Exclusive: Brenda M. Hampton Speaks Out
It has been said writing is a business. While that may be true, there are cases when business doesn’t go smoothly, especially in the case of payments. For a month now there is a growing (but quiet) conflict between Urban Literature publisher Black Pearl Books and its authors who accuse the company for withholding royalties owned them. Let me just say this topic is nothing new nor is this an indictment of Black Pearl. This is however, a chance for one well known best selling author who contributed to the company to speak her mind about this very heated issue. Authors N Focus welcomes a response from Black Pearl Books for their side of the story. For the time being, Brenda M. Hampton, an Essence Magazine Best Selling Author, shares her discontentment with Black Pearl Books.
Charles: Brenda, thank you for agreeing to this interview. For the past few weeks there seems to be a conflict between Black Pearl Books and its authors who claim the company has been denying them royalties. What led you to believe that BPB wasn’t paying you on time if at all?
Brenda: Charles, let me start by saying that this conflict has been going on since June 2006. When my royalties didn’t come in the mail, I suspected something was wrong. Actually, I suspected something before June 2006 because the President, Felicia Hurst, seemed a bit out of character. Meaning, she’d been ignoring emails and phone calls from her authors, and if she did reply, her comments were short and she failed to address the concerns in the emails pertaining to: book signings, book releases, future submissions, etc.
Charles: Did the company send a notice to you by email? Snail mail? What has been their response as far as the delayed checks?
Brenda: In mid June, through a phone call I received, and an explanation I’d previously heard before, was the reports from a major book store chain were not available. When I asked if I could receive royalties for my other sales, I was told that as soon as ALL of the reports came in, my royalties would be mailed to me. A few weeks had passed, and a trusted source, which will remain anonymous, informed many of Black Pearl Books authors that through contacting the chain directly, they were told no such reports existed. At that time, Felicia Hurst was confronted and her story changed. My last communication with her was on July 3, 2006, and she informed me of some type of conspiracy against Black Pearl Books. Basically, she said that there were many individuals out to defame Black Pearl Books, and once the “issue” was resolved, which would be soon, then she’d mail royalty checks. She also mentioned that she’d obtained assistance from well-known African American leaders and that much of this information was confidential.
Charles: Brenda, one look at your website, (brendamhampton.com) shows the covers of your BPB books crossed out and alternative covers are displayed. Why did you choose to show the BPB covers with the X instead of just showing the alternative covers?
Brenda: Charles, my reason for displaying the BPB covers with an X is because I am showing individuals the BPB covers I do not want them to support. If individuals see only the new covers, some may assume that I’ve released a new book. There is a sequel to Naughty by Nature, and I want my readers to be clear that the new cover is only a revision and not the sequel. In the past, I’d had major issues when Black Pearl Books changed the cover and title to the exact same book and my readers were furious. This time around, I don’t want any confusion and I’m basically saying…these are the previous covers, and here are the new ones.
Charles: Also on your site you mention two names associated with Black Pearl Books. What was your reason for ‘going there’ in calling them out?
Brenda: I can only say, why not call them out? The founders of Black Pearl Books, Felicia Hurst and Winston Chapman, have betrayed many of their authors. They should be held accountable, and if they feel as if they’re operating a reputable and righteous company, then why crawl under a rock and hide out? On a daily/weekly basis, BPB are contacted by their authors, pleading for royalty payments and demanding some type of response. The only responses we’ve gotten are letters that have attacked and threatened us for speaking of this matter and they often refer to us as being “weak minded” for walking away from BPB. If that hasn’t insulted me enough, implying that we’re “victims” of other’s agenda certainly is. No doubt, we are victims, but only victims to the pain they’ve inflicted upon us. Never, ever have these letters offered a solution to the problem, offered an apology, or made mention of our seriously delayed royalty payments. So, yes, I have to call them out by names. I don’t want anyone else to get burned, and if an aspiring writer is contacted by this company, I at least want them to know whom and what they’re dealing with.
Charles: I noticed on your site there are other authors mentioned. However, someone may say ‘well you’re the only one talking about this.’ Have any of the other BPB authors spoken out about this issue and from what you can tell, what steps have they taken to inform the public?
Brenda: The individuals who feel as if I’m the only one talking about this haven’t done much research on the Internet. I have a huge base of readers, and therefore, my voice has appeared to make the much noise. However, through posting reviews on Amazon, many of us have asked our readers not to support our titles. Some of us have informed readers through our websites and on message boards, and there are press releases circulating on many popular websites too. I often speak to the other authors, and for awhile, our tactics had been to keep this issue low-key and give BPB an opportunity to settle. As of September 1st, and due to no legitimate response from our publisher, we don’t expect for there to be any type of resolution. You will notice more authors speaking out, but please know that our attorneys have asked us to be careful in our approach, be factual and be prepared for BPB to possibly respond.
Charles: I understand this conflict has been going on for about a month and not much has been said about it. Why do you think that is?
