Crises 1: General Crises

by Richard Grossinger on March 14, 2010

Chapter Seventeen
Crises 1: General Crises

Crises come in all forms, from rats chewing up books, to mindbending typos and other inked errors, to grabby landlords, sloppy printers, and employees with their own agendas.  I remember one odd crisis that erupted when Ben Lo told us that, despite our contracts with her, Madame Cheng no longer wanted us publishing Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s books because our prices were too low.  Unless we raised them to $100 each, she wanted all the books taken out of print immediately, despite our contract and their thriving sales, because it was humiliating to her husband’s memory to have his books selling for a lower price than t’ai-chi books filled with practitioner mistakes and poor information.  She said that we had to make his books the most expensive in the market because they were the most valuable.  We toughed this one out, and it went away.

Crises are a form of karma—they begin when you begin.

It is from crises that we learn singularly important lessons about who we are and why we are doing what we are doing.  All serious business crises may seem to be disputes about money or property or personality conflicts, but they are actually spiritual crises, ethical crises, and crises of meaning.  They undercut the seamless day-to-day trance of business and labor and expose its primitive underbelly, revealing that everything is held together by mere faith, consensus, good will, and cultural protocols.  Turn over the patina of everyday activity, and one sees the outskirts of a Hobbesian free-for-all, held in check by the barest threads of civilization and courtesy.

The first, somewhat silly and minor crisis that I remember goes back to 1964 and Io/1 when clothier Cliff Allen of Amherst wanted his fifty bucks back because his ad said he sold shits rather than shirts.  I convinced him that the typo would generate more business than if the ad had appeared without it; he had an attention-grabber.  He eventually agreed.

The first significant crisis that stands out in my memory came in 1976 when we were still in Vermont, a couple in our early thirties with two little children.  After our press gained sudden and unexpected national recognition with a review of Diane di Prima’s Selected Poems in the Sunday New York Times, a wannabe novelist in New Jersey submitted a horrid manuscript out of the blue called The Godmother, light years away from not only from anything we would publish but anything that had ever crossed our threshold as the editors of Io.  It was banal, illiterate, and trashy and, since it had no return postage, we tossed it in the garbage.

A week later we heard from the author, inquiring about publication that he was sure was forthcoming, then asking for his manuscript back once he came to the realization that we weren’t going to publish it.  When we couldn’t produce it, his entreaties escalated to outrage and then threats to send a hit-man after us—he claimed to be Mafioso.  After we stopped responding, a single-sentence letter said it all, “A godfather anxiously awaits his child.”

We may have been brazen in discarding this piece of junk, but by then we were terrified and would have paid a hundred dollars to get the book back.  Remember, this is before digital books—it may have been the only copy.

A few days later I ran across it in the barn.  By an amazing stroke of luck, the particular garbage bag it was in was never put out.  We were ecstatic.

I was going to return it at once by insured mail but, after we phoned the author with the good news, he said that he wanted it sent to the agent Sterling Lord instead—and he would not be talked out of it.  We made sure to get a return receipt.

That reminds me of a martial-arts author of the early nineties who wanted the rights to his book back for free.  He wasn’t happy when I insisted he purchase them for $500—so he began faxing curses in Chinese characters to our office, warning in a phone call after the first ten or so that we would all be out of business or dead if we didn’t do his bidding at once.  Every few hours a new set of Chinese appeared on the office fax.  It got downright spooky.

You know, I wasn’t really frightened, but then again….  If someone cared this much and was getting this weird, even as a ruse, well give him his goddamn rights back.  We did.

an avant-garde writer set off a crisis two years later in 1978.  We signed a contract with her for a prose memoir, then got it funded on an NEA grant.  From the NEA check we gave her an advance and also prepaid her to typeset it.  Then, guess what?  She found a publisher that she liked better and not only decided to switch but to keep the advance and prepayment. I got embroiled in a phone conversation about the matter during which I tried to elicit sympathy for our situation.  She countered, “Who are you?  You’re not my family or friend, so why do I have to look out for you?”

Well, I was the guy who introduced her to her boyfriend, and I had published her work for years.

So we hired our first litigation-oriented lawyer through BAYLA (Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts).  Sterling Johnson put enough heat on her with the usual sorts of “you can’t do that and get away with it” letters that she found a wealthy friend to reimburse us the $5000 or so in exchange for a letter saying she now had the full rights to all her writings published by us, the past ones as well as the present, and the typesetting, and the film.

“Never do business with her again,” this benefactor said.  “I love her, but she’s a woman who sits in a restaurant with her eye on the exit door, just in case her enemies bust in with guns.”

Once in the early aughts we were informed that we were to be audited by the notorious Board of Equalization on our sales-tax accounting, a compliance division that we had heard was ruthless and unforgiving, slapping draconian penalties on the smallest misdeed.  It was like hearing from the Inquisition.

The fellow did in fact look a bit dangerous when he showed up at nine Monday morning.  He had a briefcase and didn’t smile.  We provided him a desk, and he spent the next day and a half silently poring over our ledgers as our accountants brought them to him, one by one, on request.  Ed Angel feared the worst: “This is going to be a disaster.”

At the middle of the second day the Equalization guy handed Ed a list of mistakes he had found.  “You’re sloppy.  Try not to do this in the future.”

Ed promised enthusiastically, presuming that this was just the beginning and that he would be among us for at least the rest of the week.  But he was packing up all his things.  “Aren’t you coming back?” Ed asked in surprise.

“No, that’s it.”

“Is there anything else?”

“Yes, could you recommend a place in the neighborhood for lunch?”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Ed said later, “we got a lenient Board of Equalization guy.”

Usually one thinks of publishing liability as arising via high-ticket commercial books, but the only times anyone has challenged the legitimate ownership of our text have been 1) a t’ai book, 2) an herbal book, and 3) a live-food book by a movie actress.  You heard about the movie actress and the Texas Chainsaw Chili already (Chapter Fifteen).  The t’ai chi troublemaker, a guy who the co-authors had never heard of, claimed that their entire book was stolen from him.  One strong letter from Jess O’Brien silenced him.

Matt Wood’s Book of Herbal Wisdom was published in the mid nineties.  Soon thereafter a lawyer got me from his cell phone in traffic in Minneapolis and, with a prize-winning imitation Sherman Alexie Native American accent, claimed to represent a guy named Tismal Crow.  His speech went something like, “You know you guys out there have stolen some important Crow secrets, and my client here, my man Tismal Crow, he don’t like that and he says you’ve got to take the book out of stores like maybe yesterday.  And he wants you to know that you’ve violated not only the gods and the ancestors and the Crow people but you owe him some money too, some serious dead presidents.”  He went on and on in that jocular, menacing vein.

I forget the exact progression of events from there, but over time we found out that this so-called Tismal Crow was neither a Crow nor an Indian and, moreover, had gotten himself in jail in Detroit.  Apparently too he was pissed off because the author, Mr. Wood, had run off with his girlfriend.  Our lawyer Steve Rood took to calling him Dismal Crow and, after a couple of weeks, Dismal’s lawyer stopped calling.

[2015 Correspondence inserted:

Hello Richard,

I was just reading your blog, and came across the section from it you’ll see reprinted below. This story is wrong and contains lies. I was living with Tis Mal at the time this went on. Tis Mal never went to jail on Detroit, he was living with me in Minneapolis. Matt Wood could not have run off with Tis Mal’s girlfriend, as Tis Mal was gay (he is passed on). Tis Mal is, and was, an Indian. Your article smacks of glib sensationalism and is far from what actually happened and WHY it happened regarding Matt Wood and the whole reason for Tis Mal employing a lawyer. He was a gifted healer with a photographic knowledge of countless plants, and a museum quality Native bead artist. Matt Wood was his apprentice, and Matt published details of Tis Mal’s teachings without permission.

Have some honor, sir.

Peter T Hutter.

Dear Peter,
Thanks for writing. I would have to agree with you, and I’m sorry that this story made it onto the Internet. It is a case of an unfortunate collusion of factors. For what it is worth, it is fairly obscure. I think that that has been posted for approaching ten years, and I never received another comment about it. In fact, yours may be the first comment I have ever gotten about the entire long post regarding the history of our press.
The document itself was created as a series of stories I wrote up for incoming staff and new authors. The tone relates to a younger self, and I would not use it today. It doesn’t feel fair or right to me. It is not a blog, though. It was not written either for external reading or the Internet. When my website was created, North Atlantic staff helpfully posted existing documents on it for me, and then I agreed to do a once-over edit. In either case, the original in-house document and the edit, I was quick and informal and did not dwell long on things. If I had, that wouldn’t have been written, let alone kept in. If you could tell me what file, I will put in your correction.
The first half of the story is more or less true. I did receive this phone call. If that was a lawyer, it was not the right approach. A more serious communication about the nature of our author’s breach as well as a sincere attempt to remedy it would have been far better than threats and dramatic hyperbole. We have always been responsive to matters of lineage and spiritual priority, and we do try not to publish derivative work or material presented under false premises.
I can’t remember who gave me the story in the second paragraph, which is apparently completely false as well as disrespectful and plain stupid. I believe it was a friend of Matt Woods.
I feel bad that the whole thing happened and I apologize for my part in putting out bad information.


Hello Richard,

Thank you for such a thoughtful, kind, and honest reply. I saw that you printed my original message and your followup in the context of your article. Ironically, someone else informed me of the addition, so although others may not have written you about it, others have read it, and sadly there seems to be mostly negative things or business related things about Tis Mal on the internet, and not much about the many amazing things he did. Also, however obscure it may be, this is, in part, about Tis Mal’s legacy, and if you search for his name your article is one of the first dozen or so to come up. I know Tis Mal was a very controversial person. I have no doubt you did get that phone call, and it was not only a horrible way to handle the situation, it was Tis Mal himself who called you, because he talked like that. I can hear him say, “Pitures ‘o dead presidents” right now. As I said, he was living with us when all this happened. The same side that could make him very funny and very irreverent in a very disarming (too disarming sometimes?) way could also be a bit toxic. AND, he was a very gifted healer, had photographic recall of the knowledge of hundreds if not thousands of plants and many life stories of their uses, and he was very generous with his knowledge (I have over 20 hours of his classes recorded I will soon make publicly available) He also was as masterful a bead artist as you will ever see. He made numerous bear claw necklaces that were truly dazzling works of high indigenous art. He made brain tanned biker babe dolls that looked like they would climb on a Harley and drive away. The list goes on and on. My intention is to create a central place, beginning with a facebook group, where references to these things can begin to amass, as evidence of them is scant and hard to find. I know they exist. I have seen many of them. He was a difficult person to be around sometimes, but his gifts and his generosity were so grand it often more than balanced things out, and, Mastery is a rare thing, and he had that.

