Open Letter About Damnation Books

Friends: Below find a copy of the letter I have been sending around about Damnation Books. I can’t post the contracts in WordPress as they’re pdfs, so email me and I’ll send them to you if you’re interested.

To Whom It May Concern:

I see you maintain a site that sometimes talks about publishers who are somehow unfair, illegitimate, or use suspect methods of business. I have such an experience. I want to apologize for the impersonal nature of this email, but I am trying to reach as many as I can who may be willing to share this account with their readership. This email is not about getting money or promotion. It is about protecting writers, so I thought you’d be interested.

My name’s Alex Smith. I’m a writer and have run lit mags and independent presses since graduating from college. After about two years of submitting a novel around, Damnation Books accepted the work to be published this March.

Damnation Books is an independent horror publisher who recently merged with Eternal Books, another independent publisher that puts an emphasis on digital distribution and uses on-demand printers to handle print copies (http://www.damnationbooks.com/). It is run by Kim Gilchrist.

Overall my experience with Damnation was quite pleasant, until we disagreed on the design of the cover. They were unwilling to negotiate, so I asked to be released from my contract. At this time, they sent me a letter charging me a $800+ “termination agreement.” This letter included an itemized list of expenses—and as a publisher myself I know how exorbitant and ridiculous these charges are.

Further, there was no mention of a termination fee in the contract I originally signed. I spoke to a woman name Victoria Strauss, who wrote a fascinating blog post on the subject of kill fees (http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2009/0...s-and-why.html). She explained that a kill fee is used to blackmail an unhappy author into getting back in line. She said this example of a kill fee was especially “sleazy” because there was no mention of it in the original contract. When I refused to pay the fee, Kim Gilchrist told me that unless I paid it they would go on and publish the book without my support.

Believe me—I tried everything to negotiate—I even offered to PAY some of the legitimate fees in order to see a new cover designed for the book—but they refused. It was either, “Pay us 800 or shut up and sit down.” I also spoke to a lawyer—he agreed with Ms. Strauss in myself: Damnation Books would never get away with a kill fee in court, but they did have the rights to publish the work. So as of now, despite my pleas, Damnation will be publishing “The Berserk” in March (you can find it on damnation’s website).

I am writing this in hopes that you will alert your readership of Damnation’s hidden fees. They are unlawful, unethical and, for a small independent publisher who should be out there championing small artists—this kind of cutthroat publishing behavior is unconscionable. There are other publishers who do this. According to Ms. Strauss’ blog, writers should beware of this type of bullying, and keep an eye out for it in their contracts (and NEVER sign a contract that includes a kill fee) but Damnation does not state it in their contract.

Feel free to publicize this email and the contracts I’ve included as you wish.

I believe I’ve said enough—I am more than willing to answer any other questions regarding this incident, or fill in any details you may need.

Thank you in advance for any consciousness-raising you do on the issue.

Sincerely,

Alex Smith

UPDATE March 10th, 2010

Damnation Books officially violated their own contract when they made substantial changes to my text without my approval, including the re-naming of chapters and inappropriate additions to the copyright page. Further, Damnation published the book on Amazon as The Berserk by Alex Smith, April Duncan, and Matt Truiano. The latter two are editor and cover designer, respectively. It is outrageous that they would attribute the creation and writing of the novel to two people who, however talented and deserving of praise in their own right, had worked on the book for a month, where I had worked on it for two years. As such, I have decided to publish a “perfect version” entitled Berserk on Amazon. Damnation are welcome to try to sue me if they so chose.

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