Friday, October 14, 2011

The Truth About Aspen Mountain Press

I thought we'd all wonder about what really happened at Aspen Mountain Press in the same way we wonder what really happened in the last hour of Marilyn Monroe's life, or where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, or how we speculate if there really is an Area 51.  In other words, I thought that this would simply become just another story of tragic implosion and devastation, with so much conjecture and gossip that it would become one of those legendary industry stories that after a time would almost become infamous, each retelling more outlandish than the last.

Until today.

Today, the former head editor and person best positioned to tell the true story, the actual truth, did just that.  Celina Summers, who knows where all the bodies are buried, so to speak, dug them all up and spread them out for all the world to see.  And what we saw was ugly.  And fraudulent.  And illegal.  And so, so, so, much worse than we authors trapped at AMP wanted to think.  I can do no better justice to this ever-developing story than to direct you to the words of Celina Summers herself, on her own blog, posted today.  She has said it far better than any other person could have or rather, should have.  I give you, Celina Summers:

Breaking My Silence on Aspen Mountain Press

Originally, I'd planned to write a completely different blog post from the one I am now putting out there.  I was going to trace the history I have with Aspen Mountain Press and the disintegration of the business, ending with how and why the senior staff all walked out at the end of July.  But after a very disturbing post by AMP's owner, Sandra Hicks, on the AMP Authors yahoo loop this morning—a loop I and other authors to whom AMP owes a lot of money were banned from because we were too outspoken—I think it's better to just cut to the chase and then to go through some of her responses.  I believe it's essential that what is happening at AMP is brought fully into perspective.   And, since I have kept every email correspondence, every royalties report from AMP and third party sites, and chat transcripts of every staff meeting with Ms. Hicks this summer, I'm in a unique position.

I'm one of the few people in the world who knows exactly what happened to AMP and has the documentation to prove it.

The disaster at AMP was a drawn-out affair, one that several people tried to address.  At this time last year, Lori Basiewicz was the managing editor of AMP and I was the head editor and solely in charge of the Aurora Regency imprints—a line I'd built and worked on myself.

My first indication that anything was wrong came when one of my authors at Aurora Regency—a writer who was in my writing group, who was a dear friend, who was someone whose integrity I trusted absolutely—wrote to me in concern because she hadn't received her royalties.  Lori and I struggled to find out what was going on, pleading with Ms. Hicks to address the problems with royalties that were starting to build up with our authors. None of the authors received regular royalty statements after August of 2010, so there was no way to determine if they sold any books or if there was an oversight.  This was resulting in an atmosphere of serious distrust—an atmosphere Lori and I bore the brunt of because Ms. Hicks wasn't answering any emails.  Eventually, last March, Lori couldn't take the lack of communication anymore.  She resigned, and I was the only visible face for the management of AMP.

To be perfectly fair and up front, Ms. Hicks WAS dealing with several physical ailments that rendered her unable to maintain the day to day activities of a publishing house. That is not in question and never has been. 

I'd been scheduled for serious surgery, one with a recovery time that was long enough that I knew I needed to make arrangements for the operation of Aurora Regency in my absence.  So, I emailed the owner, Sandra Hicks, and held off scheduling my surgery until we had agreed upon how Aurora Regency would be handed in my absence.  When over a week had passed with no response from Ms. Hicks, I got angry and sent an email to her, forwarding the message to the entire senior staff.  Here's part of it, from June 19, 2011:

Because of your inattention, you have lost staff, authors and books. And the flood is not only continuing, but growing rapidly. As a result, my income is going to drop substantially. I've lost three authors and their books in two months--*author names removed*. All three of them have devout followings and readerships. AMP can't afford the loss of any authors or books, particularly since Aurora is now responsible for roughly half of AMP's releases which was not the intended purpose of the line. I wasn't supposed to have to carry the release schedule.

As a result, here's what I expect to happen during my three months' absence, which is now effective immediately. I expect my royalties paid on time every month, both as a writer and a editor. I expect statements with those royalties so I know what I'm being paid for. I expect the Aurora releases to come out on time and in good shape, for my authors to get copies of their books upon release and for THEM to get their royalties on time and with royalty statements. If, for any reason, these conditions are not met, my leave of absence will become permanent. I will not return to a big old mess. 

