Monday, February 20, 2012

My take on Trestle and a few thoughts about Snubnose

A couple of weeks ago I had been pulling together some thoughts as a kind of State of the Union that I was going to send out to the Snubnose Press stable of authors. When the Trestle Press story broke I made it a priority to finish it. I did and sent it out pretty quickly and have also sent it out to others that we may be signing in the near future.

In some of the post-mortems and in some of the posts written while the story was unfolding I think that some, perhaps, unfair charges were level against them in an attempt to gain distance quickly and to show examples of why they thought Trestle was hinky from the start. Some of them were: they were a one man operation, they approached authors, they didn't edit, they have a crappy website. I don't think that there is a need to create other charges to level against Trestle because the core ones are bad enough. These charges were potentially unfair because they may be applicable to other operations.

In sending out the State of the Union letter primarily I wanted to have a certain level of transparency with my authors but I also wanted to address head on some of the concerns that arose as a result of Trestle being exposed.

So this week, I decided to use my post time here at DSD to take a portion of the State of the Union letter public while adding some new thoughts as well.


One Man - One of the charges leveled at Trestle is that they were/are a one man operation. I think that this is unfortunate. As those of us that come from the crime short fiction scene know one man operations can fail or be successes, it just depends on the man. Snubnose is essentially a one man operation. While Jack and Sandra are co-owners I do the bulk of the work.

Until recently I worked for 6 years in the Accounts Receivable department for the book division of Diamond Comics Distributor. I worked multimillion dollar book store accounts going in one direction and with publishers going in the other direction. I was never under any false impressions of all of the things that went into running a press. It's a lot of work from editing and promoting to "office" things like monthly statements and making payments. It's hard work, but I knew it would be. I tell you this not as a way to show my bonafides but to show that I take all of this seriously.

Art - Snubnose has an art team that consists of Eric Beetner, Ben Springer, and Boden Steiner. Our covers are either original art/designs that were created by one of these guys or was used with art obtained from the web in a manner consistent with applicable rules and regulations. In other words we have credited where necessary; obtained permissions when necessary; and have had to pass on art because necessary permissions couldn't be secured in an equitable way.

Editing and Formatting - Another charge leveled against Trestle. Some manuscripts are going to require more editing then others. With short story collections if any of the stories have already been published I assume that they have been edited already so unless there is a factual mistake I don't do too much with them. I will always edit a manuscript to the best of my ability and as much as it needs. As far as formatting goes. If there ever is a concern with how Snubnose books are formatted please let me know. Related, I have a good eye for typos but still things slip through. If anyone ever sees a typo in a Snubnose book let me know. They are easily fixable with ebooks.

Soliciting authors - I regularly contact authors in an attempt to make sure that Snubnose Press is on their radar screens. I would be a fool too assume that everyone has heard of Snubnose so I work hard to touch base with people who probably haven't. If I read an ebook that was self published and I liked it I'll send the author a quick note saying so and to invite them to submit future works to Snubnose. I send authors emails when they make it publicly known that they have a manuscript and invite them to submit to Snubnose. These particular types of emails have resulted in Old Ghosts, City of Heretics, Andrew Nette's upcoming release and others. Perhaps the distinction is that I don't make promises and that I simply invite but an editor approaching an author isn't a bad thing.

Website - I'll be the first to admit that Snubnose doesn't have the best website. Since its inception Spinetingler's expenses have been paid for out of our pockets. We are trying to get to a point where book and magazine sales will fund Snubnose Press and Spinetingler so that we don't have to pay directly out of pocket any longer. One of the upgrades we can consider at that point is the website.


I'm always up front that Snubnose is a small operation. Other epublishers like Blasted Heath and Bare Knuckles have bigger operating budgets then we do. I'm not begrudging them that status and I love those guys. I think our stable of writers stands pound for pound with theirs and any others.

The bottom line is this. My door is always open. If there are ever any questions, comments or concerns don't ever hesitate to bring them to me. I said recently that you can tell a lot about a publisher by their response and I mean it.

Couple of Snubnose news items: Subs should be opening up again in a couple of months. We released our first novel, Hill Country by R Thomas Brown, last week. This week Old School by Dan O'Shea will drop. Every two weeks after that Nothing Matters by Steve Finbow, Cold Rifts by Sandra Seamans and The Duplicate by Helen Fitzgerald will all be released.

Currently listening - Alabama Shakes. Their ep can be streamed here and the full length album will be dropping soon and will be huge.

