Monday, October 15, 2012

Writer Beware MWiDP and My Role In The Mess

Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lies in sweetest bud.
All men make faults.
~ William Shakespeare, Sonnet 35

In September of 2011, I published my first novel, Cancelled, after 6 months of hob-knobbing with other “professional” authors online. I was a regular comment maker on The Writer's Guide to e-Publishing, and one of its biggest cheerleaders. As soon as the book came out, I received no help from anyone there at the time save for Tonya Kappes, who to this day is one of my author acquaintances I will bend over backwards to help anytime she asks. Yet, still a noobie, I remained a regular reader and learned about Mark Williams international Digital Publishing.

A few of the major players at WG2E vouched for working with Mark and Saffi and shared the signup to join MWiDP. The premise was simple:

Saffina Desforges, the dual writing name of two individuals, was already a best-seller. They were going to help upcoming authors with the UK side of things, being able to negotiate new channels of distribution over there because we wouldn't be a hundred authors negotiating one or two books each, but one cohesive organization negotiating for a large catalog of hundreds of ebooks. Bigger authors than me had already signed up and confirmed they were signed up in the comments section.

You can see in the comments just how “fresh” I was to publishing.

I was picked up and giddily “signed” my contract in early October 2011. I felt like I was being very smart, as I was only lending distribution rights with a 30 day removal if I chose at any time. I mean, I read all of the contract warning posts on The Passive Voice Guy, I had nothing to lose. Who wouldn't want to ride the coattails of successful authors?

By the end of that year, it turned out that many of those big names left the “publishing company.” I hesitate to call it that, though that's what Mark and Saffi wanted, because at least in my case, there was no cover art done, no editing, nothing like that. The excuse given was KDP Select, and Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award, but I later found out well after the fact it was mostly due to non-communication and other bigger issues.

Still, I was very small potatoes, and dealing with a very demoralizing situation where I had allowed myself to be taken advantage of for technical skills in return for nothing. Mark's shoulder was where I proverbially “cried.” As a way of cheering me up, I became involved in the technical side of MWiDP, first formatting ebooks then stepping up to make a website. This truly helped me stay in this industry as the other situation had me ready to quit fiction altogether and go back to ghost writing non-fiction articles. I had a purpose again.

Mark and Saffi paid for the hosting costs, and the understanding was that I would make the shell, they would populate it with information and/or give me the information and I would make it. I made two shells, and never got the simple list of authors in MWiDP at any time. Should have been a red flag that there was no spreadsheet of publication schedules, who was in, who was out, etc. And admittedly it was, even back then, but it didn't affect me and I was so eager to be a part of something bigger, I overlooked it. They must just be too busy to get to me, was my rationalization.

By spring of 2012, the few emails I had with Mark were mostly can you give me the login again to the site, I'll get you the content, and more talk about the “exciting” things just around the corner. I had stopped formatting ebooks for them as it was never a paid position and just a barter for editing help with my next book, but I wasn't finding time to write it. I admittedly did not step down from that position very well, telling them I would get to it, get to it, get to it, and then didn't. I own that. But at the time I was rather lost in what I was even doing as a person, and there had been no reciprocation of any work on their part, so I don't feel too terribly guilty about a momentary flaking.

I have since learned that compensation has to go both ways in this business or the person doing you strictly a “favor” will disappear. So don't make agreements to recompense in the future or BE recompensed in the future as none of us really know what that future will even hold. Living in the NOW is a good rule of thumb when it comes to monies.

By June of 2012, my royalty statements for Cancelled had not been updated since March. I was the listing agent, for lack of a better word, for a few MWiDP titles on Nook as I am a U.S. Citizen and can publish directly through them while UK authors still can't. I pulled my book from MWiDP cordially, and was asked to continue being the listing agent for the other books. I insisted on a contract between us before I would agree to continue (as I had been operating on the PROMISE of such a document for 3 months, and I needed to cover my butt in case an author accused me of stealing their work). I received it that day.

Now I knew Mark is in a remote location and Saffi was in the UK, but during all of this, all of the excuses of no access, can't get this done, the pen name Saffina Desforges kept publishing books. So the technical and banking difficulties they shared with us only go so far in my mind. Really, my personal experience was every time I gave a firm “This or else,” something was done within 24 hours.

I routinely checked with my authors they were receiving royalty payments from Mark and Saffi after I forwarded them the monies due from Barnes and Noble. I knew even in the back of my mind I could not rely on their ability to conduct business (really, what publisher doesn't have a spreadsheet of their authors? I run an author ad marketing company and I can tell you who bought when and where at any given moment!)

