Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Bumpy Road of Publishing by Marilyn Levinson


I began writing novels in the olden days, when books were published traditionally. While editors often changed jobs leaving authors “orphaned,” publishing houses were long-lived institutions. Of course they had a tendency to merge, bringing two, three or even more houses under one roof, so to speak. When the publisher of one of my novels went out of business, my book was among the many acquired by another large publisher. And so I remained an innocent. My experience led me to believe that once a book was with a publisher, so it remained until it went out of print.

About six years ago I entered the world of the small press. My first mystery was published by an e-book publisher. This was the first contract I’d signed on my own. Previously, an agent had overseen my contracts.

Dealing with small presses was an eye opener. For one thing, I no longer received an advance. For another, the number of sales was small when compared to sales with large publishers. And most promotion was in my hands.

When I received my first royalty statement, a friend pointed out that I wasn’t receiving the correct percentage. Though the amount in question was very small, I still felt obliged to point out the error to the publisher. She said I was in error, even after a lawyer from the Authors Guild supported my claim. I was contractually bound to the publisher for two years. When the two years were up, I took back the rights to my book.

Another title, another publisher. The pre-publishing process was moving along nicely. My book had been edited and all I needed was a cover when the publisher decided to close shop because her business partner died. I put out the word, and very soon another small press offered to publish the book. I was delighted. We found a suitable cover, selected a few wonderful blurbs, and my mystery was off to a great start. Sales were terrific. Reviews were favorable, and my first royalty payment was quite large, considering the e-book remained at $2.99.

My royalty payments were often late. I’d send the publisher prodding emails and usually got results. Then I fell sick and lost track of my royalty payments. I soon realized that despite my earlier reminders, several months had passed without my having received payment. I became upset. Emails brought no response. Once again I asked the Authors Guild for assistance. While I got back the rights to my book, there was no accompanying check. The publisher referred to a bad cash flow.

I eventually wrote to the publisher myself and she told me something of the financial situation. It wasn’t good, but she hoped it would soon improve. A few months later she sent me a small payment, which I appreciated. Months passed. I was about to write, asking when I could expect another royalty payment, when a friend who publishes with the house told me the publisher had notified her authors the house was currently in a bad financial situation. I decided then and there to cut my losses and put the matter behind me.

Shortly after that, the small publisher of my YA horror went out of business. I was taken aback because it was a new house. They’d taken on many, many books. No doubt too many that didn’t pay out. All I could do was shake my head. Another publishing house gone. Another orphaned book.

What can an author do when her small publisher fails her? I’m grateful that self-publishing is available. Many authors have opted to self-publish their out-of-print books. Some authors feel self-publishing is the way to go.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m down on all small publishing houses. While I relish the control self-publishing offers, I prefer having my books with a publisher. Currently, I have books with three small publishers, all of which I expect to stay in business for the foreseeable future. These houses are stable, well-run, and pay royalties as scheduled.

When choosing a small press to publish your books, be sure to vet it as well as you can. Communicate with authors published by the house. And if there should ever be a serious problem, remember that self-publishing is always an option.

Marilyn's bio:
A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries and romantic suspense for adults and novels for kids and young adults. Her Twin Lakes mystery series includes A MURDERER AMONG US and MURDER IN THE AIR. MURDER A LA CHRISTIE and MURDER THE TEY WAY are the first two books in her Golden Age of Mystery Book Club Mystery series. She is currently writing a sequel to GIVING UP THE GHOST called THE RETURN OF THE GHOST.

Her books for young readers include THE DEVIL’S PAWN, AND DON’T BRING JEREMY, a nominee for six state awards, NO BOYS ALLOWED, and RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK, an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice.” RUFUS AND THE WITCH’S SLAVE will be out in time for the holidays.
  
Marilyn like traveling, foreign films, reading, knitting, Sudoku, dining out, and talking to her grandkids on Face Time. She lives on Long Island.






28 comments:

  1. Welcome, Marilyn! Thanks for agreeing to be my guest today. Great post!

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  2. Oh, Marilyn, I've had so many of the same experiences: I've had two publishers who were out and out crooks, two that died, two that decided not to go on, and other problems. I just feel like I'm too old to learn the self-publishing ropes.

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    1. Marilyn,
      You go on and on. Nothing stops you. I continue to marvel at your productivity & energy.

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  3. Interesting post, Marilyn. Because a couple of friends had gone through what you did, I never queried small pubs except for my erotic romances. Both were good, but I eventually took back my rights and opted to self-publish. It's a control thing. Glad you found homes for your books.

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  4. I can understand why you've taken the self-publishing route.
    I think it's interesting that the big houses have taken to following what indie authors have been doing for years, even in the same formats.

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  5. Marilyn,

    Sadly, a lot of us who want to continue being traditionally published are finding it difficult to get our novels out with reputable publishers. Many small reputable publishers are going out of business. Several of mine have done so. It is discouraging. Still, I am not inclined to self-publish. Wishing you much success.

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    1. Thanks, Jacqueline.
      At least we have something of a choice. I prefer to have my books with publishers, but it doesn't always work out that way.

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  6. the more I hear about so-called traditional publishing, the more I'm glad I stuck to the self publishing route. Thanks for an eye opening memory.

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    1. Self-publishing certainly has its advantages, especially since we all have to promote ourselves.

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  7. I had so many problems with my trad. publisher, that when my contracts were up I took back the rights too all of my books. Now I'm happily self-published, no hassle, no stress.

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  8. Sorry, I was going to say that I took back my rights, too. And then I was going to say, I took back the rights for all of my books. But the two sentences got mixed up in my head. It's one of those days, ya know?

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  9. I've had two traditional publishers, but in the end I opted to self-publish. And I'm happy with my decision. I rather like being my own boss. I'm truly sorry that so many authors have the issues they've had to deal with, and I hope somehow, in some way, things turn around.

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    1. It is nice being one's own boss re one's books.

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  10. Or should I have said, got the rights back? Where's an editor when you need one.

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  11. Hi Marilyn. My small publisher closed suddenly when one of the owners died so we might have been working with the same press. Since I'd already scheduled a big luau launch for DYING FOR A DAIQUIRI, I decided to indie publish. I had 2 months to edit my first two cooks, finish my third, get teh covers and formatting done. But I sold 7,000 books that first month and I've never looked back. I also love being in control of everything! You never know. You might like it!

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    1. I need an editor or new bifocals. Edit my first 2 books and get the covers done.

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    2. You certainly did very well with 7,000 sales!

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    3. It was a great first month and I've had a few with similar volume when I can get a BB ad. But there are a lot of books out there:-) Good thing we love what we do.

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    4. So true, Cynthia. More titles than ever. Everyone thinks he/she can write a book. And self-publishing is available to all.

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    5. I need an editor or new bifocals. Edit my first 2 books and get the covers done.

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  12. Great post, Marilyn, and gives us much to think about. I love the responses, too.

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  13. Eileen, Thanks for stopping by. I've been enjoying the responses as well.

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  14. Great, thought-provoking post! You've been through a lot, Marilyn, and I hope you never have to chase down payments again. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Nupur

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  15. Thanks, Nupur. I hope I don't have to, either.

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