If you’ve kept up with my blog over the past couple of months, you’ve probably noticed I talk about small presses a lot. There’s a reason for this. It’s because I don’t want to see any other authors make the same mistake I did. I signed with a brand new small press and that’s a decision I deeply regret. It’s very hard to admit I made such a foolish mistake. For a long time, I made excuses for my publisher and tried to hide my stupidity. But, it’s time to come clean.
I would like to stress that the experiences I am referring to are my personal experiences. I have lots of theories and I’d love to speculate, but at this point, I have to stick with facts I can back up with saved emails and screen shots from the publisher’s original website.
Okay, now that my disclaimer is out of the way, let me tell you how I signed away my happiness.
My story begins with a manuscript. I peddled the manuscript to several agents, but received very little interest. I posted my query on a blog and a publisher asked to see a partial manuscript. After about three weeks, the publisher asked to see a full, and a few days later, expressed interest in publishing the book. I researched the company before viewing the contract. I just didn’t research enough. They weren’t listed on P&E, but this was because they were too new to have appeared on any watchdog radars.
Mistake #1 – I assumed no news was good news. Since there were no complaints against the publisher, I figured it was safe to plunge ahead.
The company was brand new and had no titles to their credit, but boasted several editors (who were named individually on the website). The company claimed these editors were “professional and freelance editors, and avid readers of the genres with several years of experience.” Everyone has to start somewhere, right? I figured if this brand new company was willing to take a chance on me (a brand new author), then I could do the same and take a chance on them.
Mistake #2 – I assumed the publisher would share my values and work ethic. I assumed their reputation was as important to them as my reputation is to me.
I read the contract. At the time of reading, it seemed to be sound, but there were a couple of clauses I questioned. The clause I was most particularly concerned with was a Right of First Refusal clause. I didn’t want to be tied down to the publisher for future works. I asked the publisher if he could put a time limit on the clause so I wouldn’t have to submit manuscripts to him for the duration of the contract. I was told it wasn’t practical to do so and that they would pass quickly on any manuscripts that were a genre they didn’t publish.
Mistake #3—I didn’t have a lawyer look over the contract. I assumed I was smart enough to negotiate a simple publishing contract. If a publisher is unwilling to negotiate clauses within the contract, they are not the publisher for you.
I signed. Everything was great for a while. We started on edits right away. The first thing that caused a niggling doubt was when the publisher asked me to seek out a graphic artist to work on the book cover. The contract clearly stated book cover services would be provided by the publisher, but the author could commission a cover if they chose. I began to search for a cover, but none of my choices met with the publisher’s approval. It was at this point I discovered there was a fundamental difference in the way we each viewed my book. The publisher viewed the book as a fantasy with some romantic elements. I saw the book as a romance with paranormal elements. Indeed, my original query stated the book was a YA paranormal romance.
Mistake #4 – I assumed the publisher and I were on the same page. I should have asked the publisher about his ideas for cover art, marketing, etc before I signed anything.
The publisher was very attentive at first. Edits were forwarded to me on a regular basis. He had grand plans for the website—author pages, a bookstore, many of the same features you’d expect to see on a typical publisher’s website. He indicated he would takeover commissioning my cover art and I was pleased to hand this over to him. He asked me to send a detailed character description and said he found an artist to work on the cover. He asked me to pen two blurbs—one for soft cover and one for the inside flap for hardcover. Contracts were signed for the rest of the series. He stated his intent to publish the first book in late spring 2012 in hardback, with the second book releasing six months later.
Mistake #5 – I let my ego override common sense. I assumed the publisher was in a rush to sign the other books because my first book was so stinking awesome. I didn’t pause to wait and see how he handled the first book before signing contracts for the other, and with the Right of First Refusal clause hanging over me, I didn’t feel I had any choice but to sign over the remaining books.
And then things weren’t so great. In the New Year (2012), the publisher asked me to resend information I’d sent in October 2011—the character descriptions, bio, and blubs. I kept getting conflicting information about the book cover. In February, he told me the cover artist was working on the cover and would have a mock-up soon. In April, he told me he was waiting on a contract from the cover artist before they could start working on it. The cover wasn’t finalized until July.
