Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Friday, 15 January 2016

Spectral Press

Readers may wish to pour themselves a large, stiff drink before continuing. This is going to be a long post.

I've thought long and hard before blogging on this topic, but there is a great deal of confusion and misinformation out there, and I believe it's important that the facts be made available. There is also an issue of transparency to customers regarding Spectral Press in its past or present incarnations.

Contents
1) Preamble
2) Throat-clearing
3) Past issues
4) Personal experiences
5) Recent events
6) Others' experiences
7) The Short Version

1) Preamble
A number of issues have arisen with regard to Spectral Press, publishers of Black Mountain. A great deal has been said on all sides. Much of what follows here is a developed recap of posts I've made elsewhere attempting to clarify the situation.

Briefly, it has emerged that Spectral is in debt to the tune of between £8,000 - £10,000 GBP. A good part of this consists of monies owed to their authors; in addition to this, many customers had paid for orders that had still not been received.

Gary Compton, a personal friend of Spectral's owner, Simon Marshall-Jones (hereafter SMJ) stepped in and announced (via Facebook) that he would take over the administration of the press; SMJ would remain in charge as editor while Gary (hereafter GC) handled the business side and tried to find a way to ensure the authors and customers received recompense. There were those who questioned whether Facebook was the proper forum to announce this, whether it might not have been better to email Spectral's various authors; GC's response was that he did not, at present, have all the relevant email addresses.

Subsequently a further announcement was made that Spectral was now to become an imprint of Tickety Boo Press (GC's own small press); all existing authors would be offered new contracts. In many cases, deals with Spectral had been in the form of 'gentlemen's agreements,' and authors had not been provided with details of royalties owed or even a payment schedule for those royalties.

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there.

2) Throat-clearing
Before going any further, some throat-clearing is necessary, for reasons that will shortly become clear. SMJ has a number of health problems, including severe depression, which may well have been a factor in the collapse of Spectral. It was also announced by SMJ's wife, Liz, that SMJ was suicidal as a result of the press's problems and debts.

In addition, he is currently transitioning: it was announced last year that he was to be known as 'Siobhan' and addressed as 'she' - however, SMJ is still being addressed as 'Simon' and 'he' by both GC and Liz, so for the time being I will do the same.

There has been a great deal of sympathy online for SMJ, and it must be said now, loudly and clearly, that NO ONE has anything - or has expressed anything - but sympathy and understanding for his personal situation. Many of Spectral's writers (myself and my partner, Cate Gardner, included) have had experience of depression and/or other MH issues. He and Liz are both well-liked and there has been a great deal of goodwill towards them in the UK horror community. A couple of years ago, a number of writers and readers donated to Spectral to help pay off SMJ's tax bill, which he'd failed to factor into the costs of running the press. If there hadn't been a high level of goodwill, a lot of the issues with Spectral Press that have come out in past week would have done so far, far sooner.

Sadly, it's necessary to emphasise this, as a picture has been painted of Spectral's problems having recently come to a head, with the priority being to save SMJ and Liz from ruin and any parties expressing a grievance as being unfeeling mercenaries. It's a skewed and inaccurate picture, prompting a number of people to speak out in various places on social media, but it appears to be necessary to make this information available in a form where the whole story can be read by anyone who wants to.

3) Past Issues
The fact is that there have been issues with Spectral for a long time now, but most of it off-line. A lot of writers and customers are justifiably angry and frustrated about how they've been treated, but much of the goings-on that have caused so much annoyance have been in private emails or Facebook messages. 
  
Having received orders and having the books in stock, Spectral repeatedly couldn't get round to posting them for months, if at all. Payment to writers, in most cases, was sporadic if it happened at all, and scheduling was all over the place, with the lineup being rearranged at the drop of a hat in accordance with SMJ's latest enthusiasm. 
 
And then there's lack of promotion for stuff being brought out. As of a couple of weeks ago, the 2nd Spectral Book of Horror wasn't even listed among the titles in the Spectral Shop, and was almost impossible to find on Amazon due to a misspelled title. John Llewellyn Probert may also have some stories to tell in this context, at some point, as may Stephen Volk. 

Queries about unfulfilled orders or payments have been all too often met with evasions and excuses from SMJ, or promises of fixing the situation that went unfulfilled. These were usually followed up with passive-aggressive comments on Facebook from Liz accusing people of picking on SMJ; the same applied to any public comments drawing attention to the press' failings. 

