On May 20, Month9Books publisher Georgia McBride sent an email out to her authors and announced on Publisher’s Lunch that she would be reverting rights to 50 authors across her three imprints, including her YA imprint Month9Books. Citing health issues and business problems – including a blood clot that interfered with her health and an accountant who made bad business transactions – McBride promised that those who complained about late or absent royalty payments would receive contact from her even as the company continued “to acquire new works and aggressively pursue subsidiary rights.”
The announcement set off a small flurry of conversations about the publication and about small presses overall, with many wondering how publisher Georgia McBride could afford to acquire new works if authors were complaining about loyal or absent royalty payments.
McBride turned a deaf ear to speculation and turned her attention towards working – even as authors on Twitter began to discuss how lack of payment was a recurring problem for the company.
For full disclosure, in conjunction with today’s longer post on Month9Books, here is my interview with Georgia McBride. McBride agreed to the interview and answered a short list of questions via email. Her complete answers are available below.
Why did you start Month9Books?
I kept seeing so many good stories being passed on by the Big 6 and also a high level of fatigue over paranormal in particular. It was a time in publishing when editors wanted more contemporary, agents couldn’t sell paranormal romance, self-published writers weren’t taken seriously, and New Adult wasn’t yet accepted. Seems so long ago, but it’s only been a few years. I was running #YAlitchat, editing, and vetting submissions for agents and editors. Eventually, I was convinced there was more I could be doing to get these books into the world. Month9Books became the more.
Complaints that you were unable to pay authors were part of the reason you reverted rights, yet you mentioned that you would continue to acquire titles. How do you plan to balance that?
To say we’re reverting rights because there are “complaints we haven’t been able to pay authors” is inaccurate. Rights reversion doesn’t mean an author isn’t paid royalties. It’s not as if a publisher can say, “well we owe that author, so let’s just revert rights to his book so we don’t have to pay him.” That’s not how it works.
As for continuing to acquire books, of course that will continue; we are a book publisher after all. But we have made significant changes to both our submissions and acquisitions process. I suspect we’ll be announcing those changes in the coming weeks.
As reported in Publishers Marketplace, my need to scale back now is motivated by health concerns which presented as more frequent and serious in the last 13 months. And with a somewhat reduced capacity due to a recent diagnosis, at least for the next few months, there is no way I can effectively support a list as large as what had been planned for 2016-2018 in addition to the 2013-2015 lists.
And for authors who complained they didn’t get the exposure they deserved or that their payments were delayed, this is a direct result of a an overly-crowded list.
But it’s not just the list itself. I’ve cut out a lot of things which may compromise my current health situation. I retired from chairing the Scholastic Book Fair at my son’s school after 5 years, stopped all school visits that require me to stand all day, and have cancelled all personal participation in trade events and conferences more than two hours away from my home. I’ve also stopped working 16-18 hour days, working weekends, decreased my caffeine intake, and committed to being more active. All these things are hard, but necessary.
I’m ashamed to say how much I put everything and everyone before my own health and well being. I won’t do anyone any good if I’m in the hospital or worse. And even admitting that is hard for me. Admitting I can’t do all the things is hard. Taking time for myself is hard.
Dropping a lot of books from my list at one time was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It felt like someone was ripping out parts of my soul. Seeing authors hurt and confused is very hard to take.
But don’t feel sorry for me. My health will improve. I’ll be able to get back to doing all the things I want to do. For now though, I am focused on doing the things I need to do.
I’m proud of my achievements and extremely proud of what my authors have accomplished. And, if I didn’t truly believe that everything happens for a reason, I might be much more cynical about it all.
But the Universe forces us to do what’s best for us even when we don’t have the good sense to do it for ourselves.
The best thing to do was to say, “We have a big problem. We have to make some changes. Fast.”
There are rumors that freelance editors were threatened with lawsuits when they completed their work and were unpaid. Is that true? Is there anything else you want people to know about the situation? [These questions were asked separately in the initial email, though McBride answered both at the same time.]
I read that on social media. So you know, it must be true. Right?
That said, I have no interest in involving myself in anyone else’s personal vendettas or campaigns against me. If someone wants to scream every day on social media that I’m a jerk, they are certainly welcome to. I don’t have much time for these things.
In every company and certainly every publishing house, you will find people who have had great experiences and people who have had horrible experiences. Usually, those with bad experiences will be the most vocal, will lash out. But criticism is always of value. Smart people see what they can learn from it.
Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows how important I believe having a voice is, even if that voice is a critical one.
I offer an anonymous satisfaction survey each year, allowing authors and freelancers to vent and tell us what we could be doing better. From that feedback, we seek to improve.
My first allegiance is to my authors, because if they aren’t happy, then no one is happy. And if you have several who express dissatisfaction, it’s time to take responsibility and make changes.
That change is a large part of what’s happening now, and I’m grateful for the authors and freelancers who cared enough about the business to provide us with that feedback.
I’m humbled by all the attention my little start-up has generated in recent weeks and thrilled for the amazing support I’ve received from authors, colleagues, friends, partners, agents, and even former authors. Sure there are going to be comments about delayed payments or things falling through the cracks, but that isn’t news or unique to Month9Books.
What is unique, however, is I’m not hiding. I’m taking the backlash and the pain associated with the much-needed changes and moving forward.
I’m very proud of the accomplishments of my authors and my business as a whole. My authors have, during this difficult time, handled themselves with class, dignity, and professionalism. They’ve kept their heads down, continued working, and focused on making more amazing books.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers. In closing, I’m reminded of the below post I made in 2014. It’s as true now as it was then.
I think I’ll take my own advice!