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 McBride could afford to acquire new works if authors were complaining about loyal or absent royalty payments.
McBride ignored 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.
Month9Books stemmed from a passion for stories that mainstream media dismissed.
“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,” said McBride in an over-email interview. “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.”
Georgia McBride launched two other companies – Swoon Romance, which focused on adult and new adult romances; and Tantrum Books, which focused on illustrated works – shortly after Month9Books, which focused on speculative middle grade and young adult fiction. Manuscripts could be submitted both via a literary agent or directly, without an agent, through the publisher’s website.
Some of the first books published by Month9Books include McBride’s own titles – Praefatio, a paranormal YA fantasy; and Very Superstitious, a collection of short stories from various authors including McBride – leading some to dismiss Month9Books as something similar to a vanity press when it began.
However, with McBride at the helm, the three imprints completed “over 170 publishing deals” since March 2012, according to McBride’s website – though the Month9Books website claims that its individual imprint acquired over 182 book deals since 2012, and further down the page, notes that McBride’s Publisher’s Marketplace account only lists 161 book deals.
Of those 150+ book deals, only 71 are available for purchase through Month9Books’s direct IPG store, though some titles have yet to be released, with only 5 of those titles releasing in either 2012 or 2013.
Month9Books’s web presence becomes messy if you poke around long enough. Their current website is month9books.com, but they began at month9booksblog.com, a website that is still up and functional and contains outdated information. However, that is the only place you can find mention of Michelle Reed, published her Atman City series with them. The first book (Life, A.D.) released in 2013, with the second book (M.I.A.) releasing in 2014. The series followed a fantastical dystopian afterlife, where a company eased Dez Donnelly out of limbo after her death.
Reed first accepted the offer for publication from Month9Books on March 20, 2012, in the company’s debut year. She submitted directly to the imprint via their website, and as her attorney had no qualms with the contract – one that “seemed very favorable to the author” – Reed officially signed with them a few weeks later.
“At the beginning, my experience with Month9 was excellent,” said Reed. “I had signed on with a small, enthusiastic publisher that seemed to be in a great position to succeed.”
The company informed Reed that they planned to “acquire about a dozen titles per year, leaving each with plenty of attention and exposure.” But as time went on, Reed found problems arising: unfulfilled marketing promises, an increasingly crowded list of authors and release dates, and a breakdown in communication. Reed’s identical book covers became a huge point of contention, with the only differences between Life, A.D. and M.I.A. being the title and the color overlay. The images were otherwise identical.
For Reed, however, the most difficult issue has been lack of payment. Life, A.D. first published in December 2013, with its sequel M.I.A. published in December 2014. As of speaking to me, Reed had only been paid once in November 2014, with another promised by May 15th of this year, but Reed has yet to receive it.
Unfortunately, Reed’s experience is not an isolated incident.
Like with Reed, the ghost of Kristal Shaff’s time with Month9Books can be found on the original Month9Books website. Her book The Emissary published with the company in September 2014. The rights, now reverted to her, allowed her to self-publish it, retitling it Powers of the Six and continuing the series on her own.
Shaff originally signed with Month9Books in May 2012 after submitting her novel to them directly.
“We were becoming a small community, supporting each other,” said Shaff of joining the company. “But then Month9 started adding more and more books at an alarming rate, it started feeling rather strange and crowded.”
Shaff’s edits became to come in at an increasingly slower rate. After signing on in May 2012, Month9Books planned her original release date for December 2013, according to Shaff. They then pushed it to March 2014 – and, later still, to September 2014. Shaff, who believes “they had far too few editors for the influx of incoming books,” was told that the edits took longer because her book was long.
It was double the time frame they had promised.
Shaff decided to continue on, despite her claims that the edits took over twice the time frame the company had promised, and even with delayed cover reveals and chapter reveals. It was when her first royalty statement came in – a year after her release – that “things [went]really south.”
On Shaff’s royalty statement, Month9Books took out money for reserves. Holding money for reserves occurs for when books are inevitably returned, and as Shaff’s book was “one of several selected for placement in Barnes and Noble,” a reserve on returns was expected. Shaff’s contract stipulated that no more than 15% of her royalties should be held for reserves.
According to Shaff, Month9Books chose to hold 75%.
