Once More Into the Breach: Surviving Publisher Implosion

Many moons ago, I wrote an anonymous post at the Chicks & Dicks blog about coping with publisher asplosions and all the flavors of WTFery therein. Current events prodded me to go looking for that, see if the post was still live. Nope. Well, I don’t read what looks like maybe Chinese so who knows, it might still be there in another language, but I seriously doubt it, LOL. I thought the post might be helpful, though, especially for authors for which the ARe closure is their first rodeo so I went a’huntin’ through my files. Turns out I still had a copy in my 2012 folder. (Digital hoarding occasionally pays off, dudes.)  I copy/pasted the post in its entirety below.

Some of this won’t apply to current circumstances. ARe was primarily a vendor/distributor so, for most of us, the rights to our books were never in peril, for instance. They also closed rapidly, didn’t string us along for months or even years.  I’m not editing the post and I haven’t checked the links, either. But…I hope this helps.

Colleagues and friends — I’m right there with you. Let’s keep swimming, aye?



Most of us are familiar with some names, cautionary whispers around digital campfires of rampant WTFery, royalties gone awry, and spirals of spectacular fiery death as yet another publisher crashes and burns. The horror. The carnage. The tabloid entertainment. But we’re too smart for that…right? It couldn’t happen to us…right?

Maybe it won’t.

But maybe it will.

You’ve done your research. You’ve spoken to authors on that publisher’s roster and examined the publisher’s inventory before hitting send on your submission. You’ve checked the publisher at Absolute Write and Predators & Editors. You’ve reviewed the contract and thoroughly understand each contract term, seeking legal counsel for those terms you may be a little fuzzy on. You know what you’re getting into.

Foolish, foolish mortal.

I live by the FISH tenet — Fuck It, Shit Happens.

In the sparkling seas of M/M, FISH bait is everywhere and some of the sharks have sooper seekrit cloaking devices — you never see those bastards coming. Even with the aid of your uber pro x-ray vision.

So what do you do if/when the unthinkable swims into your end of the pool?

Take a deep breath. You’ve every right to be upset. Drink irresponsibly. Cry. Scream. Drown in chocolate. Vent to your husband and your BFF both. Do not under any circumstances approach your laptop or make any decisions while under the influence of OMFGness. This disaster didn’t develop overnight. It won’t resolve overnight, either. Every time a new issue crops up, take a minimum and mandatory twenty-four hours to breathe and to process what happened. Rash decisions are not your friends.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. You aren’t the first or the only author to be snared in a publisher implosion. Other authors have waded through the same sewer you’re knee-deep in and emerged with their dignity intact. Look at authors in previous implosions who you believe handled themselves well and DO WHAT THEY DID. If you have trusted friends who have gone through it before, ask their advice. If you have a mentor, talk to him/her too. You are not alone. Let the conduct of more experienced authors be your guide.

Document everything. Keep every email you send to your publisher and every email you receive (to the author roster as a group or individually). Maintain copies of every delayed, inaccurate or missed royalty payment. Keep every reader complaint about substandard formatting, embarrassing covers, books the publisher failed to distribute to vendors, etc. Did your publisher promise readers a prize to promote your title and then fail to deliver that prize? Include that in your work papers. Everything. Especially any case in which you were compelled to pay out of pocket due to your publisher’s negligence. You probably won’t be able to use those records, but you should always be prepared for the possibility.

Polite and professional costs you nothing. Ranting at your publisher might make you feel better, but even cold, emotionless ranting could cost you everything in the long term. Who do you think the publisher will be most willing to deal with and will deal with first? The author with a stream of angry, belligerent, threatening, and demanding emails/letters/calls? Or the author who is professional and polite? You are one step ahead of other writers on the roster who can’t or won’t approach the publisher with calm professionalism, maybe several miles ahead of a few. The publisher has something you want — rights reversion. Poor behavior is much more likely to push you to the end of that very long line, not to the front.

Find out what you don’t know. Our contracts typically define the process by which contract breaches are governed as well as the legal jurisdiction, but the contract doesn’t tell us when we should pursue that course (if ever). The contract doesn’t tell us the difference between a material and immaterial breach. The contract doesn’t tell us what comes after we send our breach of contract notice via certified mail and the publisher fails to resolve the breach(es). The contract doesn’t tell us how to find an attorney licensed to practice in the proper jurisdiction, how much that attorney will cost us, or if we can reasonably expect our investment in legal fees to be worth the probable damages recovered in the event of a lawsuit. FIND OUT. Take no action until you understand the process and are fully aware of the ramifications of taking that action. Think and act strategically.