I've come to the conclusion that the only way you're going to bestir yourself enough to care about AMP and its writers, editors and staff is to return to the days when you have to do it all yourself. And the fact you didn't even respond to an email as important as the first one I sent is insulting.

I demanded these things because they hadn't been happening at AMP for some time.  That email got the rest of the senior staff involved—involved to the point that Kelly Shorten, our art director, telephoned Ms. Hicks who was in a panic.  The result of that conversation was that Ms. Hicks would immediately turn over running of the company to the senior staff, that a qualified bookkeeper would be brought in to straighten out the mess of AMP royalties, and that we would have the power to do whatever it took to bring the company back. We also made a pact among ourselves, the four of us: if, for any reason, we found something that would make us consider quitting, we would all quit.  We would not enable Ms. Hicks any further. We were staying for the authors, to make sure they were paid what they were supposed to be paid on books that went out well-edited and packaged, on the scheduled release date and uploaded to third party sites. I personally would get as much done editorially as possible and stabilize the company, so that I could have my surgery and be reassured that the company wouldn't go under due to no management in my absence.

What we discovered when we took over was a nightmare: 

Hundreds of emails in all the AMP accounts, gone unanswered and unopened from authors and staff.  The customer service email account alone had over 500 unanswered emails over the previous eight months.  That took two people working eight hours to resolve—and in the process, we discovered a frighteningly large number of AMP books that had serious formatting problems for a long time.

Authors who were contracted and never heard back from the company, leaving their books unpublished and their rights tied up.  I found books from two years previously that were still stranded by AMP, the authors begging to just get a response from somebody…anybody.

The royalties were such a mess that the bookkeeper, Kerry Mand, elected to concentrate on just getting that month's royalties out and working on some of the most pressing cases before working backwards through the books and auditing a year's worth of royalty spreadsheets and reports--a course of action I agreed with.  We discovered that in previous months, only portions of the royalties had been paid at any given time.

Two weeks from the time that we took over, the only releases scheduled at AMP were Aurora Regency books—books that I was personally handling and scheduling.  Nothing else.  The last scheduled AMP book for release was on July 18.  The rest was all Aurora Regencies and one Christmas title at AMP, scheduled by Lori before she left.

The submissions account had not been opened since Lori had resigned three months prior.  I went through all those submissions and answered every single one since March of 2011, even connecting with authors who'd been contracted before Lori was the managing editor and forgotten.  I got all those lost books on the release schedule and to editors, who I hired.  The books were edited, proofed by me and uploaded to a special file where ready-to-be-published books were kept. 

Yep. Everything was an absolute nightmare. We worked seven days a week, up to twenty hours a day. And we made positive changes to AMP.  We got over a year's worth of books uploaded to the third party sites.  We updated and improved the website.  We planned and scheduled a new imprint for only speculative fiction.  We created new emails for author concerns and staff concerns, keeping those emails out of the submissions account.  We developed a policy between the four of us that NO email at AMP would remain unanswered for longer than six hours.  We released a chunk of authors who'd been trying to get their rights back in the previous months.  The owner initially balked at that but I pointed out that unhappy authors would be detrimental to what we trying to build and eventually, reluctantly, she agreed. I got all the contracted books on the release schedule and to editors, who I hired.  The books were edited, proofed by me and uploaded to a special file where ready-to-be-published books were kept. 

We scheduled AMP through the end of the year, with multiple releases each week—and many of those books were the ones that had dropped through the cracks.

After a couple of weeks, things were starting to look up. The authors were happy again, beginning to believe in AMP once more.  And in that first month of our leadership at AMP, we posted a huge increase in sales.

But as Kerry got further into the royalties at AMP, the more concerned we all became.  The art director and bookkeeper asked for—and were empowered to use—the AMP Paypal  and bank accounts. All four of us were working with those accounts and past royalty spreadsheets so we could try to match payments to sales. In other words, to make sure all the authors were paid for every single book sale.

Kerry had managed to get the royalties done ahead of schedule, and sent the royalties to Ms. Hicks to pay.  On July 15th, we were all so relieved.  The royalties were done and the authors would be paid on time.  But by the 18th, we started to get a lot of emails: the publisher didn't pay the darn royalties!  AMP paid only a few authors and then stopped.  So I emailed the owner. No answer. I called her. No answer.  I texted her. 