"It took over a year for the authors' copies of the collected Spectral chapbooks to arrive," stated Gary Fry, "and they were only sent after I constantly hassled Simon for them over months. He'd sold the 10 limited editions for £550 (collectively). The authors were paid NOTHING from this, just given copies, and as I say, these took over a year to arrive. This was years ago now. So all this is not a recent problem." 



4) Personal Experiences
As stated, many authors' arrangements with Spectral were in the form of 'gentlemen's agreements'; as was mine for the serial novel Black Mountain. When I contacted SMJ about payment, I was originally offered a bottle of whisky. Later I received £50, which may have been an advance or a royalty instalment; I haven't seen any sort of royalty schedule.

Contributors to the Second Spectral Book of Horror were supposed to be paid within a month of publication. I was paid in December, and only after chasing. [I got off fairly easily; Lynda E. Rucker added that she chose not to submit a story to the SBOH#2 after learning that many contributors to the first volume had not been paid and had experienced great difficulty in obtaining contributor copies.]


ETA [13.18 15/1/2016] Mark Morris (editor of SBoHS #1 & #2) "Re [Lynda's] comment that she decided not to submit to SBoHS2 because she'd heard that some of the contributors to the original volume hadn't been paid... This is not so. All the contributors to the first volume were paid, though some of the payments were admittedly staggered, as Simon had to wait to recoup the money from sales. However the original volume sold so well that it has now gone into the black, and all contributors are owed an additional royalty fee of £30. To date, a few of them have been paid, but most are still waiting for payment."

Cate hasn't seen a penny for her novella The Bureau Of Them, and doesn't expect to; she even had to send one of her own copies to Angela Slatter (in Australia), who was supposed to receive one from the publisher for writing the introduction. She'd been waiting for months and months for a copy. How hard is it to put one book in the post?

I was originally supposed to have a chapbook out in 2012; as I didn't have a 6-7,000 word tale (the usual fit for a Spectral chapbook) available, SMJ originally planned to bring out two shorter stories in one volume, under the title Cold Havens. Later that year I wrote a story called 'The Judgement Call', which I submitted to Spectral's Christmas anthology; SMJ decided this was a better fit for a chapbook, but that,
due to its seasonal setting, it should now be released for Christmas 2013 .

Then Christmas 2014.

Then Christmas 2015.

Then Christmas 2015 as part of a dual chapbook with Robert Shearman. 


Nothing was heard of this as we moved into December 2015: when the Sledge-Lit convention came and went without any presence from Spectral, we assumed that - once again - publication had been deferred for another year. Then on the 10th December, SMJ contacted Rob and myself, full of plans to bring out the chapbook for Christmas - even though at this late stage, it couldn't possibly be ready for a Christmas release (both our stories had a Christmas theme) and would almost certainly sink without trace.

In all honesty, I'd already decided to withdraw the story - apart from anything else, Spectral's chapbook authors received no payment for their work. (See what I mean about goodwill?) Rob and I dissuaded SMJ from publishing the chapbook for Christmas, then withdrew our work.

5) Recent events

On 6th January 2016, author and editor Gary Fry withdrew his collection - for which a contract had been signed two years earlier - from Spectral Press. "When I pulled my collection from Spectral (contract signed two years ago, book in hiatus since), Simon said "That would be good". I suggested it wasn't good and that an apology might be nice. He started going on about his health. I suggested that he might like to consider how he treats authors who entrust their work to him. He went silent. Then Lizzie posted some abusive stuff on her FB page."

Here's what Gary said to Simon Marshall-Jones:

"OK, I will be helpful. But I'm not sure you'll like it much. I'm seeing Spectral developing an unflattering reputation. It's a shame, because it had so much promise and got off to such a flying start. People talk, you know. Failing to pay people on time, not sending out purchased books, etc, stacks up. I know you have health problems, but ultimately, when artists lay down their work and customers their money, they're not principally concerned by that. Nor should they be, necessarily. I do think you need to think about others here, too. Otherwise I fear Spectral might get in trouble. Sorry for plain-speaking. I just think someone needs to say it. Anyway, it's none of my business. Whether you choose to listen is entirely your choice."

 Here's what Liz posted:

"Don't you love it when you're having real difficulties and some bright spark says “we all have problems you know”. What they actually mean is "I don't care about you, I only care about me, me, me". Well they can just fuck right off. I'm very tired of them."

Liz's post was also directed at author Paul M. Feeney, who had that evening finally received a refund on nearly £150 worth of books he'd ordered or pre-ordered, many of which he'd been awaiting for months, with repeated delays and excuses. 

Apparently, Paul had been bullying and insensitive. Here's a screencap of the email exchange. (Apologies for the small font size. The last three screencaps, which contain shorter exchanges, should each be read bottom to top.)




