On Sarah Lyons and Why I Ended My Relationship With Riptide Publishing

I know the dust hasn’t settled from…god…everything else in MM publishing, but I need to do this now. Both so my life can go back to normal after this last upheaval, and before I lose my nerve. I’m already shredded raw after my involvement in the Santino Hassell debacle, and the way “he” and “his” cohorts hurt me, affected my reputation, and potentially damaged my career. So I need to get this out. I’ve been intending to for a long time, but hesitated for numerous reasons.

I need to not hesitate anymore, because I want my life back. I want things to be calm and normal and ordinary with work and writing and my friends. I want to be past all of these things, these horrible revelations.

That means taking one last big, rather frightening leap.

I’ll get into more detail as we go, but the main point is this:

I ended my relationship with Riptide because the company was at all levels hostile to me as a person of color, and because Sarah Lyons inappropriately shared sexual information that made me unsafe.

But for right now…let’s break down events leading up to termination of my contract for the second book in the SHATTERPROOF universe, UNRAVEL, with Riptide. The contract cancellation was initiated by me, but mutually agreed upon by Riptide.

Beginning in June of 2014, I worked with Sarah Lyons (also known as Sarah Frantz and Sarah Frantz Lyons) on SOMETIMES IT STORMS, my story in the WINTER RAIN charity anthology. During edits, not knowing my identity as a queer man of color from an impoverished background, she lectured me on what she presumed I didn’t know about how students from disadvantaged backgrounds wouldn’t even know university was an option without what she, as a learned academic, told them. I corrected her. She apologized. I gave her the benefit of the doubt as a one-time incident, and moved on. We completed edits.

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During late July and early August of 2015, Sarah Lyons invited me to apply for a job as a Riptide editor. After submitting my editing test, I would not hear back on this for months despite repeated inquiries and ongoing personal and professional emails with Sarah. When she finally answered me after nearly half a year, she told me she did not have enough projects for me. She then tweeted about how happy she was to hire another editor. Sarah’s lack of response created a situation in which she held power over me as an employer with a potential job hanging over my head for months, during a time when my day job was beginning to nosedive and I was desperate for work. The length of time in which she refused to give me a concrete answer prolonged the situation in which I was beholden to her.

In October of 2015 (during the time period in which I was waiting to hear a response back on the job), Sarah Lyons asked me if I had a novella available to fill an open slot Riptide desperately needed to handle. I didn’t, but I offered to write one. Sarah was enthusiastic. This redoubled the power imbalance because now she was both an employer dangling a job over my head and an editor holding a contract over my head.

When I asked Sarah if books centering POC characters were all right when Riptide’s track record included few published characters of color, she informed me that yes, but I couldn’t expect Riptide to put them on the cover. At the time I said nothing because I was afraid of losing both a job and a contract, but I felt gutpunched at being told that people like me were undesirable on covers.

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While I worked on the novella that would eventually become the novel SHATTERPROOF, Sarah began to talk to me about personal matters. I felt I had little choice in the matter of our professional boundaries because, due to the power imbalance, the fear of a lost contract for me as a fledgling, mostly unknown queer POC author, and my hope for a job, I couldn’t run the risk of pushing back.

During the course of this “friendship” I did willingly offer support regarding Sarah’s cancer because I felt it was the right thing to do. I also shared personal details regarding my life and family history in conversations where it felt expected, however I was somewhat uncomfortable but felt trapped in this dynamic at this point. None of the details I shared with Sarah were sexual in nature. Nor did anything I shared invite sexual disclosure.

Many of the details Sarah shared with me via text message were sexual in nature. She repeatedly informed me, uninvited, that she was a sadist, that she was a femdom, how long it had last been since she’d had sexual intercourse with a man, how she fell in love and lust with authors (who, according to her, are all “insane […] high-maintenance egotists” but “totally fucking irresistible”), how many authors she had been in relationships of some sort with. There were implications at one point that some sort of sexual interaction occurred with someone she had over for company. She also rhapsodized over the author known as Santino Hassell, which I found inappropriate from an editor.

I was immensely uncomfortable with the sexual information provided and the implications considering the dynamics of the relationship between editor and prospective author and employer and prospective employee, but the contract and offer of employment were hanging over my head. I do not willingly engage in uninvited sexual discourse with anyone; due to my own personal preferences and my own history of sexual assault trauma, in fact many of these conversations made me feel extremely physically ill. Sarah never sought my consent to be a bystander to her sex life.

Sarah also spoke of her tendency toward extreme emotional reactions, which made me fear what sort of extreme emotional reaction would occur if I asked her to stop.

