Published Apr 4. 2018 - 2 months ago
Updated or edited Apr 16. 2018

Caught between a book and a hard place

I was involuntarily involved in a disagreement between two authors and their publisher, and have now placed myself in a tight spot

A while back I received a press announcement from a book publisher. This happens ever so often when new fishing or fly tying books come out. Publishers want press coverage of course, and the Global FlyFisher is a good place to get contact with potential buyers.
Since the site has no news section as such, I usually don't do much with these press releases. Sometimes I blog about them provided they are interesting enough. Sometimes just I take note of the product or book if it has my interest.
And this one had.
The book announced was a book on steelhead flies, entitled "Tying Steelhead Flies with Style". It was written by Dec Hogan and Marty Howard, of which I already knew Dec Hogan from his many activities around steelhead fishing and two hand casting. Marty Howard was a new name to me, but he was presented as a "master steelhead fly tier and traditional cane-rod builder", a good enough CV for me.
The book was announced as "Dec Hogan’s encore to his classic, A Passion for Steelhead", and sounded sufficiently interesting to have me make a mental note of looking further into it once it was on the streets.
I had already had a few whiffs of the book through social media. Messages from both Dec Hogan and Marty's daughter late 2017 indicated a certain anticipation from the authors.

The Hogan/Howard book
The Hogan/Howard book
Wild River Press
Liana Howard Sorenson, December 28, 2017 (shared by Dec)

My dad (Marty Howard) and uncle (Dec Hogan) wrote a book! This thing is gonna be gorgeous!!

Dec Hogan, December 28, 2017

It's coming...
[and the picture of the book]

I was definitely going to look into this once it was out in March 2018.

I thought no more of it until said press release arrived late February and my memory was rekindled. I checked out the Wild River Press web site, and liked what I saw: a large and richly illustrated book with really good looking flies tied by people who definitely knew both how to tie and how to take pictures.
The price was a little harrowing: 100 US$, but I have bought books at such prices before, and immediately added it to my wish list.

But something odd happened online. During the same days in late February and early March, a message from Dec Hogan started to spread in the various fly tying and fly fishing communities online.

Dec Hogan, February 27, 2018

PLEASE READ. SO SORRY. Wild River Press announced today the release of our book and is now accepting pre orders. Marty and I dropped Wild River Press at the end of 2017 because we were not able to come to an agreeable business arrangement. I can't even say what the finished book looks like, because we never completed the project. Please do not order the book. I do not even know if the book actually exists. It's a very sad day for both Marty and I. All we want to do is to provide the fly fishing community with fun fly tying instruction. I am sure there is a lesson to be learned, but I can say straight up, this is painful. So please spread this. I don't want to see anyone get taken.
PLEASE SHARE THIS!

Dec's message was shared more than 100 times, and probably as many times indirectly as shares of shares. I personally jumped on the bandwagon, and posted this on Facebook:

Myself, March 1, 2018

The book actually had me seriously tempted, but I have definitely backed off after having read this.
With a price of 100 US$ you'd think that a reasonable deal with the authors would be possible.
I'm amazed that the publisher can legally publish the book after Dec and Marty have broken the connection, but there must be some kind of contract backdoor that let's them continue.
Sad story.
Dec: consider doing a crowd funded self published version of the book if you have access to the material.
I'd be one happy supporter!

Dec's message stirred quite a lot of commotion, and as it is online, also spawned some pretty unpleasant attacks on the publisher, as it's often the case when emotional posts like this are shared.
Most, like my own reaction, were based on that one side of the story. The one posted by Dec.
I became virtual friends with Marty Howard on Facebook in early March and could also see his reaction to the book. Like Dec's, not positive.
Dec dropped a note on the Global FlyFisher's Facebook page, not realizing that we were already in contact:

March 6, 2018

Hello, Dec Hogan here. If Wild River Press asks you to review their latest book, Tying Steelhead Flies With Style please DO NOT review it. Please. It was published behind my back after a disagreement and without a signed contract. The book is very incomplete and sloppily and hastily assembled. I can be reached at [contact info removed] if you have any questions. Please respond so I know you have seen this.
Thank you
Dec Hogan

The fire on the social media continued and only slowly died out.
About one week later, I received an email from Thomas Pero, the person at Wild River Press who had handled the book. I have been in touch with Tom before in connection with reviews of some of the many excellent books Wild River Press publishes.

He wrote

Dear Martin: I had every intention of staying silent in hopes that all this nonsense would quickly blow over—that the pitchforks and torches would move onto something new and shiny. No such luck. Regrettably, the mob has set the fetid social media swamp on fire. I guess "Fake News" has now arrived in, of all places, our benign world of fly fishing. It's no wonder the fish are doomed. Truly astonishing. No need to do anything with my report, but I thought you deserved to know the full story. All the best, Tom

Attached to the mail was a long – like really long – account of the whole story seen from Tom's seat. Needless to say that it told a different story. Long as it was, 22 pages actually, I did read it to the end. As I already said: it outlined a story, which didn't seem quite as unfair towards the authors as their own postings had indicated. The whole write-up can be found online here.

I replied

What a story!
...
Thanks for sharing your perspective on this whole mess.

Tom's write-up did account in detail for most of the communication between the publisher and the authors, and revealed an increasing level of misunderstandings and disagreement between the parties, which I will not elaborate here. Hard pressed by a production plan and a publishing date as well as people tied up in delivering work and material for the book, Pero tried to bring things together. It still ended as the above posts indicate: a break between the two.
But in spite of that, the book was still published. Of course, I almost have to say. Having been in publishing for most of my life, I know the mechanisms. You don't just just break contracts with layouters, web designers, printers, distributors – or authors for that matter. Once the train is in motion, it's not a thing that just stops. Especially not when the publishing date is close.
Contracts have been signed. In this case too. Also with the authors, who will get paid as agreed when the book is sold.
So Wild River Press published the book.

And it's gorgeous!

During my mail exchange with Tom Pero, I told him how I usually try to stay as neutral in these conflicts, and try not to be biased or choose side. Sure, I had posted online and howled with the rest of the wolves, but still, I tried to hold my tongue, and just express sympathy with a couple of authors who felt unfairly treated.
During the same mail exchange, Pero also offered to send me a complimentary copy of the book. Now, I'm not one who turns down a book, so I said thank you. There were no strings attached to the offer: no expectation of writing about it, no expectation of a review, no expectation of writing something like this.

The book soon arrived. Thanks to Danish customs control, and the fee and VAT added to anything of value that enters the country, I had to shell out 65 US$ to get it. Still that's way less than 100 US$ for the book plus postage to have it sent over.
So the book is now on my desk.
And it's gorgeous!

I was asked by Dec Hogan not to review it, and I'm probably not going to do a detailed review. But I have to say that it's a pity that the authors are fighting to keep people from buying this book, because it really is an excellent book. It's nowhere near "very incomplete and sloppily and hastily assembled" as Hogan described it, but seems well worked through and beautifully produced.
It's huge: 8.5 by 11 inches (Letter format) and 379 pages, spiral bound so it lies flat when open. Illustrations are are large and beautiful, and the tying is exquisite. Hogan and Howard know what they are talking about, and convey their favorite patterns in the best possible way.

So here I am...
I can't really recommend it because I kinda promised the authors not to. On the other hand there's no denying that it's a beautiful book that would make many a steelhead fly tyer happy.
Sigh...

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