All blessings to you~
Peter T Hutter.]

Behind most crises in business lies that other, more subtle and ultimately more important issue—the one of morality and intent.  I will put it this way: Over the years I have found that there are two types of authors—and I would go even further and say, two types of people: the majority who instinctively and gracefully strive for mutual fairness and the minority who have no empathy or real sense of your independent existence and instinctively try to take advantage to the max.  I think of these as twilight souls whom psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, in a lesser known book than his famous Road Less Traveled, deemed “people of the lie.”  I would then divide people of the lie into two levels: major and minor.  The minor category, far and away the more populous one, contains a redeemable sort of person (like all of us at one time or other) who simply tries to max out his or her share of the goodies and sometimes lets it get out of hand.  Under the gun, he or she can reason out where the limits are and return to empathy and good faith.

The major category is rare: the irredeemable sort, auditioning to be real “people of the lie,” e.g., evil (I dare to use that word), those who have no limits or don’t even know how to draw limits, thus do not know how much to try to get for themselves or when to stop plundering.  Peck distinguishes evil from mere neurosis on a functional basis: neurosis can be treated in psychotherapy; evil requires an exorcism.  Our most significant problems as a publisher come from this latter kind of author or copublisher or, occasionally, the unethical merchant.

That was a little heavy, so let me start over again here, back in the safety of modern relativism without the dualistic weight of ultimate morality or good and evil.  After all, most disputes are more neurotic and obsessive compulsive than moral, and there are usually two sides to every matter and blame enough to share.

So, once again, our most difficult partners, customers, and collaborators are those who, from day one, consider only their own needs and regard ours as oddly irrelevant or at least “not my problem.”  These include the author who demands an inappropriately large advance and draws a line in the sand over it; the author’s or copublisher’s lawyer who goes through our contract and rewrites everything more in the favor of his client, making a barrage of demands in behalf of the author and then expecting us compromise from his new template, even to the point of having us publish the book at a loss; the bookstore that petitions a distributor for co-op money far in excess of any possible sales of the book for which it is requested; the publicist whose fees require that you sell 25,000 more books to break even on her campaign, and throws in a hefty expense account on her first bill; the wholesaler who wants you to put up so much promotional money for a title that the first print run cannot break even; the chainstore that returns hundreds of shopworn or gratuitously stickered books (the stickers may get easily removed, but the blotches of glue remain) or buys up remainders and then tries to return them through trade channels for full credit as new books; the packager who cavalierly breaks your contracts again and again and responds by claiming that you are breaching his contracts.

The business world is holds people in legion who don’t care if they are fair or if you go out of business, who have no interest in whether your half of the commerce in which you are mutually engaged is even viable or, in particular, whether they are the ones to make it nonviable.  At the drop of a hat they will kill the goose who is laying golden eggs, or even regular old eggs, if it can get them a few more bucks.  This is hardly confined to publishing; it has become the modus operandi of capitalism, the motto of the Western World, and it contains an ultimate death sentence for this planet.  You scour the ocean bottom with fine-meshed metal nets and leave squares of it lifeless for a few extra scallops, or you cut down irreplaceable ancient forests for a few extra logs.  Who cares if there are any fish or logs or planet tomorrow…?  Who cares if your business partner goes bankrupt…?  Not my problem.

Well, this rant has gotten heavy and out-of-hand too, in a whole different way.  All I can say is that the blowback generated by uncompassionate and antipathetic colleagues and partners lingers long past the events and then vents itself; for instance, here.  And there is a harbinger of evil and ecological destruction among the various microcosms of business.  Yet it is also not a matter solely of “we good, they bad”; we are all participants in the moral and ethical crisis of our times.  We are all guilty of turning blind eyes and closing hardened hearts.


Assorted Crises and Their Outcomes

A tiny percentage of people whom we publish or copublish become terminally unhappy and want out, well below a tenth of a percent.  Those that do are generally authors who regret having signed a contract with us in the first place because they have come to feel, days or months or years later, that they could have done better, and could do better now, so they would like their rights back in order to give it a try.  The trigger to their demand can be that their book is a success (e.g., they can now make more money elsewhere), or that it is a failure (North Atlantic is not really promoting it).

Most author and copublisher grievances tend to simmer more than come to a head.  Usually we are able to handle them by rational discussion between well-intentioned individuals, sometimes defusing the situation with a renegotiated contract.

For the same reasons that I have been willing to give contracts in the first place that are biased in an author’s or copublisher’s favor, I will renegotiate unilaterally when necessary, the most usual items being to improve a royalty percentage, to offer a radically increased discount on books purchased from us, or to reassign some sub rights to the author at his or her request.  Occasionally an author discovers we are giving a better deal to someone else than the one in their “antiquated” contract and quietly and respectfully informs us of his or her realization of that.  It doesn’t seem fair to them that a long-time loyal author whose work helped build North Atlantic should get the short end of the straw simply because the company is now lucrative and more competitive in what it offers authors.  I agree.  Not always but in principle.  I have raised royalties on a number of early books as a matter of fairness and also a point of honor.

These concessions, while mathematically reducing our share by some increment, never change our life for the worse and often change it for the better—the conflict and sniping end.  There is nothing wrong with giving a concession that makes peace, even if we get nothing concrete back.

Unilateral increases in author royalties and copublishing shares and other concessions over the years may have cost us well over a million dollars by now, but at the scale at which we are operating, this is not too high a price to pay for good will, peace, a thriving business, and a sense that one has the capability to do unto others as they would want done unto them.  It has conceivably prevented some expensive legal actions and won us additional books from those some authors and their friends.  The actual cost or benefit of such a strategy is imponderable, lost among the emergent properties of complex systems and flapping of butterfly wings.  But it feels right at a deep level, so it must be right.

When such a dispute cannot be settled by a reasonable concession or—more often—when an author or copublisher is hell-bent on getting his or her rights back, all roads lead to the same place: he or she engages an adversarial attorney, and that attorney makes a claim of breach of contract: either that we tricked them into signing a deleterious contract (and they should get to try another publisher immediately), or that we have failed to deliver what we promised in the contract.

It doesn’t at all matter whether we have actually breached the contract or in fact done anything remotely actionable.  That has nothing to do with their choice of action.  The point is whether there is a hook on which to hang an adversarial breach-of-contract argument.  Lawyers can be quite inexplicable and bizarre in the clauses they choose to attack and the actions they select as proxy breaches.  The less they know about publishing, e.g., are the friend of a friend or a relative and clueless about the protocols and precedents of the book-world, the more often they will pick something silly that has no publishing precedent and would never get to first base—for instance, that we are not selling enough books or have not advertised yet in The New York Times.

The range of options employed has been as creative as it is clueless: An attorney may claim that a book is legally out of print when it is not, that we have not tried seriously to promote and sell it (which has no concrete basis as a claim in any part of our contract), that we have not paid accurate royalties (or any royalties) when we discernibly have.

One paranoid, suspicious author dispatched an expensive accountant to look over our records, a “patient” of his who audited us, we learned later, in exchange for treatments.  This high-powered corporate tool pored over our transactional history like a take-no-prisoners Fed, tying up our staff for weeks.  When it turned out that we radically overpaid this author by mistake, the grumpy auditor immediately ended his investigation, muttering unhappily as packed up his tools and ledgers.  There were no apologies; there wasn’t even acknowledgment of the indisputable denouement before everyone’s gaze—after all, he not we discovered the overpayment.

He chose instead to report to his client that our records were so confusing that he couldn’t figure out what had happened—which is about where things in this culture have arrived at: all game-playing, no holds barred or ethics.  He couldn’t just return to the craniosacral guy and openly tell him, “Guess what?  For my free sessions I have come to inform you that you owe them money.”  Just like a Republican who won’t vote for a good bill because it was written by a Democrat, this jerk wouldn’t report the truth because it wasn’t what he wanted to discover.

The point of attorneys’ legal threats is not even to dream up something that would hold water in court.  It is just to let us know they are there, to fire a shot across our bow, to remind us that it will cost money to hold onto the book and it might well be cheaper to let it go now.  It is the familiar game of chicken—they hope to scare us into giving up our rights.

I love Steve Rood’s trademark response when an author’s lawyer proclaims that we are in breach of contract, thus he considers our contract null and void: “You can’t dissolve a contract.  Only someone in black robes can do that.”

Hunter Thompson used to introduce, with semi-serious camp, “my attorney Raoul Duke.”  I tease Steve occasionally with that nickname, calling him ‘my attorney Raoul Duke,’ though the joke is dated by now, and sort of inaccurate anyway, so only between us.  I like the sound of it.

Even when we have been ludicrously helpful and conciliatory to an author to avoid trouble, no good deed goes unpunished in the lawless business world, and the role of an effective litigating attorney hired by an author, even if no wrong has been committed, is to go over a contract with a fine-tooth comb or even a steam shovel and find something, anything, whereby to claim a breach and put us at risk and on the defensive and set his game in play.

If you publish hundreds of books, all it takes is the occasional irrational or combative author to make life miserable.  The whole business suddenly becomes a minefield of mistakes sprung and waiting to spring.

When we initially copublished with Freestone Press in the mid-eighties, the book-trade matrix was simpler, less rigid and exclusive, and we were able to let them distribute to the book trade, as they wished, along with us.  We split large accounts like New Leaf and Bookpeople between us.  But after our exclusive with PGW kicked in over a decade later, that arrangement became nonviable.  The principals of Freestone, former marital partners Jeannine Parvati[1] and Frederick Baker were hippie in their principles and strongly anti-corporate in their attitudes, so to say that they abhorred the change is an understatement.  Jeannine used it as a soapbox on which to preach against us like holy hell-fire.  In essence, she claimed, and continued to claim, that we had sold out and had no right to drag them along.