(Screenshots have been blurred so as not to publicly disclose Sarah’s phone number without consent, and also to protect my private information that I do not feel comfortable sharing publicly.)

When welcoming me as a Riptide author, Sarah also introduced me to over half a dozen people by my real name despite my contract being signed under a pen name and despite me not giving permission for that disclosure. These others were all employees of Riptide, however I sincerely doubt all of them had access to that contract information and would not have known my real name had she not done so.

Once I turned in SHATTERPROOF and edits began, I was assigned to Kate de Groot for detailed edits. Kate de Groot got off on the wrong foot to start with, starting with her choice to greet me in rudimentary Japanese because of my ethnicity and continuing through her snarking on my professional politeness before escalating during the course of edits. She misinterpreted my concerns regarding what I felt was a weak story ending, and criticized a message of support to depression and suicide survivors as a “lengthy apologia” for the book before informing me that I lacked confidence in my story and initiating a series of increasingly aggressive encounters. Many of Kate’s edit notes also ranged from adversarial to insulting to nonsensical, with a healthy dose of racism (such as telling me a Black man’s skin tone would not be discernible in a park well-lit with lamps at night because of the time of starset).

During development of the book blurb, Rachel Haimowitz questioned if it would turn readers off to include mention of my Haitian American hero’s ethnicity in the blurb, while also insulting readers’ intelligence levels. This made me immensely uncomfortable.

During proofreading stages I was allowed to see a note regarding Kate de Groot’s withdrawal of all association with the story. As the author, I should not have been allowed to see that simply as a matter of professional diplomacy. I was upset, and asked Sarah exactly what sort of discussions were being held about me at Riptide that such remarks were being shared where I could see them. Sarah was not privy to the situation, but Kate forwarded our chain of emails. Sarah apologized profusely for Kate’s behavior during edits. I felt obligated to accept the apologies sent via both email and text message due to politics and the position I was in.

Also during proofreading, the proofreader made several insensitive comments such as questioning if a Haitian American of vodou faith was capable of making literary and metaphorical references to Greek mythology, and questioning the “unnecessary” mention of dark skin during intimate scenes. I’m choosing not to name the proofreader because this is one person who, due to their track record in other areas, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt re: benevolent ignorance. Also I feel that for me to name this specific person would be punching down regardless of what occurred in edits.

(Edit note for clarification: After the publication of this post I was contacted by a proofreader whom I was unaware was involved in the project at all after I finalized with the editor/proofreader mentioned above. To be clear, the insensitive comments were made by a copy editor during what I had thought were the final stages of proofing. This proofreader, going by the initial N, and I never had contact and they were in no way insensitive or discriminatory regarding the manuscript. The person mentioned above who made the insensitive comments goes by the initials AW.)

Over the course of this time period and beyond, Sarah Lyons repeatedly came to me for unpaid sensitivity consulting. I consulted with her on how to manage Amy Lane’s behavior and edits when correcting the “Dark Chocolate Monkey of Love” incident, as well as other consultations on queer identity and use of the n-word in a story. These took place both before she answered me regarding the job, and after; she did not offer payment at the time of consultation in any of these instances. Again, the power imbalance made me feel uncomfortable with refusing, as I felt I had to be part of the team as a Riptide author.

The publication of SHATTERPROOF was lackluster and marred by mishaps. Because I had had past successes in marketing my independent books using paid list services, I crafted a plan to recover SHATTERPROOF from a weak launch. I contacted Sarah Lyons to ask if Riptide would be willing to cooperate with me on timing, pricing, and possibly RTing and promoting some newsletter-exclusive content. I believe I presented this question in a professional, positive manner, offering to do my part to pull the weight of promoting the book while shouldering all expenses associated with my plan.

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Sarah replied as if I had unreasonable expectations of the book’s performance because it “had a lot of strikes against it”, and made offensive comments citing the problem of a cover with a Black man on it plus a book discussing mental health/suicide. I said I declined to respond because my response would be lengthy and angry. Sarah invited me to be honest. I replied with a lengthy email detailing the problems with Riptide’s approach regarding POC books, their ignorance and lack of reader trust in POC markets where books with POC on covers thrive quite well, their lack of steps taken toward cultivating a more diverse audience and hiring more diverse staff.