Finally, she responded.  When I asked her why the royalties hadn't been paid, she said that to her knowledge, they all had been.  We were online IN the bank account and Paypal, trying to match authors (and pen names) to amounts to see who'd went unpaid. And as I asked her about a specific author, we watched the payment go out from that account. Then she texted me back each time and said that I was mistaken, that author had been paid.

Up until that moment, I believed that all the problems at AMP were unintentional, and that there wasn't a chance of dishonesty on the part of the owner.  But that, when considered along with everything else, made me suspicious for the first time.  After that, we couldn't believe Ms. Hicks when she told us she'd paid for something. So we began to monitor the bank account.  It was essential that we knew what the financial situation of the company was before we did or said anything to the authors about their royalties.  We'd taken over and were so proud of the fact that the royalties were done—and correctly—and then the payments weren't made, which made us look like we were incompetent.  It was then that we starting noticing some peculiar activities in the AMP bank account.

The owner was using the business's bank account for personal expenses. 

Kerry worked backwards through the bank accounts and spreadsheets, arriving at the amount of back royalties an author was owed, the owner would go behind our backs and tell the author that WE were wrong and the author had already been paid most of that amount.

In the meantime, we were seeing these personal expenses—for food, souvenirs, car payments, doctors visits—coming out of the AMP account.  We decided to confront the owner about this in our weekly Skype conference—a system I preferred to use because we could keep transcripts.  When we pleaded with the owner to separate her personal expenses from the company's, to set up a monthly draw account that would be a percentage of profits—so that we wouldn't have the appearance of impropriety—she refused.  She also implied that we had used her Paypal account without her knowledge to pay a long overdue bill for advertising—when we'd mentioned multiple times during that conversation that we were doing so AT THE TIME. REAL time.

We were all so angry at that time that Dominique suggested we stop the meeting, take a deep breath, think things through and meet again the following day when everyone was calmer. 

Unfortunately, even though we tried, the owner would not budge.  She apologized for what happened the day before, assuring us that she didn't mean to question our use of the Paypal account to pay an advertising bill as dishonest or inappropriate.  But she wouldn't budge off the personal expenses. She said the income of AMP was too irregular to establish a draw account for a percentage of the income. 

At that point, I made an offer to buy AMP. She replied that she wouldn't sell for less than a quarter of a million dollars.  I tried to purchase the two imprints I'd built—the Aurora Regency line that was nearly a year old and the Aura speculative fiction line that was scheduled to launch in October.  She refused.  So there was nothing left to do but announce our resignation from AMP to the authors, turn over everything we'd done to AMP, and leave.

As a result of all this, we decided to open our own publishing house, Musa Publishing, where we would address all the issues we had with AMP in advance. Ms. Hicks had assured us she was going to close AMP because we had left, so we wanted to create a haven for AMP authors—a house where their books could be reissued as soon as possible.

Once we'd left and were building Musa as fast as we could, Ms. Hicks contacted me again to offer me the chance to buy the Aurora Regency imprint and AMP.  We agreed on Aurora and she dropped the price for AMP down to a more realistic but still high number.  The four of us discussed the amount and refused the offer.  We had put our financial resources into Musa and couldn't afford to take on AMP with all the lingering problems there.  She then offered to sell us individual contracts/books.  So we considered it, added up the amount of back pay and royalties AMP owed us, and offered an exchange: we would forgive our entire back salary and all my future earnings as an editor who'd done 75% of the books released by AMP the previous year in exchange for approximately 65 book contracts.  Our plan was to immediately release those authors from their contracts.  We would offer contracts to Musa to each author—an offer they were not obligated to take.  The four of us thought it was worth forgiving the money owed to us in order to free as many authors/books as we could.

But as soon as Ms. Hicks  received our check for the Aurora Regency imprint, she abruptly decided against the deal we'd been working for the individual contracts—a deal that was HER initial plan. She cashed our check for AR immediately, and then proceeded to breach the remainder of the contract.  The website was not turned over by the agreed-upon date. The books were not removed from the third party sites; we ended up doing that ourselves.  Aside from the communications with us, which she terminated as soon as she got some money, she made very few attempts to communicate with the authors in her company.

Until today.

Today, Ms. Hicks finally answered a post on the AMP Authors loop from a stranded AMP author—an author I contracted as managing editor, an author who has no editor, no cover art, no publication, and has had no answers.  His post--minus his name—and Ms. Hicks' replies are below. My comments are in between each section.

