A new disclaimer #notchilled

As of today, these disclaimers are now necessary:

  1. All posts to this blog are made by me in my individual capacity. Any posts on my blog are not made on behalf of RWA or any of the other members of the Board of Directors for RWA. RWA has not approved these statements, and is not the speaker either directly or indirectly.
  2. From here on out, I will limit my discussion of the issues to an impartial explanation of the arguments made by the parties and the court proceedings, and I will discuss those proceedings only to the extent that those proceedings are a public non-RWA matter which I am discussing on a non-RWA website.
    • “Impartial” does not mean “not choosing sides.” Judges are expected to be impartial, and yet they must choose a side at the end of the day. I will tell you what I honestly think of the legal arguments before the court. If Dear Author makes a legal argument that I think is crap, I will tell you that I think so, explain why, and try to provide enough support that the intrepid can decide for themselves if I’m wrong. The same holds true for Ellora’s Cave.
    • From here on out, I will not discuss what Ellora’s Cave or its principals are doing, except to the extent required to discuss court filings.
    • I won’t tweet or link to the analysis of others or to statements by others.
    • I will not engage in advocacy for one side or the other.
  3. RWA may have matters regarding Ellora’s Cave come before it during the next two years. RWA must not only decide those matters fairly and impartially, it must be believed to be fair and impartial by all parties. Because of my prior involvement discussing the EC v. DA suit, I am officially updating my conflict of interest form with RWA to register that I have a conflict with Ellora’s Cave. Under section 17.3.13 of RWA’s Policies & Procedures manual, “[a]ny Membership Committee members, Directors, and RWA staff with a conflict of interest in an investigation cannot participate in the investigation or vote on the outcome, as applicable.” This means that if any matter at all involving Ellora’s Cave comes before RWA during my tenure as a member of the Board of Directors, I will not be involved in the discussion with the board and will not participate in the outcome of that decision.
  4. All comments made to these posts are the opinions of the individual commenters, and not my own opinion.
  5. The only one of the above requirements which was requested by RWA is the first. The rest are restrictions that I have voluntarily undertaken in order to make sure that there is adequate separation between me and the organization.

Thank you all for your understanding.

Dear Author’s opposition to the remand #notchilled

Dear Author has filed their opposition to Ellora’s Cave’s motion to remand to state court, and there’s actually quite a bit of information contained in the short opposition to remand and the exhibits.

For those who want to read this, here’s the opposition to the motion to remand, and here are Exhibit A and Exhibit B supporting that motion.

As a reminder, at this point in the litigation there are four basic threads:

A. The claim by EC against DA alleging defamation.
B. The motion for a temporary restraining order by EC.
C. The removal of the case to federal court.
D. The counterclaim by DA against EC alleging abuse of process.

In this post, I will discuss thread B (the motion for the TRO) and thread C (the removal to federal court), but not in that order.

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EC’s remand motion #notchilled

This litigation is getting complicated enough that I’m going to start separating it out into threads and giving each separate thread a letter. Some of these threads will close out relatively swiftly; some may be around for a very, very long time.

A. The claim by EC against DA alleging defamation.
B. The motion for a temporary restraining order by EC (discussed here).
C. The removal of the case to federal court.
D. The counterclaim by DA against EC alleging abuse of process.

I’m going to be referring to these separate threads for a while. I’m separating them out like this because you can (mostly) treat them as independent. You don’t have to know what is happening in A to understand what is happening in C or D.

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The exciting world of the TRO! #notchilled

A brief recap of where we are in the EC/DA litigation.

