Florida-based LGBTQ romance publisher Dreamspinner Press retained law firm Berger Singerman LLP in mid-December to handle restructuring of the company as complaints from authors about unpaid royalties mount. Dreamspinner CEO Elizabeth North said the press plans to “remain open, viable, and operating” and that it “does not intend to file bankruptcy at this time, as we believe that with proper guidance and cooperation, we can work through the issues we are facing.”
North declined to explain why the nonpayment of royalties has occurred, writing in an email, “Dreamspinner has been successful for 12 years, and our goal is to remain successful. We faced numerous challenges in 2019. While we attempted to work through these challenges, we have made the decision to seek some legal professional help to guide us through this process and to restructure some of our financial affairs so that we may provide a reliable payment plan for authors.”
Dreamspinner, which was founded in 2006, operates three imprints: Dreamspinner Press (gay romance), DSP Publications (genre fiction), and Harmony Ink Press (LGBTQ teen and new adult). Together they have a backlist of more than 3,000 titles.
Dreamspinner started issuing weekly emails to authors in 2019 to outline its royalty payment status and plans, and these are archived online at dreamspinner.press. On May 8, it assured authors that the press “is not in overall financial crisis or in any danger of closing. We are working through a temporary crunch in month-to-month cash flow as we wait for more than two years of financial investment and thousands of hours of effort to start yielding steady results.”
Of these updates, author LaQuette said, “They are vague and don’t really provide much detail. They do not answer the question of what happened to the money, only that they are working tirelessly to fix it.”
For most of the Dreamspinner authors PW interviewed, late royalty payments became an issue in 2019, but for others the trouble started earlier. Author TJ Klune had 23 Dreamspinner titles published between 2011 and May 2019. He said that, beginning in 2017’s third quarter, his royalty payments came in late more often than not. “I have been given a variety of excuses,” he recalled. “A hurricane made the payments late, the check for a late payment got lost in the mail, accounting errors led to late payments, they switched banks and the new bank wouldn’t allow Dreamspinner to issue such a large payment since the company was a new customer.”
After Klune’s attorney sent a letter demanding payment for more than $27,000 in second-quarter royalties in September 2019, Klune received a postdated check in October. When he deposited it on the check’s date, it bounced; he was paid the next day via wire with $100 extra to cover bank fees. Klune said that the following quarter, North told him “the only reason I was paid in full the previous quarter was because she’d cashed in her teaching retirement fund to avoid my attorney filing a suit.”
Klune is presently owed more than $25,000 and has pulled all his titles save for audiobook and foreign translation rights, about which he said, “Dreamspinner is now saying they will offer the rights back in exchange for lowering the royalty amounts I’m owed.”
Avon Gale also faced payment delays, starting in 2018, for her novel Coach’s Challenge, the only one of her nine Dreamspinner books handled by her agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary. “Communications with the office would either go unanswered or require multiple follow-up emails and would include assurances that ‘the money has been sent’ despite my agent not receiving it,” she said.
Gale has received only partial royalty payments from Dreamspinner. “I’m a full-time writer,” she noted. “Having more than $7,000 in missing income is a huge financial stress for me and has negatively impacted both my financial and emotional well-being, not to mention my creativity.”
Miller-Callihan, who represents Gale and other Dreamspinner authors, said, “Author royalties are—or should be—sacrosanct. It’s astonishing how much time I and my clients have had to waste chasing money that is rightfully theirs.”
Jeff Adams, who first published with Dreamspinner in 2009, said that initially, “the working relationship was excellent,” with the press assisting with conventions like GayRomLit and arranging an author appearance at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. He too faced late payments in 2019 and pulled the rights to all his Dreamspinner titles in August.
The lack of transparency about what is going on with royalties is frustrating authors. Dreamspinner switched from a quarterly royalty model to a monthly one in late 2019, giving authors as many as 29 updates on royalty calculations in two days, according to author BA Tortuga, who said of the fluctuation, “Sometimes they owe me $7,000. Sometimes it’s closer to $10,000.”
LaQuette, whose sole Dreamspinner title, Under His Protection, was published in April 2019, said, “They claim they’re paying people, but I have not received payments. I do not understand how they are selecting who gets paid, but to date, they have not paid me any of what I’m owed.” In August, LaQuette pulled a planned three-book historical romance series with the publisher. “I was afraid I’d lose my intellectual property if they filed bankruptcy.”
Even authors who’ve received payments are left wondering about the methodology Dreamspinner is using to determine who gets paid and what those amounts will be. “It seems to be completely arbitrary,” said Tia Fielding, who started the private Facebook group Former DSP Authors in August, which currently has 145 members. “Frankly, that has caused an incredible amount of extra stress and guilt in those who have been paid, grateful as we’ve been for any money we’ve gotten.”
Authors also expressed frustration that the embattled trade association Romance Writers of America (RWA) has not been active in helping resolve this issue for its members. Former RWA president Damon Suede, who resigned on January 9 amid organizational turmoil after two weeks in office, is a Dreamspinner author. In August 2019, RWA staff posted an update on its website stating the organization was “aware of the concerns” regarding Dreamspinner and was reviewing them, and in October, RWA announced that Dreamspinner “has been placed on indefinite probation” and removed it from RWA’s list of qualifying markets; Suede had no input in the notice.
In December, LaQuette, outgoing president of RWANYC, was one of four RWA members to send a letter to the organization stating that “the response so far has been inadequate” and asking that it offer guidance to Dreamspinner authors seeking legal representation. The letter alleged that “hundreds” of authors were still owed royalties.
LaQuette lamented the hole in the marketplace that would be left should Dreamspinner’s output decline. “Dreamspinner was the premier publisher for romances featuring LGBTQ people,” she said. “As a black author writing romance in the general sense, it’s been difficult for me to find a place for my love stories featuring people of color. Dreamspinner’s downfall makes it even more difficult for romances featuring people who are both [people of color] and LGBTQ to make it into the world.”
Dreamspinner’s website states that it is currently closed to general submissions but lists eight open calls for submissions. Five titles by Dreamspinner’s imprints have been published in 2020 so far.
Rachel Kramer Bussel is a freelance writer specializing in books and culture.