|WinePress Publishing closes amid accusations, author complaints|
|Written by Natalie Gillespie|
|Thursday, 13 February 2014 08:26 AM America/New_York|
Company co-founder establishes new subsidy publisher Redemption Press
WinePress Publishing announced its closure in January amid numerous author complaints, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, the death of its editorial director and accusations of cult activity. On the heels of the announcement, WinePress co-founder and former owner Athena Dean has launched a new subsidy-publishing venture, Redemption Press, with plans to move the new company as of April 1 into the Enumclaw, Wash., office space formerly occupied by WinePress.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the winding down of operations at WinePress Publishing,” the now-defunct company’s website states, giving its authors until Jan. 31 to request shipment of books from the WinePress warehouse and directing them first to Amazon’s CreateSpace to republish, then to Sisters, Ore.-based publisher Deep River Books for assistance. Dean told Christian Retailing she hopes Redemption Press also can become a home for former WinePress authors now left in limbo.
“I can’t believe it’s come full circle,” Dean said. “My former husband, Chuck, and I started WinePress from our home. Now I’m back in Washington working from a house in the self-publishing business again.”
The Deans helped pioneer self-publishing in the Christian industry when they opened WinePress in 1991, but in the last few years, the company ran into trouble when executives began pointing fingers at each other, raising accusations of fraud, theft and misappropriation of funds, and leaving authors wondering where their money went and if they would ever see their books in print.
“A number of WinePress authors started calling Deep River stating that no one was answering the WinePress phones and asking if we knew anything,” said CEO and Publisher Bill Carmichael of Deep River Books. “One of the authors was able to email [former WinePress Senior Project Manager] Mike Owens and let him know I wanted to help. He emailed me back and said there were roughly 250 authors in progress and that WinePress was releasing all of their authors from their contracts and giving them back their files.”
Carmichael said Owens indicated he had been laid off when the company closed, but was volunteering his time to make sure authors got their files and books from the warehouse. At press time, a link on the WinePress homepage directed authors to an evaluation form that Deep River is using to figure out the status of each book project.
“We are not in any way affiliated with WinePress,” Carmichael said. “I just feel terrible for those authors. We basically want to assess what they need and try to help them at our cost, so that we can get their books into print as inexpensively as we can.”
Athena and Chuck Dean started WinePress to give authors an alternative to traditional, royalty-based publishing contracts. In 1998, the Deans published a controversial book by Timothy Williams titled Hating for Jesus and became close friends with Williams and his family, who relocated to Enumclaw and became pastor of a church called Sound Doctrine (SD). Many SD members lived together in Enumclaw homes and worked at WinePress.
In 2006, Christian Retailing reported that Athena Dean had sold WinePress to Williams, but the deal was then called off. Dean and SD members, including the Williams family, continued to work together, but trouble was brewing. In 2010, Dean sold the company to the church for $10.
From there, the relationship between the Williams family, SD and Dean continued to deteriorate, with SD eventually launching a pair of websites (HardTruth.SDoctrine
In November 2012, the WinePress story took another turn when Malcolm Fraser, WinePress development officer and SD assistant pastor, was charged with the rape of a child. Timothy Williams, SD’s former senior pastor, has stated repeatedly that the whole case was a setup, and Fraser continues to declare his innocence. Convicted last May, Fraser is appealing his 20-year sentence. Sound Doctrine also operated the Salt Shaker Christian Bookstore, which closed after the verdict.
In January 2013, Carla Williams, WinePress editorial director and Timothy’s wife, was diagnosed with brain cancer, an illness she and her husband believed was directly caused by the stress of the trial and the alleged lies against the SD church. A familiar face at the WinePress booth at industry shows such as the International Christian Retail Show, Carla died last September.
“Doctors have made it perfectly clear that none of my past health issues contributed to this sudden, rapid brain tumor, but that stress has brought it on,” Carla Williams said in a February 2013 post at her website, TheSpiritualMom.com.
Well-known literary agent Chip MacGregor got pulled into the WinePress fray when he posted a Facebook comment about Athena Dean’s website, and the SD attorney responded with a cease-and-desist letter threatening prosecution. On Jan. 28, MacGregor posted at ChipMacGregor.com: “I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my years in Christian publishing, but never anything like The Winepress Follies.”
While WinePress’ closing statement points to “lies and deceit” as the reasons for the company’s demise, debt also contributed. Mike Reynolds, Enumclaw city attorney and former landlord for WinePress, told Christian Retailing that the publisher owes him $280,000. He obtained a judgment against WinePress and took back the office space the company occupied.
On MacGregor’s site and a number of author sites and blogs, WinePress authors are expressing their frustration and concern about signing contracts and paying Winepress for services they will not receive. The Better Business Bureau also lists several complaints by authors stating they could not get in contact with anyone from the company.
Christian Retailing made several attempts to reach Timothy Williams about the closing and received a voicemail reply that stated: “If you’re interested in talking about Athena Dean, her hate crime and her lies and go from there, I’m very interested. However, if it’s merely just to give her a platform to reiterate more lies, it wouldn’t do me any good to answer at that point because it’s not going to benefit anybody.”
When asked about the WinePress closing’s effect on the Christian retail landscape, veteran retailer Chuck Wallington, owner of Christian Supply in Spartanburg, S.C., said that there are now so many custom houses that authors will still have plenty of opportunities to self-publish.
“With the landscape of self-publishing changing so rapidly, while it’s sad to see a major player exit, there are still a lot of very viable options available to authors,” Wallington said.
Dean hopes Redemption Press will be one of those options and has put together a publishing team that includes public relations veteran Michele Tennesen and former WinePress employees Karla Cochran and Kevin Cochran.
“Self-publishing packages often include a bunch of services that you pay for whether you need all these things or not,” Dean said. “Basically almost everyone does it because we know Christians will pay money to get their message out. I have a hard time with that and don’t think its right. Redemption Press (Redemption-Press.com) will sell everything a la carte, and I hope we can help WinePress authors at cost. I just had one author tell me it was going to cost her $2,500 to finish her book, when I know we can do it for $391. We want to help authors get and keep their books in print.”