Recently, I had a book contract disappear. It was just a novella. No big deal. And I know it’ll find a new home eventually (or I’ll publish it myself). But it still sucks. It’s happened once before, and just like the last time, I’m not dealing with it very well.
What am I talking about? Most authors in the indie world are aware that DarkFuse filed for bankruptcy in late August. For those of you who aren’t aware, now you know. I had a couple of contracts with them at the time. The stories were slated for late 2017 publication (after a few reshedulings of said publication, which was frustrating and annoying, but not entirely unheard of in this industry), and I was pretty excited to be working with DarkFuse.
But then, after weeks of silence, I received this email.
At first, I was just really sad. A day later, I was kind of pissed. A day after that, sad again. Now I’m kind of pissed and sad at the same time. I really enjoyed working with DarkFuse, and I loved reading the content published in their magazine. DF also hosted cool contests, like GoreWars and Tiny Terrors, and the authors I “met” through DF were awesome and talented. Of course I’m sad to see all of that disappear. And let’s not forget the book. I’m pretty bummed this book won’t be published. It’s also shitty that I won’t be getting paid. Because I’m being brutally honest, I’ll admit that “lost” money factors into my misery as well.
This isn’t a rant, though. This isn’t a fuck you, Shane Staley, or a DarkFuse is the root of all that is bad and wrong with the world. I learned a ton working with these people, my experience until the last few months was always positive, and for that I’ll always be grateful. Although there are things that I think could’ve been handled differently (by that I mean, better), I know this industry is tough, and I certainly couldn’t keep a publishing house afloat for even a day. It’s not for me to pass judgement on what happened or why it happened.
I’ve read a lot of tweets, Facebook statuses and blog posts by angry authors who feel the need to lash out. I understand their anger. I totally get the feeling of betrayal. I just don’t know that burning bridges and attacking people is the best idea in terms of business. You’re a business, after all. Your books are your product. For some of us, the publisher is a consumer in that we sell our product to them (advances for books and payments for anthologies). I’m all for speaking out, but I believe in doing so wisely. Think about the consequences and the rewards. Yes, you’ll feel a hell of a lot better afterward, but at what cost?
At the end of the day, how we all deal with shit like this depends on the person. You’re not wrong for venting. You’re not a horrible person for wanting people to know the bullshit you endured. But are you smart in doing so? I’m definitely outspoken and I had a lot to say privately about DarkFuse closing and the months leading up to this email. I just didn’t feel I had anything to gain by saying that stuff online.
I’m glad I held back, because after some reflection, I realize my anger is mostly with the unfairness of it all, and not with DarkFuse or Shane Staley specifically. It sucks for everyone involved, but calling DF or Shane names or letting my rage consume me doesn’t change anything.
I’ve also seen a few authors mention how sad it is that there’s one less paying market out there to submit work to. If you’re all sad that you’ve lost a paying market to submit to, consider why it’s gone. Consider that publishing books and paying authors costs money. That money doesn’t come from book sales alone. The magazine was subscription based. Did you ever purchase a subscription? I didn’t, because part of signing the contract was a free subscription. I would have, eventually. I think.
Hey, I’m guilty of not contributing as well. I do subscribe to a few zines, and I try to buy books from small presses and indie authors as much as possible, but I should be subscribing to more, encouraging my readers to do the same, and I should be reading more. I plan to rectify the oversight over the next few weeks. After all, their success could be my success, right? So instead of lamenting over that lost income potential, you should be knocking yourself in the head for not supporting it and encouraging your readers to support it too. Marketing doesn’t stop with your book, kids.
Which reminds me, during my time with DarkFuse, I also noticed a lot of authors who seem incapable of marketing anything but themselves. A few authors didn’t even bother to do that much. It was like they thought the book would just sell itself because it had a publisher. The work doesn’t end when you sign the contract. And as I said before, the publisher’s success could be YOUR success, so it’s just smart to promote their products, whether you wrote them or not. Right?
Here’s the reality of all of this: Publishers struggle as much (or more) to publish great fiction as we do. DarkFuse had something great, that should’ve done well, and it didn’t survive, so that should be a lesson for us all. Publishers are under pressure to make sure their authors are paid (some of them anyway) and they have to keep their own lights on too. Books don’t generate a lot of money. Sure, multiple titles over time will earn money, but not if readers aren’t buying. Price points are so low that earning more than a buck per book is practically unheard of.
Contrary to what many of you seem to think, running a publishing house isn’t just about selling books and raking in the cash. You have to pay for advertising, websites, editing, cover design, and so much more. It’s not as simple as Publisher A has a shit ton of books out there, so they’re obviously doing well. No. Publisher A is putting a shit ton of books out, because if it stops producing new content, it stops earning enough money to stay open, because it stops being popular, as does its authors, and the back catalog gets stuffed into the dusty corners of bookstores (online and real life), where no one cares to browse. Even with new content and regular sales, the money is often pretty disappointing. If you’ve published yourself, you should know all of this. Being a publisher doesn’t magically change how it all works.
So, instead of being angry, learn from the experience. I’m not saying DarkFuse is innocent of wrongdoing (I have heard some pretty sketchy stories, but I believe there are three sides to everything). I’m saying make some lemonade or whatever. Be honest about where you might have made mistakes and make sure you don’t make them in the future. Be vigilant when working with publishers, so you know the warning signs of a bad deal, and can get the hell out before shit goes south, or (even better) try to help change the direction so things start turning upward.
It’s tempting to play the blame game (and I know DF played it as much as some of its authors have), but blame doesn’t make it better or easier to swallow. It just makes whoever is throwing it around look like a childish douchebag. So, just don’t do it. Move on. Dust yourself off and keep pushing forward.
Maybe try being a professional. I hear that sometimes leads to success.