This was a family that had fled California for rural Utah decades earlier over the medfly spraying, and they had a point here too, but they were overdoing it:  Bookpeople wasn’t quite so noble and collective anymore, and PGW was hardly the devil incarnate.  But Jeannine was deep into her rhetoric.  So it was an impasse, as our PGW contract provided no way out.  In essence, we had outgrown our former publishing model, but this partner was unwilling to continue to work with us under the terms by which we were now bound.

The titles temselves had become dated and no longer sold that well, but they didn’t not sell, plus under PGW their sales had dramatically improved.  And we had a big investment in the production of the books, having not only rescued them when Freestone had no money to continue but having paid over $10,000 to our designer Paula to re-execute their own inefficient designs—and even then Paula only charged for half her time.

It didn’t seem fair to have the books taken away just because they had their haunches up about PGW and the commoditization of publishing.  We all suffered from the new landscape of the book world, and we all had ideals that had been trampled on.  They weren’t the only purists left.

In 2002 we finally arranged to return the rights to both books to Freestone.  Otherwise, it might have become a nasty wrangle.  It was nasty enough as it was—Jeannine sent a letter to several of our authors and copublishers, including long-time friends of mine, recommending that they jointly hire a lawyer to sue North Atlantic Books for its apostate behavior and disregard of the interests of its partners.  Thank goodness the people she contacted told us about it instead of joining in.

And to think, at one time, she was a very close colleague and ally—but opposing attitudes toward business can decimate friendships.

Crisis 1: Facing a Claim of Fraud

A single early breach-of-contract crisis cost us far more money than it should have because of our idealism, a meddling copublisher, our lack of prior experience in claims of breach, and our sheer ignorance of how the law works.  Having never encountered prior claims, we were totally unprepared and naïve and made all the wrong moves.  What we learned from this incident set the tone for how we fended off potential crises in the years after.

Claims of breach are not rare comets; they are daily meteor showers of business life.  But we didn’t know that when the first one arrived, so we acted as though Haley himself had come to our door.

For purposes of anonymity, I will say as little as I can get away with about the books involved.  The event, which began in the late eighties and matured in the mid nineties, involved a series of niche homeopathic books with a limited market among practitioners (though they sold quite well to that audience).

The author was a charming woman whom Lindy and I had met a few times; I found her both gracious and generous.  During a visit to her house in the mid-eighties she gave our kids gift-wrapped presents when it was in fact we who should have brought house-guest gifts.  She would have been at or near the bottom of my list of potential threats or enemies.  Her husband was also our author and copublisher, and her books were copublished by him and us on his suggestion, in fact enthusiastic insistence, with Homeopathic Educational Services, creating a complex three-way copublishing situation that later turned out to make extrication difficult.

I never want to be a copublisher for any less than half the action so, when there is more than one willing or necessary copublisher, we have to get creative with our model.  In this case, while HES was an ordinary copublisher, the author’s husband was economically a copublisher, but his company did not contribute to or receive revenue from the other copublishing activity; he merely bought his own books at a very high discount in exchange for sharing in production costs.  That’s how we avoided an unwieldy division into thirds.

For seven years, things went smoothly and normally.  Her books sold steadily if not spectacularly and, unique to our press at that point, translations of them into Dutch and German did far better than the English versions, so there were a few thousand dollars of rights payments every year for NAB, her, and HES.

The only problem that had come up in those seven years blipped by so undiagnosed that it was forgotten—but it foreshadowed the crisis to come:  The author rewrote the books many times in page proofs, constituting a cost to herself (and by proxy, her husband) approaching five figures.  Yet, even as it was obvious and fair that she should decide on her own final text before submitting, she chose to continue rewriting extensively in this fashion and keep this activity secret from her husband.  She paid her Author Alteration money privately on the side, extracting from North Atlantic and Dana Ullman a promise that her partner would never find out about her extravagance.

A pathologically compulsive rewriter, she intended to fund her habit indefinitely without his knowing.  (A piece of advice here: Don’t make clandestine side deals or engage in interactions creating ephemeral solidarities that will wilt under the slightest zephyr.  Inevitably a person will have greater loyalty to someone or something else closer to him or her than you, and it is usually the other party against whom you are helping him or her conspire. I won’t say that there is no real friendship in business because there is.  But I will say: don’t create phony and dubiously sunny pacts with people out of momentary enthusiasm and rapport, as you have no idea what tomorrow will bring.)

At around five years our author began making seemingly minor noises about our royalty statements, most of the noise to HES, as Dana had initiated our relationship with this couple at the beginning and the books fell under his aegis as we were structured then to divide responsibility for authors.  The most serious grievance was that she did not feel that she was getting properly paid by foreign publishers and asked us many times to inquire after this (which Dana did by contacting the foreign publishers who always confirmed the amounts paid).  She also later questioned our own sales, as she expected much higher numbers.  But in that regard she was in the category of authors who expect tens of thousands where thousands are actually pretty damn good.  When you are achieving a few thousand copies a year of a niche health guide (as we were), you have a tendency not to dwell on the claims of an author who thinks you must be selling hundreds of thousands.  Even if these claims later become menacing, the tendency is to laugh at the delusion rather than to take it seriously.  After all, no one could sell that many of such a book and, if they somehow did, there would be no way to hide the activity.  I did not take either of these concerns seriously since I had already experienced so many authors’ wild fantasies about her infallible sales.

This author remained pesty about these issues for years, badgering Dana semi-annually about the “disappointing” amount of her royalties, while suggesting mildly that we had made enough money off the books and maybe we would like to give her back the rights now.  Finally he lost his cool and wrote her a terse note stating that she would hear from us twice a year from now on, when she got her royalty statements.  I remember vividly him reading me the letter over the phone and chortling, “That should let her know the rules of the game.”  He did not realize that he had just lit the fuse on a keg of dynamite.  It was we who were going to learn the rules of the game.

Two things happened soon after Dana’s aggressive note: she started divorce proceedings with her husband, and both HES and North Atlantic were served with papers by courier from a court in Massachusetts.

In a document of over fifty pages she claimed not only forty or fifty separate breaches of contract but intentional fraud by NAB and HES in cahoots, stealing her royalties—an immediate and serious escalation of the dispute and one whose meaning and consequence we did not come close to recognizing at first.  After all, we had never been charged with breach, so we hardly knew the difference between breach and fraud or that the latter was so much more serious.

We have been falsely accused of breach of contract many times since.  This is the only time we have ever been charged with fraud (bar a possible second, quirky instance—see below), and what it turned out to mean was that we could be viewed as potential criminals rather than just quarreling business adversaries.  But, as I said, it went right over Dana’s and my head.

Other than the fact that this was the first time I had been served with papers of any sort and that in itself was scary, once the smoke cleared, I thought, “No big deal.”  I mean, what basis did she have for her claims?  We were so in the right that it was ridiculous.  We had always paid her in full on time; we had remitted her share of royalties and rights.  There had not been anything like hundreds of thousands of clandestine sales as she claimed.

Henceforth, Dana and I had each other to engage with in a folly of confident reassurances, which we enacted for months on the phone and in person, each of us adding new evidence in a ritual volley proclaiming our own honor, righteousness, and status as victims.  I mean, for what good it did us….

We had no regular lawyer at this time.  The case was to bring us Steve Rood before it was over, and he has been our attorney ever since.  Well, this began in the days before “Raoul.”

Because the enemy’s home court was located in Massachusetts, we first needed to procure a lawyer there.  As fortune would have it, or misfortune given how it turned out, I had recently been to my 1991 college reunion at which I was a minor celebrity for having prepared the class book, and I made friends with one of my Amherst classmates whom I had barely known as an undergraduate.  He was a partner in perhaps the largest law firm in Boston.  At once upon being served, I phoned him, and he was totally willing.  Dana agreed to share his costs with us.  In fact, he was gleeful that I had produced such a heavyweight to represent us and by extension defend his reputation in the homeopathic community.

When a young woman from my classmate’s lofty firm, just out of Harvard Law and newly joined, showed up in court on our behalf, the author’s lawyer, also a woman, asked her privately why her firm was engaged in such a trivial matter.  She explained.

The fact that, upon hearing this little anecdote from my Amherst friend, I felt both supremely confident and proud showed how little I understood what was happening.

My classmate told me that he believed the matter would be dismissed quickly for lack of jurisdiction, not only because we were in California but because neither party was in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts when the contract was signed.  I assumed he was smart and correct (go, Amherst!) and that we would put an end to it right there.

Not only did it not put an end to it, but things got worse and then worse again and then worse even yet again, the entire matter dragging on for over a year and piling up $50,000 in legal costs and court fees before Dana discovered “Raoul” as a guy named Steve Rood who had represented his friends at Gaia Bookstore in a labor dispute.

The paperwork from the court became as thick as a book, elucidating our dealings with this woman year by year, even month by month, in a completely imaginative pseudo-drama with allegations ranging from merely tricky semantics and logic to mind-boggling claims so exaggerated that they made the whole thing seem like theater of the absurd.  For instance, the original documents stated in one clause that we had not paid our author royalties for years.  After we assiduously went through old boxes of canceled checks (four hours of work by two people) and surprisingly and exuberantly found every one of them and sent photocopies, front and back with signatures, to her attorney, the woman astonishingly retorted that these were forgeries.

Despite notarized letters from the printer, the plaintiff and her lawyer claimed in documents and aloud in court that we had secretly printed and were still printing hundreds of thousands of books and selling them without reporting their sales.  This was all patently false, but it was still twenty years before George W. Bush when the Republicans would demonstrate that the bigger and more outrageous the whopper and the more self-righteously and dishonestly you pile diabolic lies up, the harder they are to disprove and the more people begin believing them.  To this day, a majority of people in the homeopathic community who know about the case believe that Dana is a crook, simply because of the plaintiff’s widespread dissemination of her flamboyant yet utterly bogus claims.

