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.