By Jean Henry Mead
The last thing a writer worries about when signing a publishing contract is “What if my publisher dies?” It happened to me in late July after I had repeatedly attempted to cancel my contract for nonpayment of royalties. The worst part was watching my book sales increase, knowing that I wasn’t getting paid for them.
My blog partner Ben Small offered advice and the Author’s Guild's legal department wrote the publisher a letter requesting a contract cancellation. The letter was ignored. A month later the publisher died and I have to admit to mixed emotions.
What can a writer do when faced with a defunct publishing company and three orphaned books? Although I notified Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Fictionwise, they were no in a hurry to take my books offline so that I could resell them. So I asked a small press publisher for advice and she helped by notifying people she knew at BN.com and Fictionwise, which promptly took my books down. We then went after Amazon. In the meantime, the publisher's former vice president sent out revisions of rights to all the writers involved, and also notified Amazon of the death of her former boss. Fortunately, the deceased publisher had no living relatives to contest the business closure, or prevent the writers from reselling their books. It could have happened.
Writers know how difficult it is to resell orphaned books, especially in the middle of a series, so I decided to form my own imprint, Medallion Books, and try indie publishing. I'm also running a series at my Mysterious Writers blog to learn how other indie publishers are faring. L.J. Sellers, who made a name for herself in independent publishing, was featured last month, and one of my Murderous Musings blog team members, Susan Santangelo, will appear for a week beginning tomorrow. Both women have done remarkably well and I hope to follow their examples.
I now have six books up at Amazon, a couple on Nook so far, and three in the print process with Create Space. I hope to have another children’s book finished in time for Christmas sales.
I could not have done it alone. My husband does the formatting, while I write and design book covers. He makes it happen. I love the freedom of creating my own books from start to finish, knowing I’ll receive my royalties on time, without sharing them with a publisher. I'm also able to keep track of online sales each day at both Amazon and B&N.
Although I’ve had ten royalty-paying publishers over the years, I don't plan to ever sign another contract. For writers who still do, make sure you’re not signing for the life of the copyright—as one of my proposed publishers expected me to do. Also, be sure there’s a clause that allows you to back out of your contract in the event that royalties are not paid within a specified period of time. And that you have the option to audit the publisher’s books, if and when you have reason to believe that your royalties have been withheld.
It's also a good idea to have a lawyer check your contract before you sign, or become a member of Author’s Guild, which will scrutinize the contract for you. The publishing industry is filled with pot holes that you need to circumvent whenever possible.