Faced with a barrage of arrows to deflect, Dana and I invested massive amounts of time, both individually and together, in proving our honesty.  We gathered all of our paperwork going back eight years.  It was particularly time-consuming because we had not prepared for such an incident, so had to ask printers for old records on some print runs.  We got somewhat redundant backup documentation from key accounts like PGW and Bookpeople.

In all we reconstructed lineages of successive print runs of three different books going back four, five, six, seven years, assembling cumulative sales numbers across runs.  Clean reconstructions with accounting of every single product were functionally impossible because books were being sold from and returned to the same cumulative inventory from multiple runs simultaneously such that there were no clear boundaries.  Yet we reconstructed inventory and royalties from scratch, accounting materially for every print run, at least within a five percent margin of error.  We were neophytes enough in the law that we became totally obsessed by the affair, and I had many a sleepless night going over intricate details in my mind.   As it turned out, after something like five hundred hours on painstaking reconstruction, not only had we paid her for our own sales, but because of two simple math errors on our part, we perhaps had paid her a little too much.  This made it all the more galling to back down on anything.

Yet our protagonist did turn out to have one very telling and dangerous piece of evidence on her side.  It had nothing to do with us, but it was quite damning nonetheless: the German publisher, upon doing its own in-house research, discovered that they were in arrears on her royalties—not just slightly in arrears but dramatically so.  They were selling about ten times more books in German than we were in English and had only paid about twenty percent of what was due.  They owed her and us thousands of dollars.  Suddenly she looked like a genius and, though Dana and I didn’t realize it at the time, we were now subject to vulnerable to guilt by association.  She was right once, so why not again?

In correspondence the German publisher demonstrated to our satisfaction that the mistake was innocent, and they also paid the overdue amount in full with interest immediately (and shared willingly and significantly thereafter in our legal fees).  They also wrote a letter to the court absolving us of any complicity.  We sent this to our author’s lawyer along with her share of the earnings.

It was nice to get more than ten thousand unexpected dollars, but, as just noted, the appearance of guilt was damning.  It seemed to legitimize the rest of her accusations against us as well as confirm her suspicions: if this much money came out of the woodworks from a simple filing of papers, what might show up in an actual trial?  The German mess went toward creating a narrative that sold very well in the plaintiff’s attorney’s presentations to the Massachusetts court at various subsequent stages, and they were sufficient to allow the case to go forward against our own lofty law firm’s protests.

The plaintiff had said she wasn’t getting paid for her full German sales—and she wasn’t.  The fact that her paranoia was justified in this instance did not mean anyone was intentionally cheating her, and certainly not that we were, but that nuance was lost in the drama of her “stolen” money coming home.  We were denied lack of venue, and then we were denied two or three other motions for dismissal, the details of which I don’t remember except that our lady claimed in one way or another that her case was frivolous or insubstantial.  We simply lost and paid, and the music went on.

My having gone to Amherst College and having lived in Massachusetts for four years or having an Amherst lawyer meant, of course, nothing, but I was still a child with fantasies in these regards.  I believed in old Lord Jeff myths, and I was a long-time fan of liberal Massachusetts and its lifestyles.  I never noticed the ways in which Massachusetts was the Mississippi of New England if you got in the way of its bureaucracy.

By metamorphosing the matter at the get-go from breach of contract to fraud, the opposing attorney detonated many of the safeguards protecting Dana and me from a possible nuisance legal action.  As noted above, breach of contract is a disagreement between signers of a contract—whereas fraud is a crime.  The fact that the plaintiff’s sold it so effectively to the courts of Massachusetts absolutely nullified the effects of our fancy lawyer.

The Amherst colleague should have advised us to bail at the beginning, and then at every subsequent crossroads, but these were folks who did not play to lose, even when they were losing, and they apparently did not have any rubric in their repertoire for advising us to drop the case as not cost-effective.  They just charged on ahead like Custer at Little Big Horn, Bush in Fallujah, convinced that their superior firepower would carry the day.  As long as the Massachusetts court believed that HES and we had perhaps committed intentional fraud, it continued to valorize the claims, any and all, and allowed the legal action to proceed and escalate, along with our legal and court bills.

While our Harvard lady kept assuring us that it would work out fine in the end and the case would be thrown out any day, we lost every petition of hers and were denied at every court appearance.  The bills continued to pile up and no end in sight, even though they were charging us what, for them, was pro bono rates.  The angry author and her attorney, to all accounts, put on a masterful show in front of the judge and, to all of our chagrin, carried the day.

Now Dana and I were getting unnerved, as a deep pit was opening before us, and it had no bottom.  We were at the point of beginning the long, arduous, and costly legal process of discovery, facing possible trips back to Boston for a trial, unable to disengage, when “Raoul Duke” became our lawyer.  We didn’t hire him initially to deal with this case because we assumed we already had adequate legal representation on the spot; we hired him to help us on a minor issue involving an employee, but he quickly became a friend and, when learned about the quagmire in Massachusetts, he did not mince words.  While he was surprisingly ho-hum about the indecencies of our adversary, he thought mainly that we were getting horrendously bad legal advice, bordering on incompetent, from our illustrious attorney and his firm.  We should bail at any cost, pure and simple.

Dana was shocked and outraged.  He was far more gung-ho about winning than I was, but he happened to be the one who had found Steve, so I had a bit of strategic leverage in getting him to listen to reason.   Although Dana absolutely balked at first, citing how in the right we were, he was inclined to become gradually and grumpily receptive to what Steve recommended, which was the diametric opposite of the tack of our Boston attorney: to give her the madwoman her rights at once and get out of the case as quickly as possible, limiting damages as much as we could.

Steve didn’t see any likely turning point in our favor, any upside.  He characterized the case for what it was: “An elderly woman, a citizen of the Commonwealth, asks the court for protection against these two shyster Jew thugs in California who are stealing from her.  That’s the image she is selling.  And,” he added, “if you go to court, she’ll weep and perform; she’s probably done it already, and it won’t matter what you do and say.  Unless you have audited records from all these years, your proof will be dissected and in fact used against you.  Do you really want to put your fate in the hands of a jury of her peers in Massachusetts?”

When Dana asked how something as outrageous as claiming that our signed checks were forged could be left to stand, Steve responded:

“Unless you want to meet her in court, her truth is as good as yours.  Right now the checks are forged; it’s up to you to prove otherwise.  Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’re going to win.  Just because you’re right doesn’t mean that you have a better chance of winning than losing.”

He asked Dana how much we made from this woman’s books, and it was something like $10,000 a year between us after expenses.  “Then,” he said, “from a financial standpoint it makes no practical sense to fight for them.”

But it had become a matter of money already spent plus principle, especially for Dana.  He found it really, really hard to swallow this pill.  He has a higher than normal constitutional quotient of moralism and righteous indignation in ordinary circumstances, and it was in full florescence at this juncture, plus he felt that his reputation in his own world of homeopathic business was being threatened.  Because of the prominence of the author, who was already bruiting her case far and wide among holistic-health practitioners and the major homeopathic docs, he would never get back his good name unless he won over her in court.

This case taught me one huge lesson that I have never forgotten: Any day you don’t have to go to court is a good day.  The worst settlement is better than the best lawsuit.  If you plan to go to court, be prepared to spend a million dollars.  Unless a book (or principle) is worth that to you, either in what you will gain from winning or in its future value, forget it.  Give up.  Against an opponent for whom money is no object and who does not hesitate to spend more than a property is worth, you have no chance, no chance at all.  You will lose time, you will lose money, you will lose sleep, and you will divert attention needed elsewhere in your business.  Once targeted by such a person, you have already lost, you can’t ever win.

We had such an opponent.  Her fury against her husband combined with her outrage at being blown off repeatedly by Dana combined with a monumental paranoia that I might submit to the Guinness Book of World Records because it was still going strong and even increasing more than fifteen years after we caved.  She was not going to back down, whatever it cost—plus, unknown to us at the time, she had just inherited serious money.  She was going to spend any and all of it to bring her babies home.  She had coddled their creation, and she was not going to leave them in our hands.  She would make up any fib necessary; she would bend all truth to forge a narrative, whether she believed it or not, to keep the case at boil.  It was an artform of its own by then, a tall tale with a metabolism and momentum.  After all, this was life and death to her, and she had the resources to indulge.  This is not the kind of opponent you want, ever.

If someone is merely threatening you with legal letters, it doesn’t mean squat unless they show that they are willing to invest in a lawsuit.  It then, as noted in Chapter Fifteen, becomes a matter of who will call the other party’s bluff first, presuming no one wants to start spending $100,000+.  Once the paperwork has been filed and the case has begun, the terms have changed and the stakes are higher, but you are still always better off settling.  I repeat: If the other party has convinced you in your heart that they will not back down, then you should admit defeat, whether you are right or wrong, because you are already defeated.

We were scared and desperate, so we had lost.  It may have been, in our minds, a bunch of lies made up by a vengeful person with a colluding attorney, but the lies were more virulent and dangerous than our truth.

Yet Dana turned out to be right when he said that his reputation was at stake.  Even as most people believe that all crop circles have been exposed as hoaxes and were made by Doug and Dave and their cohorts—even as virtually everyone thinks the “face on Mars” is a trick of light and shadow and that there is a microcellular trail between HIV and AIDS—so do the majority of alternative-health professionals who know about this incident believe today that HES and North Atlantic were found guilty of fraud in court in Massachusetts.  The plaintiff’s subsequent biased account of the case and our settlement still circulates over the Internet, giving the impression she won in front of a judge and jury, making Dana a pariah in parts of his own community.  With a rage of passion and a passion of rage she has engraved her story into a historic document impossible to refute.  Her real rage way preceded our dealings with her, but we has become its most accessible and gratifying target.

She played the role of the wronged woman so effectively that even some of Dana’s closest friends, more than fifteen years later, believe that we must have done, if not the whole caboodle, at least some of what she accused us of.   And this is despite the fact that she did exactly the same thing to the next publisher and forced them also to back down in court and give her her rights back again five years later!   Yes, it really happened again, with the same essential results.

So we did settle.  Because we waited so long, it was on the worst possible terms.  All we won was not having to pay her anything more for hundreds of thousands of imagined books we had “secretly printed.”  She got all her rights back, the film to reprint them, the inventory of remaining books, and future earnings from all foreign editions.  And her attorney, likely at her behest, added the following clause: if we were caught selling any of her books in the future, she had the right to collect $10,000 per violation.