It was then announced that SMJ was incapable, due to near-suicidal depression, of fielding queries, so his friend, Gary Compton of Tickety Boo Press, would handle any queries and attempt to resolve the situation. The following day, Gary Compton posted the following on SMJ's Facebook page:

ANNOUNCEMENT

After a hectic day and based on massive support for Simon and Liz. A meeting of Tickety Boo Directors Ltd was held last night.

On my personal recommendation of Simon as a premier league publisher, the directors have agree that Spectral Press and its sub-imprints become part of Tickety Boo Press Ltd.

Tickety Boo Press Ltd accepts no responsibility for the debt incurred by Simon trading as Spectral, however there is a plan in place to repay/fulfil commitments. This will take weeks to hone and probably a couple of years to fulfil so please bear with us.

THE PLAN

1) To quantify exactly what Spectral owes.

2) Dialogue with authors to make sure they are happy to move to the new Spectral Press imprint at TBP. New contracts will need to be signed which will clearly show payment times, percentages and rights given.

3) Dialogue with authors about up an coming releases.

4) Move over agreed titles to the TBP shop and Amazon bookshelf.

5) Dialogue with customers about outstanding orders.

6) Start a GoFundMe campaign to raise a couple of grand to take the pressure off and get some authors paid at least something.

7) New email: spectral@ticketyboopress.co.uk

TBP have agreed to waive any entitlement to royalties of any future or transferred Spectral titles so that those royalties on pay-off the debt. Once that is done Spectral will be co-owned equally by Simon and Tickety Boo Press Ltd. Any royalties owed to authors from the date of transfer will be paid, 1st May and then quarterly.

Any Spectral author, can I suggest you talk to any of our authors to confirm how prompt our payments are.

ONGOING

Simon will do what he loves and what he is good at and that is putting together brilliant books. All monies, accounting, payments will be done by Tickety Boo.

So, that's it! I know that some authors and customers are frustrated and that is perfectly understandable. At least this way they will get paid/goods/refunded eventually and Simon can avoid bankruptcy which helps no one.

All fair and reasonable? Well...

The GoFundMe was something of a sore point with a number of people, given how many were already were owed money by Spectral Press - and how many had donated to help keep the imprint afloat. (In 2013, due to an unpaid tax bill, Spectral was on the point of closing: SMJ received something like £350 from authors and readers 'investing in Spectral Press.') Especially as it originally contained the circled paragraph (now deleted):



That's right: the GoFundMe was also to give SMJ a holiday.

And writers who called attention to their woes with Spectral continued to be accused of 'bullying' and of driving SMJ to the brink of suicide. The biggest and saddest problem with all this was, because the news was mostly being seen on SMJ's, Liz's or Gary Compton's Facebook pages, there was a great deal of support for their position - mostly from good, well-intentioned people who weren't aware of the wider context, or of the long-standing issues with this press.







In fairness, Gary Compton subsquently apologised for his remark. Liz Marshall-Jones posted an 'apology' to Gary Fry on her Facebook page. I've put it in inverted commas because her apology was solely for using the word 'fuck'. A bunch of supporters piled in to tell her that 'some people deserve to be told to fuck off,' and one individual compared the writers and customers to 'children' having 'tantrums' and 'slinging mud.'

I posted this in response:

Sorry, who's been throwing tantrums? 

Customers who have quite reasonably been unhappy about having had their money and nothing given back? 

Writers who have quite reasonably been unhappy about receiving no payment or royalties for their work, or for the publication of their work delayed for years? Whose work has gone out without any kind of publicity or promotion so that it sinks without trace? Who instead of payment get offered books they neither need nor want, or a bottle of whisky? 

The problems with Spectral haven't grown up overnight: they've been ongoing for some years. A number of writers and readers chipped in not so long ago when Spectral was on the verge of closing to the tax bill. Simon and Lizzie are well-liked and a lot of good will has been in play here - otherwise the issues that are now being made public would have been long ago. 

NO ONE has had anything but sympathy for Simon's personal problems. Not least because plenty of the authors and customers have also had experiences with MH issues. My partner and I both included. 

But private queries have been met with unfulfilled promises, or with evasions and excuses. Any attempt to draw attention to them in public has been met with accusations of picking on Spectral and SMJ. 

And now everyone's saying that Spectral are the victims and the customers and writers who've been shorted somehow are the bad guys? As for slinging mud: please show me where any of the aggrieved customers and writers have lobbed personal abuse at anyone. Where they've told anyone to 'fuck right off' or called them a 'bigoted cunt' (and no, I know that wasn't Lizzie, and that the person who did that has publicly apologised; even so, the abuse has been strictly one way on this.)