  1. Jane wrote a post about Ellora’s Cave and whether it continues to be a viable business.
  2. As a result of that post, Ellora’s Cave filed suit against Dear Author, alleging defamation. EC also asked for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) against Jane. (Note that I use the words “Jane” and “Dear Author” throughout to refer to the defendants.)
  3. There was an initial, brief hearing on the TRO in state court, at which point the state court decided that evidence would need to be presented. That hearing was set for October 27th.
  4. On October 20th, Dear Author removed the case to federal court on diversity jurisdiction grounds. (Diversity jurisdiction basically means that if one party is from one state and the other party is from another state, and there’s a lot of money at stake, parties can choose to go to federal court instead of state court.)
  5. EC again refiled its motion for a TRO in federal court.
  6. The TRO hearing in federal court is set for October 29th at 1:30 PM.
  7. Last night, Marc Randazza, Jane’s lawyer, filed an opposition to the motion, alongside seven exhibits (Exhibit A, from Jane, with a correction regarding the name “Red Rose Publishing”; Exhibit B, from an editor; Exhibit C, from an author; Exhibit D, from an author; Exhibit E, from an editor; Exhibit F, from an editor; Exhibit G is a true copy of tax liens and Workers’ Comp liens against EC.)

This blog post discusses the memos in support and in opposition to the motion for a temporary restraining order.

This is an exceedingly LONG piece. I’ve actually cut stuff out of it. My goal is not to rehash the TROs, but to try and make what is happening understandable to a lay person. I am not unbiased: I admit to strong free-speech preferences. Also, I think Ellora’s Cave is not the most professional outfit on the planet. These biases may color my outlook so please take that into account.

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Why is Tina Engler economically irrational? #notchilled

When I first started the #notchilled hashtag, I said that I was going to use it to tweet harsh things that I believed were true. Here is a conclusion that I think is demonstrably true, but also extremely harsh: Tina Engler is economically irrational, and an economically irrational person is absolutely frightening to have in charge of a company.

No, I’m not going to talk about the Streisand effect, nor do I even refer to the dismal probability of success that this lawsuit has. I’m talking about the fact that it makes absolutely no economic sense to pursue the lawsuit at this point.

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A note about confidentiality clauses #notchilled

A brief update of what is going on:

1. Jane Litte of Dear Author was sued for defamation by Ellora’s Cave, after she signal-boosted news from Ellora’s Cave authors, editors, and cover artists saying that they were not getting paid, along with other warning signs of impending company failure.

2. Today, there was a hearing regarding the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that Ellora’s Cave asked for in order to scrub evidence of Jane’s post from the internet. That hearing was inconclusive: the judge decided he needed to hear evidence about the truth of the claims that Jane made.

3. Jane has asked for people–specifically editors, cover-artists, and authors–to come forward who are willing to testify that they have not been paid.

I have seen multiple times (in emails and on the web) the statement that many people who would like to come forward feel that they are bound by the confidentiality clause in their contracts, and so cannot speak on this issue.

I had a long post up about potential ways to deal with this, but decided that posting those things publicly might not be the best choice at this time. And so I am just going to say three things instead.

(A) If you think you know something that can help, e-mail Jane (jane@dearauthor.com). If you are afraid you can’t testify because of the confidentiality clause, tell her that.

(B) I feel that with (A) you need to know that your interests and Jane’s interests do not align perfectly, and I’m sure some of you know that. So here’s an option B. If you are an author, an editor, or a cover-artist who would testify as to the truth of the statements Jane made, but for the confidentiality clause, contact me. If there is enough interest from those who would testify but are afraid for confidentiality reasons, I will look into finding a lawyer to accompany you to the hearing–someone whose job it is to represent your interests, and to make sure that you’re speaking up to the maximum allowed without putting yourselves at risk. But in order to do that, I need to know who you are. E-mail me at contact@courtneymilan.com. You do not have to tell me anything except that you would be willing to testify as to the truth of the statements Jane made, but feel that you cannot except for the confidentiality clause.

(C) I don’t know the terms of the confidentiality clause. But there is one thing that I know for sure–silence breeds fear. And no matter how broad the confidentiality clause is, there are some things that it can’t prevent you from saying. So if you’re an Ellora’s cave author, editor, or cover-artist, and you would speak up but you’re afraid, say that much. Go on twitter. Post it on your blog or your Facebook page. “I’m an Ellora’s Cave author, and I’m afraid to speak up.”

