penny we have in the world. This is another point I need to make clear. We own absolutely no property, we don’t have a car. All our assets were in the bank. This was our rent money, our grocery money. I don’t think I’ve ever really understood the phrase “every single penny we have in the world” until now.

If you’re looking for a reason in the rational world for Gill’s actions, I don’t think you’re going to find it. Here’s the chronology of our relationship and I’ll try to keep it salient and brief:

Early in 2005 Gill, then a fellow member of the Small Press Center (now the New York Center for Independent Publishing), approached me to give him advice on how to get his second novel, Japanese Love Song, published. I suggested to him that the most economical and efficient way would be to publish it himself through Lulu. This advice, though, didn’t satisfy him, and he insisted on paying for a consultation. So, in a lengthy meeting, I gave him an overview of the publishing business, complete with new developments in technology, the new corporate editorial structure, target and niche marketing etc, and the strategies an author might employ to publish and market his own work.

He seemed impressed. He mentioned the fact that he was thinking of going in with someone to start a publishing company. I casually mentioned that that was also a daydream of mine, and I suggested that he contact a friendwho I knew was looking to start his own literary imprint.

The third point I need to make absolutely clear: At no time was Gill ever an investor in or officer of my company. What Gill did was to offer me the job of senior editor for his literary annual, The North Atlantic Review (not to be confused with the venerable North American Review). The pay was good – too good, I thought at first – until Gill explained that it was all coming out of his non-profit corporation.

You can find me on the masthead of no. 17. As luck would have it, it was in reading through the poetry submissions that we found Stephen Gyllenhaal’s work – you can find that story in the preface of his book, Claptrap.

With finally just enough, through the money I was earning as NAR’s senior editor, and stoked with what I thought was Gill’s genuine championing of my efforts, I started Cantarabooks.

At that point John submitted to me Japanese Love Song – but he submitted it to me as A BOOK ALREADY PRINTED, with the Cantarabooks imprint ALREADY in it. Let me make this point absolutely clear as well: There had been no contract of any kind whatsoever between us when he presented me with this version of his book.

To my chagrin, I discovered that the book, from cover to content, needed extensive revision. I told Gill that I would offer him a contract to publish the book, provided he would accept the condition of the contract that he turn in to Cantarabooks what we deemed to be a publishable manuscript and concede to Cantarabooks all final editorial decisions. He signed the contract – our usual boilerplate – in December 2005 and in May 2006 we published the book, sent out review copies, had it distributed through Authorsbookshop.com, and even put it up for a Ben Franklin Award, a major book industry award, for best redesign.

At the same time I was busy with publishing Stephen Gyllenhaal’s book and with editing and promoting the North Atlantic Review, representing Gill’s magazine at the spring 2006 CLMP Literary Fair. Then in July2006 John sent me a blunt email to “keep [my] hands off the NAR”. That was the last I heard from him. The story of this development can be read in my piece, “The Road to Cantaraville” (Cantaraville being the PDF-exclusive literary quarterly of Cantarabooks), in the first issue of that magazine.

There are other particulars but those I think are the most important points.

Now to the seizure of our assets: For a few days now I have been trying to get a hold of the only contact WAMU could give us, an attorney in Niverville, New York, with no success. What I’m beginning to suspect is that the timing of this seizure was deliberate: John Gill means to make me squirm through the holidays, without money and without information on which to act, until after the New Year. Our fourth quarter, however, ends on December 31, which is why I felt the need to contact you was urgent.

As I said, if you’re looking for a reason in the rational world for Gill’s actions, you’re not going to find it. I don’t think money is ultimately at the bottom of this. Gill’s not rich, but he’s not poor either, and by his own bragging he’s been using his non-profit corporation for years to hide a lot of sins.

Now, this would probably be inadmissible in court, but I think that the real reason he chose me – rather than, say, a much more experienced person – to urge to start up a business to publish his book in the first place is because he believed that, being a woman of the Asian race, I could easily be made to follow his orders, to be subservient to his every whim, whether or not his name was on the business. In fact this is the subplot of his very book, Japanese Love Song: An American military officer, stationed in Japan in the 60s, becomes the silent sole investor in a brothel run by an Okinawan woman (Okinawans are a people particularly despised by the Japanese) and exercises his financial power over her to use the brothel for his extortion and gambling operations, as well as to routinely bully and humiliate her.

