A Cautionary Tale: The Conclusion of My Publication Contract

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Nine months ago, I wrote a post about my unconventional journey to a publishing contract. Almost exactly a year from the time the publisher first contacted me, I received an email terminating that contract. I would say that I was blindsided except for a gut feeling I’d developed a few weeks prior to the email.

I used to think the hardest part was finishing a manuscript, but everyone who has done that knows to offer a patronizing nod because things only get tougher. Then it seemed the hardest–and perhaps impossible–part would be signing a publishing contract. Once that was done, I felt like I’d made it. It was all very exciting for a while, but somewhere along the last nine months, it got less and less exciting. The last few months I had to force my enthusiasm as I hoped for the best–and that best case scenario would be that I would have an edited book with a publisher’s name attached so that more bookstores would be willing to carry it. That was it. In hindsight it is just depressing to think about how so much excitement and enthusiasm turned into that.

I am a little hesitant about small presses right now. I have talked to people who are operating them much differently than the company I experienced, but I think with this project the flexibility and control of self-publishing is most appealing. Should I look for small presses again in the future, I definitely think there are some things I have learned from this experience and hope others will find helpful, too.

When I was offered the contract, the first thing I did was hire an IP lawyer to go over it with me. Publishers have contracts written with their interest in mind, it’s always a good idea to have a knowledgeable person looking out for your interest too. I learned a lot going over the contract with the lawyer, but I will always hire someone for contracts again. At the time, my biggest concern was protecting my rights (which he did) and while that is still important to me, I have more things to keep in mind now.

When I first signed, I was the fifth author for the company, the third, I think, to have a completed manuscript. Despite having a work that was ready for an editor to begin with, the company signed more authors and put them ahead of me for editing and release. I had my release date moved several times while new people were signed and juggled around. By the fourth time my release date was pushed back (with no one yet looking at my manuscript) I began losing confidence in the company and their process. In the future I plan to get more details on the timeline of signing, editing, and release.

I will also find out how many authors they have signed and how many books they have out. This company was new, and I was signed before the release of their first book. Now, though, they have terminated at least twice as many authors as they have released books for. Half of the books they have released, they have terminated shortly after. I understand it’s more common for smaller companies terminate books that aren’t selling, but this is important because it speaks to their ability to choose books that sell and market the books they do release. It’s also worth noting that the majority of authors this company terminated were not released, and that brings up the question of how they are choosing the books they sign. In the future I will insist on understanding the process they go through to accept books.

When I started looking into marketing because a small publisher is only going to be able to do so much, I expected the marketing to be about 50/50, I was disappointed to find out how little effective marketing they were doing. Authors need to be pretty well versed in marketing no matter how they publish, it’s one of those things that we’re all going to have to constantly learn and adjust to with the latest trends. I am going to make sure future publishers are also keeping up with those trends, implementing them, and able to show success for their efforts. I don’t mind doing half the marketing, but a publisher should be doing something for me, too.

I was able to choose my own cover artist for my book with this company, but they did get the final say–which is to be expected. Their in house artist was not to my tastes for cover art, and most of the feedback I personally heard was similar to my opinion. A book that was dropped by the company has sold much better with a new cover–however much we like to say not to judge a book by it’s cover, I know I do, and so do a lot of readers. Cover art is important so it’s important to make sure the publisher and I are on the same page with what we’re looking for.

Having your publishing contract terminated is not something most authors want to start the day with, but being signed to a company that is not the right fit for you is worse. I didn’t realize how bad it was until after having my rights returned, I felt relieved and excited instead of devastated. There are so many things to consider when looking for the right publisher for your manuscript, but finding a company that you can stay excited about working with is important, that energy will help your book be a success.