Saturday, 21 May 2016

Meditations on editorial correspondence

I’ve been having a number of interesting communications from, even exchanges with, editors in the past couple of weeks.  Oh, and I also got rejection number 28 from Clarkesworld.  ‘Nuff said about that.

On the one hand, I have a story that’s made it through the slush pile to the editor-in-chief at Spark.  Which is nice.  And I’ve been exchanging messages with the courteous and efficient Matt Buscemi at Fuzzy Hedgehog, who even sends me a new proof when I ask for an extra hard return in my contribution to Beyond the Hedge volume 1.  (As an side, I do like the way that a search for it on takes me to a cardboard cat house.)

But most curious of all have been my exchanges with Carrie Cuinn at Lakeside Circus.

You may recall that I sold a story, The Root Canals of Mars (which, I’ve just discovered, is also an ambient soundscape thing by Daniel Crommie), last May to Lakeside Circus.  My sole sale of 2015, as it turned out.  A modest $14, but it’s not the money, it’s the independent verification by somebody who doesn’t know me through anything other than my writing that it’s worth putting in print.

Well, immediately after signing and returning the contract to Carrie Cuinn, I stumbled across this blog posting regarding Lakeside Circus’ modus operandi.  It raised alarm bells with me.  Further Google searches have flagged tales such as this; although the fault doesn’t appear to be wholly on Ms Cuinn’s side, putting her name into a search engine does seem to elicit a disproportionate amount of chatter.

Well, following the signing of my story away for twelve months, what happened?  Precisely nothing.  Not a word.  Not even when, after six months, I sent an email querying Lakeside Circus’ plans for my story.  Silence.  Void.  Vacuum.

As April turned to May I thought Ms Cuinn may get in touch to clarify matters before the rights reverted to me.  But no.  Not a squeak.

So, a couple of days after the guillotine fell, I sent this email:


As you have chosen not to publish The Root Canals of Mars, the appropriate kill fee became payable earlier this week and the rights have now reverted to me.  Grateful if you could make payment to my PayPal account, as per this email address.

Regards,  Robert Bagnall

Clear and businesslike, I thought.  The reply, however, I found somewhat leftfield:

I did not choose not to publish this work.  Perhaps you've confused me with another publisher? 
Best,  Carrie Cuinn

Not, ‘really sorry, time ran out, I’ve been dealing with a long list of stories I want to publish but still love yours, can we talk about scheduling it for later in the year?’ or some such.  Instead, it’s ‘I don’t think you meant me’.  Does she think I’m complaining about a rejection rather than a decision not to publish something she’s bought the rights for?  Surely the reference to a ‘kill fee’ would make that clear.  So I reply:

You accepted it for Lakeside Circus on 16 March 2015, I returned the signed contract on 12 May 2015, and queried when you'll be publishing sometime around November 2015 (you didn't reply to my email).  You may wish to check your emails, but can forward you the contact (sic) if you can't find it.

Carrie replies:

I see the confusion. No, I did not decline to publish it. We had a break in publication for a while during which time we restructured (it was announced on social media and on the website). I still have every intention of publishing it, unless you want to withdraw it, which you're free to do since it has been more than 12 months. It's on my schedule for this summer, though, and I'd prefer to move forward with it if that's okay with you.
Carrie Cuinn

At this I sense a slight rat.  The contract pays a kill fee if Lakeside Circus does not run it within twelve months but, if I accept the invitation of withdrawal no kill fee is payable.  The kill fee is an even more modest $7, but there’s a principle at stake here.

To be clear, the confusion is entirely on your side.  No, I do not wish to withdraw the piece, as that nullifies the contractual kill fee.  However, the facts of the matter are that due to your actions or omissions the piece was not published in the year since I assigned the rights to you.  The idea that your publication was in hiatus somehow stops the clock is laughable.

What we will do now is that you will pay the contractual kill fee and, if you still wish to publish, you may offer a new contract, which I will consider.
Robert Bagnall

A reply pings back:

I'm not sure why you need to be rude, or misrepresent what I'm saying. If you do not wish to be published by Lakeside, that does not negate the fee due to you since it's been more than 12 months. The contract is clear, and nothing I've said contradicts that. However, since I never declined to publish it, but you said I had, I wanted to clear up that I was still willing to publish it.

I will process your payment, and take your work off our schedule.
Carrie Cuinn

Maybe I have been brusque:

Apologies if my response appeared rude; I was aiming for clarity given a year ago you 'loved' my story, after which you decline to respond to my request for an update, and then deny ever having been in contact.

And back again:

No, Mr. Bagnall, I did not "deny ever having been in contact", just like I did not decline to publish your story, I simply had not published it yet. You can look over my emails to see clearly I never said that.

Considering I wrote the contract to allow you the kill fee if you hadn't been published within a year - a deadline which had just (barely) passed - I'm not certain why you feel the need to be adversarial and repeatedly attribute things to me I've not said. It doesn't affect the fee one way or another, so it really is unnecessary. Please stop.
Carrie Cuinn

This is seriously odd.  So what if a deadline is ‘barely’ passed; it’s either passed or it hasn’t.  Maybe we’re arguing over ‘decline’.  Lakeside Circus accepted my piece and then failed - forgot? - to publish it.  I’m not using ‘decline’ in a particularly active sense here, but maybe that’s what’s confusing, just trying to be more polite than using 'failed'.  But I think she did pretty clearly deny previous contact…

Apologies for any confusion, but I was taking "I did not choose not to publish this work.  Perhaps you've confused me with another publisher?" at face value,
Robert Bagnall

Back and forth, back and forth...

Yes, I did not choose NOT to publish it. In other words, I did not decline to publish it, as I've said repeatedly.
Carrie Cuinn

‘Declined’ to publish?  ‘Failed’ to publish?  ‘Forgot’ to publish?  Whether Lakeside Circus ‘didn’t choose’ to publish or ‘chose not’ to publish the result is the same - they had the rights to publish until the calendar moved on twelve whole pages, but they didn’t.  I sense someone who’d rather debate the semantics than deal with the issue.

Hmm.  With or without the double negative, still reads like 'we've never spoken, you must have me mixed up with someone' to me.


To which she never replied.

Suffice to say that Matt Buscemi at Fuzzy Hedgehog has made payment on ‘Where do all the Accountants Come From?’, whereas Carrie Cuinn at Lakeside Circus?  Still waiting…

1 comment:

  1. Hi Robert! I'm currently going through a similar breach of contract with CC. Is there any chance you could e-mail me at Very curious to find if CC ever paid you.