“Three times I had to present my case, wondering why so much was withheld. In response, I was scolded for not knowing what a reserve was – which wasn’t my question at all. After that, I asked when I would receive the remainder of my royalties (after the removal of 75%). They then told me that they won’t pay unless an author makes more than $100. Which is difficult after the removal of 75%. The clause of having to earn more than $100 was not included anywhere in my contract, as well.
“At that point, I told them they were in breach of my contract, for both the 75% and the $100 minimum. In response, I was told I was rude and disrespectful, and the owner offered me my rights back. I accepted.”
It took several months and multiple reminders on Shaff’s part before she could get rights to her work back. Shaff says she asked for the tweaking of two words to the rights reversion letter, which McBride refused to change, forcing them into a stalemate. With Month9Books still technically under contract to publish both her first book and its sequel, not reverting Shaff’s rights put them in breach of contract by discontinuing her publication – at Shaff’s insistence – without a reversion of rights in place.
“My sales, at least at that point, weren’t low enough for termination, according to the specific wording in my publishing contract. I left because I was offered an out and accepted. It was a reversion, not a termination.”
Shaff received a second royalty statement in March 2016 after her reversion of rights, almost a year and a half after the release of her first book, and despite her contract requiring semi-annual royalty payments. On this statement, with the corrected reserve of returns, Shaff was in the “required amount to be paid” and told to expect a payment in May.
As of our conversation, Shaff has still not received any royalties for her book.
Elizabeth Holloway first signed with Month9Books in early 2013, shortly after Reed and Shaff. Holloway’s agent warned that Month9Books was “still new and untested,” but with their passion combined with a fantastic social media presence, some well-known authors and their “8-12 books a year,” Holloway decided to sign with them.
Her novel Call Me Grim – now rereleased by Holloway as Tempting Death – originally released in September 2014 from Month9Books and followed Libbi and Aaron, the local Grim Reaper who saved Libbi’s life to train her to take over his job.
“At first, I was very pleased with my experience,” said Holloway. “I had a fabulous developmental editor who worked with me through two drafts of the manuscript. I had a line editor, copy editor, and proofreaders. I was treated professionally and I felt my book was getting stronger because of their hard work.”
Small issues began to arise for Holloway, “as they typically do in publishing,” including back and forth concerns over the copy on the back cover, tiny requests to change the cover.
“As my agent and I tried to hash out these issues, we were met with resistance which quickly escalated to name-calling,” said Holloway. “Over the last three years, my agent and I have been called troublemakers, ungrateful, unprofessional, liars, and bullies. Then came the public shaming.”
According to Holloway, McBride introduced Holloway to a breakfast of other Month9Books authors as “Elizabeth Holloway, my troublemaker” and scolded her for not “trusting [her]publisher to know what she’s doing.”
“After my public scolding, I noticed support of my book seemed to diminish greatly. Emails to the company were ignored, questions asked were left unanswered, and promotion was at the bare minimum. I felt like I’d been black-listed. I thought I was the only one having these issues. Others seemed so happy with the company. I thought it was my fault, somehow. I kept my mouth shut and tried to make the best of it.”
Disheartened, Holloway tried to focus on the second book in her series, turning it in to one round of developmental edits before her editor quit the company. Holloway was assured that she would get another editor “soon,” but “months went by while [she]waited in limbo.”
“A new editor didn’t materialize until just weeks from book two’s scheduled release date.”
It took Holloway’s agent more than a year to receive a statement from Month9Books, despite being promised biannual statements.
“Once we finally received a statement, we found that the math was wrong and some of the numbers didn’t make sense. My agent brought these issues to the company’s attention and rather than apologize for the mistakes and offer to fix them, the company’s response was to threaten to revert my rights. My agent and I decided to take them up on the offer. It took two months for Month9Books to send my rights reversion letter.”
Rachel Bateman began working as an assistant editor with Month9Books in April 2012.
“I’m not telling this story finally, three years later, to be vindictive. Or because it’s still bothering me. It sucked, but it happened, and I’ve moved on. But I’ve seen so many of these hurt authors coming out saying things like, ‘I just barely signed with them a few months ago. I did my research and didn’t find any reason not to. And now I’m not getting the things from Month9 that I was promised.’ And I can’t help but wonder if, had I shared my story earlier, would these authors be in this situation? Maybe. There’s no way to know.”
Bateman’s contract is dated May 2, back-dated to be effective as of February 1 of that year. Her contract listed specific dates that Bateman would be paid.
