Too Little, Too Late
I haven’t said anything. Like a good little drone, I’ve kept my head down out of fear and sticky-sweet desperation. I’ve swallowed my bile, lurked on forums, and watched taglines…giving my support in the most useless of ways—silently.
But I can’t stomach it anymore. I can’t hold my tongue in the face of such violent disregard for individual well-being. I can’t take the lies.
In the summer of 2013, I interviewed to work for Ellora’s Cave. I remember the initial conversation like it was yesterday. In order to find a quiet space, I sat in my sister’s van in North Carolina’s muggy 90-degree weather. That’s how badly I wanted to work for this company. I was hired for what I thought would be my forty-year plan. I left my long-term boyfriend in Las Vegas, as well as another Managing Editor position, and moved out to Akron, Ohio to be the Managing Editor for Ellora’s Cave. At the time, I made a post about my fear and excitement, even going so far as to say: “I was foaming at the mouth excited to work for them. And with a chance to work intimately with something I was already passionate about, with a company full of cool people, how could I not be? In such a short time, I had found a new lifetime goal to go with my writing and it was obtainable. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance, no matter how difficult the journey?”
Original post, found here: http://nsgooden.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2014-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=10
I think it’s important to note that everything I posted in that original post was true...at the time. Everyone I met seemed so very driven and sincere in their wants to provide a publishing experience where authors AND the company were satisfied. My respect and admiration for the team—particularly Patty Marks and Susan Edwards—still exists today. It’s easy to make people out into monsters; however, in my head, Patty will always be the most passionate boss I’ve ever had. She took a chance on me. She gave me the ability to essentially grow an entire department from scratch. We’ll come back to that in a second, but despite everything else, one of the hardest disillusions for me to deal with is the fact that someone I put so much faith in has let so many people down in such a unconscionable fashion.
My elation over having been hired by Ellora’s Cave soured in my mouth like a Warheads candy. It didn’t take long for me to realize that not all was well in this “company full of cool people.” That there was a very clear line between what became known as the “professional staff” and the “family staff.” I won’t go into detail about the individuals who worked in positions that they were clearly not qualified for because they were important to the people up top. I also won’t go into the disjointed hierarchy of power that seemed to funnel all decision-making to one individual, who frequently proved she was out of her depth. This post isn’t about those other people, it’s about me and what I saw.
Even now—with several years’ worth of distance between me and the conference room that made me develop what my friends jokingly called a “mild drinking problem” for the duration of my stay in Ohio—I get chills thinking about it. The blatant disregard for authors as a whole, the almost maniacal plans to keep authors locked into contracts that were unfair, just so they couldn’t publish elsewhere…the whole situation broke my heart. In that conference room, the last of my youthful optimism turned to stone. It vanished with the weak laughter I forced out of my mouth while the owners joked about authors who had complaints about not getting paid. That youthful optimism, now a hard statue of pain and sadness, cracked and fissioned with every command to lie about editing time-frames and to cover up scheduling mishaps. It broke and shattered with every beloved author I was told to quietly diffuse with whatever blatantly untrue excuse I was fed. With every cackling incident where a new author failed to read the boiler plate contract and negotiate for changes. Because that was on them to do and it wasn’t our responsibility to make sure they knew what was fair before they signed.
My office was in the middle of the building. I heard everything that happened but it was easier, wiser to keep my head down.
I was a sheep. Part of the ever-growing problem, with no hope of escaping. Before I knew it, I was working 12-hour days—along with several of my equally unhappy “professional staff” compatriots—in a frantic effort to fix the injustices I was helping to create. In November, not even three months after I began my adventure with Ellora’s Cave, I began applying for new jobs.
This brings me to another level of my growing desperation when it comes to Ellora’s Cave. Those individuals who are familiar with me as an author—yes, I also have perspective from that side of the story, but we’ll come back to that—know that I have suffered from epilepsy for all of my adult life. Because of that fact, most of my employment history up until that point had been primarily remote positions that I could do from my home. I’d contracted heavily and—at no one’s fault but my own—I had not made enough effort to network while doing so. That meant that EC was, in large part, my most valuable previous employer. I had to put them on my resumes but I couldn’t allow anyone to contact them. Maybe that wasn’t a big deal at the time, but it made finding a position in my field a challenge and I was out on my own for the first time. I needed my job at EC, it was my only shot at living a life that didn’t require me to constantly be under someone else’s thumb.
Even so, the crumbly dust that was my youthful optimism pushed me past my breaking point. The lies and the weight of my guilt—along with several interdepartmental grievances— eventually won out and I resigned from my position as Managing Editor. But I stayed with the company under a different capacity, hoping to find something else before there was nothing left of me but the bitterness.
That led me to a different department, which was hemorrhaging money on a project everyone involved knew was going to fail. My desperation worsened but there was nothing I could do. At this point I was no longer attempting to hide my search for a different job. I applied and applied, but by then the lawsuit was in full swing. The editing jobs I applied to always ended with the same awkward point of, “Oh, you worked for Ellora’s Cave…” Marketing interviews I went on frequently fizzled after a laughing, “I Googled this Jasmine-Jade company listed on your resume…” In addition, a previous editor had been threatened with abject ruination, should she attempt to work freelance outside of the confines of EC’s non-compete, so that was out. Besides that, while I love editing—and was desperate enough to take anything at that point—my true joy was on the management side. I genuinely loved being in a position to help grow authors and establish something as complex as an editing schedule. I loved working with the various departments to ensure all needs were met. Editing had been only one aspect of my positions at Ellora’s Cave and from where I was sitting, the chance to touch the other aspects again had been forever lost.
