The publishing horror story I’m about to share is old. In fact, it happened a little over six years ago, way back in 2014. And I’m sure you’re wondering — Why? It was so long ago. Aren’t you over this yet? The short answer is yes. I’m most definitely over it, but the lessons I learned from this fiasco will never grow old, and if I can spare even one other author from making my mistakes, then I’m going to be telling this story on my deathbed.
HOW IT STARTED…
Back in 2013, I started querying a young adult contemporary romance, and let me tell you, I LOVED this book. It was a planned trilogy, so I wanted to find a solid home for it, a place where I could publish all three books. As I did back in those days, I went to Duotrope and began searching for publishers–after having exhausted my agent list–and I submitted to quite a few places. I’d received an offer from a small publisher, and one look at their contract had me running for the hills. Even back then, I knew that place was trouble. (Turned out my instincts were right, because they closed their doors a few years later amidst a lot of controversy.) So, I continued my querying journey and was offered an R&R — a revise and resubmit — from a different small publisher.
Now, this publisher was brand new. I’m talking they hadn’t even released their first book yet, but I like their revisions notes, so I made the changes and sent it back. Within a few weeks, I had an offer. Naturally, I went into research mode. Because they were so new, it was hard to gather much info, but what I did get was wholly positive. The few authors they had signed had good things to say, and the editor I’d been communicating with was super excited about my book. Their business and marketing plan seemed solid, the staff appeared to have prior experience, and there was a lot of potential for growth. And so I signed on the dotted line 🙂
IT’S ALL RAINBOWS & SUNSHINE UNTIL IT’S NOT…
At first, things were so great. I loved my editor, I had a wonderful publicist working with me, and I adored my cover art! My fellows authors were amazing. I have never, to this day, been with a publisher where all the authors just meshed so well. It was like we’d been handpicked based on our personalities alone, like the owner knew we’d all get along. But more about that later…
And then things started to go wrong.
The first book released via this publisher was a wonderful adult contemporary romance, and was the publisher’s top seller. Then, slowly, more books released. And then more. Eventually, books were being released faster and faster, with very little time between acquisitions and release date. Edits were being rushed, and the release schedule was filling so fast, I couldn’t get my second book released until almost 18 months out, which for the big traditional publishers is more than normal. But for a small, start-up publisher? That’s a red flag.
With more and more books being rushed, edits started to suffer, and so did the overall quality. For example, my book ended up being released with edits STILL IN THE BOOK. Yup, you read that right. People who purchased my book were able to see editor comments. Talk about mortifying! And I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only author this happened to, unfortunately.
During the course of all this, communication with staff became less and less prompt. Now, let me be clear that I do NOT blame the staff directly for this. They can’t answer questions they themselves don’t have answers to, nor can they force the owner to answer in a timely manner.
Ever the optimistic bunch–and not wanting to admit there might be bigger issues–we chalked all of this up to growing pains.
THEN THINGS WENT FROM BAD TO FLAMING DUMPSTER FIRE…
Right around the time the very first round of royalty payments were due, the owner was away on a dream vacation to Paris. No biggie, right? We were all excited for her, and the payments were made, so no big deal, right? Wrong! The first few payments either didn’t show up, or they bounced. Then, slowly, payments stopped all together. And not just author royalties, but staff payments, too. In fact, a majority of the staff never received a single payment for any of the work completed.
Despite repeated emails, the owner either didn’t respond or gave one excuse after another–often in the form of major personal / life emergencies, deaths, etc. Was any of that true? I don’t know. I have my doubts.
Staff became frustrated and disgruntled–and who could blame them? They began to leave in droves.
Naturally, the authors began to talk and compare stories, and there was no more denying it–out publisher was sinking faster than the Titanic, and we were going down with the ship.
Finally, after a majority of the staff left and authors began requesting rights back, the owner announced she was selling the company. She gave us the name of the new owner, and as new professional sleuths, we took to the internet to learn more about the man who held our books and careers in his hands. Only to find out, he didn’t seem to exist! When I say we couldn’t find anything about this guy, I’m not exaggerating. All we found was an inactive Facebook profile for a man by the same name who had never once worked in publishing in any capacity.
A few short weeks later, it was announced that the new owner was closing the company and reverting all rights. To this day, no one has been paid what was owed. The original owner seems to have disappeared from the internet, and to my knowledge, no one has heard from her since.
If you’d like to read a more in-depth accounting of events, check out the feature Victoria Strauss wrote on the Writer Beware blog: https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-short-life-and-strange-death-of.html
LEARNING FROM MY MISTAKES…
So, why am I sharing this story? Because I learned a lifetime of lessons from my short time at this publisher. First and foremost, do NOT ever ignore your gut instincts. While I didn’t have any bad feelings when I first signed, I started to have them, and I ignored them. If I hadn’t, maybe I could’ve jumped ship much sooner and not taken such a loss.
Secondly, always do your research! While I did as much due diligence as I could with the information available to me at the time, I can’t help but wonder if I could’ve done more. Maybe I should’ve asked different questions. Who knows, but don’t ever be afraid to dig deep and ask the uncomfortable questions. This is your book and your career — no one is going to advocate for you as hard as you will for yourself.
A SILVER LINING…
I’ve been asked quite a bit if I knew then what I know now if I’d do things differently, and my answer will always be no. Was it sucky situation? Absolutely! But it gave me an education in publishers, publishing contracts, and business that no formal education could have ever taught me. I also developed friendships that I never would’ve found otherwise. Several of the authors I’d met have become close friends and CPs–these are women I talk to daily and about personal stuff–I’ve even met a few of them in person. The editor who’d originally been so excited about my book? Yeah, she’s now my boss at a different publisher, and I consider her one of my closest friends.
So, no, I wouldn’t do things differently, because if I did, I wouldn’t have met these women, and I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.
WHERE DID I GO FROM THERE?
After the implosion of this publisher, it took me a while to bounce back. I questioned everything I did, every decision I made, and I was super hesitant to sign with another small press after this ordeal. So, I recommitted to finding an agent, and I did! I wrote an adult romantic suspense that went out on sub…. and didn’t sell 😦 So then I wrote a contemporary new adult romance that did sell, but that didn’t end so well. (That’s an entirely different story for a different post.) Between that, and this fiasco, I’d decided I was done with traditional publishing for a while.
Instead, I embarked on a journey to self-publish. I spent a couple years learning the ropes, watching other successful authors, researching market trends, etc., and just this year, I released my first book via my own self-publishing company. Eternal Curse (The Cursed Series, Book 1) is a young adult paranormal romance; my personal homage to Twilight and The Vampire Diaries–two of my all-time favorites.
To learn more about this book and others, please visit my website: https://www.karaleighmillerauthor.com/books.html
To those of you still with me, thanks for reading my rambling, and I hope y’all will take something away from this post. If anyone ever finds themselves in a similar situation and needs someone to talk to who’s been through it, don’t be afraid to reach out to me. My own situation has made me a very vocal advocate for authors in these circumstances.