 Author) Do you intend returning answering queries, letters etc? What is the time
span involved so we know when to expect an answer from you?

 Ms. Hicks) In all fairness, I can't tell you what sort of time frame to expect an answer
in, except to say that I am working on them. It takes time to respond to
THREATS such as the one Wells made and take care of other business matters AND
attend to my health needs and the work that must be done in raising my son
The *threat* Ms. Hicks is referring to occurred when the author in question, Charles Wells, served a DMCA notice to the domain host and the AMP website was taken down temporarily.  The website that, by the way, AMP has not paid the designer for. AMP authors have served similar notices to AMP's third party distributors.  AMP books are coming or have come down at many online retailers, particularly the large number of out-of-contract books that up until now, AMP has not removed from their home website or third party retailers despite numerous attempts by the affected authors.

 Author) Do you intend returning rights to authors who have asked for them? 
Ms. Hicks) Not in all cases. All who've asked will be getting a personalized letter from
me through the mail system explaining what I am deciding and why.

A personalized letter through the mail system would have to go through her post office box, where scores of unaccepted registered letters and snail mailed demands to take out of contract books off the AMP sites or notices of breach of contracts have been accumulating dust and not been answered. That address is a Mailboxes storefront a few blocks, I understand, from the owner's home. 

Author) If YES,when can we expect to have the documentation? 
 Ms. Hicks) When I get to the requests, I am writing a letter and mailing it to the authors.

Author)  If NO, can you please use this Loop to advise who yes and who not? If NO, can
you please explain why you intend holding on to authors that have lost faith in
 Ms. Hicks) Losing faith in a company does not void a contract. Any business matters are
between the author and AMP. If the author wishes to make those matters public,
they will. I won't violate their privacy in that way. It is their own
Additionally, I'd like to tell the members here that this is not a business
MEETING loop. I've posted a few announcements in the past, and participated in
some general chat, but I don't use this for meeting purposes.

"Losing faith in a company does not void a contract."  And yet, let's take a look at the breaches of contract all AMP authors are experiencing.  Unpaid royalties. No royalty statements. No books published in nine weeks and only two since the end of July—and they were late. A website that is out of date (and not paid for). No web presence, since one needs to actually participate in conversations to be considered a presence.  No response to emails, snail mailed letters or registered letters.  Out of contract books still being sold at AMP and on third party sites while the authors don't get paid for them.  No editors. No art staff. No signature pages signed by the publisher for contracts. 

Those things DO void a contract.

And after months of not responding to communications by email, text, phone call, or certified letter, why wouldn't the authors bring up issues regarding the publisher at a Yahoo loop designed by the company to discuss issues within the publisher? 

Author) Do you intend paying royalties AND supplying sales statements in toto as per the contract? When can those owed money expect to be paid? 
Ms. Hicks) Yes, I will be paying royalties and statements, but as of the moment they are on
the back burner
 as I deal with all the other threats to the company, and the
requests to relinquish contracts.
*bolding mine*

Wait a second—paying royalties that will be three months past due on October 15th is on the back burner because of threats to the company and all the reversion of rights letters?  So what Ms. Hicks is saying here is that as long as the AMP authors are in active rebellion against her, she will continue to NOT pay royalties. Paying authors and staff the money due them should be the TOP PRIORITY here, regardless of whether the author/staff member is speaking publicly about what happened as AMP.  She's holding authors' money hostage, the same way she's holding their books hostage, until they shut up and sit down.

That's my take on the situation, at least. I could be wrong. If someone can put a different interpretation on this for me, please do.

Author) Do you intend removing out of contract books from the AMP web site and
within what time frame? Bear in mind many third party sites have already done so
on request from authors who have provided documentary evidence of the end of
 Ms. Hicks) Yes, but again, I can't provide an exact time frame. Interestingly enough, some
of the authors who have sort of provided evidence have also negatively affected
authors that wish to remain with AMP. Any of the threats that are coming from
in force contracts can cause issues for the authors. This especially is true in
light of the clause to redress breaches. A scanned copy of the clause with the
authors signature eliminates the DRM violation claims.

What authors wish to remain published by a company that doesn't pay them royalties? I'd like about a hundred of those--with bestselling books of course--to submit to me.  

