Friday, September 2, 2011

When Your Publisher Dies and Orphans Your Book(s)

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.

10 comments:

Mark W. Danielson said...

All good advice, Jean. Every writer has at least one grim publishing story. Too bad more don't share them.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Mark. It was a real nightmare for a while.

Jaden Terrell said...

Jean, how awful. I'm glad your new publishing venture is off to such a great start.

I'd be interested to know how you finally got Amazon to take your book down. Mine's been unavailable for awhile to make room for the new edition in January, but even though my previous publisher (Night Shadows) and I have both asked, they just won't do it. I'd be happy if they'd just add a link directing people to the new book.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I know how frustrating it is, Beth. I was advised to keep after Amazon until they grew tired of my complaints. Maybe Shane will write a nasty gram to them for you.

Bill Kirton said...

Nightmarish, indeed, Jean. But congrats on the way you responded to the challenge.
It's clear that lots of us have had that Amazon experience. I'm still plugging away at them because I have new editions of The Darkness and The Figurehead out with a new publisher. Amazon's story is that other sellers on their site still have copies of the previous editions for sale. They do say, though, that any searches for the titles are directed to the new edition.
But your strategy of wearing them down through your persistence is the right one. I did that when they posted the wrong cover for the original edition of The Darkness. I made myself a bloody nuisance and, eventually, I was passed on to a REAL individual and she dealt with it instantly and very effectively. Good luck with the new venture.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Bill.

Susan Santangelo said...

It's a whole new world in publishing these days, Jean. Your indie venture will succeed, I just know it!

Susan Santangelo

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Susan. You've certainly proven that it can be done.

Carola said...

It's not my publisher who's died, it's my previous agent who stopped agenting and now won't do anything about getting the first four books in my series onto Kindle & Nook. St Martin's legal department insists on her ok, even though the "computer rights" weren't sold and therefore technically belong to me. My present agent has done the negotiating for St M to buy the rights, but the previous one isn't even answering my emails. Driving me crazy...

Jean Henry Mead said...

I understand how you feel, Carola. It's frustration first class.