Silence breeds fear. Speech–even if the only thing you say is that you are afraid–breaks silence.

On limited purpose public figures #notchilled

For those who haven’t heard the background story:

Ellora’s Cave has been in the news much over their failure to pay authors, editors, and cover artists, while engaging in significant shenanigans. One of the people who has collated and distributed news about Ellora’s Cave’s failures is Jane at Dear Author, who wrote this post.

Jaid Black and Ellora’s Cave sued Jane for defamation over that post, which has caused an outpouring of support for Jane.

In response to aforementioned support, Jaid Black tweeted:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 7.30.27 AM

That’s true if you’re a private citizen and people are talking about your private affairs. But in this country, we want to make sure that people have the right and ability to talk about matters of public concern, to express their opinion on them, and to speak freely without worry that their speech will be chilled. So if you inject yourself into an issue of public concern, you may be a limited purpose public figure–that is, someone for whom the standards differ.

This is not legal advice–I cannot give legal advice–but I set this out to explain what I am about to do next.

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Dear Authors United: Stop being gross.

Note: this is a cranky-pants ranting that I probably shouldn’t post, but here we are.

I promise, I’m not going to be that person who fisks every last thing that a certain group posts. And I’m not going to do a line-by-line on the latest letter to come from Authors United. Nor am I the person who constantly defends Amazon (how could I? I have no idea what the heck is going on in negotiations, so I can’t even pretend to know who I should take to task or what they shouldn’t be doing).

But honestly, this latest letter by Authors United is abysmal. Here are the three sentences that stuck with me throughout the day, and in the worst possible way:

“We all appreciate discounted razor blades and cheaper shoes. But books are not consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to China.”

The amount of cluelessness packed into those statements baffles and horrifies me. In one horrifically fell swoop, the authors of that piece imply  that it’s okay for people who create consumer goods to be deeply underpaid. They imply that books, and therefore by extension, authors, are special and better than everyone else around us. And they imply that authors don’t (and shouldn’t) come from China.

Me personally, I understand that I create entertainment. When it comes down to it, I think the single largest threat to my income does not come from the future or ebooks or Amazon–it comes from the possibility of a dwindling middle class, where fewer and fewer people have disposable income to spend on books. So I’m not going to say “Yes, I’m all for cheap consumer goods if it means other people suffer, but not when my livelihood is at stake!” That’s some grade-A bull right there. The best thing for me as an author is the thing that is best for my readers. My economic interests are tied very, very closely with theirs. And so I’m not going to assume that we “all” appreciate the fact that middle class jobs are disappearing in order to fuel my rapacity for the latest and greatest phone. I’m pretty sure we “all” don’t appreciate that.

Second, these words assume that the author is distinct from the person creating those consumer goods. I can pretty much guarantee you that somewhere in America, there is someone working minimum wage who ends every shift too damned tired to create. She has it in her–I know it–to write an amazing book. I want to read it. But being on your feet that many hours a day, constantly dealing with customers, doing the absolute worst that there is to do for minimum wage…that takes it out of you. I think it’s a bigger threat to our literary society that that person isn’t going to have a chance to write. Personally, I wouldn’t dismiss her like that. I wouldn’t act like somehow I’m better than her, and my income should be protected while I’m nonchalant about hers. The only thing that separates me from her is luck. I hope she gets a piece of my luck, because I’m grateful for it every day.

If you think she’s not lonely, that her feelings are less intense, that her struggle to make a living is unworthy and irrelevant…well, I don’t know what to say to you. I have worked crappy jobs. I have worked as an author. There are times it is hard to be an author. But despite those hard times, I never, ever tell myself I would be better off working at any other job in the world. The letter acts like authors don hazmat suits and risk our lives in the trenches. We don’t. We really don’t.