October 12, 2012, I learned that an author wasn't receiving royalty payments or statements about the original anthologies. At first, I was told it was a miscommunication about monthly versus quarterly statements. Another caveat for other authors: don't treat email communication as written communication. Yes, it IS, but for major changes to a contract, rewrite and re-sign the contract. Email is a pain in the butt to try to fish out the sequence of correspondence, and even timestamps can be altered and then you have to try to contact the ISP and that's a mess.

I defended MWiDP on the basis of knowledge I had at the moment, as was asked by the original poster on Kindle Boards. I knew my authors had been paid. I had an email from Mark saying all of the anthology authors agreed after the fact to quarterly statements. I posted the information I had, and the background information I knew about the organization.

After taking a break due to a tooth mishap for the weekend, I learned Saffi made some extremely poor decisions to publicly post private email correspondence with the original author, AND, then insulted other authors including current MWiDP authors. I never got to see the original message as it was removed by the time I followed up on the post. This is probably a good thing as I doubt my tooth pain would have allowed me to be particularly graceful.

In good faith, I am not perfect. I've made many mistakes in the last year learning my way as a self-published author. Now I work mostly as an ebook marketer and soon will be directing a digital magazine all about e-reading. I don't care if an author makes $5 a month in royalties or $5,000,000 a month in royalties, we all put our periods in the same place. We are all equally valuable, we are all important. No one should EVER tell an author he or she is unimportant because of the amount of royalties he or she makes. Ever. It is rude, unprofessional, and not a person with values that I want to work with.

Therefore, in light of the public inappropriate behavior by Saffina, and some more private correspondence with Mark that left me with a troubled feeling in my gut, I have served official notice that I will no longer be a listing agent in any capacity for MWiDP books. I gave 30 days notice, as per my contact, that the listings will be pulled no later than November 14, 2012 unless other arrangements are made earlier than that.

For new authors out there reading this, don't get discouraged about every opportunity that comes your way. I had 3 really terrible business situations happen to me between when I published and now, and my 4th opportunity has been a complete blessing. There are ethical people out there. There are sound businesses to work with. I still don't think in my heart that there was malicious intent in the MWiDP organization, I think there was more work involved than Mark or Saffi ever realized and that 10% of not a lot to begin with is still not a lot. Where I don't care for their decisions is I think the handwriting was on the wall long ago that this idea wasn't going to work, and when the first exodus of authors left, that was probably the time to say “Wait, maybe we should rethink this.”

I know Mark didn't want to tell any authors “No.” I'm probably one of those authors as my book earns very, very little overseas (like single digit monthly sales figures). But really, true publishers that take on the risk of making money need authors that sell books. The problem is that if an author is selling books, why does he or she need a publisher?

I've accepted where I am as a self-published author. Hopefully, by my second publishing anniversary, I will be celebrating 1,000 books sold and a new title. In the meantime, I'm having a blast running the author ad program for and designing our magazine. I'm part of a team, as I hate the solo aspect of this career choice, but I still have areas under my control. I'm sad about MWiDP as it is a great idea on paper for authors to band together under an umbrella organization for negotiating purposes, but quite a mess to actually make happen in real life.

I wish Mark and Saffi great luck in the future, and I hope that by sharing this story of my own mistakes it will help other new authors make better decisions in their own careers, whether or not they decide to share control of their ebooks with other organizations or not.


  1. Fortunately, my involvement with them went no further than them "promoting" my book in the UK and I did get paid for the very limited sales. I finally took it back to Amazon. I'm in the U.S. and was always on Amazon here - I was just with MWiDP in the UK, so I didn't lose much in the way of sales. And though they never did what they promised, they ended my contract the moment I wanted out. I'm so sorry how this turned out for you and many other writers. I don't know what on earth is going on over there.

  2. It's so very hard to be in on a start-up. It's a huge gamble. So many things can go wrong. Experiments fail. Personalities clash. There's usually very little capital, understaffing, and the geniuses with the big ideas aren't always best on follow-through.

    I think everybody knows you did your honorable best at every step of the way, and you make it clear why you need to move on.

    Luckily I didn't see the worst of the melt-down on the Kindleboards. I don't know what happens in forums like that to make otherwise sane people devolve into cybermonkeys throwing verbal feces, but I've already unsubscribed to four different groups on KB and LinkedIn in the last two weeks because people got all reverse-Darwin on each other. (All unrelated to MWiDP) I won't be joining any more.

    You did your classy best to soothe the waters and bring some civility to the situation. I thank you for that--and for everything you've done for me personally, and for MWiDP. I look forward to working with you in the future.

    Now we can all take a deep breath and go back to being grown-up humans. We have books to write!

  3. I think you've handled this all perfectly professionally. I think a few people on KB misunderstood your role when you stepped up to try to help, but I don't think you have any need to worry. I hope things at continue to go well. You have gotten into an amazing number of projects for your first year. May your energy and doggedness pay off!