That’s when the hammer fell. In January of 2015, I was laid off with a large chunk of what had been the “professional staff.” The move baffled and enraged me but at the time, I was met with sorrowful emails and a general consensus of, “well, at least you can collect unemployment!” The firing stunned me. I couldn’t believe that I had done everything right, had kept my head down and worked hard, and still been given the boot. It made my forced silence seem even more pathetic, even sadder, for I ended up in the same place as everyone else in the end.
I don’t know why I thought that a group of people, who had laughed at a story about an author not being able to pay her medical bills because of missing royalties, would somehow care that I needed this job to maintain any kind of reasonable living situation.
Even then, after being fired along with a group of people who I personally knew had shed blood, sweat, and tears for the company, I kept my mouth shut. I did so, because I still needed the company. I still needed reference checks to go through—though I’m told that EC never returned several calls, especially after they fired the only HR person in the building. I still needed to maintain my reputation as a professional.
And I am ashamed to say that I was still reaching for the dangling carrot left in my departure emails.
Promises of being rehired after the “messes had blown over.” Promises of repaid courtesies for my “loyalty.” Promises of being treated “different,” once my publishing contracts were in place.
That brings me back to a previous comment. I’m an author. At the time of my hiring with Ellora’s Cave, it was forcefully recommended that I pull my books from other publishers. In fact, I was warned that while it wasn’t required, I wouldn’t be able to continue publishing with anyone else while working for EC. Which meant, if I had existing series out in the ether, they would die (please note that after some haggling, I was told I could continue the existing series, but it would be frowned upon, and in a company where whether or not you were liked was everything, “frowned upon” was a terrifying concept).
Now, I’m by no means a big-time author. At the time, I had only published about five titles and they were doing meh. But I had plans to grow each series and had hopes to continue writing. Ellora’s Cave essentially made that impossible. In addition to not being able to publish additional titles outside of the company, there were editorial stipulations I would have had to follow, including being edited by people who were 1) overloaded with their own 12-hour days or 2) were part of the goon-squad of individuals who weren’t qualified for their positions.
At one point, being published by Ellora’s Cave would have been a dream come true. Now, even if those promises were kept…no. Just no.
I don’t care about that carrot anymore. I should. The weight of desperation in my gut hasn’t lessened. If anything, it’s grown.
Jaid posted that the fact that EC had to lay off “several employees” “guts” her. She goes on to say that thankfully we’ve all found employment, so that’s totes fine. But this lie…I can’t even begin to tell you how much it hurts. I poured my heart and soul into EC for my time there. I fought for the authors and lost. I even fought for the company itself–tried to make changes, tried to find positive spins—and lost. And this is a slap in the face. No, it’s more like she walked up to me, smiling, and hocked the biggest cigarette-stained loogie she could muster right into the back of my throat. Or into my burning eyes, no, wait. That’s just the tears of a year of frustration and regret. I haven’t found meaningful employment and there’s no way she gets to use my struggle and despair as an off-shot comment designed to imply that everything is okay.
I’m not just some footnote in the wake of the destruction EC has caused.
Ellora’s Cave hasn’t answered a single one of my emails in the last year—except to tell me to email other addresses. My pleas for them to respond to background checks phone calls or to provide the promised letters of recommendation have gone unanswered. When I tried to contact them, asking for the paperwork for my curiously empty IRA account (an account EC should have been contributing to), all I heard was the crushing sound of disinterest. I hate that I am now on the other side of what the frustrated, frantic authors I helped hurt must have felt. I hate that I’ve had to take temp jobs doing office work in an effort to put food on the table. I hate that I had to borrow money from my dad to keep my car from being repossessed and that my dream of owning my own home before I’m 30 is so far out of reach now.
Not all of this is EC’s fault. I made my own choices and I have to live with them. But the fact that they’ve apparently “won” this entire debacle with Jane Little is wrong. Everything about this situation has been wrong from the start. And I know, I fucking know they’re sitting around their conference table, laughing and celebrating their “victory.” Celebrating the fact that they can continue to rent expensive houses in beautiful cities while the people who had faith in them, who needed them, struggle to scrape together enough spare change to put gas in their cars.
There’s a price to being a sheep and it’s paid out when the wolves throw back their clothing.
I know this post is too little, too late. When I could have been brave, when I could have possibly made a difference, I was too scared to speak up. Too scared to be lumped into the category of the “loud minority.” I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry for the harm I’ve done and the harm that continues to be done.
It might be too late, but I needed to say something, else I be strangled by the words caught in my throat.
This is wrong. Bullies shouldn’t get to win and I am forever #notchilled.
*It goes without saying, but everything posted here is based on my own personal perceptions and what I witnessed during my time working with Jasmine-Jade and after. No one else is responsible for these words, they are mine.