Writing wasting away in Limboville


I’ve been asked what happened to my contemporary fantasy novels The Sun Singer and Sarabande.

printingpressSince both have been well received, I found a new publishing home (Publisher B) after pulling them away from Publisher A due to a disagreement about the contract.

Publisher B had previously come out with many novels I enjoyed, some of which I had reviewed, so I thought I had found the perfect home for my work.

So what happened?

My guess is that staff turnover at Publisher B created a deluge of work that the remaining staff couldn’t keep up with. Nonetheless, when I sent the manuscripts to the publisher in the fall of 2013, I felt the publisher could meet his proposed release dates of January 2014 for The Sun Singer and May 2014 for Sarabande.

These dates were missed with no explanation and I was given a new set of release dates that were also missed with no explanation. Perhaps my request for a cover befitting a fantasy novel was the problem. I said that the covers supplied by Publisher A, while striking, weren’t typical fantasy covers; among other things, they gave readers no clue about the focus of the novels.

Publisher B agreed as did several of the artists he contacted who looked at the covers I’d had before. Yet somehow, no viable artist could be found until late in the summer of 2014. Finally, The Sun Singer was released last August with a nice cover and a great printing job.

E-book Problems

Unfortunately, the formatting of the e-books as a mess. The publisher blamed me for supplying documents that had formatting errors. He was right about that, though I consider the delivery of a manuscript to be the author’s responsibility and the formatting for print, Kindle, PDF and other e-books to be the publisher’s responsibility. I also expect the publisher to make sure the formatting is correct before the books go live on a seller’s site.

It took me several weeks to get Publisher B to remove the e-books from Amazon and Smashwords. I would have preferred the files be fixed and re-uploaded, but this didn’t seem to be happening. Then, Publisher B removed the print version from Amazon and elsewhere even though there was nothing wrong with it.

We had a variety of discussions about how the e-book formatting should be done, my preference being for something that mirrored the formatting of the print version. Whether I was asking for something impossible to deliver, I don’t know.

Finally, several weeks ago, Publisher B sent me an e-mail saying they were ready to release The Sun Singer in e-book (with a simplified formatting) and print.

Publisher B doesn’t seem to understand that the author needs to know the release date so s/he can do advanced publicity, set up give-aways on GoodReads, and talk about the book on Facebook and Twitter.

I asked for the release date and got no response. Publisher B asked me about Sarabande, I answered, and got no response. I asked about being added to the publisher’s blog so I could help promote the books and got no response.

Finally, I used my old e-mail address to ask the publisher if messages from my new e-mail address were ending up in the SPAM folder because we were (I thought) in the middle of a dialogue about moving forward and all I was hearing from Publisher B was the sound of silence. My question about the SPAM queue got no response.

So there it is. Both novels have been in limbo for over a year. Since Publisher B has authors and novels on their list that I like, I would prefer they release The Sun Singer and Sarabande. Whether they will or they won’t is a question stuck in the black hole of zero communication.

What Happens Now?

Now, if you are Publisher B and happen to be reading this, and have been sick, immersed in a family tragedy or a business reversal, then I would be sorry to hear that because I know what that’s like. I wish you had told me and propose that when you can’t keep up with e-mail, then a staff assistant needs to step up to the plate and keep things running smoothly.

If you’re not Publisher B and wish to have your work published, I’ll say that long delays of a year or so are not uncommon with major publishers, though you do need to have an agreed-upon time table for all the steps in the process. One of the benefits of working with a smaller publisher is the hands-on more personal approach as well as a shorter manuscript-to-print time frame.

My mistake here was not nailing down the release dates, with reasonable flexibility, in advance. Also, if small-publisher tradition and/or contract language specifies that the author is responsible for most of the marketing effort, the publisher needs to at least keep the author informed of release dates (and then stick to them) as well as having a blog or a system of news releases that announce the new books. This needs to be in the contract, too. I didn’t get that nailed down either because my back-and-forth e-mails with Publisher B gave me the impression my expectations about such things would be met without being backed up by clauses in the contract.

I’ve been in this business long enough to know better and ended up with my books in Limboville. There are many sites that show standard book contracts. While reading them doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a prospective new publisher to add any verbiage you find missing in his standard contract, you can always try.

I let my emotions get in the way: I was so upset with Publisher A about the contract dispute that everything Publisher B seemed to be offering looked like a breath of fresh air. It’s better to step away from those kinds of negative feelings and hopes and make sure you have a meeting of the minds with a prospective publisher before you sign the contract.

This is your cautionary tale.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of The Lady of the Blue Hour and The Land Between the Rivers. His short stories appear in The Lascaux Prize 2014 (2014) and Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories (2013).





6 responses

  1. I won’t hit the like button for this post because I don’t like hearing that you’re having problems with your publisher. It reads like an author’s worst nightmare.
    Thank you for the cautionary tale.

  2. Sorry to hear this, Malcolm, and yes, you’re right … it’s super frustrating and also not all that unusual (or at least not completely unusual!). Good for you for keeping up on it and continuing with the communication to get the information you need (albeit frustratingly getting no response). I did ‘like’ the post, as it’s my way of saying ‘thanks for posting this; I’ve read it!’, so thanks again for sharing from this particular publishing-world experience. ~ Jamie

    • LIKE also works as an acknowledgement, so that’s fine. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens a lot. It gets a lot of play if the writer is a celebrity; otherwise, not so much in public because we’re told not to whine or take our dirty laundry out on the street.

  3. wow every field of endeavor has its pitfalls. I admire that you have stayed the course and I hope you get some results from the new publisher. To me it seems that the Publisher B has a lot of homework to do also.

    • I have to admit I don’t understand Publisher B. They seemed happy with the novels when they were first sent to them. After that, I don’t know. Perhaps I’m harder to work with than I suspect. Or maybe they thought they would have time to add two more books to their list in 2014 and ended up not having it.