I also asked her why she stated work volume was the reason she did not hire me when she had hired another editor at the same time. She claimed she had hired the other editor before telling me. I pointed out that the time periods regarding that claim did not match up and I had emails to prove it, she admitted that was true with “yes emails exist” and admitted that she lied to me and the real reason she did not hire me was because she felt I over-edited on the editing test. I was not upset about not meeting the qualifications for the job. I was upset about being strung along with no response for months despite direct inquiries, and then lied to. I would have respected an honest and direct answer in a timely fashion that removed the power Sarah held over me as a prospective employer.

Later, I referred to the unpaid sensitivity consulting in a public tweet responding to another author’s discussion of publishers taking advantage of sensitivity readers and consultants. I did not name Riptide in this discussion. However, Sarah Lyons saw this and emailed me, claiming that she thought I consulted for her out of friendship. She offered me $20 for all incidents in which I consulted for her. I refused, as by that point I found the amount offered insulting after she had lied to me regarding the job she had offered, but clearly valued my expertise; simply not enough to pay me a decent amount for it either as a consultant or as an editor. Sarah expressed confusion that what she did was in any way offensive simply because I chose to turn the other cheek and at the time felt trapped into providing my services for free.

Communications descended into mostly radio silence. I missed my deadline for UNRAVEL even though I was trying. Sarah emailed me under the assumption that I had not turned in UNRAVEL due to our conflicts. I informed her that I was dealing with health issues but still attempting to write the book, but required more time. She agreed.

I fully intended to write the book out of a sense of professional obligation, but I could not when my experience working with Riptide and Sarah Lyons was marred by the moral and ethical issues I detailed above. In February of 2018 I conceded defeat, and emailed Riptide—Sarah specifically—to withdraw the contract. We came to a mutual agreement, and that is the end of my relationship with Riptide. At some point I will write and self-publish UNRAVEL, when I’ve had the chance to remove the negative associations lingering from this experience.

That’s not the end of my story with Sarah.

Over the past week, multiple people—primarily authors—have contacted me regarding their own accounts of Sarah Lyons’ abuse and inappropriate behavior, stating relief that they were not alone when they’ve doubted themselves for so long, offering their support and belief for my experiences as well. They told me things that destroyed my heart. Their experiences ranged from similar to mine—in which Sarah Lyons crossed professional boundaries with unwanted sexual information that made them feel uncomfortable, powerless, and harassed—to scenarios that involved unwanted and uninvited touching, Sarah backing them into physical spaces they could not escape, inappropriate contact, leading questions regarding their BDSM orientation, sexual coercion.

All of these stories shared one common denominator other than Sarah.

Every last one of them asked me not to quote them directly, because they were terrified either the situation or their writing style would identify them to Sarah and incite retaliation.

I cannot violate their confidence. I cannot make them feel unsafe. I can, however, make a safe space for people to anonymously share their experiences. The comments here are open to anyone who feels they have been victimized by Sarah Lyons’ behavior. You can use a fake name and fake email to comment, and no one will be able to tell who you are; not even me. (If you are logged into any WP-affiliated site you may need to click “logout” above the comments box; also do not use your real email if you wish to remain anonymous,  or Gravatar will show your associated icon and profile no matter what name you use.) Share only as much or as little as you wish, removing any identifying information; if you fear your writing style betraying you, do your best to alter it.

The nature of our industry can make many feel that intrusive and unwanted sexual behavior is par for the course for our profession. It’s not. This is still a job, and everyone has a right to have their sexual boundaries respected at work or in private without uninvited information or advances that become not just unwanted, but coercion and assault when power dynamics come into play.

If you wish to speak out, now’s your chance.

I’m listening.

ETA: Apologies to have to retract “I’m listening,” but there are a few too many people in the comment moderation queue abusing this to send death threats and demands for me to kill myself, followed by screaming because they seem to think my personal blog is a democracy and they get a vote on whether or not I post their abuse. Comments are now closed.

38 thoughts on “On Sarah Lyons and Why I Ended My Relationship With Riptide Publishing

  1. Wow. I am so so so sorry that you went through this. Sending you warm thoughts and support. <3

  2. Geez!

    Don’t know what to say. This is – unfortunately – not atypical of too many women. They want to make professional acquaintances their “bosom buddies”, and give out way TMI.

    You sounded as though you handled this as professionally as was possible. I do hope your future writing/editing is less filled with drama, deception, and chaos.

    1. Please tell me you’re not trying to say that women tend to be inappropriate and unprofessional in the workplace.

      1. Jeez! Because some white folks are white supremacists, are you saying all are? Because some politicians have affairs, are you saying all are…? Grow up. It’s not about you or women in general. It’s about Sarah Lyons.

