Thursday, June 19, 2014

GUEST AUTHOR JORDAN McCOLLUM on WHY I REJECTED MY PUBLISHER



If you’ve poked around my site or been a subscriber for a while, you might remember that in November 2011, I received an offer of publication from a regional publisher, with a 2013 anticipated release….Like any publishing offer, it was a long time coming.
 
Three years and two weeks after I started the novel. Two years after I submitted it to the same publishing house the first time (obviously they rejected it, and with good reason). Eighteen months after an editor at the publishing company told me not to bother resubmitting the revised, newly-award-winning manuscript. Almost nine months after I went ahead and did it anyway.
 
I got the good news at a writers’ retreat and I was so excited to share with my friends there. After seeing other friends have contracts fall through, I’d always vowed that I wouldn’t make any announcements until after the contract was signed. But the contract would be months in coming….
 
While we waited on that contract, they assigned me an editor, who happened to be someone I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. They asked me for the “final” submitted version of my manuscript (although editing was at least a year away). They requested an author photo, then a release from my amazing photographer. They needed tax documents. I got it all turned in.
 
Finally, the contract came in the mail. I held my breath as I opened that big white envelope and read through those pages with my publisher’s name and mine. And I cried.
 
But they weren’t tears of joy.
 
…With a friend’s recommendation, I consulted with a lawyer who specializes in contract disputes and intellectual property law. He spent looong billable hours reading the contract and writing me an extremely thorough analysis. And, yeah, it was as bad as I feared.
 
Worse.

The deal breaker

In the olden days (ten years ago), a book had a fairly short lifespan: a few months to make or break its print run, languish on the shelves a few more months, then the bargain bin, then it went out of print. After a certain period of time “out of print,” the rights to the book reverted to the author. Hundreds of authors who had trade published books revert to them now have those same books for sale forever as ebooks.
 
Naturally, I was very worried about the possibility of a book never being declared “out of print” because the publisher had an ebook version on the “shelves.” I might never get the rights to my backlist back unless the publisher was feeling very generous. (We actually did reach a minor compromise on this issue, for shared rights.)
 
But my lawyer was more concerned with another issue, one that I was anticipating, but didn’t think it would be as bad as the reality. The contract demanded the right of first refusal on basically everything I might write for the next 21 years. If I submitted any work anywhere else, it would be deemed accepted by this publisher, and contractually obligated to them first. There was no timeline in the original contract, meaning they could spend three years sitting on my manuscript, before granting me one year to try to find someone else to take it (after which the time frame and rejection process would start over).
….
After consulting with my lawyer on how best to proceed with negotiations, I did what I could….I offered options, options I knew other authors had gotten added to their contracts with this company, and options I knew other publishers used. I gave some, and they gave a little.
 
Ultimately, however, they wouldn’t budge on the most important issue. They did tell me that if I had a book under contract with another publishing house, they’d revise that ROFR clause (of necessity). I didn’t. My contract with this publisher went on hold while I pursued publication for another book. My editor left publishing for law school. I took my publication year, 2013, off my blog and social media profiles. Then the publisher’s name.

The emotional side

Yes, I did cry when I read the contract the first time. But when it came down to it, this was a business decision. There was no way I could sign over control of my entire career for more than two decades. Even if this was to be my one and only chance, if it came down to a choice between never, ever publishing a book, or taking that contract as it stood, I would rather never publish….

The end

I spent literally years holding out for a better contract. I self-published that second novel I wrote since receiving the offer and the novella and a sequel to each. Both novels were named finalists for the most prestigious award in that regional market (being 2 out of 5 of the finalists). Even after all that, I sent a final message to the publisher. I told them I didn’t want to burn any bridges, but I would need to see changes to these clauses of the contract.
 
They said no.
 
So I said no.
 
I did the unthinkable: I walked away from a publishing contract. I rejected my publisher and published myself. I didn’t (and don’t) need a publisher to turn out top caliber books or even get them to bookstores. I didn’t have to sacrifice my control over my career, my vision for my books or my artistic integrity. It was nice to have the external validation of a publishing offer, but in the end, I didn’t need them to share my stories, and the costs of using their services instead of contracting my own far exceeded the benefits, especially when it came to my career….
 
