(Updated October 5, 2016) I have just made the saddest $25 win that I ever bet.
(2nd update October 7,2016) I’ll keep that $25 safely unspent in case I need to return it.*
Because a couple of years ago I privately bet a group of other authors that the embattled erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave was going out of business by the end of 2016. My friends thought the place would hang on longer.
Tina Engler and her mother Patty Marks will be shutting down EC by the end of the year, according to letters sent to the authors still on their contact list. Authors are required to send in a form by early November, or risk having their publishing rights ‘in limbo’. The kicker is that, in order to reclaim publishing rights, EC authors must forfeit any outstanding royalties.
The second kicker is the suspicion that any authors who do NOT accept this ‘deal’ may find their rights in bankruptcy limbo, sold off to EC creditors, or re-claimed by Engler & Marks should they reform Ellora’s Cave (note some funky stuff with Samhain closing then not closing last year.)
Given EC’s creative accounting and reporting procedures, it’s almost impossible to know how much or how little an EC author is giving up. For some authors, it probably amounts to a pizza or two. For others, it could run into thousands of dollars. What is almost certain is that no money will be forthcoming anyway, and getting the rights back may be more lucrative than trying to force a class action lawsuit.
Here’s an overview by another onlooker. Actual screenshots of the ‘We’re closing!’ FB post are a little scarce, probably because EC authors got understandably cold feet about exposing themselves to Engler’s ire.
Virginia Nelson steps up to the plate with her candid account of her time and dealings with Ellora’s Cave.
It’s important to remember that in its early days, Ellora’s Cave was a powerhouse. Stacia Kane has a great post here about her time with EC.
I read a lot of EC books over the years, and enjoyed many of them. One of the big, recurring problems I had was EC’s ‘house style’ of pushing as many sex scenes as possible into the mms, and its preference for ‘dirty talk’ whether or not characters would express themselves that way. It was a logical over-reaction in the early 2000s, to romance publishers who insisted on fade to black or truncated sexual content. But I came to erotic romance from the SFF world, not contemporary romance, so the constant over-the-top EC sex scenes seemed unnecessary. It’s also a problem faced by many small erotic romance publishers, even now.
I’ve been taken to task here and in other online forums for my somewhat jaundiced and cynical take on Ellora’s Cave and other failing/flailing publishers. That comes across as lofty and snide, to the poor authors who did fall for those schemes. Fair enough. I’ve also picked publishers and galleries, early on, that seemed great at first, and then lost some luster. It happens. It’s happened enough times to me that I’m cynical now. I risk what I can afford to risk, and take my chances.
I maintain that the clues about EC and Tina Engler were vividly apparent as far back as the summer of 2012 (and way earlier, if you read the comment below and know any EC history at all). Anyone signing with Ellora’s Cave since 2012, did not perform their due diligence…or took an educated gamble. I’m sorry for the ones who realize they’ve been had. I shake my head at the authors, especially the newer ones, who signed since the EC/Dear Author settlement a year ago, and who are still proudly and shrilly in Engler’s court. Remember, they’re siding with this woman, who threatened bloggers, authors, and the Romance Writers of America for pointing out ‘Hey, we haven’t been paid and your royalty statements are a joke.’
Those authors? They are idiots, and have only themselves to blame.
I hope all the EC authors can do better on republishing the many great works that did come out of Ellora’s Cave in its better days.
* Some folks who are much wiser about publishing have noted that the Engler/Marks letter doesn’t actually say Ellora’s Cave is closing. It offers authors an extremely exploitative route to rights reversion, at the expense of accrued royalties. And a threat that authors who ignore this deal may regret it.
Is EC closing? Is it being sold to a competitor or to creditors? Will Marks and Engler rise afresh with a new business, through the miracle of bankruptcy? Or will they skitter off overseas, to enjoy whatever is left of EC’s once-bountiful earnings?
(3rd update January 4, 2017) I owe someone else that $25, because EC finally went down on 1-1-2017. Whether or not Tina Engler, Patty Marks, or any other person wants to resurrect Ellora’s Cave in the future, that part of the business is over.
Engler is currently fighting an Ohio bank about a high-end party bus she owes money on (I kid you not). Like the AllRomance Ebooks fiasco, it’s doubtful that authors will ever get their proper royalties (and even whether they’ll ever get an accurate accounting of the EC business dealings.)
Author Mary Winter has a bittersweet post about her time with EC here. As an author who fought to get both her rights and her royalties back, she has some valuable insights to offer writers considering other publishers.
Added 9/28/2017: While authors and legal departments are waiting for further developments, I’m going to sneak a bit of shameless plugging in here.
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In certain topical blog posts I’ll be adding affiliate links to companies I care about. Like RiffTrax LLC, the even funnier successor to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Or Taschen, one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.