Smart comments and pipe dreams aside, the clause in the AMP contract to redress breaches reads as follows:

A). Breach of Contract
If either party breaches this Agreement, the non-breaching party shall provide written notice by certified mail to the breaching party of the alleged breach.

Upon receipt of such notice, the breaching party shall have ninety (90) days to cure.  At the expiration of such ninety (90) day period, upon failure to cure, this Agreement shall terminate, except as otherwise provided herein or otherwise agreed in writing by both parties hereto.

 Author) Do you intend continuing business with AMP? 
Ms. Hicks) Yes. I put a lot of love and time into AMP. Am I ill? Yes. Is AMP ill, yes.
This situation has certainly given me a load of things to consider. What if I'd
had a heart attack or ended up in a coma? I have to develop a system to provide
back up for such scenarios.

She used to have a staff to provide back up for such scenarios—a staff that resigned en masse when she refused to remove her personal expenses from the company's. And now, it's going to be very hard to find a new staff when the old staff is owed thousands of dollars in back and future pay.  Why would anyone think that AMP would pay a new staff when they don't pay the old one or the authors? And, to be honest, the other staff members and myself were the ones carrying the load of AMP for a year before our resignation.  Lori Basiewicz, the managing editor before me, and I were carrying on without guidance or even assistance from Ms. Hicks for months. We weren't doing that for her, but for the authors who were relying on AMP's integrity with their intellectual property and income.

Also, let's be perfectly frank here.  Ms. Hicks hasn't had a heart attack or a stroke. Her health permitted her to make this statement today without any trouble or turmoil.  Her health permitted her to drive to the bank and cash a check. Her health permits her to do many, many things--but not, apparently, to answer an email, cut a check, type out a royalty statement, or anything that might benefit her authors and staff.

Author)  If Yes, please state when we can expend within what time frame it will do so
and also do you intend doing so with authors who no longer wish to be identifies
with it? 
Ms. Hicks) The first thing I am doing is reading and responding to authors. Each is
individual, case-by-case. Just because some authors no longer wish to be
identified with AMP does not negate their contracts. I and I alone will make
that decision, on a case-by-case basis as I look to the future.

What negates their contracts is months without royalties.  And when the author sends the registered letter as specified in the AMP contract, the publisher evades activating that 90 day period by refusing to accept the certified letters.

Also, these complaints have been ongoing for over a year. Is she saying that in all that time, she is only NOW reading authors' emails?  

Author) If NO, when can we expect the return of rights letters, payments, etc, that
will avoid legal action on the part of those owed money? 
 Ms. Hicks) As stated before it is one thing at a time. Having been an author, I know the
return of my intellectual property is more important than anything else. That
said, I would seriously consider how much attorney fees cost and weigh them
against what I believe I'm owed. Aspen has the money to pay its authors, but
being one person at this time, I have made the decision to handle the rights
requests first.

*bolding mine*

In other words, Ms. Hicks is threatening the authors, implying that it would be more expensive and a more lengthy process to force AMP to pay royalties than it would be to just shut up and not make too much noise about this, and that since they're complaining she's just going to work on the rights issues on a case by case basis, therefore delaying any attempts to pay the royalties. Aspen Mountain Press probably does have the money to pay its authors, seeing as second quarter royalties from the third party sites were just paid out.  She is electing, however, to ignore those royalties as a punishment for bad behavior.

