Friday, June 19, 2015

Oh, the Horrors (of the Publishing World)

For this week's roundtable, let's talk horror stories. No, not how to write horror stories. Instead I want to hear your horror stories from the world of getting and staying published. Please don't name names, as this is a small world (after all), but it would be good (I think) for new writers to be prepared for the inevitable stuff than can go wrong.

Alan Lewis: My first two books, published by different companies, were messed up initially. Each company uploaded the wrong (unedited) file to the printers. As a result, I was hit with bad reviews until they were able to upload the correct (edited) versions. This pretty much killed early sales since reviews help drive ebook sales, and negative reviews kill them completely. Having it happen once, I can understand. But two time in a row and by different companies? I almost quit writing completely as a result. They say lightning doesn't strike twice, but in my case, it does.

Mark Bousquet: I have a story in with Publisher X now for a book that was supposed to come out in January. It's now June and on track for a July release. Publisher X has valid reasons for not hitting the January deadline (some his fault, some not), but when you're excited to get a story out and it's not out when it was originally supposed to be out, it sucks, and I get mad at Publisher X.

Also, Publisher X is me.

And yes, there are valid reasons - my own long-term unemployment and never-ending search for a full-time job, formatting issues between different submissions, one nightmare file that doesn't play well with Pages, difficulty with a cover artist, someone getting sick, someone else disappearing, a file getting misplaced, and so on.

Valid reasons - It still sucks, though, and I feel terrible for that anthology's writers. But the contracts are signed, the final edits are being done, and the anthology will be out in July.

Instead of sharing any particular horror story beyond that, I would say that new writers need to be aware that horror stories will happen. A copy editor will miss an easy grammatical mistake. Or twenty. A publisher will tell you your book will be out in June and then it won't come out until October. Your name will be spelled wrong (this happened to me on my first publication credit, which came from Yale University Press! (I was an Illustrations Researcher on the Encyclopedia of New England book which came out a decade ago.) An artist will disappear, another will deliver the wrong content. You'll have a release your excited about come out on the same day as a horrible tragedy, which means you're caught between wanting to get the word out and not looking insensitive (this is happening to me right now). What I've learned is that whomever your publisher is, your artist is, your copy editor is, your graphic designer is ... ultimately, the final responsibility lies with you, so the more you can take control of your own career (not doing everything but being intelligent about everything that's being done), the greater your happiness.

R.J. Sullivan: Haunting Blue was rejected by a major publisher for being "too exciting."

Lucy Blue: I probably should leave this topic be -- I come across as the hag on the hill screeching doom every time I get started on it. My biggest horror story is the collapsing dominoes that were my writing career a few years back. After working with an A-list agent for a decade and publishing six mid-list paperbacks with a Big 6 publisher, in the space of three months I found out that 1)my publisher didn't want my next book and in fact wanted me to basically "go erotica or go home;" and 2)my agent was retiring, closing up shop, and the nice girl who'd been taking care of my stuff while he, my actual agent, was ill had decided (AFTER I had chosen to NOT go with the new people taking over the agency but stick with her out of loyalty) to not be an agent after all because the market was just too horrible. When I was a new writer, I thought that once I had an agent who knew everybody's name in NYC and signed a contract with a publisher, it would be smooth sailing, and I could just concentrate on being the Shakespeare's sister of historical fantasy/romance. Yeah.. . not so much. BUT--BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT -- and please, any new writers reading, this is the most important part -- it hasn't stopped me writing, or publishing, or finding readers, or making money as a writer. I just have to work harder and take more responsibility for my own stuff. I don't expect somebody else to take care of me and my career and my ego any more - which is good because nobody will. And in a lot of ways, that's been really liberating. But it sure didn't feel liberating while it was first happening.

Tamara Lowery: Before I found a publisher, I found a "publisher" that seemed very interested in my manuscript. I sent it in; they looked it over and sent it back with the advice to have it professionally edited then resubmit. The snag was that they preferred I use only an editor THEY recognized. For me, that was a red flag. Sure enough, when I did a more thorough bit of research of this "publisher" I found that several articles warning about them had been posted on SFWA's "Writer Beware" blog. Bullet dodged.

For quite a while, I kept an eye out to make sure my story did not turn up under a different author name/title.

Desmond Reddick: I'm still a neophyte to being published, As such, I don't necessarily have any horror stories about staying published. That horror story is still very much in progress. I do, however, have a story about my first anthology acceptance that gnaws at me to this day for reasons beyond my control.

I had written many stories in the first quarter century of my life, mostly yawn-inducing screeds sure to bore even the most diligent and forgiving of readers. Then the submission notice came out. It called for zombie stories and the anthology was specifically geared toward authors who had yet to be published. Perfect! It just so happened that a brilliant idea popped into my head. Of course, looking back, it's far from brilliant, but it was unique and fun in a sick way. I wrote it feverishly and submitted it. Lo and behold, it was accepted. I was ecstatic! It wasn't a major publishing house or anything, but it offered a token payment and an author copy. That was more than enough to stir my excitement.

Then, thanks to a particularly nasty internet battle between said publisher and an author he once worked with, it was revealed that the publisher spent more than a dozen years in prison for four counts of first degree sexual abuse of his former step-children. He admitted it, referring to his past mistakes, and said there would be no hard feelings if someone wanted to withdraw their story from the anthology. In a stunning turn of events, I appeared to be the only one to do so. I am an educator, so being in any way associated with a convicted sexual predator is not necessarily something I need in my career. Further than that, as a human being, it would certainly bother me. Yet, here I was: the only person who didn't see that "he'd paid his debt to society" or whatever. Honor had certainly kept me away from other situations that would have been boons earlier in my life, but this was my first foray into becoming a published author, my dream.

I eventually would be published, shortly after, with a different story. Though, that anthology made zero attempt to copy edit and completely neglected to put in a Table of Contents, but that's far lower down on the publishing horror story ladder. Today, with my first professional short story sale and my forthcoming first novel, I feel a little better about the publishing world, though that zombie story is still sitting in my completed drafts folder. I still sneer a little bit when I see it sitting there. Maybe one day I'll get over myself, polish it up and send it off.