For almost a year after the settlement, strangers came to our office looking to buy copies of her books and in a few cases offering Nortyh Atlantic employees a hundred dollars each, if they could find one anywhere and sell it to them.  We had to destroy every copy, even those in our archive and ones that got returned latterly by bookstores, in order to keep from violating the settlement agreement.  Did she dispatch these customers, or were they honest fans seeking a book that had gone out of print?  We’ll never know.

As mentioned, she sold the rights to her books to another publisher and then sued them a few years later on precisely the same basis: not paying her full royalties and secretly printing hundreds of thousands books.  When calling me for succor and aid, the director of that press recounted how they had taken her at her word about us initially, presuming that everything that she said was true and we had abused her as claimed.  Now that it had been done to them too, they saw the light.  This second victim wanted to make use of as many of our court documents as we were willing to share with them.  She promised she would win and vindicate us in the process.

At the end of the day, of course, they settled too, for many of the same reasons and on much more unfavorable terms, as I believe they paid her for her supposed lost royalties, so anxious were they to get her out of their lives.  They capitulated big-time.  She had found her game, and a player she was.  The exercise of delusion had become the engine of her life.

Her ex-husband became extremely ill a few years later and was hospitalized for over a decade before he died, yet she maintained her vendetta and rhetoric against him to the end.  Apparently she thought he got what he deserved and she convinced their children of that too.  Isolated without funds or family, the husband called me or Dana every few months from his sickbed, weeping, cursing her, and asking us to join him in retribution and revenge.  Sorry—thanks, but no thanks.

Crisis 2 (A Medley). Other Charges of Breach of Contract

The “incident in Boston” was the first of a dozen or so cases in which an author wanted his or her rights back, either politely or through war.  It was far and away the worst, and we were educated because of it.  We had learned by immersion in fire, and we had “Raoul Duke” on our side thereafter.

Most of the subsequent cases of authors requesting their rights back were based on the perception, as discussed earlier, that they would live happier and more lucrative lives without us.  In some cases they wanted to sell their own books directly to the consumer—a good gambit now that they were established in the market but, guess what, unfair to the publisher who established them.  In other cases they wanted to sell the rights to another publisher for the kind of serious money now available.  With three exceptions they didn’t get very far.  In more than half the cases we gave up the rights or sold them for a token because we were not moving enough of the books to justify fighting to keep them.  In the other half of the cases we negotiated a price between us whereby the author or copublisher bought the rights.  Then there were the three exceptions.  Each of them contains a lesson in itself:

i. We ended up as the copublisher of the biography of legendary surfer Greg Noll through a series of circumstantial events.  In the early 1990s we had already recently published a surfing book by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins when the author/publisher of the Greg Noll book contacted us about copublishing a revised second edition.  She had copublished it the first time with Noll himself and one of his business associates, but they didn’t have the capital to put it out again despite the fact it had sold the entire run.

Since, as noted above, it was never worth it to us to copublish at less than a half share, we took over one half of the new edition, reducing their shares to one-sixth each.

Da Bull sold moderately for years, though right from the beginning we had difficulty in our communications with Noll.  He was never an active party to the copublishing.  Not only did he never respond to any of our correspondence, but he did not want to pay his copublishing costs (they had to be deducted retroactively from his earnings).  He also set up a group of commissioned reps, each drawing a cut.  Later we learned that they actually were all the same person, his wife, under different names.  He had the illusion that he should earn most of the book’s money, and he seemed to prefer blowing off sales in the wider world, preferring instead to focus on getting the lion’s share of a small number of transactions through this silly scam.

Eventually, though, he hired a lawyer to try to get his full rights and earnings.  This was seemingly a surfer-world barrister (from his tone, letterhead, and behavior.  A year would pass between letters or emails.

After a while Noll ceased cashing his checks, which we assumed was a form of protest as well as a strategy for claiming rights, so we simply continued to accumulate his earnings, deducting printing expenses, and sending the checks.

After six years, the book’s original “ghost” author and copublisher informed us that Noll had bought back the rights from her and the other partner—in the latter case for a surfboard—and he now wanted our rights back from us for free because, he said, we owed him money.  We let Steve Rood handle this, and the result was a stalemate for about four more years, as Steve’s letters to the opposing attorney initially always went unanswered—then, after six or eight months, we would get the same lists of complaints and demands again.  The problem never got solved and the sttaic never went away.  Finally Steve changed his approach and suggested to the surfer lawyer that we go to mediation; the guy readily accepted.

This was a big mistake.  For one, there was not enough money in the book’s sales, only about $1000 a year, to justify paying a mediator.  Plus, I again had that old wrong assumption that being in the right would win the day.

Noll didn’t show up for mediation.  He was represented by his wife and “surfer” attorney, and they argued before the mediator, a retired judge, that they had not been paid their rightful share; they wanted their money with no copublishing charges deducted plus the return of rights for breach.  The judge tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to them that either it was copublishing (in which case they owed as well as earned) or it wasn’t copublishing, in which case they got only a royalty.  They couldn’t get a copublishing share of the revenue without a copublishing deduction.  “These folks were nice enough to carry you,” he told them, “so you can’t claim that they did anything wrong or owe you more money.”  As he made no progress, even with the lawyer (who repeatedly whispered to his client as if this were television), he sent them to another room and then met with each of us separately.

Returning to our room after a long confab with the Noll party, he opened by pronouncing, “Rood, where do you get these people?  For a lousy thousand dollars a year, this isn’t worth your or my time of day.”  Then he turned to me and said, “Here’s my deal.  Give them the rights.  You don’t need these jerks.  They’re only going to make your life miserable.  You don’t owe them any money.  Just give them the rights.”

I protested that it wasn’t fair because the rights were worth more than the money.  Furthermore, there was some suspicion that this whole case was over a forthcoming documentary featuring Noll, a fresh burst of publicity that might lead to the book generating more money.  The judge guy then said, “Well, why not put a clause in the settlement not allowing the rights to be re-sold for three years.  Done, okay?  Let’s go home.  There’s a lot of today left.”

His argument was purely economic: you save the $2500 or so they had accumulated in their account, and they get the rights—mediation successful.  “They don’t understand a word you are saying, or they are doing a great job of faking it, but either way, you’re going to have to give them the book because that’s all they want, and it isn’t worth it to you.  They don’t understand about copublishing.  They don’t actually understanding anything.”  We had no choice.

We lost the book and all its future earnings, meager though they were (in fact, Noll apparently only wanted to take it out of print).  Although on one level I didn’t care, on another level I feel tricked and wish we had just kept printing it, charging them for reprints, adding their royalties to their account, and sending them checks—cash them if you want.

Here is the lesson: For there to be a meaningful mediation, there has to be a meaningful slice of the pie at stake for everyone. Otherwise, you can only lose what you have because something has to be split.  I now see that that was no possible solution going in. There was nothing to divide.  We didn’t need a mediator to tell us that.   But when you hire a mediator, mediate he will, even if it means splitting the baby in half.

I was outmaneuvered and lost.  That surfer lawyer wasn’t so dumb after all.

ii. One of our most inexplicable and combative contentions over a return of rights involved a very minor book about an aspect of anatomy for bodyworkers.  The book was actually the author’s converted M.A. thesis from an external-degree program and would have been of little interest to any other publisher.  I had heard about it from another bodyworker and, when I inquired, the author was flattered by my interest.  The whole deal transpired quickly and smoothly, and then the title sold moderately well for us because we had produced so many anatomy books for alternative-health practitioners by then.  It was certainly not the kind of project from which one expects legal problems.  It was a very quiet, bare-bones project.

About the only foreshadowing was that the author balked at an early charge of a $300 permission for rights to artwork that he wanted to include.  Our position was that the contract clearly stated that he either provide fully cleared rights for the art or have their cost deducted from his royalties.  He chose the latter.  Then, when he saw it on his royalty statement, he wanted it removed and the money reimbursed.

As noted, this sometimes happens.  An author upon hearing that some cost of rights or editing or an index will be deducted from royalties brushes it off as a non-event because he is not being asked for cash.  Until he gets his statement….  Then he sees that he would have earned more without the deduction and he freaks and suddenly becomes fervent for the money.

This author was also upset by the fact that the Upledger Institute would not carry his book.  He had thought that, by publishing with us, Upledger’s copublisher, he would automatically get into the Institute’s book concession, but UI did not want to carry his book because they felt it used material that he had derived from them without crediting them properly and also because it was competitive with their own products.

I had thought of both of these complaints as extremely minor and, in the general hubbub of business and activity, did not give them attention.  However, the author got more and more irritable and then angry and vocal out of scale to the situation and began leaving intense messages on my voicemail.  This was a new phase in our publishing history, and I didn’t understand it.  It sounded like high theater.  When I returned his calls, I got only his voicemail.  After a few such unsatisfying exchanges, hoping to lighten the matter, I left this message: “You must belong to the Nikita Krushchev school of negotiation: if you don’t like something, take off your shoe and pound it on the table.”

He quite obviously didn’t think it was funny, and in his next voicemail in quavering voice he threatened to report us to the State Attorney General’s office, the IRS, the Better Business Bureau, and the City of Berkeley.  Getting into his tempo, I left him a return message, saying, “Why don’t you just burn down our place while you’re at it.”

What he did was get an attorney, a retired corporate lawyer and a “patient” of his (this is obviously a favored professional barter mode with bodyworkers), we next received a letter from the lawyer, accusing us of many things, one of which was defamation of character for calling the author an arsonist.  Talk about no sense of humor!

Steve Rood tried to discuss the grievances with this attorney—no success.  He too was a shouter.  The matter escalated to a point at which the attorney was threatening Steve that he was going to sue us under RICO, the Federal racketeering act.  Steve told him, “This is where our discussion stops.”

After that flurry, the aggrieved author and his attorney turned 180 degrees and were willing to buy back the rights at market value, which included reimbursing us for all our production and printing costs plus three years of future sales.  That was a victory, though we lost the book.