Don’t become a horrible warning. That your publisher may be imploding, spectacularly, for the entertainment (and horror) of the writing & reading world doesn’t obligate you to become a featured player in the freak show. Some writers can parlay the shit sandwich they’ve been served into a brand-building buffet (Brian Keene carrying the spear during the debacle at Dorchester is an excellent example), but sorry, we aren’t all Brian Keene. We may not have his loyal fan base, his street creds among other authors, his platform, his leadership skills, or his finesse. Or, frankly, his financial resources to lead the charge into legal action. Unless you are Brian Keene (and some of you very well may be), I recommend a heavy dose of STFU in the public space. You don’t want your name and brand associated with the imploding publisher’s WTFery or tainted by the fubar disaster in any way. When other publishers think of you, you want them to remember your work and success — not the scathing series of blogs you wrote (regardless of how true) airing another publisher’s dirty laundry. When other writers think of you, you want them to associate you with talent and professionalism, not angry or woe-is-me remarks at Dear Author. When readers think of you, they should think only of your books. When they ask you for sequels you can’t deliver because you are trapped in behind-the-scenes publisher crap? Be vague. They don’t need to hear the gory details about how your publisher (who has the rights to that sequel) is being a dick or how it’d be smarter and less painful to staple your left testicle to the floor than write another GD word for that publisher again, ever. Never talk about the publisher or the implosion in public. Post succinctly & anonymously at Absolute Write, etc, if you feel you must, but trust me, other writers will get the word out. Publishers don’t implode in a vacuum.

Misery loves company. Stay in touch with other authors trapped in the implosion to share news and tips. As a publisher devolves into WTF, communication can be sketchy at best, so information sharing could save a lot of wasted time and frustration. You may also get advice on obtaining legal counsel, etc. Class action lawsuits don’t happen because we avoid other walking wounded, either. Contact other authors involved — outside the publisher’s control. You may not know the other authors very well. You may not like or even respect every author on the publisher’s roster, but you have a key issue in common — you’re all being screwed. Cooperation, thy name is self-interest.

Walk away. A publisher implosion can eat away your emotional energy. Day after day, week after week, month after month…It’s exhausting. Publishers rarely close their doors without warning. You have likely been dealing with delayed/partial/missing royalty payments & unfulfilled promises for quite some time. Sadly, the frustration is cumulative. Each new instance of WTF rakes all that stress, anger, and bitter disappointment back up. Don’t let it become the focus of your life. Write and submit new projects to other publishers. Network with authors uninvolved with the mess. Promote. Spend time away from the computer with your family and friends. The WTFery will still be there when you get back, I swear.

THAT’S entertainment! Laughter truly is the best medicine. The road ahead isn’t easy. You’ll curse a blue streak at your computer screen. You’ll cry. You’ll ask yourself why in the name of God you ever decided to get into this business to start with. And sometimes, it’ll get so bad, the only thing you can do is laugh. So c’mon. Laugh. As horrifying as an implosion can be, it genuinely is funny at times. Enjoy the absurdity. If your publisher (helpfully) is a moron who insists on making a fool of herself in public, all the better. Learn to roll with it or this thing will roll OVER you.

Tomorrow is another day, Scarlet. Hot damn, you’ve got your rights back! Now what? Don’t you think it might be a good idea to start planning for that eventuality? I’m not talking about contacting other publishers right away. Most aren’t willing to reprint unless your titles were very good sellers and only for those authors that the publishers already have a good working relationship with. So…do you have a good working relationship with a publisher who might be interested in a reprint? No? Start working on it. Or you can begin looking into the nuts and bolts of self-publishing. Truthfully, it could be years before you get your rights back. The publisher may linger in infamy for years, dolling out WTFery like rose petals to scent your path. The publisher could also close its doors, file bankruptcy…Do yourself a favor and create a goal to work toward, something to look forward to. If nothing else, your term will expire someday, right?

Publisher implosions are a train wreck. Nobody comes through it unscathed, but with a little luck and a few sanity-checkers, you’ll hopefully emerge less bruised and bloodied than you might’ve been otherwise. Although it may sometimes feel like it, this isn’t the end of the world — or your career. I promise. Hold your head up and in the immortal words of Dory (from Finding Nemo, you cretin), just keep swimming.


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Absolute Write: Bewares, Recommendations and Background Checks: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22

Predators & Editors: http://pred-ed.com/peba.htm

BOYCOTT DORCHESTER (with updates and timeline at bottom) by Brian Keene: http://www.briankeene.com/?p=6140


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