Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
A couple of weeks ago, I began hearing from self-published and small press authors who’d been approached over the summer by a Turkish publisher called Arvo Basim Yayin. All reported having been contacted out of the blue by an editor named Hulya Dayan, inquiring about buying Turkish language rights to their books (some examples of Ms. Dayan’s emails have been posted on the Kindle boards).
Arvo signed up at least ten writers as a result of these approaches, some with multiple books (those are only the writers whose names I know; according to my sources, there are probably many more). Both royalty-only and licensing-fee-plus-royalties contracts were offered; the licensing fees ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the number of books involved. Publication was supposed to begin in September.
Some of the books have indeed been published. But others have missed multiple publication dates–and it appears that no one, including the authors whose books were published, has been paid.
Authors who’ve attempted to contact Ms. Dayan about the problems say they’ve gotten a raft of excuses–financial difficulties, personal and family ill health, religious holidays, trips out of town–along with repeated promises that schedules would be straightened out and monies owed would be forthcoming. As of this writing, none of those promises have been fulfilled. Authors tell me that Ms. Dayan has largely stopped responding to questions and concerns; some haven’t heard from her since October.
I emailed Ms Dayan myself two weeks ago to ask for comment. Somewhat to my surprise, I received a quick reply alleging unspecified
financial trouble and assuring me that Arvo would soon be paying everyone. When I wrote back to ask for a payment timeline, Ms. Dayan responded
again that payments would be made (though again, she didn’t say exactly when), and offered yet
another excuse for their lateness: Arvo’s printing machines had
broken down and all the company’s resources were going toward repaying a loan for the purchase of new machines.
Missed publication dates, missed payment schedules, books published that have not been paid for, dropped communication, bogus-sounding excuses–what’s going on here? Let’s take a closer look at Arvo.
Arvo’s website lists only six books, but it actually appears to have published sixteen to twenty-three, depending on which online catalog you look at. The majority of these titles–by such authors as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Rudyard
Kipling, Bram Stoker, and Jacqueline Susann–are from
well-known authors of the past, and most–though not all–are in
the public domain (I emailed the agent who reps Jacqueline Susann’s
estate to ask if rights had indeed been sold to Arvo, but to date I’ve
received no response). The seven remaining titles were all acquired as a
result of Ms. Dayan’s approaches over the summer. All publication dates are in 2011, which makes Arvo a new publisher–always a red flag, since there’s a really high attrition rate among new small presses, especially where they’re under-capitalized or run by inexperienced people. The situation with Arvo is a good demonstration of why it’s wise not to approach a new publisher until it has been issuing books for at least a year.
Arvo’s website lists several staff names and email addresses, and the URL is registered to Arvo General Coordinator Volkan Dogan, who also signed the contract I saw. But Hulya Dayan, who gives her title as “Acquiring Editor,” is the only Arvo staff member that anyone has reported dealing with. She’s also listed as the translator of many of Arvo’s books, despite the shaky command of English exhibited in her emails (several Arvo authors have told me that their translators were hired by the company as independent contractors). So Arvo’s staff may be quite a bit smaller than its website encourages viewers to assume.
Arvo offers two kinds of contracts: a royalties-only contract, and a contract offering a licensing fee for the first 1,000 copies plus 8% royalties for additional printings. I’ve seen licensing fee contract, which is very short–just three wide-spaced pages–and it’s an obviously unprofessional document. Among other things, it has been written by someone with a less-than-perfect command of English, which may account for some very confusing and ambiguous language–such as the clause covering the term of the contract, which could be interpreted to mean either that Arvo has the right to produce and sell the book for five years, or that it has five years to bring the book to market. In addition, there are no provisions for rights reversion, no indication as to whether the rights grant is exclusive or non-exclusive, nothing to address copyright, no translation warranty, and although a publication month is established, there is no mention of a publication year.
(Authors: this is why you may not want to act as your own literary agent. Just because a contract is short and seems simple doesn’t mean it’s author-friendly. Unless you’re very familiar with publishing contract terminology, it’s difficult to recognize nonstandard clauses–and even more difficult to recognize what clauses may be missing. To her credit, Ms. Dayan appears to have been open to negotiation, and some of the authors I spoke with were able to alter the contract to make it more standard. But others signed the contracts pretty much as they were written.)
So is Arvo a scam that targeted writers with promises of money it never intended to pay? Is it a well-intentioned, if not very professional, small press that has fallen on hard times? Or is it an under-capitalized, poorly-planned, under-staffed amateur endeavor that was doomed from the start? There’s no way to know for sure. But since Arvo has been so active in recruiting via the Internet, authors need to be aware that this is a publisher that appears to have serious difficulty fulfilling its contractual promises.
Beware of foreign publishers bearing gifts.
(For more information on the complicated world of foreign rights, see this interesting article, which covers the issues involved in selling rights overseas and offers a good overview of the value a literary agency can bring to such transactions.)