Two weeks ago, a long self-publishing saga finally reached a legal conclusion. It is one, which on and off, since this site began, we have chosen to cover because of its fundamental relevance to authors looking to use various companies offering what I call author solutions services. Frankly, this paid-publishing nightmare for some authors of Diggory Press became a sordid online reality show. We all played our part, me included. I’d like to think I’ve learned something from it beyond the obvious publishing pitfalls. There were very important issues at stake, and in the online quagmire, they were consistently blurred and booted around the debating field.
On November 9th, at Torquay & Newton Abbott County Court in the UK, the final remaining three claimants in the action against Diggory Press gathered to bring closure on events (one of which was Stephen Manning). For some claimants in this case, which originally amounted to seventeen—having grievances over three years—three finally had their proper judicial airing after countless hearings which resulted in cases being referred to different courts and judges.
Many observers over the past couple of years have questioned why the original seventeen shrunk so dramatically over the past 18 months. It is a fair question, and there were those who noted the dwindling number of claimants, and commenced a search for the illusory smoking gun of the witch-hunt. They scoured for evidence of fraudulent and frivolous claims and accusations against Diggory Press, and even more intently, the existence of an orchestrated campaign to discredit what was portrayed as an otherwise reputable company offering author services.
I have looked at some of those cases, and there is no doubt in my mind, that, yes, for some, the tenuous circumstances of legal action was, exactly that, tenuous. For several other cases; the time, stress, and ultimately—for a small claims action—the travel, grief, and court complexity and nuances that is the British UK system, was simply a bridge too far for other claimants. Some did have success and were granted sums of money, thought, often in the small claims court, it is not unusual for a directive payment to take a lengthy amount of time to be paid, if ever. In effect, there is actually no mandatory mechanism in place to administer monetary awards, and ultimately, the onus remains with the successful claimant to employ and pay for the services of bailiffs to recoup any awarded funds. I stress, a small claims court action is not a criminal or civil matter, though, certainly, any awards, judgements, and court records can be cited in future legal cases. There is no ‘take ‘em down and let ‘em have bread ‘n’ water’ in a small claims court.
There were always a great many elements, circumstances and issues in this case, for aggrieved authors, as well as Diggory Press to resolve. What is clear is that issues of terms and conditions arising from a contract of business entered into by author solutions services, never seemed to be covered by current publishing practices, nor fully reflected in consumer laws. There is no watchdog agency or publishers association for such companies. You see, authors who employ paid-publishing services are in a vicious and cyclical bind. The broader circle of publishing refuses to accept and acknowledge paid-publishing as a legitimate endeavour, believing that money flows to the author (YOGS LAW-James D. Macdonald) and not from the author. Anything operating outside of this is considered Vanity Publishing by the industry. Author solutions services believe they are guided only by consumer laws; yet, they eschew their contract and terminology as if they were publishers. Too many observers of the changes in the publishing industry simply want to view all paid-services as the devil incarnate as applied by YOGS LAW. In reality, YOGS LAW is admirable; the basis and starting point all authors should adhere too, but it exists in an industry, which for more than a hundred years, is fundamentally, academic, elitist, backward, and from a bygone age of traditional publishing, when having your book published was something extraordinary, exceptional, and perceived as beyond the common person. The common person has no place in this world—a world filled with giants of academia and creative literary brilliance (tongue firmly in cheek). Dare I say, the common folk, had nothing of value to say, almost no right to be published. If I have learned something about the publishing world over twenty years—it is that it is rife with class snobbery and rank. The lovely Katie Price (Jordan) is no Shakespeare, but in commercial publishing, the bottom dollar will always buy a working girl class. Enough of my rant!
The common landscape of publishing is very different to what is actually perceived. If we look at the extremes of both primary protagonists depicted in the Diggory Press legal case, Rosalind Franklin, a director of Diggory Press, and Stephen Manning—self-publishing service against author—we almost want to see a dynamic of good versus evil, even before it ever begun on the BookandTales forum in 2007.
But it did begin on the BookandTales Forum, certainly for its audience. And an audience is what we all shamefully became. An audience to two protagonists slugging it out with words, passion, moral ground and principles—to a point, at times—like the two warring protagonists; we as an audience had also forgotten how the hell this all started out and what the whole basis for it was. We had to identify with one or the other. Author or publishing service—who the hell are you for? What’s your opinion on this? We jumped in, the aggrieved and the not-so-aggrieved. But at least we were now a part of it. We posted our comments and nailed our colours to the mast. There. It’s done!
All debate eventually, when pushed, becomes divided and partisan. The strongest voices garner two extremes—sympathy and pity, or beckon for leadership and challenge. Stephen Manning became the latter and for a long time I think he was happy and committed to co-ordinate and be seen as the instrument to bring to task and expose Diggory Press for the poor service perpetrated on some of their authors. No matter how gallant, committed and dedicated you are to seeing that a serious of wrongs are put right, you unknowingly assume a perception, status, and position you may not have wished for—maybe, not even truly wanted it. Stephen Manning, unwittingly or deliberately, depending on your stance, became the pied piper. Marching the Diggory Press aggrieved authors up the hill of justice, recompense and fairness. It was admirable, but it came at a huge price. He opened himself to attack from everyone beyond just Rosalind Franklin. There are only so many places, times, and energy Rosalind Franklin can expend and espouse to aliases on the internet, be it blogs, forums or wherever. Like many, I did start to feel Stephen saw Rosalind behind every forum name, sometimes rightly, and sometimes, I believe, quite wrongly.