And as an author who knows the return of intellectual property is more important than anything else, AMP's owner, who suffered as an author from the Triskelion debacle, is proving stubbornly resistant to returning anyone's intellectual property despite the numerous and egregious breaches AMP has committed on every single contract in the past 14 months. 
Author)  At this stage I think these are the main themes authors are worried about and
I  ask, on behalf of all of them to give answers as soon as possible. 
 While we all know about your personal problems and many have wished you the
best for them. You should also be aware that this situation have caused all of us to suffer anziety(sic), depression, and other problems caused by stress. Do you truly believe that it is fair, or worse still, legally defendable refusing to face up to this situation?
Ms. Hicks) Actually, yes, it is defendable as I have sought documented treatment for my medical issues as well as the depression. It is not a refusal to face the
situation, it is an inability due to depression. And for those that are
suffering anxiety, and depression, then I would surely expect them to be more
compassionate of the anxiety and depression I am suffering. Do I believe it is
fair? Of course not. I don't believe it is fair for a person to suffer cancer,
lose a loved one, get laid off from a job they've worked at for 20 years. Some
thing just have to be handled one thing at a time, one day at a time. Seems tome like there was a boatload of people who got paid just last month (and no,they did not get their statements, they are sitting in my flash drive) And as a clarification to many of you, right or wrong, I made the decision that it was better you got your money than the statement. Cutting the checks actually took less time than attaching the document and emailing it individually. Now, that said, some of you think I owe you money that I actually
did pay--you did not cash your checks. There is ample proof of that in the bank account. Will I send statements? Yes. When, not until I can get people paid.
Have I not answered emails? Yes. Why? Bad news upon bad news only deepens depression, doesn't help it at all. For those who have known me since the very early days of our writing careers and the beginning of this company, you knowthat I don't speak ill of others, and that I haven't treated you badly. Am I coming out of this? With professional help. I don't know what sort of time frame to expect for that either. Some days are better than others. Right now I've upped my work quotient to about 2 hours a day. Upped. Is that great...depends where you are. Right now for me it is-two years ago-I was
putting in twelve to fourteen hours a day and editing as well. I was also writing. Now compared to then? Bad. Perspective has a lot of power. 
 Even answering this post has zapped a lot of the energy I had for the day. Again, to all of you who've put in requests, watch the mail. You are getting signed hard copies related to your requests.
*bolding is all mine—not the author's or Ms. Hicks*

When I was sent this post this morning by multiple authors, I literally felt ill. Ms. Hicks actually thinks that she is in the right!  That NOT paying authors and staff is defensible! That a 'boatload' of people got paid just last month! 

That two hours is day is somehow work, when a few months ago AMP had people working 16-20 hours a day to try to save the company.

That due to her personal illness and her documentation of treatment, she has a legal defense NOT TO PAY THE AUTHORS TO WHOM SHE OWES MONEY?  I've never heard of a court anywhere that lets a contract employer refuse to pay people who have fulfilled their end of a contract because the employer is ill. Never.  And usually, if a legal entity like a company refuses to or cannot pay its employees, the doors are shut and all contracts are immediately terminated.  If I'm incorrect, I'd love to see a post from an attorney pointing out where my logic is wrong.

In the end, I don't know who got paid; I know who DIDN'T get paid—I know I didn't: either my regular author royalties, my editor royalties, my percentage of sales for Aurora Regency or my percentage of sales for my role as the AMP managing editor.  I know that Kelly Shorten, the web designer and art director, did not get paid the back salary and contracted labor (website building, maintenance and design, the database, shopping cart system) AMP owes her. Not a dime, when it's impossible to run on online business without those things—things AMP is still using even now I know that Kerry Mand, the bookkeeper we brought in to fix the AMP accounting didn't get paid the hundreds dollars AMP owes her.  I know that Dominique Eastwick didn't get paid the full amount of money owed to her for promotions, formatting and uploading books to third party sites. 

And yet, when our company bought the Aurora Regency imprints, we paid immediately. And Ms. Hicks was certainly well enough at that time to drive immediately to her bank and cash that check, but was not well enough to fulfill the remainder of the contract OR to pay any of us some of the thousands of dollars she owes us.

This is what I know.

There may be some authors who got paid; I can't say that they didn't.  But I know for a FACT that the authors who have been the most vocal about AMP issues have not been paid. Not a penny.  Not since the royalties the senior staff sent out when we were running AMP. These are the same people Ms. Hicks banned from the company yahoo loop along with me, people who were unwilling to keep quiet about the  concern they felt for their books, their publications schedules, and their money.

In the end, the senior staff left AMP because we could not have our names and reputations associated with a publisher who put her personal needs above the needs of her authors and staff, who thinks it's acceptable to contract books and then either not publish them or not pay the author royalties on those sales, who believes that somehow SHE is the victim here and not the scores of people who've been left without income, who thinks that just by ignoring emails, phone calls and registered letters everything will just go away.

This publisher, once a leading ebook house with an owner/publisher whose integrity was accepted without question, the selfsame publisher who is now holding books and authors alike hostage, threatening to continue to NOT pay them if they speak out publicly against AMP because her two hours of work a day will be spent dealing with threats to the company.