Gary Fry commented in similar vein.

Shortly after, Liz deleted the post. Gary Compton posted that there would be no further apologies as Liz had attempted to do so and 'attacked by a pack of wolves.'

Around this time, Gary Compton blocked me and several other writers.



Please re-read my comment in italics above; I have several times, and I'm still not sure in what way it makes me resemble a member of a 'pack of wolves' or constitutes a 'cesspit argument.'

Gary Compton also blocked Cate, even though she'd actually said nothing and is a Spectral Press client in her own right. Bear in mind that almost all communications regarding the future of the press were still being made via Facebook.

Meanwhile, this article about Gary Compton had been brought to light. As was this link, which reveals he actually went bankrupt in 2015. And this link, according to which TBP has neither assets nor turnover.

(Unsurprisingly, I decided that I didn't wish to sign with the new iteration of Spectral, and had requested that the rights to Black Mountain be reverted to me. It's now with my agent; depending on his view, we'll either look for another publisher or I'll go the self-publishing route. Mynydd Du will rise again. And I do want to thank SMJ, because Black Mountain wouldn't have happened without him. I don't, as I've said before, actually bear him any ill-will.)

Most of the existing Spectral authors have now likewise decamped. Gary Compton has announced that The Spectral Book Of Horror Stories will continue to be published, but with a new editor - Mark Morris has stated that he will never work with Spectral Press again, although he hopes to revive his anthology series in a different form.



ETA: [13.18 15/1/2016] Mark Morris: "For the moment, at least, I've decided to allow Spectral/Tickety Boo to keep selling both volumes of The Spectral Book of Horror Stories in the hope that the books will eventually make enough money for those contributors to volume 2 who haven't yet been paid (which is most of them) to eventually receive what they are owed as per the terms of their contract. If this turns out not to be the case (i.e. if the money received isn't instantly diverted to the contributors), then I'll review this situation at a later date -- though, needless to say, before taking any action I would have to check the terms of the contract, consult the contributors to both volumes of the anthology as to their preferred course of action, and also think hard about the fact of what it will mean with regard to the availability of the anthology for potential readers; after all, it's not as if I could sell The Spectral Book of Horror Stories to another publisher, not without changing the title anyway."

6) Others' Experiences.
Greg James has blogged here about his own experiences with Spectral.

James Everington gives his experiences here.

The Spectral Press debacle is also discussed on Brian Keene's podcast, The Horror Show. The discussion about Spectral starts around the 39 minute mark.

David Tallerman blogs about the affair here.

Des Lewis said this: 'I paid £21 to Spectral Press last July for the hardback Leytonstone so that I could read and hopefully review it. Not received it to date. It is now in the post to me, they have recently told me again. I have always needed to ask them for info, because they never volunteered info to me. That’s all I know about Spectral Press and otherwise I have rarely bought their books.'

Anyone with similar experiences to share is invited to get in touch, and I will link to or post their statements in the section above.

7) The Short Version 
Spectral Press has published books, which sold. A share of the money from their sales is, contractually, their authors'. Their authors have not received it, and yet Spectral do not have it.

Spectral Press has taken money from customers from books that have gone undelivered and, in some cases, unpublished. Many of these customers want their money back, and yet Spectral do not have it.

I would just like to close by reminding anyone who feels Spectral's critics are being unreasonable, that this situation has persisted for over a year; that the amount owed is a very large sum for a small press to owe, and that the individual in whose hands this situation has been placed has responded to polite and factual criticism with insults and blocking critics on social media, and whose own history should be cause for concern.

16 comments:

Simon Appleby said...

Wow - that has certainly rebalanced my understanding of the situation, which had largely been based on SMJ's Facebook page.

In 2013 I told SMJ to invoice my company £100 for 'consultancy' as a response to the unexpected tax crisis. I'm afraid that at this point I can't bring myself to support the GoFundMe campaign, which seems to be asking for money largely from those people who have already lost money, and which seems to show that lessons haven't been learned (like why wasn't Spectral operated as a limited company, with an accountant to help out?).

I do hope that that everyone gets out of this in one piece, and have great sympathy for SMJ as a fellow small business owner - but no-one should be accused of driving someone towards suicide for simply asking for a contract to be honoured.

Lisa Jenkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa Jenkins said...

It is also worth noting that both GC and another director who I assume is his wife resigned in February, probably for legal reasons due to his bankrupcy. TBP is now in his daughters name only so anyone thinking of signing with them needs to check very carefully that the contract is legally binding. It is worrying that GC has publically stated having a meeting with the other directors to discuss how to help the situation when there is only one director.

grcollia.com said...

