The Nameless Horror

Trestle Press/Helping Hands Press/Michael Brachelli and so on

Those of you with longish memories might remember serial art thief and batshit crazy contract abuser Trestle Press and its unlikely-monikered owner “Giovanni Gelati”, otherwise known in real life as Michael Brachelli. The story ended with him apparently facing a lawsuit from one of his authors and folding the operation, at least temporarily, so he could focus on Amish novels (whose writers presumably either missed the shitstorm or didn’t think badly of him afterwards) under the name Helping Hands Press. Not, of course, to be confused with the other Helping Hands Press, founded in 1986 and still going. (Also note his classy use of a .org domain, traditionally for not-for-profits rather than actual businesses.)

Author Anne McDonald emailed me earlier this year asking if I’d heard any more of the story and what had become of the lawsuit. I hadn’t, but she was digging into it. Now (she posted in a comment on the last Trestle piece I wrote, but it deserves lifting out on its own) she’s found out exactly what happened, and you should go and read the whole thing over on her blog - the details are many and varied.

(Edit to add: and here’s Luis Vera’s quick rundown. Luis was the one who broke the cover art theft practice in the first place.)

So not only are the original Helping Hands Press understandably miffed that he’s using their business name, “Gelati” also failed to defend the suit - in fact, failed to respond at all - and has been landed with $750,000 in damages plus costs, as well as the author getting their rights back.

Not just a villain, but an incompetent one.

  • Do you think self-publishing has been a good or a bad thing for the market and its readers?

With a couple of caveats, a good thing. More choice, by and large, is always good, and it’s nice that work that would maybe have been rejected by traditional publishing not because it’s bad but because it doesn’t fit an obvious commercial niche has an outlet. There’s some very good self-published work out there which would never have found an audience a few years ago, and having an audience allows its writers to write more. Which is undoubtedly cool.

The first caveat is that, in the early gold rush days at least, there was a mindset amongst some self-publishers that it wasn’t important to polish your work, or worry about improving your writing over time; you could get it finished and put it out there and ‘the market will decide’. That’s obviously a poor attitude to have to your own work in any case, but moreover it led to a glut of unremitting shite being dumped on would-be readers. That was definitely not a good thing for readers, was poor for the reputation of self-publishing as a whole, and I suspect (your mileage may vary here) the tarring-everyone-with-the-same-brush rep self-publishers gained for lack of editing, poor technical standard of writing etc. probably made the us vs. them, self vs. traditional pissing matches that developed worse. Quality self-published writers felt they needed to fight their corner because otherwise perfectly pleasant people made the assumption that their work must be lousy because otherwise why self-publish? That attitude has diminished, I think, now; I’ve certainly not seen anyone advise a fling-shit-at-the-wall-and-some-will-stick approach for a good while. Self-publishing has become much more professional and focused on quality. But we could maybe have avoided a lot of unnecessary arguments back then…

That and a whole lot more, largely about 3NJ, some about self-publishing, a small amount on Jesus’s sandwich provision, on the inestimable Ben Galley’s Shelf Help.


Very busy with a book and a magazine. (Freelancey job thing, the latter, not anything terribly exciting unless discussion of maritime sulphur emissions rocks your socks.) Consequently, all rather quiet here. By way of an ‘I aten’t ded’ message, here’s a shot of one of nature’s most elusive and busiest targets taken this morning.

3NJ stats: thoughts

Some quick(ish) deeper noodlings on the first month stats for 3NJ I posted earlier today:

  • The tail-off in visitor numbers is expected (and entirely normal for this sort of venture). Launch day traffic was far, far higher than I’d expected. The downside to launching with next to no content on board already was that people were mostly checking out the concept. (The upside was that no one’s been coerced into contributing and I’ve not had to go touting for content; I hate cold-asking people.) It might have been better to have more authors on board pre-launch in order to retain readership rather than the ‘IF I BUILD IT THEY WILL COME’ totally haphazard launch approach (Suw, the weekend before it went live: “What’ll the launch strategy be?” / Me: “If nothing’s broken or missing come Monday I’ll write an announcement and post it to Twitter. Then we’re live.”). OTOH, there’d be no guarantee it would’ve worked even if I had wanted to do it, which I didn’t, and to be frank it’s not like I can complain about the numbers. I linked to the announcement twice, as did Steve and Suw. And that was it. The rest was from people, whole viral chains of them, sharing it because they liked it, and that’s cool. Next month will be the thing, seeing how it goes.

  • 500 submissions in a month out of nothing is awesome. As is the fact that dealing with them hasn’t been terribly taxing. Most people seem to have no trouble with the formatting instructions and all I have to do is skim and hit ‘go’.

  • That said, I wish I had a notification system for problem subs. It’s on a to-do, though I suspect I can’t do it without hacking WP in a way that’s probably beyond me.

  • Outbound link tracking is also to-do. That’s very annoying.

  • I’ve emailed… ooh… half a dozen publishers, maybe a couple more. Directly for the smaller ones, to PR for a couple of larger ones. I’m genuinely surprised not to have had any response at all (not even “Never contact us again, you maniac.”). My experience of publisher publicity in the past has been that if there’s a tool - a free one at that - that writers can use to gain audience, you jump on it. Wrong department? Wrong approach? I dunno. There are plenty of others I can try as I get the time.

  • Getting regular readership seems to be the thing that’ll make or break 3NJ in the long run. Content, so far at least, it seems good for, which is cool.