It was a small-scale equivalent of the Boston lawsuit, only coming out on our side.  They wanted the rights back but, rather than waste time and money in court, they simply chose to meet our price.  After their initial horror show of threats and bullying didn’t work, they dropped the belligerence—though the author still gives me the evil eye eight years later when I see him and try to say hello at the natural foods market in Berkeley.

iii. Andrew Harvey was a true dream author for us in the mid-nineties, perhaps the dream author.  We discovered him in 1993 amid the regional buzz over his seminar on the Persian mystic poet Rumi, which he conducted weekly at the California Institute of Integral Studies.  His course lectures were so popular that even the public, to the degree they could squeeze into the classroom, attended the classes.  Each talk was as brilliant or more brilliant than the previous one, as Andrew viewed the modern world with all its radiant wonders and apocalyptic omens through Rumi’s reawakened eyes (see “A Primary Reading List” on this website).

I stood on the greeting line one day after his lecture.  As I expressed admiration, I handed Andrew a copy of my new book then, Waiting for the Martian Express. I had never met him, and he didn’t know me or my work.  Yet he phoned a day later and, at his suggestion, we met for lunch in San Francisco.   Very complimentary of my writing, he brought up the idea of our publishing him (I would have assumed, back then, that he was out of our league).  He expressed great excitement at the prospect of working with a publisher who understood his vision of the world and his poetics.

Over the ensuing year we conceived two books that would be created out whole-cloth of Andrew’s lectures, one on Rumi (The Way of Passion) and the other on the divine feminine (The Return of the Mother).  Our in-house editor and Paula put in hundreds of hours to birth entire, orderly books out of transcripts of the Rumi lectures and a subsequent lecture series, incorporating Andrew’s later copious glosses, edits, corrections, and reedits as they went along.  We also paid Andrew the largest advance in our history to that point for these two titles plus a third book, his translations of Rumi—about $70,000 if I remember correctly.

Within six months Andrew had declared us his publisher for life.  He said that he was completely enamored with our list, our staff, our process, our scale, and our intellectual engagement with him.  He applauded our landing of the Dalai Lama’s “essential teachings” and wrote a stunning preface for our English edition.

For the next two years Andrew frequented our offices with his declared “husband,” Eryk Hanut, and they entertained the staff with their humorous tales and camp European aristocracy, kissing the hands of females and riffing on their haberdashery.  Andrew was gallant and charming in his kind words for each of the employees, as he was a dazzle of witticisms, overpraising everyone’s nuances of speech and dress and minor elements of décor.  I remember his singing aloud and quite beautifully in our office, soon after he broke with his former teacher Mother Meera over her condemnation of homosexuality, “Don’t mess with me, Argentina!”

I took Andrew or Andrew and Eryk to lunch on half a dozen occasions, and Lindy and I had them for dinner several times and also went to their house for dinner.  They were good friends and associates and intellectual companions par excellence. In time we published I Wish You Love, Eryk’s memoir of his friendship with Marlene Dietrich, although there was no evident audience for it.  But we were trying to keep the boys happy, and they seemingly were.  To listen to Andrew, no publisher on the planet could compete with us for his affections, and it was an honor to be associated with an independent press at which people actually read and edited books.  He was done with commercial New York publishing.

It was thus an enormous shock one day when Andrew announced that Harper wanted to buy all three books that we had published and he wanted us to sell them to them.  At that point, The Way of Passion had been out about a year and was doing very well, approaching 20,000 hardcover, a true publishing phenomenon, and Return of the Mother had just appeared with a whopping advance sale.  Everything was working out.  But Andrew suddenly expected us just to sell the books to Harper—no justification, no legitimate reason.  Not only that, but he wanted to keep his advance and receive half the new money. That was an absurd and baseless request.  It was as though we suddenly didn’t exist, didn’t need to be accounted for.  He was like a disaffected lover who couldn’t get rid of us quick enough.

His born-again reasons included that we had failed in publicizing his books sufficiently and that we were blocking his career.  He declared that we had no right to turn down offers from a publisher with a much wider range of distribution than us.  But we had sold a huge number of his books in a very short time, and there was nothing Harper could do for them that we hadn’t done.  He was expressing an old view of independent publishers that I didn’t even realize he had.

In retrospect, it would seem that it wasn’t so much that he had given up on New York publishing as that he didn’t have a New York publisher at the precise moment of opportunity.

No amount of in-person or telephone reasoning with him or cajoling would change his position, so our professional relationship and friendship pretty much went out the window.  Andrew broke with his first lawyer, who upset him by offering a rapprochement with us that he didn’t like (we sold he books deducted the remainder of the advance from his half of the sales price); then a second lawyer negotiated essentially the same compromise:  The three books would be sold, not to Harper but a new suitor, J.P. Tarcher, the old independent New Age publisher now under Putnam.  Tarcher would reimburse us for the advances and issue the books in paperback, leaving the hardcover rights with us but taking all the foreign rights.

The latter twist was actually Tarcher’s idea.  Initially I assumed that they would get all the English rights, and we would keep the foreign ones, as we had already made some key rights sales, but I was more than happy to make the trade they offered (foreign for hardcover), as it meant we still held the underlying World English rights and they would revert to us if the Tarcher editions ever went out of print.  For years afterward Andrew kept writing us for his share of the Tarcher money, leaving innuendos on Jess O’Brien’s voicemail about our “rinky-dink organization,” as he now called it.

There is a more interesting back story here that I will save for Chapter Twenty-Two, but the thing that stands out, even this many years later, is Andrew’s implicit assumption that the moment an old-fashioned commercial publishing house came calling, the jig would be up, the coach turn into a pumpkin; we would bow, yield in the face of a greater, more divine entity, and cede all our rights and investment.  To Andrew, apparently publishing was more like some sort of honorarium or patronage than a real business deal.

Usually there are two sides to every story, but in this case I find it hard to grok Andrew’s side.  I could see him dissembling, even to himself, that he didn’t want a large publisher initially—no harm there, and we’re all entitled to sour-grapes moods now and then—and I can see him springing from dormancy and reverting to form when Harper came calling.  What was harder for me to understand was why he would act as though we were somehow suddenly in the wrong and also why he would expect to keep his advance money as well as get his freedom.  From my perspective it looks like a perfect storm of greed, entitlement, and arrogance, but I am willing to be proven wrong.  Again, see Chapter Twenty-Two for more of the story.

But there is also a happy postscript.  In 2009 I heard from a yoga teacher in British Columbia named Karuna Erickson about a book that she had co-written a book with Andrew.  On his encouragement, she was submitting it to us.  That was a bit of a surprised, but I was pleased by the gesture.  In the prior few years, Andrew had directed a few authors to us, so I knew that his grievance toward North Atlantic had mellowed, but this was a new level of rapprochement.

The manuscript was entitled Heart Yoga: The Sacred Marriage of Yoga and Mysticism, and it combined yogic practice with Andrew’s sacred activism, the core of his current practice.  Inside the book, Andrew described how Karuna had attended his workshop and pointed out that, without a physical practice, his activism was just a head-trip.  He agreed, and they developed the exercises and philosophies in the book together.

Eventually Andrew got in touch with me by email and suggested that I make a contract with his agent; he said that I would find him a different person and very cooperative.  I emailed back that I was quite willing to proceed, but I thought we needed a “truth and reconciliation” discussion first to clear up the past.  He agreed at one, and we set a date.  However, when the time came, Andrew said we should skip the “truth and reconciliation.”  He said that he had had a complete awakening and had come to realize that his life back then did not reflect his beliefs and he did not practice what he taught.  “I was in denial,” he went on, “and I was totally under the control of Eryk, who was a very disturbed and angry person.”  He went on to say that he was now in the process of facing his own shadow, learning about his inner self, and doing penance for his mistakes and misdeeds of the past.  He said that he would consider it a blessing and an honor if we would forgive him, and he considered it important that we use this opportunity to heal our past rift and go forward as allies and sacred activists on behalf of the planet.

It could have been facile bullshit, but we talked happily for an hour, and I was convinced of his sincerity.  I am still convinced of his sincerity two years later.  Much has happened during that time to reveal not just penance or regret, not just acceptance of blame, but nothing short of a total personal transformation. The old Andrew was narcissistic and flamboyant with a real greed and decadence energy about it.  He was a brilliant, entertaining savant, but he was not a “nice guy” or a man of heart.  The new Andrew was able to accept and release the past without excess drama or indulgent mea culpas. I usually mistrust foisting the blame onto another person, but in this instance I would have to guess that his love for Eryk distorted his view of the world and he preferred, desperately in fact, to engage in a kind of elaborate and belligerent folly with him than to do anything else available in creation.  Such is blind love.  I don’t question that the shadow was real and his diva routine was authentically earned, but it was not his soul presence and it did not express his true moral position.

I commend him for making the sacred leap and for doing it modestly and without excess self-congratulation.  This is the stuff of real atonement.  (For further evidence and a more actual document of “truth and reconciliation,” see Andrew’s and my dialogue elsewhere on this website.)

Crisis 3. Workman’s Comp Fraud

There are rare employees who sign on only in order to make trouble or scam the house.  In 1995 a new employee joined the warehouse crew under Zoe Marshall during the early NAB/Conari days, apparently with the sole purpose of falsely claiming an injury and then filing for Workman’s Compensation.

She worked only a couple of weeks, if that, before “injuring” her back.  For a long time thereafter we took her at her word and extended the usual human decency.  We tried to help her until her storyline gradually stopped ringing true.

Over the life of this soap opera we had to deal not only with the employee and her extravagant performance but her pushy mother who, by the time the situation had ripened, showed herself to be the most probable grand orchestrator of the whole scheme.

After a number of doctors under the Workman’s Comp vetting concurred on the diagnosis that the “injury” was longstanding, preexisting, and could not have occurred on the job, this employee continued to persist in her claim until she finally found a physician willing to process her paperwork under the rubric of “injured while moving books.”  And this was even though Zoe insisted she had never even gotten to that phase of the job and had, at most, slid a five-pound UPS package across a table.

At that point, we were initiated as neophytes into the sorry labyrinth of Workman’s Comp.