Currently reading - The Gamblers by Martin Stanley; Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg


SJM001 said...

I can't agree with the assessment that some of the charges against Trestle are unfair, simply because some of the same points apply to your own operation.

In particular, the criticism against Trestle wasn't so much that it is a one-man operation. It's that it was a one-man operation THAT CLAIMED TO HAVE A NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES, but when questioned refused to disclose any details of those other employees.

In interviews this character called "Giovanni Gelati" claimed to be the "public face" of Trestle Press. He made reference to working with "a great group of people", "too many to mention", and spoke about "a team concept". To individual authors he made claims that their books were with "editors" and that royalty statements were dealt with by the "sales team". He constantly used the word "we" when referring to Trestle Press's operations.

Despite this, there was no evidence at any point that anyone else was involved. When one author asked who else was on the staff (in relation to editing), she was told that "no one else wanted to be identified". In another interview, he responded to very pointed questions about who makes up Trestle Press with "I can’t really tell you the cast of the team" and "giving away the size and strength of our army is not in our interests".

Evasion, deception, and lying about being a one-man operation is what people had a problem with. Trestle Press were (and still are) quite clearly claiming to be something they are not.

My personal opinion is that every operation that claims to be a "publisher", large or small, should arrange for their titles to be edited before publication. The arguments for independent, professional editing (rather than authors self-editing) are many, varied, and fairly self-explanatory, so I won't go into them here. Editing and proofreading to a professional standard is so much more than just checking for spelling mistakes and typos. If your operation doesn't offer this service, that's your call ... as long as you're up-front about this. Trestle Press were not — Giovanni Gelati made many references (both publicly and to individual authors) about his "team of editors".

You're absolutely right that "you can tell a lot about a publisher by their response". Trestle Press's responses to the various issues raised have ranged from the non-existent, to the dismissive and the aggressive. There can simply be no excuse for a publisher to behave in this manner, one-man operation or not.

Sandra Ruttan said...

There's a difference between the charge that a publisher is bad because it's a one-man operation, and the charge that it's bad because it's a one-man operation claiming to be a multi-staff operation.

Brian addressed one of those charges, and not the other. I wasn't aware of what you're saying, and that's not in dispute, but also not a fair basis for disagreement with the point he is making here. It's a bit like someone saying, "I don't like salmon," and being told, "You're wrong because you don't like chicken." Of course, this is part of the problem with people running about making comments about something without addressing everything in detail. I certainly haven't read everything everyone has to say about Trestle, nor do I care to. I can only speak for myself when I say that I'd only seen the charge that it was negative that they were a one-man operation. More on this coming.

Snubnose titles are edited, which was made clear in the post. You said, "Editing and proofreading to a professional standard is so much more than just checking for spelling mistakes and typos." Nobody said otherwise. Just because a few general things were mentioned in the course of this post doesn't mean other things aren't done. However, we're not asking people to send story dissection after publication. That's called a review.

If anyone thinks for a second that manuscripts don't get shredded, revised, rewritten as necessary and aren't edited, they have no idea what they're talking about.

"If your operation doesn't offer this service, that's your call ... as long as you're up-front about this."

In this context, a service is something you pay for. This is not a pay-to-publish outfit. Snubnose puts up the time and money needed to get a title out, and the author gets royalties as per contract. Authors don't pay.

Sandra Ruttan said...

(I was having trouble with the comments, so I've broken them up into smaller ones to get them published, although I wrote it as one large response.)

Anyone who thinks publishers, big 6 included, are completely upfront with their authors from the beginning about how the business runs is deluded. Pure and simple. This is why authors need to research as much as possible, ask as many questions as possible, particularly if it's a new publisher without recognizable names behind it, and not ignore the nagging little voices that suggest there might be a concern. (And still, they need to handle themselves with some tact and discretion. Before I signed with a NY publisher, I picked up the phone and talked to authors who'd worked with the editor, but I certainly didn't broadcast that online.) If people were asking GG at Trestle for names of other staff and were getting the kind of responses you've cited, and they accepted them, they bought the bull. It shows how good a salesperson GG is. Pure and simple. In reality, if you're running a publishing company, you don't want to micromanage if you don't have to. Editors will gladly drop you in another person's lap if you have a question that pertains to their department. They don't have the time to deal with sales/design/distribution if they're a large operation. Anyone who read those interviews you refer to and went on to sign decided not to listen to reason or do their homework, if the interviews really are like that. (Having not read them, I have no desire to make a false accusation against anyone based solely on the word of a commenter who's concealed their identity so that they don't have to stand behind their charges.)

