I worked for Commonwealth Publications for over a year starting in June of 1995. I answered an ad for "Jr. Editors" and I was hired the day after my interview.
I worked for a few months doing first draft editing on manuscripts. General punctuation, spelling and such. I worked in an office with three other 'Jr. Editors'. A few months later, I was promoted to Senior editor, and given a raise. At this point I saw no forshadowing of what was to become of this small publisher. I truly believe that Don Phelan had honest intentions. When I met him, he was proud of his little company. He wasn't making a lot of money, but it was growing steadily. I saw books being printed. Covers being done, and had some occasional contact with authors.
After about six months, the company moved, and it was then that I started to learn what was really happening. I knew that another company that we were associated with, Canadian Literary Associates, was losing their administrator, and I was approached and asked if I wanted the job. It would mean another raise in pay, and relief from the monotonous duties of scrolling through manuscripts on a disc all day. I accepted.
Once we were settled into the new building, with 10 times the room, and a huge warehouse, I began to take notice of how things were being handled. I had known for some time that Anthem Marketing, and Canadian Literary Associates were affiliated with Commonwealth Publications. But it wasn't until we moved that I realized that they were in fact founded by Don himself and CLA was registered under his wife's name.
The purpose of Canadian Literary Associates was to bring revenue to CP. Authors would send us manuscripts, and our "Literary Agent" would reply, and eventually send out a contract. Very few were refused. We would keep the manuscript in the back, quite often it was not even read except to get a brief outline of the story in order to have something to write to the author about. After a few months, we were required to send a letter to the author saying that we had submitted their manuscript to a number of publishers without success. We had photocopies of rejection letters on the publisher's letterhead that we would include along with the letter saying we would keep trying.
After an acceptable amount of time, CP would ask for any manuscript that had been in our possession for a while and send them out a contract, (quite often STILL never having looked at the manuscript). If it was accepted, the manuscript would wait, and then get put into editorial. (once the full fee was paid of course).
Now just a side note on that. Most people hired to edit books had little or no education or qualifications to do so. Quite often the people hired were just out of high school and willing to work for minimum wage.
I literally worked 10 feet from Commonwealth Publication's staff. We had our phones managed by the same receptionist, and I'm suprised no one ever noticed. My cheques were issued by Commonwealth Publications.
Once a month, the company would purchase names from mailing lists, and we would all get together and send out 2000 or more flyers to authors. This would bring in a string of new manuscripts.
More and more authors began signing contracts, and as they came in, the contracts were filed, cheques were taken out and cashed, and the authors' manuscripts were tucked in the warehouse in the back. I did see books get published. There were happy authors. I suspect that there were fewer and fewer as time went on. I would get phone calls constantly asking CLA to contact the publisher (CP) and ask about their book. When I did ask I was told to tell them it was in production or in editorial or whatever. In most cases I knew the manuscript hadn't even been opened.
The office bills didn't get paid. We got bills from the photcopier company, the computer company, anywhere we had bills, we got calls from. Yet Don was picking 'associates' up in limos at the airport, and taking long 'executive dinners' with his secretary and Ken, and anyone else that was in his good books that week.
I liked working in the publishing industry. And when I began I really thought I was going to be working for a legitimate business. I didn't want to lie to authors, and I didn't want to be a part of a company that would do what they were doing to their authors. I was never so happy to quit a job in my life.
A few years later, I was approached by the Canadian program THE FIFTH ESTATE about going on camera to tell my story. I declined, but I did do an interview and provided any information I thought would be helpful. Three of my co-workers did decide to do the show, and I am proud of them for that.
I would be happy to answer any questions. My intention is not to badmouth Don Phelan. I just know how I feel about my work, and I don't want to see anyone get sucked in to a contract with a publisher who will not honor it. I also wish to say that if I in any way, contributed to, or caused any pain while working for Commonwealth or CLA, I apologize.
I hope this helps anyone who had questions about the way that things were run.