Thursday, June 19, 2014


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.

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



Thursday, June 12, 2014


THE BEST BOOK TO READ was written by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom, published by Dragonfly Books, 2008, and illustrated by one of my favorites, Michael Garland. The book has approximately 420 words spread over fourteen out of twenty-five pages. Six pages have four lines of text, seven pages have five lines, and one page has six lines.

THE BEST BOOK TO READ opens with a beautiful picture of a school bus dropping a line of children off at the library, so it starts right where the story is to begin—at the library. There is no time wasted showing a character anxious to go to the library.

The first line has two short sentences, “Hooray,” and “It’s a trip to the library today.” Note the rhyme in hooray and today. The next sentence ends in the word bus, which rhymes with the word used in the last line on the page, two lines (but three short sentences) down.

On the third line, two sentences end in rhyme. “We’ve been specially invited. Our class is excited.”

The next page also utilizes rhyme, but not in the first sentence. The second line rhymes with the fourth line, and the third line rhymes with the fifth.

The variation of rhyme placement intrigued me, first annoyingly and then with appreciation. The words on the second page follow a different rhyming pattern than that of the previous page—no rhyme in the first line, but the second and fifth lines end in rhyme, and the third and fourth lines end in rhyme.

Changing up the rhyme placement in this book makes it read more like a story rather than sing-songy verses, because we quickly see that we can’t stick to any specific pattern for the rhymes.

I have to admit that because rhymes on different pages fell in a sequence that didn’t follow a previous sequence, I sometimes tripped on reading in any lyrical way at all.

But the story itself is entertaining. Different pages show what different books are about, one on bugs, one on baking cakes or desserts, one on magic tricks, and another on dinosaurs, and some on other topics. This is a wonderful way to show a child that there is truly a “best book” for every youngster, regardless of different likes. Personally, I’d have to choose THE MAGIC TRICKS by Harry Huckster. I was disappointed to look for this one on Amazon only to see that it doesn’t exist—the titles are made up. I guess I would’ve figured that out had I been interested in the book, MAKE IT YOURSELF, by Martha Muffins, or the book about dogs written by Professor Barker. But I thought Harry Huckster might be a neat pen or stage name by a real author and magician.

I don’t think this will be a problem for children, because each book covers a different interest, and there will be real books on the same topic that grandparents can check out for their little darlings, perhaps some with just as beautiful of pictures.

Michael Garland’s illustrations are animated in such a way as to give life to what’s going on in some of the make-believe books shown, such as showing a boy magician holding a hat with a rabbit jumping out of it. THE BEST BOOK TO READ will definitely entice children to want to make a trip to the library, so, grandparents, I suggest only reading it when you have the spare time to venture downtown.

Just as it would happen in real life, a few children in the story want the same book. The authors address the problem right away, mentioning that often libraries have more than one copy of certain books.

There is also an illustration showing children raising their hands, everyone who wants a library card. I would’ve liked something either said or shown in the illustration about the excitement the children feel when they hold that new card—shiny and smooth—for the first time. I know my kids felt important having their very own library cards.

Still, this is a good picture book and one we can learn from. The neat thing is that children will learn something too, and yet it doesn’t feel or read like any sort of lesson at all.

The same authors wrote THE BEST PLACE TO READ, which was published in 2003 by Dragonfly Books. This first book also used the same illustrator, Michael Garland. The same style is used, but this first book shows a main character traipsing through the house room by room, looking for the best place to read. The table is sticky, springs poke through Grandpa’s chair, and big sister’s stereo makes another room too noisy. Finally, (and adorably), the child settles on Mom’s lap. What a nice and realistic way to settle the dilemma.

Consider the rhyme placement in your picture book and question yourself on the reason behind the decision. Do you want the listener to focus mostly on the lyrical beat, or do you want that focus shared more equally with story content and plot?

Happy writing!