An award-winning author, Jordan McCollum can’t resist a story where good defeats evil and true love conquers all. In her day job, she coerces people to do things they don’t want to, elicits information and generally manipulates the people she loves most—she’s a mom.
 
See more on this topic at Jordan’s site, which is one of my favorite blogs to read.

Jordan holds a degree in American Studies and Linguistics from Brigham Young University. When she catches a spare minute, her hobbies include reading, knitting and music. She lives with her husband and four children in Utah.

 
Because she’s a true professional, Jordan refrained from naming the publisher in this article, as her intent is not to punish the publisher, but rather, to make a point: “Authors need to be careful of contracts and guard their rights, and be willing to walk away from a publisher who won’t do that.”
 
 
To save her secrets and her country, CIA operative Talia Reynolds must sacrifice the man she loves. I, SPY, 2013 Whitney Award Finalist
 
CIA operative Talia Reynolds's new boss is her ex-boyfriend. And that's just the beginning of her problems. SPY FOR A SPY, 2013 Whitney Award Finalist
 
 

 

 

52 comments:

  1. ROFR for 21 years!?! I have never heard of such a thing!

    Now I did sign a rather bad contract before I had an agent that said the publisher had ROFR until they published one more book from me. There was no time limit (which I overlooked) and after they rejected my next 2 books I realized there was a problem. I started querying agents, and when I signed with my wonderful agent, the first thing she did was call up the publisher and point out that their clause had been struck down in several cases and they didn't really plan on holding me to it, did they?

    It only took 2 phone calls for the publisher to back down and say, okay, since I had submitted 2 books in good faith which they didn't want, my obligation to them was satisfied.

    So I'm really surprised this publisher would not budge on that issue! My agent said it was akin to indentured servitude.

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  2. Hi Debi, what an ordeal. So glad you moved on from this. Some time the right thing to do is put yourself, your career and your integrity first and the best of the rest will follow.
    Best Regards going forward!!
    Hugs

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    1. Actually, it was Jordan who went through the ordeal, but you're right--it's best put behind her. Thanks, CelestinaMarie.

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  3. 21 years? Are they insane? I'd've kicked them to the curb too!

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    1. I probably would have gotten in trouble for verbal abuse. ;-)

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  4. Wise moves, self publishing and refusing the contract. It reminds me of the studio deals in Hollywood at the dawn of the motion picture era -- the stuff that can kill careers.

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    1. Yes. Contracts can be lovers but they can also be killers.

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  5. Damn, 21 years is a long arse time, I'd tell them to take a hike too

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    1. know, right? It's hard to believe they could even suggest such a thing, let a lone sneak it into a contract.

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  6. Thank you for the clear explanation and timeline of your experience. I was so green the first time I self-published and even with a bad experience, I am so glad I did. I interviewed 11 publishers before choosing one and the deal breaker was that I held all the rights. THANK goodness because, after a few months, I figured out that they were not paying royalties on my sales. It took me months to prove it to them and they still insisted they did not do that - but they asked me if they negated my contract, would I please just go away -- THEIR words. I did and strangely enough, 30 days later, they were out of business and operating under a different name. I am on the West Coast and they were in Florida. I knew I had to get my books out of their warehouse before cutting the ties. They said they would send me the books for a mere fee of $1500. My sis was vacationing in Florida, picked up my books and mailed 800 of them to me for under $400. Live........and learn!

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    1. Wow. It sounds like you have quite a story to tell, too. I'm glad you got your books back.

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  7. Yikes, that contract sounds horrific! No wonder Jordan chose to walk away. That was definitely the smartest decision to make!

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    1. I agree. I can't imagine the frustration. Well, yes, I can imagine it, but I sure wouldn't want to go through it.

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  8. Thank you so much for this .. very informative indeed for all authors. Great post - am bookmarking it.

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    1. Be sure to check out Jordan's blog. It's one of my favorites.

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  9. Sounds like walking away was most definitely the right decision here. Without a doubt. I read that many authors are going the self-publishing route these days. Happy Friday!!

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    1. Yeah. At least with self publishing you only have to worry about trusting yourself, along with your chosen editor.

