Note from Dale: Two of my publishers closed suddenly this past December, so this week’s Pen to Pen column from author Angel Martinez about moving on after a publisher shutters its doors is very relevant to me. Angel lists some great options for moving forward, including one I hadn’t considered: creating a publishing collective with other authors that allows you to pool the strengths of the group to become more successful self-publishers. If this option piques your interest, the articles The Rise of the Author Collective and Author Collectives and Co-ops: What They Are and How to Start One are great places to get more information.
My Publisher Closed. Now What?
by Angel Martinez
The publishing industry, like most industries, is a constantly shifting landscape. Small companies crop up like summer mushrooms and expire just as quickly. Large ones devour the smaller. Giants merge and occasionally divide. Authors caught on the shifting sands will often wail that the industry or their section of it is doomed as they observe this dizzying cycle of publisher birth and death. Completely understandable but only true in the short term. To mutilate the line from Jurassic Park—publishing will find a way.
That’s the big picture. When a publisher closes, the big picture is cold comfort as authors wonder what happens now. Publishers close for a number of reasons, from business failure to an owner’s failing health, from shattered expectations to outright theft and fraud. Some of what an author can accomplish after a closure will depend, unfortunately, on the type of closure.
Bad ones first: closures handled badly
The owner absconded to South Africa with the funds (don’t laugh; this happened.) The publisher shut down and the owners won’t return any attempts at contact. You’ve sent certified letters only to have them returned. You’ll never see those royalties and you don’t even have a letter returning publishing rights to you (reversion of rights). You’re sunk, right? You’ll have to abandon all of those stories until the life of the contract runs out and move on.
Not necessarily. Make sure you document everything you can before and after a publisher implodes. Every contact. Every reliable source. Send your DMCA letters out to all of the distribution sites saying XYZ publisher has broken contract and does not have the right to distribute your work. This needs to be done even if you want to publish independently.
The worst of these are always highly public. Every other publisher in the genre will have heard about it. If you have publishers interested in your work, they may agree to take you on if you have documentation and proof that the distribution sites have taken the books down.
Now the good ones: closures done right
Your publisher reaches the conclusion that they can’t continue and they announce the decision to their authors months in advance. They pay out the last of the royalties and send out the proper reversion letters.
Great. You have your rights back but you’re still out a publisher.
At this point, you have four options.
First, give up. (Don’t do that! You worked hard on those stories!)
Second, self-publish, which works for a lot of authors—but please keep in mind that it does not work for everyone. Research carefully to determine whether you have the means, technical ability, patience, and time to put out a quality product before you dive into self-pub. You do? Great. Have at it. For those of us who don’t, moving on.
Option three is an author collective/consortium, which can be run in any number of ways but takes the burden of independent publishing off the shoulders of a single author. Caveats accompanying #3 include requiring a group of authors in which you have absolute trust and who possess the necessary skill sets among them.
Fourth—go forth, young author, and find a new publisher. Take you reversion of rights letter and try again. In many ways, this is just another round of submissions. The big difference is that you need to be upfront about your stories having been previously published—not necessarily the deal-breaker many authors believe it to be.
Many publishers will state in their submission guidelines whether they take reissued work or not. Many will take them under specific circumstances, even when their guidelines say they won’t.
Keep your ear to the ground for publishers offering to look at books affected by the closure of XYZ publishing. Talk to publisher representatives at conventions and book fairs. Email the submissions/managing editor and ask.
However, you are fighting the odds and the flood of other authors in the same boat. To give you the edge:
- Lead with your best work. If you have one book that’s critically well received, sold well, and has an avid following—for all the holies’ sakes, send that one first. Negotiate the rest later.
- Think about any series you’ve only just begun. Maybe you managed to get out one or two books before the publisher closed. Pitch the series to the new publisher. How many books will you commit to? What’s in it for them?
- Did you publish short works previously that had some success? Are they works that could use more scenes, more development? Again, this benefits the publisher. Being able to market a work as an expanded reissue gives consumers an additional reason to buy.
Losing a publisher is never easy, and the process of republishing can be nerve-wracking. But these are your babies. Don’t give up without a concerted fight. Find yourself a better home, a better deal, and more stable ground on which to stand.
About Angel Martinez
Angel Martinez is the erotic fiction pen name of a writer of several genres, and she writes both kinds of queer fiction—science fiction and fantasy. Currently living part-time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full-time inside the author’s head, Angel has one husband, one son, two cats, a changing variety of other furred and scaled companions, a love of all things beautiful, and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.
For more information on Angel’s work, please visit:
- Website: Angel Martinez
- Facebook: Angel Martinez: Building Worlds, Constructing Fantasies
Angel’s work can be found at:
About Pen to Pen
Pen to Pen is a weekly column where authors stop by to share what they’ve learned about the art and business of writing. Do you have wisdom to share, or maybe a lesson you learned the hard way? Please sign up to be a guest author.
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