First, our insurance company, the independent firm to which we paid our Workman’s Comp premiums, instructed us to hire her in another capacity in order to protect them against her claim.  This was a totally unfamiliar ploy to me and something that did not seem fair or ethical. Plus, the problem was that she was not qualified for anything but warehouse work, and she was also obviously a disreputable person by then, so why bring her over to the office to make our life uncomfortable there?

An insurance clerk tried to coach me subtly on this, without saying the exact words—that there was a way to hire her for a short time and then fire her.  That would save them a lot of money and get her out of both our hair.  But we wanted no part of such a connivance.  They accordingly switched to considering us the problem, accusing us of being uncooperative, and a representative indicated that if we did not collaborate with them in resolving the claim, they would not work with us or insure us in the future.  We didn’t know the game or the rules, and we were caught in the middle of something that was over our head.

When our brief employee finally ended up getting surgery, the bill was well over $100,000, and the insurance company had to pay it (we got the telltale paperwork).  They then raised our rates by 500% and at the next renewal dropped us.  We subsequently had trouble getting Workman’s Comp insurance, as required by law, anywhere.  Ultimately we and Conari combined ended up paying many times more money than the cost of the surgery for warehouse insurance at higher rates over the ensuing years.  The scammer’s family and Zoe’s, close for years, stopped talking to each other.

Luckily we had Conari to defray more than half the cost.  Although our Workman’s Comp rates eventually came back down to roughly their former scale, we lost several hundred thousand dollars in the meantime, and the rates were still high enough to represent about half our employees’ salary all over again: we were paying one crew to work and another half crew to insure them.  It was in part because of scams like this throughout the system driving up everyone’s rates and driving businesses out of California that Arnold the Terminator got elected Governor.

The cost of Workman’s Comp also played a sizable role in our ultimately choosing to close our warehouse after we moved our distribution to Random House.

Crisis 4. Our Most Bizarre Editorial Disaster

With the early success of Gabriel Cousens, I was quite open to new live-food authors of all pedigrees: loony chefs, movie actresses with a line of health foods (see Chapter Fifteen), and high-flying sauerkraut moguls were all welcome.  These got folded in with true all-stars like Avocado Wolfe, David Jubb, Gabrielle Chavez, Wendy Rudell, and Victoria Boutenko and her children.

It was at that time that I also made a deal with a guy who ran a business manufacturing raw and cultured vegetables and nut butters.  For years he had generously promoted Healing with Whole Foods and Conscious Eating on the labels on his products, unasked and, when I finally made contact to thank him, he told me that he had self-published a pamphlet on how to make and preserve live foods, and he hoped that we could help him expand it into a book.

On the surface this was a slam-dunk copublishing venture with a captive market—a road with no warning signs, yet a road that should have been closed to the public.  Actually there were a few warning signs, but they were not diagnostic.  From the beginning, the author (let’s call him Dobie) was a goofy, eccentric, self-enamored child, running his business mostly from a computer-equipped van, surfboard on the rack.  He seemed to spend more time at New Age fairs and hot springs than on the job.  More to the point, he considered that the composition of the actual book was a poor use of his leisure time, beneath his stature and level of accomplishment, so he wanted to hire someone else to do the work and was quite insistent that we pay for that.  This was unexpected and troubling on more than one level, and it was not the kind of thing that we normally indulged.  I mean, write your own book, dude—and if you can’t, hire your own slave

But Dobie was not obnoxious about his authorial reticence or about us paying the editorial costs of a ghoster, just befuddling.  He promised to reward us for our faith many times over in book purchases, but he was adamant that we should front all the money for the editing.  He saw it as the counterweight in some invisible moral equation.  Plus, he absolutely refused to hear any talk about his doing some of the work, even the hiring of the editor.

The book needed full developmental treatment and Dobie was a seemingly financially capable author running a successful company.  Why not just hire an editor himself?  I never did conclusively figure this conundrum out.  Over time it came to seem more a matter of superstition and compulsive game-playing on Dobie’s part, mixed with a brittle pride, than any financial urgency or moral equivalency.  A thousand or even two thousand dollars at most were at stake at the beginning of the project and, while Dobie adamantly didn’t want to pay it, he was spending many times that weekly to run his business—and he was offering to more than reimburse us afterward by giving up his discounted price on the huge numbers of books he intended to buy through his business, paying us back directly for the editing as well, once the book was on sale.

In other words, he was foregoing his legitimate profits of copublishing, conceding us most of the future revenue (likely to be in six figures because of his own sales), while only requiring that we advance the money temporarily for editing.  When pressed constantly for clarification, the closest he could come was to say that he needed a good-faith gesture from us in order to feel positive about the project and be able to reciprocate with good faith himself.  Since he had been advertising our books for free for over a decade, I took him at his word, finally giving him benefits of all doubts.

For a couple of years this book proceeded slowly but calculably, as the material came together under our project editor Hisae Matsuda.  It was somewhat troubling that Dobie was running through freelancer editors (three, not counting Hisae) like toll booths, as he seemed utterly confused as to exactly what he wanted researched on the Internet and then have it written up.  All he knew was that he needed to pay (or have us pay) someone to do it for him.  He seemed to crave a penthouse from which to give orders and get room service.

As the first to give Dobie a whirl, Kathy Glass finally remarked, “I’m not going to research and write his damn book for him any longer.  He needs to pay me a lot more if that’s what he wants.  And, on top of it, he doesn’t even know what’s supposed to go into the book.  He wants me to figure that out too.”

Dobie also turned out to have a nasty secret, at least for a hippie free-spirited businessman: a snappish temper and a tendency to treat hirelings like servants.  The dude was full of regal delusions, deeming himself mega-important in the general scheme of things and exempt from ordinary rules of decent human conduct—a state he betrayed disingenuously through his attitude.  It was clear that he had no perspective on his own behavior or its implications, despite his inflated and liberal opinion of himself.  In fact, he was neither compassionate nor liberal.  Notwithstanding the small size of his business, like many insulated corporate bosses he was pampered and clueless about the reality of his employees or the protocols of the business milieu.  Having lucked into some money and an entrepreneurial concept, he was now solely into delegation—ordering around.  The book project had come to seem like a pulpit in which Dobie performed but nothing ever happened.  We had to announce and then cancel the project many times, a gratuitous expense of a few thousand dollars.

Two other freelancers came and went, quitting after stints of a few months to almost a year, most of their bills paid by us, though some by Dobie in acknowledgment of his demanding posture, a fleeting recognition and self-critique on his part that gave us false solace.

More serious problems arose when Hisae finally tried to pull together the diffuse commissioned research and transcripts into a viable book.  The text that Dobie himself wove out of these garments went all over the place, mostly off-topic, and was riddled with New Age aphorisms.  The worst were psychological and spiritual advice and tips on how to save the planet, which were in fact his main organizing contribution to the immiscible clumps of Internet gems found by hirelings.  His editorial bias was based on a presumptuous and mythologized association between live food and peace such that, by the time a narrative evolved, Dobie was proposing that a diet of cooked foods with meat was not only a major but the major, cause of all human suffering, conflict, and war—live food was its single antidote, the necessary first step in global transformation and the catalyst of peace and reconciliation.

Now this is not such a bad or useless trope.  Whether an oversimplification or some sort of New Age metaphor, it is heuristically impactful and also a useful wake-up call to the sleeping burger hounds of the world.  Homilies more or less to this effect are loosely imbedded, though nondogmatically by comparison, throughout the writings of Gabriel Cousens, Victoria Boutenko, David Wolfe, etc.  Hence, in itself, Dobie’s unexamined diatribe was not a killer addition to the book.

What killed was its execution: a sprawl of amateur pronouncements, silly hyperboles, and almost hysterical repetitions and re-emphases, escalating throughout the text so that the book came to sound like a New Age parody or comedy routine: a caricature of itself.  Advice about diet morphed into pop spiritual assertions, non sequitur exercises in conflict resolution, and yogic and bodywork practices (of which Dobie, by the way, had little grasp).  I mean we are a long-term premier publisher of practitioners of these modalities and we would have been embarrassed to circulate the sort of amateur, hearsay garbage and mere pop slogans that he was purveying).

Hisae’s initial attempt to make all this minimally publishable enraged Dobie.  He declared her, in just those words, an enemy of the book—many times in fact on my voicemail.  He wanted her removed from not only the editing but the project itself; he refused to work with her any longer.  Yet in truth she was more sympathetic to him than most other staff and quite indulgent of his excesses, even to a fault.  “I treat him the same way I do my teenager daughter when she throws a tantrum,” she remarked not unkindly.

What followed soon afterward was a regime of long and increasingly more bizarre emails, phone calls, epic voicemails (some requiring three or four redialings on his part to complete, as he massively exceeded the time allotment), and finally several peace-making dinners with him and me at Café Gratitude (these meals paid for by our magnanimous author).

Through all these professions of sincerity and wild flights of rhetoric, Dobie failed to make the headway that he wanted with me and apparently assumed he could sort of bribe me into with the meals and his earnestness, and he became more irrational and intemperate, trying to bludgeon me into concession while inflating himself to the level of superhero and savior.  For instance, in one voicemail he promised that his book would outsell Healing with Whole Foods and Walter combined and become “your bestseller of all time”— without an ounce of modesty or an awareness of how the book-world actually works.  He seemed to think that I was the naïve one who had no idea of the potential of what he was creating.  He talked down to me like some sort of Bill Gates, presuming to lecture me on the overall market from the presumption that he was about to make our company into a global entity on the scale of Apple or Microsoft—all because of his supposed revelation about the relationship between diet and war and his capacity to sell his own books on food labels.  Yes, exactly that.

Once out of the bag, his megalomania and egotism knew no bounds; they went everywhere without shame.  He wanted—in fact ordered—me to put our entire staff to work on his book because the planet needed it at once.  He offered to purchase Dobie-only cell phones for our people so that he could contact anyone at the drop of a hat; yet, at the same time, he demurred from paying even the smallest bills that he incurred, claiming that he was willing to write the checks but they would bounce and, alternately, that he could afford it easily but it was a matter of good faith that we pay.