Acquiring and editing this book are the two greatest shames of my life. It’s a cranky, mean book and was extremely unpleasant to edit. But even while I worked with the material, I still couldn’t believe the misogyny and racism of the book were completely deliberate, because every few pages there was some genuinely good writing, although exclusively in the scenes between the Caucasian officers and women. I did my best to clean up some of the characterizations (he insults the Asian women in the crudest sexual terms) and hoped Cantarabooks could somehow pull it off as a satire of the military mindset. I didn’t truly understand at the time how much deep-seated investment Gill had in this story, but I do now.

If you’re interested, here’s his website: http://johnedwardgill.com.

The cover displayed for Japanese Love Song is the old one, the one Gill submitted to me. When I showed this cover to my hero and mentor, the great publisher Barney Rosset, he yelped bloody murder, then gave me the greatest two hours of critique I’ve ever gotten. You can’t get in a school what I learned from Barney Rosset that day.

But to get back to the business at hand: I want to reassure authors that we are going ahead with the production schedule of both our ebooks and paperbacks. If there is a delay or change I’ll contact each of you individually to discuss the situation.

Lastly, I’d like a favor. There’s a possibility Gill might still be trying to ensnare other people into lawsuits. I do know that the basis for his non-profit foundation was his ruthless pursual, through the courts, of child custody, and that as recently as two years ago he brought a suit against the Long Island college which employed him as an English instructor. Also, the press which published his first novel, Sacred Hearts, apparently published just that one book. It is based in Pennsylvania, and Gill’s name is associated with the company. Could you please forward this complete email to anyone, anyone at all you know in the literary world? I don’t know how far Gill’s reach extends, but the prospect of anyone else getting caught by his tactics seriously concerns me.

Also, if anyone has any information at all about John Edward Gill that you think I should know, please contact me. Thanks.

– Cantara

Should I Self-Publish My Next Book?

You all know about my e-book novella, the Salvation of Billy Wayne Carter, which you can buy here. I have another finished novel titled, Zen, Mississippi, which I’ve been trying to get published for about the past year. Every agent that reads it basically says, “I like the writing. You’re a really good writer. I can’t sell this. But definitely send me your next book.”

Well, if they couldn’t sell it then, it seems damn unlikely that anyone could sell it now with the entire mainstream publishing industry essentially facing Armageddon. It was already a difficult business, but this week alone, there were layoffs at Houghton Miffllin and Simon & Schuster, a major shakeup at Random House, and a payment freeze at Penguin. There were also layoffs at Scholastic and Borders recently. So if everything is going to shit anyway, why not take some control and just publish the damn thing myself?

Thoughts?

Generally, self-publishing is looked down upon by the ivory tower elites who hold the reigns of power in that business. It’s harder to get reviews. It’s harder to get distribution. And there’s a general stigma that if you are publishing something yourself, you’ve already failed at the more traditional route. I’m not quite willing to concede failure, but it seems like it might be a while before the industry straightens itself out enough to take what I do seriously. By then, I’ll have another book ready for them. I really want to do something with this book RIGHT NOW. Or soon at least. I’m getting impatient, and I’m addicted to instant gratification (among other things).

Moreover, the hurdles of reviews and distribution are much more easily overcome than they used to be with the rise of Print-on-Demand publishing, Amazon, and other resources available on the web. And even if you get a book deal with a major house, there’s a good chance that you will still have to do most of your own publicity. So I don’t know. Anybody have any advice for me?

Save Billy Wayne Carter

Although the book came out almost 9 months ago, I’m starting this blog now in order to try to give it a second life. It turns out that marketing an e-book is not an particularly easy thing to do, and sales have not been quite what I’d hoped for.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article for mediabistro.com (subscription only, unfortunately), which profiled my publisher, Cantarabooks, and examined the pros and cons of their business model. In a nutshell, the model is this: First they publish a book electronically, and if it sells over a certain threshhold, they will then publish it in paperback. Compared to options like print-on-demand and self-publishing, I concluded this was a good option for some writers, especially if they were having a hard time getting their foot in the door of a more traditional publishing house.

The biggest advantage I can see to this type of publishing is that e-books cost almost nothing to produce, so the house can afford to take a chance on an author that is unconventional or unknown.

As of today, I need to sell only 53 more books to be offered a paperback contract by my publisher. I’m being up-front about this number because it seems low, but, in fact, I’ve already tapped almost all my friends and family, and word just isn’t spreading about the book outside my relatively small circle of acquaintances.

So buy a copy today and help bring Salvation to life as an old-fashioned book that you can hold in your hands, carry with you, and lend to friends.