Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bad Publishing Companies and Bad Contracts

So I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. For the second year in a row, it's because I'm in the middle of other projects. Book #2 is under contract and due, Book 10 has to actually be finished, book 3 needs revision for the end of the year, and after that I've got a novel in another genre to revise for my agent to shop around.

I know, you're all playing the world's tiniest violin. Still, there is a singular frustration of not being able to write whatever I want because I have to revise what I've already written and am now sick of. I've always found revision harder than writing. I'm sure a lot of writers, published and unpublished, feel the same way. On to the questions!

Dear Rejecter,

Sorry for hitting you with an email, but challenged as I am, couldn't figure out how to ask the question on your blog spot. Very helpful blog, by the way, so thanks.

My question:
My first novel was published by a small company is 2007. They did pretty much nothing in the way of editing, promotion, etc., and I have received one royalty statement since May, 2007. My second book, due out this year, is also signed with them. I have been considering legal action to regain the rights to both books, but I have heard this might be wasted money, as many publishers won't touch previously published books. Is this consistent with your experience?

There seem to be a couple questions buried in this, so let me address them:

(1) They are obligated to provide you with royalties as often as your contract designates. If you don't earn any money, they are still obligated to provide statements proving you made no money. Failing to do so can void your contract with them. If you are having problems getting royalties, get an agent. Start emailing around with your problem (published author needs to re-negotiate contract) and I'm sure at least 10 people will jump up to take the free-meal deal there.

(2) If the second book is due but not gone to press (meaning, they haven't started printing copies of the book for sale yet), you can back out of your contract under certain conditions. "Not paying royalties on previous book" is probably one of them. Breaking a contract means you forfeit the advance, if you had one to begin with. Get an agent.

(3) I don't know how "small" this company is or what kind of deal they actually did in promoting your book. Most books barely break even for the company anyway, and very often new authors get lost at big companies and have similar complaints. Let's assume for the sake of argument that they did screw you, and you feel that a better company could do a better job. Well, you're not in a great spot here. Big publishers do love to buy the rights to books from little publishers and are willing to shell out money to do it, on the condition that the book was doing well for the small house and the large house wants to republish it and reap the rewards on owning the rights to an already-edited novel they don't have to work very hard on. Your book didn't do well, so that's not going to happen. My advice, in terms of your writing career, is to write a third book and try to sell it another house. If you really feel compelled to get out of your previous contracts, get an agent, who may then want to edit and re-market the book to bigger companies and might have the capabilities to do that. It's not unheard of. Either way, don't bank on the first two books being the start of your career. Write another one to start your career with.


Joe Iriarte said...

I'm in the same situation as you. (Well, sort of, anyway.) I had hoped to use NaNoWriMo as a jump-start, to get the first fifty thousand words written of my next project, but revising my last project has taken me longer than I anticipated, and it just doesn't make sense to spend November writing a new book when I have one finished and unsubmitted.

jnantz said...

Mr. Iriarte,
I find myself in the same spot. I have finished my first draft, and see no point in doing NaNoWriMo when I've got a WIP that needs a boatload of work. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Along the same lines of the question you answered in today's post, what's the best way to unearth information about any given publisher's history with regard to their treatment of authors, how faithfully they honor contracts, how spotty their promotional record is, etc.? I can certainly look them up and ask around, but I suspect many authors are afraid to speak up when they feel mistreated, out of fear that their name will be mud in the larger industry. Are there resources, online or otherwise, that you can suggest? :)

December/Stacia said...

If you're dealing with epublisher's you can try Piers Anthony's website; he collects anonymous info from epubbed authors. It's, and you want to look under "Publish online" (or is it "Publish on the web"?)

Anyway. It's a decent resource, but it's important to remember that Piers will print anything he's told, so not all the info is completely accurate. Still it's a good starting point.

Another thing you can do is find authors published with those presses and email them. I've gotten a few emails of that nature--I think most writers have--and we'll usually be very honest in that situation.