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  10. Terrific story and advice. We should never act out of desperation to have a publisher.

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    1. Yeah, but I sure can see how easy it would be to get in the situation.

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  11. I've read of a similar story before, but I forget where. Most contracts have a right of first refusal (even outside publication, just contract law in general such as commercial real estate), but the terms here are strange. Good that you rejected.

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    1. Yes, but real estate law is quite different than publishing contracts. These terms sure to seem outlandish. Jordan did the right thing to say no. :-)

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  12. You did an extremely brave and difficult thing and I hope you're very proud. Same thing happened to me and my first book. I ended up self-publishing, then found publishers for book 2 and 3. It's a huge learning curve, one that we'll survive and grow from. Proud of you!

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Joylene.

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  13. I agree with Joylene, it's incredibly brave, and something to be proud of. I too decided to self-publish my first novel of which I'm glad I had complete control over.

    Debi, thanks for sharing this!

    Cheers,
    Anna

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    1. Thanks, Anna, and I'm so glad you stopped by.

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  14. Crikey! Dodgy contracts.
    Something else to be aware of should I ever get around to writing a book.
    Thanks for dropping in on my blog.

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    1. I was glad to be there. I agree. Now it's at the point that it seems too dangerous to even send a book out without talking to an attorney first, just to be prepared for all those 'what if's'.

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  15. 21 years? That's crazy business! I had no idea publishers could try to exert that kind of control. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. It is amazing, but not in a good way.

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  16. I find this very informative how devlish the publishing houses are. 21 yrs is a long time and I would not like it either. It almost feels like one better join or else. It feels like bullying and it simply is not right. Good for you to stick to what you believe in and to not be intimidated by their actions

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    1. I'm glad Jordan spoke up. It'll help pave the way for new writers to be a little braver.

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  17. I was interested in starting a design company (tops for women of a certain age)--contacted a designer who would make the tops, etc. etc. I learned so much with the failure of my idea--first--even though it is not cheap, never sign anything until you have your attorney read the contract and advise you. So easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Glad of your final decision.

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    1. Yep, I learned the hard way on a couple of ventures too. Have a good day and thanks for stopping by.

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  18. I'm glad you weren't so blinded by the publishing contract that you didn't read it through and do what you had to in order to protect your rights. It would be very easy not to. :)

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  19. Wow, this is one of my worst nightmares. Thanks for having Jordan write for your blog, Debi, and thanks to Jordan for being brave enough to share the story.

    It can be really scary out there for an unpublished author. A good reminder to have a lawyer check those contracts before we sign a single thing.

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    1. I live in a very small town, so I'm wondering if there's even a lawyer near me that would be the right kind of attorney for the job. (Deb)

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  20. Good for you for standing your ground. Sounds like a fairly unscrupulous publisher. Passing was the best thing you could do! We are in charge of ourselves.It strikes me as the same as in writing...if it doesn't feel right, it isn't.

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    1. So true. Thanks for stopping by, Liza!

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  21. Blown away here. I can't imagine how difficult this had to have been, but you handled it perfectly--sought and listened to good advice, dealt with the publisher in a fair and forthright manner, then made your call.

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    1. It's a learning experience for all of us. :-)

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  22. Well done for standing up. What a nightmare.

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    1. I'm glad Jordan took the time to see through it. :-) Thanks for stopping by, Juliette.

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  23. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jordan (and thanks to Debi for hosting you!) - it's always good to remember to read the fine print. I've never seen a writing contract and wouldn't even begin to know what to watch out for, so it's good to learn from others!

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    1. Yes, I am so glad Jordan shared her story. It'll help me know what to do when and if ...

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  24. I completely agree. If we don't defend our rights, no one else will do it for us.

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    1. So true. I'm glad Jordan knew what to do.

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  25. I don't blame you for walking away. If one publisher can find interest in your works, certainly another will.

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    1. I couldn't agree more. Thanks for stopping by, Chuck.

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  26. I am applauding you Jordan, for reading the technical stuff, calling in help, and not just blindly signing. Thanks for getting this important message out there for others to think about--and thanks to Debi for hosting...

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by!

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