“I suppose my first indication of something going wrong should have been way back when I got my contract. When I first approached Georgia McBride about possibly working with Month9, she laid out a flat-rate compensation plan for my work on their titles. Then, when my contract came, the compensation laid out was an agency model: a percentage based on earnings of the book. It made me pause, wonder if this was something I should be doing, but in the end – obviously – I went ahead with it.”
Later, McBride sent out new contracts for the editors of Month9Books, but as the new contract had a clause Bateman was uncomfortable with, she chose to continue working off of her original contract with McBride.
Bateman focused on line and copy edits, though worked as a developmental editor on one title, and ran the editorial calendar for the company. Her experience was “fantastic” while she was there. She loved the books she was working on and loved the work. She loved working with the team and with a company with “so much potential.”
“The super anal side of me even loved the scheduling. The people were great, and it was amazing being a part of such a strong team. In the end, I didn’t leave Month9 over any problems other than time: it was meant to be a part-time job, but it started taking so much of my time that I didn’t have any left for my own writing and freelance work. So I left, and everything seemed to be smooth and peaceful.”
Praised for her edits – “with few exceptions, when I was corrected. Which is fine; I’m definitely not perfect, and I liked learning and growing” – Bateman thought that leaving the company would be a simpler process.
“My contract stated that I was to start being paid, based on sales of books I’d edited, on March 1, 2013, and twice a month thereafter. On May 21, 2013, I emailed Georgia, as I hadn’t heard anything about payment, and, per my contract, I should’ve received eight payments by that point – or, at least, eight statements showing sales figures and why I hadn’t been paid yet – because I always knew there was a possibility that low sales would lead to low and/or delayed payments.”
Bateman hadn’t anticipated McBride’s response.
“The response from Georgia was… well, nothing I didn’t expect to be honest, but still. It was rough. She trashed my work, said I did a horrible job editing, and that she wasn’t sure I should be paid at all, based on the quality of my work. This was despite all the emails I had from her, and her head editor, AND the authors, praising my work. It all changed as soon as I asked for compensation for said work. And it was a blow, I won’t lie. Even having those emails validating me, and a strong freelance editing career validating me, it was super hard to have someone just rip apart my work.
“Still, I stood by my work and my demand to be paid for it. I mentioned that I was considering taking her to small claims court, knowing that I could potentially lose, but also hoping it would keep her from treating other employees this way. Maybe if she was taken to court over lack of payment, she would hesitate to do the same thing in the future. She responded that, if that happened, she and her other editors would have to go on the record about my performance – which, remember, was fantastic until I asked to be paid for it – and that had the potential to destroy my freelance career.”
Bateman read that as an implied threat. She and McBride ultimately never came to an agreement.
“She sent me ONE statement, showing that there hadn’t been enough sales to pay me yet, with the promise that I would continually receive them, per my contract. I never saw another one. I decided then that the stress of dealing with her wasn’t worth the money I was owed, and I let it drop.”
Later, Bateman would post about an unrelated company in a thread started by Beth Revis on Reddit called “Rant: It’s not a scam…but it’s not good either — Some small presses aren’t worth it.” Bateman contributed to a conversation about red flags and things to look for when considering a small press:
“Thank you so much for this, Beth. Every point you said rings true to a certain small press I’m familiar with. It makes me so sad when I see writers taking horrible contracts just so they can be published. Like Saundra said, a publisher needs to be able to do more for your book than you can do for yourself. And a press with no presence in brick-and-mortar stores and very little (or no) marketing clout can’t do anything for an author that she can’t do herself, by assembling a smart team and self-publishing.”
Though the press Bateman thought about when posting was not Month9Books, and though she did not name a particular publisher at all, McBride reached out to Bateman. According to Bateman, McBride accused Bateman of libel and slander for posting and threatened to sue.
“I told her that, not only did I not name her or Month9, but I wasn’t even talking about her or Month9. It didn’t matter, because, according to her, since I was formerly affiliated with Month9, people would assume that’s who I was talking about, so she would still have a case against me.”
“I didn’t think the case would hold any water, but still it was enough for me to shut up and not say anything further.”
Bateman still has the emails from these exchanges.
Not every author has the luxury of being able to speak publicly about their experiences. Multiple authors reached out to me and explained that their hands were tied by non-disclosure agreements, forcing them to keep their experiences private or anonymous.
One author found their release date pushed back repeatedly over the course of months, which they believed came from McBride’s inability to pay. When the author and their agent asked for rights to their book back, the author claimed McBride sent “rants” through emails, raging unprofessionally before relenting and relinquishing the rights to the author.