  3. So soon you went through this. She once came to my hotel room past midnight, stayed until 3am, and made me very uncomfortable with her behaviour and the intimate details she shared.

    1. Figured there’d be someone like you.

      My comments aren’t visible because they contain personal information about my family members and my mental health that I’m not willing to disclose publicly. If there comes a point where they need to be shared in court, I will gladly, but they’re not relevant to this in any way and I am not further violating my own privacy atop the additional violations enacted by Sarah and Riptide. In emails I also blurred out irrelevant information to focus on the offensive comments. It’s clarity, not conspiracy.

      1. I had heard about this issue and read all written here. For a culture that has “evolved” this incident is beyond tragic and I am sorry this happened.

  4. I’m so sorry that your experience with this individual was as unsavory as it was, both personally and professionally. I can relate to her lack of response, since I, too, took the editing test and never heard back from her (two months and counting). Now, I can’t help but wonder if it had something to do with the fact that I’m not Caucasian.

    Thank you for speaking out and making your voice heard. I’ve been discovering many painful truths today as a reader, but I hope that you continue to sharing your gift with everyone because it is appreciated and admired.

  5. Unacceptable behaviour, in any situation, but as someone who should be leading by example, it is despicable. Even in its telling you have been respectful of those involved in the whole disgusting episode, and I commend your strength and bravery in sharing your experience.

  6. This is beyond disheartening. Thank you for sharing. I’m a reader, and I cannot comprehend how this publisher behaves. What the editor and others said and did is wrong. It’s unacceptable and I hope they face consequences for thier actions. Best of luck to you!

  7. I’m sorry this happened to you. Thank you for speaking up. RP was on my list to submit to. For once, my procrastination actually pays off.

  8. I waited almost a year just to get a rejection from Riptide. Looks like it was a blessing in disguise.

  9. I am incredibly sorry that you have gone thrhiugh this situation. It is completely unprofessional & unfair. No one should have to endure this type of behavior from anyone. It’s, quite frankly, disgusting. When you feel that you are clear enough of this situation to complete Unravel, I am a huge promoter of Indie authors. I’ll be more than happy to read & review on my blog, or just promote the release for you, if you’re not looking for reviewers. Anything that I can do to help, just let me know!

  10. I’m sorry this has happened to you. I could tell you some stories of my own regarding Riptide’s publisher, Rachel Haimowitz.

    Suffice it to say, the kind of behavior you experienced is rampant there, and comes straight from the top.

  11. After reading Noah’s story and his abuse by Alicia Torres (aka Santino Hassell), and now your horrible experience with Riptide Publishing, I feel devastated for you and other authors and editors with similar experiences, and for so many others whose stories we’ll probably never hear. I’m a retired tech writer, I’m not a person of color, I’m no one special, but if you ever need caring ear….you have mine.

  12. You should never have been subjected to any of that! I’m really sorry you had to experience the entire situation, but thank you for sharing!

  13. Everything I’ve heard about Riptide in the past few years has made me incredibly glad they turned down my book.

    I’ll never submit work to them again.

  14. Thank you for speaking up, and sharing your story of sick abuse from one in a position of power. May it help other writers recognize warning signs in their professional writing relationships, and in making choices about publishers to approach. I wish you healing and strength, and offer my respect.

  15. I had an uncomfortable conversation with Lyon’s at a conference a few years ago. She spoke about her sex life, and being a femdom. The entire time, I wanted to run and hide.

    I’m so sorry you went through this, Xan. I can’t even begin to imagine the toll this must’ve had on you, and others at Riptide. I believe you, and I stand with you. Thank you for coming forward, and for giving courage to others to do the same.

  16. I simply heard about this whole fracas from a friend, and was curious about it. I came here via my investigation, and I’m horrified by what you went through. I’m deeply sorry about everything, and hope you can deal with things without too much pain. I’m sure like most authors, writing is a refuge, and to have it tied together with trauma is probably gutting. It’s criminal for someone to push their agenda on you, and to harass you with their unwanted personal details.
    Here’s to an overabundance of success in the self-publishing world – or – be picked up by a publisher that appreciates your talent and drive!

  17. I’ve got some neurodivergent issues that make it difficult for me to recognize appropriate boundaries at time, so admittedly a lot of my interactions with Sarah during my time with Riptide sort of went right over my head, but upon thinking about them in light of reading all this, they do seem to cross the line. Ugh.

  18. I am so sorry you had to go through something so horrible. I honestly can’t even begin to fathom it. And thank you for speaking out. I’m just honestly wondering, with all that’s happened in the past week or so, (I just caught up with the whole hullabaloo on Saturday) is there no one who will be pressing charges? Is online fraud not a crime? I can’t believe the couple behind Santino Hassell (I forget their names) won’t be held accountable for their actions.

