Saturday, 30 August 2014

Of Grief and Griefcom: Part 2

To briefly recap Part 1:  late last year I sold a story, A Shadow Play, to a magazine called Transfusion, owned by an outfit named Bleeding Heart Publications.  A number of months  passed, in which I asked for the money I was owed for it quite a number of times and was met with a variety of excuses and unfulfilled promises, until, six months after I should have been paid, I explained that if the amount wasn't in my account by the end of that week then I'd pass the matter to the SFWA's Griefcom team.  The money didn't arrive.  I got in touch with Griefcom.

Now, in retrospect I'm not sure what I was expecting ... possibly ninja lawyers to dive through the windows in a shower of glass and contract clauses.  What I hadn't mentally taken into account and in retrospect seems obvious is that Griefcom is a service provided by busy people with many other important things that they could be doing, who are giving up their time in order to help their fellow writers be treated less crappily.  Thus things got off to a slowish start, and it was a little while before I got a response to my request.  Then my designated liaison, Eric, asked for full details of what had been said so far and of my contract with Bleeding Heart, so that it was a while longer yet before we got to the point of his actually get in touch with BH's director and co-founder Gordon Ross.

More time passed.  Eric got in touch to tell me he'd finally heard from Gordon, who'd said that he couldn't discuss the situation with Eric unless he was sure Eric was properly authorized by me to do so.  This seemed like obvious prevarication, since I'd told Gordon in my last e-mail that someone from Griefcom would be in touch and then, hey presto!, someone from Griefcom had been in touch.  But Eric took it in his stride, drafting a simple form e-mail I could send to say that, yes, I did indeed authorize him to act on my behalf.

A couple of more weeks more went by and Eric got in touch once more, to say that Gordon was willing to settle up the monies owed via wire transfer, and could I discuss this with my bank?  Having only heard of wire transfers from nineteen-forties movies, I was dubious, and sure enough the guy in Santander - obscure, regional banking chain that it is! - had never heard of such a thing.  But he guessed it might be what was now an International Money Transfer, and those I knew how to do.  I sent Eric all the relevant details and doubtfully crossed my fingers.

We were at the end of June by now.  A week later Eric told me that Gordon had promised payment for that week.  A week later and no payment had arrived - and a week after that, nothing still.  Eric queried once more and told me that Gordon had told him I'd been "inadvertently left off" their payment run.  I couple of days later Gordon claimed that the money would be in my account on that Tuesday.  It wasn't.  But when I mentioned this to Eric the next day, he told me Gordon had also been in touch, to say that his bank wasn't accepting my Sort Code.  Eric confirmed that the details were correct - and later that day, just under nine months and more e-mails and Facebook messages than I care to count after my story was published, my money arrived.

I never did get my contributor copy, though.

Now it's entirely possible that Bleeding Heart had always intended to pay me.  It's possible that, at worst, settling their debt to me was just low on their list of priorities and they kept getting distracted by shiny things and loud noises.  It's entirely conceivable that there were valid reasons why they couldn't pay via Paypal, as just about every other publisher in the world does, and conceivable too that they had reasons for not explaining those reasons to me, or ever giving the slightest explanation of why they hadn't paid.  All of those things are possible, if unlikely in aggregate.  But here's the thing: I don't care.  Not the slightest bit do I care.  And there's no reason at all that I should care.  Because my relationship with them was as a craftsman selling a product, and the terms of our business arrangement were clearly agreed in the contract we both signed, and that, in the end, has to be where the buck stops with this things.

Which isn't to suggest that as a writer you should be needlessly a jerk about this stuff.  Publishers are people and sometimes people have problems, and sometimes those problems are of cash-flow nature, and not everyone is one hundred percent organised all the time, and if you're selling your work then sometimes difficulties or delays will inevitably arise.  If people play straight with you then a degree of tolerance is clearly a good thing, and much more likely to produce results than wading in with threats and shouty rage.

Then there are the times when people jerk you around for no clear reason, ignore your e-mails,  mislead and obfuscate and keep it up for month upon month, with no clear end in sight ... and on those rare occasions, a service like Griefcom can be an absolute goddamned blessing.  I'm glad they were there to fight my corner, and even more glad that they did such an effective job of it.  And I really, really hope I never need to call on them again.

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