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Arkansas Book Publisher TouchPoint Press Goes Silent, Leaves Contracts UnfulfilledLock Icon

8 min read

Editor’s Note: A correction has been made to this article. See the end of the article for details.

The collapse of a Craighead County book publisher that left dozens of authors and editors without royalties for more than a year has triggered an attorney general’s inquiry and a summary court judgment in favor of one fed-up author.

The narrative is also a cautionary tale for businesses lacking contingency plans for a leader’s illness, incapacitation or disappearance.

TouchPoint Press of Brookland, which stopped paying most of its contract workers and authors last year, has not fulfilled its contractual obligations, and writers and the company’s own editors say they were unable to reach owner and Publisher Sheri Williams for months.

One author says he’s owed between $5,000 and $10,000 in unpaid royalties by TouchPoint Press, known as TPP.

TouchPoint “has for almost a year been reneging on obligations to authors” it has under contract, said author S.M. Stevens, who published her first book successfully with TouchPoint but had to find another publisher for her second after Williams stopped responding. “Their actions have escalated to the point of what seems like fraud,” Stevens said.

Arkansas Business failed in multiple attempts to reach Williams, who was said to have health issues before going silent. “Join the club,” Stevens said. “Everybody in the world is trying to reach Sheri.”

Several authors said they received word last week that Williams was planning to return to work part time today, Nov. 6, but she did not respond to renewed phone messages Tuesday and Wednesday, before Arkansas Business went to press.

A dozen associate editors, a cover designer and an illustrator are still listed on TouchPoint’s website touchpointpress.com, but several moved on to other projects after their checks stopped arriving.

Meanwhile, books like “The Prisoner of Paradise” by Rob Samborn, “Agave Blues” by Ruthie Marlenee and “Once in a Lifetime” by Suzanne Mattaboni are continuing to sell as paperbacks, audiobooks and e-books on Amazon and elsewhere, but the authors aren’t receiving their royalties for those formats still published by TouchPoint or through it. Samborn estimated that he is owed between $5,000 and $10,000.

Book outlets continue to pay Williams, several authors noted, and she has not delegated payment authority to any other employee.

“My novel launched in March of 2022, and I haven’t been paid a cent in royalties — nothing,” Mattaboni said in an email. “I’ve been sent royalty statements from three quarters, and have far exceeded the minimum payment threshold, but no payments.”

She said she received one phone call from Williams in February, promising to address the problems, but Williams “went on to do nothing … .”

Marlenee also said she never received a royalty payment after her book came out in January 2022.

No Backup Plan

Once seemingly a model of modern publishing relying on remote employees, 10-year-old TouchPoint foundered after Williams vanished from communication. Authors heard secondhand reports of COVID infections and other health problems. When Williams went incommunicado, even the Arkansas attorney general’s office, which has received a dozen complaints, couldn’t reach her. And some authors noted previous patterns of problems before any reports of illness.

Kimberly Coghlan, who was senior editor, acquisitions, told Arkansas Business that Williams was a personable boss with great publishing experience, and for most of Coghlan’s nearly 10-year association with TPP, it had a “very good reputation in publishing as a small press.” But when Williams vanished, Coghlan was caught in the middle, anguished for the authors but powerless to help them.

She and her associate editors had no access to financial accounts and no authority to write letters converting copyright authority back to authors, she said. Coughlan lost touch with Williams and could reach her only through a sister, she said.

“She was in the hospital for a long time, and she didn’t make a contingency plan for other people to do things,” Coghlan said. “She did so much herself, and when she wasn’t able to work, everything just kind of went to a standstill.”

She said that as the only TPP editor still in touch with authors, “It’s been horrible.” When authors call, she said, she doesn’t know what to tell them. “Legally, I can’t go in and access the financials to pay them.”

Summary Judgment

Williams did not answer a lawsuit filed by author Dara Lavan in June in Craighead County Circuit Court, and Judge Pam Honeycutt issued a default judgment on July 27 releasing Lavan from her publishing agreement and restoring her rights. The judgment said Lavan would seek a separate hearing on damages, costs and attorney’s fees.

Several authors said their relations with TPP started deteriorating in the fall of 2021. Phone calls and emails went unanswered, galley proofs and cover designs arrived late, and pre-launch promotions short-circuited. By late 2022, royalty statements all but ceased and payments ran late.

Only one author said he had received a royalty payment this year.

Samborn was able to terminate his agreement with TouchPoint after publishing two books, but he said the publisher owes him thousands of dollars in royalties from print, digital and audiobook sales. He is still owed royalties dating back to the third quarter of last year for two of his books, as well as audiobook royalties still held by TouchPoint, he said.

Mattaboni’s contract calls for quarterly royalty statements, but she hasn’t received one since the second quarter of 2022, she said.

“Meanwhile,” Samborn said, “Mrs. Williams continues to receive payments from all the retailers for all books by TPP authors.

