Cam: I read an article today about a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Massachusetts that folded. This is bad news not only for the farmer, but for the customers. In a CSA, you pay up front, usually in the winter, for a season’s worth of produce, sometimes also including eggs and meat. You are ensured week after week of high-quality local food that you pick up at the farm. The farmer, like me, gets the money in advance when I need it for seeds, for soil amendments, for improvements. We also cut out the middle person. It’s a great deal all around.
But what happens when the farm folds? The customers have already paid, usually around $500 or more for a season. In the case I read, I don’t think the owner of John Crow Farm ran off to Brazil with the money, but he did leave his subscribers without either their beets or their bucks. (He also abandoned his animals, which is just wrong.) There are apparently no assets to disburse.
Of course, most farms are reputable. They fulfill their responsibilities. You might receive fewer tomatoes in your share if that field floods due to natural events. But the farmer will be honest with you about it.
Edith Maxwell here: And what happens when a publisher folds, or isn’t honest? That happens, too. I was in discussion with one small press for my first mystery novel, and in the middle of it all the publisher sent an email saying she was going out of business. Luckily, we hadn’t even signed a contract.
I then had an experience with a small press who sounded excited about my book, which had other authors it had published, and most important, about which I couldn’t find any negative press, any arrows pointing to it being a bum deal. So I agreed to the contract for my first novel – my first novel! – and kept waiting for the editor to follow through on getting edits back to me. When I’d received nothing one day before the ebook was supposed to come out, I backed out of the contract. The publisher didn’t give me any grief about it. It turns out Giovanni Gelati (yes, that should have been a sign) of Trestle Press was fraudulent in many respects, lying about the editorial staff (there was none), stealing art for covers off the internet without permission, and more. I was lucky to get out when I did. Chalk it up to inexperience and not listening to my inner red-flag waver. A few months later I was accepted by a reputable, hard-working small press, Barking Rain Press.
So what does an author do? What else? I wrote a short story of (fictionalized, mind you) revenge on a literary thief. “Just Desserts for Johnny” was first published in Kings River Life Magazine, and is now available on Smashwords and from all the major purveyors of ebooks.
Cam and Edith: What can you do to avoid being cheated, by anyone? If you’re signing up for a CSA, talk to some current customers. Find out how the farm deals with loss. Read the contract between you and the farmer carefully. Ask how long they’ve been in business, what their future plans are. And then make up your mind.
With publishers, check out Preditors and Editors. They maintain listings of publishers for which red flags have gone up. Writer Beware does the same. Ask other writers. Join national organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and ask your peers. And, always, read that contract carefully. Get it checked out by an entertainment lawyer, or by the National Writers’ Union.
But don’t lose your faith in the good guys. That’s most of us!
Readers: Have you had an unfortunate experience with a farm, or a publisher? Any other tips for your fellow person on how to stay out of trouble?