If you’re an author that’s discovered that your small/indie publisher has been stealing your royalties. You’ve asked your publisher for answers, but received only abuse and misdirection, even outright lies. What can you do?
Your first instinct might be to call the police and turn them in. And it’s a good one. But there are steps you should probably take first. That way, when you do make those calls, you’re prepared with the information they’re probably going to ask for.
“How much did they steal?” Is probably going to be the first thing they want to know if you’re reporting your publisher for stealing royalties. That’s a good question. And you can answer it.
If your publisher was skimming your royalties, there’s a good chance that they did everything possible to keep you from finding out how much you really earned. Probably pretty effectively. And contacting Ingram, Createspace or Amazon wouldn’t help. They would tell you to contact your publisher, Great lot of help that is, when your publisher is the problem in the first place.
But when you cut ties with that publisher, you gain back not only the rights to your work, but the right to find out about the history of your work. With your publisher out of the way, you now have direct access to Ingram, Createspace, Amazon, Smashwords and anywhere else your work was sold.
One thing those places will ask for is proof that you’re no longer with that publisher. It doesn’t have to be any formal release, as your publisher might have you believe. Any declaration that you can prove will suffice. If you’ve got an email or text message where you told your publisher that it was over, that’ll do. Have it handy for when they ask for it.
Make a list of all the places where your book was sold and contact them one by one.
Tell them that you’re no longer with your publisher, and that you want to find out how many books you sold during the time that you were with them, and in the time since you left.
If they ask for proof that you’re not with that publisher anymore, provide it and repeat your request. You’ve left your publisher and you want to find out how many books you sold, while you were with them and since.
It’s important that you ask for both. How many they sold when you were with them, and how many have been sold since.
Then simply do the math. Take whatever figure they gave you for how many sales you made when you were with your publisher and compare them to how much you got paid. If you got paid at all. If/when they don’t match up, you have a figure to give to the authorities.
If you discover that there have been sales of your title for which your publisher has been paid since the time you left (that you didn’t get paid for), that’s a whole new level. That’s not just theft. It’s also copyright violation as well as theft. Maybe even fraud, tax fraud, impersonation, identity theft. Maybe more than that.
Take whatever figures you’ve got and call your publisher’s local law enforcement. Call the police and file a report. Call the District Attorney. Call the attorney General. Talk to them about theft and provide the figures you got from those publishing and selling services. That gives them hard figures to work with.
One very important thing to remember is that different authorities handle specific issues. For example, the police, DA and AG will deal with the money you’re had stolen from you. That’s it. They don’t want to hear about the lies or abuse. They don’t want to hear it. All they handle is the strict business of numbers. If you can prove how much your publisher stole from you, that’s what they want to know.
When it comes to any potential acts of fraud, copyright infringement or piracy, that’s what you talk to the feds about.
Any personal injury that happened would be handled in a civil court. That would include lies, verbal abuse, damage to your reputation as a public figure resulting from lies (defamation), pain and suffering.
So be sure and organize your calls.
After you’ve talked to the police, DA and AG about theft, pick up the phone and talk to your publisher’s local office of the FBI and talk to them about copyright infringement and the piracy of your work. If your publisher happens to be located in Texas, be sure and call the Texas Rangers as well, they handle everything from theft to fraud that takes place inside the Texas borders.
When that’s done, don’t forget to talk to the local IRS office in your publisher’s office and tell them about this income that your publisher has obtained illegally by stealing it from you. Whether your publisher has paid taxes on it or not, the IRS will be very interested.
Finally, consider talking to an attorney about filing a personal injury suit. If your former publisher insulted, abused or defamed you in any way, you can ask for damages as a result, as well as whatever money was stolen from you in the first place.
That’s a whole lot to process, but it’s just a matter of making a checklist and going through it. Ultimately, you’ll be clearing your good name and recovering what was stolen from you. You’ll be making sure that your publisher is held accountable for what he or she did to you. And you’ll be making sure the next author won’t have to go through the same thing.
You’ll be glad you did.