If people really read those interviews and still signed on, that's because they chose to ignore legitimate warning signs.

But the criticisms of Trestle, and even the above comment, underscore a lot of ignorance on the part of would-be authors that contributes to how they're misled. I started with a small publisher that no longer exists, and it ended up being a problematic situation. Okay... bad. I moved on to a NY publisher, MWA approved. The reality is, most publishers are looking for books they don't really have to edit much. In my case, since my second book, my books have all gone through Brian for editing, and then my agent. I've always been edited more by them than anyone else. I know from first-hand experience that Brian eviscerates manuscripts that aren't working as well as they could. And life is hell when Brian and Al disagree on editing notes and I'm caught between them. No book gets out the door from my agent without significant editing.

But as the industry changes, there's less and less editing from traditional publishers, and editorial staffing has been thinned. You really think a publisher is going to be completely transparent with you from day 1? Why don't you try asking how much the promotion budget is for your book when you sign the contract? Good luck to you. On the notion that a publisher should be completely upfront about everything in their business before signing a person... Maybe in an ideal world. I certainly know Brian's as straight about Snubnose with the people we work with as it's possible to be. I've never been with a publisher that sent out a SOTU just for the authors. But beyond us, for the most part, you won't find much transparency at all, and I don't think it's reasonable to judge e-publishers by a standard that doesn't exist for traditional publishers, either.

Sandra Ruttan said...

The reason authors get duped is because they don't understand the industry, or they want so badly to be published they put the blinders on. People tried warning me before my first book came out. They could see problems. Instead of bailing, I tried to work with the publisher to fix them, and for a while, things seemed like they would improve. Of course, I already had a signed contract, and walking wasn't an option, not unless I wanted to face a lawsuit, and that wouldn't have been good, either. The best thing to do was promote the book as best as possible and use it as a stepping stone. That's what I did. That also meant using some discretion with what I did and did not say online, particularly at the time.

What makes matters worse for aspiring authors is when people run around, advocating an unrealistic litmus test for determining if a publisher is legit, or not. If you end your relationship with a publisher, you need to give some serious thought to what you put into the public domain.

From everything Trestle authors have said, there are at least two reasonable conclusions people can make. One is that Trestle used art for the covers they didn't have permission to use. The other is that they didn't edit their books. Inferring as such is going to make people reluctant to buy the titles that have since been self-published. And the authors have the appearance of being okay with not being edited. When my first publisher didn't do a thorough edit, I went to an external source and revised the book to the tune of cutting about 20,000 words. I didn't accept no editing standard at all.

Trestle wasn't a NY publisher with a long-standing history and established track record. To some extent, the demise of a publisher is something to take case by case, but Trestle authors would have served themselves, as writers, better by quietly breaking ranks with Trestle and keeping their discourse about issues lessened in the public domain. Ultimately, all involved now have the stink on them. This isn't the same as other situations with traditional publishers that have faltered, and shouldn't be handled the same, either.

The way the whole thing played was like all the authors were happy as could be, until someone spilled the beans publicly about the covers, and then people seemed to be afraid it would look bad on them or they could be sued or something and did a public freak-out, and suddenly everyone had longstanding issues and concerns that a few days earlier they'd never voiced. In reality, the greatest damage done was by the publisher in an interview with Elaine Ash, who is Spinetingler alum, and a well-established writer and presence in the crime fiction community. A side note to publishers is that if you're trying to promote your company and product, you shouldn't be cagey and defensive, you shouldn't give a shit if the interview is named Bop277 - you take every opportunity to present your company professionally.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Nobody else needed to say much more than what GG said himself in that interview, and authors could have walked with some class. Instead, the mud falls on everyone. It isn't that you don't issue a statement - you can, and then you move on.