And then we get to outsourcing authors to China? Okay. I understand that the US tends to export entertainment by and large, but it might be useful to remember that the rest of the world exists once in a while. Proportionally, around 20% of the world’s population is from China, so if things were fair and the economy was global there would be 5 times more authors from China than from the US. (There would be as many authors from India as from China, too.) I can’t really understand why it would be bad if someone in China wrote a good book and readers here got to read it. That sounds awesome to me, and I don’t understand how more good books could possibly pose a threat to literature.

Oh, wait. That’s not what you meant to imply, was it? You weren’t trying to say that the Chinese could write good books. What exactly was it you were trying to say about Chinese people? They only produce cheap, shoddy knock-offs? They can copy Western literature, but they have no creativity of their own?

Yeah. I think that’s what you were saying.

My books are consumer goods. I believe this because they behave like consumer goods. When they have better packaging, they sell better. When there is increased word of mouth, they sell better. Sales are elastic with price. I don’t think it cheapens me or devalues my books to admit to basic reality: Books are consumer goods. I can complain about it, and say they shouldn’t be consumer goods, but we are not living in that reality. It would behoove us to stop pretending otherwise.

My livelihood as an author is best protected when the companies that distribute and sell my books understand that my books are in fact products, and try to maximize the amount of money made on those products. I do not feel devalued in the slightest by having someone understand economics and use that understanding to try and maximize my income. Nope; I am delighted that my current publisher takes the side of crass commercialism in the sale of my books, and I suspect that the Authors United folks who have a publisher doing the same feel the same way.

Nor do I think it devalues me or my work to say that my books are consumer goods. They are lots of other things, too: entertainment, insight, a way for a person in a hard place to get through an impossible day. Consumer goods can enrich and educate our lives, and they often do. But they are also still consumer goods. (My current publisher, despite being a hard-headed crass commercialist, also feels about my books much the same way I do. She does not insist I write the trendiest thing. She knows I am an artiste as well as a business woman, and sighs and accommodates me anyway.) (Heh.)

If I were to write a letter to the board of directors of a publicly-held U.S. company, I wouldn’t do something as stupid as telling them to avoid thinking about economic reality. I would hope that among the 900-something signatories, at least one person would have a basic understanding of corporate law–enough to know that the board of directors of Amazon owes the company and shareholders a fiduciary duty to maximize profit. They emphatically are not supposed to indulge in their own views about the feelings of art, nor are they supposed to see themselves as upholding a culture of elitism with a side-serving of thinly-veiled racism. They owe a fiduciary duty to the company. That means they are obligated to think about the economic reality first and second and third and all the way up through the last. You may not like that about corporate America, but it is what we have.

So why don’t we pretend this letter never existed? Quietly delete it. And then go and write a letter about good business practices and the fiduciary duty that the directors owe to the company. That, I suspect, will get read.

You’re authors. I’m sure you can think of something to say.

RWA Elections

Some people have noticed that I am running for the position of Director at Large on RWA’s board of directors. This is a brief blog post about that.

Why are you running?

Because people asked me to, and I decided that (a) I might have something to contribute, and (b) despite all outward appearances, I had not yet exceeded my capacity for whacking my head against a brick wall.

Why should I vote for you?

  • Because you generally like the way I think.
  • Because you think I need less time.

Why shouldn’t I vote for you?

  • Because you generally don’t like the way I think.
  • Because you generally do like the way I think, and recognize that if I am elected to the board, I will owe RWA fiduciary duties that will require me to maintain silence on issues relevant to RWA instead of mouthing off about them here or on twitter, and you would rather have me in mouth-off mode.
  • Because you notice that I’ve scaled back my workshop/traveling commitments in anticipation of extra work in 2015/2016, and you want me to come speak with your chapter (note: probably won’t work for more than one or two chapters.)

What is your agenda?

  • To promote the professional interests of career-focused romance writers in all ways that are legal.
  • In general terms, I’m a particular fan of increased transparency and increased inclusion.

If I vote for you, will you do everything I want?

Unlikely.

If I vote for you, will you do anything I want?

Maybe, if you want some of the same things that enough other members of the Board want.

