Another Small Press Horror Story: Silver Publishing is Gone

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Another small press disaster came to an ugly conclusion last week.

In mid-2012, I began getting complaints about Silver Publishing, which started up in 2009 as a self-publishing facilitator, but in 2010 transformed itself into a "traditional royalty-paying press" (I put that in quotes because, these days, it means so little).

Reported problems included poor editing, delayed and missing royalty statements/payments, royalty reductions due to claimed "overpayments," arbitrary changes in royalty payment schedules, and lack of communication--or, alternatively, rude responses to authors' questions and concerns. (See the Silver Publishing thread at Absolute Write for examples.)

All signs of a publisher in, if not terminal disarray, at least trouble.

Silver's owner, South African-born Lodewyk M. Deysel, made an appearance at Absolute Write in August 2012 to aggressively deny negative reports. By November of that same year, however, he was admitting in company email that there was "a deficit when it comes to paying our royalties"--in part, apparently, because he'd spent royalty income on business and other expenses. His solution: putting authors on a "partial payment plan" or giving them the option to terminate their contracts--contingent, in at least certain cases, on payment of a fee. Other authors, fed up, took matters into their own hands and hired lawyers to negotiate the return of rights or to compel payment.

Silver limped on through 2013, despite a lack of improvement on the financial front and mounting author dissatisfaction. Then, in March of 2014, Deysel abruptly announced that Silver's "South African division" would be closing* and its "US division" had been sold. The purchaser? A company called Empire Entertainment, LLC, a Wyoming corporation registered less than a year previously. According to an email sent to Silver authors by the alleged new owners, Empire was "new to the publishing industry and excited about the future of the company."

Is this starting to sound familiar?

Not surprisingly, authors were suspicious. Why, they wondered, did Empire Entertainment have no website and zero web presence? Why was it registered with Wyoming Corporate Services, a company specializing in the establishment of shelf corporations, that was the subject of a damaging Reuters expose? Who would pay good money, anyway, for a publisher in so much financial trouble?

Well, we all know what happens when authors start asking inconvenient questions. On April 8, Deysel announced that the (probably entirely bogus) sale had fallen through "due to the unrest among the author base which represents Silver Publishing LLC's value." Uh huh. Deysel claimed to be consulting with Silver's attorney to figure out what came next.

Apparently, "what came next" was absconding to South Africa. Just a few days later, Silver author A.J. Llewellyn broke the news: Deysel was gone. With him went any hope of payment for Silver authors (though at least it appears that rights reversion letters are going out). A notice on Silver's website indicates that it will go offline permanently on May 1; it's being left up only so that people who bought books can still download them.

A.J.'s lengthy blog post unpacks the whole sordid story of Deysel and Silver, including illegal entry into the USA, spending sprees with authors' money, secret deals to pay some authors but not others, altered royalty reports, and more. I can't corroborate most of the information cited--unlike the recent debacle with Entranced Publishing, and unfolding problems at another press I'll be blogging about shortly, I've heard from only a handful of Silver authors, and no former staff members--but given what I do know, the allegations seem plausible. A.J. has posted a followup that references Deysel's alleged prior legal troubles in South Africa. A group of Silver authors plans to pursue Deysel in hopes of bringing him to justice.** I hope they succeed.

So what's the takeaway here?

Silver was in business long past the "wait a year" precaution for small press publishers. Looking at it from the outside, authors could reasonably have assumed it was stable. Also, complaints didn't really start surfacing until well into 2012, nearly two years after Silver started up--so at least at first, authors trying to research the company wouldn't have found anything (and once complaints did start surfacing, authors trying to go public not only received pressure from the publisher, but were apparently pilloried by their fellow Silver authors, so there were probably fewer complaints to be found than there might otherwise have been).

However, for approximately half of Silver's existence, multiple reports of problems existed online; and if you'd contacted Writer Beware, we would have given you a warning. So for at least part of the time, the information was there to be found. Yet authors kept signing up.

Any publisher can go bad. You can't always predict which ones. And if a bad publisher is diligent about quashing complaints, or has a firm base of loyalists, it may not be easy to find out about even substantial problems. But that doesn't change the vital importance of thoroughly researching any publisher you're thinking of using--and just as important,  researching it BEFORE submitting, rather than waiting until later. Don't trust your ability to say no to a contract once it has been offered. I've heard from too many authors who delayed due diligence, and, in the flush of acceptance, closed their eyes to warning signs.

* Was there ever really a South African division? The company was originally registered in South Africa, and Deysel claimed that it was based there--something that, as he was no doubt aware, made legal action for his primarily US-based authors difficult--and that he was based there as well. According to A.J. Lewellyn, however, Deysel was living in the USA from 2006 on--and from 2011 on, Silver was registered in Michigan and Delaware.

** Will Deysel, like so many bad publishers, start up again under a different name? He may already have been contemplating doing so back in 2013, when Gia Press (its website is gone, but its domain registration remains; note the name server) popped up on people's radar.

#sfwapro

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