I've been trying to follow developments on Facebook, but it's not been easy, so thank you for posting a rundown of what's happened here. I signed up for a Spectral Press chapbook subscription in July 2014. I have received one chapbook. I pre-ordered six books; I received one, received a refund for another last week, and I am now trying to get my money back for the other four.

I did as instructed on the Facebook page - I sent an email to Gary Compton. Five days passed and I heard nothing. I sent another email. I received a response to that one, it says:

'First of all. I didnt make this problem or is it my responsibility to redress it. I am trying to help as Simon's. Spectral as it was, has run out of money. Tickety Boo press has agreed to take over a few titles and donate the profits to Simon's debts.

Please raise a claim with Paypal or if no good, send your claim into spectral@ticketyboopress.co.uk'

Paypal won't refund my money; I paid for the pre-orders a long time ago. So, I have done as Gary Compton asked. I have sent the exact same email to him at the Ticketyboo email address. But given what I've read online, I don't think I'm going to get very far.

I truly feel for the writers who haven't been paid for their work. It's not as if it's a profession that pays terribly well in the first place for the most part. The exchanges have truly shocked me. I sincerely hope that all involved get something of what they're owed. It's a terrible business.

Unknown said...

I think the way you have tried to perceive me (Gary Compton) is a joke. SMJ has completely made a mess of things, no one disagrees. I for that matter am proud of my failures and my successes. Remember, a man who do nothing never make any mistake!

I step in to help and get targeted. Why actually I bother is beyond me. Ooh yes I remember, helping a mate who fucked up and help some fellow authors, and customers get their money back. Bad me!

I seem to remember some of your posts calling the Tories. I paraphrase. "A bunch of bigoted cunts looking after their own, taking peoples livelihoods away and leaving people vulnerable."

Terrible thing to do. Those Tories are so without emotion. All they think about is themselves! Well this Tory is trying to help someone you held in such high esteem you thought he was worthy of publishing your books. Yes he has made mistakes, massive ones so what happened to the we're all comrades thing you support with so much vigour. He has said he will put right the mistakes!

There is no doubt Spectral authors have been messed about and not been paid, no contracts, paperwork or records.

I have had nothing to do with that. Just trying to help. In the emotion of being attacked myself I lost it a couple of times - so what, I am human!

Because I have said I will help SMJ, I will not step back from that!

Despite your link to TBP's accounts which I have answered on Theresa Derwin's page. The press has had a magnificent 31st Jan 2015 to date accounting period. Ask some of the authors who have had 4 figure quarterly sums.

I only blocked Cate because of you. No disrespect but I wasn't interested in reading what you had to say.

Anyway, I wish you well and look forward to meeting you at Fantasycon. I will even buy you a pint.

Regards Gary.

Keene said...

Thanks for the link to the podcast, Simon. We'll be discussing this more on next week's episode, as well.

Christopher Richard Barker said...

The reason why small press squabbles are so horribly vicious and ugly is because the stakes are so very, very small.

Phil Lunt said...

Interesting read, Simon, ta. I've been so busy with work that I'd missed a lot of this... I'm actually still owed a h/b version of Darker Terrors, I wasn't aware it had been produced yet so have just sat back until now. Obviously, it's a drop in the ocean compared to others.

AshDev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AshDev said...

Also - when I would periodically chase up progress there always seemed to be a series of excuses - ill health/printers going bust - I should have seen the warning signs ages ago

AshDev said...

Thanks for this explanation. I had paid in full for the HB edition of the Kneale book and Im now just writing it off as there is zero chance of the money being refunded or the book being published.

AshDev said...

I was checking my Paypal account and realised that I had made the payment for the two installments for the Kneale book from my Paypal account. Will raise a dispute and see where it gets me.

I listened to Brian Keene's podcast (which is incidentally very good and I am now a subscriber - so that's one good thing that has come out of this) and I'll admit that I had no idea that small publishers are in such a precarious state and seem to live hand to mouth.

What is ironic us that SMJ was doing so many things very well and it's a shame that he didn;t focus as much on the commercials as he should have as the business model starts to look alarmingly like a Ponzi scheme.

Amy said...

Just to let you know that the link for Greg James' account - http://www.manderghastpress.co.uk/?p=252 leads to a menswear mail order site.

Simon said...

Thanks Amy. I'm not sure what happened there, but the whole Mangerghast site is now menswear mail order! If I find a working link to Greg's account I'll post it.

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AshDev said...

No it’s not! Who cates?