Brenda: Charles, I think you’d be surprised to know that this happens more often than you think. For whatever reason, many writers feel as if they’re exempt and nothing like this could ever happen to them. And, for the ones that it has happened to, they don’t want others to know they’ve been “burned.” Yes, it’s a shameful thing, and it says we made a bad choice, we didn’t do our homework, and we failed to get an attorney’s advice. All of which I had done, but nothing prepared me for the “master plan” that BPB had in place. As shameful as it may be, I personally feel the need to talk about this issue. However, many authors don’t. When we first realized we’d been duped, many BPB authors, and myself, had agreed to immediately contact the media. We did so, and not one person responded! It seems as if it’s not news worthy to discuss a company who robs their authors of royalties. Maybe, to some, it’s not, but the only way to stop this from happening over and over again is to put it out there. Let’s face it…this issue didn’t start with Black Pearl Books. And, with all of the new publishers sprouting up, it won’t end there either. No matter how bad the situation may be, we have to first take responsibility for our own mistakes through choosing these kinds of publishers, and then, be willing to discuss it with others so that they won’t make the same mistakes. Since this incident, I’ve received numerous emails that secretly imply…“I’m not alone in this matter”, or they’ll say, “I’m going through the exact same thing with my publisher,” yet, there’s nothing being said or done. For me, personally, my writing means a lot to me. It is my passion and I will not stand back and let anyone take advantage of my hard work.
Charles: Brenda, let me play Devil’s Advocate for minute and take the view from the other side. Why are you complaining so much about a missed check? Since you run a business yourself, don’t you know that BPB is a business and sometimes there are delays and there will be times your check won’t come when you expect it?
Brenda: Charles, I wholeheartedly agree. Through emails and phone calls, I’ve pleaded with Black Pearl Books for a resolution. I’ve said, and I quote, “if you are unable to pay, make some kind of arrangements with me. I understand that sometimes things happen, but please, just let me know what I can do to help settle this awful situation.” For nearly one month and a half, no response was provided. That was until I sought legal representation, and that’s when the threatening letters started. At this point, it’s not about receiving a check. It’s about the principle of this matter and how BPB has unprofessionally conducted itself. Through it all, I’ve been very patient, and BPB has had every opportunity to contact their authors and tell us if they’re experiencing financial difficulties. Instead, they’ve taken a cowardly approach, which has caused everyone a bunch of head and heartaches.
Charles: What do you say about to those individuals who feel that because you’re speaking out against Black Pearl Books that it’s bad for ‘our’ people? Shouldn’t you just keep quiet about this and let things be?
Brenda: Bottom line, having a Black owned business does not give the owner(s) the right to run a cut-throat business. Nor does it imply that just because you’re Black, people of your race have to support. Through my experiences, in order to call myself a successful Black business woman, I’ve had to work harder, go over and beyond for my clients, and always, conduct myself with extreme professionalism. Black Pearl Books failed to do those things, and in doing so, they failed their authors. Whether Black, White, or owned by any other race, if a company conducts themselves in such a negative way, people should know about it.
Charles: Brenda, what have your fans said about your decision to revise Slick and Naughty By Nature?
Brenda: Since there have been so many gripes about ALL of Black Pearl Books covers, and one website in particular nominated them for having the worst covers in the business, to say the least, my readers are pleased to see new covers. I am too, as it certainly gives me a feeling of having a fresh new start.
Charles: Let me ask you this. You’re a best-selling author yet you have a conflict with your company. It’s not supposed to happen this way, right?
Brenda: Charles, I wish it were that simple, but it’s not. Being a best-selling author is a nice title to have, but when you’re not getting paid for having such a reputation, it can be rather hurtful. I’m saddened that it’s come to this, and I truly hoped for a long-lasting relationship with Black Pearl Books. However, when the “real” president of Black Pearl Books showed her true colors by attacking me for demanding what is rightfully mine, I was shocked and knew this relationship had to cease.
Charles: Is this the last we’ll see of Brenda Hampton writing books under Black Pearl?
Brenda: I can sum that question up quickly…ABSOLUTELY YES! Currently, they are infringing on my copyrights. They have no shame for continuing to sell my work and pocketing the money for themselves.
Charles: In closing Brenda, what would you like to say to the new and beginning authors out there who haven’t faced this issue before? What would you like to say to the other BPB authors and your fans?
Brenda: Pertaining to my readers and BPB authors, I’ve confidentially addressed them through email about my concerns and about what the future holds for Brenda Hampton. I’ve ask that they not be saddened for me because this situation has only opened the door for bigger and brighter things to come. As for beginning authors and those who haven’t faced this issue before, please do not consider yourself exempt. There are so many scams in the publishing business, and scammers have the ability to make a deal sound extremely good. Before you know it, your dreams can come crashing down, but always have a back-up plan if this happens to you. Knowing the publishing industry is a plus, and learning how to self-publish your work is even a bigger plus. Certainly, you have to educate yourself on the process, but remember, having knowledge means having power.
Charles: Brenda, thank you again for this interview. I wish it could have been under more pleasant circumstances but I do wish you continued success.
Brenda: Charles, I thank you for giving me this opportunity and I am grateful to you for allowing my voice to be heard. I am open to any comments, suggestions or concerns that anyone has, including a possible reply from Black Pearl Books. Always, much love to you as well and I wish you all the best with your literary endeavors.