To recap: I became suspicious when an author who I recruited and brought to Aurora Regency emailed me that she had never received a royalty check from AMP for her (at that time) two books. I knew that was wrong because I, who did the editor royalties, knew she'd had sales every single month.  Lori Basiewicz, the previous managing editor, begged and pleaded with the owner to rectify the situation. Ms. Hicks wouldn't, and Lori quit.  Three months later, the senior staff was empowered to bring AMP back to the good, strong publisher it originally was.  That lasted for a couple of months before we felt it was too dangerous and legally ruinous to continue to work for a company that in our opinion, was at the very least guilty of neglect and at the most possibly guilty of fiscal malfeasance.  And now we find ourselves in the position of watching as a once-respected publisher flat out refuses to pay her authors and staff the money she owes them from the royalties AMP books earned, money that—at the time we left at least—was being used as the publisher's personal income for private expenses.

I once said on this blog that I would never discuss the reasons the senior staff resigned at Aspen Mountain Press.  Now I have to consider that one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made.  But I—and the other staffers who left—had hopes that the publisher would do the right thing: reverting all rights to the authors, paying out the royalties due, and closing up shop.  In fact, we were told that was what would happen at our last meeting at AMP, the same meeting where we were told she would not sell AMP for less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

I have empathized with Ms. Hicks's personal situation. For a long time, I protected her because of it.  In other words, I enabled her to do exactly what she is doing right now.   For that, I've borne a terrible sense of responsibility when I listen to the authors at AMP and their distress and anger toward the publisher.  People are at AMP who would never have been trapped if I hadn't encouraged them to submit to MY publisher, the one publisher in the world I was certain would never cheat or deprive her authors and staff.

And while that is the story in a nutshell, there is still so much more.  As I prowl through the reams of communications and documents I amassed in my tenure at Aspen Mountain Press, I am compiling a sizable list of issues that I personally dealt with or have knowledge of.  In addition to that, I have every financial records provided to me by Ms. Hicks to do the editor royalties. And, of course, the chat transcripts where we discussed all these things.  After today's communication from Ms. Hicks, I felt that I needed to put all this down on the record as a kind of placeholder for the larger report with documentation that I am preparing.

I hope this is all unnecessary. I hope that Ms. Hicks, who meant so much to me as a friend and mentor, will still manage to do the right thing.  But I don't condone holding authors' books and royalties hostage contingent upon their good behavior.  This is business, not a preschool. My money doesn't go to timeout because I acted out. There are a lot of ugly, legal terms one could use here—terms that I'm certain will be used in multiple court cases already peeking over the horizon.

Someone asked me last week how I'd learned all that I know about the publishing industry. My reply was that I hadn't learned what to DO, but what NOT to do—and that hasn't steered me wrong so far.  So it is indeed time to break the silence on this matter, time to let the world know once and for all what's really happened at AMP in my experience, in the hopes that somehow this knowledge might help to break the hold Aspen Mountain Press and its owner currently has on its authors and staff.

So I think it's time to break the silence on this matter, time to let the world know once and for all what's really happened at AMP in my experience, in the hopes that somehow this knowledge might help to break the hold Aspen Mountain Press and its owner currently has on its authors and staff.

Today is such a sad day for me. But everything I've said in this post, I have documents to back me up. Publishers need to be held accountable for their actions.  It is time now for Aspen Mountain Press to pay what they owe.

 Give the authors their rights back.

Give the authors an internal audit of the books.

Pay the authors and staff what they are owed.

And shut the doors on a one-time great little publisher that is now the biggest cautionary tale of all.

And a special note to AMP authors, editors and staff--please post a comment on this blog detailing exactly the breaches of your contract.  Tell us the last time you were paid, the last time you got  a royalty statement. Let us know how you tried to contact Sandra Hicks, the owner of AMP, and how many times.  Let us know what she has said in response to you.  And I will continue to compile my article about Aspen Mountain Press, complete with documentation, for publication at a later date.  I also encourage you all to report Aspen Mountain Press directly to watchdog sites and blogs.  Go to Preditors and Editors, or Piers Anthony's e-publishing blog.  Absolute Write has an active thread detailing the disintegration of Aspen Mountain Press.  Go to any writers guild you belong to, like SFWA or RWA.  

It's time for you to break the silence as well.

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