“These retailers (such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, audiobook platforms, etc.) pay monthly,” he said.

TouchPoint’s website says it’s “a traditional royalty paying publisher of fiction and nonfiction,” (see sidebar) and describes Williams as owner and publisher and a 25-year publishing veteran.

Editors Unpaid

Coghlan, the senior TPP editor, said she and the associate editors haven’t been receiving their pay either.

“When I first started working there, TouchPoint had a great reputation in the publishing community, as far as small presses went,” Coghlan said. “There were times when royalties were late, but it would be, you know, a week or two, and you trusted that it was coming.”

Since TouchPoint stopped paying, Coghlan has focused on her own business, Coghlan Professional Writing Services, in Mississippi. “Just like the authors, the other editors and I are waiting to be paid for books that are already out.”

An associate editor, Jennifer Haskin, told Arkansas Business that she is still technically employed by TPP, though Williams has not answered her emails, texts or calls since the start of the year. She said she was frustrated. “I am owed an amount that is substantial for me.”

Editors are paid 10% of sales for the books they edit, Haskin said. But many of the books she worked on were never published, and others were by authors who reclaimed their rights. “I will never be paid for the work I did for them,” she said. “I edited nearly 80 books between 2019 and 2022 and won’t be paid back for any of them.”

Samborn pointed out that with its website still operational, “It is my sincere hope that no other unwitting authors sign” with TouchPoint. “TPP never issued 1099s to any authors, which is required by law.”

TouchPoint Press is not listed as a company with the Arkansas secretary of state’s office, and several authors said complaints to Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin’s office led to an inquiry but so far no action against Williams.

Griffin gave a statement to Arkansas Business on Tuesday: “My office has received 12 complaints about TouchPoint Press since August,” Griffin said. “To date, the company has not responded to our certified correspondence regarding these complaints. My office is continuing to investigate TouchPoint and its owner Sheri Williams.”

Stevens, who published her novel “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades” with TouchPoint but had to take her second book to another publisher, summed up the authors’ frustration.

“The business is clearly failing, but no steps are being taken to ease out of it or go bankrupt,” Stevens said. “She [Williams] represents many authors and their books, and everything is in limbo. People want their back royalties, but most importantly, authors are looking forward to being released from their obligation to TouchPoint. These books are also stuck in limbo, including ones that were on the cusp of this madness.”

Marlenee, the award-winning author of “Agave Blues,” which TouchPoint published in January 2022, told Arkansas Business she never expects to see any royalty payments.

“I’ve moved on, and I just finished another novel,” she said. “So my hope is just to get my rights back to this book. And perhaps start all over again.”

How Books Are Published: An Author’s Primer

To publish a book, author S.M. Stevens says, first you’ve got to write one, of course.

After finishing her novel “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades,” she then had to pitch it to a publisher. She found what she thought was a good one in Brookland, a small town just outside Jonesboro, and was delighted when her book came out and started to sell.

Now she is one of dozens of TouchPoint Press authors whose royalty payments have stopped coming from TPP’s owner and publisher, Sheri Williams.

Stevens, a longtime ghostwriter and communications professional, explained the process of getting a book deal with publishers big or small.

Writers “query” or pitch their works to a publisher, who then accepts it, rejects it or asks for revisions. Publishing with the major houses usually requires querying and obtaining a literary agent first; the agent then queries the publishers.

“Once a contract is signed there’s a LOT of waiting — months if not more than a year, depending on the publisher’s backlog,” she said in an email. The publisher assigns the book to an editor to polish the manuscript, and artists design a cover. The publisher delivers a galley proof, which looks like the inside of a paperback or hardback, and may promote the book before it launches.

Then the book is published in one or several formats.

Small presses like TouchPoint don’t pay advances to authors as the big houses do, but “they do often pay respectable royalties,” Stevens said. “That way, they can print on demand and everyone makes money when books sell, but there is minimal upfront financial risk.”

There are few traditional royalty-paying publishers in Arkansas, including the University of Arkansas Press, New Leaf Press in Green Forest and Ozark Mountain Publishing in Huntsville. Unlike vanity publishers, who aren’t generally well regarded by authors, traditional publishers don’t require payment from authors. At vanity presses, anyone can pay to have a book published, usually in small press runs for the writer’s friends, family and associates.

“TPP like most small presses charged authors nothing for the editing or the cover design, etc.,” Stevens said. “Different small presses provide varying levels of promotional support; TPP was weak in this area and relied on the authors to do it all.”

Stevens also mentioned self-publishing, in which authors handle all aspects of producing and publishing their work, “using services like those from Amazon.” Expenses are minimal because print houses print on demand, Stevens said. “The author is 100% responsible for all promotion but also gets royalties after print costs are covered.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously attributed quotations from author Rob Samborn to another author, Suzanne Mattaboni. The article has been corrected.

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