I inadvertently referred to Stephen Manning above as Stephen, so I think it’s time for some personal disclosure.
[I was a lurker on the BooksandTales Forum through 2007 when much of the Diggory Press case was played out there publically and authors started contacting Stephen in an effort to band together. During early 2008, Stephen Manning began engaging in comments and discussions on my own site and other forums and sites. Throughout 2008, I also began to engage in discussions and comments on online forums of which Stephen Manning participated in; almost always to my recollection as ‘skiman’ (Stephen is a skier and trainer of several outdoor pursuits and sports). By early 2009, Stephen emailed me about once or so a month, some emails were simply updates on the Diggory Press case, a few would have been more informal and friendly emails. In June of 2009, Stephen prompted us to break the ice, so to speak, and jokingly suggested we prove to each other that contrary to some online suggestions—we were not the same person! I spoke to Stephen in June of this year one evening for about an hour and a bit on the phone. We did plan to meet in August or September on I think one or two separate dates, one was a conference Stephen was travelling to in Dublin from Galway, but unfortunately work commitments prevented me making the meeting. In August of this year, Stephen suggested I travel over to Torquay to cover the Diggory case planned for November 9th. This was very much something I let Stephen know I wanted to do. However, in life, shit happens. I went through a difficult relationship breakup and some financial difficulties over September and I felt I was simply not best placed or in the right frame of mind to travel or focus in the way I needed to in November. After all that happened—I think Stephen may have been a little peed off I didn’t go]
While I am on the point of disclosure, I also wish to point out to some who have commented here on this site and elsewhere that I have not given Diggory Press and Rosalind Franklin fair hearing or reply. On four distinct occasions, I have approached the said party for comment on this case. The first, back in late 2008, resulted in a telephone number from a company directory which proved, according to British Telecom, to be out of service, and later, three emails, the last of which was in August of this year. All failed to warrant any response of any kind. I believe the last email focused on the existence of Authors Chance Ltd, now listing former Diggory titles online. I can only sympathise with the authors over the past three years who also tried to wake the dead of Bodmin. With respect, barring travelling over to the south of England myself and knocking on the Diggory door, I cannot perform a miracle and wake the dead who do not want to speak, though, they felt it easy to appear here on this website and many, many others with aliases and espouse and defend the Diggory Press position.
On November 9th, in Torquay and Newton Abbot County Court, the final three Diggory Press cases were dealt with. Of the three, one was dismissed on a technicality, including all counter-claims, on the simple basis that the claimant had issued their action against Diggory Press, rather than Diggory Press Ltd. The Judge felt any judgement was open to being easily overturned and he had to adhere to recognised trading laws. The remaining two cases, as with the other, were dealt with as small claims actions and were awarded in full to the original financial amounts for the claimants against Diggory Press and all linked counter-claims by Diggory Press were also dismissed.
There has been much discussion elsewhere about mediation in this case. Frankly, whatever indications were given by all parties in this case, and the motivations of more than one judge to have the matter resolved in such communications; the entrenched positions on both sides was never going to allow this as a viable outcome. The claimants wanted their day in court and the evidence laid out on the table, and Diggory Press did everything to circumvent, delay and frustrate the natural course justice needs to take. I said some months ago, whatever the outcome, there would be no real winners here. Yes, Stephen Manning and other authors had their vindication. Stephen himself described the victory and vindication of the authors as, ‘a pyrrhic victory’. He is right. This almost became an online audience sport. By late summer, I decided to retract from the debate as best I could.
On the peacebringer7 site in September, Stephen Manning continued to fight the fight online for the remaining Diggory Press authors’ corner. I remember following the commentary, and I think Stephen was actually also on another site doing the same thing. I kept switching back and forward as the counter comments and arguments came in.
“I sincerely wish all who are interested in truth and justice – well. But I don’t think I can offer any more to this debate without repeating myself over-and-over and becoming increasingly frustrated – and thus possibly causing more offence. So let me close by apologising if I have inadvertently caused any such offence.”
At one point Stephen said he had enough and was going. Yet, he came back to rebuff comments, again and again. He said he was blocking emails and left—again, he still came back. I watched and read, until, it simply became excruciatingly painful to watch Stephen continue to post a comment. The debate, like many, simply descended into snide rhetoric and personal attacks. I just wanted to scream at him, GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!
During my conversation with Stephen Manning in June of this year—I suggested that perhaps when he first approached Diggory Press, he was less than familiar with the workings of author solutions services. He agreed—not that it excused the failings of Diggory Press to its authors. But if someone as intelligent, articulate and well-travelled as Stephen Manning can fall victim to an unscrupulous author service, then let it be a salutary lesson to all authors who pursue this form of publishing. Indeed, Stephen learned quickly about the workings and machinations of the paid-publishing industry, not to mention the UK justice system. Stephen began Checkpoint Press as an imprint to publish his own book. He has grown his company over the past three years to offer full author services, including traditional publishing, and a specific service to authors who have become victims of unscrupulous publishers. The lack of publishing standards he fell victim to are now the ones he must ensure Checkpoint Press live up to.
While I am still not convinced we have heard the last of Diggory Press—I think the last words of this article should be Stephen Manning’s words. My own words are simply…Ladies and gentlemen (and of course the curious and the rubberneckers), the show’s over…move along now please.
“Time now to get back to our real lives…”