If I vote for you, will you make all the decisions?

No, I’ll be one member of a large Board of Directors, which means there will need to be wide group consensus on any action RWA takes.

How do I vote?

You have to be an RWA general member in good standing. You should have received an email from RWA with a link to the ballot. If you didn’t, check the RWA website for more information.

Who else should I vote for?

There are no ogres on the ballot! Everyone looks great!

That being said, in terms of the board of directors, I do have to put in plugs for two people.

  • Tessa Dare is a very good friend of mine, a brilliant woman, a fabulous writer who has been extremely successful in an entirely different way than I have. (And also, we were both asked and we talked each other into running, but only so long as we did it together.)
  • Carolyn Jewel, whose technological expertise is second to none, who has a great combination of skeptical and open-minded, and who always makes decisions with data.

Will you be sad if you are not elected?

No. I will be faintly relieved.

Will you be sad if you are elected?

No. I will feel anticipatory weariness.

How to suck at typography

Over the last few months on twitter, I’ve increasingly seen people linking to covers of historical romances and saying something like UGH this does not look right!

Some of those covers actually have great underlying images. The problem in 99.9% of them is that the typography is…not good. There are usually three ways that people end up with typography that is not good.

  1. They are doing the typography themselves.
  2. They have hired the typography out to someone who is not good at typography (e.g., they have used a graphic artist to make the cover, but not all graphic artists are great at laying type.)
  3. They have hired someone who knows how to do decent typography, but insist on elements that are not good typography. In other words, the client is creating the problem.

This post is specific to historical romance. That’s because I’ve spent a ton of time looking at historical romance covers, and feel like I can talk about them with some reasonable authority. This post is nonetheless not intended to be authoritative, complete, or to serve as instruction for anyone putting together a book cover.

This is a post that is designed to do one thing and one thing only: Tell people things to do on their historical romance cover to make sure the typography sucks.

Without further ado, here are some of the most effective ways to suck (with suggestions as to how to not suck.)

1. Choose a crap font.

Bad typography: Crap font

This is the biggest one. I can’t tell you how many historical romance covers are ruined by crap fonts. Just about anything you got free on your computer or downloaded from some free site is going to be sheer crap, I’m sorry to tell you. And fonts that are great for the inside of the book–fonts like Garamond or Times New Roman–often don’t do well on the cover for name/title fonts.

As a note, what constitutes a “crap font” in historical romance is not the same thing as a “crap font” in another genre. For instance, Trade Gothic is standard on a number of thrillers. It would look ridiculous on a historical romance. Spend some time looking at covers in your genre to see what kind of fonts people use.

I actually don’t think that the typography above would be absolutely terrible for a certain kind of book.

A great font is not just a great font–it is also a way to brand yourself as an author. Don’t be afraid to spend money on an excellent font. It always annoys me when I see people whining that people won’t buy their book when it’s less than a cup of coffee, but they are unwilling to shell out $50 for an extraordinary font that would brand their books.

(My biggest problem with some of the less-expensive-but-still-professional-looking cover design shops is that they’ve figured out a typography combination that works for them and they keep using it over and over, regardless of the client.

End result? A look that is branded to the cover designer rather than the author.

But given a choice between crap typography and a non-branded cover, I’d say go for the non-branded cover.)

2. Use low-contrast color combinations.

image

Want people to be able to read your title and your cover? Well, don’t use red-on-red color combinations. This one is fairly easy to see, and yet I keep seeing things like this crop up on Amazon. I really have to wonder at people who put out books like the above. What are they thinking?

3. Use too many fonts.

image

Using a small number of fonts allows you to create a cohesive feel to your cover. One or two fonts–three at the absolute maximum, and then only after careful consideration–is all that anyone should ever need to make a good cover. Too many fonts will distract the viewer.

4. Don’t pay attention to kerning

image

Kerning is about the spacing between letters. As a note, this is one of those places where a quality font really matters: a really good font is one where the designer has gone through and specified kernings for every pair of letters. That gives it a professional quality that requires less work on the designer’s part. The random font you got for free off of someone’s website? Probably has crap kerning, and you need to adjust manually.

