Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Naïve no more

 It is the April meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Link here to sign up for this beacon of hope in a sea of turbulent storms (hmmm...think I've just joined the purple prose posse.)

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Hello fellow writers, today I want to talk about something different than my usual. I'm not afraid of appearing foolish and/or weak. I fully embrace my foolish weak self. I have not been through the fire because either I'm still in it or? I do feel safe in your company, but I wonder if you are safe in mine? Nah, just kidding. I do want to talk about a form of safety however. It is something that has arisen in my writing life - a feeling of vulnerability and how it arose. It is hard to be both 72 years old and to recognize that one is still naïve in the ways of the world - at least in the ways of the publishing world. 

It is an old story I believe. Bedazzled by being chosen I didn't fully examine my new partner in this business. For it is a business - this being an author. It is very interesting to me (in a horrifying way) that like my early romantic choices I didn't fall prey to evil or dastardly types, but just one that was inept, lackadaisical, and didn't remotely put my interests first, or even eleventh. And I did not examine my contract properly for escape clauses. I did have a lawyer look it over but we both neglected to notice that there was no mention of rights reversal in the language, or at least not one that included me. 

So - in the barest terms I can write it - I wrote a book that is in the same series as the book published (trying not to use any names here). The publisher of the first book declined to even look at it, reporting that the first one hadn't sold well enough. The first one sold well beyond what most debut books sell, but who am I to argue. I didn't like being rebuffed but the bloom was well off that rose anyway, and I looked forward to finding a publisher that would be more attentive. All the books sold were because of my hard work by the way. Trouble is that a publisher won't be interested in a series when the initial book is held (imprisoned?) by another publisher. Okay. I did some research and sent off a request to have my rights returned to me in full. I heard nothing, which was the modus operando, so I wrote again. Finally I received a reply only not really. The publisher said that they had a number of my books in their warehouse and wouldn't be able to sell them if they reversed my rights. I did a little digging and I'll get to that in a minute - but this turns out not to be true. They can't print anymore but they can sell remaining stock. I was willing to take some of them from the publisher but not the bulk because why would I?  I was paid no advance - I was never warned that they didn't think sales were good and it was the publisher who was wanting in the marketing business not me. I replied with these details and mentioned that in all the back and forth the publisher had not once responded to my question. The words rights reversal where never written by the publisher. They were, in my opinion, trying to monetize my departure. This is, I hasten to say, not illegal but it sure is unethical. What they are in effect saying is that they don't want to publish future books, but no one else will be able to either. It's been, as of when this will be published, three weeks since my last request. I'm being held hostage by a humbug. 

Why am I telling you this dumb story? Because some of you will be like me - madly sending out queries and being thrilled if one comes up good. And here is my advice - go to the site Writer Beware and read everything they've got on what should be in your contract, especially in terms of rights reversal. Victoria Strauss was invaluable in helping me parse what was happening. I felt  gaslit and she shone the light of truth on what was happening. She responded to my cry for help in two days. 

As to what I'm going to do next - I am not sure. I think I will forgo more emails and send a registered letter, and I may stop being coy about who is doing what on social media, but I'm hoping I don't have to do that. It makes me wonder about the writing associations I belong to - the ones I pay membership fees to. Where is their help for this sort of thing? I'm going to start asking more questions and quit being so dewy-eyed. Now keep in mind I'm in Canada so some things are different, but not many. One thing that is different is that small publishers here get pretty nice sized grants from the government to publish books. Not sure if that is the case in the much bigger market of the US but it pays to know these things.

Hope you are all well and enjoying some kind of spring (or fall) weather! We're heading to Cuba for two weeks a week from today for a much needed vacation.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Jan, I'm so sorry this happened to you. Thanks for sharing your story with everyone to prevent others from encountering the same issue. Writer Beware is a fantastic resource for writers and I have so much respect for Victoria Strauss. Hoping you get those rights back soon!

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, Jan, I am sorry to hear about this. Just awful for you! Thanks for sharing that site so that we can all be careful about whom we trust. We're all naïve and vulnerable in our ways, I think, and that's why we need to help each other.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Ugh we hear these stories over and over again, and it's so disheartening, especially when it happens to a friend. US publishers don't get grants unless they have set themselves up as a non-profit, and even then I think there's lot of hoops they have to jump through. Our government gives away billions every year but publishers aren't on the receiving end of any of it as far as I know.

Liza said...

I am so sorry to hear this is happening to you. Not sure if this would work in Canada, but perhaps a directly worded letter on legal letterhead from someone in the legal field saying, "If [publisher] continues to fail to address the request for a reversal of rights we will have no choice but to pursue this through legal channels." Even a strongly worded letter from YOU saying you will pursue this through legal channels if they don't address it by X date might help? Perhaps you can network through your friends, acquaintances and writing buddies to see if anyone knows anyone who might write a legal letter for you gratis. Sometimes there are nice people out there who just want to help. Maybe you'd like to link this post to any of your social media sites with the heading, "Does anyone know anyone who could help?"

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm sorry that this happened to you, Jan. Liza's suggestion might help. I think you need to first research the rights issue and the specific language in your contract.

Writers Beware is an awesome site. Thanks for reminding us about it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's really crappy. Yes, check with some of those organizations and see if there is anything they can do to help.

Fundy Blue said...

Enjoy Cuba, Jan! It sounds like you need a vacation for sure. My sister Bertie ran into problems with a small publisher in Nova Scotia. Her problems were different from yours, but just as disheartening. You have to go in with eyes wide open, but that's easier said than done. Sending you a big hug!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That is terrible your publisher won't respond. One of DLP's authors has a book with another publisher that they refuse to relinquish, but we were able to publish the eBook version for her as that wasn't in the original contract.

In all honesty, DLP's contract says nothing about rights reverting back unless the publisher messes up the original publication. (And I've checked with other publishers - most don't have rights reverting back unless done by the publisher.) But I've had two authors request their rights back after the three year contract and I've been happy to give them back. I don't want to hold someone's book hostage and have to deal with a very unhappy author.