Torquere woes indicate professional publishing not the safest option

Sometimes self-publishers, also known as indie publishers, get a bad name. Because we don’t have the backing of a company with scores of employees dedicated to molding the books into literary perfection—if there is such a thing—we’re sometimes seen as lazy amateurs looking to sell books without putting in all the work.

This isn’t going to be a post telling why indie authors are just as credible as those with Penguin Books or some other well-known company in its corner. This is going to be a post about why you need to be careful if you decide to seek a publisher.

When I first decided to write a novel almost a decade ago, indie publishing was not really mainstream, and I looked for an established publisher. Believe it or not, there are thousands of publishers out there, depending on the type of book you’re writing. The Colors of Love and Autumn tells the story of romance between two men. I wanted a publisher that was not going to see the story as abhorrent or perverse.

 

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The first cover of The Colors of Love and Autumn, when it was published by Torquere Press.

I sent the novel to a publishing company called Torquere Press in early 2008. Torquere is a company dedicated to same-sex romance stories, so the big question was not whether my story would be rejected because it’s a gay love story, but whether my writing was good enough to warrant the story being published. Torquere sent me a confirmation that it wanted to publish my book, and in fall 2008, I officially became a published author.

 

Torquere focused mainly on e-books, but certain books that did incredible sales would be selected to come out in paperback. The Colors of Love and Autumn did not quite do well enough, nor did the next two novels I wrote. While it was a good experience working with professional editors and designers, I still felt my books needed to be in paperback, even if I was holding the only copy. That’s when I decided to consider self-publishing and ultimately published all my books myself.

 

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Lee Pulaski holds up a paperback copy of The Colors of Love and Autumn when he self-published the book in 2010. (Photo by Keith Rogers)

At the time I started writing novels, Torquere was a good company operated by people dedicated to helping authors succeed. That is no longer the case.

 

In recent months, I saw Facebook posts and Yahoo group messages expressing concerns that the new owners were not giving the authors the royalties they’d earned. Julia Talbot, a former Torquere owner who still has books with the company, has lashed out about not getting the money she’s earned. Here’s what she wrote about Torquere in her blog, juliatalbot.blogspot.com, in September:

“In a statement issued to authors today, owners of Torquere Press LLC Kristi Boulware and Joanna Talbot admit to having financial problems and basically tell the whole of their authors they’re not getting paid unless a loan can be procured. Not only that, they blame the authors who pulled their books between January and April 2016 for this failure, saying those authors leaving TQ caused them to not have enough money to pay overhead.

“Pardon me? This is not how publishing works.

“The simple equation of e-book publishing is this:

“An author writes a book. The publisher edits it and puts a cover on it. The publisher lists it on their site and on distributor sites. Sales happen. The publisher promises to pay a % of sales to the author. This is a contractual obligation, not a gift or charitable act. The author has earned this money based on their hard work writing and promoting the book and on their talent. Payment must happen no matter how many or few sales are made. The publisher is supposed to put whatever percentage the author has earned into an escrow account until it’s time to pay and only use the publisher’s percentage to pay overhead and salaries.

“End of story.”

In the last month alone, many authors have posted on Torquere’s Yahoo group saying they intend to pursue getting their books pulled from Torquere’s website and overall catalog. However, things really took an ugly turn when a blog called Writer Beware posted this about Torquere earlier this week:

“At the end of 2014, the founders of Torquere Press—a well-regarded small publisher established in 2003–turned the company over to new co-owners: Kristi Boulware and Joanna Talbot.

“Before the change in leadership, Torquere had been trouble-free (or at least, not generating author complaints). It didn’t take long for that to change. In early 2016, a little more than a year after the new owners took over, reports began surfacing of royalty payment problems. More reports showed up over the summer, even as Torquere participated in Twitter pitch contests to find new manuscripts. Also during the summer, Kristi Boulware was arrested on a hot check charge, allegedly after payment to one author bounced.

“In an early September email to authors, Boulware admitted that Torquere was suffering ‘financial setbacks since losing several of our top-selling authors.’ Funds were ‘the lowest they’ve ever been’ and the company was ‘trying to obtain some business funding to assist with meeting all of TP’s financial obligations.’ As of late September, things hadn’t gotten better…but, per an update posted in the Torquere authors’ Yahoo group, ‘We are staying positive and will be sending out at least partial payments as we are able to.’

“Those payments never showed up, according to multiple complaints received by Writer Beware (allegedly, Torquere owes one author more than $18,000). In November, communication stopped completely, with neither Boulware nor Talbot answering emails or responding to Facebook messages from authors asking about money owed or seeking rights reversions (Torquere apparently has responded to some reversion requests, but ignoring others). Both co-owners also have removed ‘Torquere’ from their Twitter handles and bios. No matter how you look at it, that’s not a good sign.

“Meanwhile, Torquere remains open for submissions, with active anthology submission calls. Given the serious and apparently escalating problems at Torquere, I’d advise authors to stay away.”

If it hadn’t been for my desire to see my books in paperback, I might very well have stayed with Torquere. Eight years ago, there were good people running the show, and even though I might not have agreed with all their suggested edits, they were very good about communicating with me and making sure my books were ready for people to read and enjoy.

While I didn’t make anywhere near the $18,000 one author is owed, I know I would be fuming right now if the publisher was spending the royalties that I had earned. For many authors, writing is their primary source of income, and they should not be taken advantage of someone who is either too inept to manage finances or someone who is intelligent enough to handle money but is actively preying on innocent authors. If it’s the latter, I hope the owners are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I also hope they’re hung by their toenails for hosing their writers, but I think that’ll only happen if I write a book about it.

My research into publishing companies in 2008 was limited to whether they would publish same-sex love stories, so I could easily have fallen into the trap that Torquere authors are now in. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually pursue a publishing company again, but if I do, I’ll remember this debacle with Torquere and dig a little deeper before I sign on the dotted line.

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