See that space between the “T” and the “H” in the author name? It just looks weird. And unprofessional. Ditto for the space between the “D” and the “u.” If you look at all these letters, you can see that they subtly feel like none of them are properly aligned.

If you don’t know how to kern a font manually, you’re probably not someone who should be doing typography. If your designer doesn’t know how to kern a font, ditto.

5. Use font effects.

image

You know what? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you have any doubts as to your ability to judge typography, you should not use font effects beyond a mild drop shadow. For historical romances, font effects are basically death. I include in this flashy color gradients, fonts on a wavy path, fancy texturing or beveling of the font… You name it, I don’t want it. Font effects are the opposite of tasteful covers. They are harder to read at best, and migraine-inducing at worst. The worst fug in the world comes from font effects.

DO NOT USE.

6. Use all the whizbang.

image

Yay, you spent a ton of money on an awesome font, and now you want to show it off. Your font has whizbang. So much whizbang! You cannot wait to show everyone all your whizbang.

Please restrain yourself. A few bits of whizbang are enough for any one cover. Too much whizbang is hard to read, and that distracts people from the cover itself. You are better off having no whizbang than too much.

7. Don’t balance your cover elements.

image

This is actually a really, really subtle point–the typography above is actually not horrendous. But in this case, it has been centered with a computer and left like that. The end result is that it looks unbalanced. The “The” is hanging over the “Duke” and there’s a large gap that makes it perceptually look like it’s farther away (even though I have set the baselines of all three words to be equidistant). “Dukes” and “Cock” do not appear to be centered with respect to each other. And the elements are placed over the image without any thought as to what will draw the eye on the image itself–note that the eye is naturally drawn to that white spot right by the rooster’s wattles, and the text placement does not logically follow from that spot.

Typography is not just about placing elements over an image; it’s about bringing things together into a cohesive whole.

If you cannot tell why items 1-7 are not great examples of historical romance typography, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, that does look GREAT on a curvy path!” do not do your own typography. You do not have the skills you need. In fact, you are the opposite of what you need, and you need to get out of your own way.

(It’s okay. Everyone sucks at something.)

If you look through a designer’s portfolio and see them using only cheap/free fonts with terrible kerning, do not use them. Et cetera and so forth.

Things you should do if you want to not suck

(Note: I basically banged all these images out over the course of half an hour, and now I’m looking at this and still want to fiddle–especially with moving around the title/author name–but since I am not, in fact, using this for anything except illustration purposes, I’m just going to leave it like this, even though I’d probably still make changes.)

image

 

1. Use typographical elements to draw the eye back to the image rather than send it away.

2. Pay attention to how typographical elements interact with each other–in this case, the “D” and the “C” in the title interlock with each other, and I’ve moved the “The” to give a sense of balance. Rather than having the swirl from the R intersect the middle bar of the “E” as in the above image, I’ve deleted the middle bar, so the elements flow together.

I do not pretend this is the best historical romance cover ever (for more reasons than one). But it is, at a minimum, not guilty of horrendous fug. And if you are nitpicking things about this cover, yay, congratulations, you may be nitpicky enough that you can do typography!

3. Use a great font sparingly. This font is called Desire, and it is made by Borges Lettering. It is the only font used on the cover for the last three images. (You can see that the font has a lifetime supply of whizbang, should you wish to use it–use with care.) You can get it here: http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/charlesborges/desire/

4. Make sure that the typography and the image interact well. Don’t cover over parts of the image that you want people to focus on; make sure you choose an image that has a lot of places to overlay font with a great color contrast. (This, by the way, is the primary driver of the “girl in a massive dress” cover–because the dress serves as a blank palette to overlay text on.)

All righty. That’s my short course on how to suck at typography. I’m sure I’ve left off a bunch of items, so please feel free to add your own tips in the comments!