Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Education in Hard Knocks....

There’s been a lot weighing on my mind in regard to publishing lately. With NaNo coming up next month, I took some time off to explore my story options. While organizing some old writing notes, I became reflective. This coming February will mark my fourth year as a published author. I have worked with three different e-publishers in as much time and thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the industry. I’m very happy with the books I have on the market now and the two publishers I’m currently contracted with – The Wild Rose Press and Black Lyon Publishing. Hopefully, the owners of both share the same view about me and the titles under my name available through their online stores and distributors.

What some of you might not know is that I wasn’t always as happy with my publishing experience. In August 2007, I was offered my first publishing contract for a romantic adventure entitled Fox & Hound. The e-publisher who offered to publish this book – my baby – was new. It was so new, in fact, that the e-store had not yet launched. In the publishing world, everyone hears cautionary tales about e-publishers (especially back in 2007) and the importance of researching a company before signing anything. Because of the lack of information on the owner and the absence of authors to interrogate about their experience with the company thus far, I wasn’t able to do my due diligence for the manuscript. To say I was still green around the gills is an understatement of immense proportions. If I knew what I know now about publishing, I never would have done it. And as soon as I did mail off my signed contract, I regretted it because the manuscript was put on the backburner of the publisher’s editing queue. The red flags started flying when I wasn’t provided with an editor right off the bat as most publishers and e-publishers do.

Five months went by and despite numerous inquiries my request for an editor was ignored. I was given an early February release date and a cover in January. A week before my release date, I finally heard from an editor. This person put as little effort into fine-combing the manuscript as possible. Her notes were minimal despite some major head-hopping issues and typos I wasn’t aware of at the time. The book was published on schedule and though I did everything I possibly could to generate sales on the web, the numbers were dismal. In e-publishing, it’s understood that the author is responsible for the bulk of his/her book promotion. But I believe that the general consensus both among these publishers and their authors is that every book is equal and should be treated as such by its publisher. My book was ignored by mine. Within the first year, I would get terse IM messages from the owner demanding to know why I wasn’t doing my job and promoting my work. I received two telephone calls from her glossing over the real issues and asking why I was contracting a number of titles with other (more legitimate) publishers and not submitting anything new to her company - though I wasn't legally bound to do so. After sending documented proof that I was promoting Fox & Hound, the owner chose to ignore me completely. I began to see editors, cover artists, and authors fleeing the company and heard horror stories about verbal harassment, nonpayment, breaches of contract, and stolen material. After an in-depth appraisal of my own sales, I realized that a good number was missing from royalty reports. This was around the same time that several unprofessional, ranting letters were sent from the owner to the authors’ private Yahoo loop. It was the last straw for me and several others. According to my contract, by sending a certified letter to the publisher’s address, royalties would be paid to me within ninety days and the rights to the work would be restored in my name. I wanted to end my association with the company with as little conflict as possible so the letter stated that my reasons for cancellation were simply due to lack of sales and placed no blame on either party.

I waited ninety days and heard nothing from anyone involved with the publisher. When I emailed the owner to ask if she had received the certified letter of cancellation, she replied that I was being investigated by her legal team to see if I was in breach of my contract. I was confident that I had never been in breach of my contract so I waited patiently. After another ninety days, I emailed her again demanding an answer to my previous inquiries. A few weeks later I received a royalty check. I found the royalty report questionable at best but left it at that. What mattered to me most weren’t the royalties but the rights to the work. My attempts to again contact the owner in regard to this were given the cold shoulder for no less than sixteen months. In fact, I’m still waiting to receive a return certified letter from the company formally reverting rights back to me. The book is in limbo. Unless some miraculous effort is made on the publisher’s part after all this time, nothing will ever come of it again. It's a shame because, as with all my stories, it meant a great deal to me.

Signing Fox & Hound in 2008
As I explored my legal options, I came across a shocking number of authors, editors, and artists who had left the company due to worse issues. After hearing their experiences, I realized that I was lucky. My name wasn’t slandered across the internet (though I did receive several fishy anonymous comments on this blog that were hurtful in nature and forced me to put comments permanently on moderation). I received no threatening phone calls from anyone associated with the owner and her ilk (though my dear husband would have been pleased to deal with those by giving any one of them a piece of his mind). I sought the advice of my attorney but never called up his legal services (though I am still readily prepared to do so if my past association with the owner or her company ever does create further conflict at any point in the future).

The reason I’m bringing all this to the surface here at The Cozy Page now is not to stir up old grievances but to offer explanation to readers who were never given one about Fox & Hound’s disappearance from e-stores and online distributors. I feared that if I made any sort of public statement decrying my association with this publisher at the time, I would draw retaliation from the owner. I’ve always tried to make my corner of the web (both my official website and my blog) a positive place for readers and friends. At the time, I had nothing positive or even polite to say about what was happening with this publisher. I also bring it up now because the experience taught me a valuable lesson about the publishing industry, one that I sincerely hope authors as new and hopeful as I was in 2007 learn much more easily than I did. It was lesson in how not to do business – both as an author and as a professional.

I would like to take this time to thank both of my current publishers for their professionalism throughout the entirety of my association with them. Even when I had to cancel a contract with The Wild Rose Press due to changes in their Champagne Rose imprint, everyone involved with the process was nothing but understanding and prompt in reverting rights of the work back to me as well as royalties. I can only hope that the rest of my publishing career is as pleasant an experience as I have enjoyed with both these companies.

If there are any newbie authors who went through or are going through the same thing I did with my first publisher, please don’t be afraid to ask questions about how to deal with it, either here on the blog or privately via my contact email address: amber@amberleighwilliams.com. If I’m unable to provide helpful answers, I know a great number of helpful, informative people to recommend.

And finally, to my readers for allowing me to explain everything after all this time. The weight on my shoulders has finally been lifted. Now onto November, NaNo, and the 2011 holiday season….


With love and good thoughts,

Amber Leigh

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