And because you have issues with one publisher, don't presume and accuse another. Speak softly, carry a big stick... and know when to use it, and when not to. Fair or not, before I agreed to the signing of any former Trestle author, I'd invest a good few full days of time reading everything they said online after all of this. I believe in free speech. I also know that the business reality is that sometimes, you have to change a name if the one you've got gets a bad rep, and some Trestle authors may have dug themselves holes they can't get out. Take another note. It's more than 5 years since my first book was released, and I still don't mention the name of the publisher once in this comment.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, and one other thing. Without seeing contracts, it's impossible to know, but just because Trestle may have used art without paying for it or permission, that isn't a reason to break a contract. I doubt there's a clause in any signed contract that lets the author walk because they think the publisher is unscrupulous. I'm assuming the authors did have signed contracts. (If they didn't, they were really selling themselves on a bad idea from the start.) If there were no grounds in the contract to terminate, or they didn't get their rights released by Trestle, they could all end up in court. And Trestle can take those contracts to Amazon and possibly have their self-published versions pulled.

This is why you do these things quietly. There may be more money to be made in fighting over release of rights after the fact than in actually selling books.

SJM001 said...

You make a lot of good points Sandra, but I think you're also being needlessly defensive. It wasn't my intent to criticise Brian, or to "accuse" Snubnose Press.

I disagreed with Brian's comment that "... unfair charges were level [sic] against them ... Some of them were: they were a one man operation ..."

Perhaps Brian was unaware that this in fact stemmed from a more complex issue, i.e. that Trestle were making claims to be bigger than they were. My comment was intended to draw attention to that. Your salmon/chicken analogy really isn't apposite.

If Brian/Snubnose carries out the kind of editing that should be expected from a publisher, that's great. I'm sorry if it seemed like I was attacking your publisher, but really I was just taking his comment that "unless there is a factual mistake I don't do too much with them" at face value. When I referred to editing as a "service", I wasn't talking about the kind of service that a vanity publisher offers — rather the process that any publisher should submit all their authors' manuscript to before publication. I thought that would have been obvious from the context.

A number of your comments towards me seem quite pointed — I should point out that I am NOT a former Trestle Press author, just an observer. However, I'm not sure I agree with some of your points about how some authors chose to leave Trestle Press, and the comments they have subsequently made. On the contrary, I think many of them showed courage and integrity in the face of quite appalling circumstances.

It's my understanding that many of the writers involved in fact didn't have signed contracts with Trestle Press. That notwithstanding, I'll point out here what I've said elsewhere — there is a clear difference between "breaking a contract" and "asking to be released from a contract".

Once again, it really wasn't my intent to attack or accuse Brian or Snubnose press. I disagreed with something he said, and made points that I felt were relevant to that. I shouldn't wish to detract from the main point of his blog post (and one with which I actually agree) — that just because a publisher is a "one-man operation" it needn't be disreputable.

SJM001 said...

Sorry, I missed your comment about the interview I referred to. Here is a link if you'd care to read it:

Nigel Bird said...

What I love about the post here is that it is clear - transparent - about what Snubnose does and doesn't do and the reasons behind that. I guess it's why I hold you all in such high regard.

I'm not going to poke sticks into the Trestle fire; I also need to look at my own judgements in the process and I have reasons to be grateful to them for putting my work out.

Things went wrong. It's an ever changing landscape out there and, by learning from issues and mistakes, we can only move forward together to improve the experience for publishers, retailers, writers and readers.

With an awareness of things can go wrong, let's move forwards with eyes open.

Thanks, DSD, for more thought provoking insights.


Kent said...

One of Trestle's authors publicly claimed that bad cover art is a "compromise" in getting published.

To me, that says it all. If writers don't have any respect for their own work, why should a publisher?

Thomas Pluck said...

Brian & co:

You have a solid track record with Spinetingler and Snubnose puts out quality books. Speedloader, the first I recall, has a very professional feel and look and every release has upped the bar in some way. Hill Country looks amazing.
It's honorable that you shared the SOTU but it was apparent that you and your authors have nothing to worry about with the Trestle fiasco. Your openness is admirable, but it was obvious from day one that you were operating at a different level than TP.
When any businessperson is shady and cagy in interviews, uses an obvious pseudonym - Johnny Ice Cream? - and misleads people in the manner in which Trestle did, they do not get the benefit of the doubt.
I don't care that TP was a one man shop. Plenty of one man shops produce quality books. But they don't lie about having "teams of editors" and a "graphic design department" to lure authors in.

And Sandra is correct- it is up to the author to research the publisher, the editor, the agent. is one place to do so. That's where many writers keep their shit list of unprofessional publishers, agents, etc. and is a valuable resource for deciding who should publish your work.

Anonymous said...

Elaine Ash did this interview with Trestle. The tone from Trestle vs the tone from Snubnose is all you need to know.