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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.

 

 

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9 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale: The Conclusion of My Publication Contract

    1. Here there are good publishers and not-so-good publishers. I had a bad experience and am hoping others can learn from it along with me. I don’t want people to give up hope if they think traditional publishing is right for them, just be careful. I think I am going to self publish this manuscript because it offers a lot of great options for this project, but I might look at publishers again for future works and I hope I can go into that wiser than I was last summer.

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  1. I’m just glad you got your rights back; the publisher I signed with, in theory, did release my book, just only if you search for it under his publishing name and who does that? he seems to have gone out of business, however, so I’m risking putting it back out myself; I’ve already done my next one and learned somewhat more about how to market it; at least label it under the right category and saw some advertising by the “powers that be” when I did, so will do this next one the same way and hope he doesn’t have a problem

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  2. I’m so sorry!! I had to terminate my contract with my small house publisher this year. They weren’t following through with their end if the deal. I got my rights back (for 3 books) that I have since self published. I feel better having control. I have self published 2 more books with more on the way. Would I love to have an agent and sign with a big publishing house? Yes! Until then, I write and publish! Good luck to you! You can do it.

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  3. If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to report this company to Preditors and Editors. I rely heavily on their recommendations for or against particular publishers (and agents), and they rely on authors to let them know if their experience was positive or negative or just plain awful like yours. I had a similar experience with my first book, and I vowed never to go down that road again.

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    1. Someone else mentioned doing that, too. I didn’t want to muddy the waters for the company, but you make a good point about others relying on them, and them relying on authors reporting it, so I think I think it is a good idea if I do. Thank you.

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  4. Sadly, my findings with small houses are similar. I’d been initially excited about a publication I’d signed with last June after sixty rejections. Two editorial differences, I hated my cover design (which said nothing about the book, and which also they’d used stock photos bought in bulk), and an all-around unprofessionalism air–one author’s email signature had, in each of the letters LOVE ALWAYS CONQUERS HATE, in bright neon circus colors, I kid you not. I also had to educate my two disastrous assigned editors on syntax, italics, etc.; I’d worked too hard in college and in journalism to accept their changes because I signed a contract. My release date had been postponed several times due to these differences, I was paired with the publisher herself (in a guise to “break” me into submission of her guidelines, I’d reasoned), in a–get this!–“If Miss Carol has to work with you on your MS, she won’t be happy” way. Over time, just tired of the general pettiness permitted on their side, and with the house taking the lion’s share of the profits, I’d get NO help in promotion, they’d keep my e-book rights for 5 yrs., AND any editorial changes made/accepted weren’t mine for a year after the initial e-book release. IOW, if sales for my e-book didn’t make their expectations and if I wanted to go elsewhere with my book in hard copt form, the editorial changes I’d OK’ed on the e-book, STAYED theirs. Yeah … hell no.

    Because this’d been my first contract and I hadn’t hired an attorney–I’ll do that next time if I elect to go with a small press–I knew from experience in getting out of minimum wage jobs I hated I could be a difficult/diva employee I swore I wouldn’t become. I did this not only because the publisher chose editorial guidelines on her whims, even if they were wrong, but my gut, like yours, told me something was amiss. When she declared GONE WITH THE WIND an ancient book, suggested words only familiar with people working and living in NYC be changed to more generic terms in my novel, also suggested certain e-book formatting couldn’t be done (but other houses did it), and she was tired of hearing from how writers wanted things done, I had to act. My story was far too important, and they thought less of me in this sense, to not respect it or me on its merits. I felt abused for simply standing up for my story. Note to self: never go with a house specializing in erotica and looking to branch out because that niche is saturated (and they needed more MSs).

    I was relieved at first to be released. Then I felt like a jerk. My husband told me, after my initial euphoria, something didn’t feel right; a month in, he and my instincts, were right. I felt defeated, rudderless, without aim or course, and really considered hanging this business up. But he said what else would I do (true!)? And why give them something to gloat about?

    So, indie publishing is in my future. Sorry this grow so long, but I had to share. It’s not so much I need to be in control to go the self-publishing route, but that my story has a certain look the covers, my editorial training, and my wallet reflecting my hard work and sacrifices, should reflect this. Thank you for the post and for indulging me.

    Much book sale success,
    ~ Missye

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