“It is absolutely NO surprise to me that authors have taken so long to speak out against Georgia, especially given her reputation for monitoring what people say about her online and cornering them about it later,” said another author, who asked to remain anonymous as they wait for their rights to be reverted to them. “It’s how she’s managed to control the conversation about Month9 for so long.”
That author, who asked for rights back after talking with other authors about what was unfolding within a company, has so far received the correct amount of money: half of their advance. They believe the problem comes with royalties and statements or “even pulling a satisfactory answer out of [McBride]” about the number of books sold.
That author also found themselves left in the cold when it came to information about their book – not being informed of the release date and only discovering it when they found the Goodreads page – and being stuck with a copy editor who “littered [their]manuscript with grammatical errors,” including comma splices and random word changes.
“I had no idea about a bad accountant who’d made damaging transactions. I’d never heard anything about Month9’s counsel leaving. I don’t get how ‘growing pains’ excuses not paying authors. These excuses she used in her email to Month9 authors are all new to me.”
Another anonymous author joined Month9Books, and like others, was told that it would be a publisher that only focused on “6-8 YA titles a year.” They say their back cover copy showed up with wording agreed to change, and when the author reminded McBride about the changes agreed upon, was told that the changes were “poorly written” and that they should “stop making trouble.” The author later found that Barnes & Noble pulled the book from their order, with McBride insisting that the author could not hire an outside publicist “because they were scam artists” and Month9Books would back the book entirely. After the author hired an outside publicist, according to the author, Month9Books stopped promoting their title.
That author, who claims to have struggled with retrieving a straight answer from McBride about anything – print runs, payment times, correct payment amounts, clarification on clauses added after the fact – found their second title shafted, with promised physical advanced copies never appearing, a copyright for their works never filed, and numbers on their W-2 not matching the numbers McBride initially told them.
After exchanges between their lawyer and McBride, the author managed to get their rights back.
Another author asked to be anonymous out of fear of what discussing their experiences publicly could do to their current or future careers. Impressed with the nursery rhyme anthology Two and Twenty Dark Tales, they first signed on to Month9Books in 2012. Like Reed, the author was told it would be a small press “printing 6 – 8 titles a year,” with a focus on “being a team and a family.”
Between Month9Books’s sub rights agent, their distribution with Ingram Publishing Group, and their transparent nature – particularly with a giant Google group for the authors and personal conversations over the phone – the author and their agent believed that Month9Books would be an incredibly promising new press.
In 2014, the author found themselves in the same position as Michelle Reed: with broken promises and the feeling that their book was being sabotaged. With their agent on guard, conversations with the author remained polite over email, but topics discussed privately would soon appear in the public Google group. Authors in the group were told they couldn’t say anything negative about the company. Correcting their Author Central page information led to threats that their book could be cancelled for being in violation of their contract.
When it came time to promote the author’s book, paperback galleys never materialized. Typos on official cover copy and descriptions of the book weren’t amended, even when repeatedly asked. A delay in uploading pre-order sales hurt lists.
“I was being told not to try to promote my book or talk to booksellers I knew who might be interested in stocking it,” said the author. “By this time, several authors had left, and the remaining authors wondered what happened to so-and-so, but those who left had to keep silent so no one knew.”
When it came time for publication day, the author claimed McBride blamed the printer for a delay in the book’s printing, forcing Month9Books to tell authors not to schedule release parties during publication week.
“On my publication day, I felt like my career was over. My e-book links disappeared. People ordering my paperback through major retailers were told the books wouldn’t be available for four to six weeks,” said the author, in addition to the numerous other broken promises: marketing at BookExpo America, book trailers, sending the title to industry reviewers. “I was supposed to okay my promotional efforts with M9B, but those efforts were met with silence. I was supposed to grin and act like I was happy. I stayed for a short time to support authors I was friends with, but it felt gross and unprofessional when authors’ sales numbers were posted on the message board along with a message to the authors who weren’t among her ‘stars’ that the higher sellers were the ones who could show the rest of us how it’s done. That feeling of camaraderie was gone, replaced by a seeming hierarchy of favoritism.”
The author said many didn’t speak up – and continue to fear speaking up – out of fear.
“Fear of being blacklisted in an industry that is already surprisingly small. Fear of being laughed at because there were so many who were skeptical at the company’s inception. Fear of retaliation when you’d seen [Month9Books] threaten legal action against anyone who spoke critically about the company. Fear of sounding like you were paranoid or unreasonable because everyone else seemed so happy when you weren’t.