  19. This is incredibly horrible and I’m so sorry this happened. Just reading her texts gave me the shudders – I can’t imagine how she ever thought that kind of behavior was okay in any way. I hope that this will soon be in the past and you can get on with your life and publish Unravel. Best wishes and thank you for sharing this.

  20. I’m glad you got out, and I’m sorry this has happened. When it comes to a POC cover model, though, I need to share some data. I had written a number of MM under a pen name that was doing well. Then I wrote a POC MC, put him on the cover… and the book has barely covered the cost of the cover. (I am sorry… but that’s what happened.) So I complained to a POC writer who writes biracial romance, both MM and het, and she wrote, I paraphrase from memory, “Yeah you can’t do that and can’t refer to race in the keywords until you’re done with the first flush of sales – you are addressing two different audiences. First make it look white, make your money, then change cover and key words and do what you really wanted to do.” I was kind of relieved it wasn’t just me. The book is well reviewed. OTOH, I feel bad that our readers would be so choosy about the melanin content in someone’s skin. That’s pretty backward.

    1. P.S. I am sharing this experience only to reaffirm that the bias is real. Upon reflection, maybe I didn’t phrase it really well. Question is, what now? I think the answer is to unapologetically keep publishing titles with POC characters until people get used to diversity that represents real life, and ethnic background becomes a non-issue. BTW this has been a problem for a NYT best-seller, Kristine Rusch, whose NY publisher refused to publish a YA urban fantasy because the MC was an African-American girl. Kris Rusch ended up publishing it through WMG. and the series is doing well (She wrote about this on her business blog http://kriswrites.com/2015/08/18/tiffany-tumbles-into-print/). Nothing will change until publishers grow some spine in this matter. I am sorry if I have stirred things up by sharing this… yeah, this is one of those difficult issues, and maybe this wasn’t a really good time to do that.

  21. This is a horrific shit-show by the company and I’m grateful to read all of this.

    As an author, the idea of having my POC characters ignored or looked down upon or hidden simply because someone assumes they won’t sell would infuriate me to no end.

    As a publisher, the idea that another publisher would say POC characters on the cover don’t sell is insane.

    Overall, these are extremely unprofessional people and I’m sorry you endured that. All of it.

  22. I signed a contract for three books with Riotide and mine is about to come out. If I’d known this was happening, I would likely have gone about the decision differently. I am so so upset, because that isn’t the sort of behavior I want to be associated with as an author. I’m happy the company dismissed her and have set some measures in place, but obviously I am exceptionally cautious. Xen, I am so sorry this all happened to you and I really do thank you for coming forward.

    God this is awful. I’m sick to my stomach.

  23. Oh, my God. I had no clue Riptide was that bad. I’m so sorry you (and anyone else in your position) ever had to go through any of it. I say that as a fellow author AND as an editor.

  24. Adding my name here for my support and to applaud you for your bravery. I’ve heard about Riptide and some of their questionable practices for years, including Lyons’ actions. ((HUGS))

  25. I am in shock and a huge hug and support to you. Wishing you a lot of positivity and happiness after this awful experience with Riptide.

  26. I, too, am a Riptide author. I did think it was strange that they wouldn’t really darken the skin tone, like I asked, on my cover (one MC is Hispanic). Now I see. I’m so sorry you went through all that. I’ll definitely think hard before submitting to them again. Best of luck to you with your writing.

  27. Because I am old, and a mom, and have privilege, I simply thought the weird unprofessional behavior on the part of our shared editor was personal to me. That I didn’t fit in, that I wasn’t good enough, hip enough, cool enough. That I didn’t write well enough. But no. Unprofessional behavior and abuse are categorically what you experienced, and seeing this post was a terrible shock. I experienced the EXACT same things, and interpreted them differently. I am so very sorry if what happened made you feel half as fucked up as I felt while it was going on. I’m terribly impressed and heartened that someone so young had the ability to see what I totally missed.

  28. Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry you went through this mess! I don’t even have words! Sending hugs and love your way. This type of thing should NEVER happen. EVER. EVER EVER EVER.

  29. I witnessed firsthand Sarah Lyons’ unprofessional and lewd behavior at events, while Riptide and Rachel Haimowitz championed her as one of the most respected names in the industry. People trusted her and she did not keep their secrets- perhaps that was one of many abuses of power she enjoyed. She is a bully and her conduct is disturbing.

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