Communication was sketchy. Emails were often ignored. If I asked more than one question in an email, he would often answer only one of the questions asked.
The website went for months without being updated even after I questioned it several times. I did not appear on the website until February 2013, and that was only after pointing out his failure to update the site was a breach of contract. I am still not on the author section, but at least my book appears—with the old cover. And, this is only the main site I’m talking about. Technically, my book was published under the YA imprint. The website for this imprint hasn’t been updated since 2011 and looks quite abandoned.
The release date for the book was pushed back to August. And, then pushed to September. And, then finally October. Though the paperback became available in mid-September, the Kindle version wasn’t available until October. The hardback version he mentioned never materialized.
There was—and still is—a typo in my name on the title page of the Kindle version of the book. There were also editing problems. The publisher promised to fix the errors in November, January, February, and in March. I asked again a couple of weeks ago and was told it wouldn’t be fixed until May. Over six months to fix an obvious and embarrassing error!
In January, I received an incorrect accounting statement. When I questioned the exclusion of books sold at my signing, he said those books didn’t count in the totals since they were distributed outside normal sales channels. When I asked him to provide the contract clause that allows him to exclude those sales, I received no response. After I sent a breach of contract letter, the publisher said he would send an updated statement and blamed the oversight on someone else.
The publisher now has a ‘Strongly Not Recommended’ rating on P&E and a thread on Absolute Write due to a problem he had with another author.
As per the Right of First Refusal clause, I submitted a book to the publisher. After a couple of months, I asked about it, but was ignored. Four months later, he finally passed on the project AFTER I withdrew it from consideration. The Right of First Refusal is very vague and undefined. It doesn’t say how long the publisher has to look at a manuscript before he makes a decision. It doesn’t say I have to sign with the publisher either. As a matter of fact, it’s so vague, I’ve been told by a couple of lawyers it’s not enforceable, though the publisher might have a different interpretation and decide to cause trouble for me if I self-publish something he later decides he wants.
I could go on and on. There have been other problems. My complaints could fill a novel.
My greatest mistake: Assuming.
Maybe my greatest mistake was that I assumed too much. I assumed someone who set up shop as a publisher would know something about publishing. I assumed his references to traditional publishing practices and minimum print runs meant he was a traditional publisher, and not reliant upon print-on-demand services. I assumed that since thousands of self-published authors around the world could easily format a Kindle version of a book, that meant several editors with multiple years of experience could do the same. The fact that the Kindle version of my book is still sitting uncorrected suggests otherwise.
Contract clauses should not be open for interpretation. Everything in a contract should be written out down to the last detail. Take nothing for granted. Don’t assume the publisher you’re working with is honest. Don’t assume the publisher will be reasonable. Don’t even assume the publisher will know a single thing about publishing. Don’t assume anything.
So, where am I now? I’m the author of two published books—one of which is unmarketable due to the embarrassing errors the publisher has failed to correct. I have four books in a series that are contracted to a publisher I don’t trust and since I foolishly signed away my rights, those books might never see publication. I’m disillusioned and depressed. I feel like I sold my creativity to the devil. But, it could be worse. I’m not out any money (well except for my new book cover and some bookmarks). Unfortunately, it’s unlikely I’ll ever make money either. The contract is very author-unfriendly, and it’s hard for me to promote a book I’m embarrassed to have my name on–well, my misspelled name, to be precise. I plan to send a termination letter, but whether or not the publisher will choose to do the right thing and acknowledge my termination is another matter. I can’t imagine why a reputable publisher would have any interest in continuing to work with an author who is so obviously unhappy, but I guess we’ll see what happens.
I took a risk by choosing to post this. In America, anyone can threaten legal action for any reason, with or without proof, so it’s possible the publisher could threaten me with legal action for posting this. But, I know truth is on my side. I can only hope this post will help newbie authors who might be tempted to sign with the first publisher who expresses interest in their work. I don’t want to see anyone else sign away their happiness.
Please keep your comments clean. This is not a place for name-calling, threats against any publisher, or unfounded accusations. Feel free to share your personal experiences, but be careful to withhold any information that might land you in court. If you don’t feel comfortable posting on this public forum, please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org