“People still ask when the next book in the series is coming out” said the author. “It won’t. The series that I loved and had worked hard on for years has been completely ruined for me by the incompetence and mismanagement of this company. To date, for a book that released well over a year and a half ago, I have never seen a statement of sales, but I’m sure they are awful. I have emotional scars and look back on this experience with embarrassment and sorrow. But I am not bitter because I entered into that contract and knew there were skeptics. The only good things I can say are that I’ve made some wonderful friends, had a fantastic editor who got the book, and know exactly what I want – and don’t want – in a publisher.”
McBride dismissed complaints of inability to pay authors as a reason she’s reverting rights, despite explicitly mentioning missing payments in her letter to her authors.
“To say we’re reverting rights because there are ‘complaints we haven’t been able to pay authors’ is inaccurate,” said McBride. “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.”
Without a list of titles with rights reverted, it is impossible to know what rights may have been reverted to authors and impossible to speculate why – whether they were older acquisitions whose publication dates and payment were increasingly pushed off, or whether they were newer titles that McBride felt clogged the publication list, or whether it was purely a business decision as McBride says.
“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,” said McBride, who sent a list of other things that are “hard, but necessary” that she cut from her life: school visits requiring her to stand, chairing the Scholastic Book Fair at her son’s school, cancelling participation in trade events, working weekends, coffee, and working 18 hour days.
“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.”
McBride believes the Universe is forcing her to do what’s best for her even if she doesn’t have the good sense to do it for herself, and for her, that’s to face her problem and say that she had to make some changes, and fast.
“There are editors with Month9 today who were there when I was there; obviously it is a good experience for them, or they wouldn’t still be there. As the old saying goes, your mileage may vary,” said Bateman. “Same thing with authors. I’ve been flooded with messages and tweets from authors who haven’t been paid, who got their rights back, who feel their book wasn’t given the love it deserved. Authors who are heartbroken about everything that’s happened and who have been hurt so badly by their experience with Month9. But I’m sure there are other authors who have had a wonderful experience. I only know my personal experience and the ones that have been shared with me. There is always more to the story, another side, things I can’t see.
“But when a company only has positive news online, because those with differing stories stay silent out of fear of repercussion, how are the authors going into this supposed to know any better? So while there’s still that fear of repercussion all these years later, enough is enough. Month9 may continue on and keep acquiring, I don’t know. And authors may still choose to work with them. That’s their decision, and I wish them the best. But I feel like it’s something they should know about, something that needs to be out there, so they can make that decision with eyes wide open, knowing that not everything is as happy as it may seem.”
There are many authors who continue to have good experiences with Month9Books and find a huge benefit in working with them. Cindy Pon, who published earlier works with Greenwillow Books, is one of those authors, arguably the biggest on their roster. Pon sold Serpentine and its sequel Sacrifice to Month9Books back in May 2014, and has never had an issue with payment – or in any other regard – from Month9Books.
“I have personally had a very positive experience with Month9Books. I really valued how communicative Georgia was throughout the entire process. I got more trade reviews for Serpentine than any of my other titles, and also my first Junior Library Guild selection too. We both worked hard, and I think Serpentine helped to put me on the map again as a YA author after a near four-year hiatus. The most important thing for me was being able to be carried in libraries, and we’ve accomplished that. Much of the success could not have happened without Georgia working hard behind the scenes, and I really appreciate that.”
McBride plans to continue to acquire books, though not on the same scale as she did before and with “significant changes” to her submissions and acquisitions process that will be announced over the coming weeks. She dismissed the idea that she cannot pay her staff.
“I read that on social media. So you know, it must be true. Right?”
McBride – who says any claims of unpaid work or potential lawsuits stem from “personal vendettas” that she doesn’t have time for – pledges that her first allegiance is to her 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,” and that those changes are happening now.
“I’m taking the backlash and the pain associated with the much-needed changes and moving forward,” said McBride. “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.”
[EDIT] This post originally referenced Bethany C. Morrow’s The Last Life of Avrilis as an upcoming Month9Books title; Morrow let us know that she will no longer be publishing her title with Month9Books. We removed that reference.
[EDIT] This piece originally said McBride “turned a deaf ear.” Due to the ableist nature of the language, we struck that phrase and replaced it with “ignored.” Our apologies.