It was though, without telling us, he was playing some unacknowledged and invisible game, the rules of which only he knew, such that paying even a five-dollar bill for anything (except his and my meals) was losing points and risking defeat.  He cared more about the game and its obscure contest than the reality of the book, even as he ordered multiple entrées and nutshakes for us in lavish banquets at Café Gratitude.

Over the next few months Dobie hardened his attitude (if that was possible), balking now at any changes in his text, reverting on even the most minor edits that he had previously allowed.  He told me that every word we removed from his book—as he strayed from the topic of preparing vegetables to jabber about ending war, world peace, human communication, etc.—would end up killing people. I mean this honestly.  He screamed the last phrase at me so loud on one occasion that I had to pull the phone away from my ear.  To his mind he had created a text uniquely suited to halt violence in the world, and any clumsy editing of ours would actually deter this great event from happening.

I wish I could report that he had some perspective, humor, or sense of irony, but he didn’t.  Because he was provincial and poorly read, he truly believed that no one else had written such a book or even addressed the topic.  I tried to explain that a great deal of this sort of material had already been published by many writers, including the raw-food pioneers whom we both knew and admired and also that general and perennial philosophy on topics of diet and consciousness went back to the dawn of civilization.  He heard me, but he didn’t hear me.  That is, he always acknowledged my words, especially at our dinners, thanked me for them, and promised to honor them, and then he went right back to his established behavior.

Hisae was still on the job over Dobie’s initial objections, as there was no one else to whom to assign the project and, though he finally relented to her participation, she struggled to get a text to which he would agree.  He rejected pretty much every compromise she proposed, and he meant for us to keep investing money in new edits and editors until it somehow magically worked out.  And this was even after the book had been done four times over, missed its pub date three times, and lost most of its advance sales—all, from the standpoint that it was critical to the planet and would be saving lives.  It was also now at more than double the length contracted for and for which the cover price was targeted.

In person Dobie had remained charming and agreeable in a primitive sort of way, so I always left our meetings telling myself that we were almost over the hump and one more round of editing would do it.  As we dialogued over yet another meal at Café Gratitude and Dobie waved his credit card and told me to order an extra dessert to bring home to Lindy, I convinced myself this was really a decent, well-intentioned guy.

Then Hisae would come to my office a few weeks later with the bad news.  I would call him, and the Dobie I got on the phone didn’t even seem to remember the gist of our dinner discussions, insisting that he had made no meaningful changes and that his new recommendations were really very minor.  “I am honoring everything I told you I would do,” he insisted, but in fact he was honoring none of it and merely saying he was.

I had one final Café Gratitude dinner with him, a last mutual indulgence and folie a deux at which I made a grand stab at salvaging the project.  Knowing that Dobie desperately missed the attentions of an editor, ideally one equipped with a Dobie-only cell-phone, l told him that we would hire a high-level aide familiar with his subject (Anne Connolly, late of Avalon and Harper).  We would pay her to produce a final version of his book, leaving in as much of his ramblings and pearls of wisdom as she could manage elegantly, as long as he, on his end, agreed to accept her edits at face value, absolutely and without compromise or exception, correcting only blatant errors of fact.

Tell me why I thought this would work!

Dobie was ecstatic with my resolution.  He said that it was more than fair and he swore on his honor to abide by the decision.

When Anne finally finished her editing, a couple of painstaking weeks and a thousand-plus more dollars in the hole for us, Dobie pretended to receive her offering with delight.  For a few days he sent only praise our way, repeatedly in fact: glowing emails nominating her for sainthood.  However, while claiming that she had done a wonderful job and he was only doing the eensy-weensy ever-so-tiny job of correcting her errors, he proposed to restore twenty-seven cuts, just about every one she made, plus he had copious new material for her now to add, inspired by her great work—though he said that would pay her for that task himself—and he also insisted on buying her the cell phone that she had declined previously.  He essentially wanted us to remake the book from scratch again.

That is when I realized I was in over my head and turned the matter over to Steve Rood with the faint hope that he could either mediate the disagreement so that we could publish the book or get our editing money back in exchange for rights reversion.

Usually I can work things out with headstrong authors.  But Dobie was one of a kind.  The dilemma with him was that he always said the right thing and then, in our next exchange, behaved like someone suffering from multiple-personality disorder—he would either deny that he had said what I heard or insist that what he was doing was in full accord with our oral bargain.

Raoul was taken in too, at first.  After meeting Dobie and being charmed, at least insofar as a Dobie on good behavior could be savagely charming, Steve was convinced that he could redact and resolve the matter, and he scheduled a closure meeting between the author and Anne, the editor, to discuss, as she put it, “Dobie’s twenty-seven points of light.”

Three weeks later we were back to nowhere.  In Steve’s words: “I yelled at Dobie yesterday.  Quite unlike me, as you know.  I terrified my assistant Tom.  He had never heard me like that.”

In other words, Dobie had done it again—agreed and then didn’t agree, merely said he was agreeing.

Because Steve had used the word “reversion” in their discussion, Dobie was now presuming that the rights had already reverted to him.  In his mind he had met with our flesh-and-blood attorney and he had used the magic word in his company, so it had to have happened.  Within twenty-four hours he was calling Random House, in fact calling all over the Random House phone tree, announcing that he was now the publisher and available to work directly with them and hoped all their presales of his book, the ones that had already long ago canceled because of the delays, could be transferred to him without the obstacle of us as the middleman anymore.  He confided to whomever he got to bend an ear that we were wrecking his book by editing it without his permission and he was offering them the real book in exchange for their cutting us out of the picture.  He didn’t even understand that he needed to have a publishing company and be a client of Random House Distribution Services to have a structure to make this offer, let alone a real reversion, and he also didn’t understand that Random House Distribution wasn’t Random House editorial.

In an email to a Random House editor later forwarded to us, he told her he was doing this “…so that you may fulfill your customers’ orders and continue on with your existing long term distribution plans for this classic volume.  Dobie is here to make everybody happy to the best of his ability, and to ship a book that meets everybody’s best interests.  Dobie is open-minded about editing and will only want text in this book that we’re all happy about being there. Actually, just about all of the editing work that has been done has been approved and appreciated by Dobie.  He just needs to collaborate with editors regarding a few concepts that were cut from the book, so that we can better consider whether the basic internal logic that says this book is a semi-thorough reference manual substantiates some of these cuts being edited back in.” (sic throughout)

This sheer lack of ethics combined with naivité about how the world works and chutzpah constituted a trifecta unique in my experience of publishing.  He disturbed a lot of extraneous, flustered people before they could figure out who he was and then transfer him to our division.

Our marketing managers at Random House had no idea what was going on or that we ourselves were unaware of Dobie’s foray—so we got a polite, professional email, asking us to tell our author to stop calling them.

This behind-our-backs behavior originated from a guy who claimed to be a mediator of disputes, a paragon of ethics, and a prince of peace.

Hail, the hippie businessman!

It was the executives and editors at Random House who were peaceful and generous, trying honestly to figure out who the poor jerk was and what his needs were and then humoring him as long as it was possible.  Dobie was a walking white-collar crime spree by comparison, completely unaware of what one has to go through in the way of self-reflection even to know what ethics are, let alone have them.

I have not saved many of Dobie’s emails, but this late one to me provides some of the spirit of his communication (everything, of course again, sic):

“You still have not addressed that your decisions were made without realizing that the books internal logic included being semi thorough manual.  This is basis for rethinking valuable deletions seems like where were at is either: you or someone else fullfills my expectations from agreements or we use couple literary agents to terminate amicably.  I presently feel like I really only want to stay with you in conjunction with full support.  Even though I’m open to working with your experience to consider the best thoughts about what I’m talking about.  I am not open to experiencing resistance about helping enhance peace and I’m not willing to experience resistance about what I have to say and our plans.  Basically I want to control his book with your help and I promise you that as I make decisions it will be in conjunction with full utilization of your great experience.  I just need to make there be no more conflict and the only way I can see that to occur is if I’m in charge.

“You should realize I’m an experienced business person who knows how to feel and be supportive of experienced beneficial decisions; therefore your expertise will be a guiding force in this.  I assure you that you may expect me to be businesslike in conjunction with a sincere propensity and goal to put all my resources that are available so that this book may be the best-selling book you’ve ever published.  I know that my sincere orientation towards fairness and goodness corresponds with realities that my ideas are in conjunction with appropriateness; especially since I have an open mind and I am willing to tweak things; I just know that the way things are now is not how I want to be spending my relationship with my publisher and I know that they need to change dramatically. I’m referring to specific details about mutual concern for each other’s communication and goals and needs.

“I refined everything to 27 deletions that I want to reconsider and make the best decision about.  So now you know that in addition to what you are seeing exemplification of in this e-mails few chapters per part; there are only 27 issues that I truly believe are best for the book to contemplate putting back in.  Additionally either next or soon I’ll give you the changes I made post-submission, which I realize you may prefer to implement in the second edition; although I think it will be pretty clear that many, some or most of these changes I made improve these four chapters considerably.  So this paragraph as precedes this sentence is to give you an overview of what you can expect regarding all of the communication I would like to accomplish as we expediently complete and decide whether what I’m thinking about should go in the first edition, 2nd edition or not at all.  And please remember, there really is a benefit in continueing with the communication that I have been experiencing from you, that I’m so appreciative of, with these issues, as I will end up having the confidence to publicize and market the book in conjunction with knowing that we’ve covered these things.”

The communication, like everything else from Dobie, including his missives to Random, has its own internal logic—and yes I am sympathetic.  I love Dobie’s natural weirdness and independence; I really do, but I can only do business with such a person as long as we can make moderately a sane prose and transactional reality out of it.

I mean, for some weird reason the dude presumed that he could double-deal with Random and that they would keep it their secret and ally with him against their client.

I think that he was petulant, childish, innocent, and delusional, but not a bad guy.  He was not trying to be unethical, at least to his knowledge; he was just provincial and out of touch with reality.

Eventually he bought back his rights in installments reimbursing us, and that was that.  We gave him all the edited files, but I don’t know if his version of the book ever appeared.

Chapter 18: Crises 2: The Employee from Hell | Table of Contents


Sadly Jeannine passed away unexpectedly, not much more than a year after this event, from hepatitis C.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: